A Conversation with 1080p Collection



The emergence of online streaming platforms has effectively intercepted the traditional ways in which record labels present content. Sites like Bandcamp and Soundcloud have allowed for an emancipation from the traditional model of a ‘recording industry’ that relied heavily on the material aspects of experiencing music. As a result of his participation in online music communities, such as his MP3 blog, Rose Quartz, and several contributions to the web-based magazine Altered Zones, there is perhaps no one better equipped to navigate this new de-materialized economy than 1080p founder Richard Macfarlane. While 1080p does offer material objects in the form of cassettes and vinyl, it is the label’s digital strategies that illuminate how these emergent economies operate. Through a refined awareness of streaming platforms, 1080p exemplifies how immersion in the digital diaspora can aid in the creation of discourses, trends, community, participation, and visibility during a distinct shift towards an increasingly online reality. To shed some light on the everyday operations of a contemporary record label, Macfarlane recently took some time with us to discuss 1080p’s identity, materiality in the music industry, and his own personal interactions with digital content.

When 1080p was first beginning as a label you said that you were attempting to create a platform for “peripheral dance music.” Do you think that in some ways that peripheral has started to have its own center?

I think rather than wanting the label to serve as a platform, it was more about plugging in and participating with patterns that seemed to be emerging. I had only started listening to house and techno around the same time the zeitgeist was tending towards these styles and moving to the club realms from more live formats like noise, post-noise or guitar music.

Do you continuously try to find the periphery of that renegotiating center?

I might be complacent actually, but it seems like there’s an insanely strong pool of people creating amazing stuff immediately accessible to me; rather than me continuously trying to search for it, it’s just kind of there.

It’s all so available to me because of spending so much time online and being involved in DIY music through show promotion, journalism and just natural osmosis.

1080p as a label seems to embody a shift towards the de-materiality of the music industry. How reliant is 1080p on the streaming experience? There is still very much a physical component in that you release vinyl and tapes, but the steps that lead to that buying experience are, more than ever, digitally-mediated. Would you agree that this digital component of 1080p content is perhaps more important than, for lack of a better definition, the ‘music object’?

I certainly geared it around my own consumption of music which is basically entirely via streaming as opposed to physical objects; actually the idea of owning some sort of deluxe or handmade limited edition cassette or vinyl is far from my interests. I wanted the tapes to work in a utilitarian way, I wanted them to stay as far away from appearing fetishistic or as special objects and just serve as general carriers for music. Just having this constant, reliable stream of really good music coming on tape that also comes with instant download to serve as a purely practical means of listening. I initially wanted to use tapes because of the connection with DIY cultures and labels that I had looked up to, and because they are small, cheap and easy to produce, rather than for any aesthetic purposes. It was never meant to be any real comment on digital music consumption or anything. It’s interesting how vinyl’s resurgence, and the comparison of e-books to physical books (the latter still sells more than digital), all seem to come back to the idea that people prefer choice rather than simply ease of delivery/consumption; I feel like there will always be times where you want the option of a real book or album more than just a digital copy.


How does the visual component of record and label design function in the online space as opposed to the aesthetics of a physical object?

Digital comes first as far as all my concerns of working towards strong artwork, because that’s where maybe 90% of the audience will see the design and form their opinion about it. I don’t mean that in a cynical way, but I know my own attention span is next to non-existent and I believe it’s important to promote each release as well as I can. My own preference would be that there’s not much difference in the hierarchy between engagement with the physical object, and how it appears when viewing the digital version of the art online—it’s mostly important for the art to look how the music sounds, so your first impression of the art aligns with your first click of the Soundcloud stream, as much as when putting the cassette in the tape deck.

In your opinion, can an album that is downloaded digitally from 1080p’s catalog still function as an object in the same way a tape or a vinyl release can?

