Babe City is a record label, and Babe City is a house, off Dupont Circle, that's home to the label's founding members, host to bands + basement shows, and covered, floor to ceiling, in E P H E M E R A : flyers, show posters and hand-painted murals, and more. The bulk of the aforementioned was created in-house by the label's artistic director (and Witch Coast drummer) Kevin Sottek.
We'll urge you to pick up this week's Washington City Paper (or to eyeball it online) for background on how the young label came together, its founders' plans for the near and general future, and a general reflection on having not only made it to the one year mark, but having hit some cool milestones along the way. In celebration of that one year anniversary, the label is throwing Babe's Anniversary at the 9:30 Club on Saturday, featuring an all-local lineup (of Babe City bands + beyond) and what we can only imagine will be a totally epic merch booth. Because not only is there a member of the collective dedicated to creating logos + pins + tees + album art + all that other STUFF that adds up to a visual identity, that collective recently added two additional artists/makers/doers: Jen Pape (project manager) and Michael Andrade (house photographer) – to help keep Babe City's visuals-at-large fresh and forthcoming.
From A Creative DC perspective, what stands out/what we dig the most is the label's commitment not only to collaboration, but to the strategy of playing to the strengths of its members, letting people excel at what they excel at, and, frankly, having committed to visuals early and often. GET IT, BABES. We were glad to visit last week and chat with Kevin, Michael, and Jen; below, the process and practice of some of Babe City's visual elements.
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR : APPRENTICE AT THE TATTOOERY IN COLLEGE PARK, MD : WITCH COAST DRUMMER : @THEWAXHAUS : CONTACT ~ THEWAXYHAUS@GMAIL.COM
We LOVE your work. What inspires it? I think that the biggest inspiration for my drawing is fear. When I was young I was deeply afraid of horror movies or really just anything that was unsettling, which is completely the opposite of how anyone who is familiar with me today knows me. I remember crying at movie previews and television and being completely terrified. When The Ring came out on VHS I remember being old enough to not be so afraid of it, but I was. I was at my father's apartment for the weekend and renting it from the video store. I watched it right before I went to bed, and I was the most scared I had been in my whole life. My father is/was a drunk and mentally ill, so being at his place for the weekend was unsettling to begin with. I rewound the tape and watched it over and over again through the night until I wasn't afraid anymore. This is around the time that I was heavily into graffiti and drawing comics. I instantly had to watch every horror movie I could. I read horror comics and R. Crumb, and I snagged every horror movie I read about in old issues of Fangoria and the internet.
How long have you been drawing, and how did you become the label's artistic director? I have always been drawing. My mother studied art in college, and her enthusiasm for creativity is definitely what drove my interest in drawing from a young age.
[Label founder] Jon Weiss and I grew up in the same neighborhood, went to the same high school and knew all of the same people. I was a few years ahead of him, but around the time he went to college we became very close friends. I have been making fliers for one of the bands he plays in, The Sea Life, for as long as they have been a band. Jon has always been enthusiastic about my art, so when he started the label he asked me to start drawing logos for them and all the bands. After a bit of him asking me to help out with drawings for the label he asked if I wanted to join the label as the artistic director. I of course said yes, because it is something I am very proud of. I know and respect everyone involved with running the label, as well as all of the band members. I am very happy to have been asked to contribute the foundation and direction of this project.
I really ended up drawing because I had been doing it for so long. When I was in high school I really just wanted to play music and make horror movies, but I didn't have the money to pursue any of those interests. Drawing was practical and affordable. I started to love drawing when I felt I had found a way to incorporate my interest in horror and music into everything. Everything else is really just subject to how I am feeling. I am mentally ill. My interested in the devil and god is, or at least I feel, a reflection of my mental state. I was raised in a Catholic family, but my interest in the subject is not reflective of that. I think that is what is familiar to me, and that it is the simplest way for me how to describe my own erratic behavior to others.
