Epitaph: 10 Questions

Epitaph Records

Epitaph has ridden many musical waves, from early days in 1980, when it simply served as a P.O. Box for Bad Religion, to championing the SoCal punk revival through the following decade, and developing sister labels that have delved into musical styles way beyond the label’s roots.

Recently, Epitaph and sister label ANTI- made an insanely eclectic selection of music available on Bandcamp for the first time: from Baltimore-based, post-hardcore act Pianos Become the Teeth, to Malian Tuareg master Tinariwen, and certified legend Tom Waits. The labels are also developing fresh-faced acts, treading new territory with Philly soul man Son Little and alt-rockers The Sidekicks. Thirty-five years in, the Epitaph family of labels is still independent and is still DIY-ing it as they have since day one.

Pianos Become Teeth

Jon Strickland has held down the VP of Sales role at Epitaph Records for 10 years. In that decade his job description has changed a lot, as physical retailers like Tower have come and gone, and new outlets in the digital realm have risen in their place. In this first in an occasional series of record label spotlights, we asked Jon 10 questions about the past, present, and future of Epitaph.

Bad Religion
Bad Religion, circa 1980

Bandcamp: The early days of Epitaph were synonymous with the SoCal Punk scene and, more generally, the 90s punk revival. Did the label have a role model back then, and is that era an inspirational touchstone for everything the label does now, or do you feel like the label has evolved to be the hub for something else?

Jon Strickland: The early years of Epitaph still inform everything we do today, because we had so much early success with Offspring, Rancid, Bad Religion, and that period was very “make-it-up-as-we-go-along.” But the things we learned about fans, marketing, retail, radio – every aspect of the business – we are still applying today, albeit in a different environment. I’m not sure there was a specific role model when Brett (Gurewitz) started the label, but I don’t think you could be in SoCal and not be amazed at the stuff that labels like SST were doing. That label is a model for me personally – such amazing A&R, great design, and of course, run by musicians.

BC: What role does Brett play at the label these days? And, as a former band member, what qualities/attributes do you think Brett instilled in Epitaph over the years?

JS: Brett is as involved, if not more involved, than at any time in the history of the label. Chiefly he’s signing bands and doing A&R in the traditional sense — not just finding bands but working with them on production, songs, image. Of course we have lots of bands that don’t need that, but Brett is a great mentor to a young band looking to navigate the business.

Brett’s great motto is that the artist is always right. We work with so many artists who have very defined ideas of what they want, and Brett has been on the artist end of those discussions with labels enough times to know that we never want to tell those artists, “This is the single.”

Tom Waits by Michael O'Brien
photo by Michael O’Brien

BC: Tell us about the sister labels, when did they come along?

JS: ANTI- and Hellcat are the official sister labels. Hellcat is Tim Armstrong’s label, so apart from Rancid, it has been a home for bands like Dropkick Murphys and Tiger Army, and also – very proudly – the last, great albums from Joe Strummer. ANTI- came along in 1996 as an imprint to release Tom Waits’ Mule Variations and blossomed from there. Then of course there’s dBpm, Wilco’s label. We also have a close relationship with Burning Heart Records from Sweden, and we’ve put out Refused and Hives releases with them, and just put out a new Raised Fist album. And then we have some up-and-coming friends like Autumn Tone, and some other relationships that will roll out later this year.

BC: Specifically, what is the idea behind ANTI-? It boasts an enviable and eclectic roster. Was it always supposed to be that way, and how has it evolved since inception (in the late 90s)?

JS: ANTI- very quickly grew from being a label to put on a Tom Waits album into an idea, which was to work with artists who were mavericks – be they heritage artists like Mavis Staples and Solomon Burke and Merle Haggard; or rising stars like Neko Case and Jolie Holland; or newcomers like Saintseneca, William Elliott Whitmore, and Sean Rowe. We had some huge early successes with Tom and Merle and Solomon, and that brought us the reputation of being a place where artists could come and be themselves and be supported. That Brett Gurewitz aesthetic definitely carried over into ANTI-.

Mavis Staples

BC: What are the best-selling releases for either label? And have there been any disasters?

JS: The Offspring’s Smash was really the album that broke Epitaph and that second wave of punk wide open. I’ve heard some different numbers, but that album has sold at least 12 million worldwide. It was and maybe still is the best-selling indie album of all time. For ANTI-, Tom Waits’ Mule Variations was a career album for him, a gold album, and a great way to start ANTI- off.

We never have disasters. Seriously, it is hard for bands associated with a certain youth scene to evolve into their next phase, and we’ve had some hits and some misses there. I think a band like Title Fight is doing an amazing job of morphing with each release, while still keeping to core musical values.

