Manufacturing Cultures

A grand celebration is set to take place at Lucky Bar on Friday, March 14. Along with a host of local talent including The Revolucionary Cyborg Wedding Band Mobile Unit, The Cavaleros, and Clunt and the Scrunts, Victoria’s Tower of Dudes will launch their third album to date and their first full-length release on local label Velvet Rut Records. Make Your Own Culture marks a towering achievement Tower of Dudes and Velvet Rut alike: the record is the first 12″ release for both.

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Velvet Rut Records was initially conceived by Clint Nottingham in the Fall of 2012 when his own band, Clunt and the Scrunts, released their first 7″. Nottingham saw the occasion as a springboard for a much larger idea he’d had in mind for some time: with the release of Clunt and the Scrunts’ first 45, Velvet Rut Records was born.

Since 2012, Velvet Rut Records’ roster has grown to three bands and Nottingham has his ears on several more. We got our first taste of Make Your Own Culture late last year when the album’s title track appeared on a split 7″ Tower of Dudes shared with Black Valley Gospel. The pairing of two very different bands is seminal to Nottingham’s vision for the project.

“Part of what this label wants to accomplish is cross pollination,” Nottingham says. “We cross pollinate by doing split 7-inches and getting bands playing together that wouldn’t normally play together. When that happens, you can even get disparate fans together in the same room, going to see bands they wouldn’t normally see. In many ways, split 7-inches are symbolic of the entire label.”

While Velvet Rut Records distributes an array of merchandise, including buttons, posters, and even a nice little record tote bag courtesy of Rad Juli, their focus is, and has always been, on records. Velvet Rut clearly venerates music’s tangible aspects.

“People have a more profound connection with something they hold in their hands as opposed to something they scroll through on iTunes,” Nottingham says. “In the same way you have a different personal connection to a friend you meet up with over drinks compared to the friend you share pages with on Facebook, the physical experience of music is much more memorable than its digital counterpart. The physical element — having the cover in your hands and watching the record spin on the turntable — is important and, I guess, in a way, it is romantic.”

As of March 14, Victorians will have the opportunity to hold a much larger physical object in their hands than they areaccustomed to receiving from Velvet Rut Records. The label’s premier 12″, Make Your Own Culture, sees Tower of Dudes in a transitory moment: transition, it seems, has been one of the only constants of the band’s history thus far.

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Tower of Dudes was born far from Victoria’s placid shoreline. Lead singer Noah Yesah and his wife, Maylee Helene, were teaching English in the Czech Republic to escape the domestic realities many of their Vancouver friends faced. When Helene discovered an abandoned, green accordion in a pawn shop, the young couple decided to form a band — their name was generated by a computer program a few days later.

The newly-christened “Tower of Dudes” began rehearsing in a pig barn which had been converted into a semiwaterproof jam space by a drug-addled madman. Having fallen into a state of constant disrepair, the rehearsal space enabled the newly formed band to create two albums worth of material as they plotted an extensive tour of Europe which ultimately culminated in a pregnancy, an incarceration, and a deportation. Eventually, the founding members of Tower of Dudes ended up back in Victoria, newly wed and with child.

The band’s geographical shift is drastic. While the band’s formative years were spent traversing countries with incredible ease, Tower of Dudes are now comparatively stranded on our lonely Pacific island, a situation Yesah describes ambivalently.

“When you are in Europe, you can go anywhere,” says Yesah. “It is such a small place — you can whip around and go to three different countries in as many days. But here it is different. Here you drive twelve hours to your next show and you’re broke when you come back. But you learn to treat ‘tours’ like a vacation. It’s not like, ‘this is my job!’, it’s just having fun… it is not the same here and the things I like about this place are also the things I dislike.”

“Victoria is ever-expanding,” Yesah continues. “It is growing in possibility for people who are in to music or food, or whatever. Things change as soon as someone opens a restaurant or a boutique shop or even a promotional company. I love it that this town is small enough that one or two people can make a massive difference — like giant drops in a small pond.”

Two giant drops are set to hit our rain drenched pond on March 14. The evening is destined to be a cavalcade of talent, from the Cyborg’s playful, bass-heavy take on hip hop all the way through to Tower of Dudes’ gleeful menagerie of European influenced sounds. Come celebrate the birth of an album, the seamless continuing story of a little label that could. Celebrate a city brimming with realized potential: make your own culture, do it up today.

Words by Nick Lyons, photography by Sara Hembree.