Over the course of the past decade, Antwon has made a name for himself with rowdy live shows and making music that’s sometimes brooding, often hilarious, and always rooted in human relationships. His latest effort, the Double Ecstasy EP, touches on all of the San Jose native's favorite topics: sex, successfully navigating clubs, the dri-fit shirt you can’t quite fit into, and more sex. But just when you think you’ve stood in line outside this venue before, he turns on a dime—these aren't the same characters you’ve seen before.
If you heard Obsidian last year, you already understand. On his sophomore album as Baths, Will Wiesenfeld fully shed of his sonic influences with a staggering work of graveyard beauty. Contrasts to the other artists became null. Giving it a 8.6 “Best New Music,” Pitchfork hailed it as a “subversive work that gets uncomfortably close to pop, confronting closed minds with what they don’t want to believe.” Always a gifted musician, Baths became a fully conceived artist: a songwriter of uncommon sensitivity, a whimsical and romantic spirit, and a lay-me-gently-down falsetto. Think of his Anticon EP, Ocean Death, as a companion piece—the Dia De Los Muertos to Obsidian’s Halloween. It’s title and the eponymous opening track existed before a single note of 2010’s Cerulean had been recorded. Darker in tone, they were always targeted for a sophomore album, but wound up a different cut of gem. Ocean Death is the exquisite setting. Just five songs and a shade over 20 minutes, the idea was to avoid over-thinking. Songs were perfected not embellished. The subject matter remains dark-tinted pop. “Ocean Death” reclines in the aquatic seabed. The lyrics are simple and bleak, but the effect is celestial. The 3 a.m. introspection and heart beat pulse are almost reminiscent of Four Tet or Pantha Du Prince. The pulse is almost minimal techno, but it’s suffused with maximalist emotion. A small part of Ocean Death was recorded in a hotel room in Spain, but it was mostly done at a friend’s home in LA, the same place where Obsidian was completed. Both records traverse similar terrain: morbid lyricism, direct vocal melodies, a felicity in subsuming electronic experiments into pop songs. It’s about death, apathy, and loneliness. It sounds like a final love letter to a chapter of life that has already ended—and maybe it has. Songs are currently being theorized for a third full-length, and the direction is vastly different. It’s not normally in Baths’ nature to rehash old ideas. In a sense, Ocean Death was an experiment to animate these beautiful but discarded fragments. We’re lucky they survived. Baths has a rare gift for cloaking melancholy with gorgeous arrangements. The emotions are raw, but the musicianship is refined. Guitars are scraped and processed. Vocals are clipped and layered, drowned and resurrected. But what lingers are the songs themselves; ideas fully formed and immortalized, built to haunt forever.
The still-bubbling groundswell of enthusiasm for Baths’ debut album Cerulean has done nothing to slow the LA-based producer’s roll. On a pair of new gems released by Anticon digitally and on vinyl, Will Wiesenfeld displays that fantastic knack for compact, inventive pop tunes steeped equally in the artist’s classical background and in future-leaning electronics. “The Nothing” opens with Wiesenfeld’s downshifted choral vocals and quickly gives way to a gluey mix of aquatic thump and grainy synth. Over this, his voice coasts unaffected as he cheerily sings through gritted teeth, “All of the nothing that I do / And no fucking world view / ... I need to get out and find the love of my life.” A glitchy surge washes us clean for the triumphant finish. On the other side, “Nightly, Daily” finds fingers on frets, bows on strings, and boy / girl vocals dancing beneath a lo-fi bedroom swell. Friend and photographer Hanna Shapiro guests, lending not only her voice, but the very lyrics that she coos. The lush results, fittingly recorded in her Laurel Canyon home, showcase Wiesenfeld’s gift as a conductor of small, beat-driven symphonies.
