Label Love #37: Unknown Precept
Techno, however resoundingly brutal and relentless, can stultify. Much of it perfectly serviceable, functional; alive and purposeful in the moment but quickly forgotten once the lustre of the novel fades and the worth of the next feted 12” is estimated. Frankly it’s difficult for a release which may – however loosely – be compartmentalized as such to stand out, let alone to bear the qualities which ensure a longevity beyond the average shelf life.
But recent years have heralded a spikier vestige of spark amongst the drub. As many will be aware, Ron Morelli’s LIES Records, Stephen Bishop’s Opal Tapes and Will Bankhead’s Trilogy Tapes have been at the forefront – or at least the most noted – of a strafed form of techno, with its purveyors importing sensibilities rooted in DIY punk and noise and subsequently bloodying some of the systematic gloss that can reductively define the genre. There have been countless other more recent ventures involved in this intent (Diagonal, Jealous God, Avian to name a few) which like LIES, Opal and Trilogy have varying notions, sensibilities and executions. But there’s a loosely shared sense of no-nonsense prolific activity amongst them all, with rules stretched and components manipulated; the tedium of techno’s reliable mechanisms compellingly threatened. Undoubtedly the results aren’t always surefire. Yet it’s hard to dispute the bracing impact this stylistic transition has had in many quarters.
In keeping with this revivifying sense of disorder, Unknown Precept emerged in 2013, a project helmed by Jules Peter. It was initially intended as an exploration of the ‘Black Ideal’ (what became the title of a compilation and the labels first release) a term which denotes the increasingly tenebrous atmospheres discernible within many of the scene’s luminaries and hopefuls. In its original objective – a conceptual fanzine – the project failed. But as with most failures, a more interesting progression was made with the advent of an impressively heavyweight first release; a compilation featuring the likes of Ancient Methods, Shifted, and Violetshaped.
Since then the label has made its own illuminating forays, introducing the likes of Maoupa Mazzocchetti – who’s virulent, industrial grinds and crunching, distorted lacerations made for one of the most genuine sources of wiry future-shock last year – and more recently, Nick Klein, who’s distinctively damaged, brutish power tool barrage you sense could end up as the centerpiece in a Silent Servant mix.
Although the mood of much of what the label releases gravitates towards the harsh and lurid there’s still larks to be had within the balefulness. Sensual as they are brutal, these are records to lose control to, in every sense.
Convinced of this and rendered lusty over their releases to date, we got in touch with Jules on the eve of their next release, to get the lowdown on the labels beginnings, its formative influences, and the sum of its outlook…
Tell us about the genesis of the label, what galvanised you to start it all?
I was bored at school, and I ended up leaving it. I had this in mind for a while and I got into it to fill my days. I first planned to start the project on paper, and then hypothetically on a record. I kind of wanted to witness the transformation that was ongoing in contemporary techno through written or visual contributions from various artists and musicians; to understand what were the motivations pushing people to go towards this ‘black ideal’ [the first Unknown Precept release] It happened the exact opposite way, the fanzine was stillborn and the compilation was built around the artists who trusted me without knowing me; the keen interest around the first release made it work. I knew nothing about managing a label at the time. I had to learn on the job and start over after the compilation was released. I spent a year trying to define where I really wanted to go with what wasn’t just a record anymore, but a label.
I’ve seen the terms ‘Rhythmic Noise’ and ‘Grotesk Techno’ in various promotional blurbs associated with you, is this apt shorthand for what UP is all about?
Unknown Precept is about having fun with music, be it dark, weird or stupid — that’s all discussed. I try to digress from the seriousness that reigns electronic music. People often ostracize themselves from this type of sound — out of fear or habit — but they should let go, allow themselves to explore the bizarre and mess around with it. There are too many people who take themselves seriously whilst producing music in their bedroom. I find the contrast to be ridiculous, seriousness is just a vector of boredom
What were the main precedents for your attraction to these styles of sound? What led you down this path? Were there key records or significant moments you recall?
I’ve been fascinated for a long time by the various DIY scenes who had something marginal or zealous to offer and that's certainly what I'm trying to find in the contemporary scene; i.e. a raw and frontal approach, without any artifice. It’s hard to tell what stands out the most, a bunch of the main players from the industrial current opened my eyes, that’s for sure. I’m also very attached to the Bunker wave, from the 90s, and all this hyper radical techno sound coming from Rotterdam and the Hague. Like almost everyone my age, new technologies allowed me to discover so much stuff in a very short period of time; suddenly, I always wanted to go further, to see what was next and listen to stuff my father didn’t even know it existed. I try to put a bit of this naivety in what I do with the label.
Tell us about the underpinnings which inform the artwork and aesthetics of the label.
Michel Egger came up with the concept. I wanted the identity to use very readable graphical codes in order to remain focused on the sound rather than its visual aspect. Like many underground labels that once cared more about their music rather than their appearance. It was also mainly about being easily identifiable while putting on an equal level all my releases, meaning not to prefer one or another record because its sleeve is prettier than the other as I really don’t care. I’m very attached to the names of my artists and the effort they put in their track titles, so it was a way to emphasize this as well. I like to think this aesthetic allows people to build their own identity of the label.
Your releases seem to focalize techno’s forthright functionality (‘The Black Ideal’ compilation for one) whilst indulging some more experimental and nefarious interferences usually synonymous with noise and industrial (especially the recent Nick Klein release) how do you feel about each of those respective scenes in 2015? How do you see your own place within them?
Looking at what’s being released now, I have the impression that people are being more and more attracted by weirder stuff. It might only be an impression. It’s always been an endless source of inspiration for many artists and labels but still, these things take time to settle and last. It might also be due to the fact that this more straightforward techno tends to run out of steam, struggling to renew itself; producers have used the same recipe for years and avoid taking risks since in the end most of them have nothing else to offer. People are seeking an alternative. As for Unknown Precept, I hope to be one of these alternatives; perhaps because I try not to take into account the financial aspect
of a record in order to focus on an artist I believe in rather than one that will sell.
You’re based in Berlin now, what kind of impact has that had on the labels activities?
Paris is full of talented people and interesting initiatives but the institutions willing to trust them are too few. It leaves the field open for promoters to focus on already established names which causes some kind of imbalance, even if it’s slowly heading the right direction thanks to a bunch of people I know there. Berlin is bizarre, despite the astronomical amount of tourists coming to party, locals are somehow curious to hear stuff they don’t know. Record stores are also much more receptive and keen to support the local scene. It's still too early to tell, but Berlin seems to offer a lot of opportunities for sunken activities and that's what I like here, we’ll see what happens next.
Reflecting a while ago on the Berlin scene and revealing the reasons for starting Contort, Samuel Kerridge remarked that were a lot of nights catering for quite formulaic house and techno. With Contort/Atonal and many labels like yourself and Blackest Ever Black (amongst others) based there, do you sense any shift towards a more encouraging climate for UP?
Neither Berlin nor Paris are exceptions to this rule. Most major cities in the world are crammed with clubs and it’s logical that this has become a business like any other. I feel, however, that many intimate venues strive to create a new dynamic regardless of fame, like people used to do a while back. It's all about discovering things differently while Internet dictates you where to go out and what to listen to. I think most of the people no longer hesitate to confront themselves with less accessible stuff and all this contributes to building the climate that has allowed the Berlin Atonal to have been re-activated three years ago and hopefully be emulated in years to come.
You’ve also remarked yourself on the dearth of suitable venues in London suitable for a label night — something I happened to agree with. What in your view needs to change, in London or elsewhere?
It seems to be a real struggle in London — at least right now — for lesser known initiatives. Strangely, events and venues are abundant but as soon as you’re seen as a foreign label it becomes very complicated to export your music over there. London isn’t an isolated case though. Europe is a demanding audience and some people insist on maintaining some kind of supremacy musically speaking; which drives me crazy as it completely locks out the access to younger artists and labels to try their luck. Unlike the American scene, we’re certainly too focused on well known artists at the expense of others that are just as good.
Although social media provides exposure and virtual interaction, what’s it like trying to establish a kind of face to face, word of mouth community for an independent label? Does it still matter?
Of course, it still matters, more than ever I would say — especially when you produce niche music which, in reality, doesn’t interest that many people. We’re pretty much all experiencing the same difficulties when it comes to finding our own place in the big game of distribution and media; virtual support is worthless and this social network utopia tends to fade in favor of a return to a more direct relationship with the audience.
The Maoupa Mazzocchetti release brought UP to our attention initially, how did you come to release it? What struck you about it?
Florent (Maoupa Mazzocchetti) sent me a couple of demos last year. I didn’t know him at the time. Like everyone else managing a label, I receive countless requests which in the vast majority range between plagiarism and tastelessness. Yet, I was immediately struck by his musical approach. Finally, he sent me the tracks and we met a few months later. We’re good friends now. Florent’s sound is very strange, the tracks he composed for his two outings on the label had been designed to be played live and that's what I liked: the honesty of his productions. It boils and gives as much room for mistakes as the music itself. I wanted to explore something else at the time he contacted me, a sound closer to my main influences while the more classic electronic music started to bore me. It allowed me to take the turn I wanted to take for a long time with the label. I’m glad I did.
