There are few bands that make me miss live music more than Mythic Sunship. On their new album Wildfire they once again prove to each other and their audience what true synchronicity means when a bunch of top notch musicians just hit it off and freaking jam. The album captures the improvisational feel perfectly, and you kind of experience the band as if you were there in the room with them, except of course, you aren’t and won’t be for some time, which is a bit of a bummer.
After a few rounds of spinning Wildfire it becomes quite clear why Mythic Sunship called it that. Wildfire, starting out with a spark, and after a little smoldering truly catching fire, often turning into a blazing hot inferno. Most of these tracks are built up like that. Some, like opener Maelstrom, don’t waste any time noodling but blast off from the get go. Others, like Olympia, built up more gradually, from Alan Parsons Project proggy to full on space rock jammy. Landfall even has some straight up funk influences that get your hips shaking! Redwood Grove is spacier, more openly rock oriented with a guitars that sound like heavily distorted sitars at times. Album closer Going Up is a genuine grand finale with a bombastic intro, a full blast drum wall, a moment of quiet reflection, and a final burst of flame that sends you on your way guns blazing.
It’s an album you could see Mythic Sunship play live in full, from start to finish. Probably taking twice as along, going with the motions, and feeding on the energy of the audience and each other. Damn it corona, we should have seen this at Freak Valley this summer, or Roadburn, or some other beautiful summer occasion. For now we only have this Wildfire to play in our living rooms. Making do has been less fun this past year…
It takes a frightfully skilled captain to steer around the countless pitfalls and clichés when it comes to writing heavy rock songs these days. It almost came to a point where I was bound to give up on heavy (stoner) rock altogether, and then I heard about Draken.
This power trio from Norway formed by Spidergawd and Orango bassist Hallvard Gaardløs, his friend Drage (name giver of the band?) on drums, and guitarist Even Hermansen again shows that the talent pool around Motorpsycho in Oslo has far from dried. Not to say that the bands are very similar in sound, but they do both have a certain stubborn creativity in their songwriting that makes them sound refreshing and strangely familiar at the same time.
Stylistically the band is a versatile beast, but I do believe them when they say they have started out wanting to combine the ferocity of bands like Motorhead and High On Fire with some of their own Norwegian fire. I definitely hear some obvious Spidergawd and Motorpsycho echoes in it as well. What I like about Draken too is that the music is fierce but not too macho, aggressive but not dumb. The most important feature is masterfull riffage though, and writing songs that stick in your brain and make you yearn for the time you can bang your head along in front of the stage. I seriously can’t wait to see this live.
I had the pleasure of talking to bassplayer and bandleader Hallvard Gaardløs and I asked him to introduce the band, here is what he had to say:
Hi guys! How have you been? How has this weird year been treating Draken?
Hi Weirdo! I think we are doing pretty well, all things considered. We have been keeping ourselves busy the last year with making new music. None of us are particularly good at sitting still, so as we speak we are actually in the studio, recording the follow up to our debut album. With zero chances to play live because of the virus, all a band can do really is make the best of it by making new music and rehearse if you can. So that is what we have been focusing on the last year, as well as preparing the release of our debut, of course.
Can you tell me why and how the band formed? How do you know each other?
It was a chance meeting really. I (Hallvard) was hanging out at a club called Blitz in Oslo, and I remember I saw a band called Ildfjell with a remarkable drummer. That was Andre, and later that night (maaaaaaaaany beers later) we got to talking. We agreed to meet up a few days later to have a jam, see if it could lead anywhere. It definitively did, and that was how Draken was born, really. For some months we were just playing duo, bass and drums. It was Andre’s idea to ask Even if he would like to come down and play some guitar with us. Andre and Even are from the same town, so they knew of each other a little from back in the day. Even agreed to join, on the condition that I would take up lead vocal duties. Fair enough, I guess!
Did you have a certain sound in mind when you started out? Was there a “masterplan”?
I (Hallvard) had been looking to form a hard rock band for quite some time before I met Andre. I love the trio format, and I really wanted it to be something like the Norwegian equivalent to Motörhead, or High On Fire. We turned out to be something a quite different, but I think you definitely can hear the influence from both of the bands mentioned above. Of course, its important that it is just that: influences. There’s no point in trying to sound exactly like somebody else. If the band has its own character, a x factor, it will reveal itself naturally if you put the hours in.
Can you describe the different roles in the band, besides from playing the instruments? Who contributes what?
