PS Label of the Week: Ken Oath Records
Hey! You’ve clicked on the first instalment of a weekly series we’re running here at Purple Sneakers where we put the spotlight on labels from within Australia and around the globe that we think are delving into some great sounds, creating communities and pushing the boundaries of music curation.
We’re kicking it off with a local label, one out of Sydney that focuses solely on Australian music. Fuckin’ oath! Ken Oath Records is the name of this local imprint, and it’s run by DJ Earl Grey and James Greville – both of whom party plan with the Rimbombo crew around town too.
Both are respected DJ’s in their own right, playing at well-known party spots across town like Harpoon Harry’s, The Dolphin Hotel & Freda’s. Earl Grey also hosts The Best Effort Show monthly on Melbourne’s Skylab Radio with an aim to try his best to share good music and good songs.
Ken Oath Records officially kicked off in 2017, with their first release, Va – a compilation featuring a bunch of ‘earthly delights’ from the south-eastern corner of Australia. The release saw Sydney producer Riggles deliver liquid, floaty house with a hip-hop aesthetic on opener ‘Slick Like Oil’, Melbourne’s Underground City Loop pairing jazz cuts with tender house beats on ‘Systems’, sibling powerhouse Donald’s House teaming up for the light and lush ‘Aquarian Dream’ and finally, Sydney’s Low Flung doing what he does best – throwing down mellow boogie on the aptly titled ‘Floaty Time’.
From there, the label housed Caravan‘s Coarsica EP – a six track journey through wandering percussion and lush, drawn out pads. The album descriptor calls it ‘computer-funk with a green thumb’, and with accompanying art as vibrant and floral as the tracks themselves, the release sits right at home with the varying Australiana so present on Ken Oath Records‘ debut.
Low Flung returned to Ken Oath for his first solo release on the label titled Coastal Garden. The 7″ featured two solid singles, honing in on spacious instrumentals paired with apt field recordings. The found sounds on the record take this Balearic release from something conventionally generic to something quite culturally specific, and considering there’s only two tracks on this release, they find a way to speak volumes. There’s contrast in the two tracks, giving sunshine on the A-side, and overcast on the B-side, but at the same time, never letting that contrast define the record.
KEN004 brought newcomers The Possé into the mix, and threw something new into the label’s pool of sounds. With three dancefloor-ready tracks on the release, the Seasons Greetings EP from the Sydney three-piece paired some good old TB-303 acid with down-tempo lounge and house with disco for what was the label’s heaviest release to date. The release is so damn fresh and worked well in capturing the energy of the group’s live performance into one recording.
Adelaide’s Furious Frank brought a bit of darkness to the usually light-hearted label for their fifth output. The Magic Mountain EP takes a psychedelic turn, employing long bouts of drippy acid, drawn out synths that lurk in the background and keeping the octaves low, making for a moody, diverse Australian release. Five releases in, you can already see the diversity of sound being celebrated by Ken Oath Records, and it’s no wonder that they’re so good at finding new Aussie music – they’re so damn passionate about it.
Angophora brought the first LP to the label and again, something entirely different to the table. Stepping away from dancefloor friendly tunes and into the realm of sound curation, Sydney’s Angophora instead presented us with an opportunity to listen and journey into the sounds of the Australian bush on Scenes. This one again takes inspo from Balearic sounds, but in a similar fashion to Low Flung, never lets the release become bogged down by convention. Instead, they’ve used the land around them to paint sounds and images of hot deserts, humid atmospheres and delightfully acrid gum trees.
On KEN007, Melbourne producer and one half of Turner Street Sound, Midnight Tenderness served up his first solo offering – a refreshingly dreamy EP titled Refresco. Cowbells and a jazzy bassline dominate the title track, and set the tone for the rest of the EP. ‘Terme’ pairs lush electro with spacious sound design, whilst ‘Bevanda’ takes us to the tropics with flutes and bird-like samples. The EP closes with ‘Hydra’, one teeming with hot guitar licks and delicate flutes.
Low Flung came back for the label’s eighth release, this time for a pearler of a full length release. The spacious release sees him explore sounds for places more than anything. It’s a record with no real appropriate place to listen, as it’s definitely both headphone music and music to dance to. The beauty of the LP is the tension struck between wanting to listen closely, but to also enjoy the record for what it is.
Whether you’re grooving to the dance-heavy tracks like the light spiral of ‘Rising Damp’ or what feels like deconstructed electro-dub on ‘Tarp Climber’, or listening in on the chaotic jazz of ‘Bacchus Marsh’ or the creaky, tinny found sounds of ‘Hills Hoist’, this release really feels like a poignant and defining release curatorially for the Ken Oath boys.
Arguably one of the most seminal electronic musicians out of Sydney is legend Andy Rantzen. One half of Itch-E and Scratch-E alongside Paul Mac, his Ken Oath Records debut has become a defining release for the label, one that sees the Australiana they’ve embedded so hard into their back catalogue take flight in an exploration of dubby rhythms, 90’s rave and digitised reggae. Opening with the driving percussion of ‘Lifting The Veil’ and closing out with the most suggestive ‘Dub Generator’, it’s actually insane how much of a journey this record is, taking you from uptempo jazz and journeying right down to the sluggish tones of deep electronic reggae.
And finally, here in 2019, the label have just laid out their tenth release coming in the form of one of our Artists to Watch in 2019, Freda & Jackson‘s self-titled EP. The EP is absolutely loaded with strong basslines, chopped breaks, downtempo dub and some intergalactic touches that blast this one out of the stratosphere. It’s Australiana but with a twist, and the beauty of it all is that whilst this one fits right at home on the Ken Oath back catalogue, the release recontextualises the curation of the label and makes you really think about what could be freeing and limiting to an Australian electronic artist.
Somewhere in between all of this, they also put together an ambient collection for their second compilation towards the end of 2017, titled Breathing Space. This one featured cuts from Rings Around Saturn, Marco Vella, Fabrics, Soda Lite and more – but most excitingly, pretty much all of those artists featured (barre one) were new to the label.
They also put out a cassette from a collaborative project between Matthew Hayes & Joel Trigg. Titled Elegant Universe, the record is a tour-de-force of the dynamic between the two artists, and as the name suggests, it’s wholly encompassing in the best way possible.
The last few years since the label’s inception have seen the team at Ken Oath putting on parties around town to support the artist’s on their roster, but more importantly, to bolster a space in the Australian electronic music landscape that allows for Australian artists making sounds that are inherently of this land to perform and share these stories through sound.
With a back catalogue as diverse, yet curatorially consistent as Ken Oath‘s, the seminal Sydney label has proved to be locally, exciting and internationally, entirely necessary.
Check out Ken’s gift shop here.
KEN001 artwork by Kaspar Kägi drawings
Words by CAITLIN MEDCALF