Dr. Quandary – Sigils

coverSometimes I’m in desperate need of some heart-felt, hard-hitting instrumental hip-hop. You know, the kind of music for people who feel like pants end an inch above the lower limits of their oversized boxershorts. A soundtrack for people that wonder where their crossfader has gone when it should be accompanying their over-enthusiastic air-scratching. For people that see the loop as the elementary musical particle. I would say raise your hand if you belong to that category, but of course you’re already one hand short with holding up your pants and manipulating both an imaginary turntable and mixer. Uhm, nevermind. Our prayers have been heard: the Doctor delivers.

Dr. Quandary’s ‘Sigils’ was released on World Around Records in August 2011. It is a beautiful homage to everything that instrumental hip-hop, trip-hop or what have you, stands for. Great melodic loops, slow yet hard-hitting drumbeats and some great vocal samples to spice the tracks. The ten tracks on this EP make all the right moves: after a downright epic album intro, the songs move from the touching melancholy of ‘No Flower’ and ‘Our Totem is the Raven’ to the more uplifting musical blend of ‘Litany’ and ‘Holographic Body’. The previously described essence of instrumental hip-hop is right there.
There is, however, a downside to the album. Only a third of the tracks make it past the 2 minute 30 seconds mark, usually using long vocal intermezzo’s to get there. While loop-based music does have the potential to get repetitive after a few measures, it’s the artist’s duty to turn the loop into a longer musical piece that is more than the sum of its parts. At least, that’s what I feel separates the good from the truly great. Other fans of the genre might completely disagree, but I can’t shake the nagging suspicion that Dr. Quandary sometimes sticks too faithfully to his fixed formula for building a track, only to take the easy way out by making it end before you notice there’s actually not that much going on except for some nicely selected loops. Maybe I’m just being a whiny kid because all I really want is for the album to go on forever.

Something which we at netlabelism have been pondering quite hard lately, is the role of sampling in hip-hop and trip-hop genres and how this culture of creative borrowing fits or (doesn’t fit) into a creative commons framework. The samples in this album are a great example. Samples from Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ or David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’ hardly seem like pieces of audio our benevolent herr dokter could have acquired the rights for. While I don’t deny that they are great samples and in fact largely carry the songs they are used in, I’m not sure whether I agree with this being used in creative commons releases. It’s a tricky subject which probably spawns as many opinions as people participating in the debate. Simon Haycock even remarked thinking about it for too long might make his head explode. Please don’t make us scrape bit(s)basic off the netlabelism office wall and let us know how you feel about the matter, so he doesn’t have to. At any rate, we’re going to get to the bottom of this conundrum in an upcoming article. If you’re interested in this matter, be sure to check out the excellent interview with Ripley we posted some weeks ago.

If you don’t belong to the pant-sagging tribe, you might find the short tracks on ‘Sigils’ somewhat lacking in structural content. On top of that, there’s the sample issue with the creative commons license. While I don’t think the album is up there with the undying stars of the genre, it’s a very solid release nonetheless. If you’re a fan of (instrumental) hip-hop, be sure to check out his excellent tracks on ‘We Are World Around, Vol.2′ too.

Dr. Quandary – Dream Souls

 

Release page
World Around Records


This review was originally published on netlabelism.com, an online music magazine covering netlabel culture and releases. I was editor for the magazine from January 2011 until December 2014.

Interview with Brusio Netlabel

07a56a9603cIt’s been a while since we focused on some of the people that continue to keep bringing you the great music the netlabel scene has to offer. We recently had a long talk with the team behind the Brusio netlabel.

Could you introduce the netlabel to our readers?
Brusio Netlabel is an Italian independent netlabel devoted to electronic experimental music as well as an electronic music collective (the Brusio Staff). The latter, together with its musical artists and artistic collaborators, is affectionately called the Brusio Family.

