Dropping Gems started out as a group of likeminded friends who attended The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA around 2007-2009. The label name comes from a lyric in Gang Starr’s “Code Of The Streets,” one of the lines from Guru’s third verse. We currently have 16 releases under our belt, curate a podcast series, and promote shows and club nights across the Pacific Northwest. The label is helmed by myself, Aaron Meola. I’m guided by a deep love for cassette tapes, a deep love of the zoning/the zone, and a deep desire to see electronic music move forward.
Olympia has an incredible history of fostering DIY artists, but it’s most often associated with the grunge and the riot grrrl movement. Although there were people exploring all sorts of interesting stuff with electronic music, there was not much of a community to help support it, in large part due to the transitory nature of it being a college town.
Among the crew, some of us had connections to the influential college radio station KAOS, which exposed the original crewmembers to tons of innovative music that we would have otherwise missed. Some of us we're DJ'ing house parties, others had bands that played cardboard instruments (Gumar and His Magical Midi Band), and I had been doing an internship with Mad Decent filming Diplo around the West Coast. We were all kind of just doing our thing, but there was common thread growing between us.
Then I had the idea to bring everyone together and put a stamp on what we were doing, figuring the sum would be greater than the parts. Around late 2009 most of the original core group of us moved to Portland, including Rap Class, Gumar, Citymouth, Bone Rock, Brownbear and myself. Other acts joined us in the following years, including Ghost Feet, DJAO, The Great Mundane, and Natasha Kmeto, and most recently Philip Grass has hopped on board.
The first releases and shows:
In early 2010 Bone Rock was gearing up to release a beat tape and wanted a label to put it out. This was the first spark towards putting out proper catalog releases. He was basically like “I’m going to press these CD’s one way or another and you’re going to help me.” After that I courted Brownbear for his Touching Scents LP, and things just spiraled on from there.
Our first big release, which brought us into the more legitimate record label realm, was the Gem Drops compilation released in early 2011. That project got us a good deal of international praise, seemingly out of nowhere, and helped usher us into new territory. Shortly after that we released EP’s from Citymouth, Ghost Feet, and DJAO, which we followed with Natasha Kmeto’s The Ache and Gem Drops Two.
A major component of our rise in the local scene had to do with our shows. From 2010-2012 I booked and promoted events in Portland, followed by Seattle and Olympia. I sought out bleeding edge artists, often times for their first shows in the region, if not their first gigs outside their hometowns. Some of those artists include Matthewdavid, Teebs, Mono/Poly, Groundislava, Giraffage, HeRobust, Ahnnu and many others whose profiles have since grown significantly.
We’ve put out several successful releases this year including Natasha Kmeto’s Crisis and Devonwho’s Perfect Strangers, both of which have sold out of the 500 cassettes pressed. That’s been a really great feeling for all involved. Furthermore we put out our first vinyl record, Gem Drops Three. Along the way there have been some serious ups and downs, but also some truly incredible opportunities, especially since our artists have been able to play festivals like Decibel and SXSW.
We partnered with another label at the start of 2013 and had mutual great intentions, with grand plans to co-release several projects on vinyl and really take things to the next level. A few months ago things went south due to personal problems and management issues at the other label. This greatly affected the ability of DG to maintain agreements we held dearly, and initially the future of the label was in question. There were some seriously dark and stressful days.
That being said, we got a lot out of the partnership in a short amount of time, and grew a lot as an organization. It’s given myself and the rest of the stakeholders at the label a chance to revaluate the importance of the DIY ethos at the roots of what we are doing. The idea of being a business was not at all part of the original philosophy behind Dropping Gems, and although these days we are an LLC and function in a much more formal way then we used to, I don’t think DG will ever aim to become focused on being a money generating endeavor. We were, and still are, just attempting to be a creative outlet for our friends and ourselves.
The next release is looking like it will be a 4 track EP from Philip Grass, their first proper release on the label. Ghost Feet and DJAO have full length LP’s nearing completion, and I’m hoping we can get those out soon. Gumar has a newer disco project called Break Mode, which we’ll be putting out a cassette for. Also I’m hard at work curating Gem Drops Four, which should be out in early 14’.
One of the most rewarding parts of the DG story is our budding legacy, which is already becoming apparent. There are all sorts of DIY collectives and electronic labels popping up in the region, many of which have been started by kids just out of high school. The creative support network and environment for this to exist was not really in place previously. There is now some real talent being fostered here in the Pacific Northwest. Back in our old stomping grounds of Olympia, WA you can now find super dope regularly scheduled electronic nights, it’s all starting to come full circle. We’re optimistic for everything, basically.