maandag 11 juli 2011
Enfant Terrible interview in N-SPHERE July 2011 edition
The following article was published in N-SPHERE July 2011 issue. Interview by Diana Daia.
Hallo, Martijn, and welcome to the Spheres. This is the first interview which, in a sense, focuses on meta-levels: writing about/asking people who are involved in the writing and creative process as well, namely your work with the Dutch label Enfant Terrible.
To get us started, a first question on the obvious – the choice for the name of the label. Why and how was that idea triggered? Right now, I have Jean Cocteau‘s novel in mind, which plays with themes such as isolation and alienation. Do you believe we could talk about those concepts in relation to the minimal wave/power electronics scene as well?
The name does of course goes back to Cocteau’s novel. But I do not think its themes has only a relation with the minimal electronics and power electronics subgenres. I think these themes are to be found in many music styles and genres that have any real content. Also all real art will reveal these themes… next to some other universal themes.
Anyway, the name I came up with mostly as I already knew back then that I can be a pain the ass to many people… a sophisticated pain in the ass, but still a pain in the ass.
I have my own ideas about how things should be done and why. I can and I will always articulate what I do and why I do it that way. In relation to this I will also always speak out my ideas and thoughts on what I come across in this world… among this the works of others.
Taking this position also means not everybody will be your friend as all outspoken people make some enemies along the way… for various reasons… So in the end the name refers to me and how I look upon the world and take my position in this world.
When did Enfant Terrible come into being and what led to its birth? Is it in a sense a response to events and bands from the Netherlands nowadays?
I started my activities as a logical step from writing reviews, DJ’ing and organizing parties and concerts. The label was founded in 2004 and evolved into a platform with next to the label, mail-order and live events also a weblog, a radio show and a paper journal. Some of these activities I do in collaboration with others.
When I started I was not at all focused on the contemporary Dutch music scene. My interests were electronic music in the broadest sense. Starting with the second record I put for a part the focus on forgotten, or at least obscure, Dutch electronic music from the early 1980’s. This second release was a compilation LP with music from the Dutch cult 1980’s tape label Trumpett. Even though I was not the first to re-release these kind of minimal electronic sounds this record somehow seems to have set a trend. Many labels followed and still it seems like the last few years saw a few new labels every year who re-release this kind of 1980’s music.
My other focus has always been contemporary artist in the field of electronic music. The fourth release on Enfant Terrible was a compilation LP entitled Electronic Renaissance. This record is seen by many people as the first record that brought together the scene of contemporary musicians who work in the tradition of minimal electronics of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.
Through the years some contemporary Dutch artists appeared on my label, mostly on the compilations, but only in 2009 I decided to give extra attention to new Dutch talents.
This is an inner driven sense that something needs to be done… as there are very good musicians in my country whom deserve some attention. At the same time it makes a stand against the recycle culture with its endless streams of records with so called lost gems from the 1980’s. In my opinion only very few of these releases are in fact lost gems. I focus on the here and now… on the local and the contemporary instead of dwelling in the past and trying to create obscure stars from archives around the world that never saw the light before for obvious reasons…
Next to that these musicians from the 1980’s have had their moment in my opinion… now is the time for these contemporary artists to get the credits and attention. So I am very happy to work with them and to be able to release their music and give them some occasions to perform live.
I found it interesting how Enfant Terrible manages to comprise so many things, part of them which you’ve just mentioned. Almost like a Gesamtkunstwerk. Any plans for adding/ aligning more things to the current formula?
Yes, I am always dreaming, thinking and planning. Around July a new aspect of Enfant Terrible will appear. Also I am breeding and writing on a much bigger plan. This is still a research project right now to see if this is possible. If not I will rewrite it and look for a different way to realize this next dream.
What could you tell us about the current radio show you’re hosting at Intergalactic FM. How was it received?
Well… it is funny… I wanted to do a radio show for a long time. One in the tradition of the 1980’s shows RadioNome and Spleen. Meaning with DJ sets and live acts to showcase music not heard everywhere. When I met Andreas (Lesbian Mouseclicks) and Peter (Sololust) one of the things that were discussed first was also their wish for some time to do radio shows.
So I contacted I-F through Rude66. Rude66 is doing my mastering for the record releases. He has a radio show for a long time on IFM and has been a working with I-F also for a long time. The idea was received with enthusiasm and so we started to plan it.
For us the radio show is a playground. We do not aim to bring professional radio. Our aim is to have fun ourselves and in the meantime showcase music not heard (enough) through contemporary live acts in the studio and DJ’ed music.
