The Eyes Behind: PORTALS Playlist And Interview
Founded in early 2012, Portals is consistently ahead of the curve for new music, often featuring under-the-radar artists long before they go on to indie stardom. With writers across North America and a handful in the UK, their team pulls from a wide range of local scenes, culminating in charmingly artistic photo essays, showcases, artist residencies, and more. Behind many of their major moves is Creative Director Tyler Andere, who recently moved from Chicago to balmy Austin, Texas, where Portals' new headquarters is located. We caught up with Tyler to chat about what goes on behind the scenes, making friends with iLoveMakonnen before he made it big, and how he accidently stumbled into a career in music.
How did you first link up with Portals?
I originally moved to Chicago to study theatre at Columbia College Chicago, which is a small art school downtown. At the beginning of my junior year, I decided to leave the school because the program wasn't really working for me and I was having a hard time fitting in. It was summer of 2010, and I started finding music online through all of these different blogs that were popping up on Tumblr and Wordpress and places like that. I decided to start my own blog, called Flashlight Tag, which was just this random thing that I decided to do on a summer day. I didn't really put much thought into it, but after a month or two of doing it, it gained a pretty small and dedicated audience. Around December of 2011, I got an e-mail from Jake Martin and Ryan Pjesky, who are the founders of Portals, basically saying like, Hey, we've totally taken notice of this new, young music blog movement. We're starting a new collective called Portals, we'll have contributors from all of these different blogs, and we'd really like you to join.
So you just kind of fell into working in music.
It's definitely not something that I was expecting, but I'm super happy to be working in music right now. In high school, I was always the kid who would try to find bands that other people weren't listening to, and I was the person in my friend group that would supply whatever music we were listening to at the time. Once I started doing Flashlight Tag a little more, I also got contacted by Lefse records, which is this label that's based in Portland. They had found this artist named Cemeteries through Flashlight Tag and wanted to sign him, and basically said, "Hey, we have some A&R positions opening up at Lefse." So I totally fell into a label job just from starting my own blog and being passionate about it, and then someone happened to take notice. I did that up until May of this year and now I'm pretty much just doing Portals full time.
Tell me about your role as Creative Director of Portals.
I was originally just writing for the site, and then about six months in, I became way more interested in behind-the-scenes work and Portals events. Now, I solely work on events and any sort of big creative decisions we make for the site, or for things we do outside of the site. This year we just launched this new traveling event series called Living Spaces where we go into non-traditional venues in different cities and put up showcases with five to six artists, and we try to transform the space in some way with a large scale visual installation.
What kind of artists do you guys like to cover?
There's no one genre. We're definitely down to talk about anything from pop to metal to indie rock to electronic, but we try to focus on artists that are under-represented in the current music press climate, or artists who aren't attached to a major indie label. Not that we don't focus on artists that have publicists or an established label, but we feel an obligation to be covering artists that are making work that we think is at the same level as the ones that are on established labels.
A lot of artists have popped up on Portals long before their big breaks. Who were some of your biggest discoveries?
People like Warren from Foxes in Fiction and Sam from Ricky Eat Acid, a lot of the Orchid Tapes camp before their boom. We've been friends with those guys and have been writing about their music for years now, so it's kind of interesting to see it all taking off in 2014 in a big way.
I guess iLoveMakonnen is a pretty weird and strange one. I knew him through Eric Littman, who plays as Phantom Power and Steve Sobs, and he has this collective called Phantom Posse. Back in 2012, Eric got a random e-mail from Makonnen. He'd found Eric's music on Bandcamp somehow, and they struck up a relationship. Through Eric, I started talking to Makonnen because I was just fascinated with this guy. His early work was not really rap-based, it was all weird, sort of off-key but in a really genuine, lovable kind of way. I did an interview with Makonnen in 2012 for Portals before any of this stuff happened, then two years later, he got put into the right hands and now he's probably one of the biggest artists in 2014.
Which artists are in heavy rotation for you these days?
Sea Oleena and Julie Byrne are two super special people. Sea Oleena's from Montreal and she's been making music since 2010. That was the last project that I worked on with Lefse. She's just amazing in terms of people who are working in ambient music and slower, dreamier textures. Then Julie Byrne is a folk artist who gets compared to Angel Olsen quite a bit, but I think she's a little weirder than that. I'm super stoked on both of them. They both put out albums this year that were two of my favorites, and I think they have some big things in store for 2015.
What's in store for the future of Portals?
I think for 2015, we're going to be slowing down a lot in terms of daily publishing. We just want to put more emphasis on the features that we've been doing, like the photo essays and the residencies or the video sessions, and just put a little more thought into any writing that goes up on the site. I think anybody who's doing online publishing feels pressure to keep up with the conversation as it's moving, and I think Portals is definitely interested in contributing to it in a different, more thoughtful way.
This is going to be our fourth year at SXSW for 2015, and we're working on figuring out when the next Living Spaces show is going to be. All of those shows have been huge hits, and it's been good to bring the Portals community to an IRL space and actually have people engaging with each other. A big future goal for us is to host showcases that have a lot of audience engagement, and a lot of challenging things going on in terms of visuals and aesthetics of the actual space. If you go to SXSW or CMJ, every show is in some bar with, like, five buzz bands, and there's not a lot of identity behind those shows. Portals is focused on making shows that are super-identifiable, and hopefully providing an escape from all that bullshit.
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