Photo by Davé Jeffers
Jun 21, 2023
A decade of Razor-N-Tape: Dance edits, global grooves, hyper-local releases
‘It’s a label run by New Yorkers for New Yorkers’ — and it’s creating community in Brooklyn’s underground dance scene
A bass drum pounds out a minimalist beat, reminiscent of “Eye of The Tiger,” but heavier, fiercer. It reverberates around the corner of Meserole and Manhattan Avenues in Greenpoint — emanating from a slim storefront between a beauty salon and a bubble tea shop where professional-grade speakers thump rhythms directly into the street.
Through the glare of a floor-to-ceiling window, Kate Mattison stands tall behind a set of turntables. She’s glowing in a shag mint-green cardigan beside 79.5 bandmate and rapper Lola Adanna. Light fractals reflect off the disco ball above them and out onto the sidewalk as the two spin their new single “B.D.F.Q.” loud for all to hear, offering passing Brooklynites some encouragement.
“Bitch. Don’t fucking quit. Don’t fucking quit. You got it bitch. You got it bitch!”
Musicians, fans, neighbors and friends mingle and peruse a selection of vinyl records for sale while others dance and sway, doing their part to celebrate the album release. They light a cigarette, grab a drink and scarf a free slice of pizza.
This is what a pretty typical Friday night feels like at music label Razor-N-Tape’s headquarters, a record store that opened last October in the run-up to the Brooklyn dance label’s 10-year anniversary. The milestone has been marked by a recent shift in focus: championing a niche group of local live dance bands in an effort to “put a bit of the music back in dance music,” says label co-founder Jason Kriv.
For DJs, by DJs
Kriv — a DJ, producer and musician — and self-proclaimed “rave kid” Aaron Dae started Razor-N-Tape in 2012 during the age of nu-disco and peak SoundCloud (the music streaming platform Kriv calls “Tinder for DJ bros”), with bootleg dance edits raining down nonstop from sample-heavy skies.
The two generated buzz by releasing the edits they’d been collecting over the years to DJs and club crowds, including music from Late Nite Tuff Guy, Dimitri From Paris, Ron Basejam and edits Kriv produced himself. It didn’t take long before Razor-N-Tape became known as a formidable cult label — for DJs, by DJs. Its very name is something 79.5 bassist Andrew Raposo has alway thought was “cute for an edits label” due to its reference to the classic DIY splicing and dicing techniques of analog DJs.
Over time the label has evolved beyond those bootleg edits, wading into new and original music territory in what Kriv describes as a “natural progression” that became clearer over the past three years.
“There’s only so much old music you can rehash before it gets tired. Everything has been sampled and edited at this point,” he explains. “I can’t hear another edit of a Michael Jackson or Thelma Huston song. That stuff has been done to death. We wanted to use the momentum we had created to start bringing new music out into the world.”
Something to play in the club
The duo started a sub-label called Razor-N-Tape Reserve in 2014 as a way to release non-disco dance edits. It has since become home to emerging original music across the world, from Tel Aviv-based DJ, producer and crate-digger Elado to Brazilian composer and musician named Guinu.
More recently, though, and closer to home, Kriv and Dae have been releasing music from artists involved in the live dance scene, right here in Brooklyn. So far, Razor-N-Tape’s 2023 releases include records from Brooklyn heavy-hitters like Underground System, Midnight Magic, Phenomenal Handclap Band, lovetempo and 79.5 — most of whom embrace dance music on stage in electrifying full-band performances.
79.5 is an interesting pivot. Label manager Jared Cohen calls the band “an anomaly” for Razor-N-Tape in that they’re better known as a neo-soul band then a dance band.
“None of it is straight-up dance music,” Kriv adds. “They have ballads — softer, more-introspective music. Most of the music we release is party music.”
Kriv and Dae think 79.5’s new self-titled album showcases the label’s future trajectory. “It’s a further expansion of what we’re doing. It opens the doors to do more dynamic music,” says Kriv.
“I really felt honored to be starting with Razor-N-Tape on their 10-year anniversary,” says Mattison, who performs and DJs as Sister Kate. “I think it says something about how they’ve shaped our city and its music. People love to go out and dance, and that’s never going to change for our city.”
In pursuing more genre-diverse acts like 79.5, Razor-N-Tape wants to attract a wider audience while making sure they’re still engaging their core dance crowd. One way they do this is by adding DJ-worthy remixes to the newly released albums — something to play in the club.
“That’s the coolest part to me,” says Mattison. “Then you can see what other people can do with the music, and that’s the whole point in sharing music in my opinion. Sharing in the community of that process.”
In pursuing 79.5, a former Big Crown artist, for Razor-N-Tape, Kriv told bassist Raposo that he saw an opportunity to let two music worlds collide.
“I love the idea that kids who only fuck with northern soul 45s might go to the Razor-N-Tape shop now and buy house records,” says Raposo, who also plays with Midnight Magic. “Since they joined Razor-N-Tape, I’m starting to hear some of 79.5’s new songs being played by DJs.”
Bonus: Dae thinks the pandemic helped push a more localized scene here in Brooklyn. “Once things started to come back and venues were booking straight-up local lineups, they weren’t caring about bringing in people from out of town,” he says. “It shifted people’s mindsets from always looking abroad.”
Where everybody knows your (DJ) name
When Razor-N-Tape opened the record store in Greenpoint — a tiny physical space where deejays, danceheads and labelmates can congregate, talk shop and hang — a real community began to coalesce.
“It’s rekindling something that’s been lost along the way,” Dae says. “When I was coming up in the ‘90s and early 2000s, record shops were a place of community where you saw friends and famous DJs and went to events.”
“It’s our little hub where everybody can come and check in,” adds Kriv.
Seasoned indie artist Mattie Safer, of The Rapture, Poolside and his new project lovetempo, says Razor-N-Tape is nothing like the major labels he’s had experiences with in the past. Instead, it reminds him of his times in the early 2000s at James Murphy and James Galkin’s iconic New York indie label DFA Records.
“Music shifted toward this individual start-up mentality over the past decade,” Safer says. “It’s nice to have like-minded musicians and label execs — friends, really — to go through it with, or just to hang.”
Kriv says if “something presents itself” he and his expanded Razor-N-Tape team may invest in a bigger shop, citing Detroit’s record store and event space Spot Lite as “the dream.”
Making a joyful noise
In their decade-long history, Razor-N-Tape has put out 131 releases and they don’t appear to be slowing down. In the near future, fans can expect to enjoy fresh vinyl from Brooklyn songwriter and “professional bad influence” Amy Douglas, U.K.-based DJ and producer Tigerbalm, New Zealand disco collective Flamingo Pier and more.
Complementing these new releases is the A Joyful Noise residency Kriv has established at Brooklyn’s Public Records venue in Gowanus. The event happens every couple of months and features a live house band made up of various Razor-N-Tape artists that mixes things up with DJs and surprise performers.
“It’s a sensibility many of us were missing,” says Peter Matson, the guitarist in Underground System who also plays in the Joyful Noise band. “We were missing the live music element in dance music.”
Kriv says A Joyful Noise started as an effort to bring back a night of dance music that nods to the celebration of disco and New York’s rich dance history. He and Dae are excited to see how the event changes and grows.
“It’s really starting to have an identity, and we’re leaning into it because no one else is doing that,” says Kriv. “It’s important that somebody supports the scene in that way.”
The next A Joyful Noise show is on Thursday, June 22, at Public Records.
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