While I’m still deeply materialistic, I actually don’t care at all these days about owning ‘objects’ when it comes to music, and even owning MP3s or files is not as important as it once was when building up a big library. Downloading everything completist-style via Soulseek and torrents etc. I had amassed this 1TB hard-drive (that eventually failed a few months ago) that was full of huge amounts of full television series’, thousands of MP3s and even dozens of scanned rolls of film, but I remember not caring for even a second that the entire thing was wiped—it can all just be downloaded again, or, not even downloaded but just streamed. In the case of the photos, many of them are on Facebook or Instagram, so they are somewhat safely stored on there. I have gotten really into buying MP3s through Bandcamp because I like the delivery format, so the dematerialization issue aside, it’s a nice direct model to pay for people’s work. I bought this Gigi Masin compilation for 10 the other day which I previously would’ve thought to treat like an object (i.e. it’s not that cheap), but really it’s just about consuming it and enjoying it rather than considering the physicality for me personally. I would say I’m too flippant with most objects that I relate to; some people seem to think about their engagement with things a lot more, which I’m envious of.

How does 1080p operate in relation to other vinyl-only boutique labels that are the standard approach to releasing dance music?

I really admire the restraint of vinyl-only labels but at the same time it can sometimes feel needlessly boutique, brand-preserving or idealistic, at least compared to my own ideas and ways of listening/consuming music. I do think that in many ways it’s a really useful approach to the general commodification of music, but for me personally I want to be as participatory as possible, utilizing means of digital distribution and promotion to get it out to the most diverse audience as possible. I like the idea of giving people the option to pick up the digital copy through Bandcamp or whatever other service; it’s always about having the music as available as possible for each release, which is why I thought it was important to have worldwide digital distribution. All the 1080p releases are available through iTunes, Spotify, Boomkat, rRdio etc., this question of complicity with potentially evil or corporate entities seems like the strongest facet of the “digital DIY” that people talk about, and for me it has been important to try these avenues out because despite all the debate, it’s still very hard to figure out how much Spotify would, in reality, be ripping artists off. It’s interesting to see that Soundcloud is moving towards subscription services and is introducing ads before the start of some ‘monetized’ tracks because I guess in a year or so it will be full of adverts rather than this digital grassroots realm for people to put their music up freely and instantly. It’s super interesting to see different approaches and I’m not exactly sure what’s best in terms of being independent or true with physical-only versus digital, but it’s sick that you can choose either path. I would say that the idea of either of these strategies being more ‘authentic’ than the other is pretty irrelevant at this point though.

Do you think that, in the face of streaming content, certain approaches to labels will become increasingly outmoded?

It always depends if you have a strong brand and content that people want, which is often the case for labels that go for physical only. People will always hype your brand and want to grip the physical if the myth is strong and the music is good. I really admire some labels that opt for a ‘no-promotion’ approach. I have always tried to hustle in order to build a strong PR network because I want to participate with the more above-board music business. I would love to start a PR company or be able to find roles in more substantial PR or record label worlds. In terms of the digital/physical thing though, I find it strange when some small labels are super protective about sharing MP3s because one of the things I look out for the most with releases is seeing which sites they leak on and through the ways in which I personally seek out new music (ie. forums like Hipinion, download sites like no.data or membership torrent sites like What.cd etc.) I grew up using Soulseek and other online communities, and these networks are super strong and important in formations of taste and modes of expression, and the general collective consciousness of criticality in music that often bleeds into physical, real-life communities. I think it’s cool to do whatever you want, but I can’t really get into the “vinyl-buying-nerd” realms that could potentially encourage limited editions. Discogs stuff seems whack as hell and not inclusive to me which is the most crucial issue: to be open and non-exclusive rather than purposefully obscure. In addition, I have always preferred transparency in terms of identity (as opposed to purposely myth-building bios or presentations of music), but that’s a little further away from what I think the future holds in terms of physical versus digital distribution. I’m pretty sure that both will exist as strongly, and there’s definitely a reason why digital-only labels maybe haven’t taken off as strongly as those that offer either physical-only or physical and digital releases.

How aware are you of algorithmically suggested content in regards to your selection of new label content?

