“Genres unknown since 1998”. California label Deathbomb Arc’s tag and mission statement is a defiant reassurance that nothing’s off-limits, that everything doesn’t have to fit in a specific box. Brian Miller started Deathbomb in 1998 to release the debut Turbine 12-inch, when record stores wouldn’t stock it because they didn’t know whether it belonged in the rock or electronic racks.
“I decided the label would be dedicated to artists on the bleeding edge like this,” says Miller. “Typically those are the ones that a few years later just end up defining the new norm anyway!”
Across its nearly 200 releases on Bandcamp, Deathbomb’s roster is a salute to this bleeding edge. Pick any 10 at random and you might find noise-rock, hip-hop, femdom EBM, ambient country, stand-up comedy, synth movie scores, opera, lo-fi punk, psychedelic drones or video nasty analogue horror, and you’ll keep digging for more far-out sounds. “Typically if I haven’t heard anything like it before, but it doesn’t have a confusing sound — rather has its own powerful voice — that’s what I love,” Miller tells me over email.
Some powerful underground voices who’ve blown up after releasing on Deathbomb include Death Grips, clipping., Julia Holter, JPEGMAFIA and White Boy Scream. “The US treats acts poorly. Pretty much every act on DBA and in the US underground is bigger internationally,” says Miller of the label’s building reputation overseas. He says it’s impossible to anticipate which acts might get picked up internationally. There’s no formula — for instance one of the label’s biggest success stories in 2020 was White Boy Scream’s album BAKUNAWA, an intense collision of avant-garde opera, noise, experimental electronics and colonial protest through Filipino mythology.
“The world is always changing. I don’t think I’ve had much choice but to try and pay attention and anticipate how to change with it,” says Miller. “Sometimes I’ve gotten ahead of things too much, but that is always a risk with trying to do new things.”
Miller doesn’t really run the label like a boss. He’s a curator, collaborator, producer, and a fan of every act in the Deathbomb crew. He has performed on many of the label’s releases (“I have no idea at this point. That’s for like a super fan to figure out”), and he’s been a more regular member of bands such as Foot Village, Rose For Bohdan, True Neutral Crew, Gang Wizard and most recently in drwg with former Beak> synth man Matt Loveridge and rapper Rhys Langston. He blurs the lines between all his Deathbomb duties, saying he has no real control over how things pan out: “I’m just at the whim of my fate.”
One thing he can’t control is his unwavering enthusiasm for finding new sounds and sharing music from this ever-evolving underground art project. Even the label’s 20-year anniversary compilation wasn’t a retrospective, but an album of all-new music. Pre-Bandcamp, Miller went head-first into digital distribution in 2011 with the Deathbomb Singles Club, a curated selection that now appears on Bandcamp compilations. DBA still releases on physical formats — vinyl and cassette, but he admits that “digital is even more important now… we got a lot of criticism for embracing the ‘lesser digital format’ at the time. These days, that is not really an opinion many have.”
The label has gone “all in” with digital during the pandemic upheaval, with releases and streams. “The most fun thing was doing the two livestream showcases. I love it,” says Miller. I kinda hate going to shows IRL so I’ll keep doing these in the future. I like making them with fanfare, lots of skits and stuff, that treats them more like old-school TV specials.” They’re starting the year with a physical release, though, a cassette from Angry Blackmen, and Miller teases an interesting development: “Soon we’re announcing a new partner label that does things differently than Deathbomb!”
The shape-shifting ‘sound’ of Deathbomb Arc is impossible to pin down, but Brian Miller offers a way in with this personal primer below — including a Spotify playlist.
Brian Miller’s personal Deathbomb Arc primer
White Boy Scream – Apolaki
A testimony to just how unexpected what constitutes “a hit” can be, this experimental opera album has been one of the most successful Deathbomb releases of 2020, getting tonnes of love from press and fans. Micaela Tobin is operating at beyond genius level, and able to bring in devoted listeners that definitely have never heard anything like this (no one has).
