Michael Red has been an in-demand DJ and producer since the 1990s, when he was a key instigator of Vancouver’s jungle and drum-and-bass scenes. He presented hugely popular underground events featuring beats you couldn’t hear elsewhere. He became a regular on Western Canada’s electronic-music festival scene, and still spends summers away from his Vancouver home adding his sounds to the likes of Bass Coast, Shambhala, and all EDM points in between.
You can imagine Red crawling into his camper one night some years ago and becoming overwhelmingly intrigued by the buzzing and pulsating sound in his ear. It would bubble, shatter, disintegrate, and re-emerge, keeping its own eerie beat, a sonic dissent he found soothing yet also intense. I can’t say a nocturnal inner-ear event inspired Red to start seeking out and producing his own version of that ambient drone, but listening to the eleven releases on his label Low Indigo at times makes me think so.
Low Indigo began as an event series organized by Red. As the name suggests—low being dirty, base, grimy; and indigo the colour of intuition and higher thought—Red’s monthly event transformed a seedy East Vancouver nightclub into a downtempo mecca with progressive sounds. In time, after his regular sets at festivals, organizers began allowing him to unleash his subsonic soundscapes in “chill tents” and during sunrise.
The first two releases on the Low Indigo label were two of Red’s own EPs. Then he began releasing albums by some of the artists who performed at his lounge events. Always letting intuition be his guide—the label’s motto is “only when it feels right”—Red has released EPs by top-tier West Coast producers, including Jolin Ras (Rebirth Cycle), okpk, Kline, Crimson, and, most recently, Slope, whose dreamy, beautiful Obsidian (Low Indigo 011) came out in July 2016.
Most Low Indigo artists weave their cerebral soundscapes using only synthesizers and laptops, but Victoria’s okpk submerges warped R&B vocal samples into his ominous brew on Hollow (Low Indigo 009). Bass auteur Kline (Taylor Kline), who is now based in Calgary, is also a painter. Kline’s two EPs, Mirror and Ghost (Low Indigo 004 and 006, respectively) are superbly cinematic and should be film soundtracks. Red calls Kline’s music “an audio expression of his vision.”
“All the music on Low Indigo is connected by a natural tonality,” Red says. It’s an aesthetic he sees as “a West Coast thing”—a kind of open-mindedness that “absolutely lends itself to the kind of music people make here.”
Red curates the music for the label based on a particularly personal imperative. “The highest priority is whether I can feel or perceive authentic expression,” he says. “Is it real? Is it coming from the soul? It’s obviously not soul music in the way others would think, but I need to feel the soul in there.”
He might have more easily—and lucratively—launched a label for the drum-and-bass he plays on festival main stages, but he explains that Low Indigo is all about “evening the scales. It’s trying to put a spotlight on worthwhile music that deserves more ears. [It’s a] way of contributing in a long-term sense to the local scene, which I find inspirational and exciting. I see it as a way to help build an identity for it.”
While Low Indigo has built a reputation as a label that produces high-calibre ambience (and attracted media attention, plus a hugely active Facebook following), Red asserts that the label is not a money-making thing. Marketing is purely organic—his promotional list mostly comprises people he’s met or who have expressed interest in the music over the years. Even Low Indigo’s presence on YouTube was a natural progression—it brings as many listeners to the all-digital label as any other point of access. Enhancing each release with an abstract, full-length video is a way for Red to embrace and work with more local artists, and he loves the way visuals “communicate and translate what the music is, the realm where the music lives. It gives it context.” Red’s four-track EP 9 of cats (Low Indigo 010), released in March 2016, is enhanced with four abstract light-based videos from composer and Vancouver New Music’s artistic director Giorgio Magnanensi.
With releases from artists new to the label on the horizon, Red intends to build up the licensing side of the project. Maybe then, he says, the label will be able to sustain itself: “Until then it remains very much a labour of love.”