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Nothing But the Hits: 10 Great Years of Last Gang Records

Anyone reading Wikipedia will find out our label, Last Gang, started for Metric a decade ago. There was no business plan or grand design. In fact, most people thought starting a record label to coincide with the rise of Napster was stupid especially for someone seen to be an industry leader.

Anyone reading Wikipedia will find out our label started for Metric a decade ago. There was no business plan or grand design. In fact, most people thought starting a record label to coincide with the rise of Napster was stupid especially for someone seen to be an industry leader.

People ask me "why Metric" -- why not someone else? I've reflected on that question a lot more 10 years later. Some of it was about timing but I also think I loved them on a personal level. How is that for a business rationale?

They were an ambitious duo working out of a grungy loft in Williamsburg before it was hip (or particularly safe) to be there. It was kinda dangerous and I identified with their struggle. Both of them were incredibly bright, well read, with an intense sense of humor. I liked them a lot before I ever heard their music.

I actually met them through Chris Seligman from Stars. He let me sleep on his floor in Brooklyn for two years while I shopped my Nelly Furtado and Sum 41 demos looking for record deals for law firm clients. Jimmy and Emily lived in a spacious loft space down the hall and during breaks in the evening, I would listen to songs they had recorded and I wanted to help. They agreed to let me add their music to my bag of "shopping music" and off to Manhattan I would go to play their music for industry gatekeepers.

Nelly Furtado went on to sell 6 million albums and win a Grammy in 2002 but we could not find a record deal for Metric. We did three demo deals during that period where various major record companies had the band record songs and do live auditions. Each time, after about a year of work, the label would "pass." Eventually the group found a deal with Restless Records who recorded an album with the band. On the eve of the album's release, Restless notified the band they would not release the band's record as they had lost their funding previously provided by a large film company. After about five years of trying to get their music to the world, the band was continuing to get the runaround.

I went to my wife and sought "approval" to spend $35,000 to help Metric put out their records. Along the way, a California-based label, Everloving, stepped up to help as well. We agreed to put out the band's records in Canada in partnership with my long-time partner, Donald Tarlton and his DKD Label Group. The first Metric album, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? was released on Last Gang, May 25, 2004.

I would never suggest Metric would not have made it out of Williamsburg without us, but I am proud of the role our team played to help the band get to where they are today; helping to release their first four albums, a few solo records, and a DVD. It's a relationship that lead to many other love affairs over the years as our little hobby label became a real force for underdog artists looking for help.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to trumpet our achievements and look forward to the future where we will continue to fight for the music and musicians we love every single day.

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The Music

Metric - Combat Baby

The band is making much better videos now but this is one that helped kick start things for the band. YouTube did not exist when this video first came out and Much Music was the main outlet for videos in Canada. Eventually, radio powerhouse CFNY/The Edge in Toronto really kicked the band into the "big time" playing the band more than almost any other in the decade. We used the Canadian success of the band to grow the group internationally once their US label fell by the wayside.

Slan - Testify

Last Gang actually started for two artists I was fond of: Metric and the lesser known, Slan. You will notice former Much Music VJ and CBC radio host, Sook Yin Lee, taking on lead vocalist duties in the starring role in this video supported by "The Black Europeans", Rumble and Max. Their mixture of mod sounds and fashion combined with hip-hop swagger was ahead of its time. The band could not really tour or hold it together the way Metric did but they had all the same potential. Maybe more.

Death From Above 1979 - Romantic Rights

When DFA79 approached me to sign to Last Gang I told them "Last Gang isn't really a label it's just me, Lenny and Donald". They insisted on wanting to be with us because, in Jesse's words, "the Metric record is the only cool thing a Canadian label has put out in the last year". I thought their old records on Ache were pretty sloppy but intriguing. The real potential was in their new demos they played for me. I could hear the ambition and I could see it in their eyes when they sat across from my desk. We licensed this first album all over the world and sold over 300,000 copies. It's still selling.

The band scaled the rock and roll mountain quickly; touring with Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stoneage all across North America. They broke up the day the tour ended in 2005. Much to everyone's surprise, they reunited in 2011 and are completing a new record today that is more ambitious than the first (if you can believe it). It will be a worldwide priority for us in 2014 coming out on various license partners everywhere.

Chromeo - Fancy Footwork

Our friends at Turbo and Vice should get credit for discovering and believing in Dave and P first but we've just extended our relationship to work with the band in Canada for a bunch more records. The group was "Electro" before Electro was cool and these guys keep drawing bigger and bigger crowds wherever they play because they are plain tight. The band is currently experiencing the biggest radio success we've ever had as a label and their song, "Jealous" might get to number 1 before this summer is over!!