Other Inspirations: Top Five Desert Island Records (as of now, in no particular order)
The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead Motorhead - Overkill
Bikini Kill - Pussy Whipped Radio Birdman - Living Eyes
Trojan Records - Tighten Up Vol. 2
And what does a typical day look like for you, between the tattoo shop and Babe City?
10AM - Wake up 10:30AM - First cup of coffee, first cigarette
11AM - Take the train to the tattoo shop 12PM - Second cup of coffee, second cigarette
12:15PM - Clean tubes 1PM - draw/paint
3PM - Eat french fries, third cup of coffee, third cigarette
3:30-8PM draw, paint, smoke cigarettes, answer phones, clean the shop, tattoo, take out the trash
8:15PM - Take train home 9PM - Arrive at Babe City
9PM - 2 or 3AM paint, draw (Babe City material/ tattoo flash), smoke spliffs, drink a beer, watch a movie
2 or 3AM - Sleep, wake up and do it again
PROJECT MANAGER : @JENBUNNYDC : CONTACT ~ JEN@BABECITYRECORDS.COM
"My official title at Babe City is Project Manager and I work on a variety of things. I'm working to organize our contacts for booking, outreach, friends etc, I do some research for tours, work on databasing, organize merchandise, and also participate in meetings and general decision making stuff. At shows I'm often selling merch and sometimes taking pictures as well. Perhaps my favorite role thus far is coordinating our newest endeavor - Babe City Files - which are live recordings of bands in our basement. Tommy Sherrod of Full Glass brings his set up, records, and mixes the sets while we film the artists. So far we've recorded DenMate and Bueno and are currently working on editing the videos. But final product aside, it is a really fun process and hopefully the organic flow and cozy feel of it all will nicely translate in the final recordings."
Probably my favorite thing to make is the hand colored collaged pieces. I have been gearing up for our show this weekend with lots of new designs! Kevin's artwork lends really well to coloring and to loop in my other interests - it's definitely a nice little mindful practice that I find very relaxing and meditative in its own way. Some of these pieces I color as full circles, but others I color and cut out just the logo and then collage them with art paper or magazines or even just using the metal of the button parts. It's amazing how many ways you can design a button from a single logo - a freedom that having one's own button press grants you. I still make simple buttons with just the logo cut out and pressed, but getting to make one of a kind buttons for people to enjoy is a true pleasure for me. It feels rewarding to see people get excited about all of the designs and to find the button or magnet or key chain that suites them best. I almost feel like it's a personality test. Some people will only go for the clean cut, black on white designs, some want specific color combinations or shapes, some want the ones with the most color and glitter, and some just want you to pick one for them.
And you're responsible for a bunch of the handmade/DIY merch! When/how did the buttons/magnets come about? What's your favorite thing to make? Well - I'll take a step back here to say that the buttons/magnets/key chains are just one nook of our merchandise. Kevin is definitely the main mastermind behind our branding - he does almost all of our logos by hand (Note: Young Rapids and Bueno still use logos that were Pre-BC and The Sea Life has some that were done by Payton [James] or Jordan [Hamlett Sanders]) and he gives the final stamps of approval on just about everything we release. That said... The buttons came about because I'm stubborn about things I want and insisted very early on that even if it wasn't necessarily completely time/cost effective I was going to buy this button machine and start pressing our buttons. This was in February/March when I had just started working with Babe City and although at that time I was mostly doing computer stuff - I simply felt compelled to start making buttons, it just needed to be a thing. And it quickly became something I really enjoy getting to do and I guess in that way I wiggled myself into this Button Master role.
All in all - I think the buttons are nice tiny tokens of how we are as a label - we just make things happen so that we can share them with others and as simple and small as they seem, the work and collaboration of multiple people goes into them.
What's special about the merch for the anniversary show? Oh boy, we have some special things in store! I am sworn to secrecy regarding some of these surprises - but I can say that guests should come prepared to witness the full array of merchandise we currently have to offer - merchandise for each band, all of our album releases, and also our new Babe City shirts! If you want to find out what else we have up our super soft short sleeve shirts, you're just going to have to come join us on Saturday!
