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Light Organ Records Celebrates 10th Anniversary with Summerlight Festival in Vancouver | Exclaim
A decade since forming as a way to distinguish itself from 604 Records, the indie label is still going strong
By Alex HudsonPublished Jul 06, 2022″Nickelback sucks” is the most ice-cold take imaginable — a played-out punchline that neglects to take into account that “Photograph” is a certified banger. But for music industry lifer Jonathan Simkin, anti-Nickelback sentiment has been a career-altering force; it’s the reason why, after co-founding 604 Records with Nickelback bandleader Chad Kroeger, he created the spinoff Light Organ Records as a way to distance the imprint from his famous associate.
“When I signed the Zolas, there was some talk of putting them out under a fake label name because we were all worried about the damage that having the 604 logo would cause,” Simkin says. “To be clear, in the world of mainstream rock, pop, country, etc., 604 was looked at very positively. But not so much in the world of alternative music.”
Light Organ, which was created with the support and blessing of Kroeger, has since become a staple of Canadian indie rock — and its legacy will be celebrated with the inaugural Summerlight Festival 2022. Taking place August 20 at 867 Cordova Diversion in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood, the festival features that first-ever signing, the Zolas, alongside Sleepy Gonzales, Desirée Dawson, the Jins, IAMTHELIVING, Jenny Banai, Johnny Payne and dwi, plus surprise acts to be announced.
The label was founded in 2010 — a time when, Simkin recalls, “Nickeback-hating was at its peak.” He says, “In the world of alt-music, tastemaker music … we were treated like a pariah. I understood that. But it was horribly disappointing, especially since my background in music had been equally steeped in alternative music as other genres. I was the lawyer for Mint Records for many years, and was involved with the careers of artists like the New Pornographers, Neko Case and others. And I even signed the Organ as a joint venture with Mint.”
The tide began to turn, however, when he courted a band that refused to sign with 604, simply based on the association with Kroeger and the baggage that the label’s name carried. “Personally, I didn’t give a shit what people thought about Nickelback,” says Simkin. “To me, music is like ice cream. Some people like chocolate, and some people like vanilla, but there’s no right or wrong to it. But it did concern me that it might prevent us from being able to sign certain bands, or that some of our bands would get blowback because of the association, however loose.”
Early releases firmly established 604 as a fixture in West Coast indie rock: the Zolas’ early material had a cabaret-rock bent, early Louise Burns releases tapped into a dreamy sound drawing on Mazzy Star and twangy surf, Sun Wizard were styled after ’70s classic rock, White Ash Falls ventured in a rootsy direction, and Mode Moderne were gothic post-punk.
That sound has continued to expand over the years, with the timeless pop rock of Mounties and Johnny Payne, the wild eclecticism of Fake Shark and Sleepy Gonzales, and the crunchy indie rock of Mise en Scene and the Jins. Some recent signings dabble in Britpop (dwi), vintage garage (Alex Little & the Suspicious Minds), old-time country (Sarah Jane Scouten) and more. Vancouver’s Hotel Mira have emerged as the latest breakouts from the Light Organ roster, the 2020 single “This Could Be It for Me” peaking at No. 5 on Billboard Canada’s Modern Rock charts. It’s a diverse catalogue — one that Simkin says he is “very proud of” — that is tied together by adventurous artistry and tuneful songwriting.
But even as Light Organ continues to forge its own identity, unique from 604, Simkin makes one thing very clear: the Nickelback association is nothing to be ashamed of.
“Nickelback may be a polarizing band, but for me they’ve been nothing but a huge blessing,” acknowledges Simkin. “I started working with them 26 years ago, and the relationship has been incredible on so many different levels.”
Summerlight Festival tickets are available here. Advance passes cost $38.96 CAD (including fees), while entry costs $44.23 at the door.