Hi Michal and thank you for accepting to answer our questions.
Can you introduce yourself and BDTA ?
Well, thanks to you for inviting me for this interview. Although when I happily “accepted” to answer those questions I didn’t know yet that your question list will be longer than most of the papers and essays I wrote on the university. Probably this is why they kicked me from it, like, five times now. Anyway, my name is Michal Turowski and I am founder, owner and curator of polish DIY experimental label called BDTA, we have around 140 titles released in our roster right now, and before that I was running another label, called Oficyna Biedota with around 50 titles released. So basically I am running those things since 2010, and also I am making some own music, primarily either solo under the moniker GAZAWAT or with other people in bands named MAZUT and UROK, amongst other on-and-off acts and bands.
First I would like to ask you some questions to try to frame the time settings. What is the history of your practice as a label and as a musician/sound recorder ? How do you feel is it related to the history of experimental music in Poland ?
When it comes to history, it all started when I was working in a record company in Poland. I started helping out during my high school, I came there everyday after school, as I was really passionate about music and it was a great adventure, and after I graduated they invited me for a normal day job at their place. This company was manufacturing and distributing records, and also was a conglomerate of three different labels. One of the owners was a legend of polish HC/Punk scene from the eighties and I learned a shitload from him, second was this nerdy guy interested in rap and experimental music, and third one started flirting with mainstream, sending his artists from the label to those shitty TV talent shows and so on. So I had three very different perspectives every day, a nice girl taking care about promotion desk next to me, and opportunity to see how it is all done. Having a label was some kind of a dream since I was very young, as I was shitty in terms of playing any instruments and I quickly understood that being a curator is probably my only chance to do something interesting in artistic world ;-) And this idea grew and grew with every next month I spent at this company, learning about the whole process, and one day, few months after my nineteenth birthday I was on a gig of great coldwave band named Wieże Fabryk and I thought – ok, this is it, I am ready (whatever that means), I am starting the label. I approached them after they finished, we exchanged few e-mails and that was it, I became a label founder. For three years I was learning on my own mistakes in Oficyna Biedota, and in 2013 I decided to close it as I saw no real future for the label in the current form and I took few months break before coming back with much more thoughtful and consistent form, named BDTA.
Many years later I found out that you can be an experimental musician without ability of playing on any “real” instruments ;-) and I started doing some own things that landed in my drawer. And my real adventure with making music started somewhere in 2015, when my friend from my hometown moved to the same city I am living in currently, we were both somehow not fitting there, alienated little bit and so on and we started this techno ensemble named Mazut, which somehow pushed the blockade I had in my mind, so I started doing my solo stuff as well not so long after that. And when it comes to relation of my work and experimental scene, I don't really see it. I am of course narcissistic little bit, like most of us, but not to this point. Experimental scene was alive and good long before I started label, it is right now and for sure will be after I will be done with releasing or making music in some future. I think the more the merrier, and probably there is no much harm in my activity on the scene. Maybe there are some advantages of it, but I don't overestimate my position here.
There is an important documentation aspect with BDTA. You have records that are edited in a small number of physical copies and are on display or available through your digital catalogue. It seems that the more you document something, the more you allow it to let it thrive and the imposant catalogue of BDTA, which you can link with Officyna Biedota's seems to me to show that. What was the trigger to start the documentation and what energy keeps you doing it today and over the last years ?
