It’s hard to believe that Cascine is only five years old. Since its inception in 2010, the Greenpoint-based record label has become a one-stop shop for synth-pop that’s both sophisticated and understated, arching towards grandeur yet arrestingly intimate. Boasting releases by acts including Chad Valley, Lemonade, Keep Shelly In Athens, and Kisses, Cascine already feels like an institution. Immaculate reputations don’t come easily, but founder Jeff Bratton knows the value of hard work. Six years ago, he was in L.A., working a high-powered PR job in consumer electronics–but something was missing.
“Music had always been a huge passion for me, it’s been the one thing that I’ve always been obsessed with,” Bratton describes. “As a kid, some of my biggest memories in life map back to music very specifically. It’s the one thing that’s given me the biggest emotional charge over the years, almost narcotic-like in many instances. I just have a very visceral response to music.”
Though Cascine now shares a Greenpoint office space with other Brooklyn labels like Sacred Bones and Mexican Summer, its roots are across the Atlantic. Bratton took a leave of absence from his corporate job and headed to Sweden, home of his favorite artists.
“For a three or four year stretch, my listening was dominated by music coming out of Gothenburg at the time, on Service, Sincerely Yours, and Labrador,” he recalls. “Those three labels represented 80 percent of what I was listening to. So I was spending some time in Sweden and reached out to some of those labels, Service being one of the core labels that I wanted to talk to the most. The owner of Service, Ola Borgström, responded to my email and said, ‘Yeah, I’ll meet you for coffee,’ he could tell I was a fan.”
Within a month, Bratton had turned a coffee meeting into a lasting bond with Borgström, and he left Sweden as a newly-minted American representative for Service. His travels paved the way for Cascine’s globetrotting current roster, which features artists from the UK, Sweden, Japan, Singapore, and Germany. But it was a band from Finland that led to the label’s birth. It all started when publicist Sandra Croft first came across Helsinki band Shine 2009, who were set to self-release an EP, and sent their songs to the Service team–Bratton, Borgström, and Rich Thane.
“We loved the music, but Ola didn’t think they were right for Service,” Bratton describes of the crisp, 80s-tinged songs that would become the Associates EP. “As much as he liked them as a fan, he didn’t think they were right for the label, so we were going to pass on them. Ultimately, it was Ola’s call, but I didn’t want to see these tracks go unreleased, and I could tell they would get picked up elsewhere. So I asked Ola if I could start a pop imprint in the States, nestled under the Service umbrella, and release those tracks myself, and he said to go for it. So I did.”
And so, Cascine was born, its name plucked from a park near Bratton’s mother’s home in Florence, Italy. Croft was the first person on board, and other supporters soon cropped up, including college friend Jason Romanelli, who designed Cascine’s instantly iconic logo.
“That’s a diamond, the top down view of the diamond,” Bratton says. “The Service logo is a diamond from the side, so Jason, for the Cascine logo, took that and kind of turned it up and looked down on it. It was paying homage to Service, but the diamond representing pop music, just from a different angle. He put all of that in place, all our early logos.”
This attention to detail and search for new perspectives has stayed strong throughout Cascine’s history.
“Jason created the logo, he knew what my creative sensibilities are, just as a person, and I think that the aesthetic is very closely tied to the sound of the music,” he says. “It’s refined but stylish pop music, and he tried to bring that to life aesthetically as much as possible.”
While the early days of Cascine followed Shine 2009’s debut EP with releases by Chad Valley, Evan Voytas, and Selebrities all within a few months, Bratton still had plenty to learn, following his limited experience with the now-defunct Service.
“Early on, I took everything pretty seriously, Cascine was this ‘life or death’ thing,” he says. “Passion creates some of that, what you do is so important, and I think you reach a point in music where your expectations catch up with your level of passion for what you’re doing and you stop taking it as seriously as you did initially. We’ll always care 100 percent about what we’re doing, but we try to take it a little less seriously these days and approach it with a sense of humor.”
Indeed, in another five years, Cascine is sure to mean serious business. Though the team is small–just Bratton, Croft, publicist and project manager Andi Wilson, and Marchese Taylor in licensing–what they’ve accomplished is formidable. Labrador label head Johan Angergård is no longer just an inspiration, he’s a Cascine artist, and a year ago the team launched the singles label CSCN to develop budding performers. Bratton also speaks of potentially diversifying into publishing and management, even possibly returning to his marketing experience to better work with brands. No matter where Cascine goes, he seems like the kind of guy who can take his own advice.
“Have an aesthetic, figure out what it is you want that label to be, have a lane that you travel in, and be committed to it,” Bratton says. “Be confident in your aesthetic, be confident in your vision for that label, and no matter how people respond to it off the bat, believe in yourself and continue to move ahead along that vision.”
Cascine celebrates its five year anniversary tonight at the Wythe Hotel, with performances by artists including Chad Valley, Lemonade, Yumi Zouma, and more. Listen to a mixtape of the label’s highlights below: