Bass T, Beastie Boys, Burning Bibles, Capitol, Charlie Parker, D.I.Y., David Guetta, De La Soul, Dead Fingers Talk, DJ Phoney, Doom Metal, Drake Records, Dub, Early Reggae, EFA, Electric Wizard, EmCee Lynx, Ernest Drake, fangkiebassbeton, Fire Engine, Funk, Green Day, Guinea Pig, Hip Hop, House, Hundertzwei-label, Inner Conflict, International Criminal, Interview, John Coltrane, Madonna, Man Ray, Maria’s Lover, Martin Büsser, Meckenheim, Metallica, Neuton, Nirvana, Northern Soul, Phil Collins, Public Enemy, Red Flag, Rihanna, Rocksteady, Rolf Kistenich, Ska, Stoner Rock, The Dynaminds, Think Again, Till Stellmacher, Tiva, Vinyl, Zap
Selfmade man, former small-town boy, Musician, Manager, Producer, Recordstore owner, political activist, tape-mixer, vinyl worshiper, and all together an awesome guy. Just this year I had the honor to get to know one of Cologne’s All-rounder at Cologne’s original Prog-Rock Party at the so-called Baui. So let’s get into the depths of this creative mind.
How and why did you first enter the music business?
My first band was a Punk band called Burning Bibles – back when I lived in a German small-town called Meckenheim. Till Stellmacher, who’s running the Hundertzwei-label, used to be the drummer. I was a music nerd since early childhood and it was pretty clear from the start, I was gonna be in a band someday. Music’s been expressing things for me ever since (that goes for the music as well as the lyrics). I was learning from artists and then came the time when I had to do it myself. We had a bit more than local gigs but didn´t get around that much. Later the band name changed to Think Again and we played more like Hardcore-Punk. Several line-up changes and me switching from guitar to vocals. It was all on a D.I.Y. level. We sold demo tapes and were on a sampler, send stuff to mailorders, played youth centres and all that. So actually not much music-biz, really. In the following years I build up a label called Red Flag where 3 benefit tape samplers and the first 7” releases of Inner Conflict as well as a split 7” by Guinea Pig with Maria’s Lover came out. Although already vinyl records by then, it was still all about do it yourself. Following that I ran a DJ-mixtape-label (with releases by fangkiebassbeton, Rolf Kistenich, EmCee Lynx, Bass T, Tiva and others). That was 2001 – 2007. I started dejaying as DJ Phoney around 2000 and Ernest Drake came to life around 2005, joined by twila.too in 2008.
You can look back onto several years of experience now, how did the biz change in your opinion?
I am gonna say what a lot of people say: during the 60s and 70s personality and character of a musician mattered a lot more. When things went kinda dull in the industry there came a change with punk and it’s attitude – without hardcore the 80s would’ve been unbearable. After that came Indie Rock and fulfilled the same strategy until Green Day and Nirvana got trapped in the major music biz and D.I.Y. fell apart. Nowadays even small labels often act like majors in the way that economical decisions stand above artistic ones (sometimes that may be rather obvious, sometimes it may be connected to decisions and questions like “we gotta make this fit for the dancefloor” or “will they start headbangin’ to this one?”). There is a lot less money in the music biz compared to, let’s say, the eighties – except for those few huge major acts that make millions with playing just a few concerts.
Distributions like Fire Engine, EFA and Neuton went bankrupt because profit margins got smaller and smaller. Not to speak of the largest wave of record shop closings in history. It’s hundreds around the world in the last four years alone. The industry is part of all that and reading about thoughts of major label clerks in business mags really makes me laugh. To think that this business can survive with digital releases only is naive. They can’t live with not being big business anymore. The music business is in a crisis the whole capitalist economy is facing.
But for me not that much has changed, really. Started releasing tapes and 7” records during the 90s in low numbers, the current Ernest Drake mini-LP is also still limited to 500 copies. And in my opinion it was always worth a lot more to have a small but dedicated crowd – freaks that really dig your sound and maybe spend some time thinking about the message – than to play to a huge audience that just consumes your music together with Phil Collins, Metallica, Madonna, Rihanna and David Guetta. I don’t need that kind of people. So in general changes in the music biz are huge but for me personally that’s all never been affecting me much.
What side do you prefer and why (being in a band, being a Manager, Producer etc.)?
I like something about it all and it’s all connected – being a record store owner kinda fits with my attitude of liking the heck of a lot of different music plus I need to make a living, being a musician is necessary to express emotions and thoughts, then the music’s gotta sound good so I’m a producer of some kind. And when you do things yourself you’re also some sort of manager and promoter I did booking and management for a High Energy R&R-band (The Dynaminds) but doing just that doesn’t work out for me. Drake Records is a small store and label as well and I basically do everything from buying and selling records to graphic design. I’d be bored to do just one of these things. That’s one of the major aspects why I can’t stand standard 9 to 5 jobs.
Let’s talk about the Record store: How do male and female costumers differ from each other?
I got an explanation from a psychologist that had to do with our hunter-gatherer past. And I guess there is some basic truth in that. Also the way boys and girls are being raised within this society plays a role. Most women handle music in an emotional and spontaneous way, they don’t spend the same amount of time to categorize and intellectualize everything. That’s why more women dance to music than men usually. If you get a compliment by a woman about your music (as a DJ or live act) it’ll usually not be: “I like the way the snare sounded in that track.” Men spend more time thinking about the genre, the sound, the producer, the label, the connection to other music and so on. Women usually spend less money on music. Most buy between one and four records, while men buy one to thirty. With female customers you can spend time speaking about almost anything but the music while men are often focused on exactly only that subject (and some don’t even talk but dig).
If you could choose once more, would you still consider opening the store?
Yes. Vinyl is on the rise again – not in the same way as during the early nineties – but within the 3 years I’m running Drake Records the period between when an album’s been sold out and got repressed has gotten shorter. For example the new Beastie Boys album was sold out very quick and prices went high. Within like two months it got repressed and that with a major label like Capitol. The LP’s of Electric Wizard got repressed by Rise Above, some even twice within only a couple of years. That didn’t happen six to fifteen years ago. On the contrary we’re facing a huge economic crisis and it’s not easy to establish a business in times like this. Separating the wheat from the chaff is one of most important things if you’re selling records. You gotta know your stuff and you gotta be able to say: “this release is a waste of material – I don’t need this crap” or “that’s pure gold – gotta get 10 copies”. You gotta stand against arguments of all those laptop DJ’s coming along whining about how heavy crates with records are. Without people buying and carrying records, the future will be all about music as a hobby. It’s been the heck of a lot of overtime and some rather dry accounting to build this store but I regret nothing.
You do not limit your musical work to one genre, is that something that has always been the case or have you become this open-minded in the cause of time?
I have been listening to Charlie Parker and John Coltrane when I was into Heavy Metal and during my Hardcore Punk-period I got into Public Enemy and De La Soul, later also Digital Hardcore – there was always an interest in how all music is connected. But I was playing guitar-based music in the beginning with my first three bands (mentioned Burning Bibles/Think Again and later Man Ray). It required the influence of movie soundtracks, mags/books, other people and their perspective to get to understand other sounds. When I started home recording around 1994 and used a drumcomputer and started cutting loops together with an old tapemachine I got more interested in electronic music. Also several subcultures I’ve been involved in (and learned their limitations) from Metal and Punk to the Skinhead-subculture, broadened my horizon. Actually the last one was my first real connection with black music. Pretty funny when you consider how certain racist stereotypes about Skins are being reproduced in the media. My interest in Ska, Rocksteady, Early Reggae and Northern Soul arose from there.
Also I read the hardcore-punk magazine “Zap” a lot during apprenticeship in the early nineties. With Martin Büsser (who sadly died last year) writing about Prog, Jazz, Indie Rock, Industrial, Avantgarde had quite an influence on me. When I was a kid my granny gave me a book with bios of classical musicians of the past and my whole childhood I listened to the radio a lot. I sort of wrote my own story about musical history in the back of my mind and put all things together. The same goes for political history somehow. My political interest and involvement with the Antifa and later the International Socialist-tendency further paved the way for all that followed. So nowadays I might listen to Dub, Stoner Rock, Funk, Hip Hop, Doom Metal, House in just one day without causing any sort of conflict between theses styles. Same as with jobs – it’d bore the hell out of me to just be into one musical style.
When can we expect your next publication and what will it be?
I , as DJ Phoney, recorded an album with International Criminal (Canadian Hip Hop-MC living in Spain) called “Dead Fingers Talk” that’ll be out this fall. It’s far from the mainstream and any average Hip Hop. We both love a lot of moody stuff, so we don’t join in on the cliché. Beat-wise it’s a groove between Golden Era- and newschool-vibes, rather the analog than the digital aesthetic. Lyricwise the album covers everything from a weird fictional underwater story (“Aquatain”) to crime/suspense (“Midnight Flowers” and “Crimerate”) to political issues (“Free Mumia”), one of our favourite tv series ever: The Prisoner (“No. 6”) and even an ironic occult song (“Ave Satani”).
As for my alter ego Ernest Drake there’s a bunch of unrecorded songs I’ve written and performed live on stage with Olivia before, after and during the making of “Guilty Of Thoughtcrime” – some of these might make it onto the next record. And I’m just writing on a new tune called “We have come to hestitate” whose lyrics deal with the way that people seem to think today that there always have to be solutions to major problems without ever facing a real conflict.
What are your plans for the near future?
The release of “Dead Fingers Talk” this year. Working on new Ernest Drake tunes. Some Deejay-appearances. And of course taking things one step further with the Drake Records vinyl store. In between all that regaining some of my private life, haha…
Finally, is there anything else you want to say?
Yeah; 2011 is yet a very interesting year seen on an international scale – massive revolts in Egypt, Algeria, Iraq, Libya, then a huge strike in the US (Wisconsin), riots and demonstrations in London. All that during an international crisis of the capitalist system (which is not temporary; as we’re steadily being told). The mainstream media and bourgeoise political leaders want to make us believe that all these movements are about democracy the way that they interpret it – as so-called “free enterprise economy”. When the Berlin wall fell in 1990 there were lots of protestors demanding real socialism – their signs didn’t say “We want to be integrated to be unemployed or underpaid”.
Our leaders are scared the same as in Cairo or London might happen over here because they know the whole story about lower unemployment figures and the economy on the upturn is just a lie. Millions are underpaid drastically and putting jobless people in one-euro-jobs is just about statistical extenuation, not about giving them a real future. Many leaving school have no idea what to do, don’t get a job, work in unpaid practical work placements, a voluntary year of social service or study so that the problem occurs years later. Capitalist society will not work that way for much longer. And it’s up to us to actively build an alternative instead of waiting around.
Thanks for taking your time!
Thank you for letting me voice my opinion and all the best for the future of Psychorizon!