Happy Music for Happy People

An evaluation of independent record label The Flenser

The Flenser is an independent record label founded in San Francisco, California in 2010. Specializing in rock and metal music that features a heavy and dark aesthetic. Little is known to the public of the label’s history and inner workings, barring the musicians associated with the label itself. The label’s descriptions of themselves are often minimalistic and purposefully vague, as if they were an enigmatic cabal. With the “biography” sections of their social media accounts often only containing a simple link to the label’s website. They mainly operate online, offering downloads of their music on their website, as well as shipping limited physical releases and merchandise to their buyers. Over the past six years, their full catalogue (counting only official Flenser releases and reissues, not third-party distribution) numbers just shy of 50. However, in that small frame of time, their self-described “risk-taking ethos” has certainly made a name for The Flenser in the underground, experimental, rock and metal scenes. Viewing The Flenser from the perspective of a music fan and as an ardent supporter of independent music, one can analyze not only the quality of the music they release but also how well The Flenser, as a record label adheres to the D.I.Y. ethic as it would apply to underground music.

The Flenser’s specialization in this strain of grim rock and metal music is something that they excel at: when it comes to doom and gloom, they are connoisseurs. This gives their label a specific sonic identity, when you hear this style of music, you can tell it bears their dancing demon logo. However, this singular aesthetic pursuit could become limiting in the future via pigeonholing themselves into one genre they can never stray from, for fear of alienating their niche fanbase. They do have popular releases, at least as far as the term “popular” can go in this context. In this case meaning well-known amongst internet music geeks, yet still lacking non-independent radio play or much recognition outside of their respective music scenes. These releases include: Have A Nice Life’s Deathconsciousness, Planning For Burial’s Self-Titled, Mastery’s VALIS, and Panopticon’s Kentucky. Each of these albums uniquely falls somewhere in the gradient between gothic rock, industrial music, and black metal, however there are overlaps that exist in between each of these releases’ aural territory: deafening guitars, despairing vocals, and lyrics as pleasant as the skin-stripping practice that is The Flenser’s namesake. Despite the off-putting nature of the music they release, the label has garnered a cult following, boosting The Flenser’s notoriety amongst other contemporary record labels, such as: Profound Lore Records and Southern Lord Records.

The Flenser is certainly proud of their identity as an independent label, having a description and guidelines for anyone to submit their band’s demo to them, that is easily available to read on their website. They will even send messages of encouragement if the label does not process the demo quickly or rejects it. This attitude is what is most important for a label’s adherence to the D.I.Y. ethic: welcoming anyone with open arms, having a discerning eye for quality, and if rejecting, a message of constructive criticism is given to the artist so that they can improve on their craft.

When evaluating The Flenser with my previously defined criteria, the label is a paragon for what independent record labels should be: regularly releasing albums that are forward thinking and enjoyable to listen to, a well defined artistic aesthetic in both the music they release and the merchandise they create, and a strong adherence and support of the D.I.Y. ethic. The label’s values are palpable: what matters most is the music, that someone is expressing themselves creatively and is willing to share it with the world.

Sources:

Unknown. “The Flenser.” The Flenser. The Flenser, 2010. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.

Whale-Fishing: Facsimile of a Woodcut. 1574. Cosmographie Universelle of Thevet, Paris.Wikipedia. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.

The Flenser Logo. 2010. San Francisco. The Flenser. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.

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