When Chris DeFusco posted on Facebook that he was starting a record label called Negative Fun Records, he expected some return enthusiasm.
But he didn't anticipate that he'd soon have a full-fledged business partner or that, within nine months, his little label would already have two releases. Or that, within three years, his imprint would have issued a few dozen titles spanning several states, launched a local series of cassette tapes or published original interviews with its artists. DeFusco doesn't regret the surprises.
"I was looking for something to tie me into the music scene, which was really kicking into high gear locally," DeFusco says of his motivations in 2012 for starting Negative Fun. He cites the city's Hopscotch Music Festival as one inspiration.
His daughter had also just turned 2. She now had a regular bedtime, so DeFusco had some extra hours on his hands.
"I probably should have started a little bit later," he says with a laugh, "but I was able to sleep at that point. I needed to do something that would keep me up at night.
A week after DeFusco's post, Jon Whitney, an old chum from his days in the Boston hardcore scene, reached out from New Hampshire to help. Despite the geographical divide, DeFusco, in Raleigh, accepted. Almost instantly, they had two seven-inches to their name—a split from aggressive acts in New England and Illinois and another from Red Hex, a Tacoma, Washington punk band recommended by another friend amid DeFusco's initial Facebook proclamation.
Consistent with the label's social media roots, there's a post-modern eclecticism to Negative Fun's roster, which mines a diversity of sounds and scenes. The fist-pumping grime of the label's first split, for instance, feels far removed from the ragged pop-punk of Wilmington's Family Bike, which will issue its debut LP via Negative Fun next month.
And speaking of networking, each Negative Fun release leads to another, with a web of personal connections linking the efforts.
"I don't think our releases have a cohesive sound," DeFusco, 38, explains. "We're all over the map, but you know what you're getting—bands who are a little bit under the radar, rooted in the DIY ethic. They might not be overtly political, but they have a political slant just in their existence."
Negative Fun isn't looking to reinvent that DIY ethic so much as empower it with familiar tools. In 2013, their "Singles Club" earned a boost from flyers plastered all over Raleigh during Hopscotch. The label co-sponsored a set of eclectic rock bills for two years, too, building a vital live presence that even netted a few signings. DeFusco is commissioning zine-inspired interviews on the Negative Fun website, where fans talk to artists they admire.
Even Negative Fun's release strategy has become a moving target. The label began as a singles imprint and used only vinyl for a time. But the label now chooses cassettes as the dominant medium—a way to sidestep an overcrowded LP market and to maximize minimal budgets.
"As we went along, it seemed like, 'Why are we separating out Negative Fun from antiquated technology?'" says DeFusco. "Do we have to put all these different restrictions on our label? Why can't we just do whatever we want to do?"
Negative Fun has found another way to deploy an old tactic and tie back into local music—the ongoing NC Tapes Series, which will send subscribers five cassettes from bands throughout the state.
The entry from Midnight Plus One, a collection cut before the dense but tuneful Carrboro outfit slimmed to a trio, was a perfect fit. The band wanted to issue the music without overshadowing their new pursuits. For singer Casey Cook, a low-key cassette release was a welcome compromise.
"It was very open," she says of the label's reception to the idea. "Chris let us have freedom."
MIDNIGHT PLUS ONE
A document of a band that has since shifted lineups and trajectories, Unlearn Everything extends the catchy clobbering of Midnight Plus One's 2013 debut. This purposeful step tidies that record's rough edges, with assaults that are lean like punk and dense like shoegaze. Tuneful moments showcase a newfound dynamic range. "Handyman" simmers and shimmers, with blissful distortion buttressed by daunting bass.
Negative Fun's second release is a prime slice of teeth-clenching punk. Red Hex bleeds fuzz-blasted riffs, beefy bass lines and snotty snarls—and not much else, really. Those guitars melt into noise before solidifying into body blows. Wowing from end to end, this is a livewire balancing act, with everything in its proper proportion.
Comfort & Safety
When a critic praises a punk band's momentum, they're often referring to their ability to push the pace. But on Comfort & Safety, Virginia's Hoax Hunters prove they can be just as powerful by slowing as speeding. Ragers like "Copy of a Copy" and "Breathe" clock in at less than a minute. But more sprawling offerings, like the five-minute "Perception of Choice," find the trio floating sumptuous fuzz over simple, effective melodies.
THE PILGRIMS/GHOSTT BLLONDE
Home & Home Vol. 2
The two volumes in Negative Fun's Home & Home series represent one of its most intriguing endeavors—pairing one band from New England with one from North Carolina, the home bases of the label's two founders. This 7-inch proves that Negative Fun has an ear for softer sounds, too. Vermont's The Pilgrims offer two quick cuts that gasp with barroom intensity, recalling a more celebratory Titus Andronicus. Raleigh's Ghostt Bllonde contributes "Dissonance," which belies its name with pleasant skitters and guitars refracted through reverb.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Such fun."