Syrphe / Textolux: an interview with C-drík

“Syrphe (and Textolux) is a small label owned by C-drik (Črno klank, Ambre, Kirdec, Axiome, Tetra plok, Elekore and many others). It is mainly focused on electronic, experimental and noise music (in all meaning of the word) coming from all those lost islands the West seems to ignore: Africa, Asia, the Middle-East (…) but also C-drik’s own productions.
No CD-R’s or DVDr’s are published by the label as those are some of the worse formats ever produced by capitalist society. Fast done and fast dead, even tapes last longer.”
– adapted from the Syrphe website

Syrphe1 – How and why did you come about starting Syrphe?

I had a tape label in the early 1990’s but got tired of releasing tapes and the low impact this medium had.

As far as I remember Dimitri della Faille from Hushhush Disques (also known as Szkieve) proposed me to split the cost of a release between his label and me. That was a great deal as I was based in Belgium and later in the Netherlands and him in Canada. We then could cover two different continents. This was my first solo CD: a selection of tracks composed between the years 1997 and 2001, most of them with no computer. John Sellekaers (Xingu Hill) and Olivier Moreau (Imminent) were pushing me to release those for a while. They knew that I had tons of recorded material and I was doing nothing of it. So this first Syrphe release came out in 2002.

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

No, there weren’t. I just wanted to release my first solo record and see if I was able to manage a small label. A few years later (in 2007) I thought it was time to restart Syrphe more seriously.

In fact, I had released nothing any more on it except two vinyls on its sub-label called Textolux (with Rob & Zoopsie – also known as The Revolving Eyes and members of Tetra Plok together with me) and tried to be focused on artists from Asia and Africa and a few of my projects.

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

Simply because I like a lot those insects which, in English, are called syrphids, mostly the ones which mimic wasps. I like the way they fly: you see them hovering and all of a sudden flying away really fast. Nothing really philosophical.

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

Yes, there are a few. Since a recent time I realised how difficult it has become to sell records and get some money back. I don’t even speak of making profits… That is far from being my goal at the present time.

There are many factors (I will speak more about that in one of the further questions), among them the world is changing, the “market” (I hate this word) has changed and I guess also that I should work more on the promotion. This is, of course, not easy as I’m involved into many other projects and mostly alone in runnning the label (by choice even if some friends such as Marc Chia of One Man Nation help me sometimes).

I reached a goal when I released the first sampler (Beyond Ignorance And Borders) which was one of my biggest dreams, producing a few artists from Asia and Africa (about twenty that time) who, in most cases, were totally unknown. It has been wonderful to present such a project to an audience which had mostly never imagine that there were also musicians playing experimental and or electronic music in countries like Vietnam, Algeria or the United Arab Emirates to speak about a few. On the other hand I was extremely happy to produce a real CD and offer those copies to each artists who had nearly no opportunity to get signed or produced their music anywhere.

Since then, also thanks to some of the latest releases, a few labels, radio stations or collectives contacted me to trade records including African, Asian and South American artists or set up projects, organize lectures…

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

Hard to tell as Syrphe only released ten records (twelve if I include the two vinyls released on Textolux) and most of them were published during the past two years.

If we can speak about a special highlights I think that both compilations were and still are successful and unique. They get a lot of attention from magazines, radio shows, musicians, publishers and a certain audience. Two other releases have been successful C-drík “Dissolution” and Tetra Plok “Future Marker”. Both are sold out and received good reviews.

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

Both compilations “Beyond Ignorance And Borders” and “Pangaea Noise” (Ah sorry it seems to be an obsession !). They represent what the label is about: an international conglomerate with no borders, an entity showing that not only the West produces new and innovative music.

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

I don’t regret anything but often think I should have never made this ‘break’ between 2002 and 2005.

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

This is one of my biggest preoccupations now and I’m not the only one concerned by this evolution if I may call it so.

As a promotional tool I find the Internet wonderful. It’s an excellent complement to any other form of media. I’m not telling you anything new by telling that, thanks to this tool, I can reach hundreds or thousands of people in a very short (but not always efficient) time. So I make my best to promote through the net thanks to my web pages, some mailing lists, forums, so-called social networks and so on. But thousands or millions of people do it too so I sometimes feel like I’m nothing but a small drop lost in this ocean of sounds.

