Minor Label: an interview with Thomas Wiedemann

“when all genres already smelt odd, minor started to track and support the worst of all: electronic underground minor logo music, and called it “noiz” to avoid discussions. tracker music was never regarded as cheap or louzy, it was style, it was a sub-culture.
the first release was a split 12″ vinyl release featuring rough, noiseful and uneasy tracker-rhythmcore setting goals and standarts. 100% FT2, done on MSDOS with P100 and P166. releasing many noise, trackercore, ambient & rmx dilemmas on cdr and tape in the following years, supporting friends, musically brilliant lazybones and bigstar wannabes, confirming releases, reserving numbers and never got them released, the 2nd split, an unexpected 7inch vinyl, followed almost 5 years later. its time was 2006. finally.
to relieve minor from the rough’n’dirty d-i-y-trashcore subculture-touch flopbeatdisks was launched in 2005 for trash’n’core, tracker-nostalgia and cyberpunk.
minor’s still electric.”
— from the Minor Label website

Minor Label1 – How and why did you come about starting Minor?

There was no concrete plan or concept to do so, in a certain way it just happened. I grew up in a small town in the countryside so it was hard to get music and to find clubs and events to go to, and it was very difficult to find people to join the ride as the majority was into mainstream stuff and mass media hypes for thousands of people. So my major influence was the stuff that was in the special features of music television from 94 to 99. With all the styles I listened to I mostly ended up with the underground and the more rough or abstract stuff as it was more interesting for me. Music that everybody was into annoyed me, I abolished radio in my room and stayed with my tapes and CDs. As I didn’t feel comfortable with only staying at home I got into contact with “handmade” music as punk/metal/hc was more present in our area. I loved that these scenes had a vivid street life, a meaning and gave something to people, something most (mainstream) electronic music lacks. So I visited lot’s of lousy punk concerts (not enjoying many of them, but felt home there) and started to copy the electronic music that I loved and still love with tracker software on an old commodore. Almost all my friends were busy in some bands back then, everybody was busy in trying to make some music, so I did too. Some of them were already making records of their music from their own money, as it was common in the punk sector to make the whole business in d-i-y (do-it-yourself).

So I wanted to start a label with a friend to adopt this for electronic music. In 98 school was over and the idea arose to make a 12inch vinyl with our tracker-based music. Of course, it took time until it came to be serious. We moved to Leipzig in 2000, and that’s where and how it all started. We met many active people, had much input and feedback, and the possibilities to make a serious label if we wanted. There were so many clubs, events for almost every scene, lot’s of musicians, and copy shops (!) to print flyers, covers, stickers, buttons and all the wonderful stuff a scene needs. We were very enthusiastic, but to be honest less organised. So the record with the cat-nr minor001 was released in spring 2001 and paid with the money I originally wanted to take a trip to South Asia with. Some days later we already got into a serious dispute and had to split up, leaving me alone with a room full of vinyls. Until that Minor wasn’t meant to be a long-term running label with a continuous output. But I decided to keep on it to at least spread this cursed record. Saying it with a little ironic smile: the label is still running. What means that I still have some last copies of it. The idea of running a mail-order is a side effect of how small labels start to distribute their releases: they trade with other micro labels and so you simply sell what you get in exchange for your stuff. Over the years it became like a little fanzine/review column where I put my thoughts about most of the items I sell. If I don’t like a record you can read about it there, but of course you can still buy it. As I don’t have a shop in the street where people can visit me to talk, get recommendations and listen to music I try to offer something like a digital alternative. After 10 years I can say that Minor consists of a label and a mail-order and none would exist without the other.

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

That’s a difficult question. Not that I was aware back then and that I am aware right now – I would say. There was no vinyl shop in our town, and there was no (or little) internet back then. So the only possibility to get music was the supermarket (bad idea and a pretty bad choice), and concerts. So I wasn’t chary, I took what I could get there. What I loved though was an atmospherical appearance of the releases I bought for myself, I especially liked it dark, in street-art style and with no-future attitude. And I really enjoyed these little shops at the concerts where you could get self-made tapes, some records, posters and fanzines for low budget. None of us cared about unknown projects or names, I didn’t ever leave without taking some new stuff with me. And I ordered tons of stuff from mail-orders, after finding the copied stock list in a fanzine or on a flyer. I wanted to incorporate myself into this with style, attitude and music. So the vivid d-i-y-spirit and the labels that were into this have been the major inspiration for me. I have to admit that I started to get closer to that label thing not before I was one for myself, accidently, in a certain way.