Why was the label founded? Did you have any specific reasons for starting a label?
In May 2009 we organized the Fourth Congress for Independent Electronic Music at ASK191, an occupied social center (Italian: CSOA, or “Centro Sociale Occupato Autogestito”) in Palermo. This experience was a result of many other meetings and congresses that we had organized in the past. Those past events always led to the production of CD-R for the diffusion of the live performances that took place. After the last congress organized at ASK191, which coincided with a change of its management, we started to think about a way to spread our music (and that of the artists participating in the events) in some other way than just CDs distributed at the venue itself. We wanted to do so in a way that was able to give the right visibility to these musical and artistic products. We had already been playing around with the idea of starting a netlabel and thus we decided to prepare a meeting involving all the artists that had played during the congress and other events linked to our activities. After long discussions and many defections, only six of the artists and organizers agreed to start the Brusio netlabel project. The following months saw long discussions about royalties, CC licences and of course the editorial lines. We needed to figure out who we wanted to be and what we wanted to do. At last, we set out to find a fitting name and logo, and finally the Brusio Netlabel was born.

Could you explain what “Brusio” means for our non-Italian speaking readers? Is there a meaning behind the label’s name or is it just a word?
If you look at a dictionary, you will find “brusio” translated as “buzz”. However, I feel like that does not capture the entire meaning of the word. Can you imagine the sound made by a lot of people in the same place? Like, for instance, a classroom without the teacher. The sum of voices, sounds of coughing, the feet on the floor and about every other sound that people produce, result in an indistinguishable salad of sounds. That’s what “brusio” means. It fits well with what we do as we are a bunch of people (artists, musicians, editors,…) that produce sounds which are in many cases perceived like a “brusio”, an apparent mess of sounds. We feel that this is music anyhow! Maybe “murmur” or “hum” might be a more fitting translation.

Where in Italy are you located? Do most of the artists on the label come from the same corner of the earth or are you spread around the globe?
We are located in Palermo, the chief city of Sicily (south Italy). Of the dozens of artists who have collaborated with Brusio so far, about half come from Palermo while the other half comes from others parts of Italy or the world. We have artists from such diverse places as South Africa, Lithuania, Germany, France, Russia, Spain and the UK.

How many artists do you have on the label? How many releases have you published so far?
We have a total of 31 releases, consisting of nine EPs, fifteen LPs, two live performances, three compilations, one archive and one DVD. This amounts to working with more than 31 different artists so far.

What genres of music do you release? Do you focus on one specific genre, or multiple genres? If you’re aiming at multiple genres, do you try to keep a sort of typical ‘Brusio sound’ throughout all the releases, or are you not so much concerned with that?
If I have to answer that question quickly, I’d say we produce electronic experimental music. But, as everybody knows, it is really difficult to classify things, because classification functions like a pigeon hole where try to push stuff inside, rather than describing them in detail. There’s a reason for that, too: it’s just easier to speak about general genres like ‘IDM’ or ‘noise’ rather then describe the music in detail. We range from the glitch of Smider and Precocious Mouse to the IDM of Monoiz and Oreinoi or from the avant-garde of Empirical Evidence and Chamber Machine to the hypno-industrial of Static Waves. However, every definition breaks down if not developed further. Everything is debatable depending on your point of view. I think that we are not looking for a typical sound but we would like our releases to include a little bit of experimentalism, if you grant me the term. By this I mean that we are looking for people that try to at least find something new, in a musical sense. Beware, we are not looking for the new John Cage, Alva Noto or Merzbow, neither are we seeking a pointless destination of the music given by a forced innovation or meaningless bites of experimentalism. We are looking for people that are able to use their music as a hypertext for speaking to other people, for transmitting their ideas, feelings or state of mind, not only using the new artistic instruments and technologies, but also with a different mental approach.

Could you provide us with three tracks that sum up the range of sounds or style of your label?
As stated earlier, our label doesn’t really have a typical sound, but it is a collection of music that shares the same approach for innovation. It is difficult for me to choose three tracks as typical representatives because our catalogue includes a wide variety of genres that is hard to represent with just three tracks. If you want to know more, we invite you to check out our website and listen to some of our tracks.

Monoiz – Like Analogue

 

Precocious Mouse – Grey Circuits

 

Hatori Yumi – III

 

(We added some tracks here for our listeners, but you get the message: a lot of different sounds can be found on the Brusio website. Check it out.)

