This Chicago Music Label Is on a Mission to Unearth Lost Sounds
Numero Group is that rare music label with levels of passion, curiosity, and risk-taking equivalent to the artists it represents. From vintage ’60s soul to ’70s country to ’80s synth sounds, its catalog is a never-ending deep dive into music that never quite broke big, and has been waiting patiently to be rediscovered.
Set up in Chicago in 2003—at a time when people still purchased albums in large numbers—the company has evolved in the age of streaming. Today, Numero Group creates not just deluxe box sets and compilations to buy on vinyl, cassettes, 45s, or CDs, but head-bobbing playlists, too. There’s a sense of urgency in its efforts to unearth and deliver lost sounds to eager ears. “Frequently we’ll release a single, then release it on a compilation in the future,” says Rob Sevier, who co-founded the company with Ken Shipley. “Because there’s such a vast digital ecosystem for these songs to live in, there’s no reason to wait.”
Numero Group 2021, one of the label’s latest playlists, moves in and out of genres while still sounding cohesive. Among its tracks: Bruce Sherman’s “Slow R&B,” which was originally created as a background rhythm track for karaoke; Slap & Powell’s “Sex Drive,” recorded in the late 1980s as a calling card for two aspiring soundtrack composers and evoking Miami Vice; and Ashaye’s “What’s This World Coming To,” a generous helping of early ’90s dance-pop.
As for many ventures in the performing arts, the pandemic has been challenging for the label, which endured record-plant delays and reduced staffing, to the point that its founders started filling mail orders and answering customer emails themselves. They don’t mind, though, because for them it’s all about the music. Sevier is most excited about a second release, planned for next year, from Chicago’s former dance-funk Universal Togetherness Band, whose visionary members are, like so many Numero Group reissue subjects, finally getting their due. “We’ve continued to get their name in front of people,” Sevier says. “And it feels incredible.”