I never thought about it really, but you are another person who noticed this documentation/archiving aspect of the label's work, so probably there is something like that. It was not really my point or something I wanted to do when I started, it merely happened during the time, very spontaneous. I am little bit a workaholic, when it comes to things that make me happy. Working in label is sometimes hard work, very time consuming, but this is something I just like to do, like assembling die cast models or stamps collecting. Work is not so hard when you love what you do, as simple as that. So as long as I have the financial resources at the time, I am trying to be as prolific with this field as possible. I am not putting myself any borders such as not putting out more than one record per month or anything like that. There are times when for three months no interesting title or proposition occurred, but there are also moments when I am overwhelmed with all the demos and materials sent to me and I can release four or five albums in one week. As I probably mentioned, or will mention later on, as I am answering your questions in non-chronological order, I work with people around me, with my friends and colleagues, as you can see in a BDTA roster, there is quite a lot of them. This is what interests me most, I am not reaching very much for abroad artists, or to make a repress of some older things. I am working with great young artists from Poland, creating their works currently, so somehow with this prolific workaholic approach it came out that BDTA is apparently a documentation of what is going on currently on some certain scene in some certain country. Of course, this documentation or future archive is not full in any way, this is just a small piece, a chunk, but for sure is some kind of representative fragment of how polish experimental music is looking currently.
And I think that maybe for few people out there, starting a label like that could be somehow motivating, you know? That now they have a place where they can send their works and there is a great chance that it will be released, that they don't have to worry about their music being stored only on their hard drivers or in drawers. Of course I am picky, I am releasing only things I like and respect, so this is not an open road for everyone to release their shit. But with politics of affordable low prices, of low production costs, small editions and imprints, I can work on economical reason allowing me to release music which I like and when I like it. There is not really any recipe for this, any fuel, any particular energy for that all. I just love this work, this is something relaxing and refreshing. And as long as it will be bringing me joy, the label will work. I have no commitments to anyone, I can stop at every point when I will see that this whole thing is pointless and not amusing me anymore, but as for today I don't see this scenario happening in the near future, simply.
BDTA comes from Oficynia Biedota, the old label name, and Biedota means poverty or the poor people. There seems to be an ascetic feel that emanate from your practice and esthetic. Can you expand on that?
Yes, literally we can put Oficyna Biedota as “Poverty Publishing House” and BDTA links to it directly, as one label somehow transformed into another, and can be translated as PVRTY or something alike. When I started the label, I did not had a name, we were working for few weeks for the first release without the name, and finally we came to the moment of artwork design and something had to be put on the digipack. I thought of this name as of something cheeky and maybe little bit provoking, it just popped into my head and this is it. But there is also something under the skin when it comes to this name, metaphorically. The same as poverty is around us, and we very often try to pretend otherwise and close our eyes on the subject, this is the same when it comes to diy and mainstream relationship on the barricade. From the mainstream point of view, playing a gig for fifty or hundred people is a proof that those guys on the stage were unlucky, unsuccessful, that this is some kind of shame. And from their point of view this whole DIY thing is just a joke, something that they close eyes as well when they pass it by. And they just don't know or understand that for some of us this is really not a point of concern and that we simply don't give a fuck how many people will attend, as it is better to play a concert for five people interested in your music than for a thousand of random guys on town market. This is my basic lesson from my days working at semi-major record company, heh.
In an interview on Radio Student from Ljubjana, you also talked about mysticism and capturing plants or abandonned buildings auras with handrecorders. In what ways your or your labelmates' relationship with sounds and music is related to religion or believes ? Or poesie ? Also do you consider your action as a musician and label to be political ? In what forms ?
The interview you mentioned was not really about label per se, but about my recordings made under the moniker of Boleslaw Wawrzyn. I made three albums with field recordings done in places of mass executions that happened during world war second, as well as around the military cemeteries. As you probably know from your own environment, because unfortunately the history when it comes to our remembrance of those dark spots of our past is very similar all around the world, very often those places are forgotten, hidden somewhere near the back alleys or deep forests. This works were based on concept, that silence is not the same everywhere and is based on context. And that silence on mass grave sound very different from normal forest silence, because of this context. I was afraid that this recordings made under my own birth name, from the position of interested in experimental music twenty-three years old guy in Godflesh t-shirt will be misread, treated as some kind of sick provocation, so I came with this backstory of retired coal miner named Boleslaw Wawrzyn. And this is another context besides pure audio work by the way, when I at some stage came through and said that this is my work, no one were interested anymore. This poetic history with outsider art roots was more interesting for most of the people than this work on its own, in pure form.
