By Belinda Cai
On a hidden corner of a busy street, there’s a new record store filled with eye-catching vinyl and merch. The Insignificants, And The Panic Sets In, Wolfdick, Pre-existing Condition, Ümlaüt Overkill: these rare indie bands’ records cover the walls of the store.
Only it’s not a real record store. And these aren’t real bands.
Rohit Records began as a joke. But what started off as a fun concept — making fake album art, prints and tour posters — ended up as a very successful and ever-expanding multimedia art project with no end in sight.
“Right now, the current exhibition is at Pop Obscure, a record store [in downtown Los Angeles],” says creator Rohitash Rao. “The show is going until mid-September , and from there, I’m going to put up an exhibit in Burning Man at the end of August.”
Rao is also establishing a pop-up Rohit Records Store in a warehouse near Zilker Park during the Austin City Limits Music Festival in early October, with potential futurevenues in PortlandandChicago to house his work. He says this project is the most fun he’s ever had because it’s cross-platform and builds every day. There are currently real songs that accompany the bands, particularly Wolfdick and Ümlaüt Overkill; live shows; music videos of the “bands”; a docu-series in the works and more.
“I had contacted a bunch of friends at Jingle Punks, a music company, so they gave us songs and we created band names around those songs,” Rao says. “I had one-hit wonder bands, for about eight bands, and made album art for all of the bands. On August 11th, I’ll be playing at Pop Obscure Records as well as ACL with my own band Alone in Your Menage a Trois. ”
Jared Jingle of Jingle Punks collaborates with and creates music for Rohit Records. Rao came to him around this time two years ago saying he was going to paint hundreds of fake album covers. He needed songs to go along with them.
“I told him that matched up with my favorite hobby of writing fake songs for bands that don’t exist with ridiculous names,” Jingle says. “It was a match made in musical heaven. The purest music that I’ve ever created has been for funny and left-of-center concepts.”
Rao’s first show was at Google’s office in Venice, in the main employee lounge area. Rao had to make 150 albums to fill the large wall space. As an artist, he had been painting and taking photographs for years, so he had a catalogue of images ready to go.
“For the Google show, I did a concert at the end of the month to put on a show with six to eight one-hit wonder “bands” for 100 people,” says Rao. “We pressed an actual record that was the Rohit Records Greatest Hits, which is available on Spotify. I then made a music video and put it on YouTube. Suddenly, I was like, ‘How crazy can this go?’”
The second show was in New York City’s Lower East Side at The Storefront Project; that was the first time it became a public show. Rao was able to turn the entire gallery into his fake record store.
“People were fooled and thought it was a real record store,” Rao says. “We had an amazing amount of foot traffic; people like Spike Jonze came in. Artists and musicians were coming in. I got more friends in New York who formed ‘bands’ to play. It became a great ‘art inspires art’ project.
The Pop Obscure exhibit is Rao’s third show, and he now has Quick Response (QR) codes on the records so people can put their phones up against them and hear music. Rao leaves for Burning Man on August 25, and will be at ACL in October.
“For Burning Man, it’ll become a large wall around the cafe, created to looklike a wall taken out of the record store, with a little stand selling crates of vinyl,” he says. “In the cafe, the interactive part plays in. You’re standing in the cafe and there are cell towers, and your phone will be able to work with the QR codes to interact with the vinyl.”
And while these bands are unknown, people are fooled or try to impress their friends, claiming they’ve seen some of the “obscure acts” play years ago. When he had his New York City exhibit, people would show up and ask him, “What time does Wolfdick go on?” Rao anticipates the same could happen at Burning Man.
“Friends knew it was a joke but a lot of people came in off the street thinking it was a free live concert of these punk metal bands,” Rao says. “Some of the t-shirts even have the concert dates on the backs of the shirts. People will be like, ‘I saw them! Like in the mid-90s.’ It’s great.”
Rao says the best part of this project is that so many people have embraced it and come on board. It started off as a joke and became real art — and lots of it, across various platforms. The satire comes through because everyone is so committed and the work feels authentic.
“Working with Rohit has always been an amazing joy,” Jingle says. “He and I met in a spotting session [for a TV pilot] and knew that we were meant to be friends at that moment. Since then, we’ve really had quite different trajectories but we’ve stayed in touch. The excuse of creating this insane undertaking to a degree collectively has brought us closer together.”
Check out Rohit Records at Pop Obscure (LA) until mid- September &
Burning Man, starting August 26.https://burningman.org/.
Check out Rohit Records Greatest Hits: Volume 1 here.