Likewise with the other releases you’ve so far put out, they seem to come from promising new projects rather than established acts, how do you source them? Do you have preferred routes of discovery?
I search around for as long as necessary. Like everyone else, Internet is obviously my main source of discovery but occasionally you just meet people and that’s pretty much it. It's pretty random. I’m trying to avoid as much as possible not to mimic these labels cherry picking their artists from other labels. I have nothing against it, but the process simply does not interest me. I want to be challenged with each release I’m doing. Sometimes, it happens otherwise — the music speaks to you but the artist is already busy with someone else. In this case, the only thing to do is to sit back and wait for the next opportunity.
Is it difficult to uncover something genuinely novel and exciting in the internet age? What with saturation, competition and over-exposure often plaguing prospects.
It depends. Lots of people are doing boring stuff, some others are just trying to clumsily imitate what’s trendy, but fortunately there are many people who really have something new to present and usually gravitate together. It feels like it’s a little more complicated in Europe, and this could explain why I’m feeling more comfortable with the American scene right now. It seems to work on this notion of being united around a common interest rather than being in competition. Obviously, this handful of people interest all kinds of labels, be it large or small, and it’s the financial aspect which makes the difference. This can be extremely frustrating, but that is what’s exciting too.
To mention Nick Klein again, I came across some great footage the other day of him engaged in topless provocation, unleashing blasts of noise over some pedestrian but weirdly ominous country music. Firstly, how did you come to release his work, and secondly are you interested in that kind of confrontation yourself? Are you keen to provoke?
I simply contacted him via SoundCloud after listening to a few of his tracks. He didn’t own a computer at the time which made our exchanges relatively succinct but we managed to make it happen. I recall that a few other labels were also interested in his music, but Nick has preferred taking his chance with me and I’m glad he did; the release works well, and I hope to get more stuff from him soon. He deserves his success, he truly is a great guy. I think of myself as being on the other side of the spectrum. I remain discreet. This is surely the reason that has pushed me to manage a label rather than performing on stage.￼
I don’t know if you’ve been following it yourself but unfortunately we’ve just had a conservative government elected as a majority. Do you think that music like noise and its affiliated sub-genres can exercise a bit of catharsis? Considering the context from which acts like Throbbing Gristle and Test Dept. sprung, is political engagement — however oblique — still important?
I’m amongst those who say that political commitment in music tends to disappear in favor of a more general discourse: indulge yourself and get rid of the codes society try to impose on you. It’s still necessary to go against the grain, but it no longer has the same impact on people. Today, the best possible commitment is to hang on to your project at any cost without being sucked into the big media machine which has a stranglehold on what needs to be listened to, and what should be ignored. Again, it’s up to the people to decide whether or not they want to stay curious and alert; nobody is forcing them.
As an independent label which began and has continued to release vinyl in the midst of the boom, where do you stand on the whole thing? Is there as much of a cause for alarm for independents as recently suggested?
I do vinyl because it's a format that I like, nothing extraordinary so far. However, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to produce a record as well as getting your investment back quickly; delays are longer than ever, prices keep escalating with the demand, and all this creates some sort of perpetual anxiety. You have to deal with the financial aspect on one side whilst constantly making sure that your records are selling well and fast. In another hand, people have shorter attention spans with this perpetual flow of music that comes out every week and it’s sometimes very difficult to show that you still exist.
‘I can't bear these pseudo-underground labels claiming they will never repress their stuff; what a lame marketing trick to feed the hype.’ Do you see UP as an antidote to this kind of approach? How do you try to avoid and refute these tactics?
It would be pretentious to claim being some some sort of antidote to this, but making limited for the sake of limited is absurd and we should think about this twice before buying; records are made to be listened to and shared with friends, not to be stashed in order to create some kind of frustration and raise prices on Discogs or whatever. It’s sad to hear that some people are doing limited stuff by choice, not a financial one but a marketing one — limited editions only exist because some labels, like mine, can’t afford to do anything else. If there’s some demands out there — and it’s something worth fighting for — why not offer people the chance to enjoy the ride…? I don’t get it.
What’s next for the label?
Unknown Precept is about to release its fifth outing in June, a new EP from Profligate entitled ‘Extremities’ of which I’m very proud of. Two tapes are also set to be released some time this summer, respectively from Ciarra Black and S. English. Otherwise, two white labels should be released soon(ish) and I’m working on the first label tour which will take place in September, featuring Profligate, Nick Klein, Miguel Alvariño and Maoupa Mazzocchetti. Lots more stuff in the making but it certainly won’t be until next year.
To find out more about Unknown Precept, visit their website.