I think that everything around us has the meaning when it comes to art. The same as there is no such thing as “self made man” as we all are made by our environment, the same situation comes to music. In my opinion, even if you don't see it or admit it, upbringing in strict catholic society like we have in Poland for sure will have a mark on your works. And so on, and so on, and so on – to quote Slavoj Zizek. I can't and won't speak on behalf of the artists on my label, so I will not tell you what is their relationship to poetry or religion or whatever else, as everyone has their own fuel. But I think personally that everything around us makes those bricks used in building art of any kind. And when it comes to political beliefs and situations – I try my label to be as much apolitical as it is possible. And by “apolitical” I don't mean this nazi bullshit, that being apolitical means that shaking an arm with some bigot is a cool thing and that we should not make it as a big deal, but real politics free environment. Polish government is bunch of fucking dickheads and we have problems with them everyday, this is one thing, so when you want to relax and listen to some music do you really need any political gibberish in your head? And second thing is unnecessary polarization. I consider myself as a left winged guy, but does really views of label owner should matter? BDTA fans should care about music and not about the fact if me or any of the artists are vegan, LGBT or whatever else. One thing is for me certain and important – that artists from the label and the labels itself is free of any nazi shit, hate towards anyone and respectful towards all diversities. This is a ground rule. Whether the artists or my fans are more liberal or conservative, who they support, do they pray of engage in extramarital sex, I don't care.
In Mazut we sometimes take some stands, but I treat it more like activism than politics. For instance, we opened our set once with piece of lecture about abortion, during the time when our parlament was talking a lot about a total abortion ban. Or we made a collage of propaganda speeches made by city council of Wroclaw about the “European Capitol of Culture” title they had. Mazut is the name of the low quality fuel oil, and our music is mostly fueled with frustration and anger, which sometimes can be used in good cause.
How do you see the opposition between mainstream and underground / DIY ? In terms of organization and in terms of sound for example. What are the pro and cons of working DIY ?
Since always I was into DIY and I just did not myself in other way of work, I cannot see myself anywhere in distant or close future, working on those mainstream terms. Of course, for each person in the world, each person engaged somehow in the “scene” this terms of being mainstream or sellout are different, for some surely I am already mainstream, because for example I am agreeing for interview requests and using media to promote my work and my music. I don't see anything wrong In that, but for sure there are guys out here, who will think that this is selling out already. For me the border is quite simple – this whole mainstream thing is starting to happen at the moment when profit is becoming the most important thing, and when you are going for compromises and losing honesty. In every possible way of expression through art, no matter if it's visual, poetry, music, for myself the honesty is most important. If I have a hunch of some kind of insincerity, holowness, opportunism, I lose my interest instantly. So I have no interest in mainstream, but of course I don't shout at the taxi driver to change the radio station of whatever ;-)
I don't really see the cons of the diy work. Of course, more money, more people engaged, stuff like that could boost up my work somehow. More people on gigs, more people buying tapes and so on, but to be perfectly honest – I don't really care. I know my place in this world and in this scene, and I prefer to do fifty or one hundred hard copies on my own terms than being pushed to make decision like “well, I don't want to put out your music, it is too harsh, to experimental, my research inclines that this won't be an economically reasonable decisions”. Over my dead body. I am also – very slightly, but still – a control freak. Everything I build with my labels during the last seven years came with my hard work, with my own renunciations, I have a problem with letting anyone and his hands into this, but I think it is quite common. On the other terms, of working with my own music, I am not a skillfull musician. I don't know any notes, I have no idea how to play on keyboard, I just sit on my carpet with a synthesizer, open a can with red bull and push the keys in somehow random way to achieve some melody. Sometimes this intuition is bringing me some material in ten minutes, sometimes it takes few hours. I am huge fan of lo-fi, I put all of my tracks through the shitty microcasette recorders, experiment than with tapes, with playback speed, to achieve what I want to. I cannot imagine going into some real studio with some kind of producer or engineer and to waste his time and effort with my autistic kind of composing. And I can see as a label owner, when I hear stuff that people send me, that nowadays, with all possible technology, if you are a smart guy knowing what you want to achieve, you can really do the whole thing on your computer. We are living in times of bedroom producers, and all tools and equipment are within range, you just simply have to know how to use them and what you want to achieve as a final result.
