With a rainy but busy summer ahead, our June newsletter comes with the announcement of twо new cassette tapes, a bunch of videos and our first proper show in what feels like forever.
LATE Far North Eleven
After two EPs, which shaped his signature take on industrial-leaning downtempo music with strong influences from UK bass music and ambient, LATE returns with his first full-length album on Amek. Far North Eleven offers a deeper and lengthier descent into thick atmospheres and sparse, contemplative melodies, soaked in despair.
Dive into Far North Eleven on tape (ltd. to 66) and digital here.
Evitceles Naive Slumber
For Naive Slumber, his long due full-length album appearance on Amek, Evitceles reached deep into his well of emotional ambient and carefully picked nearly 60 minutes of music, which we couldn’t be releasing at a more appropriate time. Naive Slumber is structured by warm, swirling synth loops, floating melodies, subtle pads and hidden audio artifacts.
Experience Naive Slumber on tape (ltd. to 66) and digital here.
Evitceles “Half Dream”
Svetlin Stoyanov (Iniakick) created a mesmerizing video for “Half Dream” from Evitceles’ Naive Slumber.
Svetoslav Todorov “Каишка” (Non Photo Blue Rework)
Daniel Donchov reworked one of the stories from Svetoslav Todorov’s 2020 audio book “Нищо няма да ти се случи” (with original music by NOCKTERN).
If you didn’t have the chance to tune in to this month’s Шумна неделя on Kanal 103, you can find the recording here. Next one is July 4th.
We are super stoked to announce that we are starting a new monthly radio show called Comfort Clubon the newly unveiled Romanian Black Rhino Radio. Tune in on June 17th at 18:00 Sofia time for the first episode.
Sofia Дrone Day
On May 26th we celebrated Sofia Дrone Day at Koncept Space. You can see pictures from the event by Zlatina Tochkova here.
On June 19th at 20:00 we are going to hold the first performance of Vanity Productions in Bulgaria. Before him we will hear live sets by Niandraz and Cyberian. The event will end with a DJ set by Rangelova.
Sometimes your head is your worst enemy - An Interview with Vanity Productions
Vanity Productions is the name, under which you will find the solo work of Christian Stadsgaard, co-founder of Danish label Posh Isolation and member of Damien Dubrovnik (with Loke Rahbek) and The Empire Line (with Isak Hansen, Jonas Rönnberg). Having followed Stadsgaard’s music for almost a decade now, we were happy to have a quick chat about Vanity Productions prior to his first show in Sofia.
Your work as Vanity Productions inhabits way calmer musical territories than your more extreme-sounding current collaborative projects or your past noise works, is there a place for the extreme in your solo approach to music?
Actually, in the beginning of this year I started working with more harsh sounds again. It was during the third wave of Coronavirus, and out of sheer boredom I started experimenting with feedback and pedal noise again after many years of not doing so, but this time applying some of the granular techniques that I’ve been using for the past years. I was overwhelmed by the richness of sound and textures, and now almost all of my upcoming releases will in one way or the other include harsh or feedback noise.
You’ve shared that in recent years your tools have become more digital and yet your sound has become even more minimal, with an almost chamber music feel, how aren’t you tempted by the limitless options of digital software to explore a more maximalist sound and composition?
I don't really enjoy maximalist productions. Whether it's a piece of classical music or a new digital production, I often find it somewhat annoying. So basically it's a matter of taste. The last thing I want to do is to sound like a producer with expensive software playing it like I was Toto on steroids. It's true that I make use of more digital means now, but to this day most of the work happens outside of the computer so, in that sense I don’t really use software all that much.
I feel in recent years Vanity Productions has been a bit more prolific, I guess this isn’t you catching up with older production, but somehow the need or comfort to put more of your own music has increased?
I don't think I could fully express what I wanted with the means I had before. I think I was too rigid in my ideas and lacked the courage to leave different principles I had about gear and workflow behind and embrace new technology and techniques. Sometimes your head is your worst enemy. I now have a MUCH smaller setup than I had five-six years ago. To a large degree I now sample other people’s music and only make use of a few different analogue and digital effect boxes plus a bit of editing on the computer. But I don’t think I have ever been more productive, and I feel much closer to where I want to be artistically.
To what degree performing live is a part of your creative process or is it a completely different experience?
Playing live is another creative process. I really enjoy playing live, to be able to meet and touch people, to see them hug, and to see them cry. But the two things are still connected. I need stimulation to be able to make music, I need to see things I have not seen before. I need to talk to people, who think differently than I do, or just do things I don't do every day. In that sense travelling and playing shows are really important in my overall creative process.
Some people involved in more extreme genres of music would find performing ambient therapeutic, for others it’s an utterly boring affair, even if their ambient production is worth hearing live, where do you think you stand?
I might have gotten softer over the years in my music, but deep down I’m a noise kid who likes my live shows loud, dirty and physical. My live shows are a bit of both more soothing sounds and pure noise. Only a few artists can do a set of pure ambient or pure noise without boring the minds out of people, or boring the mind out of me at least.
Your show in Sofia will be (hopefully) the first one after some time away from the stage, should we expect to hear live renditions of recent published works or should we prepare to be surprised?
We heard you’re interested in performing in difficult places like Eastern Europe, you’ve already played in Macedonia so you’re prepared for our (shared) reality but is there a place that really surprised you?
I don't think I would consider Sofia difficult, but yes, I do like to see places in the world that are not Northern Europe. Few years back, when I played Macedonia, I was simply blown away by the whole infrastructure of the city. It basically looked like the collages we made for the cover art of old Posh Isolation releases. So yes, Macedonia really did catch me off guard, and I have really been wanting to go back to this part of the world ever since. I'm actually very, very happy arranging this show was possible.
Spring has finally arrived in Bulgaria and it’s become harder and harder to stay at home and focus on work. However, a plenty of Amek news have been piling up in the past month so, here we are reporting to you, the most dedicated of our followers.
Cyberian “Dark Orphism”
After his acclaimed 2018 debut full-length “Limerence”, Stefan Bachvarov returns to Amek for his first vinyl release as Cyberian. “Dark Orphism” is a meeting point between Bachvarov’s usual drifting electronic melancholia, his obsession with textured and detailed percussion, and his interests in paganism, nature, and the occult. Spanning over eight compact tracks, the album is moody and brooding, while somehow always remaining focused and direct. More beat-oriented and certainly noisier than its predecessor, “Dark Orphism” is an immense leap forward in the ever-evolving Cyberian sound.
Find Dark Orphism on vinyl (ltd. to 222) and digital here.
Ангел Симитчиев & Станимир Панайотов “Аксиома и печал”
"Аксиома & Печал" is a musical interpretation of Stanimir Panayotov’s poetry collection of the same name, originally published by Metheor in 2020. The album combines gritty post-industrial soundscapes by Angel Simitchiev and spoken word by Boyan Manchev, Ivan Shentov, Raina Markova, Mladen Alexiev and Stanimir Panayotov himself.
Find Аксиома и печал on tape (ltd. to 39) here. There is no digital version of the album.
Ангел Симитчиев & Филип Панчев & Станимир Панайотов “Аксиома и печал”
Though the music from Аксиома и печал is not available on Bandcamp, you can experience its sonic world as visualised by Filip Panchev.
Anarchist Mountains Trio “Conspiracy Means Breathing Together”
Samer Najari made a beautiful video for “Conspiracy Means Breathing Together” from the Anarchist Mountains Trio full-length album for Amek.
If you didn’t tune in for the latest шумна неделя show on Kanal 103, you can listen to the archived April and May shows. Next one is on June 6th, it’s going to be even wilder!
In early April, Balkankon monthly, hosted by our friend Linear Output on Komponenti Radio, did a full-on Amek label focus show. Listen to it here.
Anarchist Mountains Trio’s “Conspiracy Means Breathing Together” was featured on Drew Mcdowall’s mix for Noods Radio, while Angel Simitchiev & Linus Schrab’s “A Smoke That Will Never Clear” was featured on Lighght’s mix for DJMag.
We are stoked to announce that after about a year of nothing, there are a few events we are going to participate at in May.
On 9th, Angel is going to participate at a panel discussing the future of DIY music during the pandemic. The event will be held in our favorite Sofia space, Fabrika Avtonomia. RSPV here.
On 15th, Angel is going to do a rare live DJ set at the promo gig of Nocktern’s upcoming album, Scavengers. RSVP here.
Anđelina Mićić (known as Zhe Pechorin) is an electronic music artist with as diverse interests as the countries and cities she has called home throughout the years. In mid-February 2021 she spent a snowy week in Sofia and between wandering the city and briefly jamming together in a cigarette smoke-filled room in Stoimen Stoyanov’s former studio, we managed to have a chat with her over multiple cups of tea. We’re now sharing some bits of this conversation about Zhe Pechorin’s musical roots, ever-evolving taste, and her latest album.
Angel: When did you start making music?
Anđelina: Maybe around 2014, It's an interesting story. My friends were making hip-hop and R&B and we were hanging out in their studio. I was mostly into literature and other things. One night, my dog bit my leg and I got a really bad infection. After that, I was unable to walk for a few months and had to stay in the house. I had already seen everything I've needed to see from my friends making music, and realized “I have FruityLoops, let's see what it can do.” It took me around 3-4 hours to make my first track. I laid drums and added some effects, and made it. It didn’t seem that terrible for me back then, of course, now I think it's pretty bad, but at that time I was playing like a child without any planning. I remember at that time I wasn't really thinking in the direction of being a music producer or even what that means to me. I was just playing.
A year after that, a friend who's doing the Live Soundtrack events in Belgrade invited me to play. The concept is music producers play live alongside experimental silent films. It was 2016 and it was the first time I was presenting myself in front of others. It went well and I thought "Oh, this music really means something to me."
Martin: And what made you choose that project name?
Anđelina: It's a mixture between my nickname Zhe and a name from a central character in Lermontov's novel "A Hero of Our Time". When I was reading the novel, I strongly resonated with the character. First track was made during that time and I took it as a pseudonym, without much thinking.
Angel: Yeah, you're using this play element you told us about earlier.
Martin: That's what stuck with me from our previous conversation about your work for An Embrace. You said that everything started with a jam, so it's still a bit like a play, not something planned.
Anđelina: Yes, I enjoy this play element because when you want to create some piece of music, you sometimes hear something in your head. But even though, you can't produce exactly what you heard. So everything's somehow by chance, you need to give the opportunity for it to create itself. And the more relaxed you are and in that playing mood, then things will just happen. If you calculate or try too much, then it's gone…
When you think too much, you expect. And realize that you've been expecting something only for yourself, it's not resonating too much with others. And it's funny, because I've met most people who are close to me because of music. And how it all started... I can't imagine myself now without that part of me.
Angel: What happened with the dog?
Anđelina: We had to put it down... He was pretty old. We wanted to do an operation because he had a tumor. One night he came to my bed. I woke up and saw him, just tearing my leg. The doctors said it wasn't the dog we know any longer and the best thing would be to put him asleep as soon as possible. After that all the infection came, but it was needed I guess.
Angel: It's strange how something so shocking can lead some of the best things you can have in your life.
Anđelina: Can you imagine that? It's absolutely crazy!
Angel: Why did you pick electronic music? Knowing that you can sing... properly.
