Devon Manier: Focused on young talent coming out of the hood. "It was a demographic that wasn't being represented."
With the fog around us, we entered a dark street (or was it an alley?) somewhere on Capitol Hill. I was with a friend. We were looking for FUCC, a pirate radio station that had moved to this location from Belltown. This was the time before internet radio, a time when the airwaves still captured our political and cultural imaginations. Keith, the friend walking with me, was young but already balding. He wore a brown sports jacket and white shoes. In his hands were jazz records he wanted to play on the air. We finally found the place and knocked on the door. It was opened by a handsome, almost tall, and very relaxed black man—he was the DJ that night. We entered the room. It was small and had a couple of chairs, a couple of record crates, and a table that supported the radio equipment. This was FUCC.
The DJ was DeVon Manier. I had never met him before in my life, but Keith had nothing but nice things to say about him—his great taste in music, his connections, his intelligent way of thinking about life and Seattle. That night, Manier played mostly soul records, a few old skool hiphop records (at that time, 3 Feet High and Rising and Straight out the Jungle were already old skool, already in the distant past, and hiphop's dark, underground moment was right around the corner). I had one request for Manier, Loose Ends' "Hangin' on a String," which he located in his crate, removed from its sleeve, placed on the turntable, and played on the airwaves.
In 2002, Manier started, with the help of some friends (particularly Fleeta Partee and BeanOne), a record label called Sportn' Life Records. But before getting into that, let's take a quick pass through Manier's past. He was born in Los Angeles, was raised in the Seattle area, and developed an interest in the city's music and club culture in the late 1980s. He was not indifferent to the then-growing grunge world; indeed, he was close to the heart of it. "In that time, I really liked Mother Love Bone, and also Green Apple Quick Step were some of my best friends. I go back to Tacoma with those guys," he explained during a recent conversation. "Some of the guys from Green Apple are still my good friends to this day." But Manier's real roots are in the black indie funk bands of the 1990s. "Imij and Action Buddy, that's what I was really into. You know—it was really exciting hearing that music. There was a whole wave of black funk bands that Action Buddy was spearheading." If Action Buddy or Imij received the recognition they deserved, they would be something like TV on the Radio.