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Read Text Only: ROOT STRATA


“Experimental” is a funny way to classify a band, group, or artist (whatever—I don’t know what the preferred nomenclature is). The term incurs scoffing from most casual listeners, sarcastic mutterings of avant-garde, and dust collecting in the rarely visited “experimental” section at the record store. It’s a niche for weirdos and dorks to nerd out over abstract themes, limited record pressings, and obscure noises. The work that arises from this creatively fertile ground perpetually grows while pushing the boundaries of music (noise, sound—call it what you will) to the point that those involved exist on the fringe, not just underground (which implies that the only thing between them and the focal point is a few feet of dirt), but these artists are on the outside.

Root Strata is a San Francisco based record label that specializes in releasing the work of outsiders. This includes CD-R’s from bands too prolific for their own good, writing new material at a striking pace, vinyl releases in small quantities from artists who work alone in remote locations, and cassette tapes from creeps that’ve locked themselves in their bedrooms to record analog masterpieces.

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma and Maxwell August Croy have been running Root Strata out of their apartments for the last five years. Root Strata is just a hobby; they have jobs to pay the bills and make themselves appealing to the stronger sex, but it’s really just a labour of love. Root Strata grew out of the need for Cantu to release his own work and later the work of friends. Rather than relying on some fat cat to harvest them and take ‘em to the marketplace, Cantu created Root Strata to self-release the music. Realistically, the opportunities for outsider musicians are limited (that’s what makes them outsiders), and there aren’t a lot of labels that specialize in this type of music.

The Label’s roster is scattered with a variety of outsider artists. Cantu’s own band, the Alps, play surreal krautrock inspired, pastoral psych jams that inevitably induce hyperbole. Barn Owl, a local duo featuring Jon Porras and Evan Caminiti, play portentous, droning folk music utilizing loop pedals to create many layers of sound that seem to work best combined with Super8 film for some reason. Xela, a solo project of this charming British guy named John P. Twells, who plays around with synthesizers and tape machines creating these dark and distant soundscapes that’d put the fear in your grandmother (one tape release features multiple recordings of different church bells ringing all played at the same time transforming the heavenly call to its parishioners into an ominous clatter), until the angel baby sings and kinda closes the distance his soundscapes create.

This year, Root Strata has organized the 2nd On Land Festival, featuring outsider artists/bands/groups/duos/partners from Root Strata’s catalogue that’s taking place at Café du Nord and the Swedish American Hall above it. You can check out Root Strata (now available through Thrill Jockey; congratulations gentlemen) at their website: They also keep this great blog ( filled with updates about the label, local shows, and uploads of out-of-print material and Mississippi Records mix tapes (probably the best things ever). If you need more details on the upcoming On Land Festival, beginning Thursday September 2nd and concluding Sunday September 5th, you can check out the easily navigable and informative