Cerulean is the auspicious debut of L.A.'s Baths. Evolving out of Will Wiesenfeld's varied [Post-Foetus] project, and inspired by the energy of the city's burgeoning beat scene (Daedelus introduced Anticon to Baths), the record represents a clear departure from both – an often warm, acoustic-fueled electronic music that hews closer to the work of contemporaries like Toro Y Moi. By combining songwriting with self-sampling, raw musicianship with synthesized textures, and field recordings with propulsive beats, Baths has created a seething sound-cloud packed with bright moments and prone to unexpected turns. For evidence, look no further than album opener "Apologetic Shoulderblades." Here, a swooning choir of vocals (every voice on Cerulean belongs to Baths) catches a wave of skittering percussion and rides forth in epic fashion. The effect is more baroque pop than bass thump – a digitally infused dust storm that sounds like vintage Broken Social Scene gone glitch. The song that follows, "Lovely Bloodflow," is equally eclectic, spinning rich gloom out of organic, Books-like cut-and-paste and Baths' strange, soulful crooning. A general romanticism persists on Cerulean, both in its lushness of sound and in Baths' lyrics as they capture the whimsy and wistfulness of relationships. On the taut, piano-driven "♥," he sings of two lovers escaping under the cover of night, voice swaying and quavering à la Daniel Rossen in Department Of Eagles. For "Aminals," the album's most unabashedly joyous track, Baths lets others do the talking, weaving children's voices into a field of instruments first played live, then chopped into interlocking bits. Baths excels at crafting thick, living compositions that, while dense, never sound needlessly busy. To this end he employs guitars, bass, various keys, snapping scissors, clicking pens, rustling blankets and more. On record, these sounds lose their origins, congealing into roiling melodic tracks like "Hall" and "Plea," or delivering something stormy and ebullient, like late-album standout "You're My Excuse To Travel." In either case, Cerulean handily portrays Baths as a vital new talent unbound by genre and spurred on by song.
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Three years ago, Baths dropped his startlingly beautiful debut, Cerulean. Released on Anticon, the record blurred the line between post-modern pop and the LA beat scene with devastating emotional clarity. Its tone was as celestial as its album title, taken from a shade of blue typically used to describe the sky. Cerulean earned year-end “Best Of” recognition from Pitchfork and The Onion’s A.V. Club and established Chatsworth-raised Will Wiesenfeld as one of the finest young composers (and falsettos) in Los Angeles. His sophomore album, Obsidian, finds him emerging as one of the most complete artists of his generation. As you might expect, the name hints at darker overtones. The mood is shimmering and pitch-black, the lovely blood flow has turned into lava. “I’ve always been inspired by really dark material and from the beginning I knew I wanted the songs to be much darker, both musically and lyrically,” Baths says. Following the success of his first album, Baths spent much of the next year touring to progressively larger audiences. He also released an ethereal ambient project under the Geotic name. When he returned home in July of 2011 to record his sophomore effort, he was bedridden for months because of an E. Coli bacterial infection, barely able to digest solid food and bereft of creative energy. Obsidian understandably has these scars etched into its imprint. The first song is called “Worsening,” subsequent cuts include “Ossuary,” “No Past Lives” and “Earth Death.” While the mood is often bleak, it’s never bloated. “Miasma Sky” balances being “swallowed alive by the sky” with a gorgeous piano groove and levitative croon that could detonate a disco club night. The album is unusually cohesive, suffused with heavenly choirs, head-nodding percussion, sexually-charged lyrics, and wry humor. “The songs and lyrics all came out of a pretty fucked and arduous process of trial and error,” Baths says. ”But I hope people understand that I’m not the depressed, suicidal, and death-obsessed person the record may paint me as being. These are just darker areas that I wanted to explore.” The areas of exploration include reading and research into the Dark Ages and the black plague, different versions of Hell as spied through Dante’s Inferno, the Bible, and old world illuminated manuscripts and paintings. These noirish fascinations met the virtuosic chops of a 24-year old who has been playing piano for 20 years. “Anything I found that felt like a unique vision of darker emotions or atmospheres, I tried to absorb,” Baths says. “Being a positive and outgoing guy made it that much more difficult getting into that mindset. It was a matter of tapping into that and returning with songs that felt genuine and somehow from my own personal experience.” This is the power of Obsidian. It combines universal questions with personal pain. On just his second album, Baths exhibits what only a few artists are capable of: painting in any shade they desire.
