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Local Labels: Plan-It-X, BlueSanct 

click to enlarge Pictured: Lobyn Hamilton's 'Vinyl Downpour' at the TURF: IDADA Arts Pavilion
  • Pictured: Lobyn Hamilton's 'Vinyl Downpour' at the TURF: IDADA Arts Pavilion
  • Brandon Knapp

Plan-It-X

The birth of Plan-It-X Records in 1994 helped rearrange the state's musical landscape. The label began as an outlet for a small sect of Bloomington's musical community. Founded by Samantha Dorsett (who died in 2009), the label largely has been the playground for Chris Johnston (better known as Chris Clavin, member of Indiana punk outfit Operation Cliff Clavin).

"It started as a joke one night in a 24-hour Kinko's," Johnston said. "Me and my friend Sam were designing and mass producing the jackets for my band's tape release and we decided that we should put a record label on the back as a joke, to make us seem like a real band. I started working at P.I.X. that night in 1994."

The early history of the label is tied to Operation Cliff Clavin.

"We were one and the same. Operation Cliff Clavin was the only band on P.I.X. for a while," Johnston said.

He took the reins of P.I.X. in 1995, and the label's roster soon began to expand to include bands outside Johnston's projects.

"It's the generally higher pitched vocals - sometimes off-key vocals - and the strong presence of female singers mixed with a lack of macho attitude and set to upbeat music, whether it's folky or poppy punk," Johnston said.

But it's P.I.X.'s business decisions that have largely shaped its reputation. The label offers its releases cheaply: tapes and CDs are a mere $5, with vinyl LPs costing no more than $10. The truth behind the pricing is as simple as the costs involved in pressing and sending music.

"We found out that CDs only cost $1.25 or so to make, and when we started P.I.X., they were $0.78 to mail, so we thought that $5.00 was more than enough" Johnston said. "We realized that although we were still basically capitalist, we could be ethical capitalists at least."

Beyond the inexpensive cost of its vast catalogue, P.I.X. also has turned itself into a goodwill ambassador with its semi-annual Plan-It-X Fest. The first, celebrating the label's 10th anniversary in 2004, established a model which the festival has used in subsequent iterations: Three days of music, with proceeds earmarked for P.I.X. approved charities.

"In the beginning, we didn't have enough money to donate to anyone," Johnston said. "When the first Plan-It-X Fest started shaping up, we realized that we could earn some real money for good causes and since then, that is the main reason I do the fest. The total money raised so far by P.I.X. fest is $28,000. Most of that went to the Midwest Pages to Prisoners Project, Rhino's Youth Club and Mother Hubbard's Cupboard."

They're doing more musical good, too.

"There is a new Ghost Mice LP in the works, an Inky Skulls album, and I'm about to publish my book, 'Free Pizza for Life,' soon."

BlueSanct

The story of BlueSanct is a good one. It doesn't begin in Indiana but finds its final act as firmly planted in the Bloomington soil as any other label born within the Hoosier land.

Founded by Michael Anderson in the autumn of 1995, BlueSanct was inspired by the company Anderson kept in his native Boston.

"I was living in a huge collective house in Watertown, a sort of borough of Boston," Anderson said. "It was a massive Victorian house, split down the middle into two halves: the 'fruit side' where all the Goths and art types lived and the 'rock side' where the bands lived. I lived on the fruit side, in the attic."

Anderson explained that the split residence wasn't that divided, because people on both sides creatively intermingled.

"There were constantly bands playing in the basements," Anderson said. "On the rock side, my friend Chris lived with Gregory and his wife, Kristen. They had started this sort of tape label in 1993-1994 called Day 2 Records, to release mostly music by Chris' band, The Stuffings. My friends and I got really obsessed with The Stuffings and we all formed what we called the Day 2 Alliance. Our motto was 'Making homemade stuff and slowly becoming your friends.'"

The Day 2 Alliance and its ethos remain at the heart of BlueSanct. The idea of bringing together communities dedicated to hand-crafted art and music has imbued BlueSanct with a unique aura to those who have become part of the label's roster.

"The main ideology behind BlueSanct has always been simply sharing the music and art that means so much in my life," Anderson said.

That ideology eventually brought him to Bloomington, where Anderson not only hoped to grow BlueSanct but worked to help another local label take off: Secretly Canadian.

"At one point, around 2000 when I moved to Bloomington to work with the Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar guys, I tried to grow the label and have a go at doing it as a business or livelihood," he said. "All the business stuff just totally confused me and I stopped paying as much attention to the music or the fun of sharing and realized that micro-label/one-man show was all I wanted out of BlueSanct."

The shift in philosophy has proven equally fruitful for Anderson, even if BlueSanct's reputation has yet to reach the levels of Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar.

"Every year, while on tour in Europe, people come up to me and ask me when Justin Vollmar or Elephant Micah are going to come over," Anderson said. "Or they tell me how much they loved the In Gowan Ring albums I released or Caethua or whoever."

But BlueSanct is firmly grounded in Indiana's music and arts community.

"I feel like BlueSanct offers a reflection of the Indiana underground as both an outsider and an insider," Anderson said. "I always try to work with artists in the places I live in, and I have released many Indiana artists now."

This simplicity in design and scope continue to make BlueSanct and its Day 2 Alliance a blessing for anyone interested in variation and experimentation.

"BlueSanct is simply a very small label which exists to present the music and art that excites me," Anderson said. "I am not too worried about how it reaches people. It is there for those who need it and who will stumble upon it, those who listen and want to come closer."

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