These label birthdays are getting out of hand. Every time an independent label reaches an age that ends either with zero or five they feel the need to throw a huge party. And you have to bring a gift every time, and you can’t just give cash because that’s really tacky. I mean, I got Matador a Hickory Farms sausage sampler box for their Bar Mitzvah and then I got dagger eyes for the rest of the night from just about everyone at the party, except for Kill Rock Stars who, I think, just snuck into the party for the free food and was probably going to steal the sausage box before they left.
Anyway, Hefty is turning ten, but they don’t seem a day over eight. In all seriousness, this celebration couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. With a small but growing roster the label has amassed a considerable degree of critical attention and stands ready to consolidate their presence in the electronic music world. Like their peers—fellow indie electronic labels such as Warp, Ninja Tune and Ubiquity—Hefty marked their territory by establishing a fairly distinctive identity and following through with quality releases. Insomuch as recent high profile releases from the likes of Telafon Tel Aviv, Savath + Savalas and Slicker have raised the label’s profile, the appearance of these anthology might actually provide a valuable introduction for those just joining us.
Hefty was founded by John Hughes (no relation, I believe, to the director), who records under both his own name and as Slicker. Slicker’s sound is fairly indicative of the label’s general appeal, sophisticated and intricate but rarely unpleasant or overly cerebral. Hefty approaches electronic music with an eye towards accessibility, leaning away from the abstruse in favor of more readily appreciated, albeit austere approach to multiple genres. Running the gamut from IDM to alt-hip-hop with strong roots in both the progressive soul and free jazz sounds, Hefty arrives at an approachable middle ground between wonky noise and shiny pop—a rather pleasant juxtaposition.
The Hefty 10 Digest is essentially everything you would expect from an anniversary disc, and as such it succeeds admirably. The predictable format does little to subtract from the quality package. The first disc is presented as “Favorites”, and its hard to argue with the line-up, with the label’s biggest draws assembled lovingly. Telafon Tel Aviv, arguably the heavy-hitters of the line-up, are represented with tracks from both 2001’s Fahrenheit Fair Enough and 2004’s breakout Map of What Is Effortless. Slicker is present with three tracks (and another as John Hughes), and Savath + Savalas is represented with two tracks.
Savath + Savalas, AKA Scott Herren, also releases music under the more familiar alias Prefuse 73. Herren’s relationship with Hefty goes back to the 2000 release of Savath + Savalas’ Folk Songs For Trains, trees and Honey. Prefuse 73 is actually the Digest’s star attraction, producing the “mixtape” that comprises the second disc. The “mixtape” delves deep into the Hefty catalog, with rare cuts, remixes and exclusive tracks blended into an hour-long presentation of the label’s eclectic best. Almost every artist from the first disc is represented, and a number of artists who were not included on the “Favorites” (including one of my favorites, the unique Japanese-American experimental pop duo Some Water and Sun) are present as well. Anyone with an interest in Prefuse 73 should enjoy this mix, as the mixture of complimentary sounds offered by Hefty’s catalog offers a fairly concise and surprisingly holistic peek into Herren’s own eclectic approach.
The other two components of the Hefty anniversary offer a less conventional celebration. The two History Is Bunk discs (sold separately) offer exclusive collaborations, reinterpretations and new tracks, essentially looking forward and sideways where the Digest package looked squarely backwards. However, it’s a lot harder to make a satisfying remix compilation than a “Best Of” anthology, and the HIB discs suffer in comparison, although both still present an admirable variety of sounds and artists. The first disc gains the slight edge by dint of guest shots by Mush Record’s DAEDELUS (remixing Savath + Savalas, in what is surely the alt-hip-hop match up of the year), as well as Warp’s Jimmy Edgar, presenting a sort-of catalog mash-up in the form of “Outer City Sound (Hefty Cut Up Remix)”. Far and away the best track on the first disc, however, is the incredibly intricate Ryuichi Sakamoto remix of Telafon Tel Aviv’s “Sound In A Dark Room”.
The second disc is more spotty but still manages to impress in places. German space-jazz auteur Jan Jelinek shows up to remix Samadha’s “Anonyme”, and Hughes’ Slicker alias gets two workouts, with Haruomi Hosono remixing “God Bless This Mess, This Test We Pass” and JLE tackling “Lucas”. Still, it’s easy to come away with the impression that the HIB discs could have been condensed into a single and far more satisfying release, or even into a relatively cheaper two-disc set. Paying for the discs separately, considering the fact that anyone who buys one will probably want to buy the other, seems slightly miserly.
But then, it’s a celebration, so I guess it’s bad form to complain. There’s enough to enjoy, in any event, and the unquestioned quality of the music on display offers a good introduction for anyone unfamiliar with Hefty’s virtuous output.
Hefty 10 Digest
History is Bunk