Kiran Sande of Blackest Ever Black Talks
Adroitly eloquent and sincerely committed, Kiran details some of the influences that have informed the releases and aesthetic of his Blackest Ever Black label.
Was your intention always to start a label?
I'm not really sure. I think the impulse was probably there from quite a young age. I used to spent a lot of time lying on the carpet as a teenager with a pen and a pad of paper, drawing imaginary album covers and – most worryingly – writing down imaginary lists of personnel, full recording credits and release info. I didn't just imagine the music and the sleeve art, I imagined the mastering engineer and Pro-Tools operator, even though I had no idea what a mastering engineer did, or indeed what Pro-Tools was. The minutiae interested me. So yes, I was heading in the right direction, and my lack of musical talent sealed my fate. Of course it wasn't until I encountered Raime a good few years later that I actually pulled my finger out.
And the name, I’ve heard it’s lifted from Haswell & Hecker’s album but I’ve also seen it in an obituary for Gareth Williams which claimed he had the ‘Blackest of Black’ humour. Where’s the name actually from and how do you see it as a fitting representation of what the label’s about?
Around the time I was vaguely planning to get the label off the ground, I had a long and very inspiring conversation with Russell [Haswell] that left me feeling that there was no excuse not to get on and do it. So in one sense the name is a very straightforward tribute to him. But I wouldn't have chosen it were there not numerous other connotations and associations that I liked, and if I wasn't fond of the way the words sound. I could write an essay about it, but I'll spare you.
I found it quite interesting how you’ve previously emphasized Raime’s fascination with Jungle and the genre itself as one that hasn’t been caught up with yet. Do you see Raime’s material and Blackest Ever Black more broadly, as a means of exploring pioneering facets of genres which didn’t perhaps reach their peak and remain worthy of exploring?
I don't think that's the clear intention of the label or of Raime, no. For me, and I can only truly speak for myself, it's certainly not about exploring the pioneering facets of any given genre, at least not consciously; it's more about exploring the facets that appeal to you, that you see something of yourself in – whether you're dealing with future-rushing jungle or, I don't know, shambling suburbanite indie-pop.
The influence of J.G. Ballard and William Burroughs on post-punk and industrial is well documented, as a label which seems to bear these influences and as a self-confessed ‘bibliophile’, would you draw similar literary relations to B.E.B’s material?
To be clear, I described myself as a 'bibliophile' to indicate that I spend more time acquiring books than reading them, at least these days, and not to boast of my literary credentials (which are pretty meagre). Whether or not you've actually read them, I suppose Ballard and Burroughs are inescapable: their influence reverberates through so much other literature, art, music and film. I did read some Burroughs when I was a teen, but I never felt any great personal connection to his work. I've always found Ballard far more enjoyable – the luridness of his imagination and the stiffness of his prose work very well together. One of my favourite novelists, Chris Petit, is a huge devotee of Ballard, and his best book, Robinson, is effectively Crash re-routed through the pubs of Soho. The only other fiction I can really be bothered with these days is superior London pulp: Derek Raymond, Anthony Frewin, the kind of stuff published by Maxim Jubowski's No Exit Press (although there's a fair amount of garbage you have to dance around to find the good ones).
Having attended the last label night and heard your recent NTS broadcast, visuals and film seems to be quite an important interaction with projections at the label night and grimly humorous (film?) excerpts in the broadcast, what were the films that featured in these instances and more generally, are there any directors/movements you think B.E.B is particularly indebted to in terms of its aesthetic or otherwise?
One of the films you're talking about is probably Voice Over by Christopher Monger, a perfectly odd and grubby little film from 1981, recently reissued. You may also have seen something by Jane Arden or Jack Bond…2013 should see a very special project related their work come to fruition on BEB, but I can't say much more about it now.
I was raised on a diet of TV murder mysteries and watered-down Hollywood noir, and it's only really in the last couple of years, with the benefit of hindsight and YouTube, that I'm able to see how absolutely all those rickety 80s and 90s British TV adaptations of Ruth Rendell mysteries, and all those interchangeable LA/NY crime thrillers, have shaped my sensibility.
I'm a sucker too for any fictional representation of London on screen, however preposterous or bourgeois – even, you know, Sliding Doors exerts a kind of mystical power over me, and I've not quite yet got to the bottom of why. Less embarrassingly, last week I saw John Cassavetes' Husbands for the first time, and the second half of the movie, which is set in London, just killed me. I was like, this is it. This is Blackest Ever Black. Jenny Runacre in that film…
‘The label’s exquisite aesthetic identity was of irresistible appeal’ – William Bennett (LWE Interview, 2012). Who’s involved in the aesthetic side of things, maintaining that ‘irresistible appeal’?
Well, William is being very kind there. I have the final say on artwork and decide the imagery and general visual identity of the label, but in a significant number of cases the musicians take the lead: Raime, Young Hunting, Vatican Shadow and Cut Hands all created or commissioned their own cover art, and I simply tweaked it where necessary. Credit here also to Oliver Smith, who has been responsible for layout on every single Blackest release to date, and without whose skill, advice and eye for detail I'd be lost.
A definite favourite and redemptive find of this year was your reissue of Gareth Williams & Mary Currie’s ‘Flaming Tunes’, how and when did you first come across their material and how did the release come about?
I think I first became aware of it when The Wire ran a piece to accompany the CD edition of the album in 2009, but I don't think I heard it properly until 2010, when Camella Lobo of Tropic of Cancer recommended it to me in passing. Staggered to learn that it had never been released on vinyl, I contacted the people responsible for releasing the CD, and was delighted to find that it was a group of the late Williams' close friends, and that they were London-based. I met with them soon after, and once they saw that my enthusiasm for the music was enormous and my intentions for it honourable, they gave me their blessing to go ahead with a vinyl release. It won't be the last thing from that "world" that I put out.
It’s a pretty diverse assemblage of artists you’ve brought together for your second label night, what would you say is the unifying factor in what they represent in their sound or otherwise?
I suppose there's a certain purity to all their music and, by extension, to the way they go about their business. They're all stubborn, independent and idiosyncratic people, they do things their own way.
It must have been a painstaking process with what seems some quite elusive and hermetic artists, how did it all come together?
Hundreds upon hundreds of emails, phonecalls, gchats, text messages and, in the case of Slimzee, WhatsApp exchanges. A couple of lucky breaks and some very helpful leads (special thanks to Al Boddika and Sam Strang).
Can you give us a selection of some of your favourites from each of the artists playing this Saturday, and what you think makes these particular tracks special?
I won't pick tracks from all of them, else we'll be here all day, but here's a quick selection.
VATICAN SHADOW – JORDANIAN DESCENT (JORDANIAN MILITARY COMMISSIONS)
Punishing, hypnotic "militant religious industrial" – this is Dominick Fernow's Vatican Shadow at its best.
SOURCE DIRECT – CALL & RESPONSE
In a 90s interview Source Direct suggested that their productions are the expression of "a criminal mind", which seems bang-on for this track. Has the dubious honour of featuring prominently in the film Blade.
CUT HANDS – BLACK MAMBA
Released a single on Blackest Ever Black earlier this year, this is a pure, potent, delirium-inducing drum assault from William Bennett, and for me his defining statement as Cut Hands to date.
RUSSELL HASWELL – BLACK METAL DEMO INTRO
The first track from Haswell's new album, and a demonstration of how potent his music can be without recourse to (obvious) extremes of frequency.
“a one-man-band flashback, recalling his personal exposure and experiences at early black metal concerts in the UK and Europe” – available here
YOUNG HUNTING – DIRGE
A song from the Edinburgh duo's first album. For me Young Hunting – soon to undergo a metamorphosis of sorts – are exciting beyond belief. Their new material will blow people away.
BLACK RAIN – LO TEK'
Brooding techno voodoo originally conceived for the soundtrack of Johnny Mnemonic, recently resuscitated as part of the Black Rain compilation on BEB, Now I'm Just A Number: Soundtracks 1994-95.
What’s on the horizon for the label?
Raime's debut album, Quarter Turns Over A Living Line, is due out in November, and before the year is out I plan to release a 10" by Dalhous. In 2012: albums from Tropic of Cancer, Dalhous. The aforementioned Arden/Bond project, to be confirmed. More music from Dominick Fernow. Hopefully lots of other stuff that hasn't reared its head yet. Bankruptcy.
Catch some of the artists mentioned here, amongst many others, at the Blackest Ever Black label night this Saturday at Corsica. More info here.