Putting Tracks to Wax

August 2, 2013
James Helmsworth
Adrian Rew ’13 surrounded by shelves full of LP records
Adrian Rew ’13 holds up a copy of the Ergot label release Corpse on Horseback by Aaron Dilloway. Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones

Though new technology has revolutionized media consumption in recent years, one recent graduate has started a business using something far older—135 years older, to be exact.

Adrian Rew ’13 is releasing vinyl records by unconventional musicians on his own music label, Ergot Records. Backed by a $2,000 award from the Creativity & Leadership Project, the comparative literature major released his first record this spring: Corpse on Horseback, by Oberlin resident Aaron Dilloway.

While Ergot’s medium might seem something of an anachronism, it’s actually in step with current trends. Vinyl’s popularity has increased as of late; according to a study by Nielsen, vinyl sales are up by a third from this time last year.

Rew, who also served as music director at Oberlin's community radio station, WOBC, last year, says his label caters to the kind of consumers responsible for vinyl’s recent resurgence. “The people who buy music today are the people who are most enthusiastic about it,” he says, adding that this enthusiasm is often accompanied by a taste for idiosyncratic music.

Besides Dilloway’s record—a series of tape loop manipulations—Ergot’s upcoming releases include a host of innovative artists. Later this summer, the label will press a recording by the Master Musicians of Joujouka, a Moroccan group lauded by luminaries such as the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones and William Burroughs.

This fall, Ergot will put out a record by Jeph Jerman, a composer who creates pieces using sounds from nature. Ergot’s Jerman release comes from a piece the composer performed this spring with an ensemble of Oberlin students that included Rew. The recent graduate says that experiences like these at the college helped form his tastes and beliefs regarding music. “In Oberlin, there’s a lot of experimental music. People are progressive in their thoughts about art, so I was exposed to a lot of it,” he explains. “I mean, honestly, probably a lot of my attraction to experimental music is largely a product of me being here.”

Not only has his time at Oberlin influenced Rew’s taste in music, but it also has shaped his approach to the business aspects of music. In addition to internships with the record labels Numero Group, Drag City, and Thrill Jockey in his native Chicago, where he currently resides, Rew worked closely with Dilloway at the artist’s Hanson Records in Oberlin this last year.

“Dilloway, hands down, has been crucial to this process,” says Rew. “He’s inspiring because, at most record labels you have a team of five people or something, and he’s doing it on his own.”

So far, Rew’s business model seems to be paying off. Ergot’s first release sold out within the first month of its pressing, thanks to purchases directly from Rew, and from record stores in the United States, France, and England.

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