Andre and Even are outdated old farts who don’t even own a smart-phone, so I take care of our modest social media outlet and stuff like that. Creatively and musically, all three of us contribute a lot, which is great. We all write songs, riffs and stuff we present to each other, and work them out into songs together. It’s a time consuming process, but the reward when we have a song we are all really happy with is definitively worth it. I write the lyrics, but when I have a draft I’m happy with I pass it to Even who gives me very valuable feedback and comments. It is really helpful to have a second opinion on stuff like that, I think it really enhances the overall result.
One thing that I love about your debut album are the different kinds of vocals, can you tell me who sings what? And where do does incredible roars come from?
I’m glad you like it! I do most of the main vocals, but Even does quite a bit of singing as well. He does the growling-styled vocals that add to my leads on tracks like “Realm of Silence”, “Grand General” and “Mountain In An Endless Ocean”, and he also sings the verses on “(We Walk In) Circles”. On “Way Down Low” we got Per Spjøtvold from the band Goat The Head to come and do some guest vocals. He does the insanely cool growling/roaring that comes in halfway through the song. Check out his band, you will not regret!
What role did the studio play in the making of the album?
Vegard Liverød, the guy behind Røffsound Recordings, did a tremendous job on this album. I can say for sure that there wouldn’t be a Draken debut album without him. He worked his ass off recording and co-producing the album with us, in may ways becoming the bands fourth member when we were in the studio. His work-ethic and dedication is truly admirable.
The band is called Draken, but the lyrics stay far from dragons or fantasy lore, but are about real things, right? Was there a certain concept from which you started writing the lyrics for the album?
I think you are only partly right about that. I like to blur the lines between fantasy and reality in my lyrics. There are multiple themes and concepts I explore on the album. From more social/political themes like “Realm of Silence” and “(We Walk In) Circles”, to “Strange Love” and “Mountain In An Endless Ocean” who are basically about love, albeit with quite different perspectives on it. I also like to create characters, and put them in a universe where different laws apply than those we abide to. I imagine being a film director, trying to tell a convincing story to the viewer. It makes sense in my head, because movies are often a source of inspiration for me as well. “The Master” is inspired by the Paul Thomas Anderson movie with the same name, and “Way Down Low” are inspired by the Jordan Peele-directed “Us”. “Grand General” is about a demonic figure who is up to no good. You better watch out..!
What can we expect from Draken in the future?
You can expect more hard rocking music, more concerts, and just the right amount of hell raising. We aim to please!
A new Genghis Tron album after thirteen years. No Mookie Singerman on vocals, but The Armed’s Tony Wolski in his stead. A real life drummer was found in Nick Yacyshyn (SUMAC), but a line-up change is definitely not the most striking change that Dream Weapon shows in regard to the Tron’s earlier work. Gone are the days of spazz and yelling, the frantic time changes, and mindboggling power violence. Genghis Tron is a different, more contemplative beast today, but not less powerful.
From start to finish, Dream Weapon feels like stepping into a luxurious electric race car. The doors close with a subdued thud, and you lose all outside noise turns to blurred-out green. There is only focus and smooth direction, as you step on the gas and the car swiftly and silently bites its way through the tarmac. The drums drive the car forward, ever pushing and pulsating, dreamy, but not sleepy, with a clear sense of direction.
Everything about Dream Weapon feels completely thought through, from the Bladerunner synthesizers to the motorik beats, to the stylish artwork and the clean multi-vocals by Wolski. He has proven in The Armed that he has a powerful screaming voice, and yet he doesn’t use it here, letting other elements in the music take over the rage and violence. It gives Dream Weapon a completely unique feel and adds to the idea of a band matured, perhaps still ill at ease with the world, but without the necessity to scream about it. And while flashes of Nine Inch Nails songs sometimes pop up in my brain, the end result is absolutely and indisputably unique.
To me, a fan of their earlier work, but also a very different person at the time, it feels like the return of an old friend. You wouldn’t want for them to be the same person, right? You would wish for them to have grown, and they did. While I ventured away from super violent music and more into psychedelic and head areas, so did they, and through Dream Weapon Genghis Tron has come circling back to me. I am so glad they did, and the album has so much more meaning for me because of this shared background.
Dream Weapon is a glowing highlight of this musical year, and some well-needed proof that humanity is capable of great things if only we are capable of widely opening up our collective minds.
If you don’t listen too closely you might think Saturnia is an archetypical hippie band: lush Floydian influences, sitars, reverb blankets, the works. However, if you listen to the lyrics and truly understand what this Portugese entity is about you might find out he’s more punk than a lot of leather-clad spiky-haired people out there. Take Keep It Long, a manifesto about going against the grain: “don’t do as your told/never ever grow old”. Keeping it long, both your hair and your songs, is what Saturnia is all about, and they don’t give a damn what anybody thinks. That’s punk rock to me.
