Dependent: an interview with Stefan Herwig

Although Dependent operates largely in the ‘Electro-Industrial’ genre, we have no desire to be pigeonholed as such, unlike most of the bands in the ‘scene’. With our unique label concept we hope to escape the ghettoization associated with dance or metal and to establish this style of music firmly in the mainstream. We know our artists are good and, armed with this belief, we can cast away the cliches associated with the Electro genre.
“…When all our bands trust in where the future will take us, we will outlast the rest… After all, the hand only has five fingers.”
— from the Dependent website

Dependent1 – How and why did you come about starting Dependent Records?

First of all, its “Dependent”. I don’t know where the “Records” came from. It seems like a conspiracy from someone to alter our name. I guess if it persists, we will simply have to change the name soon!

Anyway I was working for another record company called “OffBeat” about eleven years ago, and they were being sold to SPV (that’s a longer story). I had worked as A&R for them, and had a very good relationship with most of the bands, so I decided to open my own company.

2 – When you started Dependent, were there any labels that you could say were a reference/inspiration for your efforts?

Musically yes, I liked the stuff that Machinery or Zoth Ommog put out, or the old Nettwerk stuff. I was heavily into industrial music since I was 17, and the same label names were constantly popping up giving me quality records and expanding my musical horizon. Those labels really offered a good means of orientation for me, as information on industrial music was rare and difficult to come by. You had to hunt for good music back then. Now it’s at everyone’s fingertips, and everybody is saturated.

3 – Almost mandatory question, how did the name “Dependent” come about?

Actually, I think you are the first one to ask me this. But we are obviously what people call an ‘independent’ record label, and an independent label calling itself “Dependent” is quite odd for some insiders.

I think that the term ‘independent’ is actually pretty misleading, as ‘independents’ are usually quite dependent on money, on the goodwill and partnership of their bands and last not least very much so on the goodwill of the people that hopefully buy their records. So it is kind of saying: “don’t take such a structure for granted. We might sound independent, but we are quite dependent on our partners.” That’s also why is has the hand as a symbol. A hand is nothing without its fingers… But a hand working with the right fingers can be a powerful tool.

4 – Since the inception of Dependent, are there any events in the history of the label that you’d consider as particularly relevant, from difficulties and setbacks to successes?

Well, definitely the loss of our earlier priority bands were a real setback to us. I was disappointed by that a lot, because I still like to think that we seriously were responsible for a large part for the success of both Covenant and VNV Nation, for instance. But then, that is life, and we learnt the hard way that making a band successful is not automatically going to improve the collaboration with those bands.

5 – So far what would you consider as special highlights (or successful) releases and artists in the history of Dependent?

Covenant’s “United States Of Mind”, VNV Nation’s “Empires” are classic records I think, and amongst the best of what those bands have released. But I also really like Mind.In.A.box or Dismantled, some of the smaller bands just as much, and think that their albums would have deserved a similar kind of success, and can compete with those classics quality-wise. It is really difficult for me to pick favourites out of our catalogue, as I really like all of them, obviously. There is hardly a record in our catalogue that I dislike, even after a long while I can still put up almost every record of our catalogue, and it makes me smile.

Also, I think the long success of the “Septic” compilation series is something that I am very proud of. The fact that some people offer 80 or 100 USD for the first Septic on eBay is amazing. It really makes me proud.

6 – Are there any releases in particular that you would recommend as good ‘introductory material’ to the Dependent label?

Like I said above, it is difficult, as we also intend to have a widespread artist roster. Everyone associates us with Covenant, VNV Nation and Suicide Commando but I really think that people can equally listen to SVD, Pride And Fall or Edge Of Dawn to get a glimpse. Just buy a compilation like “Dependence II” or any “Septic” and try to go from there.

7 – Looking back, do you have any regrets with the label? If you could go back and change something, what would it be?

We spent a lot of money on tour support on a UK band called Sulpher, and (parts of) the band turned out to be very unthankful and unreliable in return.

Also, we saw the demise of the music industry coming a long time ago. When the first CD burners started to pop up by the end of the nineties and CD-R prices were dropping below 1€, I said: “”We will get conditions, just like in the Software industry.” And that happened, and then some more. I could have been better prepared for that, but frankly I don’t think that any one label can do a lot against the structural issue itself alone.

8 – An obvious question, but what is Dependent’s ‘relationship’ with the Internet? From promotion tool and digital sales to file sharing and piracy, how has it affected you?

I used to study communication sciences at the University in Essen, and I am analysing this medium since. I am fascinated by the speed within which the medium is evolving, but I also see quite a lot of dark clouds on the sky here, not only because of copyright infringement/filesharing issues. I see how and what information travels on the internet (and what information does not) and I think it is going to affect the society not only for the better. Wants some examples? Kids seriously beating their friends up to pulp and getting the video on Youtube to show off: check! Boyfriends selling nude pictures of their girflfriends on the internet: check! Hardcore Porn available widely for minors: check! And nobody seems to care!

I think if you really want to take a good look into peoples minds you will have to go on the internet, dig deep into forums, etc. and it says a lot about our society. And I think it will get a lot worse. We just see the benefits of the internet, but nobody thinks about what it costs us as a society. Again, I am not talking copyright infringement here, I am talking about education, free and quality press and social interaction vs. virtual interaction. “The medium is the message” (Marshall McLuhan).

9 – Slightly related to the previous question, how do you see the concept of ‘netlabels’ and, as a labelhead, what is your perspective as to the future and evolution of physical media (CDs, vinyl, etc)?

Actually I do see netlabels as an extension of the old Demo Music scene. I think they would fare a lot better, if ‘free’ music was not widely available on the internet already. So ironically enough, filesharing is their enemy too.

I am not sure how beneficial these structures can be for artists, but I support everything that supports good music. I think you can only go so far with a band without putting some decent money into it. But I respect those people for trying.

10 – Perspectives for the future, what lies in the horizon for Dependent? Can you share some long-term goals and where would you like to see the label heading to?

Surviving the next year is the main goal for the moment. And it’s a challenge already.

11 – What other labels/artists would you recommend at the moment and why?

I think Ant-Zen/Hymen is doing a lot of good stuff, but they only market to a quite limited crowd. I like IAMX, but they seem to be lacking a proper representation right now. Klangstabil is great too, although their last album was a notch too poppy. If you want to get more recommendations, check out the tracklist of “Septic VIII”, those are usually the bands I think that should get a boost.

12 – Thank you for your time, do you have any final comments?

Don’t take music for granted. If you want it to persist, you have to give something back to the artists and the labels. And I don’t mean only us, that is true for every other label that you cherish.

And check out the “Septic VIII” compilation , our new band KiloWatts & Vanek and our new website (I’d get a slap from our promotional department if I did not say that). Good luck with your site.

Relevant links

Dependent

— interview by Miguel de Sousa & Kate Turgoose (July 2009)