Label Love #25: Atomnation
Atomnation is an Amsterdam / Berlin based label founded back in 2012 by Guido Hollaers and Pascal Terstappen – Pascal lives in Berlin whilst Guido resides in their hometown of Amsterdam. Whilst their music shows a real diversity there's a distinct aesthetic that runs through the label from the artwork down to the way they release records. It's a great example of a young label that creates a stage for great and unknown geniuses. Artists that have piqued our attention via Atomnation have been Weval, Sau Poler (from the new golden generation of electronic producers from Barcelona), Gidge and David Douglas. We met the amiable Pascal on a sunny afternoon in Berlin… then we chatted to him and Guido to find out more. Let's go…
Can you tell us a little bit about the label and what the label's original blueprints were?
We are Guido Hollaers and Pascal Terstappen and founded Atomnation back in 2012. We're friends from high school and used to be roommates during our study times. Right now Pascal operates from Berlin and Guido from Amsterdam. We always loved to discover new music. We’re stretching this out towards the label for almost 3 years now.
What sparked the idea and kicked it into gear?
We started Atomnation spontaneously. There was never a plan to start a label until three days before our first release. Pascal made an album under his moniker Yoshiba 87 and we decided to not put the record out via Pascal's artist profile, but under the helmet of a new label, named Atomnation. The idea was born in two minutes and the whole weekend we worked our asses off to set up profiles at Bandcamp, Soundcloud and a website, concept, logo, etc.
What are some of the label's formative musical influences?
We both used to go to clubs when we were teenagers. At high school everybody listened to Britney Spears and The Backstreet Boys. Back then, we did listen to artists such as James Holden, Apparat, Trentemoller and Michael Mayer. Those guys weren't as popular as they are now. The whole thing was really underground and it was super exciting for us. For example we saw Apparat playing in front of an 80 people crowd and we went to see James Holden in Doornroosje (Nijmegen) when we were 16 years old. Over the years we fell in love with many other artists and that number grew extensively over the years.
What is the Atomnation manifesto and how has it changed since its inception?
We simply release music by people we think really stand out and want to do that very well. Nothing’s changed there. On the background though things became more 'professional'. More people are involved now and we are investing a lot of time in the label, trying to build a solid name. Still, how we operate is a big mess (exactly how it was in the beginning). For example after 3 years we still don't have a proper DJ promo list. We do have a list actually with lots of artists but every time we forget to send them our releases. More focusing on our artists, relations and to reach the listeners at home.
Is there a particular framework/concept you work to with the releases on the label?
We try to do bigger releases. For example, we always ask artists to make an EP, or an album, that tells a unified story (so not just a number of unconnected songs). Around that, we try to create a number of assets to promote the record. With remixes, video’s, singles, mixes, etc. In our perspective a release should show a lot of sides from the artist. We love ambient for example, and experimental work. A record that brings more than just functional dance tunes is a lot more interesting. Our goal with each release is that people listen to it from the first second till the last one and that they don’t skip through the tracks.
Where did the name come from?
Atomnation is a name which you can interprete in a lot of different ways. Atomnation just looked strong. Most matter on earth is made by Atoms and that's what we liked most about it as music is the output of human beings. But to be honest, we created the label in a weekend so didn't thought too much about the name. It sounded cool and it looked strong. We decided to go for it.
There seems to be a very strong aesthetic presence on Atomnation; the artwork is often a great accompaniment to the music. Does this come about by sitting the artists down and clearly discussing what you'd like to see, or do they have more freedom?
Artists have freedom but sometimes we have suggestions ready when we think it's not there yet. We aim to keep the quality of art and music very high. For example we work with Alex Coll, a collagist from Spain. He did the artwork for Golden Peak, the album by Koett. Alex took a big part in this as the artwork made this release as surrealistic as it is now.
How do you source material for the label?
We're involved in rtfkt.net – a music blog wherefore we contribute musical findings. This means every now and then we are crate-digging and looking around for cool music to share on the platform. It's how we ran into Sau Poler, Tonik, Weval, Fran Seven and Gidge. Also sometimes we get music via friends or our personal network. For example, soon we will put out a debut release from a two-mans band, named Polynation. One of the two guys is Olaf Stuut’s brother and that’s how we ran into him.
With the process of selecting & finding music for releases, do you find that there's a tendency towards music from producers who directly approach the label or is a lot of it sourced yourself?
Often we just ran into music that we really liked. We contacted the artists, hoping they are not signed yet and asking them if they want to start working with us.
Tell us about your relationship with David Douglas and how that came about.
David was the second artist that released on Atomnation. He sent his music in the weekend we decided to start a label. It was such a coincidence. We loved his music and he was excited to release it with us. We made an appointment to meet, made a plan to put it out in a proper way, and things started to roll. Over the years we became good friends with David. He's a great guy, everything must be perfect when you work with him. That's what you hear back also in his compositions. His music is super detailed, made with a lot of layers and knowledge. This year we released his album, Moon Observations. Our 20th release. It was something he really wanted to do and we all really stood behind. A fantastic release and milestone for both David and us.
