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Herb Sundays 71: Justin Montag
The Franchise brand founder wraps a sublime bullet time song cycle.
“I used to make playlists for a living, listening to hundreds of new tracks every week and deciding where they should be featured. It was a dream job, but also an overwhelming one that changes how you comprehend music. Now with a few years removed, I've been able to renew my relationship with music and listen for pure enjoyment – opposed to constant categorization. I'm still active in the music space with a monthly NTS show, an occasionally updated playlist, and a small but growing record label. This playlist is a mix of personal classics & current favorites, it starts on the slower side and then picks up the tempo before ending on a 20-minute Thurston Moore instrumental tribute to Kurt Cobain”.
It seems like just yesterday we were crowded outside some bar in the Lower East Side, sending Justin off to California to take his dream job at Apple. As of 2006, Justin’s CV reads like a checklist of the most desirable underground media gigs of the era. Justin had already found himself being the assistant tour manager/merch salesperson for the influential Def Jux labels’ “Revenge of the Robots” tour and managing musicians himself before he worked at the growing Cornerstone / Fader empire, joining projects for Nike and Outkast (Speakerboxx/Love Below era!).
Justin flew West to do big things at Apple’s iTunes (eventually Apple Music), least of which includes smoking blunts with Snoop Dogg in a Cupertino parking lot [isn’t that just a prereq for LA kids?], giving a recently signed The Weeknd a tour of Infinite Loop, and listening to Channel Orange the day it came out with Frank Ocean in a conference room. All this madness sort of makes sense now.
Since launching as a Basketball-driven magazine in 2016, Franchise has expanded to act as an art gallery, record label, creative studio, and apparel line (carried in fine shops globally). But even that is not enough, as Justin hinted to me that a podcast and another retail operation are in the works. It’s all done tastefully and inclusively, so spot-on, like this mix.
Wearing my armchair marketing hat (it’s like an ExOfficio joint in khaki with the flaps and shit) Franchise belongs to a category of new-ish companies that spring from a hyrda of small innovations, from the simplicity of Shopify stores, and social media-as-moodboard innovations, plus a desire to get back to the physical via publishing, products or otherwise.
Peers to me would include Caitlin Thompson and David Shaftel’s Tennis-driven Racquet (a “media and lifestyle company) and Matt Taylor’s running-based Tracksmith, in a similar but different cabal. Closer to Franchise, are more likely the “nanobrands” (a compliment in my lexicon) of apparel/editorial/events firms, the likes of which I would include Ariel Stark-Benz’s Weed-scorched Mister Green, Kyle Ng and Ed Davis’ surrealist Brain Dead (who thrive in paintball, rock climbing, and Magic: The Gathering domains), and Ian Michna’s Skateboarding and highbrow scumbag digest Jenkem, amongst many others.
These are all small companies that weren’t COVID-era creations but also powered by the isolation created by it, moved solely by the desire to express oneself and one’s community in pure terms that larger companies couldn’t or shouldn’t attempt. I see my brand Ghostly (underground music and art focused) as both a forebear and also a child of these brands, but we are all the children of Shawn Stüssy, James Jebbia, and Nigo, and no one took it to the world stage like Virgil and his cohort.
It’s this curiosity and passion that imbues everything Franchise does and it’s this care that is likely to form new connections within the often staid halls of major league sports. We were lucky to work with Franchise on a coach jacket (designed by friend of the substack Frankie Banks) harkening back to the Piston’s Bad Boys’ mighty reign in my youth (if you google around there are some still out there).
Franchise is a reminder that it’s a great privilege to get to throw yourself into something completely. It’s not a forever stretch, and as they say, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. When visiting the Alex Katz show at the Guggenheim before its close with fellow lifer and friend Mike Rubin (check his impeccable feed of music and art in NYC), I was reminded of this goal. Real life will trip you up, and your ambition may wane in moments, but it’s a life pursuit that the best artists find themselves wrapped up by. It’s a spirit of adventure, beauty, and learning that remains the constant quest.
Going to let Mr. Montag close this one out with a walk-through of some tracks from his playlist. I love the romance involved, it really kicks. Taking next weekend off for family time, stay safe.
Some call out tracks:
Michael Nyman - I love Peter Greenaway movies and as a result Michael Nyman scores, my wife walked down the aisle to this song at our wedding
Voice Actor - found out about this one via boomkat, its' one of my favorite records of 2022.
Express Rising - Dante Carfanga aka Express Rising was a name that was held in high esteem during my record digging days in Kansas City, this reminds me I need to locate my Express Rising 7"s.
Brbko - I came across PK on his cousin Coby Sey's excellent mixtape and his submission absolutely floored me, I played it again and again and again, I was super fortunate to put out this mixtape on Franchise, its ahead of its time, check it out!
Untilted Halo - Best band in LA / Best bar in LA
Secret Frequency Crew - from fellow turntable lab intern / hollerboard member to gallery co-firestarter this guy is a legend. [editors note: shoutout Adrian Michna!]
SOPHIE - I was lucky to meet and see some very early shows, the music world will never be the same, RIP.
Nat Home - this was a recent Bandcamp purchase and its been in everyone of my DJ sets (two) since.
Jacob Rochester - there's nothing this guy can't do, designer, painter, and musician not to mention he has the best style, I was lucky to show his paintings at Franchise gallery and release this EP on the label.
Tomu DJ - this one is off Franchise records first full length release, new EP coming soon.
Tendts - one of my favorites tracks from one of my favorite labels run by one of my favorite people, It's not a genre its a feeling, EUG
Thurston Moore - I was already a SY fan but getting this album in high school on vinyl with the Rita Ackerman cover art and vinyl etching made a long lasting impression on my appreciation of album artwork and art in general .
From The Field.
“there is no ethical curation under antidisestablishmentarianism”