Text by Sheldon Chow
Photos courtesy of Seze Devres
The Bunker is an iconic New York electronic music dance party, lauded and frequent by connoisseurs of the musical style. For the last 11 years, it’s grown from a Friday night party in the basement of avant garde, Lower East Side music venue, Tonic, to a monthly residency at Output in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; a club famous for having one of the best sound system in all of New York City.
I just want the sounds of the label to reflect all the different facets of the party, like the build up, the come down and everything in between.
The life force and the constant presence behind the successful event is Bunker founder Bryan Kasenic. His devotion has helped underground electronic music remain relevant, accessible and cherished in New York City.
Having cultivated a strong musical brand through The Bunker parties, it was a natural progression for Kasenic to start a record label. Currently, he is hard at work on the launch of the label, appropriately called “The Bunker New York,” which is a showcase of The Bunker artists.
Michael Hopkins, aka Leisure Muffin, a Bunker regular since 2003, is the first artist the label will feature. His EP, The Bunker New York 001, contains three tracks of genre-defying electronic music—part Komische, part vintage techno, part funky sound experiments. They are the kind of tracks that can take you on a headphones space odyssey while moving you on the dance floor. Black vinyl is already available in select record stores, while limited edition colored vinyl is available, while stocks last, on The Bunker’s bandcamp website
In a world saturated by cookie cutter pop EDM, it is always refreshing and inspiring to hear from electronic labels and artists who are taking chances with their music.
I had the opportunity to sit with Bryan Kasenic to chat about the label, the parties and the music.
What is the mission and inspiration behind the label?
The mission of the label is to document and reflect on what’s happening at the party. We’ve done this in the past with podcasts, where we would podcast sets from the party. But I wanted to take it to the next level and do the next thing.
When did the idea for the label first come about?
For a long time I’ve thought it was my destiny to do a record label. It was just where my life was leading. From 2000 to 2004, I worked at a record label called the Agriculture, which was owned by DJ Olive and James Healy. The label put out a lot of great music, but it was never really commercially successful at all.
Towards the end of 2005 or 2006, the digital thing really took off and people weren’t paying for music anymore, and so for years after that I was just like, “Ah, forget it. I’m going to do parties, not a record label, because parties can’t be pirated, and people will still pay to go to them.” And then I got so busy with the party that I started wanting to do a record label again.
Around the beginning of 2013, I started seriously hitting some people up for submissions to the label. It took a while though, because I didn’t want to start the label until I had at least three or four releases lined up. I didn’t want to put out a record and then have everybody be like, “Well, what’s the next record? What’s coming next?” I’ve always wanted it to be very smooth and fluid and to always have the next thing coming.
So, once I had four releases done, I started approaching distributors. I debated between doing a production and distribution deal and just making the records myself. And I just started figuring out the nuts and bolts of how to do a record label again. I did that back in 2000, but it’s been a while. Actually, it was kind of surprising how little had changed, but I still had to wrap my head around it again.
Did the resurgence of vinyl in the last few years make you buy more vinyl personally? And, did that inspire you to start your label?
Since I was 13 years old, I’ve been collecting records and I’ve never really slowed down, so it didn’t start anything that wasn’t going on already. I think the vinyl resurgence of the last few years is just for people who want to own an object again. I’ve always felt that way. I think after five years or so of owning mp3s, everybody was just like, OK, now my collection is not this pile of things, it’s data on a hard drive. I think people started to miss that tactile feeling of owning a physical thing.
That didn’t inspire my decision to start a label though. It’s just something that I always wanted to do and the time was finally right. It just took me a while to figure out what I thought people would actually want to have on vinyl and how I can contribute to that. I’m glad I did the Bunker for 11 years before I started the label. I think it helped me sharpen my aesthetic, so I know exactly what I want to do.
Can you describe the Bunker Sound in terms of the party and the label?
It’s hard to specifically define our sound because we’ve done so many different things over the years. We’re always trying to do something new or take it to the next level. Not just staying put and treading water. People might say that The Bunker is just an edgy techno party from New York. With a label, we can help redefine that a little further and hopefully create a unique space and reputation. Not that we haven’t done interesting, experimental, far out nights, but I’m hoping the label will give us a chance to reach out to more people who really want to hear something that’s truly different and new.
So the function of the label is to broaden the sound of The Bunker, going beyond just making people dance?
We’re absolutely into that too. We’ll be releasing some records that are specifically for prime time dancing. Our events always reach a point in the night when that’s just what we want and what everybody wants. I just want the sounds of the label to reflect all the different facets of the party, like the build up, the come down and every thing in between.
Can you tell me a little more about Leisure Muffin and the first release?
Leisure Muffin, aka Michael Hopkins, has been attending and performing at The Bunker pretty much since the beginning. So he’s a good friend and is an integral part of the Bunker family. He’s been performing live electronic sets since the mid-’90s in the Lower East Village, which just wasn’t that common back then. It’s quite unbelievable that through this time he’s never actually made a studio album, so we’re real proud to have him on our first release.
The EP was made during a rather difficult personal period for Michael. His mother was dying. He basically left his entire life in the Bay Area and moved back to Maine to take care of his mother. Making the album with his mother in the next room was the only thing that kept him sane. They shared many touching moments together during this time. For example, he showed her how his modular synths worked and she also sat in on some of his recording sessions. She was particularly fond of the first track on the EP, “In Wearable Hertz.” He finished it shortly after she passed.
Can you tell me a little about the releases after the first EP from Leisure Muffin?
The next one is Clay Wilson. He’s a pretty young guy. He’s had one record out, but he’s just somebody who’s been really inspired by the music he’s heard at The Bunker. He made a lot of music for me that we culled down to those three tracks. So, that’s the February release.
The March release is Voices from the Lake, who are two Italians, some of our favorite artists. One of the best nights ever at The Bunker was this time when they came and played a six-hour set. The music on that EP is from that set. We have a whole tour of the U.S. planned around that release. The month the record comes out, they’re coming back to play eight gigs in the U.S.
What are your future plans for the label and party?
Right now, for the parties it is to continue our residency at Output, which has been very good to us. We’re really excited about our huge events there. We want to keep those going. Besides that, we’re also re-launching The Bunker Limited, which is a one DJ all night party we used to have in the upstairs loft of Public Assembly. To us it’s a small party, a 150 people party. We’re going to start doing those in a new space in Ridgewood called Trans Pecos. We did our New Year’s Eve party there, which was the first one for us. I’m pretty excited to do a monthly event there this year as well as Output. It’s just easier for me to do more experimental and interesting things in a small space. Creatively, that’s important and inspiring for me.
For the label, at this point, I’m not looking too far past this year yet. I guess I probably will be in a few months, but right now we’re just trying to nail down these 12 releases that we’re going to do this year. And then, just focus on the nuts and bolts of actually getting them out into the world.