In 1998, internet radio still held some potential to propagate new and diverse voices across the digital ether. Due to the medium's lack of portability, along with the rise of satellite radio and portable MP3 players, many stations folded shortly after their inception. However, through an unadulterated passion for progressive sounds and a dedicated collective of talented DJs, dublab.com managed to thrive. In the past seven years, this Los Angeles–based station survived web radio's perils to develop into one of the most lauded purveyors of diverse, forward-thinking music.
"I can't think of many radio or web stations that compare with dublab," states Matt Sullivan, founder of Seattle's Light in the Attic Records. When Sullivan worked at RealNetworks, he served as the contact for dublab, as they initially streamed their programming with RealAudio. "Not many folks will spin Fela [Kuti], Madvillain, Hot Chip, and Karen Dalton in the same hour of programming, or even on the same station."
In the fall of '98, dublab mastermind Mark "Frosty" McNeill, along with friend and business partner John Buck, solicited a small group of dissident DJs from KSCR (University of Southern California's student-run station) to begin brainstorming dublab's future. A year later, their vision of a freeform format where DJs could fully explore their interests was realized when dublab launched its first stream out of a rundown tenement building next to Paramount Pictures' studios.
Dublab's motto, "future roots music," has helped buoy the station in its quest to promote the musical genius of pioneers from the past and present. The station championed the early musings of the Animal Collective and Devendra Banhart, while grounding their work within a historical context by subsequently playing the music of aesthetic ancestors like Moondog and Caetano Veloso. "We play the most progressive, soulful sounds while connecting the dots to influences and innovators of the past," McNeill states. "Dublab's mission has and always will be to share beautiful music with the world."
The dublab DJ collective gradually has grown to include a veritable who's who among L.A.'s burgeoning underground electronic-music scene. Daedelus, Nobody, Jimmy Tamborello (Dntel/Postal Service/Figurine), and Carlos Niño (half of Ammoncontact) are just a few of the station's original DJ staff who made it big and still host their own programs.
"I've been doing regular shows on dublab for [about six years]," Tamborello recalls. "Most of dublab's DJs make their own music. It's a really inspiring community."
According to McNeill, the station served as a sounding board for its musician/DJs, allowing them to spread the word about their records, connect with an international network of like-minded artists, and communicate their musical interest to the masses.
"[W]ithout dublab, I would not have had the privilege to be weighing in on my career in music," explains Mush Records artist Daedelus.
After only a few years of streaming, the station's all-star cast of characters grew to extend beyond its DJ staff to eventually consist of a mind-blowing list of guest performers. Anti-Pop Consortium and Damo Suzuki are among the hundreds of visitors who've made on-air contributions to dublab's programming.
These live performances have also enabled dublab to overcome its issues with portability. Archived performances by musicians such as Terry Callier, Thomas Fehlmann, and Colleen currently anchor the station's podcast library. Now, when local radio disappoints, you can take a piece of dublab with you everywhere you go.
The station's long-standing relationship with Plug Research Records (the two share an office) has also helped to enhance its reach. The label is responsible for releasing dublab's sought-after In the Loop vinyl series, which features original and rare recordings by essential dublab-affiliated artists (Volume 4, the latest installment, includes Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors, and Devendra Banhart).
As the station prepares for its seven-year anniversary, McNeill promises that more big things are in the works. Coinciding with the station's birthday celebration on Saturday, September 23, in L.A., dublab will debut its second major visual-arts exhibit, The Dream Scene. A concert poster and paraphernalia project, The Dream Scene centers on the theme of ultimate, fantasy concert bills that never were. And, of course, there will be more installments of In the Loop and more podcasts.
Here's to another seven years of nourishing "future roots music."