Interview: Geographic North

May 18 2014

With a pinpoint aesthetic combining intricate programming, hazy atmospherics, and off-kilter pop sensibilities, Atlanta-based music label Geographic North has accrued a one-of-a-kind roster of new and established artists. We recently spoke to label heads Farbod Kokabi and Bobby Power to discuss music in the internet age, digital aesthetics, and the blurring lines between analog and digital. 

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. What do you do for a living?

Bobby: We are four friends—myself, Farbod, Lee and Farzad— who share a common obsession for finding the conceptual crossway between music and design. We started in 2008 with hopes to work with some of our most adored acts in operation today.

Farbod: Initially, we were largely influenced by record clubs and subscription series — particularly at the time, Social Registry’s (all too quickly) defunct 7-inch series. We liked the idea of taking on an inclusive experience that people would actively join and receive occasional releases as we completed them. It’s an alternate way for people to discover artists that vibe with our aesthetic, but maybe weren’t familiar with before, while picking up stuff they know they’ll like. And it was also a means for us to build a financial pillow for the releases, rather than sink a sizable amount of money in at once without knowing exactly how everything was going to go. This was our first label.
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I met Farzad Moghaddam, the cofounder of the label while attending Georgia State University and working for the school’s now endangered radio station, WRAS. We shared a lot of common ground both being first generation Americans from Persian families. That served as an indirect connection supplemented by our fanatic interest for far-reaching music. 

I was studying graphic design and trying to find labels to design for, while Farzad, as the radio station’s Music Director, was building relationships with a lot of emerging artists. Naturally, this manifested itself into the idea of putting out records. Bobby and Lee came on a few years later as a way to broaden the scope of what Geographic North was about. It was quite natural too. We’ve all been friends for years and years, and having them come aboard just made perfect sense at the time. Having a pair of extra heads doubled the productivity and creativity immensely. Bobby handles logistics, press, orders and things of that nature, and Lee assists with the design and web presence we maintain.

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What does the name Geographic North come from? Any deeper meaning?

Farbod: I don’t really recall where Geographic North came from actually. Around the time we had the idea for the label, Farzad and I were simultaneously forming a band and trying to name that. We had words and phrases pulled from books and films; all kinds of wandering, enigmatic shit. I believe Farzad stumbled into Geographic North, which lent itself more as a label than a band. It sounded evocative and looked good in all-caps. If there was a deeper meaning at the time, it’s lost on us now. 

Why cassette tapes? Is there an aural benefit to analog sound?

Bobby: Until recently we had only released vinyl. We first looked to cassettes as a way to remove some of the restrictions in releasing physical media. They’re undoubtedly cheaper – for both producer and consumer – and take nowhere near as long to crank out as vinyl. And They’re fun. Fun, and easy to make. They don’t stand up to vinyl or CD or FLAC from an audiophile perspective, but they do host their own unique aesthetic capability backed with decent sound quality.

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What are your thoughts on digital music?

Bobby: You know, I think the assumption would be that we’re totally against the digital format. We’re probably not the authority on the subject, but we’re in no way against it. All of us have large libraries of songs on our computers. I just think it’s important to diversify your listening experiences. Digital and physical media complement each other thoroughly. There’s a lot of benefit in both the convenience and accessibility of file sharing, but when your life is dominated by the digital, physical media will mean more. If in the end your enjoyment of the music stops at listening from a single program like iTunes – maybe without cover art or even “good” audio quality – that’s cool. Is it a hindrance to not have every song ever recorded in your pocket? Maybe. Could an avalanche of record sleeves topple you in the middle of the night? Certainly.  If you’re hitting that emotional response you’ve sought out for, there can be no hard or fast rules on the matter.

That said, we’ve certainly seen interesting takes on “digital” releases, like Ninjasonik’s USBD on Marriage, released as a USB stick manufactured at the end of a dildo.

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There seems to be a movement towards producing tactile work that can’t be downloaded or found on the internet (zines, print magazines, mixtapes.) It seems to be a reaction against technology. Do you consider Geographic North part of this movement?

Farbod: I would say there’s always a need for a little exclusivity in what you’re consuming. Technology is terrific, but there’s also a lot of ephemeral by-product from it and from time to time, you like feeling like something truly belongs to you. Magazines, records, tapes… they have a presence. And in small runs, that presence is concentrated and creates intimacy. Everyone’s trying to get under the sheets with the lights off. 

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You’re based in Atlanta, GA. What is the creative scene like down there? And the music scene (it’s known predominantly for its roots in hip-hop/rap.)

Bobby: We’re based in Atlanta, but only two of us actually live here. I’ve uprooted my family to Colorado and Farzad is cracking books in dental school at UCLA. Farbod and Lee hold down the southern fort.

Farbod: That said, the creative scene in Atlanta is thriving. The environment is ripe for it. The relatively low cost of living attracts a lot of young artists who are responsible for the galleries and co-ops sprouting around town. The rest of the world is beginning to recognize this and it’s brought about a lot of attention towards the city. To make art and get by? You’re talking about Atlanta, not New York. 

Bobby: The music scene is another matter. Constantly in flux and notoriously insular. There is quite a bit of interesting activity going on, but – in terms of our interests – Atlanta doesn’t have the foundation or reputation as fertile grounds for experimental music. There are certainly exceptions. Great labels (DKA, CGI), venues (Eyedrum, Mammal, 529, Goat Farm), and a fascinating live performance series called Invent Room Pop, but these instances are too low-profile in the big picture. 

Atlanta recently hosted the second Shaky Knees festival, boasting a lineup of some of the most yawn-inducing headliners. Yet, only a few-hours’ drive from the city and you get Big Ears and Moog. There’s no reason Atlanta shouldn’t be hosting similarly forward thinking – or better – festivals.

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What music or bands are you into right now, and why?

Farbod: Recently we’ve been passing Alice Coltrane recordings back and forth. Specifically Infinite Chants. Our close friend Ale at Dublab put us onto her collection of Ashram Tapes and we couldn’t be more greatful. Highly recommended for a transcendent audio experience.

We’re big fans of M. Sage and his label Patient Sounds. His recent solo LP A Singular Continent is a haunting collection of field recordings, process guitar and samples that meld effortlessly into the subconscious. He’s a big boy doing big boy things. 

Bobby: Carl Hultgren’s (of Windy & Carl) debut solo LPTomorrow on Blue Flea. It’s got a surprising amount of variety and confidence that you might not expect. So simple, but so expansive. 

We’re also massive followers of labels like RVNG Intl., Spring Break Tapes, Opal Tapes, Digitalis, Bun Tapes, Bathetic, 1080p, Rotifer, and plenty of others we’re surely forgetting. 

All images c/o Geographic North