Eric Mast started his own record label because his car broke down. And because he lived in Portland, where he could live cheaply. That's the simplified version of the story behind the 1998 launch of Mast's label, Audio Dregs.
Mast, a.k.a. E*Rock, was on his way to performing his first DJ gig at a going-away party for a member of his rock band when his maroon 1992 Ford Taurus fired its last piston. That led to his epiphany. "I realized
that you don't need a car in Portland," Mast says, "so I saved up the money I'd otherwise have spent on gas, car insurance and upkeep to release a 7-inch by my brother."
Now his brother, E*Vax, is recording with Björk, and E*Rock is still releasing albums on Audio Dregs, a label David Byrne recently named as one of his favorites. Mast's accomplishments are remarkable, but his story-that combination of pluck and opportunity-is a common one here, according to interviews with owners of 20 of the more than 60 independent record labels that call Portland home.
Why do labels grow here? Owners credit some of the standard attributes of the city's creative culture-cheap rent, a pool of talented artists, individualized printing presses and cool independent record shops. And it's also homebase for Allegro/Nail, one of the country's top five indie distributors, representing releases by more than 100 small record labels.
"Portland has more of everything than other towns of a similar size-the whole 'more per capita' aspect; more restaurants, movie theatres, independent record stores, strip clubs, breweries and indie labels," says Chris Scofield of the Strange Attractors label, who works at Allegro as a day job.
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