The reception until now is very good. Also the archive with all past shows available on demand works perfect. I hear from people around the world they replay the old shows at work and at home. That is great to hear. Like with all activities I am involved in there has to be an audience… otherwise it is not worth doing it… for some activities an audience is easier to find then for other activities. The radio shows seems to be doing just right without too many efforts from me to promote it. That is great!
How do you plan the shows and what do you usually aim to include? Are you also interested in doing live interviews with musicians or having guests who bring along their playlists as well?
The shows are planned quite close before the broadcast date most of the time. We always have one live act and two DJ sets. I am resident DJ so I will do a DJ set very show. For the second DJ set we have some people rotating, and if we think of somebody nice fitting that specific night with that specific live act we ask that person.
We do not do much talking during the show as we aim to let the music speak. There are two hours per show and we want them filled with music. So next to some short announcements we serve music only.
You mentioned that you also re-release lost material from the old days. Could we draw a line between new/old when it comes to electronic music or should we talk about it more along the lines of a continuum from the 80s onwards?
I recently explained in an interview that I like to work with musicians who work in the tradition of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s post-punk and experimental new wave music styles. Today this is often narrowed down to “minimal wave”, but that is a style I do not recognize at all. For me there is a style called minimal electronics not a style called minimal wave.
Anyway, the contemporary artists I work with are musicians who not just copy the music from the old days. They take this as inspiration and maybe as a starting point from where they take off. Copy cat bands who just play the old style I am not interested in. The music has to be fresh, daring and recognizable as being a product of this world and age. Even though most of the time the traces of the music from the old days are there to be found.
You could also call this citation. Like in a scientific publication. Or you can call it a reference like you can also trace this back in all good art no matter if that is a painting or a theatre play. All good art shows it roots and inspiration and is building on that tradition. That way you become part of a certain tradition, keep it alive, refresh it and enrich it.
To my mind, I think it is a very fragmented musical area altogether, of course depending on where one is based as well. In some areas minimal wave was almost inexistent even in the 80s (I have Romania in mind now), how was/is it for the Netherlands?
I am too young to know how it really was in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. But of course I know people who were playing in the bands back then, were running labels, made magazines and did radio shows. In this case I am talking about the bands, labels, magazines and radio shows that have influenced my own current activities.
From these people I know that there was something going one. But it is hard to judge if this was really bigger back then as it is nowadays. Some visited my nights in the past and they said my nights had the same atmosphere as the parties back then. So I guess it has always been and always be a specific niche for a specific audience.
Depending on the current fashion and hype some more or some less people will have interest in this type of music. But if you keep it real and stick to the true attitude the audience will be small… always.
I have noticed a resurgence with re-releases as well, and also a growing trend for both tapes and vinyls. What do you think has led to that?
Vinyls are a different story as tapes. Vinyl is simply a superior product to a CD. Or… it is a product and a CD is not a true product. Also the twist you can give to a vinyl record to enhance the experience around it is not to be compared to the restrictions of the CD format.
When it comes to tapes it is something really different. Tapes have been the first format to make the music industry more democratic so to speak. You can make tapes cheaply in a professional way or even very cheaply at home. Later the CD-R took over the tape scene a bit. But now tapes seem to be back and I can only say for myself that this is as tapes are simply much more charming and are a perfect format to enhance into a real object instead of just a format to release music on.
For both formats it is true they are gaining new fans in certain music scenes as a reaction against mp3 releases and all the download platforms. Both formats ask for more commitment and effort from the listener. This when it comes to getting a copy as they are not easily to obtain everywhere, but only through specific channels. But also when it comes to listening. You need to do more to listen to a vinyl record as push a button on your IPod or computer. For tapes it is also evident that in some parts of the world it is very hard to get a tape player today.
It’s pretty straightforward that Enfant Terrible is opting for vinyl instead of CDs or online mp3 releases. Why that decision and would you give a “big no“ to the latter? If yes/no – why?
I released one CD. It was an experiment to see if I could make a good product with that format. Only partly this was successful for me. So do not expect another CD soon on my label.
As for mp3 releases… I do not even consider that as a release… it is nothing… But if bands I work with want to spread their music I am okay on one condition… and that is that the music is for free. As I do consider mp3’s anything at all it would make no sense to ask money for it.
I did this with Kim Ki O. Their album appeared on their website a few months after the vinyl release came out, and is there available for free downloads. They put all their music for free on their website as mp3 download. So it made sense to do this also for the vinyl we did together.
Do you think that preference also makes distribution more restrictive? One advantage would be that it definitely brings along a sense of identity in the buyers, even if that identity mostly comes from the type of releases.
