Putting it on wax
If you think about where you’re likely to find an underground house music record label, Truckee probably isn’t on the top of the list. The Bay Area, Los Angeles, Sacramento, even Reno for sure, but a small mountain town that doesn’t have a single club or bar that plays house music?Those long odds don’t bother local DJ and producer Sean Sullivan, whose Amfibius Recordings record label has already released six records since he founded the label one year ago.”These days with the Internet and e-mail and the way computer files and music can be transferred across the Web, it makes it really easy to do something from a far-away place and have it seem like you’re right at home,” he said. “I’ve been getting just as many, if not more, shows living up here and the records are selling great.”Sullivan (AKA DJ Sulli) has been spinning house music at clubs in Reno, the Bay Area and Seattle for almost 15 years now, as well as at a number of underground parties in the Truckee/Tahoe region. But it was only more recently that he found time to devote to the record label.
Well known as a professional photographer who specializes in snowboard and skateboard photography, Sullivan has led a somewhat nomadic existence during the past 15 years, often traveling to shoot professional riders in mountain ranges all over the world.While living that life, Sullivan was honing his skills on the turntables at clubs in Reno – where he first got into house music.Eventually, Sullivan felt that Reno wasn’t the place to progress with his career in music, so he moved away to Seattle and studied for an Audio Engineering Certificate at the University of Washington.Amfibius Recordings was actually born in the studio Sullivan set up in Seattle, but was quickly brought back to Truckee after a brief stopover in San Francisco convinced him that he didn’t want to live in a big city.In Truckee, Sullivan found a growing house music scene and an environment that nurtures his creativity.”Locally, there aren’t a lot of clubs, so a lot of the parties where we’re playing are underground events – they’re either house parties or one-off parties at clubs or they’re like the sunset parties that we did by the Truckee River,” he said.
And while the record label has been helpful in promoting house music in the area, Sullivan hopes the label will help him pursue his passion for playing live shows on a full-time basis: “One of the big motivating factors for me is DJing live shows, and at the end of the day, everything to me – the label, all the effort that’s put forth producing the music – it’s all about being able to play more live shows. That’s the end result of everything I’m trying to do. And the more I can play overseas, around the country, at bigger venues, for more people… as long as that continues to grow, then it’s heading in the direction that I want it to go.”Playing live around the region, Sullivan often hooks up with another local house DJ, Sean Carlson (AKA DJ ahn), a local kid who grew up in Truckee. Playing as theMellowkidz, Sullivan and Carlson have released one record on Amfibius so far and are currently working on a second.”Around here [the house music scene] is definitely not as dominant as it is in Reno, but there are a good amount of kids around here who are into it. It seems like this is a really cool deep-house spot, and the people that do play records tend to have a good selection of music,” Carlson said, adding, “It’s just a matter of time before more and more people catch on [to house music].”Besides producing tracks that he’s created or collaborated with Carlson on, Sullivan has made records of some of the up and coming names in house music including Alexander East, Rick Preston and Tony Senghore. But while many of these artists have achieved renown in the house music world, Sullivan still likes to work with artists who have maintained an underground sensibility:
“We try to stick to people who are underground versus commercial. That’s one of the big things in deciding who we’re going to put out. If someone’s appeared on a commercial label we’re not really interested in dealing with their music because by the time someone’s gotten commercial they’ve usually sold out in one way or another.””There are certain parameters within the music that we’re looking for and the people we bring on are people whose productions fall within this certain area,” he continued. “My main criteria is that it needs to be soulful. You have to feel the love of the producer in the tracks; you have to have soulful vocals, you need a good message… Those are the main parameters: soulful, good message, positive and it gets people off their butts and onto the floor.”As the label grows, Sullivan hopes to continue building on its success and continue playing shows locally and around the world.Upcoming shows include an ongoing engagement at the Liquid Lounge in Reno every Saturday night from 10 p.m. 5 a.m. with theMellowkidz, Dave Marsh and special guests. The Liquid Lounge is located at 148 West Street in Reno.
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