Forces at Work: Andrew Neerman, Beacon Sound

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Tucked away on Mississippi, Beacon Sound boasts a unique vinyl collection spanning across contemporary electronic, indie rock, and modern composition/experimental material, along with an impressive cassette and print collections. There is a sheer love of the weird and boundary pushing that is evident in all that owner Andrew Neerman puts together, and all that they release on the Beacon Sound record label including artists like Apartment Fox, Colleen, Peter Broderick, and Benoit Pioulard. Neerman approaches it all with a sense of cultural activism. The purpose being to make connections and share knowledge via music and art that is harder to find in a scene dominated by rock. With a long history of amazing shows, talks, DJs sets taking place in the store, Beacon Sound has reached a new height after receiving noise complaints. Now they work to showcase art and fashion in collaboration with The Practice Space and Babylon Vintage. We chatted with Andrew Neerman about his thoughtful approach to curation and how it all came to be.

What is the origin story of Beacon Sound? When did you launch the record label?

Ha. The short story is that I was sitting outside of Extracto in the Spring of 2011 watching Jose Medeles move Revival Drums from one retail space to another. I asked him about it and made an offhand remark about how the space he was vacating would make a “nice little record shop”. He was so enthusiastic, even calling up the landlord for me, that the ball just started rolling…and rolling and rolling. I had been buying and selling records for years to supplement my job as a social worker but I still had no place starting a retail business, as my friends will attest! I’d also been having to mailorder much of the music I was into (hello, Demdike Stare!) since the demise of Ozone Records and I had a hunch, more-or-less accurate, that there was demand here for what I was listening to at the time. It seemed like the dominance of rock music in Portland might be on the wane, too…ok, I might have been wrong about that.

I had dreamed about starting a label for years but the shop ended up being the right platform for it. I started with cassettes, initially releasing my brother Alex’s first album as Apartment Fox in 2013, then had a series of fortuitous encounters that lead to working with the Buenos Aires electronic trio Isla De Los Estados and Barcelona experimental pop artist Lucrecia Dalt. And then Peter Broderick got involved when he moved home from Europe and I commissioned his collaborative work with my buddy Gabriel Saloman, which ended up being the first vinyl release (funded by Kickstarter). It’s been really difficult financially but I recently leased out half of the front space here to Babylon Vintage so things are looking less stressful on that front.

What artists or artistic encounters have inspired you recently?

I’ve had a handful of records on heavy rotation this year: Bat For Lashes, Mark Pritchard, Pantha Du Prince, The Range, Anohni, Sophia Loizou, Tim Hecker, Andy Stott, Mikkel Metal. And I’ve been digging back into Black Celebration-era Depeche Mode recently. The Anohni record, in particular, really speaks to me with its incisive politics and distorted electronics (check the songs “Drone Bomb Me” and “Obama”).

In terms of “artistic encounters”, I guess the first thing that comes to mind is getting to watch the musical development of my brother Alex aka Apartment Fox and my friend Derek Hunter Wilson as they hone their respective crafts. Derek on the modern classical end of things and Alex doing his all-hardware techno thing.

Are there aspects of recording vs. live music that excite you more and vice versa?

Well, I’m sure we’ll end up where we started someday, singing songs to each other around a fire. But in the meantime I’ll give equal weight to live music and recorded music. I’ve always enjoyed the physicality of vinyl and, in general, our technological ability to archive sounds and return to them again and again.

Beacon Sound has hosted so many cool events and shows in your space. What made you want to create such a versatile space? Do any moments stand out?

What really pushed me to expand the shop to Mississippi Ave was 1) the idea of being close to Reading Frenzy, 2) being more visible to the general public, and 3) the opportunity to host events and have a gallery. I was always attracted to the idea of record store as public space/cultural outpost and it was difficult to realize that in the tiny little room we occupied up on Prescott. Unfortunately, we were beset with noise complaints soon after opening over here and I had to curtail a lot of the high-volume shows. I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things, though, and also trying to branch out: we’re hosting our first poetry reading this Thursday.

The moment that most stands out to me as being memorable is the in-store concert that we hosted for French artist Colleen, something of a dream come true for me. The show that Jason Urick recently put on here for Lau Nau was also fantastic.

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What do you think of the collaborative aspect of the Portland scene?

That’s a complicated question. There’s a lot to celebrate and plenty to cast a critical eye upon. Personally, I love working with like-minded people here whenever possible to make shit happen. But I also get down on Portland’s music scene sometimes for its particular brand of clique-ishness and mirror-gazing insularity. The awful state of our local press doesn’t help, in my opinion, nor does the dominance of social media in our lives. Is anyone doing any serious cultural analysis here, connecting the dots between all the interesting things happening and digging deep, instead of writing the usual puff pieces? Maybe it’s happening and I’m just not seeing it.

Anyways, I love this place, and am deeply invested in the city, but what excites me most at the end of the day are the interdisciplinary conversations and collaborations with people in other parts of our chaotic world with similar visions to my own. I get bored quickly when I look at Portland’s music scene in isolation or try to stuff different arenas of collaboration into separate silos. On a local level I try to keep Beacon Sound as a little oasis of cultural activism — part of, and with an eye on, Portland, of course, but equally outward looking. I think it’s worth noting that there are a bunch of people here doing this sort of de-compartmentalized collaborative work that deserve far more recognition: Angela Mattox, PICA’s Artistic Director, immediately comes to mind as someone who has labored tirelessly to facilitate crucial connections between artists engaged in all sorts of work both here and abroad. Disjecta’s Bryan Suereth, too.

Another thing that too often goes unmentioned is the level to which people here are willing to go to share knowledge and help each other out. Eric Isaacson from Mississippi freely shared advice before we opened the shop and Joel Leoschke from Kranky has been a source of both know-how and iconoclastic inspiration to me since he moved here from Chicago. Not to mention all the amazing people (several dozen — you know who you are) who have mostly volunteered their time and energy to keep the lights on over the years.

Lastly, going deeper with the question of collaboration, I spend a lot of time working on housing and transportation issues, and encouraging responsible density, as the Land Use Chair of my neighborhood. I always encourage people to get involved in their neighborhoods and groups like Portland For Everyone (portlandforeveryone.org), get educated on the complex issues we’re facing, and avoid xenophobic thinking by working face-to-face with people from different walks of life. Bitching about “condos, hipsters, and Californians” on Facebook does not constitute civic-mindedness, it just exposes your inability to think for yourself.

What are some of the upcoming releases on your label that you are most excited about?

I have two gorgeous albums coming out soon by PDX composer Derek Hunter Wilson (mentioned above) and Vancouver songwriter Ora Cogan, both of which feature the design work of Bijan Berahimi, my good friend and one of Portland’s finest young designers. I’m reissuing two albums this Fall by Terry Riley, too, which I haven’t officially announced yet. I’m also in the early stages of collaborating with a label in Beirut called Ruptured, which is run by a guy named Ziad Nawfal. He has a long-running radio show on Radio Liban over there and has been referred to as “Lebanon’s John Peel”, though he apparently hates being tagged with that. Initially I am going to do cassette versions of albums by the artists Munma, RadioKVM, and Fadi Tabbal. Hopefully next year we’ll commission some sort of collaborative work between artists on each of our labels. Time will tell!