Gravel is an attempt to capture the contradictory thoughts that trip up your head at 3 a.m. Gravel is the soundtrack to sleepless nights spent ruminating on both right and wrong decisions. Gravel is the new Anticon EP from Djavan Santos, better known as D33J. Upon first listen, its aquatic textures, faded neon haze, and blend of 808 drums and lo-fi desk claps, might recall D33J’s fellow Weditit Collective family, Ryan Hemsworth and Shlohmo. But closer listening reveals that D33J’s experiments yield a unique alchemy. This experiment from necessity led to the record’s particularly intimate vibe. It’s only light is the one emanating from lit spliffs and the LED glow of the computer screen. It boasts a weird digital rawness destined to feel vintage in some far-off future. But don’t pigeonhole D33J as just another bedroom producer with low Serotonin levels. Gravel’s gestation merely occurred during a period of great flux. Raised in Los Angeles, the 22-year old graduated from Hamilton High’s Music program (Baths, Syd the Kid, Groundislava) and San Francisco Art Institute before making Gravel. He studied experimental audio and visual design and applied the theories and emotion to his record—most of it recorded over just one month. The finished result is not just only aesthetically cohesive record, but also one that bristles with the uneasy feeling of living in a compressed space. This is Gravel broken to bits—an attempt to find organic light in unnatural darkness. A familiar feeling that feels somehow foreign. This is the album that you want to hear as you attempt to drift off to sleep.
D33J dropped Gravel last in late 2013, a record as somber and grey as its name suggests. If the original floated in a haunted and confined space, Gravel Remixed inhales oxygen from outside of the house, wrapped in the smoke and darkness of the club. For his latest Anticon EP, the LA-based producer born Djavan Santos conscripted four of his favorite producers: Low Limit, The Cyclist, P. Morris, and Purple. Each contributes uniquely iridescent and propulsive twists. “I wanted to go with friends of mine whose music I’ve respected and listened to for a while, so picking this crew of people came naturally,” D33J says. “If Gravel existed in a ghostly, soft, low key space, these remixes bring them out of their walls and open them up.” “Faded Creek” originally felt like watching a creek dry up in timelapse; the remix from D33J’s Wedidit crewmate Purple turns it into a sinister river. A once weary jam gets industrial hollow drums and a torrid pulse. The initial LED glow of “Slow” reflected the circumstances of its recording: with Santos living in a San Francisco “art-frat,” a constant party house that forced him to retreat into his room with the lights off in order to work in solitude. In Low Limit’s talons, it becomes a spedup minimal house thump, bolstered by soulful vocals and sly groove. “If Gravel were the shy emotional loner, these remixes would be the more outgoing energetic brother,” D33J says. “The dark self-reflective emotions still shine through, but with a vessel to bring it to a club atmosphere.” Not to be ignored are remixes from London’s Leaving Records artist The Cyclist or P. Morris. The former revolutionizes “Empty Sunset” from a faded and fucked up vision into ectoplasmic funk. While P. Morris morphs “Stills” into a twinkling slow-motion R&B swoon. The remixes renovate on the foundation without demolishing what made the originals so singular. They are new stories infected by different specters, each with their own dance moves. Gravel was made in 2 weeks in while I was living in a dark ass packed warehouse, so now as time passes,” Santos says. “It serves as a sort of time capsule to a specific to that time in life. This exists to soundtrack a new one.”
