Nick B. Sylvester ’04 has come a long way from his high school days, when his main contribution to the musical world came from his jazz trumpet at the occasional bar and bat mitzvah. A year after passing one last time through Johnston Gate, Sylvester is now well on his way to becoming a gatekeeper himself for the underground music community.
Along with Matt LeMay, currently a junior at Brown, Sylvester has founded Beekeeper Records. According to their website, the New York-based record label focuses on “forward-thinking rock/pop albums and the occasional sideways-thinking klezmer compilation.” Sylvester handles the mail order and press information for Beekeeper while LeMay oversees distribution.
The duo met while separately writing features and reviews for the online album-reviewing site, Pitchforkmedia. Sylvester is currently an associate editor for Pitchfork and writes regular reviews for the site, in addition to writing for the Village Voice and the Boston Phoenix.
While attending Harvard, Sylvester made his enrollment in the college known in his Pitchfork reviews; references to Cambridge and Harvard pop up in reviews of Wig in a Box: Songs from and Inspired by Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Daft Punk’s remix album Daft Club. For the latter, Sylvester, a former writer for the Harvard Lampoon—a semi-secret Sorrento Square social organization that used to occasionally publish a so-called humor magazine—collaborated with Lampoon cartoonist Farley T. Katz ’06 to create several cartoon panels, with hilarious results.
While Sylvester, a former Classics concentrator, claims that working on The Lampoon didn’t directly affect his music career, he definitely brought a musical influence to the humor magazine.
“If anything, I’ve been guilty of pushing music on The Lampoon,” Sylvester says, “booking crazy concerts and B-list rock stars, and the issue I edited was exclusively about pop culture and music.”
Sylvester and LeMay were also part of the band Forced Premise while at Harvard, a group comprised largely of Lampoon writers, including current Ibis Simon H. Rich ’06-’07 and Robert J. Dubbin ’04. Despite the group’s common interest in humor writing, there was nothing comedic about their music.
“We took ourselves, and our art, very seriously,” Sylvester says.
While music has always played a large role in Sylvester’s life and he says the idea of starting his own label was “something that had always been brewing,” the demo tape of musician W. David Marx ’01 was the final catalyst to founding Beekeeper Records.
A MUSICAL MANIFESTO
At eight, Marx would hear his brother waking up every morning to the sounds of R.E.M.’s Life’s Rich Pageant. By the time he was 14, Marx had exchanged his childhood piano-playing for edgier guitar music. Soon, he was writing his own songs, creating tapes, and playing with bands throughout high school.
While an East Asian Languages and Civilizations concentrator at Harvard, Marx spent two summers studying pop culture in Japan. While there, he worked for a Japanese fashion magazine and eventually focused his senior thesis on the cultural influences of trendy Japanese clothing line “A Bathing Ape.”
Back in Cambridge, Marx fronted the pop/indie band Usigapop, blending musical influences in songs such as “kar-li,” based on a Korean folk song. As the owner of an extensive collection of 1990s Japanese underground dance music, Marx also called himself “DJ Dokidoki,” spinning Japanese house and loungecore music.
After graduation, Marx began working for Japanese media and pop culture publication Tokion Magazine in New York, while DJing on the side. It wasn’t enough. A year and a half later, Marx was yearning to write and record his own music.
Marx moved to Tokyo in the spring of 2003 with funds from a government grant for research. However, Marx’s music has always taken first priority.
“While I am interested in the research I am doing, I wanted to seriously pursue music and knew that a student life would be better for that than a professional job,” Marx says.
Under the name “Marxy,” Marx wrote, performed, and produced all of the songs on his debut album, titled Kyoshu Nostalgia (“Kyoshu” means nostalgia in Japanese).
“I don’t consider myself much more than a songwriter,” Marx says. “Although I’m always getting better at production and engineering, I first self-produced my tracks out of necessity more than confidence.”
Marx describes the unique, retrospective sounds of his album as “the experimentation of late ’60s pop music updated for the 21st century listener.” He finds it “lacking genre or static ideas of nationality or outdated notions of time and structure,” and refers to it as, “The Return of Melody. A Catchy Critique of Pop Music.” The January release was Beekeeper Records’ first.
After turning down two offers from Japanese record labels because he didn’t think that they really “got” his music, Marx now feels comfortable entrusting his album with Sylvester and LeMay.
“From the start, I’ve been confident that Beekeeper understands my album,” Marx says. “All three of us have jobs writing about music for magazines or websites, so we share that common bond as well. When I got the offer from Beekeeper, I went online and read a lot of Nick and Matt’s record reviews and realized that we have very similar taste.”
Furthermore, Marx is suspicious of individuals who use music as their primary source of income.
“The media conditions of our time have wrecked the traditional music economic model…and so I feel that we should seize this opportunity to drop pecuniary motives from our musical outlook,” Marx says.
“I’m not interested in making money as much as getting the record out to people who’ll like it. On this level, I couldn’t imagine a better fit than Beekeeper,” Marx says. “That’s not to say Beekeeper won’t make money, but I do think their primary motives are in line with mine.”
INTO THE FUTURE
Sylvester and LeMay are planning to release further albums under the Beekeeper label, and are open to a wide range of musical styles and genres.
“The only rule is that we both have to like it,” Sylvester says. “We’re doing this for the music, and it has to be something that’s interesting and exciting to us.”
LeMay, in addition to being a student and co-founder of the label, is also part of a band that recently recorded its first album and will be touring this summer.
“Neither of us sleeps that much,” Sylvester says.
“We’re just a bunch of dudes who are very willing to go bankrupt for something we love,” Sylvester says. “It’s really all about the record.”