Regarding digital sales, I recently got a proposal from one of my distributors to sell on line MP3’s and accepted to make a test for two records, maybe more in the future depending on people’s reactions. I’ve always been against it for some reasons: first, on my side, I would never pay for a digital audio file, something that I consider to be totally virtual, even if, now, one can release and sell files which are as good or even better than CD files. Let’s say if you get a crash, unless you made copies, you lose the files you downloaded, if you burn them on a recordable disk you know that after a few years or sometimes only a few months you won’t be able to read them anymore. It’s like buying a self-destructive product. I’m aware nothing is eternal but those products seem to be a perfect reflection of our capitalist society: fast done, fast sold, fast consumed. I’m not fighting against it, I simply don’t understand it nor do I like it.

File-sharing and piracy: I’m not fighting against it neither, how would I do anyway ? Not even big majors are able to control it. I sometimes complain when I see all those thieves (mostly based in Russia and Ukraine) selling (or trying to sell) our brand new releases on low quality MP3 format (mostly full of spelling mistakes, wrong covers, etc.). I’m mostly not complaining about people downloading from P2P platforms but those thieves selling our work and perhaps making money of it, yes, I really feel hate and anger against them.

To speak about people downloading: on one hand, the world and mentalities have changed. On the other hand there are so many releases published each day (records or files) that people cannot follow everything, it is like an overflow, so even those who buy often download and share and I don’t mind. The price of a records sometimes doesn’t help. If I see a new CD sold for 20€ you can be sure I won’t buy it.

There is also this blog phenomenon (and somehow P2P programmes too depending on what you are looking on them): many offer old releases ripped from sold out tapes and vinyls that only few can find or afford as the second-hand market is going up and prices can reach such level of madness as you know. I say: why not? Even if you buy one of those second-hand releases neither the artists nor the label will earn any money… Does it hurt someone? Once again, to my mind, it’s nice to get the physical object but why should somebody pay hundreds of euros for an second-hand release?

I know some people or friends that have got some unofficial copies of my records or downloaded MP3 versions of my tracks. I won’t die because of that; once more I know that they make their best to buy but cannot afford to pay everything or find everything (as records can be hard to find in some places).

But there is another kind of person I clearly hate: this youth (I think mostly from the ‘dance’ scene like breakcore, techno, jungle, drum’n’bass, electro, disco…) just stealing everything. They don’t buy music, they want everything for free: gigs, records (and even drinks at parties), some even dare to ask me after a live show if I can offer them a CD! I offer records if I feel good with someone or if this person is a friend or something like that, not to somebody who cannot understand what the words ‘respect’ and ‘honesty’ mean. And as they don’t want to spend one cent for a record, they download and never buy. But this is another story.

If we were living in a free world I would offer or swap everything, sadly it’s not the case and I need a bit of money to publish more or simply to eat… I give for free some of my music or some sold-out or hard to find records but I cannot give everything away.

Anyway, I’m against all forms of restrictions from governments or internet providers regarding this download problem (I don’t speak here about those illegally selling our files). This is a total nonsense and it sullies people’s freedom and solves nothing (if download was forbidden, people would simply trade files from hard drive to hard drive, that’s even faster). I simply wish more people would have some kind of common sense and respect but it’s just a utopia.

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)?

Netlabels can be fine to me. But it’s such an easy way to produce (such as CD-R and tape labels) that tons of dull releases see the light (thanks to the low costs of CD or DVD production all the market in general gets invaded by uninteresting productions anyway – but through the net it’s worse than ever if I may say). But it is still quite early to give an opinion about all this, I think we will get a better idea in ten or twenty years.

I can’t tell what the impact of an internet label can be as there are thousands of them everywhere, producing everything and I think they nearly all only get a low exposure. Too much information kills the information, right…? The net looks more and more like some kind of abysses to me or some kind of little swamps here and there: only a few flowers come out from the mud and the inhabitants of one swamp can hardly jump to the next one and explore it.

Can we speak about an evolution of the physical media or is it stagnation? I still do trust and believe in the physical format. This one has probably to evolve or at least glide to a better format (like the audio-DVD for example). But people hardly follow, they get confused between all the different formats, they don’t see the point to invest in one type when another one is cheaper, more popular or gets a better exposure.

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

If everything works fine before the summer a new compilation should see the light. It will be a women-only compilation presenting experimental music from Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, China and South Korea. This is for the nearest future.