The Expanding Flower Planet is an album, a song, a cosmic ideal, a form of psychic expansion and expanded capability. It’s original and personal. It transmutes ethereal abstractions into crystalline harmonies and sinuous grooves. It’s music nurtured with the idea of healing, exciting, inspiring, enlightening. Drones, dissonance, warmth, and love. Even if you’re unfamiliar with Angel Deradoorian’s name, you’re likely familiar with her voice. As the former bassist and vocalist for Dirty Projectors, her lepidopteran flights helped buoy the Brooklyn-based group. She’s been a member of Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks and sang on Flying Lotus’ “Siren Song.” Her fist song collection, 2009’s Mind Raft EP elicited praise from Pitchfork for being “passionate and lovingly crafted.” The Fader hailed her “zen weed energy” and “moody dervish spirals. But her debut LP, The Expanding Flower Planet reflects a remarkable creative journey. The title came from a tapestry hanging on the wall in front of Deradoorian’s workstation—a Chinese embroidered image of a flower mandala. “It started to represent to me the growing consciousness of the human mind in the world today,” Deradoorian says. “So the first song I wrote, which I felt appropriate for the album, was called Expanding Flower Planet and represents this desire to broaden the mind and it's capabilities beyond what we are told it can do. Others imitate the past and others divine inspiration and transmit it elsewhere. This is the latter instance. If you listen close enough, you can detect faint hints of Alice Coltrane and Can, Terry Riley, and Dorothy Ashby. A new world springs from ancient traditions—with East Indian, Middle Eastern, traditional Japanese musical inspiration aligned with Deradoorian’s singular orbit. Recorded in various locales over a period of several years, sessions began from scratch in Baltimore, 2011, before moving to her studio in LA. Some tracking was done in a church. Extra tracks were recorded at The Topaz Chamber, which belongs to Deradoorian’s friend, Kenny Gilmore. This is an album so refulgent that it actually sounds like it was made in a Topaz chamber. Roughly 90 percent was written and performed solely by Deradoorian, with assists from drummers Jeremy Hyman and Michael Lockwood, guest vocalist Niki Randa, Arlene Deradoorian and Gilmore, who helped the songs breathe. It’s essentially the offspring of a labyrinthine odyssey of self-exploration. In the course of cutting it, Deradoorian realized a more profound communion with music than she’d ever experienced. It’s salient in the songs, which glow and warp, burn brightly and float gracefully past sun and assorted stars. “It seemed endless, but eventually the shift occurred and it was like a revelation,” Deradoorian describes the epiphany. “I was incredibly grateful for when that day came. It was the first time I really had to force myself to be patient and understand that good things will take time. It won't all happen when you want it to. It'll happen when it's supposed to—when you're truly ready.”
Dosh & Ghostband soundtrack the most indescribable dance party you’ve ever attended. The sort of phenomena where your friend asks the next day what the music sounded like, and you vainly search a thousand different adjectives before discovering that none seem accurate. All that matters was that you had one of the best times of your life and never stopped moving. Things have gotten easier for us. We live in a world where you can now just play Def Kith II: The Price is Ill to answer the equation. After all, if you traveled back two decades and asked DJs to predict the future of sound, the guesses would probably come out something like this four song, 38-minute odyssey, released on Anticon. There are the sleek glides of Krautrock, the chromatic grit of Detroit techno, the liquid freedom of improvised jazz, the loop-digging hypnosis of raw boom-bap, the cerebral float of IDM, and the fusion shock of the new. Minneapolis multi-instrumentalist producers Martin Dosh and Jon “Ghostband” Davis have forged a rumbling and burrowing, lightless and electrified, claustrophobic and wide-open, metallic and shimmering saga. A mess of contradictions that always becomes clear around the next musical curve. It’s sculpted for crumbling warehouses outfitted with blistering subwoofers and headphone treks through the city at night. The four songs—“Produce Section,” “Shish Kebob,” “Chopping Spree,” and “Kool-Aid”—comprise their own gestalt. Removing one is like chopping off a leg. These are electronic loops with subtle flourishes, built on movement and variation, long forms and intervals – a collection of small moments that build to delirious conclusions. Both producers have built revered solo catalogues over the last decade, but this formation yields something entirely new. The ideas and influences of the long-time collaborators are chopped and synthesized, merging Herbie Hancock and Caribou, Squarepusher and Wu-Tang, The Meters and Medeski, Martin & Wood. The result is weird dance music that never fails to live up to its initial reason for being: you are supposed to dance to it; you have to dance to it. Dosh and Davis have wrought something immediate and raw. It was knocked out in four days and mirrors the sort of sleepless euphoria that such a creative process renders. It feels intuitive and loose. It’s heady without being cold. It’s anchored by the four to the floor but has a crafty intelligence to the design. Consider it dance music that overachieves rather than IDM that fails. It’s Def Kith II, a synthesis of visceral grooves and the unknown.