Anđelina: Actually, the first thing I did in music was singing. I liked it but when I saw what I could do with electronic sound, it really grabbed my attention. With time, I was just exploring and found myself here. Even now, I don't think I'm done, my taste is still being shaped. There's more to find and experience.
Angel: I was asking about the singing, because you told me that during the last show you played, you got the mic because the audience was loud and I heard you're planning to incorporate voice more into your music.
Anđelina: Yes, I brought my mic with me now too. Sometimes I record something with it and add effects. It's another way of getting what you need. And the voice...
Angel: Did you get some feedback about your new album [Boundary Lessons, released on French label Etang Brulant] apart from the fact it's already sold out.
Anđelina: It's happening continuously. Some days pass and I see that someone supported it or someone writes to me. When I came to Sofia, one producer from France I hadn't spoken to for a long time wrote to me that he had heard it and really liked it. People apparently are listening to it. That's with music - you release it and it's there. And maybe now or in five years, someone will chance upon it and listen to it. That's the great part. But some people already told me I should make more positive music.
Angel: For me, your last album doesn't sound that dark. It's super strange to see how people call something you perceive as your most positive music "dark". It's many different emotions combined together. It's the same as An Embrace - tough emotions that don't sound depressive. It might be aggressive but that's not necessarily dark or depressive. The term "dark" is so overused now. Everyone wants to be "dark" and at the same time it's just... empty.
Anđelina: And it's not like I want to be dark. If you ask me, I don't think I'm a "dark person" who listens to "dark music" and is into all that "darkness." The darkness is just a part of ourselves and what I resonate with in the music I make aren't these things- the darkness, melancholy, depression - no. If it touches me, it means we have a connection. If it doesn't, then there's no connection. I'm more of an emo, I like emotions haha. I think we are rich with emotions but when you play a track and it's too emotional in an obvious way, then no, it's not for me.
Angel: Yeah, it's the same with having the intention of being too dark or too positive. It's just too fake.
Anđelina: Yeah, and fakeness is what we don't want here haha.
Angel: You're obviously working on music and are shaping an idea for making a label, but do you have any plans for your main passion - literature and languages? Do you see the two connected or they are completely separate universes?
Anđelina: Everything started from literature, even the name of my project. And when I read, think or write, all that together creates an inspiration field that connects everything. I understand that if I decide to go further into academia and become a professor in literature, it'll take more of my time in that direction. But at the same time, I always think I'll connect the two with one another. My favorite thing is when I read something and do the rest from that type of inspiration. And for the names of the tracks, I often take inspiration I find in literature. These two are parts of me and sometimes one takes the center stage, while at others, the other, and I try to balance between them.
Lately, our newsletter schedule got slightly disrupted, so in the last days of March we’ll try to catch up on most of the stuff we’ve been working on in the past few months. We hope you’re still with us, because more Amek news are waiting just around the corner.
Various Artists “An Embrace”
After more than a year in the making, we are happy to share with you An Embrace, a collaborative compilation with the German label VAAGNER created for Easterndaze x Berlin 2021.
Each label invited four of our artists to form four duos. Evitceles & Fortunes Brine, Zhe Pechorin & Anasisana, krāllār & Ekin Fil, as well as Vague Voices & Crosspolar collaborated remotely and each pair wrote a piece.
An Embrace is available on a limited edition cassette tape and a riso-printed zine featuring interviews with the artists alongside writings by S. N., Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Krisztián Puskár and Stanimir Panayotov.
La terre et la force is the Anarchist Mountains Trio debut for AMEK. Usually a duo of brothers Stefan and Jordan Christoff, here they are joined by Joseph Sannicandro. The result is a subtle, beautifully paced album reflecting the summer day in Montréal, Canada on which it was born.
Find La terre et la force on tape (ltd. to 66) and digital here.
Angel Simitchiev & Linus Schrab "Airborne"
Airborne is the first collaborative album by Angel Simitchiev (Mytrip, Dayin) and Linus Schrab (V I C I M, Thet Liturgiske Owäsendet, Purlieu Recordings). Recorded in May 2019, during an intense creative weekend in Sofia, Bulgaria, the seven pieces found herein combine ambient delicacy with the intensity of noise and post-industrial soundscapes.
Find Airborne on tape (ltd. to 80) and digital here.
If you didn’t tune in for the latest two Шумна неделя shows on Kanal 103, you can listen to the archived February and March shows. Next one is on April 4, it’s going to be even noisier!
We also did a special mix for our friends from Verace on 00185fm. Find it here.
We have a few copies of the new issue of Noise Receptor. This issue features interviews with Linekraft, Martin Bladh, Murderous Vision, Nil By Mouth & more. As always, the stock is limited, so if you want to snag a copy, contact us ASAP.
Lucia Udvardyova is 1⁄2 of Easterndaze, a project dedicated to investigating the experimental music scenes of Eastern Europe. She’s also involved in several community radio projects, the tape label Baba Vanga, SHAPE platform and performs under the name Palmovka. We’ve been following Easterndaze for many years and have always admired their efforts to show more of Eastern Europe than concrete blocks and poverty. The last year we’ve been extensively communicating with Lucia, while working on An Embrace, so we decided to share one of our many talks with you.
How did you start Easterndaze? Is it currently run by the same people who started it?