BC: How many records do you suppose Epitaph and ANTI- will release in 2015? Is that up or down from prior years?

JS: We are pretty big for an indie; we do around 40 records a year. I’m not sure that will be going up this year, but it certainly won’t be going down.

Joyce Manor ny Dan Monick
photo by Dan Monick

BC: Can you describe where Epitaph and ANTI- are currently headed, musically speaking?

JS: Because of the diversity of both rosters, we are always heading in a lot of different directions. I think we continue to see, in younger fans, that the old tribes that defined scenes are falling away. We’ve been working on that idea since we worked with Atmosphere on Seven’s Travels, and we put him on Warped Tour. Everyone said Warped kids would never accept him, but he went over amazingly well with huge crowds. That shift continues. I think we see that with bands like the Sidekicks and Joyce Manor, which can appeal to indie fans and hardcore fans and it’s the same fan.

BC: Who are the latest signings to each of the labels?

JS: On Epitaph, we have a new roster of bands who are bridging the post-hardcore world and a more indie scene, bands like Pianos Become the Teeth and Joyce Manor, and we just signed Desaparecidos, who put out one album back in 2002 and are working on an amazing new album.  We also signed a great band from Kansas City, Beautiful Bodies, who will be on Warped Tour this summer, and have their debut album out late spring.

Son Litt;e by Todd Cooper
photo by Todd Cooper

On the ANTI- side we are really excited about Son Little, a songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist who comes out of the Philadelphia hip-hop scene. He’ll have his first album out late Spring and in the meantime, we have an EP from him already out. He’s also working on an EP with Mavis Staples that really blends a lot of new sounds with her great soul-gospel style.

BC: What makes a band attractive to your labels?

JS: I think we look for the same things on both labels: bands and musicians who aren’t following in a row that’s already been plowed, who have their own vision. We don’t look for a single or a certain image, although we work with bands that live in that world. Other than that, it’s a pretty eclectic roster on both labels, but on the ANTI- side, we are always looking to put together artists who don’t have obvious things in common. Or we mix generations, like we are doing with Son Little and Mavis.

BC: What are the biggest challenges and most exciting opportunities for a label like Epitaph or ANTI-, given the current state of the music business?

JS: In ten years I’ve seen a lot of change in how people listen to music. The exciting change is how many new places, like Bandcamp, have come along to give people really easy access to music at all levels — from artists recording at home and putting stuff straight out into the ether to labels like us, who still make CDs and LPs and cassettes. With fans having so much access to music, the challenge now is to provide a forum where they can find music at the level of curation they want. If they are huge music heads and know exactly what they want, great. Or maybe it’s some kid who has just discovered Tom Waits and wants to hear more music like that. (Sorry, kid, there’s really no one else out there like Tom.)

Follow Epitaph’s founder, Brett Gurewitz, on Bandcamp: https://bandcamp.com/brettgurewitz

Perpetual Improvisation

Ryuichi Sakamoto

“It was 100% improvisation. We listened carefully to what everybody was doing and contributed with our own senses and skills to make music more interesting and beautiful.”

The guitarist Derek Bailey used to say that musicians could only improvise on the first encounter—that after that initial spark of interaction, it’s no longer improvisation.

But even in that explosive first contact, there’s often a set of unspoken conventions that guide the performance and shape its aesthetics. To visit an experimental music venue in North Carolina—as I do on occasion—is to hear noisy improvisers raucously subverting the norms of their instruments, even if they have never met before or spoken about what they intend to play. It is spontaneity, but with tacit agreements, the overlapping of a particular set of sensibilities.

There is neither noise nor raucousness to be found in Perpetual, out today on 12k, a collaboration between Japanese polyglot composer/producer/pianist/activist Ryuichi Sakamoto, electronic musician Taylor Deupree, and the duo Iluha (comprised of Corey Fuller and Tomoyoshi Date). There is, instead, stillness and silence, tranquility occasionally disrupted by unidentified clamor. But Bailey’s ethos of improvisation without preapproval, and the first musical encounter as the most genuine, is also present. Perpetual documents a 2013 performance at the Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media (YCAM) in southern Japan, the first time the four musicians had performed together.

Ryuichi Sakamoto

“I had known and played with Taylor for years, but it was the first time to meet the Illuha guys,” Sakamoto wrote to me. “We immediately became friends right before the performance or maybe one day before.”

“I think the nature of improvised music is really all about unexpected discoveries,” Deupree said in an email. “Every concert I play is improvised and some turn out great and some not so great. There are always moments of unexpected discovery because the entire show is discovery.”

