Community is Important: Meakusma in focus
Unpicking the roots and rationale behind off piste record label and festival Meakusma.
Meakusma has become one of Belgium’s most exciting record label come festival crossovers. The multi faceted project has evolved dramtically and sporadically since it first emerged in mid noughties around fifteen years ago.
It all began with leftfield club nights and concerts way back when – few could have imagined quite how far it would come and evolve. In the present Meakusma is perhaps one of the most forward thinking and progressive forces in the pursuit of eclectic, radical music from across a breadth and spectrum of genres and styles.
Over the years they have released records and music by some of the most creative, dynamic artists of the present with the likes of Ryo Murakami, Terrence Dixon, Viola Klein, Mix Mup, Lord Tang, Delphine Dora, Gerald Cleaver and many more all having contributed to the catalog of what has become an increasingly reliable force of a label.
Alongside this has run the remarkably successful festival of the same name. Meakusma has become a staple of the festival calendar for those in the know – showcasing the very best in avant garde, electronic music, jazz, dub, kraut and beyond. The community spirit which has been built around the event is palpable and has been invaluable in connecting artists and creatives from different backgrounds and worlds.
Meakusma, like everyone else, was deeply affected by the pandemic and as such the festival hasn’t taken place in recent times. However, this summer will mark the return of what has become a celebrated and acclaimed celebration of art and music.
We spoke to the crew, discussing the value and purpose behind the record label and festival, posing the question as to whether they expected it might come this far..
Describe the initial rationale behind launching the label?
We had been organising club nights and events before starting a record label, but we have to credit Thomas from Ampoule, the guy behind the amazing Pub releases, to push us to start up a label when we invited him to do a show in Brussels. He hung out with us for a couple of days and he inspired us to take the plunge.
Did you ever imagine it might come this far?
That is a difficult question to answer. We are very happy with and even proud of all our releases. Starting the Meakusma Festival in 2016 also was a very big thing for us. Things keep growing and evolving and we are not exactly sure we have come far as we are still continuously working on expanding both the Meakusma label and festival. There are always new things that catch our attention. As anyone running a record label knows, every new release always feels like a new beginning.
"We shy away from explicit definitions and try to avoid being boastful."
How does the music you release interact and overlap with that you showcase at the festival?
The festival reflects what interests us the most as we are able to invite a lot of different artists and present them over the course of one weekend. The label works differently and you might even say there are more restrictions for the label than there are for the festival. The scope of the label is already kind of broad, but could definitely still be broadened. It is a continuous work in progress. The festival offers us the opportunity to invite artists that have released on the label and also often makes for new collaborations with people we have not yet worked with before.
How would you describe the label in three words?
Difficult to say as we shy away from explicit definitions and try to avoid being boastful. We release what we like and then try to make the record work. In three words? Just be practical. That is three words.
The music you release is often experimental and eclectic – do you feel it’s important to showcase different threads of electronics and instrumentation?
As said before, we release what we like and what we like is music from many ends of the spectrum. It would quite quickly bore us if we would just focussed on one thing.
How would you describe the visual identity of the label?
There is definitely a sense of understatement to the visual identity of the Meakusma label. We think this fits the music we release very well. We do not like making big statements, but there are definitely subtle comments on things in some of our artwork.
What are you trying to achieve through the festival? It feels very community lead in both the artists booked and the audience?
We feel we have been very lucky over the years in having been able to build up a community that follows us, hooking up with several people from around the globe to collaborate with. Community is important, but the use of the word is often gratuitous. We know there are many people that follow Meakusma and come to the festival, but we are also always happy to welcome new faces. The artists we book and the music we release drive everything we do and make for things evolving in a kind of natural fashion. You always need fresh blood, but we are very happy with and feel at home within what you could call the community that surrounds Meakusma.
What are you most looking forward to about the upcoming edition?
After canceling the festival in 2020 because of Covid-19 and in 2021 because of the floods in eastern Belgium, we are happy that so far our 2022 edition seems to be happening and that many people are interested in coming over. We stand behind all the artists we booked, singling out highlights is an impossible task.
“The first records on Meakusma came out 14 years ago and during those 14 years, our tastes have changed and grown.”
You talk about the practicality of the record label – do you find the process of releasing vinyl in the present reflects or doesn’t reflect this ethos?
As we said before, every release always feels like a new beginning. So every new release needs to be promoted, distributed and so on, in whatever format we choose to work. Producing vinyl has become much more expensive and right now there are enormous delays in production, but we still very much love the format. We will forever be on the lookout for solutions, but we have literally nothing against releasing music on CD, tape or digitally. Most of our vinyl releases are available digitally anyways and we feel digital releases have in the past few years thrown lifelines to artists struggling to still make some kind of income from their music.
What value do you feel the environment of the spaces and venues you use for Meakusma brings to the overall experience?
We are very happy that the Meakusma Festival in Eupen feels so ingrained in its surroundings and the venues we use. The festival has quite a big lineup, so for the festival audience to be able to take a break every now and then and enjoy the natural surroundings of Eupen, be it through camping or walking around a bit, feels important to us. The vibe at the festival is always quite relaxed, although there are always many different performances going on at the same time. The fact that Eupen is so closely linked to nature and that the town is small and friendly definitely helps create this easy-going atmosphere.
You talk about the possibility of broadening the label, where might this take you?
We are actually not sure broadening the label is even a very conscious decision. The first records on Meakusma came out 14 years ago and during those 14 years, our tastes have changed and grown. There are always new things coming our way that we get excited about. Right now we are working on releasing a book that comes with a flash drive full of music and videos. It is an enormous project initiated by Bernd Herzogenrath, who teaches American literature and culture at the university of Frankfurt, and sound artist Lasse-Marc Riek. It will feature contributions from 133 artists from the fields of film, sound, writing and photography. It will still take some time to fully develop this project, but it is coming.
More details and tickets for the festival HERE.