The Label Makers is a monthly feature that puts the spotlight on independent record labels from across so-called Canada. This month’s featured label is Second Spring from Vernon, BC.
“Originally, the conception was that we’d do poetry, folk, and occult records.”
Julian Yi-Zhong Hou, a multi-disciplinary artist (who was long-listed for the 2021 Sobey Art Award) and the managing and artistic director (although these titles remain fluid) of Second Spring, laughs a little at this admission, but it sums up the broad creative vision of the label. On their website, Second Spring settled on defining themselves as “a loose affiliation of collaborators, an experimental sound and art production studio, and an artist imprint that produces vinyl records, online projects, and events.”
Hou works to untangle and meditates on Second Spring from his home via Zoom. Behind me are beige walls in an unflattering light, but behind Hou are the snowy, picturesque woods of Vernon, British Columbia, the label’s home base and a future arts residency space. “It’s deep hippy to a certain extent but also quite goth. We’re trying to forge a new way of thinking and bring new things to the world,” Hou says about his home in Vernon. “A big thing that we’re exploring is how to share resources and allow time and space for people to come to Vernon, make records, and spend time together,” he adds. “It is about community and building community through activities and making stuff together.”
Rooted by a collective mentality, Second Spring’s origin is multi-pronged and has many players. In 2018, Hou received a grant to support the making of Grass Drama, “a ritual-based performance” involving music and visual art presented at exhibition spaces in Vancouver and Toronto. Hou later assembled the exhibitions’ sound works, as well as other tracks, into two psych-folk records, Selected Works and Grass Drama, but he had trouble finding a suitable label and so began thinking about self-releasing them. In 2019, Second Spring, in collaboration with VIVO Media Arts, hosted a two-day event at Vancouver’s Trout Lake (John Hendry Park) that included workshops, lectures, and performances by several artists, academics, and educators. Second Spring had started to bloom, and conversations between Hou, Xenia Benivolski (a curator and writer based in Toronto), Tiziana La Melia (a poet and artist based in Vancouver), and Dan Colussi (Toronto-based singer-songwriter Fortunato Durutti Marinetti) helped further shape Second Spring’s vision of being both a label and event producer.
“I do think of [Second Spring] a bit like one of those Transformers where the smaller transformers combine into a single larger entity. I’m maybe the torso at least for the moment — different people are different parts of the body, but the whole body isn’t quite fleshed out yet,” Hou writes about the Second Spring team in a follow-up email.
Second Spring is project-oriented and committed to having diverse approaches to each venture. The 2019 event at Trout Lake was Second Spring’s first project; in 2020, Hou’s Grass Drama and Selected Works were released. In 2021, Second Spring put out Toronto-based musician/sound artist Prince Nifty (Matt Smith)’s Interplanetary Machines. About the latter, Hou likens the collaborative process of creating the album’s visuals to putting on a group show in an exhibition space. “It feels like this project is an artwork, not just a record,” he notes.
This year, there will be three new Second Spring projects, including the re-release of Fortunato Durutti Marinetti’s 2020 record Desireon vinyl and the debut album by the playful Vancouver-based experimental psych duo Strawberry (Dennis Ha and Barry Doupé). Second Spring’s focus remains on creating a space to cultivate and support artists, particularly those with experimental and expanded practices. Alongside turning Hou’s Vernon property into a residency space, Second Spring is also trying to develop a resource-sharing model in which “artists can choose to support the development of one another’s records by potentially donating their sales back to the organization. Those who can’t are not expected to, so each relationship is unique and tailored to the artist and to Second Spring’s capacities.”
“It seems like everywhere you go, capitalism rears its head,” reflects Hou when asked about some of the obstacles that Second Spring faces. “I think our big challenge [as artists] is that you live with a sense of scarcity mentality for a long time. You do these DIY things, and it has been relegated to the world of hobby or a “passion,” which is something that I really dislike. I think the challenge is to believe in your “passion” as being something that is primary.”
“That switch is something that I think a lot of artists have made because of capitalism because the system isn’t built for artists. It’s difficult to live in poverty and to struggle that hard day-to-day. Artists are inspiring because they make art, they need to, and it is primary for them. I feel like the decision to do that is probably the biggest challenge of all. Even as an artist, to commit more to your art-making…what will succeed?”