There’s something inherently exciting about a new label. It’s a clean slate, a leaf turned, maybe the next one to fall head over heels for as it mines hitherto unknown seams of music or brings together a selection of excellent artists under one banner. They’re a fresh chance to stamp music with a signature visual identity and play with the more physical and visual elements of an otherwise pretty abstract medium. There’s a romance to it, not least for those drawn to doing it; being there for every step of the process from conception to pressing to distribution, the ability to draw out the entire blueprint and have total control over every aspect of the design must be pretty appealing. Maybe there’s the thrill of the risk of it too, you wouldn’t guess from the glut of Monday morning press releases announcing another artist-run venture, but these things are pretty tricky to get right and balance books with. But maybe, with the right care and attention it can be something to get people talking, listening and buying.
There’s a sense from Stephen Bishop (also known as Basic House) that his new found label Opal Tapes is founded to give something back. It seems built to draw in and concentrate a diverse range of styles he’s drawn to into a connected present sound, a love for any and all experimentalism coupled with dance music all emulsified into new and strange compelling mixtures. His music as Basic House indicates his love of the sound; crusty amalgamations that constantly interplay the abstract with hints of the dance. There’s a kind of medial point honed in upon between several influences.
The first wave of releases are exclusively on cassette, which takes a certain boldness in this day and age. We’ve chatted over the last couple of weeks and discussed a similar enthusiasm for the ‘tape scene’, and his only physical release so far has been a limited cassette on Koppklys, so there’s obviously a long term association with the template there, but it all really falls into place when listening to the music he’s championing. Dro Carey (one of the first presentations of his singular sound under the ‘housier’ Tuff Sherm moniker ahead of a Trilogy Tapes 12”), M. Geddes Gangres (or PERSONABLE here) and Huerco S. all feel at home on the spools of a cassette. With each showcasing around about an album’s worth of material Opal Tapes is getting a pretty strong foot in the door.
Bishop’s mix for us showcases his sound and those he’s beating the drum for at the minute. I caught up with him in the week that the imprint rolls out to ask him what compelled him to start it, and to find out a little more about it.
Sonic Router: So you’re starting up this Opal Tapes imprint. What made you decide to dive into that realm?
Basic House: I’ve been a consumer and collector of music for many years. I first began to collect hardcore and screamo singles from Gravity and Level Plane and Ebullition and the like when I was 16 or so. It’s always been fun for me to compile and sort and categorise things. When I first recognised what was happening in noise music and obscurist underground shit it was like Willy Wonka for record collectors. I have fond memories of blindly buying MSBR tapes and banned productions shit on ebay with no clue what the sonic content would be having only seen a photo of the nuts packaging. I guess I was buying music as a truly physical thing with more onus put on the package than the sonics. This continued for years until the internet really got up to pace and then I found myself collecting more and more music digitally. Being given the option to archive entire label discographies and hear music from everywhere just overtook me. It was brilliant because my mind was just twisting to all these sounds and ideas but I was losing touch with music as a product and artifact.
In the last 4 years I’ve tried my best to support the artists and labels I respect and spend what I have and can on good honest DIY music. It only seemed natural that at some point I’d like to release some music too. It just seems like the extension of my love of the stuff. Despite the Opal Tapes moniker I don’t intend to just release music on tape, but I do have a relationship with tapes which differs from CD’s and digital files. They’re so much more tactile and mechanical and beautiful. I really love how they look.
Does the label have an overall concept behind it then? A particular aesthetic or sound you’re championing?
Well the initial thought was to simply try to bring artists working in beat driven electronic music (whose work shows a lot of emphasis on texture) and give them the opportunity to release side-project material or diversions into sound making that differs from their regular output. Equally to bring folks from the noise and drone fringes who were making music that too was textural but also inherently rhythmic. Ged Gengras being the example in batch 1. I think in that middle area there is great scope for interesting music making and composition.
Right now Terekke, Huerco S, Smackos, Henny Moan is doing it a lot for me. Crusty, sexy music with busted to fuck grooves or none at all. I like that dusty, crusty sound but embellished with shards of glossy sound; that’s kinda where my head is currently, aesthetically. The artwork for Opal is just themed to the release I guess. I’ll listen for a few weeks and play on the computer.
How’s managing it been thus far?
Everything has been a breeze so far. Email and forums have proved fruitful grounds to contact and make concrete plans to release people’s music. I’m trying to keep duplication and production of artwork and packaging as local as possible and social networking assists greatly in generating an audience and keeping them informed. It’s supposed to be a fun project so I’m not taking anything too seriously but I want the tapes to look and sound real good.
