For many, the punk explosion of 1976 was less Year Zero, and more the final death throes of a rock n roll. The real Year Zero came a few beats later, when affordable drum machines and keyboard technology changed the sound (if not the structure) of all pop music to follow. It's little surprise that these seismic changes synth technology made in the early 80s are still being felt now- nowhere more than the busy head quarters of Oraculo Records.
Over the last three years the label, started by husband and wife synthpop outift Synths Versus Me (aka Nico Cabañas and Vanessa Asbert) have put out a steady stream of new music that draws deeply on the style and substance of 80s coldwave, no wave, synth pop and electronica, proving time and again that the genre's still have a whole lot more to offer. As confirmed fans, we decided to get Nico to talk us through a label dedicated to making pop chilly once more...
Can you tell us a little bit about Oráculo and what the label's original ambitions were?
Oráculo is something that appeared from the necessity of find a good solution to release our own stuff under Synths Versus Me alias with my wife Vanessa Asbert. When we got our first album ready to go, we started to search for someone to release it and after 2 “offers of business” we realized very clearly that it was better to do it we alone, then we thought maybe some other artists we like a lot could be interested in releasing in healthy and honest set up where the artists have a fair part of the business and continue controlling the rights of their music. So we launched the label back in 2014 based on partnership licences; we put the money in and the artists put the music in and we have a common profit shared.
We do not have any special ambition, just to release the records we would buy, with good sound and good quality of production. Of course we've improved a lot after some beginners mistakes.
What are some of your formative influences, both musical and in terms of labels you admire?
As vinyl collectors we admire and buy the records produced by labels such as Galatkhorrö, Disko Obscura, No Emb Blanc, Mute, Aufnahme + Wiedergarbe, DKA, Captured Tracks, Dark Entries, Minimal Maximal, Weyrd Son Records, Dais Records or Giallo Disco but I would not say any of them “influences us”, in fact we dont follow any guide or comparison to any other label to decide our the label strategy, we just make emotional decisions. It's becoming more and more difficult for us to decide between the dozens of good proposals we receive, we just choose with our hearts what we think is the best for our audience.
What is the Oraculo manifesto and how has it changed since its inception?
Our formula is: VINYL + DISCOVERING ACTUAL ALTERNATIVE MUSIC + QUALITY REAL LIMITED EDITIONS.
Oráculo was first of all about vinyl, the digital business came after, but we are a vinyl label as we like to play music in vinyl… It's also about presenting the music we listen to everyday (that surprisingly is not released in the majory of the cases), music that usually doesnt “fit” into a single genre. We have a wide range of interests and I think our catalogue is a good proof of that. Then it was the quality and the “real limited edition” fact; as collectors we like real limited editions, not series, we love to have ultra rare records in our own collection, it's a very nice feeling when a record you bought sells out and multiplies it's price 4,5 or 6 times, as it's a kind of confirmation that the collector has good taste - it's also an economical reward for those as us that are continously searching for new stuff (and supporting independent projects) and that support it from the very beginning.. So we wanted and we still want to offer “real limited edition” releases to all our buyers- we are happy when we see someone selling a record at 4 times the original price as we imagine how happy they feel about the investment they made, and of course that is linked to quality, we just try to produce the best products we are able too, both in sound and design…
You’ve become known for selling extremely high end vinyl, and making it almost financially impossible to buy digital without buying vinyl – what is your reasoning for this?
I guess you are talking about Bandcamp, in fact we have had to answer a lot of messages on that during last 2 years from digital buyers but have an explanation; the point here is that we don’t control digital rights of all of our releases, but if you want to sell vinyl on bandcamp you need to connect the vinyl to a digital release so we are forced to create a digital release (and need to name a price for it) so is in that case, when we release only vinyl but not digital, when we have to name a "dissuading" price as Bandcamp doesn’t offer the possibility of selling only vinyl editions. So we mark digi up at 1000€ and clearly state “download only available buying the Ltd. Edition Vinyl” on descriptions… I know many people are disappointed, but we cant sell what we don't have rights to, and in any case there’s usually a digital version available from the artist's own Bandcamps, or from another label. But the people who buy the vinyl always have the right of immediate download of the digital.
As we have a lot of digital requests we decided to open a full digital label (RaveWave) that we manage in partnership with Blanco y Negro, but again it's only for a part of our catalogue
You’re releases are steeped in cold wave, minimal wave and electro – how can these genres evolve without losing the elements that make them so compelling?