Panurge - Sweet Fanny Annie

I still love the music to this day but the band never connected on a live level the way we needed them to. You will notice all our biggest successes can play live on an all-star level. Whenever we have tried to sell records with groups that could not tour successfully it was a failure. Playing live brings the humanity and the connection to the relationship that creates real fans that stick with you through thick and thin. These guys combined programmed beats with great melodic hooks. Listen and judge for yourself.

Crystal Castles - Crimewave

In 2005 I was surfing around MySpace (we used the words "surfing" and "MySpace" back then) on MSTRKRFT's page and saw this, now infamous, picture of 2 artists from Reykjavík, Iceland with hoodies staring down at their shoes. I was intrigued by the picture and the music so I signed up to MySpace and emailed the band direct...."Hi, I am Chris Taylor. I have a record label called, "Last Gang" blah blah." I was shocked when I received an email back from Ethan Kath saying, "hello."

It turns out they were not from Iceland and they lived about four blocks away from my office. Ethan Kath and Alice Glass came to my office a few days later. Ethan did all the talking while Alice stared at her shoes. Some of it was calculated, some of it I'm sure was genuine crazy. We signed them to a worldwide deal for four albums.

I regret up-streaming Crystal Castles to a major label. Our staff were pretty bummed about that at the time but I wanted them to go as far as possible with their music. I think Ethan is an incredibly talented producer still and still enjoy spending time with him. They have become the world's biggest cult band.

MSTRKRFT - Easy Love

Jesse and Sebastian used to tease that me that the next DFA79 album was going to be an electro record. I think they thought I was joking when I always said, "bring it on." The amazing remixers (Erol Alkan, Justice, etc.) for DFA79 were all working in this world before "EDM" became the catch phrase of the times. I was excited when Jesse and I would talk about Last Gang becoming an electronic music powerhouse. I didn't care if it would become fashionable -- I just liked how it rocked.

I run into DJs and rock and rollers all the time who say this album turned them on to harder rock-infused electronic music. I'm not sure this was the song that did it, but I do like the video.

This album was, literally, the first eight songs MSTRKRFT ever recorded. I always thought this album could have been more of a masterpiece with a bit more time and attention but perhaps the imperfections and brevity are part of why people love this album so much. Jesse and Al are in the lab right now cooking up a new masterpiece. We will all have to figure out how, where and when this fits in with the new DFA79 album slated for 2014. A bounty of riches.

Let's Go To War - Life We Live

These guys were living in MSTRKRFT's studio when they would be away on tour. Literally. They were a harder edged, less silly LMFAO mixing raga/electro/hip hop. They toured with M.I.A. as soon as they came out but they flew too close to the sun. They could have been huge but they had creative differences early on. Students of the game will notice the groups' producers Cirkut and AG in the video. They have went on to write hits for the Weeknd, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, etc. etc. etc. and have formed Dream Machine, a growing producer management and publishing company that is an empire in the making. Some day they will have to pay this landlord for ruining the apartment in this video.

Boys Noize - Let's Buy Happiness

Tiga and Jesse from MSTRKRFT introduced me to Boys Noize. We put out his first two albums in North America. He was the first DJ we signed where we noticed sales would increase wherever he performed. He is part of the wave of hard electronic music (along with Justice, MSTRKRFT) that made a real impact on dance music. I didn't know he'd be headlining the Sahara Tent at Coachella -- all I knew is that I liked his records a lot.

Emily Haines - Our Hell

I hope the world discovers how incredibly talented Emily is. Now Magazine picked this album as one of the Top 50 albums produced by Toronto artists. It is a perfect album for rainy afternoons but perhaps hide it from friends feeling suicidal. It is nice to see people reaching back and discovering how special it is. I hope she puts out more solo music someday. This album has aged very well. A timeless classic with fantastic packaging that people will be discovering for years to come.

The New Pornographers - Challengers

We started working with the New Pornos and lead singer, Carl Newman, in 2007 with the release of their 2007 album, "Challengers." The band is a Canadian treasure full of individual allstars (i.e Neko Case, Dan Bejar/Destroyer) and I feel honored that they have entrusted them to release their records as well as Carl's solo offerings.

Mother Mother - The Stand

Mother Mother is a classic Last Gang development story. Over the course of four albums the band has grown to become one of the biggest artists on the modern rock radio format in Canada and now sell out shows from coast to coast. The challenge will be to grow the band more on an international scale in 2014. In a world where bands cultivate a marketing plan to appear alternative, this group is the real west coast deal. Their leader, lead singer, Ryan Guidemond, is one of our country's most gifted songwriters.

Dark Horses - Radio

I was introduced to Dark Horses online somehow and for two years I tried to bring them to the label. I had given up all hope until I attended the Great Escape Festival in 2011 and they happened to be on the bill playing on Friday night at a dingy, dark club, deep in a basement where their dry ice would, combined with the heat, potentially kill an audience member of two. The band repeatedly delivers incredible visuals that match the band's sublime musical mix. New music from them is scheduled for 2014.

