Label Love #07: Dark Entries
For many School Daze by Patrick Cowley was last years essential missing link; a sudden epiphany to add to only the most timeless and radical of criterions. Dark Entries, the label responsible for uncovering the material, have been making such additions since their inception in 2009. Run by Josh Cheon, the label has amassed a sizeable discography since then, delivering the work of overlooked pioneers, hinterland outsiders and bygone underground experimenters.
The labels attempt to make the dreams and the sound of the 80s underground less distant have also seen contemporary releases, revealing an open ethos not limited to retrogressive preferences.
The labels purview has been based purely on sound from the beginning and has extended from goth melodrama (The Danse Society Demos) to Hi-Nrg Italo (Big Ben Tribe) to primitive pop whimsy (X-Ray Pop)
Following this years inauguration of the Dark Entries Editions series, we sent over some questions to Josh, tracing his first pivotal exposures and teenage adorations, the stories behind some of the labels releases, the importance of the San Franciscan scene and more
You've previously cited a Gothic Rock compilation as a major influence on the label (Dark Entries by Bauhaus was the first track on the compilation) can you pinpoint why that exposure has remained so vivid and attractive in terms of the inception of the label, and its subsequent aesthetic and direction?
That compilation was pivotal to my 15-year old self. It was my introduction to post-punk and noncommercial 80s music. I had already been collecting everything I could find by The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees so this was the next logical step. When I was thinking of names for the label in 2008 Dark Entries just hit me in the head and made sense. I wanted to give each release a catalog number "Entry 1", "Entry 2", etc, like a diary.
Are there any other influences which have proved as revelatory in their impact on the label?
I suppose listening to 80s synth pop as a teenager and the Futurepop movement of the late 90s (Beborn Beton, Wolfsheim, VNV Nation) had a lasting effect. I worked for Metropolis Records when I was 18, the summer between High School and college and I remember the guys in the office who were 10 years older than me, playing all these post punk bands when they knew I liked 80s music. Also as a teenager, I would go dancing almost every Friday, Saturday and sometimes Sunday to this goth club in New York City called The Bank. Hearing rare and underground 80s dance music only forced me to dig deeper when I was vinyl hunting.
Besides a general predilection for rare, underground, synth artists, is there a special quality or sound which you look for in the material you decide to release?
I'm a sucker for a catchy melody and a dance beat doesn't hurt.
Seeing as how the material you reissue is often highly coveted and rare, what are some of the more demanding pressures and difficulties in locating, handling and distributing this kind of material?
Usually the bands did not have access to a hi-fi recording studio. They would record on consumer grade 4-track players direct to cassette. So, that makes for hissy masters sometimes. Other times the band did use 1/4 reel to reel tapes but they were lost in floods, fires or thrown out in the trash by a spurned ex-lover.
There seems to be a dedication to consistent and quality design at the label, whos involved in the artwork process?
Eloise Leigh has been my in-house designer since release number 4 in 2009. She is also passionate about the music and has an appreciation for the DIY aesthetic of the 1980s independent record labels. Some of the projects require completely new designs for compilations or releases that did not have a design before. Other projects are straight reproductions of the original releases, but with new inserts and printed ephemera designed to accompany them. In all cases, we strive to be as resourceful as possible to work within low budget limitations. Paper is often sourced from the local recycling center [S.C.R.A.P.], designs are often created in 1-color or 2-color with lower ink usage in mind, and layout sizes are often determined by what works best with local printers and their most cost-effective options. At the same time, quality of content is never sacrificed, and it has been an honor to help so many talented artists and musicians resurrect their amazing music in the most independent and authentic way possible.
2013 seems to have been a great year for the label, especially with the Patrick Cowley release, did you expect that kind of reception for School Daze?
Patrick Cowley deserves all of this praise and more. He was lightyears ahead of his time as heard in "School Daze". Jacob Sperber from Honey Soundsystem, who I co-released this record with says "I think Patrick made these songs for himself and his peers, he would have made them today too. These songs have that depth and intellect that many famous musicians never get to show off because they make it big with one-sound or one record. That said, I also think a lot of these songs mean so much more to Patrick fans having been sitting in the can for so long. It's like a prequel to your favorite movie, but one that delivers."
We were also big fans of the Algebra Suicide release, can you tell us the story behind their work and how you came to release Feminine Squared?
I has just re-issued the full discography of a Belgian band called Vita Noctis. While digitizing their master tapes I came across a collaboration Algebra Suicide did with them for the song "Praxis". So that got me thinking about re-issuing their songs on a vinyl LP. I knew Lydia Tomkiw had passed away in 2007 so I contacted Don Hedeker, who sent me every reel to reel tape he had containing music up to 1986. It was a huge undertaking and I have enough material for a second LP that will be released in 2015.
What were your own highlights for the label in 2013?
Moving my record label out of my bedroom and getting an office. Finally releasing the first of many Patrick Cowley compilations.
It seems youve also started to release contemporary output, what sparked this decision?