Quite a few netlabels have retained some elements from the traditional music industry, or have started incorporating those again. Can music really be free?
What do we really understand by free? Free from what? Our idea of free music is more related to the capability to produce music without any influence, first of all editorial influence, but also social or any other kind of influence. We love music coming from free minds. In this respect, yes, we think that music can be free. If you take free to mean free of charge, that’s a different question altogether. In the latter case, the music could be produced without any influence, but might still require a purchasing fee.

So, how do you feel about asking (a little) money for releases?
We believe it’s normal for people who work hard on their music to expect some form of return for their efforts. The easiest way for this is, of course, money. While we don’t think it is wrong, we do believe it is not the only way to earn from music. For every one of our releases we try to organize an event for the artist, working hard to find some money for them. The Brusio Staff decided to share the music on the web in order to provide the possibility for a bigger audience for the artist’s music and to not push away people that don’t want to pay for music. So it’s not for stinginess but more for political or economical reasons. Also, one shouldn’t assume that music which is free is necessarily worse (or better) than commercial music.

Do you release hard copies like CD or vinyl?
We only release hard copies in limited editions. This usually coincides with a gig for an artist. These CDs or DVDs are all numbered and handmade. When someone wants to obtain one, just write to us at our info email address or buy one during the events organized by Brusio Netlabel.

Do you engage in promotion? How do you pay for servers?
We promote the work of our artists through the organization of events (like explained earlier). On these events we sell our handmade limited editions and merchandising like stickers, T-shirts and pins. We get some donations (usually really small ones) and if we end up short, we complement this with money from our own pockets. These make up our regular funding. In addition, when we organize concerts, we usually look for sponsors in order to earn some money for the event’s management. Sometimes we manage to find a place which already has a sound system, so we don’t have to pay for that ourselves and save more money for the artists. In our city it is really hard to find public places for organizing concerts and events, so we usually have to ask private institutions. Italy (and especially the southern part where we are from) suffers from a big loss of interest in cultural activities, because of our economical recession, resulting in a large reduction of money available for these sort of things.

On your website you have a special page dedicated to a project trying to collaborate with other netlabels. You mention Brusio is trying to “build a collaborative connection inside the webaudio community among the netlabels that share our same approach to free music and to electronic arts in general.” Could you tell us something more about this?
Yes. Some time ago we decided to try to build a collaboration between different netlabels. The idea was to try and see if it was possible to organize meetings and events with other netlabels. So we sent out many e-mails explaining our ideas for collaboration and the goals we wanted to reach with this. We explicitly said that we didn’t need to have a leading position in this collaboration but were looking for building a platform in which all partners were equal. Until now, we’ve received very few replies. One of the main issues that was raised was the problem of coordinating so many different realities, such as the netlabels, that are managed by many different kind of people. A proposed solution for this was to center our activities around a virtual platform for meeting and discussing. Voices were raised in favour of a dedicated forum, someone else proposed a blog or a website including a forum as well as a radio with tracks from the various netlabels. While these were good ideas, nothing of this has been realized yet and only a few of the netlabels we’ve contacted so far have started collaborating actively. In total that would be eight netlabels and one ‘traditional’ label. We’ll have to put in a big effort if we want to realize this little dream of collaboration.

It seems like you’re facing the same problem that often plagues these ventures: a lot of good ideas but implementing those proves to be quite difficult. What have you achieved with this connection until now?
The most important thing we have achieved is the possibility of being in contact with different realities that offer a different way of thinking. This produces a cultural growth for everybody. One of the things we’re working on is exchanging compilations we are doing with some of these netlabels. One compilation of Brusio is being featured on the main page of the site of our partners where it’s published and reviewed. We do the same for their compilations. We produced an album with Bally Corgan, the owner of Sonic Belligeranza. A lot of this collaboration focuses on live shows, as we have quite a bit of experience with those. We’ve organized a festival called the “Main_OFF 2011″ where Nephogram was one of the partners. One of the owners of Bowindo Recordings (Domenico Sciajno) asked the Brusio Staff to lend them a hand for the organization of the festival “Live!ixem 2011″, within the context of Opensound(.eu).