YCAM invited Sakamoto to curate a 10th anniversary festival featuring a series of installations, including his own Forest Symphony. “The background concept for the Forest Symphony is that the digital technology is the ‘window’ of what we cannot sense, see or hear,” he wrote. To draw attention to the drastic effects of nature—in response to the devastation of the Tōhoku earthquake—Sakamoto placed sensors on trees. The sensors transmitted sounds to YCAM so that audiences could listen to photosynthesis. “I wanted to make visible and audible the imperceptible electricity of trees located around the world.”

The improvisation seems to flow naturally from this broader project. The first of the three movements features only Deupree and Iluha, who form a series of hushes; vaguely industrial sounds emerge, fade, and sometimes return. There is an eerily strong feeling of place in the twinkling music, an apparition of walking in a forest (distant speaking sounds recall the unnerving vocals of the electronics project No Lands).

“We all share a similar mindset when it comes to improvised music, yet we all bring different talents and instruments to the table,” Deupree wrote. An album of improvisation is a natural fit for 12k, which regularly releases live recordings. “I really feel they are documents of singular moments and special times. I release them as much for audience consumption as I do for a record and memory of the event for ourselves. A physical memento we can hold, look at and listen to.”

Ryuichi Sakamoto

When Sakamoto joins the trio for Movement 2, the sound world shifts dramatically, punctured by what appear to be the rustles of a prepared piano. Retaining the sound of the live context while stripping it of visuals defamiliarizes the music—the quartet performs on piano, guitar, pump organ, and synthesizers, but individual sounds are rarely traceable. Perhaps Sakamoto is dropping pieces of metal onto piano strings; perhaps not. Electronic whirrs and submerged rolls form an alien sonic landscape.

“If it were jazz or rock or pops, you’d have to know the chords and melodies and structures of the songs and how to improvise according to the evolved forms in its history, especially for jazz,” Sakamoto wrote. “But it was 100% improvisation. We listened carefully to what everybody was doing and contributed with our own senses and skills to make music more interesting and beautiful. That’s all. There were no ego-fights nor technical competitions.” Deupree concurred, citing the ease of collaboration with Sakamoto: “Despite his history and notoriety I never felt nervous or small next to him. When the music starts flowing I think we both feel on equal terms and let the music speak for us.”

Ryuichi Sakamoto

Movement 3 returns to the placidity of the opening, with the addition of Sakamoto’s meandering, heartfelt piano. “I think this performance served to prove to all of us the level of love we share for sound and for the music and for creating something in the moment that can last and be relevant for long after,” Deupree wrote.

Will Robin is a music critic, musicology graduate student, and occasional saxophonist; @seatedovation

Together Again, Naturally: Sleater-Kinney

Sleater Kinney, photo by Brigitte SirePhoto by Brigitte Sire

“We felt this sense that if we don’t make a really good record, it would be really hard to justify being a band again.”

This year’s most exciting rock-n-roll reunion—yes, it’s only January, but I’m calling it now—is also, miraculously, something that was kept a secret until only a few months ago. Indie-rock legends and riot grrrl icons Sleater-Kinney have just released a new album, No Cities to Love, the first record from the band in a decade. They’ll also embark on a massive tour, the first since announcing an “indefinite hiatus” in 2006.

The announcement of a new Sleater-Kinney record—with Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein trading guitar licks and vocals, and drummer Janet Weiss providing the thundering backbeat— was met with extremely positive interest. So it’s understandable that the band would want to create without the added pressure of scrutiny. “We just wanted to take that space for ourselves and we weren’t ready to share that until we were super pleased with it,” Tucker explains. “We felt this sense that if we don’t make a really good record, it would be really hard to justify being a band again.”

Of all the bands that came out of riot grrrl’s early-’90s heyday, Sleater-Kinney is certainly one of the most beloved. Brownstein and Tucker both played in grrrl groups—Excuse 17 and Heavens to Betsy—before forming Sleater-Kinney in 1994. The band’s self-titled 1995 debut followed the mold of peers like Bratmobile and Bikini Kill with raw, angry lyrics that railed against oppression (from “A Real Man”: All girls should have / A real man / Should I buy it? / I don’t wanna). Tucker’s voice had the power to induce goose bumps even then, and Sleater-Kinney glimmered with the prospect of greatness to come.

