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The underground independent music scene throughout the 80s and 90s was awash with tiny little labels releasing tapes, fanzines and low-run records. By their very nature, many of these labels were idiosyncratic operations, each with their own defined outlooks on music and packaging, which were upheld often with the most limited of finances.

To some extent this ethos continues nowadays, with labels producing CDRs and communicating via the internet, and kabukikore is just such a label. With its 50+ strong release list spanning the most refined pop music to the most intense electronic noise, the label is tied together with a strong visual style and self-belief. As they sum it up themselves: “the style is eclectic, but everything is cool”.

Visit kabukikore here, and enjoy the interview below. Support kabukikore and labels like it.

Why the hell did you call your label that?

crayola: That’s a question for you g*

g*: Thanks crayola, I kind of got interested in Kabuki theatre a few years ago, initially because I love the way the word kabuki sounds. The idea of this brash loud colourful nonsense theatre really appealed, it seems to fit with what we do, although it is via a tribute to my cat kabuki who got run over while we were setting up the label.

How did you get the whole thing started? How long have you been running now?

crayola: It was 2002. I’d been running Thee Foundation for Nothing cassette label since 1990, and we’d been together in bands since Pimp in about 1989. We’d done a bunch of recording under various guises, but it was the Future Sperm Brasil stuff that we wanted to release, and so we started a label together. I was living in Italy at the time, and wanted something to do.

g*: We had been living in the same town and writing and recording lots of material under different names. I had been really impressed by Crayola’s Foundation for Nothing label, and had set up Garlik just to release the Future Sperm Brasil back catalogue we were amassing. After a while it just seemed to make sense to join forces creatively and financially, even though by that time we were in different countries.

Have you been inspired by any labels in terms of style/ambition/enthusiasm?

crayola: The list of favourite labels is long. The most inspirational to me in terms of kabukikore? Hmm… Rune Grammofon, 555, Ron Johnson, vhf, k, Blackbean and Placenta Tape Club.

g*: Stylistically, definitely Rune Grammafon, and maybe SYR and Fire Breathing Turtle, oh and Hot Air. Stylistically and ideologically, maybe Infinite Chug or Dual Plover.

crayola: Now I think of it, Bi-Joopiter was hugely important to me in the 80s – firstly because the Mctells gave me a lot of gigs and were very supportive, but mainly because Bi-Joopiter were the first label I knew that screen-printed their record sleeves in their kitchen and took lots of time making things look great with little to no money.

g*: And Dischord. The idea of ploughing everything back into the label from the artists that sell, to look after those that don’t.

What kind of a role has the internet played regarding your label? Some people these days operate exclusively via the ‘net, whilst others are still very much mail order based. What’s your stance?

crayola: The internet is a huge part of it. First off, as I already mentioned, I was in Italy while g* was in cornwall, so most business was done between the two of us via e-mail. My job at the time involved endless hours of sitting in front of my Mac, organising concerts in strange bits of eastern Europe. So the net was, and still is, a big part of my life. It seemed natural that the label should live there too. Personally I love how Paypal allows you to operate. It allows the most unprofessional of businesses to appear professional. And God knows, we’re unprofessional in our approach. I think I wanted the label to work more or less in the same way that my tape label operated, with a DIY feel/ethic – and I think that’s where we really succeeded. The bands on kabukikore and the people who buy from us, on the whole, think in the same kinda way about, for want of a better term, hobbyist indulgence.

g*: I guess we wanted to have the DIY hobbyist idea, but with a much greater degree of thought in the packaging and the actual look. Essentially we do this with two Powerbooks, printers, glue and card. The web lets us look more real, in terms of label identity. If it was just a photo of the two of us, up to our elbows in Pritt Stick, and a postal address, no one would buy. It gives the label its own identity outside of our personalities.

Is downloading killing music? Do you harbour any strong feelings sympathetic to or against the RIAA?

crayola: You’ll have to hang on while I check out what on earth the RIAA is… OK, I just did some googling. Um, in terms of copyright, my view is that copyright is personal – I mean that it belongs to the creator of a piece of work rather than the label. At least it does in our case – our releases all say &c opy;kabukikore, but that’s just ‘cos we like our covers to match. In reality, our contract with bands – and yes we have one – is all about mutual trust and friendship. Copyright infringement in the age of downloading is, I believe, of little consequence. I think most people still have a tactile approach to music – yes, they’ll downlaod something, but I think on the whole that if they like it then they’ll buy the product. I say that because I like to think I’m not alone in having to own the music I like. Since I was small, if someone taped me something and I liked it, I’d buy it. I couldn’t imagine not having the actual artefact.

g*: I think it’ll become more problematic as more things are released that do not have ‘an original,’ and we can’t fetishise the object. But so many people do like to have a physical product. When the Beale album was reviewed in the Times, it said you can download it for free from the band’s website, or buy it from kabukikore. I was sending out three, maybe four, a day for weeks. But could you imagine saying “I’ll have the new whatever album downloaded for Christmas this year, please?” It’ll never go that far. Not ever.

