A few weeks ago, Bonnie Wright’s laptop crashed after she spilled tea on its keypad. It was cheaper, she said, to upgrade. But the problem was that the newer laptop couldn’t read her address book, which is the backbone of Henceforth Records, the international record label that she runs from the kitchen of her Mission Hills home.
After eight releases in six years, Wright has carved out a niche in the experimental music community. There are only a handful of independent labels working in the same genres, Wright says, meaning contemporary classical, electronic, experimental, and improvised music.
To the uninitiated, the artists that bear the Henceforth imprint (Mike Olson, Lisle Ellis, a duo called the Skein, among others) all traffic in the twilight zone of music. Virtuosity bleeds into cacophony, whale dialogue, the sounds of angry mosquitoes.
Henceforth Records came to be after Wright closed down her Spruce Street Forum in the Banker’s Hill area in 2002, after a run of seven years, during which she established herself as a champion of all things avant-garde in terms of musical performance.
“The label has a broader reach than the live shows, but they both do the same things, really. I try to bring good, creative music to an audience that may not be familiar with it.” Prior to founding Henceforth, Wright had no such experience. As a record-label executive, she has learned by doing. “If I’ve made mistakes, others will point that out to me,” she laughs.
“I pay for the pressing, the packaging, the design, and all of the publicity.” That alone, she says, can run upwards of $4000. Henceforth does not cover recording or mastering costs. The deal? A 50-50 split with the artist after expenses. And even though the overhead of her home-based business is low, she says the return has been less than envious. “I’ve never broken even yet.”
But Wright’s plan was never to make a lot of money at this. “It’s a small label. It’s specialized.” And, some of her artists have moved on to larger labels. “I think of Henceforth as a stepping stone,” she says, “for artists to get into the bigger world.”
Wright produces the Fresh Sound concert series at Sushi in the East Village downtown, and she holds regular private soirées in her home with select like-minded fans and musicians to discuss music theory.
But critics, she says, ask her what’s the point of promoting that sort of music if you can’t dance to it.
“I can dance to it. I always thought it would be fun, albeit inappropriate, to get up in the aisles at some bleep-bloopy new-music concert and get down to music that has no discernible beat, much less a groove,” she says. “I haven’t done this yet, but it amuses me to consider the possibility.”