Paulus Wieland (Ensemble Pittoresque) invented Clogsontronics in 1981. The label released records in the early eighties until 1985. Bands recording for Clogsontronics at the time were Ensemble Pittoresque, Stˆrung, Final Unit, Bad Bob and Organic 4oh4. For 22 years after the label released its last record in the eighties the label stayed inactive. It was only when Richard Neumˆller (Ensemble Pittoresque), Eugenius (Stˆrung) and Ton Willekes (Ensemble Pittoresque) teamed up in 2007 that the label became active again. Currently, Clogsontronics releases new material and continues to schedule for re-releasing recordings that are available in the Clogsontronics archives. This is an interview conducted with Ton Willekes.
Chain D.L.K.: How was Ensemble Pittoresque born and what made you decide to start your own label?
Clogsontronics: There is no exact story about how the band was born. It more or less evolved from a meeting of persons. Richard and I met in 1977 in a squatted complex in the Hague were we both moved in to live there at the same time. We were both 19 in the middle of confusion after leaving school and both quite cynical about society.Paulus was already a friend of Richard but we did not start playing together until Richard and I went to Wassenaar to live in the dunes in 1979. I was always the technician and a lot of musicians came to our place to jam together. Looking back it was clear that Paulus, Richard and I were the most serious about making music. Quite some intellectual but at the same time relatively pretentious were there.A mixture of macrobiotics, the dunes and marijuana played a big role in our attitude then.We were forced to leave the house because they wanted to pull it down and I went to Rijswijk to another squat. From that time on everything happened quickly. I got a decent job earning much too much money for my living standards so I could invest in recording stuff and I also bought the MS-20 synth then. Recording started to take place at several spots. At the Wassenaar youth-centre, at Paulus’s home and at my place. It was clear that a collective of us three was forming but several “guest” musicians were collaborating. Paulus and Richard were the ones that started to make real songs instead of just ideas. After I moved back to Wassenaar and moved to Richard’s place in late 1981 we started recording as Ensemble Pittoresque. Most songs were mainly composed by Paulus and the recordings were intended to be used as a demo.Yes, even cynical boys try to get their fame and acknowledgement !The tape was sent to Polydor and EMI.EMI rejected it but Polydor asked us if we had more commercial stuff that we didn’t include.Although the story tells that we did not want to compromise I lately remembered that we seriously took one afternoon to compose and record a hit single.The afternoon ended in constant laughter about what we were trying to do and of course we gave up. We wrote Polydor that they had to make do with that tape and we never heard from them again.I think they made the right decision. We wouldn’t have become the commercial success they were searching for.We were in close contact with Eugenius who played in several bands before starting his band Storung together with his girlfriend Hylkia.Because I was the recording kid in Wassenaar he asked me to record Storung. A big quality of Eugenius is that he is not afraid to start something new and seeing us struggle with record companies he decided to release a record on his own.The Dreadful Dance 7″ was recorded by me and released under Storung Records SR 001More serious plans were made. I made a technical breakthrough by developing a system to sync the TR 808 rhythm machine with the 4 track tape recorder thus saving us tracks and giving more sync capability at mixdown and we decided to record the Storung album “This Is Future”.Paulus came up with the name Clogsontronics that would be the label for the Wassenaar scene and the label was born.This Is Future is catalogued SG 002 as a continuation of the sequence started with Storung Records SR 001Seeing Eugenius show us the way we also decided to release our album on Clogsontronics and so a new recording session with better equipment resulted in “For This Is Past” catalogued SG 003As you can see from this story I think it takes a lot of coincidences and people in order to make the story complete. It is not just an achievement of 1, 2 or 3 persons.
Chain D.L.K.: I didn’t have the chance to listen to those recordings. Have you produced them as well as the album “For this is past”? What do they sound like?
