Chain D.L.K.: Why create a record label in the new millennium? You know better than me it’s really hard to sell records nowadays, and despite the fact it looks like there’s a nightly, soft-electronic “trait d’ union” that runs through the majority of your releases…it looks like you have an heterogeneous roster don’t you?
Thomas: Well, out of idealism and dedication to music I’d say. I’ve been into music since I was 15 years old starting with heavy metal and punk rock, but my tastes broadened and went more and more towards the experimental scene (Bill Laswell & John Zorn are my major influences that opened my mind for so many things) be it electronical or “handmade” improvisational stuff … so instead of becoming lawyer or teacher or something like that it felt too natural to work in the musical field. So when I was offered to manage a record shop I didn’t think twice. Now I’m at a distributor. The label was a natural thing – my initial idea was to offer vinyl including stuff that has not been put out on LP before but then I got requests / demos by unknown bands and it was economical reasonable to make CDs from time to time. It’s a hobby, I do not depend on making my living from it. Some releases do sell better, some worse, but overall I’m fine but sure: if the money thing would work better I’d be able to do more releases in sh
orter time. Regarding my roster: I agree it may seem heterogeneous but to me it’s simply different aspects of electronic music. Not for the dance-floor (though some tracks definitely will work there) but for serious home listening. It probably would help to establish Karlrecords in the scene if it was a dubstep or whatever specialized label but that’s not how I think about and listen to music ….. concentrating on electronical music is focus enough for my taste.
Chain D.L.K.: Which record labels inspired you to start and why? And above all what did you discover about running a label during the process of putting out records?
Thomas: There are a few…namely Tzadik, Constellation, WordSound and Sub Rosa / Quartermass. Every release sounded so interesting even by reading about it, looked good and actually I bought every record on Constellation and Wordsound for quite a time – Tzadik and Sub Rosa simply released too much to do so – and each new record was bringing new aspects to their musical universe (and mine) and yet at the same time completing the mosaic. And these labels definitely did not care about tastes except for their own (their label runners’). So they were trustworthy – of course there were records I loved more than others in the beginning, but they all had and still have their qualities. I really admired this consequence and “fuck it!”-attitude. What I discovered? Hm. A lot of things, good and bad. I got much support from the “underground” or “scene” be it musicians, other labels etc. and realized that there is a huge network of like-minded people and even though everybody has to get along with the difficult situation they encouraged me, give me contacts and advice etc. On the other side I encountered disinterest, people trying to benefit from your work and get their part of the money cake, pretending to review a release to grab a promo copy, artists calling me a nazi because I rejected certain tracks with very vulgar german lyrics etc…but fuck – people are people, things happen, you should learn from such experiences but you should not starting thinking that everybody’s an asshole – continue, believe in your idea, sort the bad folks out and forget about it.
Chain D.L.K.: Your first release has been a collaborative effort featuring Bill Laswell, has it been difficult to work with him or to convince him to put out a cd on a new label? It looks like you’re a Laswell fan aren’t you?
Thomas: Oh yes, I’m a huge Laswell fan…Well it was not difficult in the end – I caught him at Moers Jazz Festival 2006 after his gig, told him about my idea of starting a vinyl label and he was interested. What helped was that I knew his A&R man Robert Soares whom I once had met..well what is sure: Laswell does the things the way HE thinks is right – which of course can lead to complications, no doubt. Well, “Brutal Calling” was a vinyl re-issue of a CD released in Japan only, so I knew the music and the new artwork looked amazing – no hesitating to release that album. Whereas the genesis of “Lodge” is not easy to tell and wasn’t easy all the way through but in the end it went well and I’m pleased by this release. I’d say Laswell is an independent mind – he once answered my question what he’s doing these days: “oh, some pop stuff…to generate money for project like this (was at a Painkiller gig)…” So yes – he can be very supportive if he likes the idea / attitude behind.
Chain D.L.K.: You have a rock attitude but you mainly put out electronic bands or projects with strong electronic, post-IDM elements. Is it intentional? What do you think about electronic music and about the actual electronic scene?
