Pioneering S.F. electronic music label Om Records turns 15 this year. In the past decade and a half, the company has evolved from a purveyor of multimedia CD-ROMs to a dance music tastemaker well-regarded for its output of house and downtempo music. It has survived forays into turntablism and trip-hop and the erosion of both music magazines and bricks-and-mortar retailers.
Over the years, Om's roster has shifted considerably, though, remarkably, it still maintains relationships with many of its early artists such as Mark Farina and J-Boogie. In an anecdote-filled interview, former Om publicist and current VP of "Newish Media" Gunnar Hissam reminisces on the label's artists past and present.
Then: "They were San Francisco's answer to all that trip-hop shit, the band with a DJ and a female vocalist playing moody jazz- and soul-based music. Their [Om] album was supposed to come out in '97, but then they got signed to DreamWorks, who let them go. There's a whole album, 13 tracks, that nobody ever heard."
Now: "[DJ] Mei-Lwun is the mash-up dude; he does [S.F. club night] 'Manic Mondays.' [Singer] Gina Rene is still trying to do solo stuff. [Producer] Andy Caldwell's an international touring artist. He's still the prettiest man in house music."
People Under the Stairs
Then: "They had a classic style of hip-hop: party-rockin', fun hip-hop. That's the kind we like. They were the only hip-hop group on Om at the time. The single 'Acid Raindrops' has taken on a life of its own. It gets downloaded more than some people's albums."
Now: "They played Bonnaroo, and Spin magazine gave them the best review of [that festival], period. They played Coachella. They're still making hip-hop in the classic way."
Then: "In the acid-jazz era, Mark led the charge in San Francisco. In New York you had [club night/record label] Giant Step; in S.F. you had Mushroom Jazz. He was from Chicago, so he mixed house-style."
Now: "The dude is the number one DJ here in S.F. still. Guaranteed sure shot to pack the place. He produces his own music. He's still looked at as a tastemaker. He's created his own brand."
Then: "He was doing a hip-hop show on KUSF. We had him and we had Ming+FS, turntablists [who] could produce [their] own music. He's been around for almost 15 years. He was on the original Om Lounge. I think he's been on every Om Lounge; there's 11 of 'em. He still has the same facial hair all these years."
Now: "Boogie has a sound which is more accessible than a lot of Om artists. It's gone from downtempo beats for the sheets to party-rocking, political jams, plus his live show has gotten ridiculously better. He's got a horn section, rappers, a percussionist. He's got a large audience — he went on tour with Widespread Panic."
Then: "We released 'Home,' that was Raashan Ahmad and Moe Pope as Mission. It sold like fire, then it went out of print. Then we put out another 12-inch called 'Soul Chips' with Dave Kinsey cover art. Mission became a live group [now known as Crown City Rockers]; they were the Bay Area's [version of the] Roots. The Mission U.K., a Sisters of Mercy side group, [said] 'Cease and desist [on the name] or we'll send our vampire angels after you.'"
Now: "Raashan Ahmad dropped a solo album called Push on Om in 2008. It'll be one of those ones people pick up eventually. It'll get legs."