Gang Wizard – The Shy Elephant
A sort of house band for the label during the 00s, through which many artists came and went, including myself. Everything improvised, but with a punk spirit at heart. It was unfairly lumped together with the Weird New America movement, but this is pure obnoxious noise. Around this time both Load Records and Ecstatic Peace had also put out albums by the band and this one was recorded at the height of their touring prowess.
Rose For Bohdan – Dig Dug
My own group from the 90s and 00s. This track really should be billed as a collaboration with Books on Tape that added all the incredible electronic post-production. The song never made it to a proper album, but in retrospect is one of the best things the group has to offer.
Captain Ahab – Acting Hard
The first huge act on Deathbomb was Jonathan Snipes’ Captain Ahab. The next huge one would be his current group, clipping. Guess he just has that magic touch! Before this album dropped, Snipes asked me to pick a single and this is the one I went with. He said people wouldn’t like it, but it ended up being his first press favourite. I know lol.
Yuma Nora – Freedom, What Have We Done?
From the mid-00s influx of experimental rock that defined the underground; Yuma Nora were the Chick Corea of the movement. Nimble, slightly futuristic, but jazz, jazz, jazz through and through. I picked this one because the song title is haunting these days.
SHADI – Lord Mohamad
We announced this album as “the most irresponsible noise-rap we’ve ever put out”. I still stand by that. SHADI is a true wild man. He is also deeply poetic and full of rage. It will be incredible to see where his work goes as he gets older. He keeps threatening to make a mainstream album. I love the notion of this. Fingers crossed.
Jonathan Snipes – Kitchen Gladiators
We’ve put out a bunch of the film scores from Jonathan Snipes, and they all are my favorites, but this song really is something next level. From the film ‘Excess Flesh’, it is also one of the only film scores he has made that the director gave him total freedom. You can hear it.
DEBBY FRIDAY – FATAL
Canadian industrial queen who commands so much love from her fans. Her first EP is much more raw, but I love the clean and clinical sound of her second EP. It is more frightening to me; this vibe of razor-sharp focus behind her mysterious intent.
clipping. – A Better Place
A co-release with Sub Pop, so maybe people have actually heard this one. The live version they played on television is even better, which says a lot about how amazing clipping. are. While mostly known for their hard hitting hip-hop, when they veer into this sort of Radiohead territory, I think that is the most mind blowing.
Books on Tape – Deathbomb Mafia
Even nearly two decades later, it still flatters me that he made a song about the label. We recently reissued all of BoT’s early limited edition material in one giant box set. There is no right place to start with this prolific artist who coined the term beatpunk. Just dive in and never swim back to shore.
drwg – Ballad of a Fading Mumble Rapper
This is my favorite song from the group I’m currently in with rapper Rhys Langston and ex-Beak> synth mastermind MXLX. My role in this group is technically “drums” but I think more accurate is, “lucky to work with such musical giants”.
Xin Seha – Time
This bedroom pop star from Korea gets overlooked in our catalogue a lot, but he is smooth af. One can only wish to serenade like he does. He obviously has honed his skills through hard work, but damn, you know he was also born with it.
MANNY SANCHEZ – FUCK ICE 2
Banger of the century. A song we wish didn’t have to exist. But it is true — FUCK ICE FOR LIFE.
Miguel Mendez – Dumb After All
Part country musician, part psychedelic adventurer, Miguel Mendez produced an album that is hard to believe. How the hell did he pull this off? It is powerful while delicately balancing so many wild elements. Plus it is simply the catchiest thing you’ll ever hear.
Yola Fatoush – Celine
From London, this duo does the Pet Shop Boys thing through a haze and comes out the other side being almost hip-hop. They played at an art gallery in LA with clipping. years ago and I still think about that show frequently. One of the most romantic sounding groups to bless Deathbomb Arc with a release.