Huoratron - Cryptocracy

Put him on your list of people I told you about. This Finnish sonic scientist is an incredible talent, a "Techno Mozart" if you will. He is dance music's Slayer. In a world continually claiming to be "hard", his production is on another level entirely. He matches his attention to musical detail with a refined group of graphic designers and video directors that take his whole presentation a notch above the typical EDM fodder. Watch out world. Huoratron approaches.

Kay - My Name Is Kay

Kay reminds me of Nelly Furtado, playfully bouncing from pop, to hip hop, to electronic music. She's worked with everyone from Diplo, to Tiesto to Ryan Tedder. Our label provides safe harbor and investment for Kay as she develops her talents but I think eventually she will be on major label soon getting mega radio airplay all over the world and we'll continue to work as her managers...forever.

Purity Ring - Belispeak

I was fortunate to spend a lot of time with Corin and Megan before we signed the band. They are two of the kindest and most genuine musicians I have ever met. I encourage you to see their live show if you ever get the chance. They go the extra mile for their fans and bring real human artistry to the entire presentation.

Egyptrixx - Old Black feat. Ohbijou

David Psutka, aka, "Egyptrixx" released his newest album "A/B til Infinity" with Last Gang in 2013. The New York Times said, "[it] a lustrous and resonant thing" noting that Psutka's idea about dance music is that "...the thing that moves the body need not be rhythm, but rather a primal response to sound". His droning, repetitive techno combined with the visuals provided by Berlin artist, Andreas Fischer, a.k.a., "A.N.E." is like audio visual drugs but you can wake up with your headphones on, and not have a headache afterwards. The rock and roll equivalent would be Radiohead or Television in my view. Some days you just have to follow the art and see where it leads.

Lindi Ortega - Cigarettes & Truckstops

I often describe Last Gang as a cross between Metric-Crystal Castles-Death From Above 1979 mixing sex/danger and underground electronic music. Ms. Ortega certainly has the sex/danger part covered off and love overcame the lack of electronic aspects. Lindi has worked so hard over the past four years and the Gods have returned that effort with the success she is seeing today. Similar to Kay, listed above, we are going to manage Lindi "forever" -- if a great record label came along and wanted to help with her pursuits, we would entertain the discussion. She deserves the best -- but in the meantime, LGR is here to answer the call!

Ryan Hemsworth - Against A Wall

Things are just getting started with Ryan. His production chops are top notch and his creative instincts for untapped, underground vocalists is razor sharp. He's already getting live show offers all over the world and press has been over the top, but I most excited about the future for him and what he does next.

Tre Mission - Brunch

Sex -- check. Danger -- check. Tre and Ryan are the beginnings of our venture into more urban sounds as we continue to seek out the new shit. He has surrounded himself with a legitimate crew of graphic designers, videographers and engineers that are going to build upon his success and grow the next Toronto hip hop story. In three years everyone will be following along and we'll be on to the next with Tre and Ryan ruling the world.

The Team

I notice there are a lot "I"s in this post but wanted to acknowledge the hard work of people that made Last Gang what it is today. James Trauzzi oversees all the label operations and is discovering a lot of the acts we are signing today including, Ryan Hemsworth. Doug Bohay, discovered Kay and Tre Mission and works his ass for his artists every day. Ben Chan is the guy behind all our crazy licensing to TV shows, films, commercials and video games. Andrew Robinson brings a quality and consistency to all our needs in the graphics area. Adam Barnes works day to day with Lindi Ortega and keeps the trains running on time.

The rest of our growing staff, Megan Dembkowski (US GM), Rene Renner (UK MD), Lorilynn McCorrister (Manager Asst), Sean Ramesbottom (Label Services), Nick Causarano (Publishing/Gov't Affairs) all contribute in significant ways every single day. They are the backbone for our future.

My partner, Donald Tarlton, provided us with Oko Shio (CFO) and Tracy Sim (Government Affairs) to give us the early push to make this all more than a hobby. Oko and Tracy's continued efforts make us a force to be reckoned with. Our publicity team at Indoor Recess and radio guys at Frontside have been soldiers at our side since our first days.

Finally, all our successes would not have been possible without the generous support of, MEC and the Department of Canadian Heritage, Duncan Mckie and his team at FACTOR, Karen Thorne-Stone, Kristine Murphy, James Weyman and everyone at the OMDC, David Kines and the MuchFACT Board, Gary Slaight and Derrick Ross at Slaight Music, and Chip Sutherland the team at the Radio Starmaker Fund.

We started this label at the dawn of the downturn in the music business, to prove the world wrong, to help a band we loved, to turn people on to cool music.

Your support and dedication has helped us fly.

Us Against the World.

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