Woodstock-born producer, musician and label-owner Alex Law was assured by no less an authority than Michael Lang that Law’s parents were the first locals to create and sell Woodstock concert apparel, posters and grassroots branding, bringing iconic designs to market within two years of the Bethel festival. Two years? It is hard for us to imagine that the glorification and cultural exceptionalism of Woodstock was not a fait accompli, a natural fact in place and inarguable by Tuesday, August 19, 1969.
But no: Altamont, Woodstock’s gashed and bloody underbelly, went down a mere four months later. Regarding rock festivals, the culture at large was ambivalent: terrified and titillated. The myth of Woodstock was not assured or inevitable; it had to be nurtured through an endangered infancy by a vanguard of invested advocates and stewards of the story. And it still requires regular maintenance and legacy planning. Such is the cultural process.
Clearly, Alex Law is heir to his parents’ scrappy, can-do spirit of promotion, art and opportunity. Young but savvy and experienced beyond his years, Law seems to have at least one appendage in every dimension of the music game. He is an experienced live engineer, mixing shows at the Bearsville Theater and elsewhere. He runs and brands a recording facility and record label, a roving half-physical, half-conceptual operation with shingles in Brooklyn and upstate. He is a musician himself, with wide, multi-generational ears and fluencies in the languages of electro and acoustic. And encompassing it all is an uncomplicated and undelusional sense of self-branding as both a necessity and a natural joy. Aquarius Entertainment is his umbrella brand, signifying the happy accident that this direct heir of the Aquarian Age happens to be a zodiacal Aquarian.
So what does the Aquarius Entertainment product line sound like? Maybe a little jam rock and neo-psychedelia? Some retro-folk, earthy singer/songwriter and faux-ppalachia? Not so fast. The first formal taste of the line is the album D1TC, an impressive and thoroughly engaging multi-artist compilation of straight-up contemporary hip-hop.
In a way, it makes sense. For wonderfully complex cultural reasons, hip hop seems to have been spared the shame and self-revulsion cycle of the rock process, the part of the story where incorruptible bands feign indifference, nausea and contempt for the tokens of success. Hip hop thus shares an unironic Aquarian optimism, even as it documents street realities. In hip hop’s value system – to my outsider eyes, at least – it appears that success is simply good and does not require apologies and immolations.
DITC kicks off with a shimmery celestial overture that quotes Hair. From the first proper track, “Do Right,” on, D1TC core rappers Brooklish and Omerta work in the “positive” rap vein, but also very much in the spirit of the streets: plenty of danger and temptation on the periphery. Thanks to the sonic wit of Law’s production moves and the impressive verbal chops of the performers, the songs never descend into simple didacticism. Some songs, like the standout, surreal track “Pornstarwars,” are just pure, joyous language and reference play.
Law impresses throughout with both an assured command of the genre and a wild streak of imagination, creating settings and magic moments that range freely from the ominous to the comic. When I asked Law whether hip hop would be his main thing going forward, he laughed and said, “Goodness, no.” He wants to make indie rock in the tradition of favorites like Pavement, electro-pop in the style of his childhood favorites Erasure. And of course he has big ears for the earthy sounds of classic Catskill rock as well. (One could hear it all coming together in something that sounds like the best of Beck). But when the time comes to produce hip hop, Law respects the current style and the expectations of his artists, honing his production and composition skills safely within the genre boundaries that – you can be sure of it – he will someday bust down.
Sample D1TC and other Aquarius Entertainment releases at http://aquariusentertainmentny.com.