The emergence of independent record labels in the 1980s was a pivotal moment for under-the-radar music. When influential labels like Sub Pop, Dischord, Touch and Go, Bomp! and K Records began pressing up limited slabs of vinyl, it proved anyone with motivation could make a record, promote it and sell it. You didn’t need a large company to release albums — just a DIY mentality and an uncommon passion for music.
That mentality still resonates today in labels like Bermuda Mohawk Productions, a Lansing-based label and production company that specializes in punk and metal. It has been host to local bands like The Cheap Girls, Wastelander, Cavalcade, the Cartridge Family and many others.
Aside from steadily releasing 7-inch singles and LPs (the label is approaching 50 releases), BMP also keeps busy booking five to eight shows every month, often at Mac’s Bar in Lansing. And while it started as a local endeavor, since 2005 the label has started working with national acts and has been gaining momentum, thanks to coverage in music magazines across the map.
The label will host the 3rd Annual BMP Fest Sept. 17 and 18 at Mac’s Bar. This year’s lineup features an array of punk, including Michigan favorites Mustard Plug.
Scott Bell, head of booking for BMP, said the fest — and every show BMP hosts — has to pass their music quality control.
“I can only book bands I like,” he said. “Because if I don’t like the music, it’s like going to a job — which is what we are constantly trying to work away from. We already have jobs. We don’t need to make it worse by hating what’s on stage. At the end of the day, it’s a just a passion. I don’t know what else we’d do with ourselves. ”
Cale Sauter founded the label in 2002, and has been active in the album releases, while Bell, who joined BMP in 2005, handles booking and promoting shows.Another key figure is local artist Craig Horky, who designs a bulk of the elaborate album covers and poster art for the label.
Horky, who has produced over 30 album covers and nearly 400 concert posters for BMP, said the label goes above and beyond normal protocol for a record company.
“It’s more than just a label, it’s a full-service production company,” Horky said. “We hook people up with art, music, recording, mastering. If a band needs something, even if we can’t do it, we’ll find someone who can and make it happen. Lately we’ve grown and began working with acts from all over the country. It’s more than just (a label) to release the bands we play in now.”
According to Sauter, the BMP family extends farther than its label heads. A revolving crew of local musicians and music lovers support the label and keep it running smoothly. Much like its indierock forefathers, the label also relies on bartering and dealing with other emerging labels and musicians.
“On the DIY network, there is a lot of trading goods and favors,” Sauter said. “It’s really hard to explain the DIY network, but there is a level of independent music that is still like the general store days — it’s still the Wild West. Everyone is trading goods and services and doing it for the greater good: real ‘handshake’ kind of stuff.
“We don’t do contracts. I don’t want to release a record of a band that I couldn’t trust without a contract. At this point, I don’t think I’d want to work with a band I thought would screw me over in the long run.”
Sauter said the label plans to keep steadily releasing music it appreciates, and to keep it fun.
“If you look at where we were just five years ago, we’ve truly come a long way,” Sauter said. “This was a strictly local endeavor that is just starting to get national press the past year or two. I don’t plan on doing anything differently.
“On one hand, I’d love to be able to do it full-time, but I’m not even sure I’d appreciate it as much if it were a 9-to-5 thing as opposed to a fun outlet outside of it. As seriously as I take it, what’s the point of doing anything when it ceases to be fun and rewarding?”