This month’s Carhartt WIP Radio show welcomes True Panther Records, a New York City-based, independent label with roots in San Francisco. It was originally founded in 2004 by Dean Bein and a group of his friends as a means of issuing a 7inch single by Red Tape Apocalypse, Bein’s former punk band.
Things accelerated in 2008, when Bein moved to New York City and saw that there was much more to an independent label than sporadically putting out a small number of records, in the hopes that they would sell enough to fund another release. “When I moved to New York and met a ton of people working in music, I realized I could serve as a pipeline for the San Francisco musicians I grew up with, to help get them some acclaim outside of our hometown.”
One of True Panther Records’ earliest successes was the self-titled debut album from San Francisco band Girls, released in 2009. Over the last decade, the label has grown to represent a diverse range of sounds, spanning hip hop, indie, experimental electronic, and world music. Its roster includes Barcelona dance act Delorean, LA post-pop artist Glasser, and UK rapper Slowthai, as well as London singer-songwriter King Krule – whose tracks recently featured in Carhartt WIP’s full length skate film Inside Out.
For this edition of Carhartt WIP Radio, Bein put together a mix which drifts through dance pop, acoustic, breakbeat, and baile funk, featuring the sounds of artists like Teengirl Fantasy, Kelsey Lu and ABRA. In addition to including some of True Panther’s more well-known tracks, Bein dug into the label’s archives in search of rare remixes and unreleased edits.
Accompanying the show is an interview with Dean Bein, who discusses the medieval origins of True Panther’s name, the influence that New York City has had on the label, and the common language among music fans.
Can you remember when your love affair with music began?
Dean Bein: I have such a clear memory of moving with my family to America, and getting a cassette player and cassettes from the thrift store. I had Journey’s Escape album, with the futuristic cover art, but the cassette was super warped and the music sounded insane. I thought all music in America sounded like that: totally abstract, tuneless, and stretched out in the oddest places. I loved it! Then I started listening to the radio to try and catch songs I liked. I’d record them or trade albums with kids at school to dub. I didn’t speak English but found a common language through music with people around me. The first tapes I dubbed were The Simpsons Sing the Blues (lol), Snow’s 12 Inches of Snow, and Queen‘s Greatest Hits.
Your label True Panther Records was launched in 2004. What was the idea behind starting it?
Dean Bein: My friends and I were in a shitty punk band, and we put our money together to release a 7inch single – that was the first True Panther release. But it truly started around 2008 when I moved to New York, and realized that an independent record label could exist beyond just making 500 7inches and hoping to sell out of them. It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but growing up in San Francisco, I didn’t know there was any kind of independent music institution that I could even be a part of. I didn’t know any musicians that had managers or PRs, or really about record labels in general. When I moved to New York and met a ton of people working in music, I realized I could serve as a pipeline for the San Francisco musicians I grew up with, to help get them some acclaim outside of our hometown.
So True Panther Records wasn’t really inspired by any other label?
Dean Bein: I didn’t really know about labels when we started it. There was no ambition to do anything beyond just putting out a few records from our friends and making our money back. These days I draw a ton of inspiration from different labels all over the map that have carved out their own niche and culture, like PAN, The Trilogy Tapes, Young, SVBKVLT, Partisan, AD93 – there’s a ton and they’re all different.
What’s the story behind the label’s name?
Dean Bein: A friend of mine found a medieval bestiary that had a story about the panther, which eats then goes to rest for several days in a cave. Once it emerges, it lets out a sound that brings all of the animals of the forest together in harmony. The “true” panther has the power to do that. I loved that idea – of a singular sound bringing all types of disparate creatures together.
I didn’t really know about labels when we started it. There was no ambition to do anything beyond just putting out a few records from our friends and making our money back.
Does New York play a part in the label’s history or could you operate from any place in the world?
Dean Bein: Like most people in New York, I’m not originally from here. For most people, this city is the canvas for actualizing dreams rather than informing their creation. I actually fantasize about picking up and moving the label to a place where we could have more space and freedom, but there is something in the energy and pace of New York that I reckon we couldn’t exist without.
How do you go about finding new artists to sign for the label?
Dean Bein: I still listen to all the demos that we get sent, but a lot of the most special artists have come from other musicians’ recommendations. I think producers are the true A&Rs of our time… and video directors! It means a lot when an artist that we’ve worked with, who has built trust in us, extends that good faith and trust to someone else they are close with or respect, to unite us together.
Are you working on any upcoming projects for True Panther Records?
Dean Bein: There's a ton of emerging music, a lot of which is from New York. It’s weird and unexpected but we’re accidentally pivoting back to a lot of guitar music releases – ERM (electronic rock music)! There’s new music coming from Model/Actriz, Tobias, Lauren Auder, and some more that I can't talk about yet.
What has been the label’s most successful record?
Dean Bein: I think every record can be successful if scaled properly, and then being prepared for the unknown to happen. We’ve had a bonafide US Top 40, commercial radio single that happened almost by accident. But I can’t say what the biggest thing has been, really – every release has been special for its own reason. Some make more money and have less impact, some really define culture for a period but maybe are commercially challenging. It all depends!
How important are the non-musical components of your releases, ie. packaging, album art, and videos?
Dean Bein: The role of a label now is not just to get music on DSPs, but to build a world or expand on the world that an artist is building. So the packaging, physical editions, and various iterations of a physical product are so important to elaborate on. Sadly, I think videos are less “valuable” than ever as promotional tools, but they still do so much in building a visual language for an artist or project, one that I think is hard to quantify but still very important.
It’s easier than ever to get attention, but harder than ever to get people to listen to anything nuanced or challenging
How did you choose the tracks for this episode’s mix?
Dean Bein: I started with some of the most well-known sounds, but our catalog is so broad that it doesn’t make sense playing these songs next to each other. So, I dug into the archives to find certain tracks that maybe we slept on, as well as remixes and a few alternative versions that have never been properly released.
Can you name some emerging artists that we should be paying attention to?
Dean Bein:Rx Nephew/Rx Papi, Quinn, Nala Sinephro, and 454. All four have found new ways of telling stories by repurposing what’s already there. Some are funny, sometimes poignant, sometimes abstract – really important!
What’s your view on the value of music today? How has social media affected this?
Dean Bein: It’s easier than ever to get attention, but harder than ever to get people to listen to anything nuanced or challenging. In a weird way, I like the effect of TikTok because it’s brought a Wild West experience back to music. As a label, you don’t actually know what’s going to be “big,” so you have to trust your instincts and release music you believe in. In ten years’ time, something could be rediscovered and be the biggest song in the world.
Dean Bein: When surrounded by chaos with music coming out of every possible portal, doorway, and direction.
What is something you’ve learned through music that has helped you in life?
Dean Bein: Perhaps it’s cliché, but there really is a common language among music fans – certain shared emotions and responses that often come with respective values and beliefs. I’ve gotten to travel all over the world, and have always found a friend or someone to talk to about a sound or a melody.
What are your favorite places in New York City and why?
Dean Bein: There was a bar called Frank’s Cocktail Lounge in my neighborhood that has been around since the 70s, black-owned forever. It was a disco, local bar, and karaoke lounge, but hosted amazing events from a very wide variety of people. They let us do parties in their secret upstairs bar sometimes. The owners were both 1st generation house music heads. Every Wednesday was Grown and Sexy Karaoke, and I went almost every Wednesday to hear some of the finest voices in New York. It sadly closed over Covid and I’ve still not recovered from that.