As a long-term goal, I wish to be able to release more records of artists that I like and find interesting, still off course, mostly, but not exclusively, from Africa, Asia and probably other neglected parts of the world (some Eastern countries, Latin America, Oceania).

Being able to help and promote as much as I can those artists is my main goal. Add to this the fact that I wish to organise more gigs and events for this scene through the label and collaborate more with visual artists (and that is on it’s way).

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

Labels…

Sublime Frequencies, for the rarities and amazingly original or exclusive music they can publish (music and film, short wave, field, and radio recordings of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East with a focus on ethnic folk, pop, ceremony, animist, bizarre, ritual, and exotica).

Preles, which releases mostly a kind of acoustic side of experimental music, such as field recordings. Their approach is really original and somehow connected to non-conventional traditional music.

Dual Plover, this label owned by Lucas Abela (Justice Yeldham) releases all kind of outer limit music: horror core hip-hop, noise, alien folk, experimental, cut-and-paste, even the most popular music doesn’t sound usual through Dual Plover, this is what I like, things I hardly hear anywhere else, elusive music.

KwanYin Records, a label based in Beijing, into modern sound art, improvised music, field recordings, experimental, free jazz and so on. I like its diversity and the quality of the publications (musically speaking but also regarding the objects themselves).

Sonic Arts Network, which promotes and explore the art of sound through a programme of performances, commissions, education projects and releases. I like their well documented releases and the fact that they also produce artists from non-Western countries and very original music.

Genetic Music a label into electro, minimal wave and also re-releasing old recordings from this scene. I’m an old school guy.

Vinyl-On-Demand another label re-releasing old recordings from the noise, experimental and industrial scene, forgotten tapes and so on. And I’m wistful.

Tian Anh Men 89 & Darbouka Records two labels sometimes collaborating and releasing punk music from ‘forgotten’ countries, a kind of equivalent to Syrphe dedicated to the punk scene. They release bands from Iran, Algeria, Madagascar, Burma, Panama, Tajikistan, Buryatia, Kosovo, Tatarstan, Brunei, Cuba and so much more.

Shaytan Productions, another kind of equivalent to Syrphe focused onto dark music from the Middle-East only (folk, goth, death and black metal, dark ambient), quite unique and original.

Artists…

Miss Murgatroid, I love her way to play accordion, to be able to make melodious songs but noise music as well, she is unique in her genre.

Nora Keyes, another unique artist, her music sounds like being produced by a witch from outer space, it is mysterious and magic.

Tarek Atoui, someone mixing in a perfect shape breakcore and electro-acoustic music deserves a monument.

Burka Band, probably the first and only electronic rock/pop trio from Kabul, three women who brave the craziness of the most laddish, sexist and intolerant place on Earth. I’m not sure they are still active but I hope so. They represent what most punk lost for a long time: resistance!

Von Magnet, because they never disappointed me, they renew themselves all the time, their shows are fascinating, they are able to mix flamenco, arabo-andalusian and oriental music together with electronic, industrial, techno or gothic in a perfect way.

Lau Mun Leng, I like the simplicity of her music for the few she composed or the few I know. Usual sounds brought into a parallel world. She plays a form of extreme minimalism but full of emotions.

Chrysalide, they are clearly influenced by Skinny Puppy which stays one of my favourite bands but bringing some fresh air to the genre, crossing styles, taking many influences ranging from breakcore to electro-industrial and so on.

Gjöll, once more an outer limit band crossing power electronics, noise, industrial, ambient, poetry in their own way. Very impressive and emotional.

Victor Gama, for the few I know from him, I like his way to give an African identity to his experimental music.

Seventeen Migs Of Spring, I like their way to treat the sound, the unusual and mysterious voices, the abstract atmospheres and the high quality of their experimentations.

Dead Skeleton, another Skinny Puppy-like artist. One who has taken the dirtiest and darkest side of this musical style, rough and abrasive.

Frédéric Nogray, his music live or recorded brings me in another universe, I feel amazingly great, free, in the mind and in the body when I hear him play with his singing bowls. I get an ear orgasm when I dive into his sine waves.

There are many more artists I could add, it’s hard to stop…

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

Thank you and thanks to all people supporting me and collaborating with me.

Relevant links

www.syrphe.com
Syrphe @ MySpace

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