I have my roots in punk and industrial scene, everything around me is diy since I was starting to be interested about things around me. I just don't know any other solutions, and I am not eager to know them, really. I feel good with the ways and solutions I already know and implement into fields of my work.
What is your equipement like ? Do you often change equipement ? What is your relationship with technologies both in the music making realm and as a part of your work as a DIY label ?
When it comes to running a label I don't really use much equipment and I don't change it very often. I change it when it breaks and is useless anymore, simple as that ;-) I use of course laptop, typewriter which I love when it comes to making some flyers or artworks, an external CDR burner (which is much more practical, as this breaks from time to time and it is better to change the external drive than internal in your computer) and a double tape deck for cassette duplication. From all this roster, decks are most fragile and frequently changed, as it is hard to buy a good equipment for semiprofessional work for reasonable cash. So I have to exchange the cassette equipment pretty often, although one deck is fucking unbreakable, a panzer model Kenwood KX-W4060. I use it for five or six years now and this is the only one that never made any problems. And obviously technology is great and I love it, for instance because of our talk now. What would be the possibilities that you would even hear about a small label like mine in let's say 1995? And if we would exchange this interview handwritten via snail mail. Dear God no, just no.
And in my music work, I change equipment pretty often. Mazut and Gazawat are both pure analog, and I am a phony rather than real musician, I use a lot of different stuff like reel to reels, tape recorders, dictaphones, shortwave radios and so on. A lot of different toys like this, and each one gives you some other perspective and other possibilities, so I buy new gear like that very often on every possible occasion. I also use much of different guitar pedals in my work, so I am fan of ebay hunt in that department as well. But when it comes to essentials, there are four things that are always in my setup – microkorg synthesizer, fostex mr-8 recorder, boss mt-2 distortion which is probably the best guitar effect ever made, and custom stomp pedal delay with socialist super mario etching, handcrafted by my friend and his awesome yung_miki industries. When I play solo liveacts, I am using all the tracks put into ableton, which is much more covienient for a guy without a car or drivers license, but I cannot imagine playing with Mazut or recording albums on laptop.
You've relocated from Wroclaw to Warsaw recently, what is your experience and relationship to both places ? One band on BDTA is called Ghosts of Breslau.
Yes, Ghosts of Breslau is in fact from Wroclaw, which is my home town, and his first releases were trying to capture the very harsh and specific history of our city, this is a great project, and Patryk who is under this moniker is a great guy, so I am very glad that he agreed to release his works in BDTA. I was living in Wroclaw for twenty four years of my life, so I have some memories from there, mostly bad memories, as most of the guys who were not really stars of their high schools and had some bad relationships in the past ;-) So sure, I am somehow connected to Wroclaw and always will be. Few years ago I went through pretty tough nervous breakdown and started psychiatric treatment and I just wanted to run away, change the environment. I found a nice job and my good friend from the city became my awesome girlfriend in the meantime, so I just stayed here. Difference between Warsaw and Wroclaw is very visible on every point, such as the difference between let’s say Paris, London or Berlin and a not-so-small but definitely smaller city in the country. Warsaw is always living, and culturally a lot of great stuff is happening here every day, so much you can get overwhelmed by it to be honest. And often I am. A lot of great people lives here, lot of very eager for work cultural activists. Besides that, of course, from more pragmatic point of view, stuff like promotion etc. is much easier, as most of the journalists, bloggers and so on are living here or visiting from time to time. So for me personally living in Warsaw is much easier on so many fields, but on the other hand, after three or four years here I feel that I will never like this city and get used to it as to my home town.