A string of critically acclaimed albums followed—Call the Doctor, Dig Me Out (the first with Weiss on drums), The Hot Rock, All Hands On the Bad One, and One Beat—each one, in some way, an evolution from what came before. All Hands, released in 2001, featured the band’s most pop-friendly song, “You’re No Rock n’ Roll Fun.” One Beat, out in 2002, wore anxiety and anger about the post-9/11 America on its sleeve. The Woods, which was released to near-universal acclaim in 2005, was the band’s least “punk” record, with some downright jammy tunes (including the 11-minute opus “Let’s Call It Love”). But even as their sound matured, the essence of Sleater-Kinney—the energy and interplay between the three women—was always there.

Following their 2006 split, each member pursued her own projects: Weiss played in Stephen Malkmus’s band, the Jicks, while still drumming for Quasi, the band she formed with ex-husband Sam Coomes in the ’90s. Tucker spent a few years raising her son (with director Lance Bangs) before bringing her massive voice to the Corin Tucker Band, and releasing albums in 2010 and 2012. And after a brief stint working for an ad agency, Brownstein immersed herself in the world of comedy: She and Saturday Night Live alum Fred Armisen created Portlandia, the satirical IFC series that lovingly skewers her Pacific Northwest hometown.

As the careers of the trio went in separate directions, they remained connected in other ways, giving fans the hope that a reunion might happen some day. Tucker made a cameo appearance in Portlandia’s first season, and Weiss has worked behind the scenes on the show as a location scout. The three members joined Pearl Jam on stage in 2013 to perform Neil Young’s chestnut “Rockin’ In the Free World.” And, most tantalizingly, Weiss and Brownstein formed the band Wild Flag in 2010 (along with guitar goddess Mary Timony and keyboardist Rebecca Cole), releasing one near-perfect album in 2011 before disbanding.

Sleater Kinney, photo by Brigitte SirePhoto by Brigitte Sire

It was around that time that the three women began to consider the idea of reuniting. “Carrie and I were actually just hanging out,” says Tucker of the initial discussions. “We were talking about performing and playing music, and I said, ‘Yeah, I wonder if we’re going to do Sleater-Kinney stuff again.’ We hadn’t really talked about it in a long time, so the conversation went from there.” Once Weiss was on board, in early 2012, the trio began working on material that would eventually become No Cities to Love.

The band brought longtime producer John Goodmanson back into the fold (he previously worked on Dig Me Out, All Hands on the Bad One, and One Beat), recording No Cities in bits and pieces—a track in Portland, another while in San Francisco—over the course of the past two years. “We would make time when we could,” says Tucker. “That would be like, an evening in my living room or in my basement, or in Carrie’s basement. We just found opportunities to keep working on it, which is sort of how we’ve always written.”

The first inkling that something was up came in October, when Sub-Pop Records released Start Together, a massive box set containing re-mastered versions of the band’s albums. A 7” for “Bury Our Friends,” the first single off No Cities, was slipped into the vinyl versions, marked with the date 1/20/15; the news of a full-blown album and tour quickly followed. “After being away for so long we wondered, ‘oh, is anyone going to care?’” says Tucker. “We hoped that people would be excited, but we didn’t know.”

Sleater Kinney

They didn’t need to worry—and fans don’t, either. No Cities is a fine return to form; it’s compact and charges hard, but its 33 minutes are packed with excellent track after excellent track. It also feels like an undeniably personal record: the album opener, “Price Tag,” details post-recession anxiety and the decline of the middle class, a point of view informed by Tucker’s experiences as a mom. On “Hey Darling,” Brownstein alludes to her own anxiety issues, which came to a head after The Woods was released. (“Sometimes the heat of the crowd / Feels a little too close / Sometimes the shout of the room / Makes me feel so alone.”) Listening to No Cities you wouldn’t know that Brownstein, Tucker, and Weiss took a near-decade-long hiatus from the band; it’s as fresh and vital as anything out there.

Now that No Cities is finished, the band is gearing up for a months-long tour that will take them across the United States, to Europe and Canada, and back to the U.S. again. But as far as the future of the band, Tucker is—unsurprisingly—playing things close to the vest. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” she says. “I kind of feel like living in the moment.”

Amy Plitt is a writer and editor who has written for Condé Nast Traveler, Rolling Stone, the A.V. Club, and Time Out New York, among others. She lives in Brooklyn.

Vienna: It’s Not Just for Mozart Anymore

Laurent Fintoni is a DJ, label owner, writer for FACT magazine, and frequent consumer of Viennese whirls.

Ritornell

A tram loops around Vienna’s historic city center. It’s late at night and instead of the usual tourists, the tram is filled with young people talking, drinking and trying to catch a glimpse of local act Ritornell, who are performing at one end of the car using keyboards, self-made instruments and laptops. The vibe is relaxed and fun; it’s a party in a train, because… why not?

