Any in-demand DJ will tell you that crate-digging – the art of scouring record shops for buried gems, hot new trends or fresh, inspiring new blood – has its eye-gougingly frustrating days. Hell, any retired garage-sale aficionado can tell you the same, but what happens when an entire musical genre seems to crash before your very eyes? In the early 2000s, the electronica/dance sections at record stores around the country morphed, almost overnight, into a fire sale. Overly saturated with DIY Mac users’ fumbling attempts at club superstardom, renowned dance music artists matured and expanded into sub-sub-genres, or simply went underground altogether. It was at this point that Marc George stopped flipping through the endless supply of “bedroom producers” and decided to make it easier on everyone: he’d put records on the shelves, and he’d make sure they were good. No digging required.
“I kept thinking ‘Where’s the quality control, here?’ There’s a saying `in business`: When there’s blood in the streets, buy real estate,” says 31-year old George, who founded Orlando-based Agave Records in 2003 with capital from his former career in, yes, real estate. “There were a lot of people bailing `on house music`, and there’s a damn good reason, but at the same time it’s an opportunity to be one of the few.” Instead of following most house distributors’ transition to exclusively mp3-based awareness campaigns, George reverted to the more expensive, but more personal, method of pressing LPs and allowing them a shelf life – giving them the chance to catch on with the old schoolers – before eventually digitizing. “It’s a small price to pay to be a part of kind of an elite group,” says George. “We are one of the few house labels to regularly press 12-inch `records`. Certainly one of the only `labels` in Florida `to do so`.”
The refreshing angle paid dividends almost immediately, as Agave started to attract established musicians feeling slightly alienated from the digital frontier. “I’m a big vinyl fan, so I definitely appreciate that Agave supports the format,” says local electronic veteran Q-Burns Abstract Message. “`Marc George` is not thinking in terms of being a local label, but to make waves on the world scene. That certainly drew me into Agave’s orbit.”
George admits to having eyes for the global market, as well as musical tastes that lean closer to VW vans than Ibiza raves – “I’m a Deadhead … and a Gemini,” he says – but he has also seen the darker side of cutthroat music-biz bottom-lining up close and personal, and that’s guided his way in what not to do. He was an assistant engineer for pop groups at a division of Trans Continental in Orlando, under the distant, unseen hand of Lou Pearlman. “I hate to see the demise of any individual, but based on the stories I’ve heard, it was something that was coming for a long time,” says George. “I caught a good glimpse of what that market’s all about. They would like to use their engineers and interns for every bit that they could. We didn’t part on the best terms. We’re not dealing with that `at Agave`. We’re trying to keep a bout of sanity.”
Not long after Agave’s formation, a Chicago DJ was being pulled into their orbit as well: none other than the house legend Johnny Fiasco, whose percussive, Latin-tinged twist on the standard 4/4 break was just the boundary-pusher Agave was hoping for. George’s mentor, Viva Recordings founder Jon Lemmon, had formed a funk duo with Fiasco called Willie Diggs and brought it to Agave. “It proved to be a remarkable album, and it was a huge seller back then,” remembers George. “Since then, Lemon is one of my best friends and Johnny Fiasco has done five, six projects for Agave since then. It’s funny how these things end unfolding.” This month’s Agave Nectar Vol. 2 will be Fiasco and Agave’s biggest step together yet; for Fiasco, the project has carried some heavy pre-date buzz in the house market, and for Marc George and Agave Records, the album represents their national coming-out party.
George feels the attention is overdue for the Orlando electronic scene. “Whether we want to think it or not, the city is very trend-setting,” he says.
Q-Burns agrees. “I’d even say `Orlando’s` in the top ten as far as friendly DJ scenes in the states go. It’s not just the DJ scene, though. Orlando is fortunate to have a strong music scene in general.”firstname.lastname@example.org