Do you feel an affililation with other labels out there? Is there any kind of community or so-called ‘scene’ – be it local or not – that you feel linked to?

crayola: There’s definitely a scene, though it’s not as intense as the cassette labels run through flyering and fanzines in the 80s and 90s – now that WAS intense. And long term friendships were forged. The scene is more to do with being aware and respecting other labels who seem to have a similar ethos, regardless of the format they’re releasing, rather than actually getting to know other labels and corresponding (which does still happen of course). It’s more to do with awareness. I feel definite kinship with Rune Grammofon, Flitwick, vhf, Jagjaguwar, Rossbin, Lex, Smalltown Supersound, Elsie & Jack, to name just a few, and all for different reasons. Some of these labels are ‘proper’ businesses. Now, for me, it’s all about the ideology of the music and the presentation rather than the ideology of the medium.

g*: Oh yes, definitely. The scene itself is not subcultural in the old sense, but generally a scene that transcends musical styles, geographies, age and so on but with music on the margins. I think the Wire has done a lot for contemporary music. A kind of “yes, this can be an edition of 10 but still be reviewed and considered as incredibly important”.

Has there ever been a time when you felt like calling it a day, that the label was too much trouble?

crayola: Nope. Since the tape label days, this is something I just do. It’s part of my life and I couldn’t imagine not having it around.

g*: It’s different for me, I’ve been involved in this stuff for less time, but essentially it’s about fun and enjoyment. I think as soon as we both realised that we were never going to make enough money as musicians to live, and got careers elsewhere, it really took the pressure off. Ironically, we get better reviews these days than ever before.

Where have you found bands you’ve released stuff by so far? Do you get demos etc sent to you? Do you ask the bands or do they ask you?

crayola: The first few bands were us under various pseudonyms. After that I asked Steve Beresford if he’d give us an album, and he liked what we were trying to do and agreed. Since then it’s all come from demos.

g*: That is one of the great things about this whole scene, people will buy something from the label, really like it and then e-mail us and say, “hey I bought this, I really like it, I think you might like my band” or whatever and then we may end up releasing that. There is no artist/audience hierarchy.

Do you have any hot musical tips for us at the moment?

crayola: Yes, though they’re unfortunately not recording for kabukikore. I think HOST are the best young British band for at least the last five years. A big statement for sure, but I really mean it. Squimaoto are a new Japanese band who are currently playing havok with my iPod – they do a kinda bastardised post rock. Other than that, I don’t hear a lot of new stuff. I don’t go to gigs and I tend to listen to records I bought when I was in my teens. Perhaps it’s my age. Mind you, I find that amusing. You know, when your parents used to say that what you were listening to was a din, and you should listen to their records – a bit of Verdi or some Cliff Richard. Well now, I tell my daughter that what she listens to is rubbish and a din, and that she should be listening to Big Flame and Bogshed.

g*: I will not rest until Montana Pete conquer the world, there is just an unquantifiable something about them that I love. And similarly if there was any justice in the world HOST would be everywhere. As for my own listening, lots of Anticon and Lex stuff.
crayola: Oh yeah, Montana pete. Absolute genius. Someone ought to release the new Maxton Grainger recordings, ‘cos we can’t afford to and they’re immensely fantastic.

Who decides the artwork for your releases? Do you have a major say in the matter, or do you let the bands decide?

crayola: Now there’s a question. Yeah, we have a major say. The label has a look that has to be regulated. The bands we release get to say what they want, as long as they follow our guidelines. So far it’s worked out.

g*: Yeah, it’s hard to describe without sounding too domineering. Most of the bands love the aesthetic and so are quite happy to ‘tweak’ a little for us. I guess we’ve been lucky, in that so far we’ve only had to deal with bands that understand. Except once, where I replied to a demo that I liked, sent our contract for them to look at, and never heard from ’em again. I guess they thought we might be giving them advances and stuff, ‘cos we get in the Wire and on various radio shows.

Who do you use to make and print your releases? Would you recommend them to others?

crayola: We print ’em. I use an epson C86.

g*: I use an epson C84.

crayola: Really importantly named printers – ’84 was the Nightingales, Josef K, and ’86 was Big Flame, Bogshed.

g*: hahaha.