I was in town to attend the 2013 Waves festival, a yearly showcase of alternative and independent music that takes over the city center for a few days, sending revelers across streets and parks to find acts in traditional and makeshift venues from trams to opera houses to nightclubs. Supported by the city, Waves is a great example of the health and diversity of Vienna’s music scene.

Perhaps best known for architecture and classical music, Vienna is a pretty city that’s full of contradictions: small but large enough, quiet but full of life, rich but cheap to live in. The city has enjoyed a new music boom in recent years. This follows a couple of decades or so after the downbeat eccentrics Kruder & Dorfmeister put it on the international map.

During my time there, I met up with a handful of the city’s new breed of artists and they showed me around the clubs, the neighborhoods, and the food spots. Many of these DJs, producers and musicians have grown up in town or moved there from around the country, drawn by the capital’s rich history and increasingly vibrant scene. Slowly, but surely, they’ve brought a new energy to Vienna that makes the city feel more exciting than the usual European hotspots of Paris, London or Berlin.

Ulrich Troyer, photo by Eva KeletyUlrich Troyer, photo by Eva Kelety

Longtime resident and experimental musician Ulrich Troyer believes, “Vienna still has the image of Mozart and old cultural heritage, but there is a modern, vibrant and creative cooking pot under its historical lid.” My time at the Waves festival backed this up, and since then I’ve continued to keep an eye on the scene.

What follows is a short roundup of Viennese music—from hip-hop to acoustic poetry, dance music to film scores, dub to experimental electronics—and the labels and artists responsible for making the city a diverse and creative hub.

Trishes

Trishes, photo by Jeff Mangionephoto by Jeff Mangione

Every city has an icon like Trishes: a quiet person whose dedication to music and his hometown is far more important than his need for recognition. Active on the Viennese scene since the late 1990s, Trishes is a producer and DJ of hip-hop and electronic music. His first forays were as part of local rap act Kaputtnicks. When the group disbanded, he set up the Beattown Records label with Whizz Vienna to release their instrumental productions before signing to Cologne’s MPM label. In 2012, he collaborated with Chicago’s 1773 on a full-length, The Luv Bug, released via another local label, Duzz Down San.

Trishes’ real value to the city is as a connector and as presenter of the hip-hop show “Tribe Vibe” on national station Radio FM4. He’s held that gig since 2000 and says, “I just like making music, playing it out and spreading the word about good stuff, even more so when it’s from Vienna or Austria.” He’s being recognized this year with an invitation to co-curate Popfest—a free, four-day, open-air festival in July.

Born and raised in Vienna, Trishes spent some time away in his youth but ultimately came back to where his heart was. “I’m sure having a good job at the radio helped my decision,” he explains, “but in general, Vienna is a great place to live: beautiful old streets and houses, not too expensive, and pretty chill with more than enough cultural things happening.”

Sterotyp / Crunchtime Records

Stereotyp

Stefan Moerth’s work, under the name Stereotyp, owes a lot to both Jamaican sound system culture and hip-hop, finding the sweet spot between sub-bass pressure and rhythmical hypnosis.

Moerth’s career stretches back to the late 1990s, with his first releases appearing via G-Stone Recordings, the label of Austrian downbeat legends Kruder & Dorfmeister. “I witnessed the whole industry collapse in the 2000s,” he recalls. “Labels became rougher, policies more complicated. Physical moved to digital. So I decided to do it myself and set up Crunchtime Recordings. The most interesting thing for me has been the control. I design the covers, make the music, and have no one to report to.” He goes on to say, “My second passion is painting, so I love bugging out on covers. Recently, I’ve started to push through other artists like Dizzy Bell and Muadiep.”

Having spent his formative years in Vienna, Moerth moved to New York City at age 19. “About eight years later,” he says, “I refreshed my relationship with Vienna and moved back. Here, time seems to move differently. It’s an excellent place to work creatively, but you must have a vast pool of inspiration to draw from. So travel the world, do crazy shit, and come back here and create. I just moved to a forest near the border of the city and I’m amazed by what it has to offer.”

Luv Shack Records

Luv Shack Records

Nearly two decades since Kruder & Dorfmeister cemented Vienna as the home of downbeat, a new generation of Viennese kids are starting to take back the city’s musical identity. One such collective is Luv Shack Records, set up in 2012 by five friends based in and around the city.