Thomas: Yes it is…I think there’s enough rock bands around as every young boy wants to play guitar a be a singer – not that I didn’t like rock music at all but I get bored by the structure verse / verse / bridge / chorus…later a solo and so on. And I’m not really in need of someone telling me his problems – of course as always there are exceptions to this and there are artists that broke with the song structure but to me electronic music works way better as a means for brainstorming. I love the absence of vocals, the sound, the bass, the abstract form. That’s also what bored me about electronic music a few years ago: after techno started without “faces”, just the music itself, more and more artists integrated vocals, switched from tracks to songs (big beat e.g. is rock music with computers), posed like rock stars etc. But with dubstep and new artists like Efdemin or Pantha Du Prince I got the impression that abstract electronics get more media attention like in the nineties again after all the retro rock bands were omnipresent for nearly ten years. That’s what I’d like to support or give a platform so this is why Karlrecords has a mainly though not pure electronic catalogue.
Chain D.L.K.: What about the return of vinyl and the consolidated tape trend? Feel free to answer both as a label owner and as a record collector…
Thomas: Is there a tape trend? sorry, I’m not aware of that at all…regarding vinyl: as a collector I can say I LOVE vinyl and buy mainly LPs and only from time to time when I really want to have a certain release I go for CD. It’s good to see how much nowadays is available on vinyl! As a label of course it is a different view: as vinyl is way more expensive to manufacture you really have to think twice before doing a LP – you have to calculate all the costs (mastering, artwork, pressing + printing, mechanicals, maybe a license) and see the expectable sales on the other side – labels like mine usually won’t become big as Warp or Domino so the least to go for is to cover the costs of each release to keep on going. Even that is sometimes hard to achieve – so much music around, so hard to get press and attention.
So in some cases I just could not do vinyl. In case of FANU / LASWELL – Lodge I wanted to do a double LP including artwork but the Laswell camp wanted a double 12″ with the 4 best tracks – nonsense, everybody knows that 12″ are a dying format…DJs switching to mp3 instead of buying new records every week for their “work” and carry them around all over the world. So no vinyl of that – would / could have been a killer double LP on 45 rpm with 2 tracks on every side……a pity!
Chain D.L.K.: Do you think being from Germany is an influence?…that’s not exactly a political question but do you think there’s a connection between the materials you put out, the simple fact you have a label or simply the music you like?…What do you think of Germany of today, I’m not just referring to music…
Thomas: Well of course being from Germany is an influence on me in general though it’s not easy to trace or name in which way – I also wouldn’t say I feel German but I definitely am. I don’t think there’s a connection between my releases and my nationality (actually only Kammerflimmer Kollektief are a german band, other artists are from USA, France, Italy, UK and elsewhere) or the fact that I started Karlrecords at all – running a label is not really an exclusive specialty of us Krauts, is it? Probably my favor for sacred music goes back to school where in the music lessons we got to hear all the important classical composers but on the other hand that also could have had the opposite effect – hating that stuff as I was into punk& heavy metal and never played cello, violin or piano…later Mille Plateaux or bands like To Rococo Rot, Kreidler, Mouse On Mars impressed me in the mid-nineties, also Krautrock, but these are just a few because back then (my early twenties) I opened to so much different stuff – electronica, jazz, avant-garde, world music – from all over the world…Germany today feels strange to me, while we are still considered to be one of the economically leading nations I get the impression of a steady decline for the majority. The rich get even richer – well they always do that and everywhere, but their shameless gains are in no relation to the rest of “normal”, employed people, not to talk of all the unemployed around: I see so many people here searching for returnable bottles in the dustbins as if it’s third world here. The gap between privileged and poor people diverges – no safety for the middle-class, everybody’s afraid to lose his / her job and not to find a new one. All time you hear the wages for the employed are too high, they must make admissions (blame it on the globalization which we all are supposed to benefit from!) while the managers get ridiculous high bonus payments for kicking workers out. But as its Germany people are wailing but not acting – I guess in France there would be riots, burning villas and all that…when friends from abroad come to visit me they have that impression too! That’s Germany today…but not all is bad, there are so many options for flexible people who got rid of our parents’ idea of life (school – career – car – wife – house – kids) how to live your life. But it is demanding in certain ways, moving, changes – terrifying to those who wish safety and a constant “road” thru life….
Chain D.L.K.: …reading your answer it looks like you’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about these issues. So…no ordinary life for mr Karlrecords? And since we’re discussing about family and kids..what about teens…it looks like they’re a potential target for the music market but at the moment they’re not that interested in music as their ancestors…what’s your opinion about it?
