Quarantine Interviews // Difficult Arts and Music
Quarantine Interviews // Difficult Arts and Music

Quarantine Interviews // Difficult Arts and Music

Difficult Arts and Music Record Label Logo

DAAM is a brand new record label set up by Brighton, UK based sound artist, composer and performance artist Distant Animals. We had a chance to chat with DA about the reasons behind starting a label and so much more!

So first…why a record label? Why now?

In 2016 I completed a PhD in composition. I have a deep passion for the more ‘academic’, research-orientated approaches to creating art, but this way of working sometimes feels locked away inside universities. I wanted to find a way to promote interesting creative research in a more accessible context, and the form of a record label seemed a good way to achieve that. Given the state of the world we live in, it seems more pertinent than ever to be promoting critical approaches, both to art, and to life in general.

I recently read an interview with Jack Conte from Patreon in which he said that in this decade the cultural balance will shift from corporations and tech companies to the creator/maker. Is that something you believe in personally?

I think in many respects it always has been focused on the creator/maker. I mean, this is the same argument that Wagner (of all people) was making in 1849 – culture is not about ‘big’ works, but the day-to-day activities of people. My PhD explored this idea in depth, arguing that there is an inherent creativity to all social interaction – holding a conversation, going for a walk, arguing, fucking, fixing the sink, whatever. I would hope that, particularly as capitalism (and thus the onus on the art industry) weakens, we will simply see this acknowledged in the diversity and spectrum of art that is being produced.

What about Spotify and Daniel Ek? Do they represent some of the glaring issues with capitalism? Can streaming be a way forward or will it always drag us back and empty musicians pockets at the end of the day?

Well, there’s nothing wrong with streaming per se – as technologies go, there’s a lot to like. But, we need to view Spotify and such through the prism of capitalism – an economic model that is built around exploiting producers (in this case, musicians). The record industry has always been about selling a very, very specific slither of musical activity, and is a brilliant example of capitalism’s parasitic tendencies. We (as a society) have learned that this tiny slither of music is ‘normal’ and everything outside it is ‘weird’. Which is madness – because these are relative terms. Streaming could offer a fantastic, community-led means of sharing our creativity (what Brecht called ‘a vast network of pipes’), if only we can push past the perverse need to have our own musical tastes validated by some external and biased medium (record labels, Spotify, music critics, whatever).

And that’s another point I saw Conte bringing up in an interview – how we went from patronage of artists to unit-based sales of records. I still remember the days when major labels shouted from the rooftops that Napster should be shut down and I have yet to hear any of them condemn Spotify for doing even more egregious version of what Napster did. Plenty of criticism from artists themselves, but too often its dismissed as whining. 

It’s about control. In those early days, the tech companies had no affiliation to the record labels. http://MP3.com both promoted independent artists and openly asked the major labels to collaborate with them. The majors refused because they didn’t understand the way things were going. Once they did, they sued the existing tech companies out of existence and invested in new entities like Apple and Spotify who most clearly aligned with their interests. I don’t want to hark back to capitalism again, but we know by now that it can’t be changed from within. Musicians need to develop alternative micro-economies that operate outside of the streaming behemoths – not unlike Bandcamp has done. The only value major streaming sites offer musicians is very, very slight assistance with promotion and validation.

This somehow feeds into my understanding that tech companies, by now, waded into music business – they are music business, more or less. So as a musician you have to compete not only with other artists, but also tech companies/algorithms and algorithms themselves are poorly understood by general public. What they accomplish and how they accomplish things is almost always a mystery with little, if any, transparency behind the process. 

Absolutely. One thing that people often don’t realize, is that the entire internet has been designed to prevent any level of critical thinking. This isn’t a conspiracy – google ads (which underpin almost the entire internet) reward sites that encourage a reader to ‘click through’ into different sites/pages every 300 words or less. Twitter has a what, 120 character word count? We are literally forcing human interactions to be as cursory and surface-level as possible. How can we be expected to think critically in 300 words?

Youtube is an interesting example, because it was, until very recently, fairly independent of the music industry. If you let the algorithm go wild, it will start promoting all kinds of obscure stuff, in a way Spotify and the like are built to avoid doing. But this is still a model that is built around exploitation.

And algorithms can be changed at any given moment too, so that that so that that wonderful unpredictability might work the other way – say, promoting conspiracies. And lest we forget – there’s also arcane/poorly explained copyright system…

So would you say that starting a label is, in a sense, done to counter some of those issues?

Yes, I think so. Particularly where small labels can operate with a degree of independence. The fact a label can make 25 copies of a release on cassette, and send it out across the world to people who actually care about it without having to engage AT ALL with the parasitic world of Spotify, is great. I think if we could just join up the dots – foster touring networks, printing / pressing networks, distribution networks, promo networks – that all cherished their independence and were built by artists, for artists, we could go some way to allowing the arts to become far more sustainable than they currently are.

Bringing the human element into what is increasingly becoming automated/mechanized…

So lets step back a bit from capitalism/streaming…how do you go about finding artists? And what would be some of the qualities you’d hear in someone’s music/art (or even personality/character) to have you go “this is the one I’d absolutely love to work with”?

There’s a pretty strict remit, in so far as we’re only doing ‘research-orientated’ art releases. So someone making a really nice album, or even having a cool concept, it’s not enough. We’re focusing only on work – of whatever discipline or genre – that has come about as part of of broader research project. My personal tastes to focus on the avant-garde and experimental, so that’s likely going to be prioritized also.

And if you could sign anyone (past or present – no how matter how big), who would it be?

I’d love to release some of the work of someone like Christoph Schlingensief – which of course is unlikely to be sonic in nature, but would be fascinating. And perhaps a research project by an exciting, politically engaged performance artist – someone like Adrian Piper. But if I was focused just on music, then getting some of the more obscure works by the likes of Mauricio Kagel of LaMonte Young out there would be great. Or perhaps a new work by someone like Thomas Ankersmit. I could go on forever!

Any other labels you see as inspiration/kindred spirits?

There are some research-led labels out there, like Audint, and labels like Shelter Press who release writing or art alongside musical work.

Are you hoping to get into publishing side of things?

Yes, that’s a big part of the label’s approach. The first release, for instance, comes with a 20-page zine documenting some of the various academic research around Brexit and the role of the Media in British Politics. The plan is to have a similar book with most, if not all releases, as well as art-prints and physical objects that reflect the nature of the release and its research. ‘Brexshitting’, our first release, is available as cassette + zine, a digital download, and an edition-of-one cheap foreign Union Jack record player wrapped in a Union Jack flag, containing 4 DIY lathe cut vinyls of our original sonic research.

Brexshitting Compilation

Last, but not least…what have you been listening to lately? Any obscure new artists you know of that deserve better exposure?

I don’t know how obscure they are, but lately, my playlist has contained the likes of Simon McCorry, Jonathan Deasy, Stephan Moore, Miya Folick, Duster, Wrong Life, Simon Whetham, 30lbs of Bone, Farah, Claire Chase, Witch on Horseback, and Rojin Sharafi.

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