What are you aiming to accomplish with this collaborative connection in the future?
Our aim is to further develop this possibility for collaboration, even if it’s really hard to actively maintain all the contacts. It could be really interesting to one day see a web platform where it is actually possible to organize events with and for the netlabels. The only attempts at this that I’ve seen in the past are now unfortunately all but dead. While you can still find some on the web, like the netlabel forums of Discogs or the Internet Archive, those have turned into a mere publication of new releases.

Is there anything we should have asked you but didn’t?
Want to know more about Brusio Netlabel? Just have a look to our website and listen to our music!

We would like to thank Tito and the rest of the Brusio team for this interview. All the best and we’re looking forward to hearing more from you in the future.

Brusio Netlabel website


This interview was originally published on netlabelism.com, an online music magazine covering netlabel culture and releases. I was editor for the magazine from January 2011 until December 2014.

Various Artists – Choose Ur Way

a3120295654_10Upon checking my ever-growing RSS inbox of netlabel releases, I stumbled upon a release titled ‘Choose Ur Way’. Going from the spelling I quickly concluded that this probably wasn’t going to be all that good. “Oh, God. Another one of these hastily slapped-together dubstep slash drum and bass releases”, I sighed. I was wrong. Was I ever wrong. I was so wrong in fact, that I owe it to the label and all of you to tell you what a gem this truly is.

‘Choose Ur Way’ is a great introduction to the Energostatic Records catalogue. Actually, it’s more like four releases in one. The 16 tracks are neatly divided in four groups, with each group consisting of two tracks by two artists. I like this already. Choosing to include two tracks by the same artist not only provides some continuity, it also gives you a more nuanced view of said artist’s work. The styles of the four parts range from ambient over dub techno to chillstep and drum and bass. This might seem like a large leap to make in one release, but I think Energostatic gets away with it. Read on to find out why that is.

Each part of the release is given a specific vector, ranging from AA to AD. This is attention to detail in creating an atmosphere around the label really adds something extra to the experience. In a recent review, Simon Haycock pointed out that making your own netlabel is as easy as ever these days, thanks to prefab blogging software and services like soundcloud and bandcamp. While I certainly applaud these evolutions, I still find that custom-built websites which host the releases on their own pages, often take the time to add character and a uniqueness which I find lacking in many of the generic blog layouts. Energostatic Records is a great example of a label which provides this all-round house-style. The sleek design focuses on a colourful view of our galaxy. This theme of space travel fits perfectly with the styles of electronic music it releases.

Vector AA is a natural fit with the Energostatic theme, and it is a great ambient release in its own right. Copious amounts of reverb ensure a feeling of almost limitless space in Wallwerk’s ‘Lingleep’.  In Vector AB, I feel like Qumesht’s brand of dub techno is a slightly better fit to the release than that of Jimmy Myhrman. The latter’s track ‘Subway’ is a little too hard-hitting, but he immediately fixes this with the wonderfully deep ‘Shadows’.
Vector AC is my least favourite, for its first three tracks present the largest discontinuity with the styles of the rest of the release. Vital picks up the ‘Fragments’ at the end though, and so leads the way for the music that should be the soundtrack for any would-be kosmonaut: Vector AD. Marc Atmost’s clean style of living room drum and bass reminds me of my childhood favourite ‘Omni Trio’. The synth pads and surgical drum hits of ‘Aural Objects (Rework)’ make this a strong track in its own right, but when the bass finally drops in, I went weak in the knees and was twelve years old again, pressing the headphones into my ears and leaning back in the sofa with a gargantuan smile.

Energostatic Records are already on their 10th release, and I should be punished for only discovering them now. If you, like me, have not heard of them before, this release will serve as an excellent introduction to their sound. If you have heard of them before, there’s no need for me to tell you anything. You’ve probably had this on repeat since the day it was released. And rightfully so. ‘Choose Ur Way’ is a great addition to any music library. I can only hope Energostatic will continue to take us on intergalactic trips like this for years to come. [SVB]

Vector AA – Wallwerk – Teaby

Vector AD – Marc Atmost – Aural Objects (Rework)

 

Links:
Release Page
Energostatic Records website (The original site has been replaced by the Bandcamp page, much to my disappointment)


This review was originally published on netlabelism.com, an online music magazine covering netlabel culture and releases. I was editor for the magazine from January 2011 until December 2014.