Off the grid with Matt Werth 

The Little Rock roots of Brooklyn's strangest record label.

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He remembers reading an article in those days about Burt Taggart, the slightly older, teenaged entrepreneur and scene mainstay who had started a record store in high school, and who, Werth said, "is and will always remain an incredible influence on me" (Taggart is now a partner in a local architectural firm, as well as the front man for The Big Cats and the founder of Max Recordings). The article focused on the novelty of Taggart's youth coupled with his enterprising dedication to the burgeoning music community. "For me," Werth said, "it was cool to think about the possibility of validation through punk rock."

Talking to Werth about these years, it's easy to admire his boldness, his sense of conviction that he belonged, obviously, to this culture and that the culture had value that extended far beyond a few Little Rock concerts. It was, he said, "an ethics," and he insisted on participating, going so far as to list his parents' address in a punk magazine as a spot for free room and board for touring bands passing through. His family was patient. In a post on the website for the documentary "Towncraft," which concentrates on the city's punk scene, Werth's father, Jay, remembers, "We may have been the only address in Little Rock that had a different well-used van parked at the front entrance every week."

Werth's commitment didn't go unnoticed by the scene's older generation, and when Mark Dober, then running the local record label File 13, left town to go on tour, he asked Werth to take over while he was gone. The label had been started in 1989 as a way to document and distribute the increasingly vast and vivid network of Little Rock bands, and was passed down to successive generations as a kind of rite of passage. Werth threw himself into the role eagerly, and when Dober returned, he asked him to stay on permanently. From the age of 16 through the end of high school, Werth ran the label out of his childhood bedroom.

"It taught me everything I know now," he said. "It was a complete education in the fundamentals of not only putting out vinyl, but also establishing an identity, an aesthetic and a written and stylistic voice. File 13 had this very strong aesthetic when it was handed over to me, so I had to learn that inside out — learn how to speak the language of the label. And that has directly applied to the way I run RVNG. It's about a distinct voice."

The transition from File 13 to RVNG, from a local punk outlet to an internationally renowned sonic free-for-all, came as a result of Werth's next great "cultural immersion," which arrived when he left Little Rock to go to college in Philadelphia.

"By virtue of being in a larger, Northeastern city, there was a little bit more of a flux of music, a larger spectrum," he said. "There were record stores that offered a different kind of selection sensibility. There were just more people, and they were listening to more music." It was here that he discovered and fell in love with electronic music, a shift in his musical outlook that he calls a "realization that there were even more alternatives."

He started RVNG there in the early 2000s, initially as a mix series designed as a calling card for a series of parties called "Making Time" that he helped throw with the local promoter Dave Pianka. "I loved the party aspect of it," he said. "It was a lot of fun for me, but I was missing the tactile aspect, the nuts and bolts of putting together and releasing a record. There was a void there from File 13, which wasn't a part of my daily ritual anymore. It felt like a calling, a needed shot in the arm to get back into this stuff." When he moved to New York in 2002, he continued the mix series, by then called RVNG of the NRDS, and began releasing full-length LPs as well, mostly by friends and acquaintances early on, like Philly duo Pink Skull.


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