In the case of Enfant Terrible I work with a network of independent shops and mail-order who sell my releases. As I do not release any well known acts and the music I release is not for a general consumption minded audience I have nothing to do with bigger distributors. But… more important I never have worked with them for a much more important reason.
The music I release is for the real collectors, the true lovers and the authentic connoisseurs of music. If I would work with bigger distributors the records would end up in chain store record shops or at the best in so called “specialized” record stores. These stores only sell music to people who still read the most popular magazines and go to the regular hip clubs and festivals. That is not my world and these people are not the people interested in, or let alone aware of, the music world I am active in.
So, the network I mentioned above is the way I distribute my releases. Every single record goes through my hands and I am in direct contact with all shop owners. Which I like and which I value a lot. I am also very happy and grateful these shops sell my records as they are able to bring this music to the right people. This as they know their customers.
When it comes to identity I guess not the records themselves, or the type of releases, is mostly responsible for this. I am quite sure the Enfant Terrible trademark so to speak does this. Even though I am not here to please anybody with my releases… meaning I release whatever I like myself no matter what… still people know that Enfant Terrible stands for quality music and quality products.
If you are an open minded music lover you maybe like all my releases… and if you prefer the more specific minimal electronics releases you maybe like about half of my output but in the end it is all typical Enfant Terrible… and I am here to surprise people and try to take them with me on this trip… and I think that is an identity some people at last can relate to…
I find it paradoxical that, at least with most “collectors“ I meet, no matter how hardcore is their aversion towards digital releases, most listen to mp3s in parallel to purchasing material. Probably because it is sometimes realistically faster to press play on your computer rather than going through the archive to find a specific album/track. My question hence is: do you think those two can happily co-exist or are we going more in the direction of one instead of the other?
Oh, in the end both will stay… vinyl will stay forever and digital music is here to stay as well. For me personal I do not care if people like to listen to digital formats because it is easy. If they want to, why not? Who am I to tell them not to?
Also I am convinced that a good quality product will always find its way to people. So if these people like the vinyl for their collection but like to listen to the music in a digital way when preparing their diner or cleaning their house… why not?
Only I will not start to include stupid mp3 download coupons as so many labels do nowadays. As said if bands I work with want the music to be available digital we will look for a way to get this available for free. So also if you do not buy the vinyl first. Besides this I am quite sure one or two or more illegal peer-to-peer networks will host the ripped vinyls for me.
As you rightfully said, this constant search for all “underground“/“obscure“” releases inevitably brings along a lot of redundant material as well. I second your thoughts about focusing on new artists, especially as a label. What Dutch acts have raised your attention these years, in particularly?
At this moment there are so many great bands in The Netherlands. I am really enthusiastic about this. The Kamp Holland compilation started as a project to map this current field of contemporary acts… of course from my point of view and with a focus on electronic music.
There are so many acts I like right now… just tune in to the Radio Resistencia radio shows we do and you will hear every month a new live act. Until now most have been from Holland. We will keep it that way.
Here are four acts to name just a few I really like, without being nasty to other artists I am working with:
• Sololust, as he is able to create both minimal techno like elektro pieces just as easy as perfect synthpop or almost ambient like dark elektro. I am sure more people will start to hear the quality in his work after we have released more and we have done more live shows.
• Distel, simply another of those of the few true talents in contemporary (electronic) music. Just listen to Distel and his other project Hadewych. If you as a musician are able to do both that then you have real talent!
• Neurobit, he is one of those people who not just makes music but knows what he is doing. Even though his music can be considered pop music it is related to the Minimal Music in the tradition of Steve Reich and Terry Riley. He is an academic turned on pop music. Also he is one of those people who is not limited to one trick. With Rioteer he produces harsh industrial breakcore with a sound of its own. Next to that he is also involved in a performance group. More of Neurobit and the other projects he is involved in is talked about, imagined and being planned to appear on Enfant Terrible.
• Neugeborene Nachtmusik, the mastermind behind Milligram Retreat. He is working hard to get his solo act together for live sets. Next to that we are working on music being released on Enfant Terrible. Two amazing psychedelic dark elektro-wave tracks are already selected for a special project for the near future.
Let’s stop a bit at the Kamp Holland compilation, described as an “overview of the current Dutch electronic independent scene“. 16 bands..ranging from minimal wave to ganz experimental tracks, not an easy task to gather all those artists together. How did the preparation and selection process take place?
I always start all my compilation with a rather fixed idea and theme and from there on I start asking artists if they like to participate. The problem I have with most compilations is that there is no real idea behind. They are just a collection songs, mostly in one style and genre and often even with leftovers from bands and with no cohesion between the different tracks. There is no story told. There is no trip to tune in to…
So I take great care to make my compilations as an experience both in new talents as in sounds and in the flow you tap into. It has happened before that there are great tracks I have left out as they did not fit in with the rest of the selection or my idea for that specific compilation. I am sure people recognize the end result of this as feedback on my compilations have always been that they are really concept records, and not a mere collection of songs, but without being focused on one single style or genre.
