When the curators of 3hd Festival asked me to write an essay for their festival, I spent a long time stalling. I’m not really a writer, and I’m definitely not a cultural critic. What the fuck was I going to talk about? Was this going to get translated into German? I had a lot of questions and very few answers. Then I remembered that I was a rapper, so it would probably be OK if I talked about myself. If rappers can’t talk about themselves, then we have a serious problem. It was at this point that I remembered I made an energy drink. I’m a rapper who made an energy drink. Maybe I could talk about that?
I always loved that Factory Records gave a catalog number to everything they released, not just music, but also clothing, posters and even more abstract things like cats, lawsuits and, eventually, founder Tony Wilson’s own coffin. I never thought of it as a conceptual gimmick, but rather as a template for something that was bigger than music but still grounded in its tradition. Since then, some labels have followed in Factory’s footsteps, (notably Sincerely Yours from Sweden and Wolf Eyes member John Olson’s American Tapes), but, as far as I’m concerned, not enough.
Another label I admire is Psychopathic Records, an Indie label started by the rap group Insane Clown Posse (ICP). Since 1991, Psychopathic has developed a reverent cult following on the fringes of American music. The label has found commercial success on its own terms and spawned a diehard community of fans (known as “Juggalos”) whose devotion to ICP and Psychopathic can only be described as spiritual.
Although Factory and Psychopathic are on the surface very different, they share an inspiring aesthetic totality and sick and singular style. Factory took elements of Situationist politics and modernist design and threw them into a mutating postpunk container. ICP and Psychopathic’s mix of Kiss-style theatrics and hard rap music nurtured one of the most devoted fan communities since The Grateful Dead. Both labels created worlds that you could get lost in and whose boundaries were dictated only by the idiosyncrasies of their creators.
In late 2011, I started a label called Thunder Zone. The first release (TZ001) was a 7-inch record by G-Side, a Southern rap group with no vinyl releases before or since. The second: a sticker. The fifth? An energy drink.
Around that time, art school kids around the world were using the Monster Energy Drink logo for their own creative ends, but I wasn’t really fucking with that. Instead of simply appropriating, I wanted to actively add to the conversation in a real way. I needed to make an actual energy drink. Through a combination of deep research and crowd-funding (my first and probably last attempt at that shit), I somehow made it happen.
The first batch of drinks arrived right before a summer tour where I mostly played shows in punk basements and at dive bars. The goal was to make and sell them not as part of some clean, conceptual art project, but rather as just another item on the merch table, like a zine or a noise tape. Fucked up pop culture spit back in your face by an American idiot with nothing to lose. Something for all the ragers in the parking lot on a Friday night, out of their minds, blasting the radio.
As someone who runs a label, it’s hard to figure out what’s really going on with music in 2015. There’s plenty of great stuff, no doubt, but most gets lost in the shuffle, and that’s even if you are paying close attention. I hear a lot of theories on digital monetization strategies or how you can still sell records if you do it the right way, but I don’t put too much faith in any one thing.
What I do know is that it feels right to keep putting things out—whether physically or digitally, for free or with a price tag—and to give them a catalog number, even if only as some weird attempt to enter into a history that has meant so much to me. At this point, I’ve put out almost 40 releases, ranging from shows to clothing to tapes to mp3s. There are truly no rules; I just do what gets me excited.
In short, with Thunder Zone I’m trying to carve out my own little pocket in the game. Insane Clown Posse has its own energy drink. It’s called Spazmatic and it’s good, I’ve tried it. Now there is The Thunder Zone Energy Drink, released on Thunder Zone, catalog number TZ005. I’m just another rapper talking about his energy drink, and that’s alright with me. The beat goes on.