“It was nothing more than an outlet for our own music at first,” explains Simon, one of the founders. “Now we’re looking to diversify our repertoire and expand.” Having capitalized on their youthful enthusiasm to get started, they’ve come to realize the realities of balancing creativity with commercial imperatives. According to Simon, “We can never release as much as we’d like because of the need to invest time and money, especially when doing vinyl.” They’re hopeful that this year will see them grow, including a first label compilation due in the spring.

Luv Shack recently began collaborating with two other local labels, Schönbrunner Perler and Jhruza Records, with the hope of finding strength in numbers. “We have all known each other for years,” says Simon, “so working all together felt very normal. The thing we’ve always loved about Vienna is that there’s a great diversity of clubs (big and small) and bars—something for every mood and taste.”

Editions Mego

Editions Mego has its roots in Vienna’s techno scene. Originally founded in 1995 as Mego, the label was run by Ramon Bauer, Andreas Pieper, Peter Meininger and Peter Rehberg. In its first decade, Mego was home to artists who were not afraid to take risks, including Jim O’Rourke, Fennesz, Kevin Drumm, Mark Fell, and Merzbow. In 1999, it was awarded a distinction at Ars Electronica, with O’Rourke defining the label’s work as “a brand new punk computer music.”

In 2006, the label was rebooted as Editions Mego and helmed by Rehberg. A British expat who says he was “looking for something different” when he moved to Vienna in 1987, Rehberg has kept the label’s experimental ethos alive, challenging listeners to expand their horizons. While its base is in Vienna, Editions Mego is perhaps the most international label in town, with the majority of its artists based elsewhere. One notable exception is Christian Fennesz, who lives and works in the city.

Since the reboot, Rehberg has continued to expand Editions Mego. In 2011, he set up two sub-labels, run by Stephen O’Malley and John Elliott. In 2012, Recollection GRM was born with Francois Bonnet and Christian Zanresi from Paris. “The focus here,” Rehberg explains, “is vinyl reissues of legendary electronic works from the GRM archives from the 1950s to the 1980s. These will shortly be making an appearance on Bandcamp.” In 2015, Editions Mego celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Duzz Down San

Duzz Down San

Duzz Down San was founded in 2007 by Martin Unterlechner, who makes music as mosch. Over the years, Duzz Down San has been home for various upcoming artists and a growing body of international names, including Yarah Bravo. “Our main goal from the very beginning,” Unterlechner says, “was to do our best to build up artists in a sustainable manner. You can see our roster as a kind of support group of people who did not want to wait any longer for something to happen. So we built this family-like foundation to support each other.”

Beyond giving space to the city’s talents, Duzz Down San collaborates with like-minded collectives and labels, such as Beatmaker Sessions, and Honighdachs, Unterlechner’s favorite Austrian hip-hop label. He says, “People from Celeste and Wolkenvorhang have grown into our family over time as well, becoming crucial supporters of what we try to stand for.”

Originally from Innsbruck, the capital of the Tyrol, Unterlechner moved to Vienna after a spell in Berlin. “I love an urban feel that still has a human touch,” he explains. “That’s why I love Vienna. Musically, it is insane at the moment. So many super-talented people are doing things here and developing a healthy self-confidence. I would recommend that anyone visiting check out our resident club Celeste. It’s a small family of about ten people working to give Vienna a different party experience. Also Rhiz, MÖE and Fluc are all venues with a surprisingly interesting program.”

Etymtone

Etymtone

photo by Eva Kelety

The Etymtone label was founded in 2012 by Juergen Berlakovich as a means to release his own music, which was part of a wide body of cross-disciplinary works. With a background in literature and philosophy, and a position teaching acoustic poetry at the Vienna Poetry School, Berlakovich is a quirky musician in a city full of quirky musicians. He is a member of Vienna’s Vegetable Orchestra, a group whose instruments are made of fresh vegetables.

“Through my interest in literature, music and sound I’ve developed my own kind of acoustic poetics,” he explains. “I use spoken language, granulated and atomized to its micro-structural elements and electronically processed in combination with guitars, bass and electronics to create speech/sound textures in compositions and improvisations.”

Another Vegetable Orchestra member is Ulrich Troyer, with whom Berlakovich also collaborates on music and the business of music. “All of the collaborations are really good and respectful,” Berlakovich says. “We are all interested in working on the release and distribution of good musical products without business competition whatsoever. Vienna has a lively and interesting music scene, especially for experimental and abstract electronic and improvised music. The city has definitely influenced me a lot.”

