Vendetta Music: an interview with Dave Leach

The Denver-based Vendetta Music has been active as a music label since the mid-2000s and, since its inception, has accumulated a significant back-catalog of releases. It is home to a solid roster of artists from the field of dark electronics – from established acts like Xotox, Nachtmar, and W.A.S.T.E. to lesser-known ones like Necrotek, Mono-Amine and The Peoples Republic Of Europe. In addition to the label activity, Vendetta Music is also involved in the organization of music events, of which the most recent was the Vendetta Music Festival in September 2009.

Vendetta Music1 – How and why did you come about starting Vendetta Music?

Well, it actually started back in the early ’90s in CD chat rooms where I was trading CDs for my extensive collection. Eventually, I sought out distributors and began buying and reselling myself. By 1997, I opened my own online store, Vendetta Music, which eventually expanded to a store here in Denver, CO. in 2005. With the switch in ‘how people were getting their music’ the store, with an amazing four year run, closed in 2008.

It was during that time in the store I began to vision my real dream, to expose new artists, and to have a greater impact on the music scene. The label debuted in 2006 with a double-CD from Grand Chaos, which was compiled by Nader, a.k.a. Electrofreak on the Side-Line forum. Nader and I worked together on a few of the earlier releases such as Object, Brain Leisure, Neon Cage Experiment, etc and then he moved on to start his own label E.A.R., dedicated to an old-school sound, while the Vendetta label continued focusing more on the new.

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

I have always been a fan of Wax Trax!, Nettwerk (the early years), Kk Records, Zoth Ommog, Play It Again Sam and, later on, Hands Productions, Ant-Zen, Metropolis. so I am sure all of them had an influence on me in some way.

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

I have a vendetta, simple as that, and that vendetta has evolved since it was was first conceived. At first it was just revenge against the mainstream, Vendetta Music became my way of ‘polluting the mainstream’, the whole huge industry, that created the fashion of music since WWII, when the release of commercial music began to explode, and executives of large growing music companies began to raid the underground for the latest ‘style’ and then clone the trend until the consuming public demanded something new, and the process would start again. In this process, anything out of the current trend would fall to deaf ears.

Of course the internet uprooted all of that, and Vendetta Music was born at the same time that music distribution completely changed. Yes, the underground became completely exposed and alternatives to the mainstream revealed, but at a cost, the same old ‘forces that be’ found ways to cash in nevertheless, while more distinct musicians, became pressured to give their music away for free. Fans of this thievery argue, finally, music is free, and exists, not for commercialism, but for its own sake! Still, the fashion of taste molding in music continues on the larger scale, and there is little care for what lies outside the mainstream.

My vendetta is bloated with revenge against the mainstream, the thievery of lesser known artists life work, making small label ownership nearly impossible, and the overall underground music scene, which has become less defined by the free music they all have acquired, and more about their personal space, and the constant need for attention.

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

Well, running a label is always a difficulty in a market that is uncertain about what it is willing to pay for to consume. It affects me daily. I believe the music industry, as it exists today, is collapsing. Of course music will not die, and in fact, before music could be recorded, live performance was the only way to generate money from music (other than the sale of sheet music).

With that said, I will say that bringing Hocico to the United States for the first time in seven years to play to over 2,000 fans on a very small tour and doing a three-day festival in Denver of well known and lesser known acts in the genre, are both significant in moving beyond these problems, and bringing music back to the culture.

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

Again, this year’s Vendetta Festival in Denver in September was a huge highlight. Having W.A.S.T.E., To Mega Therion, Blackcentr, The Peoples Republic Of Europe, Statik Sky, as well as DJs Copper Top and Plastic Disease spinning… Knowing the hundreds who attended came for the music and not to be seen. Watching strangers from all over the world make new friends and have wonderful conversations. To know that this festival is only the beginning of the ultimate goal, which is to put the music back in the dark alternative culture it created.

For me going out on the road with The Peoples Repubic Of Europe for 5 dates on the Hocico tour was a big personal highlight. The Peoples Repubic Of Europe really did a great job and was good exposure for them.

And licensing SAM and Xotox from ProNoize, Nachtmahr and Punto Omega from Trisol as well as Ambassador21 for the North American market, all great bands!

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

I would like to say that Vendetta represents more than a particular style of dark electronic music, and instead presents a roster/family of unique dark musicians, producers, artists, and DJs. Still, given, it’s still in its infancy, I would make these recommendations for the newer releases.

W.A.S.T.E. “A Silent Mantra Of Rage”, Mono-Amine “Like A Machine” and The Peoples Republic Of Europe “Babylon” (for Industrial/Rhythmic Noise). Also Dust Is Noise “Fractured Forms” (Electro/Synthpop) and Necrotek “None More Black EP” (Dark Electro/Industial).