Clogsontronics: I recorded them, yes. It was recorded on a 4 track AKAI and mixed down to a Revox A77. The mastertape was accidently erased and all that was left were cassette copies which did not sound too well.By digital means they were restored somehow.The demo is a prelude to the “For This Is Past” album. The sound is overwhelmingly in one frequency area, due to the fact that the main instrument used is the Sielorchestra string ensemble which to my taste is too dominantly present. Thank God that was corrected on the “For This Is Past” album.
Chain D.L.K.: By the way, I find odd for an independent band to have a guy that takes care only of production. Can you tell something about this decision?
Clogsontronics: From what I see from bands it is mostly the case that people just start making music together.That means a band is usually entirely made up of musicians (no surprise I guess).Recordings are made in the practice room with 1 or 2 microphones just for evaluation.If they want to make a record they try to get under the wings of a record company or do it independently but in either case money is gathered to go to a recording studio.What happened with us in the “Wassenaar scene” is that I became involved in making music with friends but my interest was mostly with the technique of recording and besides being a music lover I was a HiFi freak at the time.It became a hobby to record every band that wanted to be recorded because I had an incredible need to produce a decent-sounding recording which of course to my own ears I never came close to.I remember counting one day my investments in audio equipment and that appeared to be about 20.000 Dutch guilders which is about 9.000 Euros. Quite some money 25 years ago. All “mobile” stuff to record in practice rooms, basements and youth centers.It was only logical that I became engineer/producer/musician in my “own band” Ensemble Pittoresque.I would say that among all roles the one of “producer” was the least I did. Between friends you aren’t given a role, it just so happens. Being a producer sounds like you are the boss and I certainly wasn’t.You could also say Ensemble Pittoresque at the time of recording the demo and “For This Is Past” was more a living-room band. No loud guitar amps, no loud drums but just synths and rhythm machines connected to a HiFi sound system. That gives the engineer also a more dominant role by nature. I cannot play drums but I can program a rhythm machine.
Chain D.L.K.: You recorded “For this is past” in a squat. What was this place like and what was the general atmosphere back then?
Clogsontronics: Wassenaar is one of the richest towns in Holland and this squat Huize Rijksdorp is a good representation of that.There is a picture of it on the inner sleeve of the re-issue of “For This Is Past”.The people that squatted it did this for the usual reason that there were no places for young people to move out of their parents’ home.This group was also connected to us and we met mostly in the youth centre of Wassenaar where the bands also practiced.”For This Is Past” was recorded in Marion’s room. Marion was Richard’s girlfriend who also lived in this building.Due to the nature of this building it was a big room, 5 x 10 meters and 4 meters high. Big, old, well-kept, expensive atmosphere.The general atmosphere during recording was OK but there were also some clashes between Paulus on one side and Richard and me on the other.Richard and I have practically the same ideas about music and about the rest of the world and I think that we thought it was our last chance to correct some of Paulus’ ideas which we did not like.In some cases we got it our way and in some cases we didn’t. I am convinced that it took the influences of all band members to make this album what it became.
Chain D.L.K.: What did you do for the distribution of your releases? Did you have a mail order and did you do trades with other labels?
Clogsontronics: No, nothing like in the present day. No mail-orders, no trading.I do not think people realize any more how things were in the old days without internet or mobile phones.Compared to today we were living isolated. I now see hundreds of bands that are filed under the same Minimal banner as we are.At that time I never heard about bands like Absolute Body Control, Stratis, Twilight Ritual, End of Data etc.The most obscure thing you would get to know was Fad Gadget or Einsturtzende Neubauten.Those were very different days and that is also true as it comes to distribution.To my knowledge all Clogsontronics records were distributed through one distributor named Boudisque from AmsterdamWe did not sell directly or through mail order. Mail order virtually did not exist then. Just normal record shops.
Chain D.L.K.: I read that as Ensemble Pittoresque you stopped your activities because something changed after the release of your second album “Frequenz”. What is your thought about that, twenty years after?
