Run by Penn students, pseudo–label Deerhaus is making waves in the local scene.
Wolf Parade. Animal Collective. Dr. Dog. Deerhaus? What do all these things have in common? Initially it would seem to be the pretentious animal–themed moniker that indie bands around the world have begun to employ. That is, until you get to Deerhaus, the Penn-connected pseudo-collective/label run by senior Francis Tseng and his partner-in-crime Jake Baumohl.
Named in a somewhat mocking manner after the aforementioned style of indie–rock, Deerhaus presents itself as a “Haus” for the independent, extraordinary, new and sometimes downright weird musicians and artists that pop up not only in Philadelphia, Tseng hopes, but around the world.
Tseng originally formed his own band, Golden Ages, because he thought that indie music was taking on an aesthetic that many have likened to “hazy beaches.” Joined by Baumohl and other friends, Golden Ages grew from a one–man act into a project, and roughly a year ago, the two friends founded Deerhaus in order to self–release their own freshman album.
Yet now Tseng finds it hard to qualify what Deerhaus consists of — is it still an artistic collective, or has it officially morphed into a label? The idea was originally conceived to encompass all forms of art (visual, auditory or otherwise), but Deerhaus has had trouble finding anyone other than musicians. Fortunately, Golden Ages is only the centerpiece of the Deerhaus label, as the collective has defined itself further through three other bands: Weird Bangs, SAVAGES and Wild Vibes.
Recently, Golden Ages played a Chinese New Year show at The Ox, a DIY venue in north Philly. Although the show was a success, Tseng realizes that most of the Deerhaus collective will have trouble with live shows due to their experimental, electronic nature.
While he hesitated to list any specific influences, he started getting into the punk scene in high school with bands like The Clash and The Dead Kennedys. He later developed a strong interest in electropop, which clearly shows in his work with Golden Ages. When asked if he was afraid of Deerhaus being categorized by Hipsterdom, Tseng had only nice things to say. Hipsters are just kids who “take youth culture a little too far,” according to Tseng, and should be ignored, let alone allowed to define the independent genre.
Philadelphia has the reputation of being an artistically–inclined city, though New York and LA notoriously steal all the talent for piles and piles of cash. Aware of this conundrum, Deerhaus wants to simultaneously expand beyond the limits of greater Philly and turn a profit at the same time.
Tseng spends so much time on Deerhaus that it’s become more than an extracurricular — it’s his main project. Among hopes for its expansion into other forms of media, Tseng also wishes to bring Deerhaus to China (seriously), mining the somewhat sheltered youth culture there and acting as a sort of cultural Nixon.
This global expansion is part of Tseng’s plan to monetize his endeavor. Some may roll their eyes, but face the facts; artists need to make money somehow, according to Tseng. This is precisely why bands like Vampire Weekend and The Black Keys have started showing up in Honda and Coke ads.
Consequently, Deerhaus is not anti–corporate; in fact, Tseng has an upcoming internship at a proper label this summer. Of course, he does not advocate a strictly corporate lifestyle — Tseng suggests that artists work with major labels to retain their own integrity while making money. Refreshingly, this advice doesn’t even come from a Whartonite (Tseng is in the College). Still, the Deerhaus founder knows that not every aspect of traditional sellouts can be avoided; if he writes a song he dislikes, but the audience loves, that song will still always appear on the set list.
Even though Golden Ages may be Deerhaus’ primary member, a victory for one band is a victory for all involved. Truly, Deerhaus tries to bring credence to the word “collective,” and what better way to do so than to shoot for the stars? That’s right, Tseng wants his conglomeration to become a big thing. But will Deerhaus be the next Elephant 6, or will it fade into an Odd Future?
Editor’s Note: This article has been modified from its original version.