When we look back on the 80's and 90's of the DC scene, we think of labels like Dischord and Simple Machines, labels that were so vital in documenting the bands and ideas that came from one of the country's most important cities, musically and politically. Twenty years from now, we will look back on DC, and Exotic Fever Records will immediately come to mind. Releasing some of the most important DIY releases in recent memory, from 1905's Voice to the numerous benefit compilations, Exotic Fever is continuing on the road that was paved by some of the pioneers of hardcore and punk rock. Scene Point Blank talked with Katy Otto, one half of the force behind Exotic Fever Records, about the label, DC, and beards.
Scene Point Blank: What's the story behind Exotic Fever? How did everything get started?
Katy: Exotic Fever started about six years ago. Bonnie, my old band mate in the band Bald Rapunzel, started it to put out a small run of records she was interested in - 100 cdr copies each with cute packaging. It wasn’t very serious. Then Sara Klemm, who I lived with at the time, was organizing a compilation cd to benefit the DC Books to Prisons chapter she founded. We all spoke about combining efforts and putting it on Exotic Fever, and taking on the task of starting a record label. Now we are approaching 30 releases - it is crazy!
Scene Point Blank: What's the meaning behind the name Exotic Fever?
Katy: Bonnie came up with it - the idea was that it was the home of music that was rare and infectious.
Scene Point Blank: Unlike many DIY labels, Exotic Fever is a two woman operation. How is all the work split up, and do you think having a partner makes running the label easier?
Katy: Yes, Bonnie eventually retired from the label, but we love having a women-run record label. I think women and girls need to be interested and involved in all stages of cultural production and I think having a partner has been invaluable to me. We can divide work and make sure that we are communicating well with bands, distributors, people ordering, the press etc.
Scene Point Blank: The DC scene is usually categorized as going through highs and lows, with periods of nothing going on and then periods of bands just exploding onto the scene. What are your thoughts on the DC scene right now, and where do you think it's headed?
Katy: I am excited about the future. I know for myself I am trying to get back involved in the act of playing music - it is a bit slow going but I am making progress. I get so thrilled by bands like Mass Movement of the Moth and they are the center to me of what feels like a lot of the current DC energy. I am trying to figure out ways that make sense for me to have music play a prominent role in my life as I get older and as my responsibilities shift and change.
Scene Point Blank: When a feature is done on popular DC bands, with A Day In Black and White coming to mind right now, it always seems like Fugazi and Dischord is mentioned. Being based in the Maryland/DC area, how big of an influence is Dischord on running a label, or are they totally out of the picture?
Katy: Dischord is a huge influence, as is DeSoto, SimpleMachines, etc. Growing up in this city, I had the privilege of having access to a number of wonderful mentors. Brian Lowit and Lovitt Records have been particularly helpful and hands-on in helping Exotic Fever grow to the place it is today...I hope to be able to give that kind of help and encouragement back to younger folks starting up.
Scene Point Blank: Exotic Fever is obliviously a politically and socially conscience label. What bands/individuals/labels do you think are doing a good job of raising awareness and taking action, and do you think punk rock as a community is doing enough in terms of being politically and socially active?
Katy: Sara and I are both involved in a project called All Our Power as part of our work with Positive Force DC. It is a three day gathering around connecting punk and activism (www.allourpower.org). I will remain endlessly inspired till I die by the political and cultural work Fugazi did. They definitely changed my life and I attribute a lot of what I do today to the effect they had on me as a younger girl going to shows. I think there are lots of bands doing remarkable work, and the wonderful thing is it happens in all different kinds of ways. I recently saw a Team Dresch reunion, and I think that band did incredible things for feminism and queer visibility...I also think we are lucky at our label because we have a lot of friends and bands interested in supporting political and social justice work, through giving songs, playing benefits, speaking out, organizing and so forth.
Scene Point Blank: Your band Del Cielo saw releases with Exotic Fever as well as with Eyeball Records. Any advantages or disadvantages to releasing your band's record on your own label?
Katy: It was nice to not always put out my own band because it helps the band members have equal relationships with the label. For example, we were better able to make decisions as a group of three equals about how our relationship with the label was going when my band mates did not have to worry about my role as the label owner. We also got to enjoy this with Lovitt Records. It is fun filling out orders for your own band though, and seeing the address of where someone is interested in what you are doing!
Scene Point Blank: Do you have a favorite release or one you are most proud that Exotic Fever has released?
Katy: That is like asking which child is your favorite! Though I am always excited by what is newest at the time.
Scene Point Blank: As evident in your two newest releases from Hope and Anchor and Wrong Day to Quit, Exotic Fever doesn't have a certain type of band or genre it follows. How do you choose the bands you release records from?
Katy We like to release music we think is incredible, by people we think are exceptional, who are interested in not only their own artistic work but the work of other people and in being part of a cultural ommunity. We have been so lucky in the bands we have gotten to work with, and in our opinion, they all make sense aesthetically together - while they may sound totally different, they come from the same place of urgency. We also end up working with a lot of bands with women and girls, not intentionally but I think in large part because we grew up as part of a community interested in what women and girls were doing in music and art. We are thus attuned to that.
Scene Point Blank: Most Exotic Fever releases are either released as a 7" or on cd. Do you have a preference of releasing an album on vinyl or cd?
Katy: I love both. Seven inches are fun but not really the best in terms of recouping your expenses. But I love bands that still want to release in that format, and I love the way the art looks.
Scene Point Blank: What are the future plans for Exotic Fever, where is the label headed?
Katy: I think we want to take a bit of a break from releasing since so much came out all at once, and try to get the catalogue we currently have in front of people.
Scene Point Blank: You recently did a release with Mass Movement of the Moth, and The Catalyst played (might I add a very intense set) at Exotic Fever Fest. Who do you think has a better beard: Christian from MMM or Eric from The Catalyst?
Katy: I gotta go with my boy Christian, dawg.
Scene Point Blank: Do you have any final words for the readers of SPB and this interview?
Katy: We have distro items too so please come see our website! www.exoticfever.com - thank you so much!