"I joined the Baby City Records team earlier this year when Jen Pape presented the idea to Babe City to hire me as their house photographer. They welcomed the idea with open arms and I've always dreamed of being a house photographer for a record label. Babe City Records is a label that is filled with talented, creative and passionate folks that I'm proud to call not only coworkers but also my friends."
I loved when you mentioned there being renewed purpose to your show photography after officially joining the team. Can you talk about that? My passion for documenting shows first started in 2012 when I felt there was a huge void to fill that local publications were failing to see. This was a time when only two photographers were consistantly present at shows. We both had the same purpose and reasoning behind why we spent our weeknights and weekends in sweaty venues: we wanted to elevate the band, our friends and their music. Fast forward to now where you see the front row overcrowded with paparazzis at each show. I felt like I was part of the problem and no longer part of the solution as I originally strived to be.
For years I've been documenting Babe City bands like The Sea Life and Go Cozy. I believed in their message and their music moved me more than whatever else was on the internet, radio or playing in-between MTV commercials. Being able to foster friendships with the band members helped my photos improve and their support made my name relevant to the public. A few days before I changed my mind and accepted the offer to be the Babe City house photographer, I remember the night that I decided I was going to "retire" from concert photography. I had this mindset before the show even began that this would be my last. Within the first song that The Sea Life played, I felt the same feeling I had when I first started shooting. I turned to Jen who was standing next to me and told her I couldn't quit this because people still needed me. The passion, the purpose, the mindset changed and I knew that I was meant to keep documenting shows, elevate the Babe City bands, my friends and their music.
Shooting house shows vs. shooting at traditional venues: pros and cons of each? House shows are where I learned everything I know. I owe all my skill and talent to the endless basements, Mexican restaurants, art spaces and bars that put up with my flash and having to see my face for years. People have the mentality that house shows are the minors and traditional venues are the majors ( SPOILER ALERT: That's not true). You can find beauty in both types of settings, just find what's best for you.
Traditional Venues Pros:
- Being able to photograph large touring bands like Tegan and Sara, RDGLDGRN and Smash Mouth
- Unexpected lighting will challenge you and force you to be aware of all of your surroundings. You'll never be bored if you constantly have to be cautious of your camera settings, lighting and framing.
Traditional Venues - Cons:
- No intimacy and your shots will become repetitive
- No flash and having to depend on stage lights. Purple, red and green fluorescent lights are not always your friend.
- Three song rule to get your shots that you want from the photo pit that is filled with other photographers shooting for various publications.
- 9 times out of 10 a photo pass is required. If you are not an established photographer with a large volume of work to show to promoters, your chances on getting a pass are low (unless you have a personal connection). If you do get a photo pass than the pressure will be on for you to capture unique shots for the bands, publications and promoters to use.
House Shows Pros:
- Ability to capture rare, close-up moments between the band and fans while having the freedom to move around
- No railing, photo pit, photo passes, etc
- Ability to use flash
- Watching the progression of bands before they make it to larger venues
- Being able to talk to the band and get to know them in a deeper level
- Hone your skills and develop your desired look.
- Best place to lose weight from excessive and endless sweat
House Shows Cons:
- Beware of flying elbows, kicks and punches. You will get hit but continue to do your job to the best of your abilities
- Be cautious of your gear, non-traditional venues means you have to be among the crowd
- Since there is no photo pit, you have to be more aware of you being in the way of people watching the show. Don't be a dingus, they have every right to be there just as you do
- Excessive and endless sweat
All photos by Michael Andrade + all imagery courtesy Babe City.
In addition to Kevin, Jen, and Michael, Babe City is Jon Weiss [Founder/Manager], Erik Strander [Co-Founder/Manager], Homero Salazar Andrujovich [Co-Founder/A&R], Peter Lillis [Director of Publicity], and Paymon Kay [CTO].
Tickets for Babe's Anniversary, 8/22 at 9:30 Club, are available here.