Musically the influences range from Syd-era Pink Floyd to Lazer Guided Melodies-era Spiritualized. Let’s just say there’s a lot of reverb drenched repetition on this album, a lot of sleepy laidbackness, and somehow still a level of urgency and steady confidence. It’s clearly an album launched by an artist who knows the ropes, has been there and done that, and makes music because he has to, not because he desperately needs you to listen to it. And yet, you do.
You’ll need Stranded In The Green because especially in these times you need someone to tell you to relax, trust yourself, and not get caught in the ratrace of the daily grind. I wouldn’t be able to find a better way of telling yourself this than immersing yourself in the green smoke clouds of Saturnia. Not because you need to not care, but because you should.
Stand your ground, put reality in perspective, chill out. Peace.
Is there ever enough King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard music? Considering their ever-growing discography the Australian psych garage heroes themselves don’t seem to think so, and neither do the Italian psych heads of A/lpaca, as they truly wear their influences on their sleeves. The real question is: do they really Make It Better? Well, it’s probably better to let the listener be the real judge of that, but I can say that this debut album is as enjoyable as it is impressive.
First of all; all of the songs on Make It Better are memorable ear worms that will quickly nestle themselves in your earholes and make you hum along phrases like “death in the citadel!”, “Make it better” and “bring me to the city…”, so that’s already a job well done in a genre that often tends to focus on atmosphere and less on proper songwriting. There’s plenty to move your limbs to as well, with A/lpaca focussing strongly on postpunk-y drums and faster paced jams in line with King Gizzard songs like Robot Stop and Rattlesnake.
I do have to say that the songs on Make It Better are a bit less intricate and layered, and might even come across a bit one dimensional, but in return they slam a whole lot of directness and urgency on the table, which definitely counts for something I guess.
In conclusion I’d like to point out that I hate having to compare A/lpaca to their Australian peers so much, but they should probably take it as a compliment. After all, there really aren’t many weirdo psych garage bands out there with a similarly fierce and adventurous approach, and definitely not in Europe. So I do think once the borders re-open, these guys have their work cut out for them touring!
If one thing struck me immediately after launching Djinn’s new album Transmission -aside from the fact that 2021 has for some reason apparently become saxophone year?!- it is the amazing job they did on the recording and production. The recording is so crystal clear and roomy, it’s like you are there, on that Persian rug in the studio, right in the middle of the recording session. On your left the sometimes beautiful sometimes bonkers crazy saxman, on your right funky bass-pluckings and jazzy drums, and allover weird little percussion thingies that tingle-tangle in your ears.
Featuring members of GOAT and Hills, it is clear we are dealing with some quality musicians here, and a bunch jazzy noise mongers too, who aren’t afraid to rattle some cages or kick some sleeping dogs either. The album starts out a bit lazily, like you could still spin it on a Sunday morning with the fam, but then it flowers up all kinds of wacky and beautiful little ideas along the way, until you reach Urm The Mad, which I assure you will ruin your breakfast and chase the cat out of the room with its spastic sax-isms and generally frantic jazz freakouts.
Love Divine takes the Bitches Brew back a notch and once again opens my mind up to its gorgeous production value, multiple instruments battling for attention like birds in spring, and mystical enchanting vocals. This album is mostly beautiful and enchantingly weird, like its cover and the accompanying band pictures. Musically it is clear where these beautiful people come from, but they walk their own path, stubbornly, powerfully. So far 2021 Proves to be a great year for saxophone-based music, which is definitely not a sentence I ever thought I would write.
La Morte Viene Dallo Spazio: death comes from space. If you are -unlike me- not a complete moron when it comes to Italian you might have unravelled that mysterious band name by yourself already. To know it is to hear it too; because it is exactly what these Italian Startrek loving void cruisers sound like.
The music is dark, there are clear traces of (black?) metal, through guitars and drums. Keyboards and synths are dominant though, and the main feeling through out Trivial Visions is that of being hurled into a black hole eighties style; in sloppy 2-D, with 8-bit special effects. Which is wonderful of course, and weird. Wonderfully weird. A band like Giobia (who they share members with) sounded this spacey before, but without the metallic touch, and considering bands like Oranssi Pazuzu and Dark Buddha Rising are also on their roster, it is not surprising Svart Records signed them.
I like how a lot of these jams are instrumental, how the band invites you to fill in the blanks and create your own creepy sci-fi movie in your mind. Sometimes theremin/synth/keyboard muse Melissa Crema does lend her voice for some reverb-drenched postpunk singing, like a drugged and distorted Siouxie Sioux, but most of the time it’s just you and the band for the ride.
A wonderful ride it is too, its 41 minutes are so extremely vivid and adventurous they feel like a ride in an amusement park to me, and over before you know it. In all its goth sci-fi horror schtick it sometimes threatens to be a bit cheesy and over the top too, but when the whole trip is so freaking exhilarating, there is no way that’s stopping anyone from falling head over leather clad heels in love with it. It’s space man, it’s death from space, it’s La Morte Viene Dallo Spazio; one of the most exciting and thrilling space rides you’ll experience this year.
Meet UK/Ukrainian duo tAngerinecAt. Multi-instrumentalists Paul Chilton and Eugene Purpurovsky have just released their new single Something Broke Inside, and it is quite impossible to pigeonhole. Their music is a super eclectic and hard to pinpoint mixture of electro synth pop, noise, psych, ritualistic folk and much more. Don’t you dare call it “random”though, because they’d tell you exactly how meticulous and precise their methods are. Just when you think you have them figured out, they’ll tell you otherwise, which I think adds to their cameleontic strangeness and appeal. Check out the new song in the Bandcamp link below!
How are you two doing, and how has this Corona year treated you personally and artistically?
Thank you! We are ok. We already had Covid-19 last year and still have some consequences. Eugene already got the first Astra Zeneca jab as someone with an underlying health condition. Last Spring we were supposed to have had a big UK tour including a set at Cardiff Psych and Noise Fest, which we were really looking forward to but unfortunately it was cancelled due to the pandemic. The up side is that we have had more time to work on new music.
I’m very interested in your backgrounds; can you tell me where and how you grew up, and what turned you on your path as a genre-bending musician?
Paul was born and grew up in Cheshire and then from the age of 20 lived in Ukraine for 18 years until they returned to UK in 2015. Eugene was born in Ukraine when it was still part of the Soviet Union and also moved to UK in 2015.
We never planned to be genre-bending musicians. We often hear it said that our music fits in in various genre categories, and everyone find elements or atmosphere of music they love. Maybe it’s because we have a lot of different influences. But actually we aren’t trying to sound like anyone in particular. Maybe this is the answer.
How did you end up in the UK? And what is your relation to the Ukraine now?
We didn’t plan it although we had been touring for several years in UK but the more popular we became in Ukraine, the more problems we had. Also Eugene received death threats in text messages and phone calls at unsociable hours every day and was followed and persecuted for being an activist. But when it stops being just toward you and they start to target your friends, it becomes much more complicated so our life in Ukraine became impossible.
Can you tell me about your tour through the Ukraine and Russia? To my knowledge there has been a major backlash in intolerance to anything remotely resembling LHBTQ, so I think it is really brave you still went! What was it like?
We had a lot of different tours in Ukraine and Russia with our previous project called Dark Patrick. We really love our audience there, and some people continue to support us despite our music as tAngerinecAt being very different to our previous projects. We don’t think it was bravery or at least we didn’t think of it that way. There are a lot of different people in Ukraine and Russia. Also people can like your music despite not liking your identity, and not everybody is violent although we had some issues but actually in UK we have received more violence and open abuse to us due to xenophobia during tours. But despite being much more difficult for queer people in post-Soviet countries than in UK, our shows were always the opposite for some reason, like some kind of different world although very different people attended them.
What was it like? We travelled on night trains from one town to the next. In the morning we arrived and waited in the venue or where we were accommodated for our show, and after the show we got on another train to arrive the next morning somewhere else. Often some of our audience saw us off on the train. We were always met with a warm welcome, people stood in line for our autographs and even gave us hand made gifts. We were always well fed, paid, offered accommodation when needed, and people often showed us round their town. We really miss our audience in Ukraine. It’s almost the only relation we have to Ukraine now along with the very dear people and places in the Carpathian Mountains that we miss.
The live performance is really important for tAngerinecAt, right? Can you tell me what it means to you, what it looks like, what the general responses are?
Live performance is how we built our following. It looks like two people on stage playing music. Paul stands behind the laptop, plays whistles and keys and sometimes chants, and Eugene plays hurdy-gurdy, sings, dances, and also operates the laptop sometimes. People comment that it sounds more powerful and heavier live, that we have a big presence on stage and hold the attention of the room very well. They call it an experience of it’s own. Sometimes we play a set without pauses when one piece of music harmoniously transforms into the next. We prepare for every show or tour meticulously. Every show is like a ritual for us. We always have an amazing reception and people dance. We sell a lot of merch at our shows and some people buy a whole set at once which makes us think that people must like our music.
Do you see yourself as an artist and an activist? Would you say your art is more personal or more universal?
We separate those two things from each other. We aren’t building a career as activists although activism influenced our art a lot and helped us to be bolder. Our art is universal as far as it connects and resonates with other people. But it comes purposefully from personal experience to avoid appropriation first of all.
Being an idealist, what would your perfect world look like?
It’s unlikely we could be called idealists but we are definitely anti-capitalists. 😉
Also here are some words from one of our songs that might answer this question:
“ I longed for a love without hierarchy, with no winners and no losers, no masters and no slaves…. no authority!”
Can you tell me which instruments you use, and why. At your live shows the hurdy-gurdy stands out of course, but there is a lot more, right?
We don’t think that the hurdy-gurdy is the only thing that stands out at our live shows. We are multi-instrumentalists and always used various instruments. It just happens that more recently we have featured hurdy-gurdy but not actively in every song, and we don’t put the accent on the instruments over the music. At the moment in our live shows we use a laptop with a midi keyboard controller that we use to trigger samples, beats, play synth voices, and control effects. We also use hurdy-gurdy, whistles and harmonica through effects. And we have vocals, of course. On recent recordings we have also used duda – Ukrainian bagpipes and we make our own DIY samples from anything we can use: breaking glass, coffee grinder, sewing machine, street noises, boiling kettle etc which we turn into rhythms and textures. Before that we used two different types of Ukrainian bandura that we plan to use again in the future, Uillean bagpipes, bodhran, recorder and two synthesisers live and in recordings.
I think the strength of your concept and music is that pretty much anything seems possible. Who have been your influences? Are there still artists you look up to?
No, that’s not our concept at all! We don’t create music randomly. As we already said, Eugene was born in the Soviet Union, and everywhere there they had the slogan “learn, learn and learn again” by Lenin. It’s partly a joke but actually there is something in it. They had the approach that you need to work hard to achieve better results, and you absorb this with mother’s milk as they say. It’s not always good for you because you can overload yourself with work and still feel like it’s not enough and you aren’t worthy. But it’s just a fact about us. We learnt a lot and continue to learn, correct mistakes, listen to a lot of music, work hard for months on every release and rehearse a lot. Every detail in every piece of music that we create is honed and checked a million times to make sure it sits in the right place, every detail has it’s function whether it’s to create a certain atmosphere through the whole track or just interrupt it with sudden emotion appearing as a result of a flashback. After our gigs some people say they were inspired to do something like this too but they don’t understand that it’s the result of a huge amount of hard work, certain skills and a lot of experience. Otherwise you will get a lot of elements but no coherence, and also these elements may not be very interesting and lose their meaning. But if it looks simple, then it’s a good sign. J Production is something we have worked on a lot but also music/vocal skills etc.
It’s very difficult to talk about a lot of specific influences. Each of us listened to a lot of different music. There are definitely some influences from doom metal bands, Soviet post-punk, post-rock, alternative dark electronica, drone, noise, techno, various psychedelic music, Ukrainian music from different ages and regions, and a bit of Irish, Scottish and Welsh traditional music, as well as Eastern orthodox monastery singing (despite us being atheists we really love ritual music in it’s various forms because it is able to put you into a trance, let you look deep inside, feel ecstasy and creates a connection between people). There isn’t any particular band. We listen to and learn from a lot of artists right now, irrespective of their PR status. Most recently Gesaffelstein, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, The Kilimanjaro Dark Jazz Ensemble, SaffronKeira, Rokia Traore, The Haxan Cloak, Geoffrey Oryema, Victor Tsoi, Grazhdanskaya Oborona, Modulator ESP, Eva | 3 and more. Mostly quite dark, droney and harsh techno stuff. You can listen to our playlist “Dark Charm” on Spotify. This is more or less what we are listening to now.
What are your future plans? There is the single now, but will it be part of more? And what else can we expect?
We are currently working on an audio-visual project with Robyn Waterston – a digital artist and a university student based in Cardiff. There is a very intriguing story related to this project but it’s a secret for now. The song from this project as well as Something Broke Inside will be part of our next album or EP “Glass”.
Thanks a lot for your time! If you have anything to add, please do:
Thank you very much for interviewing us! We love your blog a lot and feel honoured to be featured in a stand out publication with such a great selection of “out of the box” music.
I have a deep respect for improvisational artists. Mostly because I know by experience how hard it is to shut down the perfectionism and to just let “the moment” be. For many people -like me- it is just simply impossible to give up control, and therefore it is quite rare to find artists living by this aesthetic. Lucky me to find two of those then, and coincidentally they both happen to be from Germany and releasing their brilliant new albums in March of this year. Kombynat Robotron from Kiel is perhaps the more contemplative of the two, and working from a more vintage perspective. Shem from Stuttgart are their heavier, and more psychedelic counterpart, druggier too if you will. Together they would make one hell of a live package, but since that won’t be an option for a while, perhaps just closing your eyes and listening to their new albums will have to make do.
Kombynat Robotron- -270° (2021 Tonzonen Records)
Perhaps the most telling example of Kombynat Robotron’s improvisational nature is the fact that if you listen to album closer Hubble with headphones, you can hear voices having a conversation in the background. Not something they planned, but they just went with the flow and kept it in, and now it just adds to the mysterious atmosphere (what are they talking about? We might never know…).
All the more impressive about -270° is the fact that even though the band is jamming together, the songs are pretty well structured, and they have a great dynamic flow. The band keeps a nice steady drone most of the time, but spices things up with great drumming, and just overall great musicianship. Opener Compton feels like a giant airplane slowly taking off, while Chandra kicks off Jimi Hendrix style and upholds this smoothly swinging retro vibe. Spitzer is a lot spacier already, with a riff that feels like coming through a missile silo and trippy motorik beats. Finally, Hubble is the album’s tour de force with its 20+ minute space trip. It’s like the band landed on the moon, and weightlessly jump-walks through craters and eerie moon desert sands.
Kombynat Robotron has surprised me quite a bit with this release. I have listened to this album over and over and discovered new things every time. It has been quite a while since I was captivated this much by a completely instrumental jam band. Completely instrumental, and completely improvisational. There is a lot to learn here about freedom, and going with the flow. All the way into space, and beyond.
Shem- II (2021 Clostridium Records)
Alexander from Shem contacted me a while back with new music from his instrumental five-piece Shem. He said this about their band name:
“In the context of the band, Shem is a word that a friend of us found in some weird book about alien traces on earth, meaning that all ancient monolithic structures in the world are actually beacons to communicate with an ancient outer space civilisation – shem stones. We found the concept quite fascinating, therefore also the use of stone monoliths on the cover of “II”. I believe it also has meaning in judeo-christian mythology, but nothing we relate to. I think it’s also a slang word for Cocaine in the German rap scene, but that’s definitely nothing we saw coming!”
The music definitely reflects the trippy, monolithic spacey outlook the name seems to promise, with vast layers of feedback and keyboards battling for dominance. Stylistically the band is heavier, noisier and druggier than Kombynat Robotron, but they do have a very similar approach when it comes to making music and recording it. They jam. “90% of the music is purely improvised with as little editing as possible done in post-production” Alexander states.
I’d love to see these two German improvisational jam bands take on the stage together and throw their psychedelic freestyle jams onto the unsuspecting masses. When it comes to instrumental jamming, I do believe these are the young wolves to turn to in 2021. Let’s hope they can be let out soon, because music like this is always best to experience alive.
There are so many labels out there, and a lot of them are the same. It’s hardly the case that a label in its set up is more interesting than its bands, but Histamine Tapes actually tickled my fancy quite a bit! A strong aesthetic, a roster consisting of otherworldly sounds, and of course the fact that they only use re-used cassette tapes. I just had to talk to the owner Nick Dentico. Here is what he had to say:
Hi there, how are you doing these days, and how was your first year of Covid?
I’m forever balancing the demands of my five year old, my desires for intimacy with my partner, my full time gig baking bread, my work as a sound artist, the needs of a burgeoning homestead and last of all the label. I feel like it’s a familiar trope, but I feel I’d be remiss to not say it can be kind of depressing at times. Especially when having to put my current passion project (the label) at the end of everything else
Covid felt like an impossibility. Then add to that all the protests to get folks to care about black lives, and it just felt necessary to go on hiatus for a few months so I took the rest of the spring and all the summer off last year. It felt really vain to take any attention away from the BLM protests and so promoting music just seemed so shallow.
Taking time off was a real eye opener for me. I came back ready to promote fewer albums and felt like I was rewarded for that. I really learned I needed to step back, stop trying to release so much music and just focus really hard on each individual album.
Can you tell me about your label, what made you start it, and how long have you been at it?
Histamine Tapes began late in 2017 with a compilation. Originally I wanted to do a label that was totally free of synth. But I realized quickly with my love of ambient and drone, that might rule out a ton of music I really like, so I settled for this comp: The No Synth comp (Now the annual Antihistamine comp). I figured starting this way might work as a vetting process. Which was effective, I tapped a bunch of folks from the comp to populate the tape releases the following year
I got to this stage from my own quest for labels to release my stuff. My own music is very centered around field recordings and DAW based processing of these sounds. At the time 2013-16 I had trouble finding labels that felt adjacent to what I was doing. What I found when looking for experimental tape labels was a lot of modular synth jams and vaporwave. That was a light bulb moment for me. I realized there was a whole niche underrepresented. I set out pretty quickly to learn how to make my idea a label.
What is your aesthetic as a label? Are there any ground rules?
I use only reused tapes and hand cut and assemble jcards out of found material. Generally things I find at thrift stores and free piles. I strive to make things as abstract as possible, but nature and the climate factor heavily in that aesthetic. This aspect of reuse and respect for the environment are crucial parts of the overall aesthetic of HT. It’s non-negotiable which is problematic for some artists who are more accustomed to the consistent look of a more mass produced cassette package.
This aesthetic tends to bleed to the music as well. I think by nature of the fact that I’m so public about the reuse/recycled aesthetic of the label, it attracts folks who work centers around ecology and climate change. I tend to lean toward ambient and drone music that make use of field recordings from nature.
Can you tell me about your current roster? Perhaps some of the highlights?
My current roster is a bit different musically. I’m not completely abandoning ambient music, but I’ve been looking at supplementing that with more improvised music, dark ambient, noise and even more rhythmic music. I just released a tape by Japanese electronic music composer Takahiro Mukai who works with Synths and effects to make very simple and repetitive beats. Its still fairly droney, but more clearly rhythmic than Histamine Tapes typical fare. I’m following that in late March with a tape from Finnish noise, dark ambient producer GRM under their COLDSORE moniker. This is the fifth installment in series they been doing called Pollutant (again the climate change theme) this is easily one of the darkest noisiest albums I’ve released as HT. They create sounds with hand made oscillators, which are very beautiful machines in their own rite and tend to incorporate repurposed housing.
I have 5 more releases slated for the rest of year that run from ambient lowercase field recordings, to free jazz noise, and more straight up harsh noise tape. 2021 is going to a fun year that sort of redefines the label.
The packaging is an important part of the label, right? Can you tell me more about that? And how do you decide which packaging goes with a certain release?
Yes packaging is super important. It began quite pragmatically. I just didn’t have a ton of money when I started out, being a baker with a 2 year old daughter. I really wanted to come up with an iconic design that can I could plug artists images into and but keep a consistent look. I’m thinking of labels like Lurker Bias, or Astral Spirit’s where each album has its own art, but you know it’s an Astral Spirits release because of that design. Well I don’t have a design background, and had no money to pay people to do that. I also was nervous about regular printing costs since running an experimental tape label isn’t really a money maker.
But I love collage and I love finding free shit, so I combined those passions and started scouring free piles for things I could assemble into jcards. This began at the bakery I work at. We have a regular free pile where folks bring stuff before they haul it to a thrift store. I found a cook book with really beautiful pictures and nice thick matte print pages. I saw it and immediately thought: “I want to cut this up and make art with it.” This became the jcards for one of my first releases.
For most releases I sit for a long time with the music; a process of synesthesia occurs. I start to see certain colors associated with the music. Then I’ve got my pallet. I go from their looking through the library of discarded books and thrifted craft material I have amassed and construct a design. I typically bounce ideas off the artists, but for the most part they have trusted my intuitions and given me free reign. I’ve only had one artist ever tell me they didn’t like something, but that was because they really wanted all the jcards to be exactly the same. The lo fi diy aesthetic isn’t for everyone and I totally get that.
What is the best thing you have released so far?
I’m not into playing favorites, but I’ll say I’m partial to the cut up sound collage pieces. So first off my own albums (Subversive Intentions) and the albums I did for A Forest Opera, Greg Nahabedian, Zawns, and mourning dove. I really dig those multi audio source sorts of pieces where you’ve got field recordings of certain places, mixed with recordings of physical and virtual instruments, and heavy DAW based audio processing all hacked up and reassembled William S. Burroughs style.
In terms of sales and listens, the albums from Anne Sulikowski, Peter Kris, The Corrupting Sea, and the latest by Marstrand will likely always be my most popular releases. Those sold out the fastest and continue to get listened to daily.
How do you gain new artists and how does the selection process work for Histamine Tapes?
For most of the first year or so of releases I selected from artists who submitted work to my annual Antihistamine No Synth Compilation.
I have generally selected artists who sent me unsolicited demos, though there a few exceptions where I asked the artist to make an album for me. I get a lot of demos probably not more than I could listen to, but enough that I end up ignoring many of them. It can feel pretty overwhelming at times. If your going to send me an email with just a drop box link, and no info about yourself I’m just going to delete that message. Generally I hope to hear something before I download an album. At that point it’s honestly pretty random what things I choose to take on, if I’m not in the right mood for a certain kind of music (even music i would typically release) and your demo comes across my desk then, I may not be into it. And sometimes I’ll say yes to something that’s totally outside the norm of the label, because in the mood for something fresh (the Takahiro Release for example) I also get a ton of emails from white cis male presenting folks, and I’m definitely working hard to not be a place for just white dudes. I’m now opting to rely less on unsolicited demos for this reason.
What are the big advantages and disadvantages of running a label like yours?
The biggest advantage has to be the costs. Most of my tapes I have gotten for free. The most I have ever paid for a tape is 20 cents. I also do everywhere aspect of the label so that saves me money. So the disadvantage is that it’s very time consuming. It’s difficult to balance with being a dad, a full-time baker and a musician. Also just by nature of being diy I feel like I’m not taken as seriously as other labels that may get there tapes dubbed “professionally” (a term I find derogatory), work with a design company for arts, and have publicists on staff. But that may be my own fear, and imposter syndrome.
What is so great about tapes anyways? And will they prevail in the future?
Tapes really haven’t gone away. Folks like to talk about the cassette tape revival (which is certainly an observable phenomenon in popular music) but in the experimental music world its been a constant since diy labels began. When I started HT it was a few years after the Gaurdians of the Galaxy movie, so everything you researched about cassettes at the time referenced that film and the revival and how nostalgic this format is. It felt pretty lame honestly. I didn’t want to be viewed as just another millennial trying to reclaim their youth. I chose cassettes because of the long tradition of them in the punk and noise communities. Even when the CDR was at its height there were still many folks preferring the tape format.
I have this, perhaps irrational, fear that I will run out of a source of tapes to reuse. Even if that does become the case tapes won’t be going anywhere. With just a remedial understanding of tape transport any deck can be maintained for many years, and there are still places manufacturing new cassettes. Its a surprisingly durable format. I have cds that won’t play anymore due to a single scratch, while I have cassettes whose shells are all cracked but will play fine.
Are you a sound artist as well? What inspires you to make and release music?
Yes. I make noise/cut up sound collage as Subversive Intentions, drone and ambient beats as nd dentico and doom metal as Parenthetical.
Mostly I’m inspired by all the creative folks out there in the world of experimental music. I’ve never really thought of my music as being very unique. I find something I really like and try to emulate it putting as much of my own spin on it.
How do you see the future, for you personally and for the label?
That’s something I think about semi constantly. Everytime some mysterious thing goes wrong with a dubbing deck (i have about a dozen with 6 in production) I ask my self what am doing. Maybe I should call it quits. Last year I nearly gave up and had planned on going on hiatus for a year. But there is such a lure to being involved in music in some fashion and running Histamine Tapes has been the most rewarding experience of my music career.
The goal from the beginning was to never fold. I hope that is the case, but I can see a few scenario that lead to the end of HT. I definitely fear becoming redundant with jcard art (I’ve already repeated myself a couple times). Cassette tapes are becoming more scarce at thrift stores. But my daughter will only get older and more independent, which I imagine will give me the freedom to design more. I’ve reduced my number of releases for the time being, but I definitely hope to go back up. My immediate goal is to be able to work less at my full time job, and get my release schedule to once a month. I get demos from so many amazing artists. I would love to say yes to everyone!
I also look forward to dipping more into the local scene. Over the years I’ve discovered a number of folks in Vermont making music thats very complimentary to HT. Last year I put out two tapes by Vermont artists (not counting my own) and this year it will be three (though one is a trio I’m in).
Final question: if people want to start collecting tapes again, what would you recommend? And could you perhaps recommend any other Tape labels that you like?
I really love the cassette tape subreddits, and the tapeheads.net message boards they’ve been a real asset to me for getting info on tapes, especially deck maintenance. Tabs Out Podcast and Cassette Gods Blog are other great resources especially for the more experimental stuff.
Don’t forget to check out thrift stores and your local record stores, a lot of those places are getting back into stocking cassettes, even newer releases.