I really like the cover: a field of white tulips. “Emblematic“ in a sense for Holland, but also a bit ironic/“in your face“, especially since we’re talking about independent artists“ who detach from those frameworks altogether. Why did you find that choice of cover fitting for this compilation?
Hahaha, sorry but those are not tulips. Please have a second look. Also if you investigate the cover a bit more and maybe try to find out a bit more about Dutch politics you will start to recognize the meaning of the sleeve and the title. I am not going to give this away, sorry.
Enfant Terrible also has an interesting logo, any concept behind that? Who is responsible for the graphical part for the label?
Everything I do has a concept and has meaning. There is already too much nonsense in this world. But as with the Kamp Holland sleeve I am not giving away everything. I like people to get involved and find out things for themselves. That is part of the game I play.
But I can tell more about the design part for Enfant Terrible. In the early phase I worked with my sister next to Zivago. Zivago has taken over the design part since years, and only seldom a record is released he is not involved with. The Hex Grammofoonplaten sublabel is an exception as he has until now done nothing for these releases. For some records he is only responsible for the lay-out but most are also designed by him.
He is one of the musicians from Ende Shneafliet from the Dutch 1980’s music scene and he is a real music lover. Due to this he always understands very well what I want. Because he is involved in Enfant Terrible for such a long time he is also capable of creating concepts with only a few words from me on a future record. Which is great and saves me from spelling out everything and it also means the mood and feel of the artwork will fit the Enfant Terrible trademark.
Concerning the artwork of the releases, is it generally a collaboration between the artists and the label or something that relies on the ideas of the musicians exclusively?
The artwork is always a collaboration as I have rather fixed ideas myself what I want and don’t want. I am open for proposals and musicians can send in elements to work with. Often this works out fine. Also I always go for an end result both the musicians and I are happy with. So even though I have fixed ideas about the design of my records it is a rather democratic process.
You are right saying that refreshing and enriching a tradition are part of a musician’s tasks now. What motivates artistic expression then and which would be the new challenges one has to face in that sense?
The real challenge for every artist or creative agency that produces artistic output, like a label, is to always go further and at the same time to stay yourself. What you see is that many artists and labels are good in one thing only. They go for that and market that. One single style or genre becomes their trademark.
I understand this from a commercial point of view as the mass of the people out there is an audience that needs and wants to know what they can expect. Many people claim to have a broad interest in music, arts and the world around them. But in the end they like to know what they get. They want to feel secure in their own little world. Maybe also they are not educated enough or not capable for other reasons to explore new things.
For any real artist or creative agency the challenge is to go beyond and continuously provide new fresh content, create new exciting traces to follow and start new daring stories. This new content should be linked to the repertoire already put out, but at the same time needs to provide enough new angles to be fresh and daring.
I know this is not the game for everybody to play and not a trip everybody is able to provide as a setting for their audience. Let alone that everybody can create an audience around them to follow such a trip. So it a real challenge to do this. It asks a lot from all involved. I hope I succeed in this… but I know that at least do my best to archive this.
It is true that the whole cultural and economical context differs from 30 years ago, but is everything more or less “solved“ and without problems now? What are, in turn, the challenges for an independent level?
Of course the cultural and economical context is different now. The world has changed a lot. But I do not understand what you mean with “solved”.
I think in a way it has become harder for independent cultural agents and creative agencies. One example says it all. The people behind Suction Records told me recently their situation. This label is the home of Solvent and Lowfish and was part of the first wave of IDM music and second wave of minimal elektro. They started in the mid-nineties and at their heyday they sold about two to three thousand copies of their releases. They recently started again after a break of a few years. Their first release was a CD by Lowfish in an edition of only 250 copies. It was released a few months ago back in 2010 and is still not sold out.
What do I need to say more? The challenge is for all activities, not matter if this is a live event or a physical product like a record or CD, to find an audience that wants to get involved and still values these artistic outputs so they want to pay a little money for it.
The world has changed and people have changed. All is there available within second by a few clicks on a mouse button or a touch screen… and for free. People seem to have lost all notions of value and decency towards artistic products. It has to be easy and fast. They do not want to pay real attention… all should be a commodity product that asks no commitment and no involvement. So the challenge is to create quality products that need commitment and involvement and with those products attract and built an audience that are still interested in, and/or capable to, letting loose the conditions of modern life and become part of the experience you set out for them.
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