This weekend at The Southgate House Revival, Cincinnati record label Lo Fi City is set to celebrate 10 years of existence. Founder Jon Stout, a local musician himself and friend to CincyMusic, took some time to answer a few questions about the label, how it came to be, what’s happening now, and where he wants it to go in the future.
Come out this Saturday to help celebrate 10 years of Lo Fi City with Sleepy Drums, Grave Clothes, Nevernew, Siren Suit, Jake Borgemenke, Nightmare Frontier, and Matthew Shelton! If you feel like getting into the mood now, there’s an all-new (and terrific) compilation dropping tomorrow that highlights a little bit of the past, present, and future of the label. Hit up the Lo Fi City Bandcamp to check it out!
Here’s my in-depth discussion with Jon below - my thanks for taking the time to answer these questions!
Let’s talk a little bit about how Lo Fi City came into existence. What was going on in 2013 that helped kickstart the process? What did you want to see happen with the label? Did you think it’d be around 10 years later?
It all started when I was in the E- Media program at UC Blue Ash in 2011. I was the only student doing an audio project for the capstone assignment- most everyone else there had a focus on video. That capstone project was the unofficial Lo Fi City compilation. It had the (rather regrettable) title of “Lo-Fi for an Unwilling City.” At the time, the music projects I was a part of were really struggling to break through in any way in Cincinnati. I was doing the best I could with recording but was dealing with very limited means (not much has changed there haha) and I found that the general public didn’t view Lo Fi recordings with the same interest that I do. You can check out the comp right here.
Anyway, even though my advisors hated my project they still passed me anyway and the experience of recording those tracks and assembling the artists energized me to continue in the same vein. I shortened the name to Lo Fi City and decided to start a DIY label.
The focus has always been about fostering a community. I’m not sure that I expected this to last 10 years but that’s also not really how I approach things. I’m a very committed and loyal person. I’ve never started a relationship or band with an end goal in mind.
With Lo Fi City, I wanted to seek out similar, like-minded musicians who were actively making music, who might be largely ignored by most mainstream sectors of the music listening audience. Help give a voice and a platform to struggling artists. Ultimately, I wanted to provide the validation (that I rarely received) to artists that their art does have value and what they are doing is worthwhile. If I can be the catalyst that helps someone continue to create, rather than give up on their dreams, then that’s all that really matters to me.
What was the ethos for the label? Was there a mission statement from the start? A sound aesthetic or design?
The description that’s been listed on our Bandcamp for years is “A Cincinnati-based music label with a mission to bring forth the musical output of underdog weirdos everywhere. Specializing in digital, cassette and CD-R.”
As I mentioned before, the main mission has always been simply to bring like-minded musicians together and to give voice and validation to struggling artists. As far as aesthetics go - I usually gravitate towards all the DIY adjacent sounds - ranging from garage punk to indie folk, ambient electronic and everything in between. I think anyone who listens to our compilations can tell that we don’t only promote music that is literally “Lo Fi.” We feature tracks recorded everywhere from basements and bedrooms to professional studios. The unifying thread is that it’s all underground, alternative music.
What have been some of the most memorable moments or experiences with the label so far? What’s been the most unexpected? The weirdest?
To answer this the best I’d really have to take some time dissecting the last 10 years. For the sake of time I’ll say that just watching the growth of our offerings expand has been very rewarding. When the first compilation came out, it was only 10 tracks and I performed on 5 of them. Now our compilations feature 20+ tracks, and even though I usually contribute to more than one, it doesn’t feel like so much of a vanity project anymore.
Having strangers, artists I’ve never met before, reach out to me with interest in being a part of what we do has been humbling. We started out just featuring Cincinnati artists, which branched out to Dayton and Columbus, but eventually, people started to reach out to me from all over the world. We’ve since featured artists from as far away as Italy and Australia.
One of the things I’m proud of is also providing yearly statements of our scene. Many bands have come and gone, morphed into other things, moved away, etc. But these compilations serve as documents to them all and will hopefully help preserve and commit them to the memory of future listeners.
With every label, not all records do what the labels think they should when they reach the real world - what are some slept on gems in the Lo Fi City discography that you think should get a little more attention?
In a way, this is kind of a funny question, in the regard that no matter what, all of our releases remain obscure. But I’m happy to comb through our discography to offer some highlights.
First of all, I’d like to say that I think the albums we’ve put out in 2023 are our finest yet and I’m so proud of them all. Phantoms of Antiquities by Portabella (South Carolina) and Subliminal Clave by Jake Borgemenke and Joey Joesph are the first releases in our history that have sold out in the presale stage. It means so much to me that these artists would choose Lo Fi City to be part of their history.
As far as albums from the past that deserve more attention, I urge readers to check these out:
Mutt Fuzz - These Machines Kill Doldrums
In the thick of the pandemic, Mutt Fuzz mastermind, Matthew Archibald, received a drum machine for Christmas. This served as a catalyst for the songwriting of this album. I feel to my core that in a perfect world, everyone would be driving around blasting this album. It’s filled with hit after hit. Super solid songwriting that showed Matt really branching out and improving his recording style.
Biggest Wall - Just the Softies
This was one of our early releases, from 2015. Made by Dean Maiorana of Little Trees and The Yaws, this charming collection features songwriting with equal parts heart and humour.
There’s a real pure nature to these recordings- the kind of feeling that only comes from an inspired artist creating simply for the fun of it all. I still get a lot of inspiration from it.
Sack Lunch - Heck Songs EP
This was Robert Santel’s project after Dinosaurs & Thunder. There’s a large amount of growth in his songwriting that can be heard on this one. He spent a great deal of time on the lead guitar parts and it really shows. There are many earworms here.
Things have changed a lot since the label's inception. What do you see as the role of a label for a band in 2023? How does a label like Lo Fi work with bands today?
First of all, I have to say that Lo Fi City doesn’t operate like many labels. In blunt terms (and without disrespect to the wonderful artists that contribute music), Lo Fi City is a one person operation. I do the best that I can with limited time and means. I’ve never printed thousands of copies of anything. Each physical release is limited to no more than 50, and they’re all handmade by me. Each piece is unique. They’re collector’s items more than anything. Furthermore, my distribution is limited to local stores and globally via Bandcamp. In other words - it’s a very small and modest operation.
When I work with a band on a physical release, typically the products and profits are split 50/50 and I retain zero rights to their intellectual property, besides the right to upload the content to our Bandcamp page. We help with promotion, including press releases, etc.
As far as a label’s role in 2023 - that’s kind of complicated. In many ways, I’ll be the first to admit that labels aren’t always necessary. It’s very easy to put out and distribute music on your own in this day and age. I think people go to labels nowadays mainly to help with funding, distribution, and promotion. I like to think that people come to Lo Fi City because they like what we do and want to be part of our community.
Looking ahead - where do you see the label in 2033?
We’ve got quite a few albums that we’re currently preparing for release next year from Mutt Fuzz, gewgaw, Future Toys, Glitter Cabinet, Sleepy Drums and more.
As for thinking that far in the future, as I stated before, I never started this with an endpoint in mind. My personal goal as an artist is to release at least one album a year, indefinitely. I’m flattered that so many artists have wanted to be a part of our collective and it’s thrilling to help put out other artists’ music, but I try to remain realistic with my expectations. It would be great one day to legitimize things in a professional sense - link up with some distro labels and even put out some vinyl. But if in the end, the label exists 10 years from now exclusively to put out my music and the work of my close friends, I’m ok with that.
Anything else you want to add or mention?
Thanks to anyone who’s ever listened to contributed music! I appreciate you more than you know!
Check out the flyer below, and click through for all the show details!