How much more of a challenge is putting an album out to EP’s.
We try to approach EP's and Albums the same way. We never put out EP's with just 2 or 3 originals. A two track EP is cool, sometimes, but also a bit boring. We try to approach EP's more as a mini album. With space for some crazy improvisation pieces that the artist builds around a strong single – tracks that no other label would ever release. A full length album has a longer lifetime of course, comparing to EP's. Albums need way more effort and assets, promo wise. It's cool to think out those album campaigns and work with a small team on it to promote it. Artists often only think about the music and not too much about the promotional side. They just want to put out their record and get it heard, as soon as possible. But, why would you put out a record within 2 weeks while you've been working on for 2 years?
In the age of the 3 second attention span, do you still listen to albums?
We both buy albums on vinyl and digitally via Bandcamp. It's a nice way to listen to albums on wax because you won't get distracted from the general distractions of your computer. We don't listen on Spotify. Haha.
How do you run a label when you both live in separate cities? God bless the internet! Actually maybe that’s your reply to that question.
We work via e-mail indeed, and often talk on Skype. It's very easy these days with the internet!
How do you think you stand out from the crowd given the current wealth of independent labels operating?
That's hard to say. We just try to sign new artists or whom we think they are really good and try to create a nice profile around them. We think all the artists that we released so far have this exciting twist, a signature sound. For example, Gidge, David Douglas, Weval, Sau Poler… They all make very different electronic music, but it all has some kind of a magical touch that connects the one with the other. Unified in their frivolous and wayward approach. Maybe that's it?
What has been the label’s happiest accident?
Founding the label was the happiest accident, period. So many nice moments happened ever since.
What's the best thing you guys heard this year?
Pascal: Kiasmos, Thrupence' new album and Long Arm's track "Sleepsafe". And I love the new Dauwd EP on Kompakt as well.
Guido: During night time I listen to upcoming (but not yet totally finished) Portable Sunsets work quite a lot. The music he makes is really abstract, yet so recognizable. You can really feel it’s made by him – from the situation he is in – and by no one else. Furthermore I am always awaiting new music from Gonno. I know he’s working on an album and every remix he’s coming up with in the meantime is a nice and welcome surprise. Also really into the stuff Oneohtrix Point Never creates. It took me some time to listen to his latest album in full but when eventually doing so it was just really mind blowing. And lastly, what also really did it for me were the two albums we released on Atomnation last year; the ones by Gidge and David Douglas. So much detail, so vivid and really cool to be involved and witness the process from close by.
How do you guys as an individual ‘consume’ music most? Is it at home on speakers, on your headphones on the move or something else.
Pascal: I'm listening to music online during the weekdays. I skip through a lot of music, hoping to discover something i really like. Once i find such a track i might listen to that one 20 times on repeat. Further I am listening to vinyl when i am not working during the weekends or in the evening. I don't listen to music on the road too much as i don't like to listen to music all the time.
Guido: Buying a record on vinyl and listening to it at my home. Just recently I got myself some good headphones and I enjoy cycling through Amsterdam while listening to newly discovered music. I also like to go to a proper club night or performances at the many nice venues we have in our country.
Can you name any key releases on other labels that were instrumental in you starting the label.
There is no key release. There are a lot of label campaigns we actually liked, in some way. For example how Ghostly released Tycho's album this year. Super slick, with all the artwork which is in sync etc and a big promotional campaign. Also the way Erased Tapes put the focus on Nils Frahm's "Spaces" album last year – as a live record – was a very strong move. And the recent video's / artwork of FKA Twigs we thought were insane. Crazy stuff.
Describe Atomnation with 5 words and/or images
1: RTFKT.net, the best place to share music findings
2: Drunk fun in Amsterdam / "meet and greet" with the horse riding woman from the Golden Peak artwork 😉
3: Art by Alex Coll, one of the guys that designed some covers for us
4: Work from one more artist that is responsible for some of our cover art: Hessel Stuut
5: There’s no better way than shipping records with the Opel Astra
If money was no object to the label what would you do with it or are you happy with the trajectory thus far?
We'd love to open a record shop / office / gallery / coffee bar in the future. We're not ready for this yet but maybe in a couple of years or so we could manage this. It's nice to have dreams, but money shouldn't take a big part of it. When putting out records you should follow more your intuition and not the potential cash. When starting Atomnation we decided to invest all the money we made back in the label and artists. We still operate like this.
Upcoming in the world of Atomnation…
We are releasing a new Sau Poler EP in December and Tonik Ensemble’s album in February. Furthermore we are working on an Anniversary release – we're about to reach the milestone of 25 releases. Also Pascal hopes to have his album out before summer 2015 and Polynation, Koett, Portable Sunsets and the other artists are preparing new work as well. Exciting!!
Find out more about Atomnation here: