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Friday, November 30, 2012

Dulc-i-Tone Records: The Longtime Label of Mantles Bassist Matt Roberts

Posted By on Fri, Nov 30, 2012 at 3:30 AM

Ducl-i-Tone founder Matt Roberts
  • Ducl-i-Tone founder Matt Roberts

Name: Dulc-i-Tone, although the label was founded as Yakamashi.

Founded: 1998

Owner: Matt Roberts

Headquarters: Mission District, San Francisco

Label one-sheet: Dulc-i-tone is the current name of Matt Roberts' 14-year-old record label endeavor, which he has dutifully operated throughout many phases of his own eclectic life since college. The pace of releases is occasional, but each is studiously curated and detailed. Nearly every release comes solely on vinyl. In addition to breaking new artists and reissuing obscure material, Dulc-i-tone is the home of certain releases from The Mantles, a pastoral psych outfit from San Francisco in which Roberts plays bass.


Creation story: Roberts founded what we now know as Dulc-i-tone in college with his girlfriend, under the moniker Yakamashi. At the time, Roberts and his partner were Berkeley students amidst the then flourishing pop-punk scene fostered by 924 Gilman St. in the East Bay. Their first release was a 4-song EP from Sacramento pop-punk group Nar. According to Roberts, Nar was largely misunderstood by its peers. The group displayed a punk scrappiness, but was largely alienated by its less conventional interests. For instance, Nar chose to cover Felt, an extremely fey UK pop group from the '80s, on its Yakamashi release, solidifying its outsider status in the greater pop-punk milieu.

Roberts quickly became interested in a variety of styles diverging from punk, severed ties with his initial partner, and began to release a variety of material. Roberts' ability to effectively market his material despite not releasing along a consistent schedule largely has to do with his involvement in the music industry in other roles. He has worked in record distribution, record stores, as a DJ, and performs in local psychedelic outfit The Mantles. All of this experience contributes to his approach with Dulc-i-tone.


Musical focus: Since the initial Yakamashi focus on punk, Roberts' imprints have largely maintained stylistic eclecticism, but even he admits that releases are united by a pop sensibility. This manifests itself in reissues of oblique, pop-leaning UK post-punk like the Scrotum Poles as well as unabashed folk music from Hopkirk & Lee. Roberts' own interests are even more eclectic, but as he explains, "Though I love the stuff, I'd feel ridiculous putting out a Cabaret Voltaire-sounding band. I'd certainly have to start another sub-label for that!"

Most recent release: Dulc-i-tone's two most recent releases are a reissue of Scrotum Poles' Revelation EP and The Art Museums' "S.H.O.P.P.I.N.G." single. Scrotum Poles are a fine artifact of bedroom post-punk from a young artist in 1980's U.K. Through modest production and clunky drum machines, the EP takes cues from a variety of post-punk's many trajectories, and imbues each track with an earnest and precocious pop sensibility. The Art Museums single, a precursor to their more recent Woodsist full-length, fondly recalls the supple, proto-indie-pop of C-86 groups.


Most unusual release: While Roberts was living abroad in England, he worked for a short period at the famed Rough Trade record store in London. One day, an unknown group called Hopkirk & Lee hand-delivered a CDR of home recordings to the store. Roberts and his record store co-workers were so enamored with the recordings that they conspired to release a record for the group in the UK. Roberts manufactured his own edition of a single for the group and shipped them to the U.S., where he intended to distribute the release upon his return. Only, several months later, Roberts had returned to the Bay Area and the entire shipment appeared to be lost. Another several months later, with no hope remaining for the arrival of his 500 Hopkirk & Lee singles, the entire package appeared, establishing the kind of backstory that solidified the group's cult appeal. Many years later, Roberts insists that he still receives an oddly high number of inquiries about the band despite their obscurity and distribution misfortune.

Various label names: When Roberts initially branched out from Yakamashi, he initially envisioned several sub-imprints, with each focused on a particular style. Ultimately, Dulc-i-tone became the primary name for his imprint, but several sub-imprints were founded and abandoned after as little as one release along the way. One such imprint was Chocolate Bars and Crashing Cars, which only released one split single featuring the Aislers Set and Fairways. It was intended to provide a home for a series of split singles featuring one mellow group and one abrasive group, but it only lasted for one record. As Roberts claims, "Everyone thought that was a dumb idea, so there you go." Also, Cry 'Til Your Eyes Fall Out was another of Roberts' imprints, invented to co-release a single for post-hardcore group Nuzzle alongside fellow Bay Area label Zum.

Origin of label names: Yakamashi, the original label name, loosely translates from Japanese as "Turn that down, it's too loud!" according to Roberts. His partner at the time was Japanese, and Roberts recalls, "It made sense at the time because that's what her mom used to yell at her when she was listening to punk records as a teenager." Dulc-i-tone, however, reflects Roberts' changing taste. It's intended as a clever rewrite of "dulcet tone."

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Sam Lefebvre


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