Charge It to the Game

Lessons from Voltage Music

Tomás Palermo records as Double Identity for his Voltage Music label, where the motto is "dub for the dancefloor." It's a great catchall phrase for local and international artists that range in style and tempo from breakbeat to electronic jazz, yet share a lineage with the warm, bass- and effect-heavy sounds of Jamaica. But to accurately describe Palermo's lifestyle you'd need more then two personalities; his current duties include careers as a journalist, instructor (at Potrero Hill community center Horizons), radio host (Friday nights on KUSF), and even high-school track coach.

The former editor of XLR8Rmagazine, Palermo co-founded Voltage in 2000 with publisher Andrew Smith as an outlet for their studio experiments (he's since come to run it solo). It remains principally an art project, a showcase for burgeoning artists like jazzy broken-beat producer Douglas Pagan, Professor Smith's b-boy inspired electro, and the breakstep/grime of Kode 9 and Deep Alpha. Voltage is also a case study for Palermo's Horizons classes, where at-risk kids get free lessons in the music industry through The DJ Project. "I've used Voltage Music as an example of things I wouldn't recommend people doing when they're starting their own label," he reveals.

One of the hardest blows Voltage has weathered has been the swift phasing out of vinyl in favor of digital files: "We were a label of vinyl fanatics. Our first releases were 10-inch singles and that was specifically to make a connection between [Jamaican] dubplate culture and underground broken beat," Palermo explains.

He's cautious to add that a label is not always the soundest idea when motivated by profit. "Just being able to get your music out ... is a really rewarding experience," he says, "just making sure that the heads who really like that genre get it and like it and are playing it."

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