There are recurring or common themes in lots of releases on BDTA. Beside the nature of the sounds that are often exploring and breaking boundaries in the different genres and tones, one often finds songs titled or coupled with references to the occult, cults or secret societies, rogue planets and sci-fi, weird historical occurences, computer world oddities with Jakub Adamec, or frontal and subtle questionning of the way rape culture irrigate our realities through its mass representation in a lot of the pornographic medias and fictions with your project Gazawat. On the album History written in Chechen Blood, there seems to have news broadcast clip. You can hear also some of that on Mazut's recording. I find these to be ways to confront with hardly defined wrongs in modern society in unobvious ways, which is stimulating, offering going and comings bridges with the reality of these wrongs. Whetever its soothing field recordings and ambient, synthetic punk or overwhelming industrial noise, there seems often to be a door connecting it with contemporary issues in BDTA releases as opposed to a simply escapist approach that music often have.
Can you share your thoughts on these methods and what is your view of what can cultural subversion be or do in an era of relative general uncertainity ?
I don't really try to change the world and it was never my goal, I don't think that it is for most of the artists from the roster. I have no idea is this cultural subversion and any cultural work at all might do some good or something significant in todays world, most of the people around are interested in their own lives and not think too much about anything around us, so what can we do. My father is the great example, he is a man in his fifties, with two university degrees, having very responsible work as a main accountant at one of the companies in Poland. After whole day with papers and microsoft excel he is looking for some fun, playing some computer games or watching some blockbuster action movie, I really doubt I could anyhow talk him into watching some Bergman for example ;-) I am trying to present in my label music that is somehow escaping from the drawers and the silly genres, music that is not only for listening, but also as a starter for some research on your own or intellectual dispute. I doubt that many people around us will be interested in taking this chance and to do something with this, but even if one person will look more into so interesting subject as occultism in broad perspective, or after listening to my soundplay about chechen wars will go into wikipedia and read some more about this, if we can anyhow interest people in something – it would be simply great. For me, music without any concept or narration is just dull and boring, no matter if this narration is about occultism, modern history or rogue planets. I just love art which tells me something more than just nice and pleasant tone or picture.
On BDTA, we can often find references to other cultures or places such as Kelev, Souvenir de Tanger or the Afrikanische Volker album. As of today, one with an internet connection and enough time can become very documented on particular genres in short amount of time. How do foreign cultures and their musical aspect influence you and the people in your surrounding's music practice ?
Global village makes it possible for you to find an rather obscure polish label, or for anybody else to find and really get into some vital scenes from the other part of the globe. Friend of mine, one of those people you can treat as walking music knowledge library, used to proclaim that only vital noise/guitar scene is the australian one, since he was constantly digging tons of bandcamp lo-fi demos and australian were the best. At the same time, we draw inspiration from what we ingest, and this - sometimes in form of more or less direct plunderophonics - comes in hand when you look for means of artistic realisation. Personally, I spend a lot of time reading about vicious phenomena of various places and cultures, and you can find imprint of that in my work as Gazawat. Artists such as Souvenir de Tanger or Czarny Latawiec center their explorations on Middle East or Africa, getting more and more fluent in using those inspirations not in a manner of mere imitation, but rather incorporating them into their personal language. Generally speaking, thanks to said global village, one can get inspired in foreign methods of creating music, or foreign symbolical systems, and incorporate them into his or her personal work - but, as participation in global age means something different than before, this process goes along without the simplified colonisation of metaphorical wild lands; we simply got more horizontal - you can be a polish guy or girl really digging australian noise or palestinian hiphop, even without stepping your foot on their land - and your knowledge of the scene and means of understanding can be the one of the local, not of the tourist.
Can sound manipulation, sonic fiction or narratives leads to alteration of perception of reality and reality itself ? Is there a point to utopia ?