Easterndaze was pretty much just two people: Peter Gonda aka gnd and I. We met around 2008 in Prague. We both had interest in radio - Peter having been active in a Slovak student radio called Tlis, me having worked for Czech Radio and having done some stuff for Resonance FM. For me personally, the interest in the region dates perhaps back to the time I was living in London in the early 2000's and encountering this East / West divide as a gastarbeiter (with the fancy name au pair). Talking to my English friends about Communism and growing up in the 1980s became my pastime after getting back from parties and hanging out. I realize that it probably sounded like scifi to them, which looking back from 2021 seems pretty surreal to me too. I was, of course, fascinated by the West as a child, and wanted to escape there as soon as I could (I moved to the UK aged 19 largely because of its music scene). But at some point, I moved to Prague and became interested in the pre-1989 underground, the dissent movement, etc. My family roots are classic East & Central European - a mix of regional history and outrootedness (Serbia, Bosnia, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary..). Yet, I had little knowledge of let's say the culture of my relatives in Serbia.
Back around 2008-9, there was little coverage of what's happening in the music scenes of these countries. So in 2010, I set out with Peter to travel across the region, interview musicians, search for music online during the day, attend gigs and hang out with all the amazing people we would be meeting in the evenings. These physical encounters laid the foundation for all the later contacts and networks. I doubt we'd achieve the same if it was done purely online (which we also briefly thought of doing, but luckily abandoned). At the moment, it's mostly me posting stuff on the Easterndaze Facebook, doing the Cashmere Radio show and the Berlin event and with Peter, we run the Baba Vanga imprint and do the Czech Radio show.
Easterndaze is a beautiful name, do you remember how you came up with it?
Peter came up with it. We were thinking for what seems like forever about the name, as names are always the most difficult and reductive. We were a bit wary of using "Eastern" as such, but then we thought why not :)
We first met probably 10 years ago while you were travelling around Bulgaria and the region, do you have a particular favorite place and scene that you discovered thanks to Easterndaze?
The travels and encounters were the best about the whole project, no internet contact will ever replace those. I remember being in Varna in 2012, and climbing up to the Soviet-Bulgarian monument with the duo Жълти стъкла (they looked like sweet beach goths when we met them, both dressed in black, both around 20, in love), the inside of the monument was full of trash and derelict concrete. We were going upstairs in complete darkness, me panicking and almost being unable to go up (being claustrophobic) but then when we reached the top, the view (of the Black Sea) was beautiful. They had a guitar and played.
You have a monthly radio show on Cashmere Radio in Berlin and are also well-connected to various other radio stations in Europe. What keeps community radio relevant in our current musical landscape?
We started as a radio project (a series of travelogues for Resonance FM) back in 2010. Radio remains close to our hearts. Radio helps you navigate across the vast sonosphere of contemporary music scenes, but I also love the outthere experimental stuff radios like Cashmere or Resonance FM are doing, the radiophony. Community radios in particular gather various music communities that perhaps would not have met otherwise (mostly the moderators being musicians, label owners, etc, not journalists per se, so the activist nature of the whole medium is implicit) and are vital for the local underground scenes.
Easterndaze is dedicated to revitalizing the perception about Eastern Europe and our art and culture. Do you think Western Europe has already started to see the good stuff beyond our grey concrete blocks or we are far from this yet?
It's hard to say. There are more articles about local music scenes in general, though they still have a whiff of inherent exoticisation about them. Some media coming from the East are probably complicit in this, presenting the region as the "New East", the more obscure aspects of it, the better. With the rise of rightwing politics and populism in several Central European countries as of recent, Eastern Europe has once again become regressive in the eyes of Western media. On the flipside, there are the unofficial structures and underground scenes, the activists, etc. that are thriving in spite of the shitty economics and politics that surround them. There are several amazing labels and collectives releasing amazing music all around the region, and I think they are getting noticed much more than let's say 10 years ago (could this be due to the much-maligned social media?).
Is there any interest from territories like the US or Asia for the work you are doing or the local activities you are helping spread the word about?
The interest I'd say - and we actually were excited about this when we realised - is primarily intra-regional.
This year marks the fourth issue of the Easterndaze x Berlin festival, in which we are proud to be participating with the project “An Embrace”. Can you tell us a bit more about everything else on this year’s program?
Apart from An Embrace, which is a collaboration between you and Vaagner, we are also doing a community radio project that involves 4 community radios coming together and sharing/remixing their programmes during the week of 19 - 23 April. There'll also be a panel talk focused on the topic on 23 April, as well as a live radio marathon on that day. In September, we'll host a video installation at Bärenzwinger Gallery in Berlin, a project by Holly Childs and Gediminas Žygus (Subtext Recs). And at the end of September, there will be a videodrome/music video installation at ZÖNOTÉKA also in Berlin. More information can be found here.
The pandemic clearly affected the way the festival had initially functioned but do you see this as some sort of positive transformation, something that in the future might create more impact or the current situation is simply a huge obstacle for your long-term goals with this event?
Somehow - and this makes it perhaps more free - there's no clear goal or some teleological trajectory with this event. It's nice to do it and pay everyone involved (this year, we have received funding from the German funding body Musikfonds). If it happens next year, great, if it cannot, it's not a tragedy :) The Berlin event was initiated by Natalie Gravenor, who is a film distributor & producer, and a big thanks goes to her and her work on this, as well to Maria Orciuoli who does the PR for the event, and the graphic designers (this year it's Máté Janky aka Alley Catss). We are a small but nice team by now :)
You also run a tape label called Baba Vanga, named after the blind Bulgarian clairvoyant, any new releases in the pipeline, you’ve been silent for a while?
We were on the train to Sofia from Varna back in 2012, with a demo of an artist from Czech Republic called Střed Světa (Centre of the World), who does this idiosyncratic, very special broken electronics. Being in Bulgaria, Baba Vanga's country, we decided to name the label that way. At the moment, the label has been a bit dormant, but Baba Vanga will be back! ;)
We started the new year busier than any other before. Apart from working on a few projects and releases we’ll share with you in due time, we also published the new issue of our annual zine dedicated to interviews with people involved in various aspects of DIY culture.
Comfort Club #2
Content-wise, this issue is quite different from the previous one for we almost didn’t have anyone visiting Sofia in the pandemic year of 2020. So we reached out to labels tsss tapes from Italy and Falt from France and Richard Stevenson from the zine Noise Receptor. Jim Haynes from The Helen Scarsdale Agency was kind enough to contribute a column.
This issue also includes three exclusive in-depth conversations with radio activists Tsvetan Tsvetanov (BNR, Sofia) & Gjorgji Janevski (Kanal 103, Skopje), Ivan Shentov (Kontingent Records), and our favorite place in Sofia, Fabrika Avtonomia.
The 76-page pro-printed zine is limited to 104 copies. Purchase it here.
At the end of January, the Amek-affiliated project винаги dropped a video for the track дух on our YouTube channel. We suggest you subscribe to it because we plan on releasing even more one-off tracks there from now on. See the video for дух below.
Шумна неделя #4
If you haven't had the chance to listen to January's Шумна неделя on Kanal 103, you do it here. Next show is airing on February 7.
We've made a new Spotify playlist titled Amek Collective Essentials. It features some highlights from all of our releases. Find it below. The exclusive artwork is a collage piece by visual artist Nikola Kostov.
Magazine feature and mix
The journal-zine FOCUS On Sound, for which we made an exclusive mixtape, was featured in CLOT Magazine. The article includes a mix by the zine creator Nicholas Burman which includes three tracks from the mixtape. Read the article here and hear the mix here.
Tobira Records is a record store run by the ambient artist Takahiro Yorifuji located in the small city of Kasai in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. We spoke with Taka about his the store, its neighbors, and his decision to move back home and try to create a local scene almost from scratch.
Can you introduce Tobira Records to us? When did the idea for the store come up and what made you want to open a store for experimental music?
Tobira Records is a record shop based in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, that carries rare, underground, and limited-edition material spanning a very diverse range of genres. That includes tapes, LPs, CDs, books, clothing, accessories, and more. Everything I carry happens to be stuff that I personally love and enjoy listening to, and comes from all over the world. Often the material that we stock isn't available anywhere else in Japan, and even in Asia. I like the idea of being able to introduce amazing music to people who might not have had the chance to discover it otherwise. For me, carrying music that I like and believe in is more important than whether it’s widely marketable.
As for how the idea came up, around summertime time last year my wife and I decided to move from Tokyo to my hometown in Hyogo, and were thinking about what we were going to do. I've been involved in music for a long time, so the idea of opening a shop came up suddenly and very naturally. The more we looked into it, the more everything seemed to slide into place. My friend Daigo, who runs a gallery upstairs called Void, already had a great space available, and Gaapiiiii, an excellent Japanese ambient musician, just happened to be the head of the local library. We all realised that this could become something exciting, and they all really helped get the shop going.
Speaking about the building, can you tell us a bit more about it and its other tenants?
The building is a loft space owned by my friend Daigo. Tobira Records is on the second floor, Daigo’s gallery space Void is on the third floor, and he has an office / chill space for his construction business Woodsist on the fourth floor. Daigo actually also organizes a lot of art shows and music events in the building. For example, recently he put on a really successful event called “Deep Relax” which was a day party across the three levels. He also had a three-month exhibition for local Nara-based artist Masataka Kurose, and soon he’ll be running an exhibition of paintings by the Japanese producer Foodman.
As well as the events at Tobira Records, he has plans for more music and art events. He’s actually even looking into potentially opening a small café on one of the floors, so stay tuned!
Tobira Records looks like a beautifully curated record store that works with some of the best and most exciting labels at the moment. Many of which we are either our friends or have worked with in the past. Moreover, together with the typical genre menus, there is also one for labels. What role do the labels have in your opinion for the spread of music and for your decision as a record store owner to decide to engage with a piece of music and possibly present it to the people who visit the store?
I definitely believe in celebrating and following labels. I think it comes down to that idea of curation that you mentioned. Curation is important for a record shop, but it's also what a label is - a collection of music and artists that come together to make a unique aesthetic. I see it as kind of similar to following movie directors. We follow our favourite directors because we like the style, the aesthetic, the stories they tell. It's a similar feeling with labels. For people who love music, looking through your favourite labels’ catalogues is an amazing way to find new music and support artists that you like.
Tobira is a physical store, something we sadly see less and less of, both in recent years because of streaming platforms and digital storefronts and in the past year due to the coronavirus. What makes a physical space special as opposed to a strictly digital distro?
The biggest difference is that the physical store becomes a kind of hub or meeting place, and I think it’s a different feeling to meeting people online. In the last 3 months since the shop opened, I’ve met so many music lovers, artists, and musicians from the surrounding areas. It’s been a great opportunity to discuss and share ideas, and through meeting them I’ve learned more about the local scene. Some of them are actually going to perform at the Tobira monthly instore showcase - so in that way I’m excited to keep the local music scene going. We still have an online shop, which is an important part of Tobira, but the physical store is a very different experience.
We cannot but ask about the COVID-19 in Japan in relation to the music and art world in general. How has the year affected you both as an artist and a record store owner?
We were lucky that we’d already planned to move out of the city right at the point that COVID-19 was starting. Living in a rural area and being preoccupied with opening the shop, I naturally stopped playing live shows. I’m very lucky that COVID-19 hasn’t affected me personally or as an artist. As for the record shop, it’s been a great few months. I am excited to see how things go when vaccines become available and international travel goes back to normal. It will be great to welcome more visitors from Japan and overseas.
Opening a store for experimental music is something unthinkable, even in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. Yet, Tobira is located in your hometown Kasai, a rather small city. What made you return to your hometown and why did you decide to open the shop there and how is it accepted by the residents of the city?
I’d been living in Tokyo for ten years. It’s a huge city and the music scene there is one of the biggest in the world. Eventually I decided that I wanted a change of pace and lifestyle, which is why I decided to return to my hometown. I was excited to try and build a local scene from the ground up in Kasai, which is what we’re doing now with the instore showcases. I also think that the location, slower lifestyle, and rural surroundings add something special to the shop.
It’s funny that many people from out of town have learned about Tobira and come to visit, but local residents are still slowly discovering that we’re here. When locals hear about the shop, they’re usually very surprised.
It is very interesting that you mention your idea of building a local scene from the ground up, as this is something that we’ve been thinking about a lot recently, especially in the context of Bulgaria, where there is a dearth of such scenes. Can you elucidate a bit more about your decision to build a scene in your hometown? How has it been so far? Any future plans in that direction?
Well, in Tokyo the music scene is huge, diverse, and has a lot of history. By comparison, the countryside seems like a crazy place to try and start something from the ground up. But I think the countryside has a lot of things to offer that can’t be found in the city. An example of that is an event we held recently called “gokkan“, or “The Extremely ColdFestival”. We did it in a local historical park surrounded by beautiful nature and open skies, and the concept was to get rugged up and enjoy some ambient music with a lovely wintry backdrop. It would be difficult, maybe impossible, to organize an event like that in Tokyo. I think nature and music make such a magical combination, and I like the idea of people associating Tobira Records with enjoyable experiences in nature, or a nice road-trip to a small town. Even though we’re still in the early growing stages, I think that if you’re enthusiastic and believe in what you’re doing, people will generally respond to that. I guess we’ll see.
In that line of thought, can you tell us more about the record store situation in Japan and the practices of the experimental music aficionados? While many famous record stores around the world, such as Amoeba, are closing their physical stores, and the idea of a physical store for experimental music seems like an impossible dream, the record shops in Japan seem to be as strong as ever…
Japanese people buy a lot of music in physical formats, including CDs. I’m not too sure why that is, but maybe it’s because there’s more of an emphasis on collecting, or ‘geek culture’, here in Japan. There are so many shops running, and especially a lot of second hand record shops in Tokyo, which keeps the culture alive. People in Japan also tend to like things that are limited edition and unique, which might be why the experimental music scene is so big. I think when international people visit Japan they also start to absorb these values.
In that sense, do you think this record store culture has a history in the super specialized microstores in Nishi-Shinjuku or Shibuya as detailed in David Novak’s ethnography of japanoise? Moreover, is Tobira influenced by any of these stores and if yes, in what way?
Actually, I'm not influenced by those stores all that much. The only record store I used to go to in Tokyo was Los Apson, which was really close to where I lived. I used to hang out there very often. When I was in my early 20s, I worked at Meditations in Kyoto, which taught me a lot about how to run a shop, and gave me an idea and image of what an amazing record shop can be.
Looking at the pictures of Tobira Records, the store has this very calm and inviting atmosphere that reminds us of your music as Hakobune. It looks both as a place to shop for music, but also just visit, browse and get yourself lost into. Who designed and decorated the space and what is the guiding principle behind it?
Everything was made by friends and family, and the layout happened very organically. What you can see is the result of spending a lot of time in the space, tweaking and moving things to create the most comfortable environment. Basically, there are no guiding design principles, just feeling what works and feels good and what doesn’t. It’s important to me that the space doesn’t feel intimidating.
Recently, we saw the first live performances at Tobira. Is that something you plan on continuing and in what direction do you plan on taking it?
Yes, I organize a monthly showcase. So far, we’ve managed to have a pretty diverse mix of underground/local musicians and more widely-known musicians. A lot of foreign artists have shown interest in performing here, so I'm excited to have them play once the pandemic situation eases up.
Apart from the work in Tobira, you are quite well-known through the work of your influential and productive project Hakobune. Has the work on the store affected your music? Also, how do you manage being on both sides of the fence - an artist on one hand and a record store owner on the other?
Lately I have been occupied with running the store, so I haven’t had much chance to work on music, though I hope to have more time to make music soon. That said, making music and running a record store are very satisfying in a similar way. Even though I haven’t been able to make music recently, I still feel fulfilled and inspired musically.
In what ways does your music work influence the ways your approach your work as a record store owner? In your selection of the music or dealings with labels?
Although I make ambient music, I like all kinds of music. I think my approach to listening affects the way I run the shop and the material I carry. I hope to encourage my customers to feel / listen the same way. For example, I like the idea of customers discovering new genres and being surprised and excited by what they find - maybe a customer who usually listens to ambient finding a hip-hop album they love, or someone who loves harsh noise getting into music concrete. The name of the shop ‘Tobira’ means ‘doorway’, so I want to embody that: “a doorway to new sonic experiences”.
Tobira started as a tape label and seems to have been somewhat dormant until recently, when it turned into a music store. What sparked the idea for the switch? Do you plan on continuing it as a label or this aspect of Tobira is in the past?
Yes, I revived Tobira because the record shop seemed like a natural continuation of the tape label. I do plan on releasing more material as a label in the future. The first release will be by Valance Drakes and will come out next spring.
What are your future plans with Tobira Records?
I'd like to continue the monthly showcase, keep the label running, and just continue building on what we already have, as much as I can.
Though the year is drawing to a close and Bulgaria has entered a second lockdown, we are as busy as ever. We had a new release, a distro update, and a special project we’ve worked on with FOCUS On Sound came to fruition.
Frisson Festival was a series of concerts, curated by Studio Ew and pretty much the first live music performance since the beginning of March. To commemorate this beautiful event we are releasing a live bootleg compilation with new and unreleased material from all Amek artists who played during the event. The tape also contains the second ever recording by Amek Drone Orchestra.
Find FRISSON MMXX tape (ltd. to 50) & digital here.
FOCUS On Sound is a new magazine by former Music Map writer Nicholas Burman. As the title of its current issue implies, it contains academic articles and artistic responses on the subject of sound. We were also invited to take a part in it, which we did by curating a DIY mixtape with unreleased songs by twelve of our friends including Zhe Pechorin, Evitceles, Cyberian, and many others.
We made things a bit more interesting, so we’ve left clues about the hidden link containing the songs of the mixtape in the text of our contribution. To make the entire thing more personalised we’ve decided to leave the arranging the tracklist, dubbing of the tape, making the artwork itself to the readers of the magazine. The link with the mixtape will be available only as long as the current issue is in circulation. So we urge you to dub your mixtape as soon as possible.
Last month we had the pleasure of talking with Christian Schiefner from the awesome French tape label Falt. Our conversation was published in Bulgarian by our friends at Lunatic.bg. Find our conversation in English below. The entire interview will be also published in Comfort Club #2, scheduled for Mid January 2021. We are one of the few distros in Europe that stock Falt releases, so if you are interested in any of its recent releases, drop us a line: amekcollective at gmail.
Christian also prepared a wild mix of Falt music. We aired it on ШУМНА НЕДЕЛЯ, our monthly residency at Kanal 103, Skopje. Listen to the recording here.
Every next tape might be the last - an interview with Christian Scheifner from Falt
Falt is a relatively new French label for noise compositions and concrete music that releases its music on tapes with A3 fold-around artworks. Together with music from his solo project Chemiefaserwerk, Christian Schiefner’s label has released music by Bruno Duplant, Leo Okagawa, claire rousay, and numerous other artists.
Can you please tell us a bit more about yourself and Falt? How did you start the label?What made you choose the name and the cassette tape as its medium?
Hi, thanks for having me, I am fine. The Falt origin story probably matches those of most DIY labels. I started Falt in 2016 because I had finished a couple of recordings, which I was kind of happy with and I wanted to release them. I had already released a couple of tapes both by myself and together with friends, so I knew how to do it. Since I had a shoebox with cassettes left, I started dubbing them and set up the Bandcamp page. At the same time, I started thinking about the cover of the releases, and since I only had the cassettes and no boxes or cases for them, I needed to come up with something which could be artwork and packaging at the same time. So, the A3 fold-around artwork was just the way to go. It was not intended as some kind of aesthetically ideal, it was just the most common idea.
All Falt releases are dubbed at home. The whole thing became a bit more elaborated over the last years, but it is still very simple. The German word falten means to fold in English, so as you can see, I am a very simple person - I like things that appear by themselves, haha; and the name works just great I think. I like that the word Falt is so short and handy, I also like the sound of the word and even the look of it, the simple look, all of it, it was just perfect and there were no second thoughts.
From its first release four years ago, Falt has kept a pretty singular and unique aesthetic – tapes with a simple sticker, wrapped in an A3 paper containing a collage artwork. Its super beautiful and fits the tactile music of the label incredibly well. What is the rationale behind this?
Thank you. I actually had no fixed idea what would come out of this whole thing. Once I had released the Chemiefaserwerk’s Collagen tape, I did not even know how to move on. Since I did not sell any of the tapes at first and nobody knew about Falt, I reached out to some review blogs and send them review copies. I never did any real label work before, even on such very small scale. Most of the tapes and CDrs my friends and I had released in the past always had a basic reason and place. Like, we played a concert, so we made a few copies of our recent recordings and gave them away to our friends or traded them with the other artists present. None of the noise tapes I did back in the day had much listening, I mean nothing is online even now, I don’t even like the results so much any more, it’s just boring noise, haha. It was a very important time though, because I learned a lot from it, not only for my own musical practice; the most important thing I learned might be that making music and releasing your music on your own is totally possible. I grew up with the idea that music and art in general is made by fancy and famous musicians and artists who appear on the TV and radio or whose works are in our schoolbooks and in museums; therefore, music is no practice for ordinary people, I did not even know that something like art schools existed. So, when I discovered the DIY punk scene once I moved to Berlin,I was shocked by all of the awesome stuff going on.
OK, back to Falt maybe. The label started kind of slow and I think today that this only shows how much I wasn’t sure about where this will lead. In the first two years there were just a few releases, 6 or 7 maybe. Once I got more confident I started sending out mails asking people if they would like to release something on Falt. I always liked the idea of having a poster-like artwork which would be in it’s whole beauty in front of the person while listening to the tape. Tapes are so small and usually their cases are small too; I think the most awesome thing about a vinyl LP is the cover, haha. Vinyl is great for that, you can hold the cover in front of your face and you disappear behind it! That’s it! And with the Falt covers you can do that too, just unfold it, put the tape on and look at it while listening. You can hide behind it for a little while…
Talking about the album art, can you tell us who makes it and what is the process behind it? Is it made in collaboration with the artists or it’s more of a separate thing?
All the covers are made by me, it’s simple cut and paste. I use scissors and glue, I have never properly learned how to use photoshop and I think I won’t ever do it. All covers are in real size - what you see and hold in your hands is a copy of the collage artwork I made; I really like that part about it. It is what it is, if there are flaws and drips of the glue you can see them. I am not a perfectionist, I sometimes let things be and tell myself that it all is part of the whole thing. They really look nice as posters too, I think. That is why I stopped putting up names and titles and such things on the covers. I used to do it for the first few releases, but stopped once I saw it as a flaw, something that disturbs the way I look at these artworks. Language should not interfere with these images. It makes the connection between the music and the cover more intimate for me. I don’t know why exactly or how to explain it. When you are young and you don’t have so many things, you like the most you know them. You don’t need to rely on having it all marked on the outside. That’s also why there are no more catalog numbers. I want every Falt release to be the first one, or the last one, or the one just in the middle. I mark on the sticker on the tape the name and title and in which year is was released, but the cover should stay unmarked.
Nearly all of the pictures you see on the covers are photographs taken by me in the last decade. When I still used to live in Berlin, I was quite frankly obsessed with taking pictures, I wanted to hold on to everything I saw; I have a small collection (we can also call it a bunch) of old half-broken 35mm cameras (which are in a box just next to my collection of old half-broken tape machines haha...) and I had at least one of them in every bag, rucksack or jacket I had at this time, always loaded with film. So today I have shoeboxes full of prints from these thousands of photographs I took at the time and I’m kind of cashing in on this work; having an enormous amount of material for the things I do today. I always asked myself what would I probably do with all these pictures and Falt gave me the answer, which is such a beautiful thing. Sometimes the artists send me pictures which I use for the cover artwork, like Jeph Jerman or Leo Okagawa did, but it is the exception and I intend to keep it that way.
Music-wise, though there are albums by a vast number of incredible artists ranging from your project Chemiefaserwerk, our friend Niels from Sequences, claire rousay and Ryoko Akama, to the noise legend Crank Sturgeon, there is something, a thread, that connects all of the releases. They all feel real and concrete, tactile as I said earlier. How do you choose the artists and music you release? Do you approach them or it’s the other way around? Do the releases start as ideas between you and the artists or are more or less already fleshed out projects? Also, what is your role in the process?
When it all started, let’s say from 2016 until 2018 half of the releases on Falt came from people I approached; the other half was made by friends of mine to whom I just said “Hey, I have this thing here going now and it might be good so if you have something and want to be part of it, just send me the files.” Falt is a very small label with 30 copies per release, so it is not at all something big, but still it is something that people appreciate judging from some reactions and the fact that I can get rid of the tapes, haha. Today I might get a lot more demo submissions than ever, sure. And there are so many great things amongst them, but it is impossible to release them all; even if I would have the time and the resources needed, it would be too much, because then I would release 5 tapes a month for the next 5 years. I am running Falt from my bedroom while working a regular job and having a family and making music on my own and also being a person in this world, haha with all the fatigue thats come with that; so there is a very tiny window for all this and I try to make the most out of it. A go ahead in small steps and it definitely makes me happy to run Falt, I consider it the best of a hobby one can have!
Recently Falt released an incredible batch of seven new tapes which is undoubtedly an incredible feat. How long was it in the making and was it difficult to manage everything? Was the batch planned to be that big or it just happened so because of the Coronavirus lockdown?
The lockdown in spring totally messed up all the plans I had; not only for Falt. I told people that we have to wait a little bit because the print shop where I print the covers was closed and also it was very complicated to send out orders and all. So when things re-opened I thought I will just release this huge batch to get things going again. It is really not my intention to keep the artists waiting for to long. It is sure true that 2020 has been a quite different year; right now we are in a second lockdown and I just decided to let things be good for the rest of the year. The lockdown tis time is more of a soft one, with some businesses open, so I still send out orders and try to prepare the new artworks and all but take things slowly.
Your label has a very minimal Internet presence, keeping a rudimentary Bandcamp page, a minimalistic Twitter account that is used for the promotion of other labels as much as for Falt’s releases, and a simple newsletter. However, most of the releases sell out very quickly, proving that incessant Internet promotion is not necessary for the spread of good music. What is your stance on the use of social media for the promotion / self-promotion of experimental music? What about the seemingly ceaseless video streams in the past few months during the lockdown?
Falt is a label which runs mostly on Bandcamp, it’s my main operating system, we could say, and I am very lucky when it comes to promotion, because it mostly works out for itself. The artists usually have the networks and get the word out about the new releases and I only just send the newsletter for each new batch. There is also bandcamp sending out notifications about the new releases automatically.
I rarely get orders from distros, but sometimes I do and I am happy to provide wholesale prices for the limited stock I have left. I am really happy with what bandcamp provides for such tiny labels like Falt, it is a great service which does not cost to much in my opinion. People might not agree, but for me as a tiny user this is ok for now. I think sharing the music is most important and for me it is obligatory to spread the art with the lowest barrier possible, and that for me is name your price downloads starting at 0. Twitter is good for promotion sure, but too time-consuming, I mean I have the twitter app on my phone and once I open it I find myself totally suck into it. I am in no way anti-internet or social networks, I just don’t use them so much. I would say that raising children is time-consuming, or going to work everyday is time-consuming or making music with a 40 year old tape deck is time-consuming, but non of this time is wasted, it has good outcome. So time-consuming is not bad, I like to give away my time and I even do it for free as I do with Falt, but the thing is, different from doing all the other mentioned things, once I close the Twitter app I feel nothing, except that my eyes are itchy. I will keep having the Falt account though because it is a good way to communicate and promote the new releases or to keep up a bit with review and such stuff.
What are your future plans for Falt? Are there any new releases in the pipeline you can share with us?
There are a lot of wonderful tapes in preparation for 2021, which like it has ever been need to remain in the mist of mystery… haha, sorry. But I want to talk about this: From time to time there are people asking me about the covers, like if I can send them a few covers, just the covers, so they can put them up on the wall, I mean they are posters and I actually could do it, even if the tape is sold out, because I would just take out the original collage artwork of the folder and go to the print shop and make a print and I actually did it a few times and it gave me the idea to make a small handmade book or something like a ring binder with some selected artworks and call it the Faltcatalogue or so and release a super limited edition of it, so that people who are interested in the artworks have something they can look at, haha. I will see what comes out of this idea, I have actually made a dummy and keep looking at it and asking myself if this is something worth the try.