It’s kind of an interesting dichotomy you’ve got then, working online but keeping the physicality of the thing locally produced…
I dunno how interesting it is…? There is some music being made locally that I love but nothing that fits what I want to do with Opal really. I recently was contacted by a guy called Michael Hann who is making music under the name Rejections that’s real good, he’s from Stockton. His most recent music has an industrial hardcore feel just flattened out with thick slabs of synth. Real dark but total body music.
You’re drawing artists from all over (Dro Carey in Oz, M Geddes Gangres from the US) for your initial batch of releases. What drew you to each of them?
I first came across Eugene’s work through Trilogy Tapes; his Venus Knock EP as Dro Carey blew me away. Dubstep and modern bass music seemed so stagnant at that point and I’m always drawn to stuff with a bit of crust to it so his mixture of lo-fi sampling, hi-fi production, swagger and a generally nauseous atmosphere just spoke to me. I never really thought to contact him about a release until it was brought to my knowledge that he posted on a message board I regularly visited. I shot him a message and he was down. I think the fact that I had sent him some DJ Pantha bits a couple of years prior helped sway his decision [laughs]. Eugene is a gentleman and it’s a pleasure to release his music.
Huerco S. was someone whose music I had heard while browsing soundcloud a couple years back. Again I just sent a message to him complimenting him and letting him know about Opal and the ethos behind it. He was down early on and we just talked about him having the opportunity to release something which defied his usual syrupy take on house. The b-side to his tape which he created with friend Exael is just a gorgeous thing. It sounds like jewellery being held up to the sun. Again he’s a lovely bloke and really funny and I think he’s gonna fly in the next couple years. The academia of hypnagogia seems to have faded which has left us with some wonderful, evocative music without the high brows. This exemplifies his music to me: sexy, faded, blurry and a little dangerous.
Ged Gengras or PERSONABLE is the man. His releases under his own name are prized possessions of mine and are regularly spun. I first heard his magical writing on his own Peccant Tapes imprint and it gave me one of those feelings you only rarely get with music. Total body waves of pleasure. I wanted to put something of his out and when I came across his PERSONABLE project which seemed to fit the Opal aesthetic more I asked him. Guy is busy with Sun Araw currently and would probably play on the moon if asked.
Has the music that the guys you’re working with make influenced your own stuff as Basic House?
Not really. Basic House is just me trying to come to terms with the fact that I’ll never be Theo Parrish. As dance music and electronic music in general has become more important in my life I’ve always sought to combine it with my interests in electro-acoustics and the noise/drone axis. When you get high in the toilets at clubs and you can hear the music from the main room but it’s reflected by the tiled walls and floor and all the sounds of communication and sex and hand dryers and stuff. This is what I’m thinking about with Basic House. It’s the middle ground between the dancefloor and toilet bowl. Just decaying sound and grit and muck with a groove.
Got any plans to put more stuff out yourself soon?
The next Opal batch is being put together currently. I’ll definitely be putting out some music from Portland’s Best Available Technology and Stockholm’s OND TON, as well as the aforementioned Rejections. I send messages to lots of people, most of whom probably think I’m nuts cause I tend to write my initial letter to them with a hammy English sensibility, very polite and correct. Like I sent Spaceghostpurrp a message about doing a release in this manner [laughs] I don’t think he read it.
Basic House will see a future releases on Washy, a label my good friend Cameron Sked aka Totem Recall is starting up and on Alex Cobbs new sub-label to Students of Decay called Glass Console… possibly an LP on Students of Decay in the future too. I’d love to do more.
Tell us a little about the mix you’ve put together for us…
The mix is intended to introduce some of my music and the music to be released on Opal Tapes. I like to hear mixes where the emphasis isn’t on technical mixing but on selection and storytelling. Maybe the story here is that things always clear up before they get covered in crap again.
Any wise words?
Not really. Play safe but always play. Thanks to friends, family and ghosts.
DOWNLOAD: Basic House – Sonic Router Mix #139 (Via Zippyshare)
Mama Geedee – Intro
Steve Peters & Steve Roden – Winds Through Bleak Timber
oɴᴅ ᴛoɴ – Indastrial Terminals (Reworking Best Available Technology)
Jason Crumer – IV. Sault Ste. Marie Mi
Basic House – Canc
Smackos – The Unbearable Sadness of Dimensions
Tuff Sherm & PMM – Obelisk Mumble
YYU – Toastoven (Huerco S. Mix)
Huerco S. – Elma (ruff rub)
Tuff Sherm & PMM – Lances Rompues
Best Available Technology – Sound 37
Basic House – 64 Bummer