On a brisk March night during the tail end of downtown Norman’s art
walk, founding members of Zanzibar! Records huddled outside a
storefront, discussing the difficulty of starting a record label in the
digital age, all while splitting a 12-pack of Blue Moon and giving
directions to manic, roaming Flaming Lips fans in search of $200 that
Wayne Coyne supposedly stashed somewhere on Main Street.
It’s just another night in a college town that has music fans buzzing with excitement about the vital cultural undercurrent slowly transforming Norman into a progressive hub of American indie rock. Zanzibar! Records recently stepped to the forefront by rallying an army of veteran scenesters, hoping that a little structure might help propel their beloved town into the national spotlight.
To glimpse the fruit of Zanzibar!’s efforts, check out the label’s monthly showcase tonight at The Deli, featuring Zebre and FRMR. “Growing up in Norman, I’ve always seen a certain level of hopelessness among the artists, knowing we aren’t in New York or L.A.,” said label president Ben Lindesmith. “But when you are around a group that supports one another and what they are doing, that hopelessness disappears.”
Named after Lindesmith’s recording studio and founded last November, Zanzibar! sports a swelling stable of 15 state acts, and will have its own stage at April’s Norman Music Festival.
To support that amount of bands, Kara Joy McKee, vice president of promotions, said roughly 40 people are called upon regularly to help with projects, extending from video production to distribution.
“We make some of the highestquality products in the state,” she said.
“No,” Lindesmith said. “We make the highest-quality products in the state.”
“Well, right,” McKee said. “They are very bad-ass.”
Chase Spivey, vice president of production, added organizations like Zanzibar! are important because they create breeding grounds for ideas that can have lasting effects on culture, while giving musicians ample opportunity to do what they do best.
“Artists are very industrious and like to be busy all the time,” Spivey said. “That is what is so enthralling about this label. We get new artists who have traumatic things going on in their life, and this is an avenue that they can put their efforts into.”
Lindesmith hopes to build Zanzibar! into a significant online media producer as a way to promote talent and generate enough income to sustain the label in the absence of album sales, which used to be the industry’s lifeblood. Whether or not it’s viable in the long run is irrelevant to him, compared to the viability of Norman’s music scene.
“A lot of people within Zanzibar! are talking about how this will be a major music hub. It is inevitable,” he said. “It doesn’t even matter if our record label is involved. It will still happen, and we just want to do what we can to move that along.”