When thinking about bands that inspired us I would name Einstürzende Neubauten and Future Sound of London. I also remember that I bought ATR’s “Future of War” (dhr lp6) because it was an obligation and one day a compilation from Ant-Zen (act75) entered our lives – both where eye-openers in a way, but it just showed me that there was already much music like that around. (I didn’t like the comparision with PAL in the reviews of minor001, as I made the music without knowing Ant-Zen and PAL.)

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

My friends already had started “Major”-label for German punk rock (and they’re still active and busy with it) as a joke about the main trouble and annoyance of young bands in their hopeless search for a major label. So Major label was thought as a big brother for Minor(-label). After thinking of it I liked it, as it has this ambiguity with ‘less important’ and furthermore it describes a key and tonality in music. So “minor” could be understood as a hint about the label’s philosophy: staying in the background, releasing stuff for minorities and featuring music that isn’t happy party music (but not necessarily depressive).

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

There are many ‘little’ events and happenings that make me happy and that encourage me to go on. Like an email from a unknown fan who is enthusiastic about one of my releases, or somebody contacts me for cooperation, trades etc. Or meeting a musician that I loved when I as a kid when he’s taking a look at my boxes at a party where I’m selling his stuff while he/she’s playing. Also having a song played in a radio show or getting a review.

I know the relevance of concerts for young or unknown musicians to get an audience (and as a matter of fact sell some releases and merchandise). Without that you just ‘get’ downloads nowadays – so I came up with the idea to try it myself. I organized a concert of two befriended breakcore/noiz-projects (Ashtar-DXD and Cocktail Lytique) in a squat in Leipzig in 2005. It was an experiment that could have been continued as a party series if it had worked out. The party was nice and we all had a good time, but I had to learn that I can’t do too much things besides my studies, so I decided to keep the label and the mail-order. It’s hard enough just stand around and offer CDs and vinyl with my boxes next to the dance floor or the entry. Since that day I avoid getting myself into any form of concert-management.

Another important but more internal step was splitting the label into two parts: Minor remaining for the experimental, ambient- and idm-related ‘clean’ music, and FlopBeatDisk for the loud and dirty playgrounds of ‘low budget’ rhythm cyberpunk stuff. It became obvious that people were eager in judging the whole label after hearing just one release or seeing just one cover – so I separated what seemed to be a paradox, actually not in my opinion, but in some minds.

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

Good question. It’s difficult to compare and it mainly depends on what you expect. Personally I would consider the releases on vinyls and the CDs as a success. While releasing music on CD-R it was a hard struggle to get some reputation as a ‘serious’ label that will persist and sometimes I have the feeling that people still doubt it. CD-R releases are regarded as a cheap thing and many people told me that they have prejudices like a CD-R often has a lousy outfit, uncreative wrapping and in addition will for sure feature bad music that nobody wants to listen to, and won’t work in any CD-player within a few years at all. So, the first 12inch is my highlight as a symbol for the wild early years, and the Minority compilation as big thank-you to all the musicians and friends that helped me and the label to become what it is. Of course I’m proud of being able to release music from two very interesting contemporary musicians: yvat from Romania and Andrew Oudot from Russia.

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

Of course the “Minority CD”, as it features most artists that were/are part of the Minor family and gives a musical glance on the sound spheres I was busy in during the first 5 years. Apart of that it’s difficult to find any ‘introduction” n’ as all releases and projects differ from each other in music and style. I’m still more into releasing interesting music with personal association than a homogenous series of output. In case somebody is interested in a recommendation I first ask what kind of music he/she prefers and then I start to give some hints and advices.

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

In an emotional moment I would say that I shouldn’t have agreed to work with some musicians; and that I have to spend more of my money on releases than on the stock for my mail-order – and on releasing more of my own projects as that was the original idea behind it. But in an overall view I’m happy with it, as I never was forced to make a serious business out of it that has to feed me (and pay my flat etc.).