Imagine Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad detonating explosives under the prog-rock grooves of German experimental behemoths, Can. These ideas seem mutually exclusive, but they’re not. The evidence is in the shrapnel funk of Late Pass, the third album from Anticon co-founder, Jel. As the scarred vocals of the title track instruct: don’t get too comfortable. If you’re unfamiliar with the Chicago-bred, Bay-area based producer/rapper born Jeffrey Logan, he’s on the shortlist for best indie rap producer of the last decade. Admittedly, this sort of hyperbole comes standard issue in one-sheets, but Jel has the necessary resume. His career traces back to Deep Puddle Dynamics, a group featuring Slug of Atmosphere and Jel’s frequent collaborator, Doseone. Later forming Subtle, Themselves, and 13 & God, Jel and Dose’s blitzkrieg experimentations remain visionary and futuristic—they’re also among the few times rock and rap have ever successfully gotten high together. Most recently, Jel co-produced the Kenny Dennis EP and C.A.R. with Odd Nosdam for label mate, Serengeti, two similarly brilliant blends of high concept ideas, hover-converted boom bap, and the occasional rib tip sandwich. On paper, it seems a little strange that Late Pass is only his third official solo record. But not when you consider it’s meticulousness. Samples, hard-slapping drums, and damaged vocals are stitched with surgical precision. Six years in the making, Late Pass was casually co-produced by Odd Nosdam at his cottage studio, Burnco Berkeley, just blocks from the legendary Fantasy Studios. And it was at Fantasy that engineer Jesse Nichols assisted on the album's final mix, blowing the icing off the cake with the very same model SSL mixing board that Dr. Dre favored throughout the late 80's and 90's. In a 2006 online Q & A for Esquire Magazine, Jel expressed to Quincy Jones that "It's never too late man, never too late to take as much time needed to finish an album, to finish it right." Late Pass was fully baked by mastering guru Daddy Kev.
Travis Egedy is the Technomancer. You'll know him as Pictureplane, the Brooklyn-based multimedia artist whose forays against the status quo have disrupted fashion, galleries, and music in kind. While his 2011 album, Thee Physical, explored sensation and human touch, his newest dives into more ethereal territory: the anxiety of daily life in an era defined by constant technological interaction and observation. But the 11 songs heard here — fleshed out using sonic scraps of industrial, darkwave, '80s EBM, '90s house — aren't purely paranoiac. As the title implies, Technomancer is as much about rediscovering the magic in our relationship with our machines."Sick Machine" opens the album with squelching retrofuturist synth and thick fuzzy bass, quickly taking a hard left into bounding bleak-pop as Egedy coos about finding euphoria in the ruins of shopping malls. A song later, over the sampled rap snippets and diva moans of "Esoterrorist," he declares, "I'm feeling paranormal again," and it sounds less like lament than a return to Pictureplane's comfort zone. "Harsh Realm" similarly celebrates "anarchy and ecstasy" while wild drum and bass rhythms weave through a surging sequence. He aims lines at an unseen colluder — "Fuck me like you mean it" — hurtling through thick aural atmosphere toward the song's titular place.Technomancer was recorded across three years in Egedy's garage, then finished in proper studios in New York and Los Angeles. He was also touring the world with the likes of Major Lazer and Crystal Castles, exhibiting his visual art in galleries abroad, and reading the works of Robert Bauval and Graham Hancock, men whose research in alt archaeology and ancient tech may help unlock truths about where humankind has been and, more importantly, where we're headed. The two tracks featuring Skin Town's Grace Hall ("Self Control," "Live Forever") deal with a controversial future that may already be upon us: where reality, even mortality, is able to be engineered.But for all the eerie Vangelis-style ambiance ("Chaos Radical"), warped rave oddity ("Joyrider"), and distressing mechanized clang ("Death Condition"), Pictureplane's latest is best defined by its title track. "Technomancer" finds our host grabbing the reigns of the beast, and suggesting that we do the same: "Manipulate your machine," he sings over an electronic score that feels positively alive, "You're a technomancer."