I think much of it is already laid out there for me; running a label is easy, I think, and doesn’t deserve as much praise as people attribute to it (especially when it’s already an ego-driven type of position) particularly compared to people actually creating music or running an actual club or venue. For instance, I don’t think that I have done a very careful curatorial job so far; it’s more about just doing it and having a brand that is new and slots into the cycle of newness of the music journalism world. That might sound super cynical but it’s a process of consumption that I’m also very into; we have access to such an incredible amount and so much new stuff is constantly coming on, so I don’t think it’s a big deal if you don’t listen to some MP3s from a couple of months ago anymore. There’s so much out there to be excited and inspired by. I’m not sure how possible it is for me to be concerned with future-preserving in terms of either brand or being part of the way music is consumed, it’s definitely important to think about.

Is it possible, in our current moment, to find new music online that hasn’t been presented, in some capacity, by an algorithm or as a result of your other online decisions?

Over the Christmas holidays I had a bit of time to seek out new music on Soundcloud, and the internet in general, and I realized how different it is in terms of discovering new producers compared with say four years ago when I was constantly scouring Bandcamp (or MySpace before that) for music to play on radio shows I hosted, or for posting on Rose Quartz, the blog I used to run. I would say it’s nearly impossible for me to “purely discover” a new artist without there being a connection with someone who I’ve previously released whether it be in the form of mutual follower on Soundcloud, or even being directed to said producer from someone I’ve previously worked with. For last year and the present time, the most common algorithm for 1080p is chatting to someone on Facebook at the suggestion of someone else from the 1080p roster, and then hitting it off with them and realizing their music is a perfect fit for the label. It feels too blessed or easy in that regard, like the curatorial work is almost done for me rather than ‘authentically’ seeking it out online on my own terms. But I imagine this is how many labels work; I never listen to unsolicited demos I get unless there’s some point of reference through a label or producer I know because I don’t have time.


The 1080p catalogue is very global in regards to where the artists hail from. Despite this, many of the recent releases have been by Vancouver artists, the city that you currently reside in. Does the geographic location of where you are influence what gets chosen for the 1080p collection?

It was definitely important in the earlier releases and when I was looking for a purpose with starting the label, but I’ve been such a shut-in these days it seems almost fraudulent to say that I live in Vancouver because I’ve been holed up either in my room doing 1080p or freelance web work. It’s either that or I am walking up to Commercial Drive to Audiopile, the record store I work at. I’m certainly not an active part in the DJ or live music community as I have been in places in the past, but that might change in the summer. I don’t have the same history of being part of the community in Vancouver that many people have, so thinking about the British Columbian-ness of something like the LNRDCROY record means it’s more about my perceptions of the area since arriving here 3 years ago, rather than longstanding memories.

We’ve been talking about the present and the future so much, is there anything that has changed in the music world that has caused you to be nostalgic for a by-gone time?

I think my general lack of attentiveness and sort of drifting through negotiations with music means that I don’t notice change that much. I’m pretty selfish and flippant in my listening habits and attention span as I mentioned, so it’s just a matter of what is around me online and in the immediate IRL generally. I would say that there was a certain era that felt very golden to me around the time that Pitchfork ran the sister site Altered Zones. It was a huge deal to me at the time that the blog I ran with my friends called Rose Quartz was asked to contribute to Altered Zones as it felt like an extremely real creation of an online community with a dozen or so music blogs from around the world. The first time I visited New York was pretty incredible on account of meeting so many people I had formed friendships with online and then being introduced to people who had actually heard of our blog was really amazing. No one in New Zealand or in the UK where I had been living previously seemed to acknowledge or care about it.

Musically, I think that was one of my favorite periods—the label Olde English Spelling Bee was probably the sickest label around at that time that had the best and weirdest stuff like James Ferraro, Ducktails, Matrix Metals and other hypnagogic-pop and post-noise stuff that I still think is some of my favorite stuff. That was around 2009 I think, it seemed really cohesive and exciting to me, with other bands like Sun Araw, Pocahaunted, Emeralds, Tomutonttu etc., real colorful and sincere DIY music. The central ideas around all these artists seemed, to me at least, to be personal revisions of the “psychedelic” and more general sensations of nostalgia, which was easy to connect with for me. That was an exciting time to be discovering, writing about and engaging with all that stuff, but it’s always been about new stuff for me (and a lot of people obviously) so it’s hard to look back too much.