What’s your opinion on the importance of press and media coverage? Do you have any particular policies on how to get it?

crayola: Because our releases are tiny limited editions (CDs are editions of 50 and vinyl are 500), and we ‘pay’ our artists by giving them 10 copies, we can only afford to use five for promo. These go to more or less the same people every time. They’re people we know and trust and like – the Wire, Everett True, a couple of places in the States and one in Europe. That’s it. If we get reviews that’s cool. If we don’t so be it. The label works best by word of mouth, it seems. We have a newsletter list of nearly 500 people and they, bless their hearts, keep the label ticking over.

g*: I think that we need to exist in people’s consciousness and so we do take out adverts in the Wire and such, but we try not to have a relationship with it where it costs us vast amounts of money. I think that because we release such a wide range of material, that that in itself brings more and more people to the label.

crayola: Though if we’re honest, the Wire help out a lot, as we know them reasonably well from before kabukikore and they like what we do. There’s lots of negative stuff said about the Wire, but for it’s slight pretention it’s a very important publication.

Do you have any Grand World Domination plans for the label, or is it a case of natural evolvement?

crayola: If I were to come into masses of money then the label would change beyond recognition. We’d have big adverts and radio pluggers and the like. But I’m not going to come into masses of money, and so it’ll stay as it is and slowly grow up.

g*: Hang on… I don’t know about radio pluggers, but it would be great to be in a financial position to back say HOST or Montana Pete. But ultimately it would still be the two of us bickering over the tiny details of artwork over strong coffee and cigarettes.

crayola: That’s true, yes, but it would be nice to get things like OOBE or SLAF 4 heard on the radio and things – I mean major radio and not the wild and wacky underground/student radio that plays us right now. For that we would need pluggers. Trust me, I’ve done it for a living – you wanna try getting Spearmint and Pere Ubu on the radio without having someone helping out. Ha!

g*: Well then, maybe we should buy a radio station.

Got any advice for the prospective new label mogul?

crayola: If you’re not passionate about it, there’s no point even thinking about it. It has to drive you, ‘cos it’ll sap your energy and your bank account.

g*: If you’re in it for the money it’s a risky business. If you’re in it because you have to be, you can’t lose.

Finally what would be your dream release – which band, which format, and how would it be packaged?

crayola: That’s really tricky. As for format it’d be some kind of vinyl LP box set in stupidly extravagant packaging. I’m a vinyl junkie. We do CDRs mainly ‘cos we don’t have the funds to do anything else, though I’ve already gone through one laptop and have already burned 2,500+ CDs on my current laptop. It takes its toll you know, this label business. In terms of a band? Christ, that’s a toughy. The bands I love already have records out, otherwise I’d not have heard ’em. And I’m perfectly happy buying their records from other people. So, I guess I’d like a big band of all my favourites. Get ’em all in a room together to make a noise. These are the poeple I’d like in that room: Maxton Grainger, Supersilent, Future Sperm Brasil, Montana Pete, Rune Kristoffersen, Kev Hopper, Steve Beresford, Rhodri Marsden, Scissorkicks. With Steve Albini producing.

g*: I can add nothing to the above, although I would love to work with Dose One. I’m sure he’d kick it with FSB. But packaging is important. Even with downloads, the fetishisation of the iPod shows that. Box sets, vinyl box sets are so satisfying. I’m a little disappointed that noone’s ordered the limited edition kabukikore ipod yet, but I guess it’s early days.

crayola: That’ll be ‘cos we haven’t put it online to buy yet, g*.

g*: Oh.


kabukikore: some releases

djSLURRY: Sex stylus CDR (kkcd34)

Insanity-tinged glitchy electronica, veering from cut-up noise horror to refined and soothing stompy techno. The CDR as a whole has an eerily menacing feel of grime and darkness about it, despite the occasional lighter moments.

Maxton Grainger: Maxton Grainger 7″ (kkse02)

Clean and precise guitar riffs skip about over relentless bass repetition, whilst the quiet vocals ramp up the tension. The songs are full of odd twists and turns, maintaining a constant degree of melody within twitchy, train-of-thought structures.

Keith John Adams: This is a six track EP 7″ (kkse03)

Strident, confident vocals which recall mid-80s indie acts like Jasmine Minks or even Dexy’s Midnight Runners. The songs on this record are pretty conventional, but refreshing in their normality and honesty, and lack of in modern cynicism.

Various: There is no hidden meaning 2xCDR (kkcd50)
A compilation marking 50 releases: Crayola, Oobe, Maxton Grainger, Sarandon, Howl in the Typewriter, The Reverse, Ceramic Hobs and many more. A comprehensive and consistently high-quality introduction to kabukikore.