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Indie Label Stars at ‘All Virgos Are Mad’ : Pop Beat: 4AD-a-thon will feature bands, album art from London-bred company to tie in with UK/LA Festival.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Some of the most valuable rock ‘n’ roll over the years has been served up by small, independent labels--from Sun Records in the 1950s to Stiff Records in the ‘70s to Sub Pop and Matador in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

But few of these indie labels have been as identifiable--aurally and visually--as 4AD. Over the past 14 years, the London-bred company has coupled spiritual, dark and surreal music with its own style of abstract album art and presented it all with handmade care.

The company is featuring some of its most celebrated bands and art during a weeklong 4AD-a-thon titled “All Virgos Are Mad.”

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The fest runs from Tuesday to Oct. 2 at various Westside venues and includes performances by such bands as Throwing Muses and the Wolfgang Press and an art exhibit featuring the work of in-house designer Vaughan Oliver. A limited-edition CD of rare and previously unreleased 4AD tracks will be available at most of the events.

“Creativity is a gift,” says Lisa Germano, the former violinist for John Mellencamp who now records for 4AD. “But when most labels try to market this gift and make hits, strangely enough, creativity is the very thing that gets destroyed. For me, 4AD’s greatest quality is that they promote creativity and uniqueness.”

The label has inspired a fanzine, is the catalyst for a computer bulletin board on America Online, and has served as an inspirational wellspring for many of today’s underground groups. 4AD introduced the art-rock world to the chaotic and intense clamor of the Birthday Party; the sheer, ethereal harmonies of the Cocteau Twins; the sci-fi surf buzz of the Pixies, and the medieval-meets-Middle-Eastern mantras of Dead Can Dance.

Label founder Ivo Watts-Russell was a record-store clerk in London when he started 4AD in 1980 as a “development” label for Beggar’s Banquet, one of England’s most successful indie labels. The label’s first significant album release was “In the Flat Field” by the moody goth-rock band Bauhaus.

“The whole ‘70s punk explosion influenced me,” says recent expatriate Watts-Russell, 40, during an interview at his Los Angeles home. “The first-generation punk bands were being gobbled up by the majors very quickly though. So to me, in 1978-79, the more experimental side (of punk) was very exciting. People were pressing out their own singles, selling it off the back of their car, and there was an audience for it . . . an enthusiasm. I just wanted to be part of that.”

“All Virgos Are Mad” (a reference to the astrological sign of both Watts-Russell and Oliver) is an attempt to get back to the label’s original grass-roots ethos. “It’s not anything too grandiose, it’s just showing 80% of what the 4AD label is,” says Watts-Russell, who timed “Virgos” to run with Oliver’s already planned art exhibit at Pacific Design Center.

“I didn’t want it to be a big, elaborate showcase. We did something similar in London last year called ’13 Year Itch.’ It was very small, but a lot of fun. I thought we should do this in America sometime. Then Vaughan was approached to take part in the UK/LA Festival, so we said, ‘OK, we’ll do something too.’ ”

Lisa Germano, Pale Saints, Kendra Smith, Red House Painters and Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance will play electric and acoustic sets at the two main “Virgo” venues--the Troubadour in West Hollywood and McCabe’s in Santa Monica.

The 4AD artists will also make daily appearances at Arons Records in Hollywood and the Virgin Megastore in West Hollywood, as well as play daily on KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic.” 4AD will screen Dead Can Dance’s new performance film, “Toward the Within,” at Pacific Design Center the first three nights of the festival.

Watts-Russell is both skeptical and appreciative of the respect his label has garnered. “On the one hand it’s frustrating when people refer to a 4AD sound--is it the Pixies or is it Dead Can Dance? But on the other hand, when people describe something as ‘4AD-esque,’ I find it quite flattering, though I’m not sure what it means. It’s like they’ve created a genre that doesn’t exist.”

* “All Virgos Are Mad” concerts are Tuesday through Thursday at the Troubadour, 9081 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, and Friday through Oct. 2 at McCabe’s, 3101 Pico Blvd. , Santa Monica. $18 and $17.50. Information: (310) 535-1714.


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