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

Thanks to the Internet I’m still selling my releases and having contact with people from all over the world. Having a little shop with some boxes on a party or a concert is one thing, the wider audience is connected over the net. Home of Minor is the old fashioned webpage domain. Lots of labels leave their individual space and become members of community platforms (and only that). I would have difficulties to run and care for 20 memberships so I decided to do my stuff without that – but with heart. Of course, there’s a myspace profile but that’s nothing more than a digital flyer for me that links to my home and to the address where people can contact me. Another thing that grew up the last few years is Discogs as a marketplace. I’m happy to use it and that’s the main way how I get orders. But it makes me a little bit sad that my mail-order with its tiny naughty reviews isn’t frequented that often anymore. I’m not against sharing the music you like – we did this 15 years ago by doing it on tape – but I watch people loading gigabytes of albums on their hard discs without having the time and patience to listen to it. Actually I want people to listen to my music so I’m happy if they do. I won’t ask where they got it from.
So far I don’t have experience with piracy as my limitations are too small to see any effect at all. I encourage the musicians I work with to be busy themselves, so if he/she decides to offer payable downloads, too, I accept it.

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)?

I think netlabels are a fine thing to give young musicians the chance to spread their stuff though they make them lazy too. Sitting at home and running their whole career in front of their monitor might work out in some cases, but I’m missing the vitality of a real existing scene. Maybe I’m old-fashioned or growing old, but I don’t concentrate on music and listen to it carefully when letting it play while I’m working on the computer. That’s more or less is like radio-listening for me and I’m on the point to repeat what I did when I was 14 – throw it out.

In the almost overwhelming availability of music (in a negative sense) I have the feeling that people start to lose their interest. It means that you spend more and more time in choosing what you want to have, and you’re tired of browsing the platforms before you found anything. As a result of our mp3-age people become shallow even in the way they listen to music.

When buying a CD or a vinyl the handling is completely different and actually you buy something that you want to have. I downloaded many mp3-albums, and I deleted them after skipping through them. I never threw away a CD that I bought. I think that physical media will persist for the ones who have love for it – for collectors or aged leftovers from the 80s or 90s. Punk music still sells on such medias, metal is still bought, as long as the people have the money. Or at least my friends do so. Both are scenes that have a street life, events, concerts and people willing to be on the road. I don’t know any net label for metal, deathrock or punk. So I think the physical media of music is strongly connected with the vitality of a scene.

Personally I don’t like the digital form of music as the only source, as I also like to switch my computer off and still listen to music. I’m doing Minor and releasing physical media for all the people who feel the same. I’m not sure if that will mean that we’ll all be around the age of 30+, we will see. So Minor as a label will stop to exist at the moment when there’s no need of any physical media anymore.

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

There’s an interesting and increasing potential of musicians from East Europe, even from South Asia. Maybe it will mean that there will be a shift to other styles of music. As a label depends on the availability of music that is worth to be released, and even more dependent on the money that remains to release stuff or that comes back through sales I don’t have big plans, except from keeping it going as long as possible. So I’m optimistic I will be there for the people who are interested and who are still able to write an email.

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

Every time when I am asked for recommendations I feel a little bit helpless about where to start and what one is looking for. Most of my private collection consists of extreme metal, early gothic/wave rock, e.b.m. and oldschool industrial.
Personally I would recommend all the befriended labels and musicians of mine to support them. Apart from that circle there are of course lots of interesting and active projects and labels around, lots have a promising output, lots have high standards of their releases, lots are overrated and don’t deserve to get the hypes they are assailed with – in my opinion. My recommendation just is to be curious, to be interested in more than just letting mp3s run and getting numb with stupid pop crap, and to be willing to search for the stuff you want – browse the internet, try out link lists of websites and read zines till you find what makes you happy.

12 – Thank you for your time, do you have any final comments?
Thanks for your interest and keep up your good work with Connexion Bizarre.
And for the people a still or even more valid citation: Don’t believe the hype!

Relevant links

Minor Label

— interview by Miguel de Sousa & Kate Turgoose (January 2010)