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There’s something touching about being allowed into Mario Orduno’s circle. It’s not the first time Art Fag’s 36-year-old founder’s been approached by a journalist. After a couple weeks of postponements and awkward pauses, he admits his discomfort at dealing with writers: “I usually flake on them.”

It helps when I share my reaction to the music he combined at a Tin Can Ale House show: “Daniel Johnston, Urinals, and the Cryin’ Shames? No one else in San Diego does that!” Orduno’s deer-in-the-headlights expression subsides a bit as he relates, “It all really does stem from being an obsessive record collector — I’ve been collecting since I was 15.”

Is that how Art Fag was born?

“I just wanted a place for my friends and I to be able to hear the records we love, whether it be between bands at a show or at a small bar hanging out.... But I don’t like attention — this isn’t about me.”

Okay. How did the record label start?

“I was bored and wanted to do something meaningful. I guess I always wanted to have a label or be involved in organizing a music project in some capacity. I’ve set up shows and DJ nights for years. The first record was a 12-inch single by Kill Me Tomorrow. The response was pretty good, but I didn’t really know what I was doing — it was a learning experience.”

Since that 2005 release, there’s apparently been a pretty steep learning curve. Orduno now organizes tours with collaborators CS Touring and Zoo Music. He releases vinyl from a growing roster of garage, noise rock, and other musicians influenced by punk and ’50s–’60s retro — Crocodiles, Dum Dum Girls, Las Robertas, Raw Moans, Heavy Hawaii, and Young Prisms are all Art Fag associates.

Creating shows and recordings, along with filling orders, has become so demanding that the former Off the Record and Record City clerk had to give up the room he rented from a downtown law firm and get his own office space in 2010.

What’s up with the name Art Fag? Were you concerned about offending anyone?

“It seemed like a good idea — I don’t know where it came from. It would be petty to get upset over it.”

You seem to have “golden ears” for new music — not just on-trend, but, often, at the forefront. Is that about getting involved with a couple of musicians and then being approached by others?

“I think I just happen to have very talented friends. Looking at labels that I admire, the people behind them were at the right place at the right time: Motown, Rough Trade, 53rd and 3rd…I just know what I like. That’s really the only thought I put into anything. If I like it, I wanna be part of it and I don’t really care if anyone else does or not. The little bit of success Art Fag has had does make for some cool opportunities, and I’m very lucky to be able to release some artists. That’s how I found out about Young Prisms.

“I’m really excited for 2011.We have records coming out from Heavy Hawaii, Plateaus, Colleen Green, Young Prisms, Las Robertas, Psychic Dancehall, and Raw Moans, plus represses of some out-of-print records from the past two years. We have a couple of parties at South by Southwest for the first time. Almost every artist we’re releasing this year will be there, plus Dum Dum Girls and the Zoo Music bands. I help out with Zoo, which is owned by Dum Dums’ Dee Dee and Crocodiles’ Brandon Welchez.

“And we’re going to start manufacturing records in the U.K. I wanted to find a way for people in Europe not to have to pay import prices. It’s an experiment for now, but I think it’s going to work out great to have a larger presence there. About a third of our orders come from overseas.”

As I’m finishing this story, Orduno calls to tell me he hates the idea of being in the spotlight in any way. I say he’s doing too many noteworthy things to escape attention forever and that many arts movements have started like Art Fag: grassroots, not intending to be a big deal, because the time and environment were ripe.

I hear him breathe a sigh of relief. Before we get off the phone, he seems nearly convinced that an article on Art Fag isn’t going to hurt.

Cheap Curls (members of Dum Dum Girls) and Colleen Green, with Mario Orduno and Jeff Graves spinning records — Tower Bar, February 20.

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