Tri Angle Records, promoting online music on disc


Balam Acab. (Erez Avissar/Erez Avissar)

If Brian Eno’s old maxim requires ambient music to be “as ignorable as it is interesting,” then the crowd gathered outside PS1 MoMa in Queens on a recent Saturday afternoon was definitely ignoring ambient music.

Most chit-chatted and sipped beers while a few tried to dance to the sounds of oOoOO, a duo with an eccentric name and songs that felt murky, cool and acidic, like sonic gazpacho.

The day-long courtyard concert featured the best acts on Tri Angle Records, the transatlantic indie label behind oOoOO, Clams Casino, Balam Acab and other young artists grinding hip-hop, R&B and various strands of electronic music into an ambient pop puree.

“I’ve always been a fan of labels that have this very coherent vision,” said Robin Carolan, the 25-year-old Tri Angle founder who splits his time between New York and London. “It’s important to have a kind of theme or thread that runs between everything.” But what that aesthetic thread actually is, Carolan won’t say. “I like the gray areas.”

Bloggers rushed to plant flags on Tri Angle shortly after Carolan began releasing music last year, dubbing the label’s sound as “chillwave” or “witch house” — two genre tags that proved to be short-lived. Meantime, Altered Zones, a blog spun off from the taste-making music site Pitchfork, became an avid booster. And earlier this month, Billboard named Tri Angle the best indie label in the country.

Mike Volpe is Tri Angle’s most popular artist. Better known as Clams Casino, the 24-year-old producer released his debut “Rainforest” EP in June, five gorgeously melted hip-hop instrumentals. In addition to catching the blogosphere’s ear, he’s also supplied drifting beats to rappers Lil B, ASAP Rocky and Soulja Boy.

As oOoOO made the speakers at PS1 churn, Volpe marched through the crowd with bulky black Jansport slung over his shoulders. He was about to make his live debut — or at least perform his first gig that people knew about. He had DJed a couple of unannounced warm-up sets around town in the days prior, finally bringing his digital music to the real world.

“Instead of just people typing online, like, ‘Oh, I love your music,’ seeing them react to it live is a totally different thing,” the New Jersey native said before taking the stage at PS1. “It’s cool.”

Carolan discovered all of Tri Angle’s roster online, including Alec Koone, a bespectacled 20-year-old who makes music as Balam Acab out of his parents’ house in Mechanicsburg, Pa. Koone had come to PS1 to check out the show — he has never performed live — and had just met Carolan in person for the first time the day before.

“It feels surreal meeting all of these people on the Internet,” Koone said. “This makes it a little more real.”

Balam Acab’s new album, “Wander/Wonder,” out Tuesday, feels plenty surreal. It’s full of sweet, slushy electronic tones and slow, vaporous rhythms that Koone is still trying to figure out how to translate to a live setting. “The music is going to sound more airy, spacious,” he said.

When Volpe took the stage at PS1, his music only sounded louder. Cued up on an iPad , his songs oozed out of the sound system and across the museum’s courtyard, ignorable and interesting as ever. If the dreamy haze of summer were a sound, it would sound like this.

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To hear samples of the artists on Tri Angle Records, visit www.washingtonpost.com/clicktrack

Chris Richards has been the Post's pop music critic since 2009. He's recently written about Bjork's radical humanity, the joys of heavy metal drumming and the perils of "poptimism ."
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