Monday, June 29, 2009

Mord Con Notes (2001)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, June 29 - This originally posted on, 7/30/01


The annual Mordam Records' convention was held this last Saturday in Sacramento's Independent Order of Odd Fellows Lodge # 2. The Lodge is housed in an unassuming slice of strip mall, just across a weed choked lot from an exotic plants store that seemed untroubled with customers. A mounted photo inside the hall's break room featured two dour men with nineteenth-century neckbeards. A caption below explained that the Odd Fellows' organization had been established in August 1849 "to relieve the sick and bury the dead". Nearby photos commemorated the balls, parade floats and various Shrineresque charity functions that had transpired since.

The unspoken theme of this year's convention was Massive Frugality. That the convention was even being held in Sacramento was the direct result of the Lookout Records defection nine months earlier. Faced with a 25% income loss and priced out of the tech-swollen San Francisco real estate market, Mordam wisely removed itself to the land where billboards for Miller Genuine Draft still outnumber those addressing Linux issues. Taken with the loss of the Dead Kennedy's back catalog, the Lookout shortfall has abruptly opened a new chapter for Mordam. As with past conventions, representatives from Mordam's nearly fifty distributed labels gathered in two large meeting rooms to talk shop (the proceedings only occasionally punctuated by the conversational overlap through cloth covered room dividers). And, as with past conventions, the usual topics - marketing, the problem of a strong dollar in foreign markets, which records "stick to the wall", updated buying patterns of "the kids"- were dutifully addressed. But those few labels with deep pocketed constituencies were holding their good luck tales close to the vest.

The climactic third act convened after lunch. This was the "Major Labels / Advertising" discussion in the 1:30 - 3:00 time slot. A long talk ensued on the role of Mordam's slight intersections with the five major music companies and whether or not a long standing ban on engagement was still relevant. These conventions seem doomed to relive the same arguments every few years or so. Nine new staff members and a half dozen new labels guaranteed much revisiting of ground previously fought over. To those who hadn't endured such discussions, the urge to filibuster ran strong. Hit List editor Jeff Bale orated in the style of a man who had cornered his kids' friends in the kitchen with a lecture about the sixties. Newcomers repeatedly opened their remarks with the brutal phrase "I just wanna say....". Although the first Mord-Con of the 21st century lacked the wrath of the late Tim Yohannon on this issue, all the elements of squabble survived intact. Towards the end of the discussion, the name of The Cramps was repeatedly invoked as an example of how major labels betray their artists. Which occasionally bordered on the awkward, since Ivy & Lux from the Cramps were present for the entire argument (their new label, Vengeance, was picked up by Mordam last June), at times seemingly bemused by all the fuss.

The convention let out promptly at 5. The center hall was found to be packed with small boys in cummerbunds and teenage girls in pink dresses inhaling helium balloons. The Rollins family of Sacramento had rented the third meeting room for a banquet, and the lodge manager politely requested that the Mordam party clear the way. By 5:15, all evidence of a convention had been erased, and the wedding party presumably made merry long into the night.