To me the synthpop and darkwave in general has been and will be always attractive because is a very soulful music (so connects with a lot with listeners) but, maybe the most importantly, because it has a “pop song” structure, a structure that makes it very easy to listen to in any circumstance, not just for dancing or for late night hours but music to listen during all hours of the day- that’s the main difference for me compared to house music, techno or more simple music that depends more on the “fashion” of each period and is not for all hours of the day. On the synth and darkwave scene there’s a lot of different approaches and all of them are valid and have their audience, so probably it's a scene not so affected by influences as is the mainstream electronic music.. The truth is we just dont get tired of it!
And what is it about these genres that you find so timeless?
I would say again the same; I'm just not getting tired of synth music with pop structure with dark touches, i love it and i prefer it to any other style of music… It's been over 2 decades that I think this way.
There was a time when artists making synth pop – some of it genuinely challenging listening- were dominating popular music around the globe. Is this a situation you can see happening again? Would you even want it to?
That period you mention (early mid 80’s) was when i fell in love with synth music. I'm sure that synth music can dominate the market again… Obviously, there’s millions of electronic music listeners right now listening to very easy and commercial stuff but it's still electronic in the end.. I mean, I dont think the millions of EDM music fans will listen to David Guetta for the rest of their lives.. One day they will get tired or just will try different electronic stuff and logically the electronic pop stuff should be one of their first options so why can't synth conquer the world again? There’s a target audience enough to do it and plenty of good music capable of reaching top positions with the proper big label promotion.
Is it important to you to work with artists using analogue equipment or is this not a consideration?
It's not necessary at all but of course it's much easier to connect to someones project when it's physical and visual, I mean the same song created by a guy on a laptop or by a band playing instruments live, we prefer the second one, so we are more orineted to bands than to electronic bedroom projects- but we really release any kind of stuff if it fits with us.
How do you source material for the label?
We listen to new music everyday so time to time we discover new projects, but we also receive a lot of demo proposals as well as new works from our artists we've released before, so the label is a mix of all those sources.
You put out a lot of records – more than most labels. How have you been coping with the delays that have been hitting pressing plants?
That’s a good question! It's really hard to raise a label today because of pressing plant delays. You need to advance the money for 5 or 7 months so, as everything is so fast in marketing today, when the record finally arrives the release already feels “old", which is a big contradiction and could become a serious commercial problem… In our case, we needed to change our pressing plant because of problems with delays, then to receive the records in a shorter period of time we needed to agree with the new plant a big schedule of releases per year. I mean, in any business the volume opens doors and in this case make the production faster- when we send a release it goes immediately into production, but we dont send 1, we send 5 or 6 every 2-3 months so it's in the interests of the plant to make ours before the others.
For a lot of the releases on the label, I can’t tell if they’re a reissue of something classic, or a new artist – how much of your catalogue is new and how much is reissue?
We mainly release new music, we've only released reissues 2 times on 37 vinyl releases- we made an exception with Derriere Le Miroir a few months ago and very recently with Monomen; the rest of our releases are very recent music, the majority of the music is a maximum of 1 year old.
You release your own music as Synth vs Me on the label – how hard is it to decide whether your own music is ready for release?
As I said we created Oraculo to release our own stuff but the truth is that it becomes more and more difficult for us to release ourselves, as the level of the label is becoming higher and higher, so we have very good music to release and we dont want to lose those opportunities. We often have our own good stuff that we delay to introduce someone else music, and as a consequence, some of our own projects don't make it out of the office… We just try to find a “hole” and when it's possible we release it.. In terms of the decision itself, we follow our instincts, we just release the music we like to hear and sometimes it's ours :)
If you wanted to introduce a new fan to the label, what 5 tracks should they listen to first
I will definitely recommend listening to all of our catalogue as we are very proud of all the releases but if I have to choose a very representative 5 I would say
Boy Harsher - Pain
Valis - Black Carbon
ManMachine - Lilly
Synths Versus Me - Monotony
What have you got coming up in 2017?
This is an important year for us as we just launched a sublabel (Dark Men Records) where we'll try to offer cheaper priced records than Oráculo (another repeated request of our supporters), while Oráculo will continue offering just the same than till now, actually we are preparing in both labels very nice releases with Strucktura, We Are Not Brothers, Blind Delon, Velvet Kills, Synths Versus Me, Ferdinand Carclash, I Tpame I Tvarme, Wicked Crafts, Adam Tristar and Monomen, and some other that will be unvelied very soon, including very expected new works of already Oraculo artists for next autumn
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
We want to say big thanks for being interested in our label and artists!!!!
Oráculo Records are selling the black gold over on Bandcamp here - https://oraculorecords.bandcamp.com/