The Amsterdam based records label Basserk is celebrating its 10 year anniversary. A good moment to have a chat about the past, music, ideas and maybe even the future.
Why did you start the label?
It was actually really simple. We were young, ambitious, full of energy and couldn’t find a record label that wanted to release the tracks of our electropunk band 3-1. Most labels didn’t reply to our demo, the ones that did thought it was too wild and unpolished. I guess they didn’t see any market for it. We didn’t care about the market. We were playing a lot of live shows in the Amsterdam squat scene but also on festivals and clubs abroad (France, Japan, Germany etc.). Where ever we played people went nuts. After sending our tracks to about 50 labels we gave up and decided to do it ourselves. So the first EP was a 12 inch vinyl of our own band.
We were proud as hell when we received the boxes from the factory and immediately started to promote and sell then. To our own surprise we managed to get rid of all 500 copies within a couple of months. Not long after we started receiving demo’s from other bands and producers. When we started we didn’t have the intention to go all in on the label, it was just a project to help our own band. But when people reacted with so much enthusiasm we just carried on.
Your second release was a compilation. Isn’t that a bit weird?
Yes maybe it was but we wanted the label to be a sort of family with more then 1 or 2 bands so at the time it felt like it was the right thing to do. Because we were right in the middle of the electropunk scene with our band we had enough other interesting and talented people around us to fill a compilation album. We knew the guys from Aux Raus, Nobody Beats The Drum, Elle Bandita and a bunch of people from the Berlin scene so a selection was made in no time. And it worked, after the compilation it really felt like Basserk was a serious record label.
You are on release number 130 now. When I look at your catalogue I see a lot of different genre’s of electronic music. Why didn’t you stick to the electropunk stuff?
We got bored of it after a while. Of course the electropunk scene was cool and we still like the music but there was so much more that inspired and influenced us. There was techno, dubstep, bass oriented styles, down tempo weird electronica, hiphop influenced beats and so on. We sometimes received demo’s that other labels would have binned straight away because it didn’t fit the label profile but we didn’t. If the music got us excited we would discuss it. Of course we realized that releasing various genre’s wouldn’t make things easier but we thought ‘fuck it, live doesn’t have to be easy, it has to be fun and exciting’. The hardest thing is to build an audience, a following that keeps supporting the label. When you release various genre’s people sometimes loose interest. I guess this is exactly why media and businesses like categorizing. To make sure that it is easy to reach people and sell them products.
Don’t you want to sell your releases? You have to make money to run a label, or have you got some other system to do this?
Of course it is practical to have some money coming in but for us it has never been a goal. The way we run the label doesn’t cost a lot of money. We do most of the things ourselves so the only thing it costs is time and spending time on something you like doing is not a punishment. Besides the label we also run a design agency called 310k. This agency works for various clients doing concepts, graphic design (logo’s, books, magazines, posters and flyers) but we also make websites and a lot of video. The combination of the label and creative agency works great for us. It combines our hobby’s into work. So all artwork, video and promo for Basserk we do ourselves but also mastering we do ourselves. We have always been heavily involved in the OT301 - the home base for our parties - so we still have a sound studio there. In the early days we used to organize a lot of parties. Illegal ones in abandoned buildings, in official venues and from the start of the label also in the OT301. These events were a source of income but also a great opportunity to present newly discovered artists and genres to the public. The average Basserk fan likes a wild dance floor and maybe a sweaty cuddle.
If we would have wanted Basserk to be a successful company in terms of making loads of cash we should have done things a little different. Now we can just do whatever we like, we don’t have to break our brains over financial stuff, we just improvise and experiment as we go on.
You must have learned a lot about the music industry in the past 10 years. Is this experience something you share with your artists?
