Rat Drifting

Date of Birth: 2002
Releases to Date: 15
Biggest Seller: Drumheller (2005)br>Current Releases: Drumheller Wives; the Reveries Live In Bologna
Online: www.rat-drifting.com

To paraphrase the old Miller Lite slogan: Rat Drifting is everything you ever wanted in a record label and less. The Toronto-based imprint releases records blending jazz, cheap electronics, country, pop, homemade instruments, modern composition, and ambience into an uncategorisable whole. Most records feature recombinant ensembles of an extended group of musicians. To hear one Rat Drifting record is to experience just one of the many representations of this broad-minded musical community. The Silt are a countryish band with heavy sonorities and improvisational tendencies, the Reveries play junked-out jazz standards with cell phone speakers in their mouths as pickups, and the Guayaveras play post-punk electro improvised music.

Attack of the Clones
The label’s identical cover schemes give it a strong graphic identity, yet its business identity is almost non-existent. As an artist-run label coordinated by guitarist Eric Chenaux (the Reveries, Drumheller) it is an informal concern, albeit with distribution throughout North America, Europe, Japan and Australia. Nonetheless, the artists put up all costs for production and marketing, and receive all gross profits — the label keeps none of the money. Strange though it may seem, Rat Drifting is more of a brand than a label: its visual recognition reinforces the (un)expected musical palette within. Chenaux describes the philosophical tightrope walking of Rat Drifting. On the one hand he promotes the graphic identity of the releases, but eschews any meta-identity for the label itself: "The great thing I think a label can do is to create a visual image. But I’m not interested in creating a holistic identity that narrates how you should be listening to those records or thinking about any of the music.” Rat Drifting’s home page resembles modernist-style Soviet-era propaganda posters with the covers of a grid-like arrangement of the covers of every single release.

Practicality Makes Perfect
But Chenaux downplays any sense of a politicised DIY imperative with the business and identity-based issues. He reinforces the practicality of the arrangements Rat Drifting has with its artists: there isn’t much money to be made in the styles of music the label deals with. No discs or tours have been financed. Chenaux acknowledges that it is unlikely that he’ll be able to quit his job based on musical income, so realistic goals are key. "[Artists] get 100 percent of the money. Rat Drifting doesn’t make money for itself. I don’t take a cent for doing this work. That’s as fair a deal as you can get. They spend money on making something, and they get all the money back. The website is something I pay for because I want it to be the way I want it to be… It’s not that much money. I guess that makes it not a business.” Another practicality has been to release discs in bunches. This strategy has had the advantage of concentrating the amount of time Chenaux spends on promotion. Distributors also like having more than one item available at any time. Chenaux says: "It has been somewhat deliberate. Because the [initial four releases were put out simultaneously], it was good to continue this way. If you release three things maybe one of them is going to get more attention.” But there are aesthetic considerations as well: "I’m interested in releasing stuff where the records recontextualise each other. I wanted to release the Drumheller and Reveries records together” — the latter was delayed until this year — "because they’re both jazz records in the widest sense and I like the both of those sitting together and stretching somebody’s conception of what jazz could mean.”

Constellation Inspiration
The small-scale sustainability of Montreal’s Constellation Records has been an inspiration to the Rat Drifting enterprise: "Constellation’s not so different from Rat Drifting. [Constellation main men] Ian and Don were an inspiration because the idea of a label coming out of a music [scene] that’s already present, it’s something that appealed to [cofounder] Martin [Arnold] and I.” In fact, late last year, Chenaux released a solo disc with the label: "It’s good to spend more time with them and think about the experience in terms of what happens with Rat Drifting a little more.” Does his solo album on Constellation distract from Rat Drifting? Chenaux doesn’t think so; Rat Drifting exists solely for the purpose of its artists being associated with the "brand.” There’s no exclusivity required of any artist, Chenaux says "an artist could release a record on Rat Drifting, then turn around and release the same record on a U.S. label the following day and I’d be fine with it.”

Staying The Course
Chenaux is proud that the label has continued to attract attention and release records; fulfilling the minimalist functions of its business for its artists: "If Rat Drifting wants to continue it will continue, and I want it to but it will do what it needs to do. Whatever happens happens. There are a really great bunch of people that I know and love who are making music, and they are always welcome.” Chenaux’s low-key approach to championing his community with a professional and understated manner is keeping everyone involved drifting in the right direction.