Labels We Love: True Panther and IAMSOUND

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Two young labels vie for the hearts and minds of today's tastemakers.

Everyone knows that if you want to be cool, the last thing you should do is admit it. So it's really no surprise that the folks behind True Panther Sounds and IAMSOUND, two of today's hottest up-and-coming indie labels, would never cop to actually trying to win over the hipster set. "I don't want [IAMSOUND] to become a fad label," says label founder Niki Roberton. "Finding artists who are making different music and breaking boundaries is what I want the label to be known for." True Panther founder Dean Bein sings a similar tune. "I don't follow trends or genres when deciding on [what] record to release. The only set criteria I follow is that the music is honorable, honest, adventurous, and makes me want to blast out of [my] seat into space when I hear it." Noble intentions aside, it's undeniable that these two labels are soundtracking the exploits of the cool crowd—IAMSOUND is home to acts like Telepathe, Little Boots, and The Black Ghosts, while the True Panther roster includes artists like Girls, Lemonade, and Glasser.?

It certainly doesn't hurt that IAMSOUND and True Panther are currently situated in the United States' two cultural epicenters—Los Angeles and Brooklyn, respectively. Yet neither label was borne of some petty desire to impress the big-city art-rock vanguard. Roberton grew up in England, where she idolized labels like Warp, Fierce Panda, Rough Trade, XL, and Domino. As a teenager she scouted bands for Parlophone, and only moved to L.A. after college, where she began hunting down bands via MySpace and offering to direct their music videos. All that networking eventually led to the release of a few singles, and IAMSOUND was born.?

True Panther's roots trace back to San Francisco, where Bein grew up, went to high school with members of Lemonade and Glasser, and basically came of age in the Bay Area punk and hardcore scene. The label began on a lark when Bein and a couple of friends started an impromptu band and cobbled together the funds to press up a single before they hit the road. The record actually sold, inspiring Bein to continue the self-described "Ponzi scheme" and keep releasing music. Although the label has grown and subsequently relocated to Brooklyn, True Panther continues to fly the banner for the San Francisco DIY scene. "When we first started the label, we only released limited-edition, handmade-artwork, vinyl records," he recalls. "As pressing sizes have gradually increased, I can't always make everything by hand anymore, but I still want every person that buys a record to feel an intimate connection has been made between them and the band and the label."?

Even as their notoriety has grown, both labels have stuck to their guns when it comes to guiding principles. Roberton and Bein both claim to be consumed by music, and are constantly digging for new sounds. Yet that doesn't mean they're hunting for the proverbial next big thing. "I don't feel like True Panther has a built-in audience," says Bein. "Some of the music is too weird for some people, some is not raw or weird enough for garage or punk audiences. The dance stuff isn't traditional dance music, the punk stuff isn't traditional punk music. Every record is its own journey that eventually finds a surprising audience." Recent True Panther releases include the noisy garage-punk of Ty Segall, Hunx and His Punx's bratty rollerskate rock, and the underage rap stylings of NYC foursome The Fly Girlz, so it's clear that Bein isn't following any sort of genre-specific road map. IAMSOUND is similarly schizophrenic, with records on tap from U.K. hip-popper thecocknbullkid and L.A. band Fool's Gold. “They make African-influenced music and sing in Hebrew,” says Roberton. “That alone made me say yes.”

In an era when labels (even the majors) are constantly chasing the latest flash-in-the-pan sound or scene, IAMSOUND and True Panther take a different approach and follow their passion. "Music is not trash, it is not disposable, offhand, an afterthought, or a hobby. It's one of the most incredible, special and eternal things that a human being can create," says Bein. "I don't want to put out records that are forgotten or gather dust on someone's shelf. I want records that are so passionate and compelling that they lose their grooves on a person's turntable." Given this attitude, it's no surprise that True Panther has passed on some pretty commercial projects that Bein simply wasn't feeling. "Just as I expect a group or musician to be honest about their own music and intentions, I have to be honest about my own taste and about whether or not I feel like I can invest a big part of myself in releasing and promoting the music," he says. "I want records that can sound fresh and exciting forever."

??thecocknbullkid's Querelle EP is out now and Fools Gold's self-titled debut ?will be released in September on IAMSOUND. ?Girls' full-length debut, Album, will be released in September on True Panther ?Sounds.

photos Tom Winchester and Tommy Brockert