And what kind places are summonned in your and your labelmates' work ? what is your relationship with imagined places ?
Is there a form of vision of the future you would like to pursue through music ?
Whatever the future is, I’m sure it’s bleak. I don’t want to sound too black-metalish, but human really is his own worst enemy. So, given that most of my personal work and a vital part of my catalogue revolves itself around the murky and grimy areas of human history, one could derrive an idea that future is not bright. But speaking of place and time, one should consider how modernity - in it’s current, liquid state - altered our perception of those terms, disconnecting them from personal, present experience. A lot of projects released in BDTA utilise this knowledge in varying ways - on the one hand you have Kakofonikt album called Kaktuus, which is an approach of transposing the experience of ingesting hallucinogens onto music, dividing this process (see: titles of tracks) into an interpretation of a how to manual, so you have real time description of an otherworld trip. On the other hand you have Centralia Prijedor EP, or most of Gazawat albums really, which are basically an audial documentaries, strongly connected to a named occurrence, in a named place - only the time is altered, as it often draws inspirations from newsreels of past events. I guess, the most actual in terms of time and place is a bootleg of Mazut, 1712. It’s pretty local in character and hard to explain, but I’ll give it a shot - we played a gig in our hometown, Wroclaw, which was European Capital of Culture 2016, in the last night of the closing ceremony, on a city-funded festival. Those lengthy intros and outros in Polish are a sound collage of various local politicians, news reporters, city officials describing how the city would benefit from the ECC title, and how Wroclaw (before WW2 a german city) is a multicultural, diversity friendly place. All of those samples are mixed with local neonazi rallies. Outro is a lecture of a local Director of Cultural Departament on how city loves independent and DIY initiatives - in fact, Wroclaw did it best to kill anything valuable in that places for last years, making it virtually impossible to maintain such initiatives. That was our take on newsreel style, present-and-place oriented commentary. So, summing up - personally speaking, and I believe many of BDTA artist somehow share this belief - there’s no point in creating utopias when real world provide at least a handful of places and times that need describing. But music, as any other art form really, is a storytelling tool - you can denote certain feelings connected to various places and times by the receiver, and it doesn’t have to be a documentary type of work.
Besides BDTA, you've openned other forays over the past years in the form of different sublabel. You have Soup Bob, Modzok and Lasy Painstwowe. Quite a garden it is, is esthetic continuity and coherence something you care about ?
Yes, definitely. Oficyna Biedota was in the matter of fact a dumpster of everything that interest me. I think and hope that I have something like a broad horizon when it comes to music, I like good indie rock at the same level as I like noise and experimental music, I can fluently go in my ipod from Burzum through Run The Jewels to Xenaxis during one train ride, so in Oficyna Biedota we had some posindustrial, rock, punk, electronics, more conceptual stuff etc. And in my opinion, in XXI century label is something that is stated in this name. A label, brand, tag, not really a stable or whatever like it used to be many years ago. When I am realising fifty tapes and put someones album on the web, how much does it costs me? 50 euros? 70 euros? This is amount of many that is reachable for anyone, specially if you are playing in band of four or five people for example. Those people can nowadays release their own music, probably even promote it better than I do, they don't really need me in terms of any distribution, promotion or whatever alike. But what can help is this label that I am putting on the record, a tag that helps the audience. Of course, after few years of hard work I have some die hard fans and die hard enemies, for some people the BDTA means that this is ebola infected shithole that need to be eradicated from their horizon, for others those four letters mean that this new album is probably something cool and interesting. They've liked ten other albums from this label, so maybe they will like this new release, aight? And this is my work basically, to put this tag, to support the artists with my labels name somehow, they can do all of those things on their own, as I said. So this esthetic continuity is very important, as it gives a power to this tag and builds and supports trust from fans of our work. Soup Bob really was born for one band, named Test Prints, which is awesome, but with their sub pop-oriented alternative guitar pop they didn't fit to my primary roster. I really dig their work and wanted to release it, so we started a new brand, although I don't think that anyone else will be released under that. Mozdok on the other hand started to release my own works, when I started releasing solo stuff. I am a total no-life douchebag, so I spend a lot of time making new tunes as Gazawat, and also I am impatient kind of guy and when I put some of my effort into something I want to show it, even only for my friends and few fans. I don't want to interfere too much with my personal things in BDTA, although sometimes of course something is released in the main label as well. And Lasy Panstwowe came with ours (my and my girlfriend) interest in amateur lo-fi field recording, we did some works and put it out in that form. I hoped that it will grow into a label oriented only on field recording, but it is probably not very popular concept in Poland, and also Tomek Mirt in his Saamleng is doing much better work on this field, so it went into hiatus.
