Trust the Naturebot
Pleasure Boat Records' Bonkers World of Electronic Music
Ian Scot Price arrives at our interview in his Thermaline hoodie. The 31-year-old musician/label boss works for that Auburn food-manufacturing-equipment company, which makes tube heat exchangers and pasteurizers. (I know, right?) Price's boss hired him to experiment with ways of helping the firm. "We built a tiny laboratory, and now I'm programming engineering applications and building electronics to test for leaks in these machines," Price says in his characteristically modest tone.
This is the sort of mind Price possesses—genius problem-solving skills for tasks that most people can't even begin to fathom. Before this, he worked four years with the Census Bureau, and he's spent the last two years attending UW grad school for geography—all of which makes Price unique in Seattle's electronic-music community. And all of which wouldn't mean squat if he didn't also own some of the most highly refined ears for unconventional electronic music in the region.
That distinctiveness bleeds into his music (he records absurdly cheerful, melodically sophisticated, and rhythmically complex dance music as the Naturebot) and his label, Pleasure Boat Records. Unjustly overlooked by most in the local scene, PBR is now in its fifth year of championing underdogs whose varied and quirky output is worth stretching your brain around.
Guided by the twin elements of surprise and confusion, PBR has ranged far and deep over the electronic soundscape in its 25 releases: PotatoFinger's freewheeling jungle refurbishments; Relcad's deep-space minimal techno; Crown Hill Repeater's abstract rhythm and ooze; the Algebra of Need's super-brainy, microtonal meditations; and much more. PBR has added two new artists to the roster this year: recent Laptop Battle champ Miniature Airlines (Dylan Abbott) and tech-house savant Hanssen (also of Jacob London). Plus, a new project featuring the Naturebot, Crown Hill Repeater, and Hanssen promises to be, in Price's words, "raved out and slightly uncomfortable." After years of going the CD-R route, PBR now is a digital label; you can listen to all of the label's releases at pleasureboatrecords.bandcamp.com.
Many of PBR's artists rank highly in Seattle's thriving electronic-music gene pool, yet they've gone largely unheralded outside of the sub-underground that's PBR's domain. Given the high level of talent here, it's mystifying why Decibel Festival has failed to book anyone from its stable.
"There have been three Pleasure Boat showcases booked for Decibel, three separate years," Price says. "Each time we were told it was happening, but then nothing happened. We weren't in the brochures and we couldn't get in contact with whoever makes decisions. Other times, it was canceled." At press time, Decibel had not responded to an e-mail about this matter.
"You have to try not to take things personally in adult life. You lose friends and people are weird and you're weird—you can't communicate with everyone and that's that."
Price isn't one to dwell on the negative, though, and PBR's profile began to rise ever so perceptibly in 2009 when he started throwing the Bonkers! monthly events (first at Club Sugar, then at Re-bar), which served as showcases for his roster and international luminaries like Cylob and Jega.
"In the beginning, there was a push to bridge the visual art and the dance world with the electronic-music world," Price says. "The first time I saw Relcad I thought, 'Holy shit! He's going to be huge!' Then we had him play two months later, and 10 people [showed up]—and half of them were his friends who'd just come from a wedding and they were all in formal wear. I was blown away by the music, but there didn't seem to be a lot of support or interest for it."
Nonetheless, Price has persevered, even as the pressures of adult life and the trend of vanishing paying music consumers have conspired to make running a tiny indie label a quixotic endeavor.
PBR's mission statement has varied over the years. "The first idea was to support unique local music," Price says. "Over time, it developed into wanting to support people who made electronic music as an introverted form of outward expression that was divorced from social trends in music. Later on, it became trying to support electronic music as a form of folk music."
It hasn't been all smooth sailing for Pleasure Boat, though. "Trying to push electronic music, it feels like we're kind of shooting ourselves in the feet."
Still, it's hard to imagine Price giving up his aesthetically advanced and altruistic project. "I would love to become the sort of label where people go to us no matter what and trust our judgment in bringing them new music," Price says. "One of my goals in the beginning was to treat electronic music as advanced a form of communication as it could be. I want to support people who are doing things on their own."