By Ian S. Port
By Tony Ware
By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
Pioneering S.F. electronic music label Om Records turns 15 this year. In the past decade and a half, the company has evolved from a purveyor of multimedia CD-ROMs to a dance music tastemaker well-regarded for its output of house and downtempo music. It has survived forays into turntablism and trip-hop and the erosion of both music magazines and bricks-and-mortar retailers.
Over the years, Om's roster has shifted considerably, though, remarkably, it still maintains relationships with many of its early artists such as Mark Farina and J-Boogie. In an anecdote-filled interview, former Om publicist and current VP of "Newish Media" Gunnar Hissam reminisces on the label's artists past and present.
Then: "They were San Francisco's answer to all that trip-hop shit, the band with a DJ and a female vocalist playing moody jazz- and soul-based music. Their [Om] album was supposed to come out in '97, but then they got signed to DreamWorks, who let them go. There's a whole album, 13 tracks, that nobody ever heard."
Now: "[DJ] Mei-Lwun is the mash-up dude; he does [S.F. club night] 'Manic Mondays.' [Singer] Gina Rene is still trying to do solo stuff. [Producer] Andy Caldwell's an international touring artist. He's still the prettiest man in house music."
Then: "They had a classic style of hip-hop: party-rockin', fun hip-hop. That's the kind we like. They were the only hip-hop group on Om at the time. The single 'Acid Raindrops' has taken on a life of its own. It gets downloaded more than some people's albums."
Now: "They played Bonnaroo, and Spin magazine gave them the best review of [that festival], period. They played Coachella. They're still making hip-hop in the classic way."
Then: "In the acid-jazz era, Mark led the charge in San Francisco. In New York you had [club night/record label] Giant Step; in S.F. you had Mushroom Jazz. He was from Chicago, so he mixed house-style."
Now: "The dude is the number one DJ here in S.F. still. Guaranteed sure shot to pack the place. He produces his own music. He's still looked at as a tastemaker. He's created his own brand."
Then: "He was doing a hip-hop show on KUSF. We had him and we had Ming+FS, turntablists [who] could produce [their] own music. He's been around for almost 15 years. He was on the original Om Lounge. I think he's been on every Om Lounge; there's 11 of 'em. He still has the same facial hair all these years."
Now: "Boogie has a sound which is more accessible than a lot of Om artists. It's gone from downtempo beats for the sheets to party-rocking, political jams, plus his live show has gotten ridiculously better. He's got a horn section, rappers, a percussionist. He's got a large audience — he went on tour with Widespread Panic."
Then: "We released 'Home,' that was Raashan Ahmad and Moe Pope as Mission. It sold like fire, then it went out of print. Then we put out another 12-inch called 'Soul Chips' with Dave Kinsey cover art. Mission became a live group [now known as Crown City Rockers]; they were the Bay Area's [version of the] Roots. The Mission U.K., a Sisters of Mercy side group, [said] 'Cease and desist [on the name] or we'll send our vampire angels after you.'"
Now: "Raashan Ahmad dropped a solo album called Push on Om in 2008. It'll be one of those ones people pick up eventually. It'll get legs."