Clogsontronics: Well we drifted apart geographically and emotionally.I started a family life and had to make money which I couldn’t earn with music.I work too autonomously to get into the “normal” music scene.Besides working in several jobs I kept recording demo’s for some years but without a real future perspective.I also have to admit that I did not support the band enough because I did not go with them on tour as an engineer. I was scared to get into a large crowd of people. I had to stay with them, but couldn’t. That also was a pity
Chain D.L.K.: What kind of label was Clogsontronics?
Clogsontronics: Clogsontronics is just a name, nothing more.There was no central office or general boss.It was a kind of agreement between Wassenaar bands that they should release independently but with this label name.Those releases were:
SG002 Storung – This Is Future
SG003 Ensemble Pittoresque – For This Is Past
SG004 Final Unit – Final Unit
SG005 The Wassenaarse Slag sampler which featured all Wassenaar bands of importance.
This record was subsidized by the Wassenaar administration
Chain D.L.K.: What made you decide to revamp it nowadays?
Clogsontronics: Well obviously there was a revived interest in our music. Already in 2005 we promised some fans that we would think about re-issuing our records. This time Eugenius was again the one to come up with the first release since 1984:
SG006 INDUCTION-the Enochian remix CD with 1 new track and 2 old tracks not released before.
I got to know Chen Magal from Israel who is a big lover of this music genre.She inspired us to re-issue the Storung an EP albums.She also put us in contact with Erick Moncollin of ADN-Ckrystall and so our first international release SG009 COD-ADN came to life.
Chain D.L.K.: Why did you opt for the vinyl + CD package?
Clogsontronics: I am a music lover and I know the CD offers a better audio quality than the vinyl record. Nobody can convince me of the opposite.To all your modern vinyl lovers I have a story to tell.What source you think is used to cut the vinyl from? Exactly, from a CD you send to the pressing plant or by uploading your digital file.Nobody uses an analog source in the cutting room any more.Nobody can argue that cutting a vinyl record from a CD can improve sound quality.But what I can assure you is that by digitizing the old analog tape to a file on the computer finally gave me the opportunity to correct some things that went a bit wrong 25 years ago in a way I could never have achieved by analog means.So all in all I would argue that in the re-issues the vinyl versions sound better than the original and the CD version sound superior to all !!Having said that I must say I am not insensitive to the old-fashioned quality and the impression of a vinyl sleeve and the feeling it brings with it.I don’t hate vinyl. I love it for the atmosphere and love it comes along with but not for its sound quality.Putting out vinyl + CD packages we offer the best of both worlds and that makes you forget about the worst of both worlds.
Chain D.L.K.: What do you think has changed for the label, compared to the old days?
Clogsontronics: Well about everything changed.The old bands aren’t active any more so besides re-issues we must release new bands.Distribution is almost entirely through mail-order.Despite the fact you can get in contact with the whole world very easily it doesn’t mean you sell more. Everybody has the same opportunity so in the end you never get ahead of someone else.In the old days we sold 1000 copies of each of the EP and Storung releases and now, despite all new communication means we barely can sell more then 350 copies of each.
Chain D.L.K.: Are you accepting submissions? What kind of music would you like to release?
Clogsontronics: Sure we accept new material to release. We would like to release anything that we like. That can be quite broad. We are not narrow in our taste and we aren’t afraid to get away from our “main” genre.
Chain D.L.K.: What are your future plans?
Clogsontronics: The label will stay a hobby until it is proven it can be something more.That doesn’t mean we do not put in a lot of energy. A hobby takes a lot of energy mostly.For the rest I am slowly getting too old to MAKE plans. I hope some plans come my way.
Chain D.L.K.: Something more you’d like to add?
Clogsontronics: Yes, but I forgot what.
Visit Clogsontronics on the web at:
[interviewed by Maurizio Pustianaz] [proofreading by Marco Pustianaz]