Beside your music and those labels, you also work. Is it a day job or is your work related in any meaningful way with your practices ? Do other musicians or practionner on the label are in similar or different situations ?
Well, you can say that my day job is currently related to my practices, as I am a sales rep in one of the biggest polish companies specializing in CD/DVD replication and vinyl pressing. So my main goal is contacting labels and potential customers, mostly from abroad, and trying to negotiate a good deal for both of us as it comes to manufacturing a record. Of course as usual, salary could be better and my boss could be nicer, but it is something interesting and developing on so many levels. And of course, I can manufacture right now titles released in my label on cheap-as-fuck price levels, so this is for sure a plus of this job. But before I’ve landed here I was selling electronic cigarettes at the mall, taking care about logistics in petrochemical company, being a guy responsible for promotion in company specializing in toy wholesale etc. I’ve done a shitload of very often stupid and useless stuff to earn money for everyday living and for running the label, and since day one label was an afterhours hobby rather than any serious business. Hobby also means hard work, of course, but for mental health I prefer to treat it that way, it is less nerve consuming this way. And about the artists in BDTA – there is a lot of them and every single one has a different history and background, so there is no principle. Some of the artists have day jobs, some of them are freelancing on various things, some are trying to earn on their music, which is very hard and very often makes you depend more on your partners and relatives ;-) Some are working in small business, some in huge corporations. So, every artist is a different situation, really.
Now I want to ask you questions more oriented on the practical aspect of your experience. Your releases are non-profit and low cost, both on the physical part and on the digital part. One can get the entire digital BDTA catalog for less than 30€ or about 120 zlotys for example. And you also share your benefits with a cancer-fighting association, Rak'n'Roll. How did these economical practices came about ?
Earning on the label was never a goal. Of course, if some titles are selling better than the others and if I have some income that I can “invest” in manufacturing next titles, it is great, but it happens rarely. Basically the idea was to make music affordable and not at all exclusive on any level, but to balance it somehow so I will not lose my own money, as this is a hobby and not charity. I am totally sick of those artsy fartsy labels that release small editions in a totally exclusive prices like 30 euro for album or whatever. Let’s say that when I am making an title released, I am giving some percent of the imprint to the artists, some are always reserved for promo and friends giveaway, and after that from the copies left in my label, I should sell around half to be on zero line. The other half can provide some very small income, but more often is also given away, as artist need more copies or whatever. I am not really a good bookkeeper, I am not writing every single copy of a CDR into excel, so maybe sometimes even after the sold-out I did not earn nothing, I am not sure to be perfectly honest. But as long as all the sales are on my other account, used for buying materials, printing artwork etc. for next titles and I don’t have to feed this second account too often from my paycheck, this is a good thing and some kind of achievement let’s say.
And when it comes to digital sales, I noticed after years that giving it away for “pay-if-you-want” basis is not the greatest possible option, but I also want those to be affordable and cheap. My main target is of course physical release, but if anyone for any reason wants to have a file more than he or she wants a cd or tape – cool with me. Of course it is great to have some extra money from it, but this is not a priority. And specially in Poland, where in most cities a salary revolving around 500-600 euro is a great fucking salary, I don’t want to have those digital files too expensive. Especially when every bit of music in the whole world is available through soulseek, torrents or whatever other sources. I think that this one dollar is cheap enough for anyone to buy and support rather than look for the other ways to have those mp3’s. I always wanted to all of my releases and my work to be as inclusive, as affordable, as possible to reach for anyone as it is possible. So this pricing politics is one the ways to achieve that.