I've been releasing contemporary music since the inception of the label. My second release is the contemporary band, Death Domain. I wanted to alternate one reissue with one contemporary band but that became impossible when I started to amass more reissues than new bands to release. In 2013 I released 4 contemporary bands, which was an all time high.
Is there any difference in your preferences and what you look for in a new bands sound and aesthetic, as opposed to something released in the past?
If my ears like it, does not matter what year it came from. Music should be timeless.
To speak specifically about some of these artists, what are the stories behind Figure Study and Max + Mara? How did you come across them?
I met Figure Study in 2010 at the Wierd party in NY and we instantly hit it off. I had been looking for more contemporary bands to release and I loved their sound. It just took 3 more years for the material to be finished and released and I am so proud of them. Max + Mara are fixtures on the local Bay Area scene with their other projects, Group Rhoda and Brotman and Short. Friends kept telling me to see Max + Mara live and I finally did and was hooked so I asked to release their material.
You're based in San Francisco, how has that been for the labels development?
Fantastic. My engineer, George Horn, is located at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley. I use Fantasy for all of the master tape transfers and restoration. Their staff is of the highest caliber and I love working them. My pressing plant is RTI in Los Angeles, who are the best in the country, if not the world right now. The company who prints my jackets is Dorado in Los Angeles and my inserts are printed in San Francisco and H&H Imaging. So I am very west coast based and I like the ease at which all the parts come together in the same state.
Whats San Franciscos history like in terms of the music Dark Entries specialize in?
SF has a rich history in the Punk, New Wave, Industrial scenes. The Bay Area scene produced as much quality post punk bands as any of the more hyped scenes, LA and NY included. Throbbing Gristle broke up during their last show that took place in San Francisco, and were very tied to the Industrial scene here. There were many fanzines like Search and Destroy, Another Room, Re/Search that documented everything and I've collected issues over the years. I used elements of these zines for my compilation of Bay Area New Wave, "BART Bay Area Retrograde Vol 1" that featured The Units, Los Microwaves, Voice Farm, The Wasp Women and more. San Francisco continues to generate a home grown music culture that produces bands who fit the Dark Entries aesthetic.
Your labels dictum reads: Resuscitating the Underground, is this any indication of the belief that something has been lost or is lacking in contemporary scenes, something that was more pioneering, radical and interesting in the environments some of your reissued artists inhabited in previous decades?
Not at all.
How do you usually come across the archive material for reissues? I heard that one of the Eleven Pond releases came about after a comment on a blog post led you to some of their original tapes. What effect do you think the internet has had on this kind of endeavour in terms of your label and more generally?
Word of mouth, from my own collection, friends recommendations, fans who send in dream requests, blogs and even YouTube. The internet has shed light on many obscure bands, even through low bit-rate mp3s or streaming videos. The music is out there and accessible to many more people than it ever was relegated to 100 cassettes or vinyl that was poorly distributed or destroyed due to low sales.
Searching for this material must involve a lot of research. Have you come across any extraordinary stories involving artists who youve released and their respective scenes or those who you are interested in releasing?
Patrick Cowley's "School Daze" comes to mind first. In 2009, the DJ collective I belong to, Honey Soundsystem celebrated the release of "Catholic", an unreleased collaboration album from Patrick Cowley and Jorge Socarras. During this event a few of Patrick's friends asked if I had discovered the gay porn soundtracks Patrick had composed. Digging deeper, I unearthed John Coletti, the owner of vintage gay porn company Fox Studio in Los Angeles. John had heard about Patrick's music from the legendary Sylvester and proposed he write music for his films. Patrick jumped on this offer and sent reels of his college compositions from the 70s to John in LA. I were able to locate John Coletti in Los Angeles though an old address on a porn tape. In May 2013, I flew to LA to pick up the tapes from the Fox Studio storage garage and brought them back to San Francisco.
As a label which is focused on vinyl releases, what are your thoughts on the nature of what some have perceived as a vinyl resurgence?
As long as the care is taken to preserve the audio quality and fidelity, I'm fine with it. Many people have a psychological draw to the vinyl format and ignore the physics. Be careful is all I have to say.
By Discogs reckoning, you released in the region of 20 records in 2013, whats facilitated the prolific nature of your recent output, something which seems to have risen since the labels beginning?
I never saw this coming. I took the advice of my wise engineer, George Horn, who told me to seize the momentum. So I did.
If you're able to bring yourself to choose, whats your favourite release since the label began and why?
If money or any other obstructive factor was no concern, what would be your dream release?
The Cure demos from 1979-1989
Tell us about your new series, Dark Entries Editions. How did it come about and whats the intent behind it?
I wanted to start releasing 12"s aimed for the dance floor and I have a long list of them planned for 2014.
What are your plans for the label in 2014 and beyond?
This year my label celebrates its 5th anniversary. I have some plans for that in July. I guess I also have to top 20 releases per year from now on…
Interview by Tim Wilson.