Kompact

Kompact

A transplant from the Upper Austrian region, Matthias Kassmannhuber (aka Kompact) fell into music via his father’s jazz collection and the discovery of Wu Tang’s debut album, Enter The 36 Chambers. Soon after that, he began making beats for a local hip-hop group at school, and from there he continued to learn how to, as he puts it, “contribute and share something that was my own.”

Over the years, Kassmannhuber combined his love for hip-hop, knowledge as a drummer, and penchant for 8-bit to craft funky productions with a reverence for the classics. His first few releases were put out on the Rotaug label, a collective from his hometown. Next came the Duzz Down San label, which he says was “my second home in terms of creativity” and the label that released his latest album. With a sound ripe for vocalists, Kassmannhuber has collaborated with local MCs Thaiman and Mirac. He’s also worked with Bristol’s Rider Shafique and they’re planning an album for 2015. He’s crossed genres with other members of his collectives, as well. “The rather small size of Vienna makes spontaneous collaborations happen quite frequently,” he explains. “It’s a big plus, in my opinion.”

Moving to Vienna was a logical step for Kassmannhuber, considering his friends’ move and a choice to study at university there. That was 12 years ago and he hasn’t looked back. “I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else,” he says. “It has the perfect balance between community and anonymity. Music-wise, Vienna has a rich history and a lively present that once in a while brings out amazing talents who become known well beyond the city limits. The club scene is also healthy, even if bureaucracy and a general sensibility for noise can make it a bit more difficult compared to cities of a similar size.”

Affine Records

Affine Records, Okmalumkoolkat, photo by Justin McGeeOkmalumkoolkat, photo by Justin McGee

The Affine Records label boasts one of the most prestigious rosters of the many young collectives that have cropped up in Vienna in the past decade. Purveyors of “headphone music for the dance floor,” Affine started in 2008 with the trio of Dorian Concept, The Clonious and Cid Rim, who performed as a band under the name JSBL. Later additions included house duo Ogris Debris, Zanshin and Sixtus Preiss, and most recently, young upstart Wandl and South African rapper Okmalumkoolkat.

Label operator Jamal explains that what started as a group of friends “channeling our own musical tastes for self-determined actions” has become a small, well-oiled machine that’s made an impact around the world. While many of Affine’s better-known names have gone on to work with other labels and artists—even landing music in Apple ads—the label remains a base to which they all happily return and contribute. “In the last four or five years, the vibe in Vienna has become really supportive,” Jamal says. “We’ve worked with people here from day one. We’re connected with Jazzwerkstatt Wien, Trishes, DJ Buzz, and the Loud Minority, to name a few.”

“Vienna has a lot of green areas,” Jamal continues. “It’s an ideal size, too. The city exploded in recent years and musically it offers nearly everything. You can choose between several quality parties on the weekend, be it house, beats and breaks, weird electronica, jazz concerts and a growing indie rock scene.”

Ritornell

Ritornell

Production duo Ritornell was founded by Richard Eigner and Roman Gerold in Salzburg, where the pair were studying. Their first work was a score for a dance piece by Laura Kappel. Ritornell grew into an experimental, shape-shifting entity. “We started to specialize in live performances,” Eigner explains. “We try to heavily involve room acoustics, utilizing multichannel sound systems and strange, self-built instruments.”

Eigner credits Vienna’s “village feel” for fostering collaborations, regardless of musical inclination. “Our first releases were recorded at Patrick Pulsinger’s studio,” Eigner says. “Over the years, we’ve had a great deal of guest musicians play on our records, and in 2012 we collaborated with Sam IRL on a song for Kutmah’s compilation on Brownswood Recordings.” Eigner has also contributed drums and percussion for Dorian Concept, Mieux and Patrick Pulsinger.

Eigner points to the city’s rich musical tradition as reason enough for anyone to come and visit. “It has a lot of diversity,” he says. “I recommend checking out Konzerthaus and Musikverein for their amazing acoustics. What also attracts us to stay are the great recording rooms, our favorite being the Radiokulturhaus Studio 2, which is owned by ORF, the national TV and radio station. The sound in there is just jaw-dropping.”

Mieux

Mieux

Mieux is the duo comprised of Minor Sick and Feux. Originally intended as a portmanteau of their names, they say it was also a “promise to ourselves of being better, which is the meaning of the word in French, and being more accessible—caring about the small things and letting go of ourselves or other pseudonyms.”

Further strengthening Vienna’s ties with Cologne, Mieux’s first official release was 2013’s Neufant on the Up My Alley label. As a Vienna native, Minor Sick has been active within the city’s scene and has appeared on the Duzz Down San label. The pair have collaborated with Ritornell and recently appeared on the first Boiler Room Vienna broadcast, a celebration of Dorian Concept’s first album for Ninja Tune that also included a set from Affine Records’ Cid Rim and The Clonious.

