The Big Jewcy: Elliot Aronow – From Punk Zines To RCRD LBL

Through his site RCRD LBL, Elliot has established himself as a versatile handy man for the music world capable to rock almost any hat, both literally and metaphorically. Read More

By / June 1, 2011

If there’s such a thing as a “Professional Scenster,” Elliot Aronow is it.  Having grown up in NJ as a staple of the thriving mid 90’s Hardcore Scene, Elliot got his bearings as an active participant, booking shows and writing zines.  When he arrived in NYC after college, he began writing for The Fader.  Much like his pre-NYC life, Elliot quickly established himself within NYC music scene, and soon developed RCRD LBL as a major catalyst to connect people to better music.  Now with his own music-centric talk show (Our Show With Elliot Aronow) , Elliot has established himself as a versatile handy man for the music world capable to rock almost any hat, both literally and metaphorically.

You were involved in the music scene for long before it became a career for you.  Tell me a bit about that.

I think that when you’re 16 and 15 your relationship to music changes in a profound way.  Up to that point you just listen to pretty much what you think will make you cool. I think when you’re 15 and 16 you start listening to stuff that really speaks to you.  For me, that’s why punk was so profound, I realized that it wasn’t going to make me cool, but it really spoke to what I was feeling at the time and what I was interested in doing.  Hardcore was great because it allowed me to meet people whose music was really meaningful to me and to go up and talk to them, which is something that I think a lot of kids who get into music don’t always have the benefit of experiencing.  I think punk helps establish that relationship between the enjoyer/fan and the artist.  So that’s kind of what got me started.  Also being involved in something so immersive, Punk was cool in that, once you were in, your whole life becomes going to shows, doing zines, travelling around etc.  The thing I really loved about music then was that everybody was a producer in the culture and not just a consumer, which is sort of what indie music has become today.  Back then everybody that was involved with hardcore put on shows, did a zine, took photos, or was involved in some facet of keeping the culture going.

Does the zine scene you grew up in remind you of what’s taking place online today?

I see a very similar relationship with what’s happening now online.  99% of the people writing about music online aren’t doing it for the money.  Music blogging or whatever you want to call is not something that you get into right now to become rich.  It’s just a lot of people expressing what they’re into.

Conversely, the part of me that’s worked in the music business for my entire adult life, says that somebody needs to lend some focus to that, because if you left it to the online music space to tell you what to listen to, I think you would go crazy and not be exposed to the best stuff.  So that’s really what we try to do at RCRD LBL.  We do things in a way that a normal person, like say a college kid whose just getting into underground stuff for the first time would respond to, and we find them say, five to seven relevant things a day that they can enjoy and wrap their heads around.

I think that filtering things is what I’ve kind of always been best at, like the “cool or not cool” guy.  I guess that’s a weird way to describe what you do for a living but ultimately someone needs to say, “This is really great you need to check it out” or “This is wack, you should avoid it.”

In a sense I think that you’re at the forefront of one of the most interesting questions of time, at least from a cultural standpoint, which is, “Who becomes the intermediaries in this huge world of internet culture?”

I think that ultimately, someone has to do it.  I just kind of figured it out after being an enthusiastic participator in the culture, I sort of realized that most of what I like is pretty awesome and I felt that somebody needed to have a point of view and say “That kind of music is bad.”  Today, I find most of the indie rock that people are telling you that you should like is kind of dickless grandparent music.

I also think that a lot of artists that have become successful, it’s been because they’ve had a point of view.  When diplo says, “You should go check this out” when DFA is like “This is a good record,” when Opening Ceremony decides to carry a shirt, there’s some meaning in that because these are people who’ve been paying a dues for a long time.  With the internet, so much stuff is just shot of a cannon with no perspective.

Tell me the story of RCRD LBL and how it started.

I met Peter Rojas of Engadget hanging out on Luldow St. and I was wearing a button of this pretty obscure hardcore band called Swing Kids, and he’s like, “You’re into that?”  And it was like a Mason finding another Mason, it was like the secret handshake.  We became fast, close friends, we’d bro up, go buy clothes at weird Japanese stores and just be dudes.  He’d had a tremendous amount of success with Engadget and I was working with Gnarls Barkley at the time, helping to sort of roll out the project online.  Then of course “Crazy” blew up and I went from being pretty much unemployed a year earlier to being on board with what was essentially a rocket ship.  Me and Peter got together and said, what if we did a startup that moved in the way of where we thought music was heading: free, curated and from a trusted source.  Not something like MySpace Music where every crappy band that wants to make it is going to put up a profile.

We just wanted to keep it real.  I presented Josh Deutch, our CEO, the idea and he said, “I hear 100 of these every week and this is the only good idea I’ve heard.”  If it sounds kind of “zip boom bat,” it was.

How do you describe RCRD LBL to those who aren’t’ familiar with it?

It’s a curated free download site.  If I were talking to my aunt I’d say, “It’s a cool free iTunes, with editors.”

Tell me about Our Show.

The best way I can describe it is one half Cable Access, Howdy Doody anarchy, and one half highly serious Dick Cavett style interviews with really compelling people.   We’ve been just trucking away, doing it DIY, putting it up on YouTube and our Tumblrs.  The guests we’ve had on include: James Murply, Ted Leo, Kyp Malone from TV On The Radio, Dave from Chromeo, Nick Zinner from the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s.  I’ll go on record and say that if we’re not the hottest thing going, I don’t know what is.

I can’t help but notice your apartment, wardrobe etc all seem pretty meticulous.  As a single young Jewish man living in NYC, what is your advice for other people in your shoes?

It’s all about lighting.  Also, it’s much better to have one nice piece of furniture than 20 crappy things.  That’s sort of a universal truism about life.

(Photo by Mike Greenberg)