Tundra Dubs: an interview with Ben Tundra

Tundra Dubs are a relatively new label, having just celebrated their first birthday, but what a year it has been for them having released some gorgeous releases to great critical acclaim. We spoke to Ben about why he started the label, why vinyl is so exciting for him, and what the next year might bring for Tundra Dubs.

Tundra Dubs1 – How and why did you come about starting Tundra Dubs?

I started Tundra in September of last year (2010). The main reason I started it was because I had always wanted to run a label and I just happen to have a bunch of friends who were making awesome music but just wasn’t being released.

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

Absolutely. Labels like Southern Lord, Havoc Records, and 625 Thrash were the labels that made me look at running a label as an essential part of music. They were curated and highly active at the same time. I was also a fan of all those labels overall images/aesthetics, too.

As far as electronic music goes, the biggest inspirations were the dubstep labels I was into at the time – Skull Disco, Apple Pips, Hyperdub, that sort of crew. Once again, all three of those labels were really well and put out some amazing music.

Recently, I’ve been into a lot of the more obvious labels for this type of music: Sacred Bones, Tri-Angle, etc.

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

I thought Tundra was a cool name, plain and simple. It rolled off the tongue nicely.

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

The Os Ovni/Modern Witch 7” I put out this summer was a massive learning experience. I had helped friends with vinyl releases in the hardcore punk sector, but I hadn’t yet done a vinyl project all by myself. It was a little weird and hard to navigate at first, but I’d like to think I have a better understanding of it now. The day the box containing the 7” showed up was really an amazing day. It instantly reminded me that all I want to do is work on vinyl projects.

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

It’s hard to pick highlights, but I’ve definitely had a few. The first really successful releases was the ∆AIMON EP I released early this year. We sold all 30 CD-Rs in a matter of 3-4 hours, which blew me away. The FUNERALS release was really cool too, as they managed to rope in Jokers of the Scene for a remix which really was the icing on the cake for that. The Zombelle & Myrrh Ka Ba EP that I put out a few months ago did really well, too. Lots of people are into that sound at the moment.

The most successful project I think was easily the 7” I talked about before. It sold amazingly well and I sent out packages to almost every corner of the world, including Japan.

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

I’d say the ones I talked about above. A good “Tundra 101” would be ∆AIMON, FUNERALS, Modern Witch/Os Ovni, Mascara, and Clubs for Boardgames. I think all those bands/groups sum up Tundra pretty well.

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

If I could do it all over again from the beginning, I’d have started the label with a bunch of money saved. Something like $5,000+. I would have also done vinyl from the start and probably would’ve skipped CD-Rs all together.

I don’t have any actual regrets, though. Things happened a certain way and I really can’t think of any decision I made that harmed the label more than it helped.

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

It would’ve been near impossible to do what I wanted in the time frame given without the Internet. I cannot stress that enough. Think about if I had to call, physically mail, or actually meet every single artist I’ve dealt with. It would’ve taken me either a) tons of money or b) several years of work to get Tundra to the point it is right now.

I unfortunately spend too much time on the Internet, but that’s really because it’s a one-stop shop for everything I need or want to do. I do all PR via email with linked mp3s. Most of my promo is on Facebook and Tumblr. I check Twitter a few times a day and my email constantly. It’s a really invaluable tool.

I love digital, too. It’s so easy to get to people, it’s cheaper due to the almost zero overhead, and is instant. I love vinyl, but I hate spending my nights after work shipping stuff. Shipping is really expensive, too. Especially overseas.

File sharing is something I struggled with in the very beginning, but I don’t even think about it anymore. Your music will be pirated. It’s a matter of fact. If someone wants to hear it, it’s going to be hosted on MediaFire and be on YouTube or Vimeo. Instead of going after those who do that, I think it’s best just to voice your concern. “I’m doing a lot of work here trying to run a legitimate business. When you post free downloads for stuff, that’s potential money you’re keeping out of the artists pocket.” If you get all over zealous about it, pirates and non-pirates alike will stop supporting and paying attention to you because you’ll be that “one self-righteous money-grubbing label tool” and no one wants to be that. Accept the fact that your music is going to be posted and work harder to make people realize that your music, label, or project is actually worth something.

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 tricky thing. There’s so many of them and so few of them are actually worthy of attention in my opinion. It’s very easy to throw up mp3s on Bandcamp and say “Oh yeah, I run this label” and have this overinflated sense of value about yourself and your project. So few of them actually promote or do anything with the music. I’m not talking about any one specific label, either.

I really do see a day where vinyl and stuff just isn’t cool anymore. I don’t think that will be for a long time, but even now I’m seeing signs of it. My day job is at an audio trade school and I work with students as young as 18. A lot of the 18-19 year olds right now couldn’t care less about vinyl or CDs. There are always a few that do care and understand why vinyl is so important, but most don’t. As long as they have Beatport or iTunes they’re fine. For right now, in 2011, vinyl is the name of the game for me, though.

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

My major long-term goal is to keep running a label and work on projects like this full time. As far as Tundra, I want to keep plugging away and focus on only tapes, vinyl, and digital in 2012 and beyond. I hope I can keep working with the amazing people I’m currently working with and really hope I can meet some new bands and producers in 2012. I’d love to have a vinyl release every couple of months.

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

There’s so much amazing stuff out there it’s hard to keep track. As far as other labels, I’m really into labels like Night Slugs, Shackleton’s new SSSSSS imprint, the revived R&S, and all that stuff. Living Tapes and Robot Elephant Records are putting out some amazing stuff. Trilogy Tapes, too. I’m still a huge fan of Hyperdub, Southern Lord, Hessle Audio, and all that stuff too. 100% Silk is big on my list right now, too.

Artists changes daily for me. It’s usually whoever I’m working with at the time. Right now I’m mixing a track for Body 2 Body from Holland that’s stuck in my head. I’m also mastering this FUNERALS remix EP, and there’s some amazing reworks on that. This morning I listened to Brackles RinseFM mix from June, so I’m pretty scatterbrained.

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

Thanks for the chance to do this! My only other comments are keep an eye out for some upcoming vinyl releases. I’m doing a split 12” with Robot Elephant that’ll be out this winter or in early 2012. Each label gets a side and it’s sounding amazing so far. I’m also putting out a Mascara/Slow Head split 7” and an ∆AIMON EP on 7” soon here. Other than that, a sincere thank you to everyone who’s supported Tundra in any way over the past year! Hopefully you stick around for the next few!

Relevant links

Tundra Dubs @ Tumblr
Tundra Dubs @ Bandcamp
Tundra Dubs @ Soundcloud
Tundra Dubs @ Twitter

— interview by Miguel de Sousa & Kate Turgoose (October 2011)