As a local born and raised in Vienna, Minor Sick remains skeptical of what the city can really offer in terms of artistic opportunities. “I’m not a risk taker and a little afraid of a lot of stuff, so I stay and I’m comfortable,” he says. “But I think most people who leave manage to do better on many levels.” For Feux, the move to Vienna was both practical and personal. He explains, “It helped our workflow to be in the same city, and I find Vienna to be calm and slow. From the Opera House to Pratersauna, pretty much everyone can find their own scene here. Lots of small clubs and more promoters over the past few years have brought a big diversity to Vienna’s night life.”

Ulrich Troyer

Ulrich Troyer, photo by Eva Keletyphoto by Eva Kelety

Troyer debuted in 2000 on the Mego label with NOK, an 18-minute, electro-acoustic suite that earned him an honorary mention at the 2000 Ars Electronica. Throughout the past decade he continued to explore the sweet spot between techno, dub and experimental. In the early 2010s he released Songs For William via Mala’s Deep Medi Musik label. It’s the tale of his guitar pedal, William, recounted in dub and through a hand-drawn comic.

Originally from Innsbruck, Troyer relocated to Vienna in 1992. “Art, architecture, and music were the image that I had in mind before I came to Vienna,” he says. “And this image proved to be true.” Alongside his work with Mego, Troyer has also been involved in the Vegetable Orchestra since 2005. “Vienna is my favorite city in the world. It is a steadily growing metropole which will never lose its ‘Gemütlichkeit.’”

Upon first arriving in town, Troyer discovered a trove of electronic music. He recalls, “The Dub Club, Mego, Radian, Fennesz—I was blown away! Instead of becoming an architect, I decided to build bass lines and musical spaces using echo chambers.” He points to the late 1990s hype as a first boom for the city, followed by a period of calm that has since been shaken up by new diversity. “Quite often I’ll stumble into a concert and get surprised. Great bands like Bulbul, Ritornell or Broken.Heart.Collector perform regularly and interesting stuff comes from labels like Affine Records. I also really like the monthly Accordia Schallplatten-Club at the Rhiz.”

Giallo Disco Records

Giallo Disco Records

Giallo Disco Records specialize in a blend of cinematic music inspired by Italo disco, krautrock, EBM and classic horror film scores from the 1970s and 1980s. The label was founded in 2012 by Greek expat Gianni Vercetti and his partner Anton. Since moving to Vienna from Syros Island in 2011, Vercetti has slowly been integrating himself into the local scene. He has a forthcoming remix for local techno hero Ken Hayakawa, has become a regular at the Disco Fresco / Zellophan parties, and has been invited to open for Goblin in the spring. This year the label will release its first album, Vercetti’s imaginary soundtrack to the 1972 Munich Massacre, partly inspired by Kevin MacDonald’s documentary.

“I came to Vienna,” Vercetti says, “because my girlfriend is from here. Despite its size, the city is very active and there’s a great variety of parties and venues. And people still dance here, too! I would also recommend people check out the record stores in town. There are a few good ones around the center and with some patience, you can dig out gems.”

Hector Macello

Founded in 2013, the Hector Macello label is relatively new to Vienna. The brainchild of Mainloop and Fid Mella, Hector Macello is a way for the producers to consolidate their work in one place and gain control. The core of the label is composed of the two founders alongside Clefco, Max Fisher, Lippp and Brenk Sinatra, one of Vienna’s most popular producers. “We’re still learning,” Mainloop and Fid Mella admit, “so every release is a hustle. Our third release, Chop Shop 2, really helped establish our name.” On Chop Shop 2, Brenk and Fid Mella dug through the annals of Viennese music for a themed beat tape dedicated to the city’s mean streets of the 1970s and 1980s.

All members, aside from Brenk, come from Merano in south Tyrol, an Italian town near the Austrian border. The allure of a big city and proximity to their hometown drew them here. They’ve since all fallen in love with the Viennese way of life. Mainloop and Fid Mella say, “Everybody knows each other and that makes it a great place to work, to share ideas and music. Especially from a producer point of view, Vienna has always been a melting pot of talented people. Everybody can profit from that situation and that’s why there is good music coming out of this place constantly.”

This year, Hector Macello is expanding with projects featuring international singers and what they say is a “mysterious band called Mighty Maiali.” The label also plans solo and collaborative releases from its core members. “We will continue to work how we want,” proclaim Mainloop and Fid Mella, “which is why we founded the label in the first place.”

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