DIY and Then You Die: Speaking with Independent Label FeelTrip

Words by Ben Niespodziany and Justin Mackie

Independent Chicago label FeelTrip is no joke. The name first came to the surface as a DIY venue/recording studio in 2012, but quickly molded into something more: a record label, a self-proclaimed "food club", and maybe even a cult. FeelTrip has seen its fair share of talent come through its doors, acting as host for extremely historic concerts with The Orwells and Twin Peaks as well as a SaveMoney New Year's Eve party that ended before it began.

While FeelTrip may not be a familiar music label (yet) to our audience at TheseDays, the underground record label has crafted a fine following over the last three years. The label houses some of the strongest, most unique garage rock, basement pop, and abstract hip-hop contained within the sweaty venues of the Windy City. Names like Paul Cherry and Blind Moon. FeelTrip hosts a Bandcamp page that sells temporary tattoos, Phil Jackson candles, and yes, music. The label's most recent release came courtesy of artist Sophagus, who promotes his Etsy page on the same page where he streams his 37 second song called "Cheetah's Glare". Again, one might toss around the word "cult".

The loyal FeelTrip fan base and label mates are made up of the underdogs, of proud Chicago lowlifes who devour multiple cigarettes before breakfast. Who drink whiskey on street corners. Who tattoo themselves once they're home from their favorite local boozehound hideaway. Who try new instruments when the twilight night is dripping, when belching the alphabet leads to raising a fist to the sky to herald the wobbling youth shining throughout Chicago: a city with a smile that widens with missing teeth that do nothing but help to whistle a passion for great music, for rock 'n' fucking roll.

Now, as FeelTrip Records remains poised to become Chicago's weirdest collective, even if they don't know how weird it might truly get, we felt it only right to speak with David Beltran, the founder and label head of the collective, as well as the poppy club artist known as Starfoxxx.

How did FeelTrip begin?

A group of artists needed representation. We couldn't get signed, felt trapped a bit, I guess. These feelings combined with the opportunity to open up a DIY venue/recording studio fell perfectly into place. FeelTrip was born in 2012.

Has it always been strictly Chicago?

Well, we have a lot of connections outside of FeelTrip in other cities but we are all born and raised in Chicago and operate in Chicago. Chicago is a different kind of animal. It's not LA, it's not NYC. It moves slow and burns slow here. If you're not in it for the long haul, you might go crazy.

How would you describe your label to a stranger on the street?

Man, it's tough. It's more a collective, I guess. Friends of friends. Some people can say it's a cult even [laughs]. We all have matching stick 'n' poke tattoos of our logo, so we are a committed bunch. I control a lot of things from social media to the look and artistic direction but it's very much a team of artists. We all make huge contributions to the label. It runs, but the tiers of a traditional workplace aren't as present, I guess.

What's 2016 looking like for FeelTrip?

I really don't know. We just keep doing what we do and hopefully the stages get bigger. I always make sports references but if you're a team competing for a 'ship, you need a few things. Committed players, a good game plan, and coaches. You need to draft well and you need to play hard. That can be applied anywhere, so I dunno what a championship is in the music world; maybe it's just the carrot on a stick, proverbial pot of gold, but the end result is just be better than yesterday. So plans for 2016 are open.

Acting as a record label, FeelTrip also used to be a performance space as well, right?

Yup! The garden of DIY venues. If you were there, you were there.

Since TheseDays tends to focus on hip-hop, the SaveMoney crew performed at the Feel Trip space a few years back for New Years. Can you speak on that?

[Laughs] Man, cops busted the show before it ever took off! Towkio from SaveMoney set it all up but Chance was just too big for us already. The line was down four stories and around the block. If it didn't get busted, god knows how dangerous it could have gotten. We were way beyond capacity.

You most recently released projects with Sophagus and Troy Anderson. How do you first connect with artists on your label?

Friends of friends. We get a lot of submissions. Then it's up to us to see what we want to add to the catalog. Sometimes we reach out as well. It's just a weird thing, still being on the other end of the table. But yeah, with internet now, it's easy to just tweet at someone, that's how I got a record in Donky Pitch, literally through Twitter.

Who are some other Chicago artists we should pay attention to?

Sophagus I was a fan of before we signed him. Heavy Times, Wolf Pac, Kangaroo, Nehi, Sexy Fights are all underrated bands. KO is another awesome band, just saw them open for Sophagus last week.

Outside of your own label, what have you been listening to recently?

A lot of house and techno. Some people forget that I actually make club records as Starfoxxx. I like to go through phases of soaking up genres at long spans at a time. I just went through my lo-fi garage phase, now going into my BBC essential mixes and Boiler Room mixes phase.

Do you have any advice for independent labels working on their craft?

Try hard and go with your gut. Everything takes practice and repetition. You get what you put in, so if it's a hobby it's gonna look like a hobby. If you make it your life, you'll see the difference and so will everyone else.

Any final words/thoughts/shout-outs?

Shoutouts to Joakim Noah. Thanks for support from anyone ever. Go Bulls.