TF Archives

Om Records founder Chris Smith interview: Dance Mantra

Author: Emma-Louise Tovey
Friday, April 7, 2006

Few artists and record labels have remained true to their original game plan over the years - while everybody begins with a dream, many change course at halftime in search of something bigger. Enter Om Records; who tirelessly built a strong foundation and reputation based on their dream of 'future music', Om boasts a diverse collection of over 15 artists, pumping out a wide spectrum of underground music, they've just launched a new summer residency in Ibiza, Spain and about to release a 10 year anniversary compilation album and 10 years on they're still getting better.

Speaking of Om's 10 year anniversary, founder Chris Smith is happy to bask in his success: "time flies when you're having fun." But he's also quick to share it: "none of it would have been possible without the tireless dedication of the artists and staff at the label." While the label was thought up in 1995 it wasn't until a year later that the first album, 'Deep Concentration' was released. "We started this little Om label back in 1995 in a small flat in San Francisco's Lower Haight. We were a bit young and naïve back then… silly enough to believe that we could build a proper label by focussing on creativity rather than commercialism. When they warned us that our business model was flawed and we'd be out of business within a year, we were a bit too naïve to pay attention. Sometimes ignorance is bliss!" recalls Smith.

'Deep Concentration' was immediately hailed as the "future of experimental hip hop". Upon its success Om released a further two albums; the trilogy provided an alternative for hip hop heads and paved the way for the label's ongoing cutting edge releases.

The most widely known and coveted release on the Om label is without a doubt the highly acclaimed, smooth, downtempo Mushroom Jazz series, spun by Mark Farina as a counterpart to the popular acid jazz sound of the time. "We knew Mark through his Mushroom Jazz parties here in San Fran and Chicago. He had been putting out a mixtape series up until when the party ended and we thought that it would be cool to keep the series going on CD," Smith says.

The first, released in 1996 included Blueboy's Remember Me, and is widely considered a classic: three out of the five volumes of this series have unsurprisingly sold well over 100,000 copies. Farina's next project and yet another successful release for Om was San Francisco Sessions, a series which focused on the expanding San Francisco soulful house scene and has rightfully been hailed as the soundtrack of San Fran club life.

Not once since the label was founded has it diverged from its founders, DJs and artist's dream, its philosophy of the 'United Nations of Future Music'. "Don't get me wrong, the road has not been easy. Running an independent record label has to be one of the most challenging pursuits. Long hours and impossibly small budgets make it a daily rollercoaster of unique situations. It's an ongoing dance to get the records out there, get the bills paid and keep the artists happy and creative!"

Many labels have their time in the sun and then fall over, few labels could say they have been consistently very good over 10 years, yet Om seems to have achieved both of these tough objectives; striving to bring new music to educated music listeners covering a wide catalogue of genres such as house, soul, funk, hip hop, techno, downtempo, drum'n'bass, and two-step - all with their respect intact among music makers and the underground music listeners.

Speaking of his label's success in the face of so many obstacles, Smith says, "I always thought if we kept doing it for the love of the music, and were having fun, then it would be successful. We just knew we wanted to do it… had to do it! That alone was enough to carry us through those initial difficult years. In the early days the challenges were severe and frequ