It happened in Berkeley. There was a beat. Then there were rhymes. Then cuts. Three dudes came together to do what they do best -- lay it down, kill shit, make an album. And that's what C.A.R. is: a record of the work that went down at three points between the dawn of 2009 and the close of 2011 at a place called Burnco, the cottage studio of Anticon aural wizard Odd Nosdam. Chicago rapper Serengeti was in town crashing on Jel's couch (that's it on the cover), and each day he and his beat-making host would grab a cup of joe and hoof it over to Nosdam's. Two would chill in the backyard while the third did his thing. One would mellow in the backyard while the two did their thing. Three would cool out in the backyard while listening to their thing. Each man a master of his field, they trusted each other to make the songs good, and they are. C.A.R. fits together just right. Eleven tracks, one interlude, twenty-nine and a half minutes. WHY?'s Yoni Wolf co-produces a song. Dee from Thee More Shallows helps out on another. Daddy Kev mastered the thing. Jel rapped once, scratched a ton of wax, and co-produced the beats with Nosdam, who mixed it too. Geti rhymed a bunch. They had fun. They made C.A.R. You can have it.
You don’t want to mess with Kenny Dennis. Even at the age of 50, the bratwurst downing, Brian Dennehy-worshipping rapper can run a mile in 4:14. The KDz remains the most feared slugger on the softball diamond. And he can still take Nitro from American Gladiators on in a game of Powerball. That’s just Kenny. This is the Kenny Dennis LP, the sequel to last year’s self-titled EP. Released on Anticon, it furthers Serengeti’s hilarious, absurdist, and subtly humane saga of a Chicago-born man with a Mike Ditka mustache, whose lovable delusions and diehard loyalty fall somewhere between Homer Simpson and a Bill Swerski Superfan. Lest you mistake Serengeti for a joke artist, 2011’s Family & Friends and 2012’s C.A.R. found the prolific Chicagoan writing some of the most self-deprecating and sorrowful looks at addiction and image transformation in recent memory. He’s collaborated with celebrated underground artists like Sufjan Stevens, Matthewdavid, and Yoni Wolf of Why? Robert Christgau, the dean of American music critics, has given all but one of his records “A” scores and openly wondered: “Is there anyone else who can do this?” But there’s only one Kenny Dennis and he’s back to give you some direction—straight up, no O’ Doul’s chaser. The Kenny Dennis LP is full of jewels of wisdom, the tender love story Kenny and his wife Jueles, and the longtime friendship between Kenny and Ders (Anders Holm from Workaholics, a Kenny fan who appears in four skits). The beats come from Odd Nosdam and cast a similarly bizarro re-working of boom-bap, blending rugged beat breaks, sci-fi synths, and scratches courtesy of Jel Kenny Dennis might be “normal,” but Serengeti’s creativity is unrivaled. As bizarre as it is brilliant, it’s like the deranged comic vision of an imaginary super group comprised of Andy Kauffman, Mellow Gold-era Beck, and MF Doom. The raps on The Kenny Dennis LP are stream-of-consciousness rants about how if you “like it, you bang ‘em,” (“Bang Em”), which Kenny translates into a metaphor about how you got to get up and do something. He also denies being a vegan. “Punks” finds him mumbling disses aimed at everyone from imaginary rivals to professional wrestler, Leaping Lanny Poffo. “Crush ‘Em” finds Kenny breaking down the inventions of the English (boxing, tennis golf) vs. those of Americans (football, beef, leg stockings).
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Joseph Abajian (DJ Jab) founded Fat Beats in 1994 with nothing more than a shoestring budget and an earnest obsession with the music, the culture, and the brotherhood of New York’s burgeoning rap scene. What began as a simple vinyl shop in Manhattan’s Lower East Side quickly became an integral hub for artists, both aspiring and established, to convene and collaborate on new projects. Joseph’s timing couldn’t have been more impeccable. When the 90’s cultural zeitgeist – and, in turn, the music industry establishment – chose hip-hop as its new arbiter of cool.
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