How Chicago Label Hausu Mountain Became a Home for Oddball Experimentalism

 

      Graphic by Drew Litowitz

Defined by carnivalesque sonics and a kaleidoscopic visual aesthetic, the label is proving that outré music doesn’t have to be serious all of the time.
Kent, Ohio’s Moth Cock were the first band that Hausu Mountain worked with outside of Allison and Kaplan’s own projects. “They’re probably the most accurate representation of the Hausu Mountain sound,” says Kaplan. “It’s completely prog, completely shred.” Released in 2014, Twofer Tuesday is the band’s second offering for the label, boasting two side-long descents into loop-pedal delirium. “Moth Cock is my favorite band that exists in the world,” gushes Allison. “Every single time I’ve seen them play live, it has inspired and baffled and stunned me. Part of their appeal is their humble, homespun practice, which barely uses any gear—it’s two pedals, a trumpet, sax or clarinet, and microphone. But it’s extremely charged with personality and weird ideas. The results that they wring out of that are truly beyond comprehension.”


The Breakthrough: Eartheater’s Metalepsis (2015)



Allison and Kaplan met Eartheater, aka New Yorker Alexandra Drewchin, when her band Guardian Alien played a DIY show in Chicago. The three became friends, and Drewchin completed a solo album for the label, but Allison and Kaplan pulled the plug on the project at the last minute. “It was more rock or indie,” recalls Kaplan. “I like it a lot; it’s very good music. But that drone part of the equation was missing. It didn’t feel quite right.” So the trio worked on a new project for a year and a half, resulting in 2015’s Metalepsis, a breakthrough for the label. “It really felt like the first time that we were taken seriously by a lot of people,” Kaplan adds. “We had been releasing so much one-take ambient or noise music, and then this person from that world suddenly has an album of gorgeous, spectral, angelic pop,” Allison says. “That laid the groundwork for the idea of working with tons of other more song-oriented artists. It was like, ‘We can do this. This is part of our identity now.’ So we owe her a lot, for sure.”


The Master Improvisation: TALSounds’ All the Way (2015)



Allison and Kaplan met Natalie Chami shortly after graduating college and began playing with her in their band Good Willsmith. At the same time, she kept up her solo project TALsounds, making loop-based improv at her residency in a small Chicago bar. “It’s hard to fathom how much she puts into her compositions, all the different elements. And it’s all live using loop pedals, no computer,” says Allison. “All the Way demonstrates that her approach to song-building can happen on-the-spot and be so sophisticated. She is a genius-level worker. She has put so much into this practice.”


The Crazy Future Shit: Fire-Toolz’s Skinless X-1 (2018)



Allison and Kaplan knew Angel Marcloid as a noise musician on the local DIY scene. Then they saw a video that paired an image of the artist (under her alias Fire-Toolz) screaming with vintage NES game footage. “We’re just like, ‘What the fuck? This is Angel?’” recalls Allison. In 2017, they released Fire-Toolz’s Drip Mental, which slalomed between screamo and vaporwave, then followed it up in 2018 with Skinless X-1, where Marcloid smoothed out her customary stylistic whiplash by heaping on new age and fusion. “She immediately became a very important artist for our label,” Allison says. “Her music is absolutely unique, one-of-a-kind, crazy future shit.” Kaplan adds, “There’s no artist we’ve worked with that has a better idea of what their vision is. Angel is usually a couple steps ahead of us. She actually might be the label boss and not us.”


The Contemplative Carnival: Dustin Wong’s Fluid World Building 101 With Shaman Bambu (2018)



Both Allison and Kaplan were longtimes fans of Dustin Wong, who was once the guitarist in experimental rock band Ponytail and has since released several solo albums on Thrill Jockey. “This one speaks to us very deeply,” says Kaplan. “Both of us have a heavy rock background, and it’s cool that this is a guitar-centric album but still totally HausMo, carnival-core all over the place.”


The Gonzo Endurance Test: Pepper Mill Rondo’s E.D.M. (2018)



In a catalog that hardly lacks for batshit propositions, Kaplan and Allison’s work as Pepper Mill Rondo probably takes the guano cake. A 100-minute endurance test of inside jokes, karaoke performances, and moments of genuine brilliance (e.g. “I’m sitting in a room,” a tribute to Alvin Lucier’s magnum opus of conceptual sound art made out of millisecond-long pop samples), it takes the art-prank plunderphonics of Negativland and raises them to the galaxy-brain level. “It’s a vaporwave-adjacent thing that rejects vaporwave,” says Kaplan. (Hence “Lesser Artists Borrow, Great Artists Vape,” which collages together interview snippets about the contested subgenre with commercials for vape pens.) He likens the experience of listening to it to a kind of ego death: “It’s about going into the zone and getting overwhelmed and staying in there for a long time. If you’re going to listen to these crazy samples for 100 minutes, by the end, you’ll be pretty nullified.”


The Mutant Jock Jam: Prolaps’ Pure Mud Volume 7 (2020)



Hausu Mountain put out a handful of tapes from Bonnie Baxter and her group Kill Alters before she teamed up with Machine Girl in the duo Prolaps, who mix rave, metal, hardcore, and industrial into a self-described “mutant” sound. “There’s a huge Jock Jams influence,” says Kaplan approvingly. “One of the things that makes this album really shine is that the heaviness and metal edge are balanced with a totally scatalogical sense of humor and meme-ishness. It’s super heavy and over the top, but it’s never scary or satanic or evil. It’s ‘evil’ in quotes, where they’re singing about buttholes.”


The Off-the-Wall Hip-Hop Adventure: Sharkula x Mukqs’ Take Caution on the Beach (2021)



Chicago rapper Sharkula is a ubiquitous figure around town. For years, he’s been out in bars, on the sidewalk, on the Blue Line, selling his art and his music. “I’ve loved hip-hop since I was very young,” says Allison. “I always had the idea of wanting to make beats and be a producer, and Sharkula was an obvious choice to work with, because we have a great rapport. I definitely look up to him as someone that is a lifer in music.” All the vocals on this year’s Take Caution on the Beach were recorded in a single day. “It was like bringing in a lead soloist, but it just happened to be in his very idiosyncratic, off-the-wall rap style,” Allison adds. “His zest for life comes through in his music. He might have moments where he discusses his struggles or gets into more goofy, graphic, or scatalogical, but so many times, he’s talking about staying positive. It’s inspirational.”

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