Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Interview with Dean Birkett

KS: Dean, you are running the netlabel Rack & Ruin records. Why have you chosen such a name? What kind of aims hoped you to reach with this project initially?

DB: Rack & Ruin came about by accident. A music forum where I post had a number of users posting tracks, Eps and albums, as is with the nature of forums, it wasn’t long before these said posts had vanished from the front page and into obscurity. Upon listening to a number of these artists it became apparent that this was a real shame and so I decided to set up a website which was initially going to be a placeholder for these artists to host their music. The said artists contained the likes of Jason the Swamp, Andy’s Airport of Love, Moon Runners, Dublin Duck Dispensary, America Del Sur, Tyson Brinacombe, These are Words, Billy Say, and many many others.... we collectively put our minds together to try and come up with a suitable name which could encapsulate all artists. Initial suggestions involved ’Under the bed records’, and ’Pica Owl records’ (which was actually suggested by PWRFL PWR), but it was Kelly Filreis who came up with ’Rack & Ruin’, she is an artist who has since made a number of Rack & Ruin album covers, alongside working with the likes of Dylan Ettinger on his El Tule tape label. As for how she reached ’Rack & Ruin’, I don’t really know, and perhaps strangely I don’t feel I want to know – it seems to suit that the name is as big a mystery to myself as to any listener.

KS: The music coming out from Rack & Ruin records is ranging from weird electronica to psych folk and lo-fi. What are those connective elements between all of those artists? What is the most important aspect by a band to be recruited?

DB: I touched upon it earlier but the connection is purely another music forum – despite many of the artists sounds being very different, a fairly high percentage of artists all found each other via a music forum set up for a now defunct Canadian band, The Unicorns. As the label grew and started to reach out to more people, that is when I started to receive submissions from new artists and acts that had no connection with The Unicorns forum. I also actively persued some artists, the likes of starstarstar were found on a forum for Animal Collective – I heard a couple of tracks that they did, and felt that they definitely needed to be heard by more listeners. This has also happened recently with the likes of Frost Faire, and I have no doubt will continue to play a part in how I go about finding artists for the label.

There are many things that I look for when opting to put the music out, I do try to find acts that are either going to be very accessible or interesting and different enough, who fit into a niche market. I guess this is why Rack and Ruin really fits, as you can split the name into two seperate entities, Rack being accessible, Ruin being not so accessible. Recently I think the focus has been on the Rack side of things, as there are many many netlabels that are around that feature electronica, ambient, noise, whereas surprisingly in comparison the more accessible indie sounds are thinner on the ground.

KS: You have run your records just over a year while the discography reaches more than 130 albums. What is your success factor to find out all of those artists?

DB: The music forum naturally, along with submissions. It is not unusual for Rack & Ruin to receive 3-5 submissions a week, some really jump out, whereas others either do not fit in with the ’sound and feel’ of the label, or are perhaps better suited with other labels who specialise in particular sounds and genres. There are other places on the net that have helped introduce the label to new artists, the likes of the E6 Townhall, and Collected Animals, as well as of course Myspace.

KS: If to listen to Testicular Manslaughter, Ringo Star/starstarstar, The Macadamia Brothers or someone else I must admit it is really top music to be enjoyed. Maybe my logic is somehow debased but is it possible that Rack & Ruin records may be one of the sublabels of bigger (indie) labels once in the future? Has there been someone showing his/her interest toward your label?

DB: No, Rack & Ruin has evolved into a viable alternative to the more traditional indie labels, and long may this continue. The label is entirely not for profit, and in fact with hosting charges it has cost myself money to keep this project going, but I firmly believe that it is a worthwhile path to take – purely to see where it does actually lead.

KS: On the other hand, what do you think about the situation in the music business world nowadays? Regardless of many attempts to punish people who have illegally uploaded or downloaded music the situation has not been changed at all. In this vein the netlabels give people a legal chance to download files. For example, if to check out for it at some albums have showcased very high rate of downloading. Obviously it is the acting in a contrary way in reference to the logic of business. I don`t think it that CC-music will already undermine the ground under the feets of major labels while the artists under a CC-licence are very serious competitors for indie labels however. There are even a lot of cases that some netlabels offer CD`s (mostly CD-R`s) as well. What do you think will the logic of netmusic overtake the indie labels?

DB: I think that it is all about giving alternatives, and legal ones at that. Netlabels have been going on for a long time, and although I'm no expert, a lot of releases I remember listenening to years ago were fairly unprovocative electronica. Back then I may check out a track or two, and decide it wasn't for me and move on. Nowadays I find that with more labels, the niche markets are now there, so you can find netlabels who specialise (or at least have an affinity) in areas that may be of interest to the listener. This has meant that netlabels have managed to get a core group of listeners, and not just a band on the label. It is always nice to read someone posting, "Check out Rack & Ruin records", when asked for a suggestion, and not just "Check out Dublin Duck Dispensary, they're on Rack & Ruin records". I think because of this mentality the netlabels are managing to stand-up alongside a lot of the more traditional indie labels.

With regards to competing against indie labels, I don't think that is what netlabels are really about. I think that indie labels do have to concern themselves more with the business model, whereas netlabels aren't really about making money. For myself I see music as an idea that one person (or a group of people) actually have, they have the idea, they nurture it, and then this idea becomes a piece of music. With all ideas that come into fruition they are actually worthless unless you share the idea with others. Therefore music is nothing without people listening to it. I see the netlabels job as allowing people to share ideas legally, and not have to worry about punishment for listenening to someone elses ideas.

KS: You are the Englishman who is living in the Netherlands now. Most music released under Rack & Ruin records is actually coming from the New World. Are the America more enthusiastic in doings with music than Europe?

DB: Again I think The Unicorns are to blame for the most part! A lot of the core musicians are from the US, and Canada, and due to this we do seemingly get an awful lot of artists who contact us from these locations. Recently, and mainly due to the success of Dublin Duck Dispensary, we have had an influx of Irish artists putting out Eps and albums on the label, the likes of A Series of Dark Caves, Western Homes, porn.exe, and soon to be joined by Vincent Lillis.

KS: Maybe it sounds a little provocative but what are your favorite albums released under Rack & Ruin records?

DB: I'm a fan of the latest Various Hits collection, "Never mind the brollies", we wanted to put out a summer hits collection, and I really think that we managed to achieve this. I've already read on various messageboards, and I received some private messages telling me that they think the album is fantastic, some going as far as to suggest it is one of the albums of the year - which is always very nice to hear.

I also have to mention Neil Scrivin's, Twenty years on Ben Nevis. When I heard this, it was before Rack & Ruin came about, and I definitely had this in my mind when I started the label. I think it is a stunning display of 'hauntology', that wouldn't look amiss on a label such as Ghost Box. I still feel that it is criminal that I can't own a physical copy in its very own shiny dualcase.

KS: Besides you are the musician as well. As Almiqui (in collaboration with Steve Bromley aka Gnomefoam) and Sister Ruth (his own one-man-project). When will be released the first and proper LP by Sister Ruth?

DB: I don’t really have the time to work on Sister Ruth (or another Almiqui album), running Rack & Ruin takes up a considerable amount of time as it is – with site updates and promotion.

Rack & Ruin records official site
Sister Ruth on Myspace
Almiqui on Myspace