Thomas: Well everybody should think about society, her/his position in society and what’s going on…Regarding “ordinary life”: I was on my way to become a lawyer (laugh) and then switched to becoming teacher but when I was offered to manage a record shop there was no hesitating – as Henry Rollins said: “All you got is lifetime” and yes, why waste fifty hours a week with boring things for earning money? Every day is precious so make the best or most pleasant out of it. After the record shop and freelance writing for a city magazines I now work at an independent distributor which means being at the office Monday – Friday, 10 – 19 which feels like normal day work though. And to me it’s a normal life as I cannot imagine doing “something proper” as parents tend to call it 🙂 All this came very natural, no real decisions made – and I’m happy with that. And I do not earn much money – some records, books, a bit of food and a few clothes, that’s it. I surely can’t feed a family but in times of emancipation why not let the women make career? Well, teens and music – I think they pretty much are interested, not so much in albums (as an artistic statement or a step in a musician’s development as my generation and its ancestors did) but manly single songs, and the kids and early twenty-something kinda grew up with the internet and they think music is free for everyone while my friends and me bought the records…they prefer spending their money for clothes, cell phones, skateboards etc or concerts (though everybody has heard of Woodstock nobody claims concerts to be free, playing live seems something you must pay for). Up to a certain degree I can even understand that – there’s youtube, myspace, last.fm, all the web pages with illegal downloads….well, nearly everybody does download there so why should they feel guilty? I don’t think this will change, so all musicians, labels etc. have to get used to minor sales which of course is especially hard for the smaller artists and labels – see above: to go on it’s important to at least cover the costs (or try some fundraising but who wants to have a CD sponsored by some bank, car brand or whatever – and what kind of stuff would they support anyway? Or money from the government? No way, I would not take it, that’s not how I define independence). Well back to the teens – my impression is that things like last.fm generate a monoculture by saying “who listens to this also likes that” – the listener gets suggested similar stuff again and again and again as if a hip-hop kid might not also enjoy some techno or rock. No surprises like being hit by the artwork of an album…it’s all categorized, feel sorry for people who leave their will of decision to statistics. Hey kids – you are free to choose! Don’t obey the computer!
Chain D.L.K.: …about your work at an independent distributor, where do you think we’re headed musicwise¼is there anything that’s really pushing to bring us forward or just endless revival? Yesterday this friend of mine passed me this Crystal Castle’s song featuring Robert Smith: the song is great..but rather than hypnagogic I’d call it synth pop from the Eighties…
Thomas: not necessarily endless revival though I agree – it’s pretty boring to hear the eighties all around, but all these bands are too young to have experienced the 80ies themselves so they are not really to blame…and revivals are an usual thing, so what. And to refer on Joy Division is not a fault at all…In general I’d say we’ve had it all now – we’re familiar with electronics from Kraftwerk to breakcore, jazz has been pushed to its outer areas by Coltrane and his fellows, ENO brought ambient and Cage total silence, rock has gone from Chuck Berry to hi-speed Slayer and slowed down again to the massive walls of sound of Sunn O))), there is noise and abstract music, improvisation, classical instruments have been involved in a serious way that is beyond the cliché of “rock meets classic” – so what new, unheard sound can we expect? Is there anything missing? I guess the new comes from sophisticated, inspired mixing the notorious ingredients…nothing against The Strokes, but I really cannot understand the excitement about this lush copy of Velvet Underground. Maybe some things are so historical to the teens that they are amazed by a “new” sound because they don’t know the roots? Don’t get me wrong – I’m not frustrated about the fact I cannot hear “the new thing”, as everybody (I guess) I have lots of stuff yet to discover, we have 50 years of popular music (and more if we integrate classical music, too) to choose from!
Chain D.L.K.: …a friend of mine who runs a well-established experimental label was telling me that even if selling record has become so hard he will probably start working on dvds above all performances and similar things. What options for the future of your label? Ever considered to keep on putting out materials not just by using new formats but also by changing context?
Thomas: I have 2 different plans for the future. The one is to switch over to special handmade sleeves, hand numbered limited editions of 222 or 333 items, if possible even in different colours like 111 in green on red or blue on black – something like that. The 2nd is dvds, but not necessarily music performances, and depending what it will become (just now I’m getting in touch with people, collecting ideas etc) it might run under another name, not Karlrecords. I can’t say more now, sorry – but yes, your friend is right, you have to expand the catalogue be it format or content / context.
Chain D.L.K.: …what’s in store with the label?
Thomas: 2 new releases, 1st (not yet confirmed) by an italian minimal / ambient / classical artist I can’t name before we agreed on a release, and 2nd is the forthcoming album by ULNA – the follow-up to 2008’s excellent Frcture. Still waiting for the first tracks but I’m confident the duo will have some sound ready soon. I’m really curious! So this will be my start into 2011, after that I’m open to further sonic adventures.
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