We have seen the industry change a couple of times. Going from vinyl to cd. From cd to free downloading. From torrents to buying online to streaming and back to vinyl. Besides that there is a lot of invisible shit in the music business. Stuff that most people don’t know about and that isn’t pretty. Young artists for example often sign contracts with publishers and big labels. Understandable because these labels can help the artist to get bigger and reach bigger crowds but very often they get offered contracts that basically sign away all their rights for a very long time. So if there is money to collect it is not the artist getting rich but the companies that suckered the artist into signing. We got disappointed more then once in situations like this. We started cooperations with other companies to get things to a higher level but after a couple of months we found out that our partners weren’t doing anything. They just added all the signed works to their catalogue. They just sit back and wait till there is a success. Now we don’t sign contracts like this anymore, we just do it ourselves. We might not have big things to offer for artists but we do know that we are honest and if we believe in an artist and his/her music we will do everything we can to promote it. Before releasing anyones tracks we usually sit down with the artist, just to make sure that they don’t have massive expectations and think that we will make them famous and rich.
How do you select artists for the label?
We get a lot of demo’s send to us every week. We listen to all those tracks but we also keep our eyes and ears open when going to parties, concerts or when browsing through Soundcloud. The biggest criterium for us is that all 3 of us have to like it. We don’t really care where an artist is from, what age he/she is and if it is a he or she. When we have approved a demo we will invite the artist to come over for a talk. It is important to talk about expectations and to explain the way we do things. Besides that it is nice to know what somebody looks and talks like. If someone is a complete dickhead we might not even release his tracks even though we like them. Somehow we would rather invest time in people that we have a click with then people that are on anther wave lenght.
What makes Basserk records different from other labels?
I don’t know that many other labels that well. Normally I just know the artists they release. I guess that is anyway the thing with a label, the artist gets presented not the label. A label is more like a facilitator, a selector, a quality stamp or even a family that helps artists on their journey.
What makes us different is probably the fact that we release many genre’s instead of one particular sound. And that we mainly release young, ‘undiscovered’ artists. Ooh and of course our visual focus. We have always made a big effort for every artwork. Every artists gets its own identity and artwork. We don’t use a template thing that is always similar. That might be handy for recognition but it is boring as well.
When vinyl sort of died and everything went from CD to digital the artwork got downgraded a couple of times from an important part of a release to a digital stamp. With the ‘Bleeps, Beats & Bass - 10 years of Basserk’ release we hope to start a new direction and bring back some glory to the artwork.
What is so special about the celebration release?
First of all it is a compilation album with 10 new tracks. All tracks are made by artists that have released before on Basserk and as expected there is various genre’s on the compilation. It wasn’t easy to select 10 artists out of all the artists we’ve worked with but after a big brainstorm we came to this selection: Sjamsoedin (formally known as Nobody Beats The Drum), Doctr, Malvae, Nuaru, Van Pi, HuSo, Boeboe X Subp Yao, Kuenta i Tambu, Levingtquatre, U Know The Drill.
We could have chosen to press this album on vinyl. Going back to how we started and have the artwork bigger and nicer again, but we didn’t. We came up with something else, something to emphasize the connection between Basserk and 310k and to make the artwork something truly special.
We have created a series of limited edition silkscreen prints. One unique print for every track on A2 in a limited run of 25 copies each. Then a bigger print (A1) that combines all the separate artworks into 1 big scene (see the image next to the article). All these prints are printed in a special blue colour and a glow in the dark ink so it also shines at night. We hope to continue this silkscreen series in the future and add them to at least a couple of releases per year.
What more can we expect from Basserk in the future? Are you going to keep doing what you are doing or can we expect some more surprises?
Time will tell. We don’t really make plans for the future. Of course we have a release schedule and now with this Bleeps, Beats & Bass project we have started this new direction with the silkscreen prints but it doesn’t mean that we will stick to this for the next 5 years. If we get another great idea again next year we will probably go for that. The label has always been like a living organism that changes shape from time to time and it probably will stay like that in the future. We rather not make promises for the future and just enjoy what we are dong now.
More about Basserk on:
www.basserk.com // Basserk Facebook
Basserk on Soundcloud // Basserk on Bandcamp
Official album release: 3rd of October (Spotify, iTunes, Beatport etc.)
Artwork expo: 19th of October (ADE), OT301 gallery, 18:00-23:00 hrs, free