Over the last two years Cascine has been generating an increasing amount of adoration and respect and is quickly cementing itself as one of the most exciting independent record labels around.
I first discovered Cascine nearly two years ago when I stumbled across a track called So Free by Finnish house duo Shine 2009. The bright pianos stabs, horns and early house beats had me instantly hooked, it was like stepping back in time. In fact when I saw that Paula Abdul had lent her vocals to the track I thought it might even be a re-release. Of course that wasn’t the case, it just so happened that the 80’s pop songstress had been dating Cascine boss Jeff Bratton at the time. The track has had a lasting affect on me and I’ve been having a love affair with Cascine ever since. The calibre of releases from this experimental pop label have been inspiring, with stand out albums from Chad Valley, Shine 2009 and Selebrities as well as a series of EPs from Jensen Sportag, Southern Shores, RxGibbs, Evan Voytas and World Tour. This isn’t throwaway pop music it stays with you and it’s reminded me just how good pop music can actually be.
Shine 2009 – So Free
The label began just over a two year ago as an offshoot from Swedish alt-pop label Service. Music publicist Sandra Croft had approached the label, while Jeff Bratton was working there, with Shine 2009 hoping they would sign the duo. “They had this amazing sound that reminded me so much of Service’s pop aesthetic,” Sandra says, “it didn’t quite work out, but Jeff and I were both already in love with their music at that point.” The pair just couldn’t let it go and in the summer of 2010 they started Cascine with Shine 2009 as their first signing. Being linked to such an established record label, I did wonder what affect that had on Cascine early on. “There was pressure to maintain the integrity of the overall family,” Jeff explains. “But it always comes down to trusting our ears and intuition.” This is a sentiment that has formed the basis of many of Cascine’s decisions, including the artists they sign. “Unless it stirs us as people, we won’t put our name on it,” Jeff confesses. “I tell people, Cascine is like spreading my blood across the table. It’s such a personal thing.”
Photography by Natalee Ranii-Dropcho
With each release, the label is continuing to forge its own distinctive sound. This is experimental pop that reinvigorates past genres to make for an altogether nostalgic but refreshing experience. Take Selebrities for example. The three New Yorkers pull influences from late 70’s post punk, 80’s synth pop, Italo Disco and all the elements that made New Wave what it was in the 80’s. And they then breathe new life into it by adding their own contemporary edge. Vocalist Maria Usbeck admits “the new and the old combine to create a style that we like to think is timeless and all our own.” Jensen Sportag take the same approach but for a completely different sound. The Nashville duo create smooth R&B with euphoric breaks and a glossy electro pop finish. And harking back to the likes of Hall and Oates, the pair flirts unashamedly with seductive retro grooves and cheesy soulful vocals, pulling them off with such slick precision that very few get away with it.
For me, it’s this sense of nostalgia and revival that draws me to Cascine’s releases, but Jeff admits that this sound was never intentional. “It’s always a matter of following what feels right,” says Jeff. “Which typically leads us back to our own musical reference points.” The sound of Cascine is essentially just a reflection of Jeff and Sandra’s musical tastes and the type of music that they feel a connection to.
The emotive response that Jeff needs in order to sign artists is the same response that Cascine’s former art director, Jason Romanelli, looked for when designing the artwork. “I try to find an image that represents a feeling I get from the music in some way. I tend to respond to abstract images or compositions taken out of context that convey this to me rather than a concrete idea.” Jason is responsible for most of the artwork as well as the label’s overall aesthetic, which has become just as recognisable as its sound. “It’s been an integral part of the conversation since the very beginning,” he explains, which is part of the reason why a lot of Cascine’s releases are available on vinyl as well as on digital download. They believe musical consumption should be about so much more than simply listening. “Vinyl allows us the creative freedom to bring something tactile to life,” says Jeff, with Jason elaborating, “I feel it has more of an impact on a person to experience the product in that way. Not only by virtue of it looking and sounding better but also in the act of holding the record in your hand, opening it, placing it on the turntable… It’s a real moment that involves almost all of your senses.”
Southern Shores – Atlantic EP
Cascine try to create a valued and memorable experience for their fans, experiences that are increasingly hard to come by with the advent of digital downloads in the last decade. Getting hold of music has become so easy. And you’re not actually holding anything, there is no physical product to touch and cherish, it’s just code. Jeff confesses that even he is part of this growing problem. “Myself included, I think that we consume media in an alarmingly fast rate these days. I don’t see a solution aside from us making personal decisions to slow down and spend more time with each release.” Of course, Cascine is a business and one that must adhere to modern day musical consumption and industry movements if it wants to be successful and make money. “I think the biggest challenge is withstanding the disposable and transient elements in the culture of music,” Sandra admits. “Trying to stay upright and stick to your beliefs when everything’s swirling around you might not be in line with those beliefs.”
So far sticking to their guns and what they know has served Cascine well and hopefully it will continue to do so. The label’s success has been testament to how much love and hard work has gone into it, not just from Jeff, Sandra, Jason and the rest of Cascine, but by all of the artists they’ve signed. “There’s not one release in the catalogue that we don’t feel deeply connected to,” Jeff says, with Sandra summing up “I’m really proud that we’ve managed to cultivate something true that resonates with people, a catalogue of unique and pure pop music.”
Last year Cascine released Cascine Standouts: 2010-2012, a celebration of all the music they’ve released over the past couple of years. You can stream the compliation below and buy here.
Words by Paul Joseph
This article was originally published in the Go Louder issue of 1883 Magazine