San Francisco's Ghosts on Tape, a.k.a. Ryan Merry, doesn't have any illusions about the showcase his label Icee Hot is throwing at Austin's South by Southwest (SXSW) conference this month, the day before he appears at Winnipeg's newly reopened Royal Albert Arms.
"There is so much stuff, the chances of you making your big break (at SXSW) are pretty unlikely. I don't think it works that way anymore," Merry says over the phone from his apartment in San Francisco. "There are always hyped artists. One or two artists are already coming in with a good amount of hype and it usually ends up working out for them.
"There are thousands of events, so there is just no possible way that every show can be good and that people are going to pay attention. It's almost like overload."
While Merry and partners Shawn Reynaldo, Will Fewell (Rollie Fingers) and Bryant Rutledge (Low Limit of Lazer Sword) have had no problem generating a buzz for their fledgling label, it's Merry's Midwest roots growing up in St. Louis that have helped define the way he approaches their club night.
"It was massively influential -- it's hard to put into words how it impacted me. I was at an age where I was very impressionable," says Merry, one of the standout acts at last summer's Manitoba Electronic Music Exhibition (MEME) and a graduate of Red Bull's acclaimed Music Academy. "I was 17 or 18 when I first went to raves and that's where my love of dance music started. It formed the way I want parties to be.
"I went to a lot of underground shows, stuff in warehouses and illegal parties. It's that vibe and esthetic that feels real to me, how it should be. I guess I end up trying to recreate that feeling, in a way."
As a skilled DJ and ever-maturing producer, Merry embraces the raw, gritty sounds of rugged house and trippy techno from the '90s, while also being drawn to forward-thinking bass sounds coming out of the United Kingdom. His rave roots and understanding of house and techno gets filtered into a warped blend of strobe-light synths, poignant pianos, deep Detroit chords, low-grade drum sounds, future bass, weird acid freakouts and tracks that reference the past without being too retro.
Co-owning a label has focused his approach as a producer, but hasn't changed the way he makes music. Merry still uses two beat-up Yamaha SU700 samplers, a setup he has been working with since 1998.
However, his sound has changed as he's evolved as an artist.
"It was more experimental back then. I wanted to work with different tempo ranges and combine things that I hadn't really heard combined before," Merry says. "I wasn't really confident that I could have my own voice within the realm of house or techno. Rather than just emulate what people are doing, I took a completely different path."
With releases and red-hot remixes by Ghosts on Tape, Montreal's Grown Folk and Detroit icon Anthony Shakir, Icee Hot is slowly carving out its own space, with deep, thoughtful releases that have made the electronic community take notice.
"There is always going to be people that move the music forward; that's just the way it is with creativity," says the easygoing producer. "You should inject yourself and some weirdness into what you are doing."
Along with being an outlet for Merry's increasingly well-rounded productions, Icee Hot is also intended to help shine a light on San Francisco producers who may be overlooked.
"There are a lot of talented people here and it would be ridiculous if we didn't take advantage of it," says Merry. " I'm really excited about cementing our roots as a Bay Area label."
Producing isn't the only thing Merry has been fine tuning. With a jaw-dropping late afternoon set at the 2012 MEME festival, a couple of appearances on Boilerroom.tv (the most prestigious Internet streaming site for electronic music right now) and his sweat-inducing sets for his Icee Hot club night, it's obvious Ghosts on Tape also knows his way around a DJ booth.
"The cool thing about the Boilerroom.tv is that it's curated and you get to see people at the top of their game," explains the humble Merry. "I think it's unique and they are doing something that is really cool. I've glad to have the opportunity to play on it... people catch your set that wouldn't normally otherwise."