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 have any regrets, if I look back it’s only to remember what I have learned. Sure, I have made some mistakes, but the vision stays constant. For example, I regret signing to KGD Media for distribution. I thought I was making a wiser choice for the artists and banking on a bigger distribution front. Instead I got a belly-up distribution company, who kept all the merchandise, and holds the keys to any other larger distribution company I might use. As a small label, who pores all of its funds into the artists and music, fighting the fight is nearly futile. In the end it will only make us that much more creative in how we get the music to the people. So, lesson learned, and now I look forward again.

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

The internet is where Vendetta Music got its start. The online store became the brick and mortar store front in Denver. The internet is the future of the music industry; its benefactor and its destructor. The internet opened up downloading sites, but didn’t realize what it was doing to the bands. Yes, it opened them up to customers all over the world, but it also opened them up to thieves. Illegal downloads and piracy have had a huge impact on bands’ bottom lines. I’ve heard some folks quote they’ve lost as much as 90% of the digital sales bottom line to piracy. Until the industry stands up and makes this a priority with our government, it will only get worse.

Until that day, if there is ever that day, the only hope to curb the losses is to develop a strong relationship with the fans and supporters of the artists on the label. By going beyond the role of just a label and distributor, Vendetta will establish relationships, and in those relationships, regardless of previous acts of thievery, people will feel more obliged to contribute. In the future the purchase of music will fall in two categories, one for the few of those who still collect memorabilia, and two, for those who establish a connection to the artists, there is a greater sense of obligation to pay for they have already taken. Short presses are all the rage for CDs, creative merching beyond CDs, and large distribution for legal and paid for digital downloads.

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)?

Well, as I’ve hinted to above, the days of physical media are numbered. The unique and limited edition items will still draw interest, but the days of hardcore collectors are in the past. The next generation of music fans are used to in-my-hand access to everything they want and need. They want it to fit in their pocket. Compared to previous generations that remember what it was like before the internet, this new generation isn’t as attached to the pleasure of opening a new CD and reading the lyrics and band bios. Any small label in this environment has to adapt or fail. Beyond that, creative marketing and going back to the grassroots approach of the early punk scene that proceeded dark alternative music as we know it today… That is the only solution.

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

Vendetta music will continue to seek out unique artists from around the world. Each artist will be examined to see what best form of marketing will generate the most sales. For some I will continue to press a larger run of CDs and other media, and for others, I will focus on legal and paid for downloads.

Beyond the sale of music, Vendetta plans to do more than just stay alive in this dog eat dog musical market. As mentioned previously, the bigger goal is to put the music back in the culture. Years ago, when you would go to a club and people heard songs, there was a much greater public knowledge of the artists music you were listening to. Oddly, the impact of greater access has degraded that knowledge, and music has become generic and belongs to everyone and no one. There is no pressure to contribute to the musicians, to feed them, to house them, so they can continue to entertain us.

Vendetta is tired of a club culture, which owes its existence to music, not knowing or caring for the very music that allows it to exist. In the future you will see Vendetta go beyond just being a label. My long term goals focus more on making the scene really a music scene again, and a quality one at that. This will be done through tours, conferences, unique marketing, and public pressure. I never hold back.

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

For labels I would recommend ProNoize for putting out killer industrial club music and Crunch Pod, a fantastic American label with an incredible roster that can compete with any European label in my opinion. Hands Productions and Ant-Zen for putting out great Industrial music over the years. Out Of Line for the quality and diversity in their roster (KieW, Ashbury Heights, Hocico, etc). This list could go on and on.

Artists off the top of my head… I would recommend Klangstabil for the “Math & Emotion” and the Beauty and the Loss in their music – powerful electronic music with a soul. A Place To Bury Strangers for having the coolest name for a band but also really for being too dark and noisy for the ‘goth’ scene – if you are into the JAMC “Psychocandy” and “Barbed WIre Kisses” era then you will worship tem. Alter Der Ruine, the kings of IDM (Industrial Dude Music) and one of the best live acts. Terrorfakt,Manufactura, ESA and, again, this list could go and on.

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

Well, I’m really excited about Vendetta Music’s upcoming releases from the following artists: Statik Sky, DE_Tot_Cor. Ginger Snap5, |De:Source|, Engelmacher, K.I.F.O.T.H., Blackcentr, Dead Turns Alive, Revolution State, Organic Cage, Reaxion Guerrilla, and the first goth/post-punk release on Vendetta Music from the legendary Ikon plus 2 DJ mixed CDs from DJ Coppertop and Plastic Disease.

I am also very excited to organize more tours and events that will separate Vendetta from any other label of its kind in the world market. Yes, it’s slightly maniacal. That’s just me.

Thanks for the interview and thank you for Connexion Bizarre.

Relevant links

Vendetta Music
Vendetta Music @ MySpace

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