Nine years is a long time to be underground. Yet underground is exactly where Cincinnati’s Phratry Records wants to be. This month Phratry is celebrating its nine-year anniversary as a record label with a barrage of shows at The Comet featuring bands from their diverse roster. Festivities already rocked the burrito bar this past Saturday with a lineup including Knife the Symphony, Bear Claw, and Smoke Signals. The party continues this coming Friday (Mala In Se, The Strongest Proof) and Saturday (Swear Jar, Arms Exploding), celebrating what the label does best: promote music and build community.
Phratry Records was born in 2004 to local musician Jerry Dirr (Autumn Rising) out of a drive to record and release records for his favorite unsigned Cincinnati bands. “The bands I played in...released their own seven inches, cassettes, and CDs,” he recalls. “I learned a lot about manufacturing and distro as a result. I think it was just a natural progression to start releasing music for other people since I had been doing it with my own bands for so long.”
Initially focusing on only one or two releases each year, Dirr’s hard work on the label’s early output attracted a varied roster of artists from across the country and even Canada. As Phratry expanded, Dirr scaled his DIY aesthetic, leaning into the creative talents and skills of the signed artists. Though officially a one-man operation, band members double as designers, photographers, and writers, making Phratry somewhat of a loose collective. “There's really no reason why we can't handle nearly all label activity in house,” Dirr says. “Phratry Records wouldn't have made it this far if it weren't for the bands pitching in.”
Phratry has grown considerably in nine years as the label now boasts more than 40 diverse releases. “If one were to listen to a sample of the music released by Phratry, they'd figure out pretty quick that I'm not interested in releasing music for the masses,” Dirr quips. From the college-rock-revival of The Reddettes to the abrasive hard rock of Knife the Symphony to the baroque and folksy Terminal Orchestra, the label prides itself on a wide-ranging and decidedly non-mainstream catalog. “I look for bands that are productive and honest. People who aren't jumping on bandwagons or worried if they're too loud, too quiet or too old or too pretty.”
It’s this ethos of sincerity and industriousness that makes Phratry stand out in today’s modern music industry. With four labels controlling the entirety of mainstream music, artists who are interested in unconventional sounds and musical expansion are often left to sit on the sidelines. Independent Phratry offers a home for these fringe musicians and serves as an advocate for their art. Taking cues from legendary underground outfits like Touch & Go and Dischord, Dirr says, “I’m content to be an alternative to all the bullshit that's out there.”
As to Phratry’s next nine years? “I want to continue to do this as long as it's still fun,” replies. “After nine years I've still got a lot to learn about making records and working with bands.”
Phratry Records Nine Year Anniversary featuring Mala In Se, The Strongest Proof, Swear Jar, and Arms Exploding: The Comet. 8/30 & 8/31. Free. 21+