And about sharing – yes, 40% of the monthly income from digital sales is transferred to Rak’N’Roll foundation, dealing with brave people fighting with cancer. I was never a 100% true punk kid, but I consider myself as someone who came from the punk scene and punk background. And helping people in need was always very important for me. I know that I can count for many great people when I get into any trouble, and I want to be the one who helps as well, no matter how pathetic and cliché that sentence sounds. I had some small battle for my health in the past, a few friends of mine left this world unfortunately, so those charity actions are something that fuels all work of BDTA. Besides that percent of income, we very often engage is some kind of auctions with some rare gems from our catalogue and do whatever we can and are able to do. Today I finished mastering the new EP of my band that will be released in small edition for our upcoming tour, and all the profit from the sales will go to Kinga, an awesome person, who was badly injured while on bike by some car-driving dickhead who run away from the scene. And this is something I consider the most important in running a label, to be honest.
Do all your releases get a physical treatment or are there some digital only ? What is the difference between a digital aspect of a release and its physical one ?
Basically yes. I am a collector myself and I just love physical editions, I just love the object. This is something powerful and something that I don’t have to explain probably, there is nothing better for a music fetishist than having a great looking CD, LP or tape in their hands. And when it comes to a title that you were really looking forward too, being able to finally listen something you waited for a long time – when you open the parcel from a distro or whatever, this is pure fucking magic, right? Of course editions in my label are based on my current financial possibilities, and let’s put it in a very harsh way – “possibility of sales”. Some better known artists can sell 100 or 200 pcs and if I am able to do this, I am doing this, some of them are not so known yet and it is impossible to sell their tape or cd in such quantity. But even if I can currently do some silly amount like 20 or 25 tapes at the moment, I prefer to do this more than to do only digital release. Being a collector is one thing, and being a pragmatist is the other. If you will look on bandcamp or soundcloud for example, in every minute there is more music being uploaded there than I can event count to, you get it? I don’t even know such numbers as every new band is emerging every single day on the whole world. I am only a very small diy label from Eastern Europe, it is often hard to get my releases promoted on visible even when it comes in a nice package or something alike. Think about it how much harder would it be if this release would be only a release on bandcamp, an http url basically. When it comes to my outlets, solo or with mazut, we sometimes put out some available only in digital concert recordings, for free download. Sometimes we (or I) play a gig, we have recording of it, we feel that it is something neat and good enough to show to the world, but not something that can sell, being reviewed or whatever, not something with chances for serious impact on whatever level. So in that rare occasions we just put it as a digital, but I always prefer a hard copy and nice physical release.
You have some really great and thoughtful artworks. They are heteregenous but all share a certain sensibility ? Who and how are you working with to make those ?
Well, thank you. Basically all of the artists have a total freedom when it comes to the artworks, so few of the covers in my catalogue are probably not fitting into the bigger picture perfectly, but I think most of them in fact makes some kind of “aesthetics wholeness”. Sometimes artists know what they want, somethimes they are totally carte blanche when it comes to artwork and I suggest something, very often in both of those cases I am asked at some point can I take care about that or do I know something who will, and I do. A lot of artworks in the label came from few artists who frequently collaborate with the label visually – Maciek Misiewicz, Pawel Starzec, Maciek Wlazlo, Martyna Wyrzykowska, some of them are done by me. Even if I am not doing the artwork, but rather just “pick” the visual artist, we end up with something that I really like and done by someone who I really respect as a creator. This is the key to this certain sensibility, probably. Few of the musicians from the label are also visual artists or designers on their own, and my main key to work with someone in the label is my respect towards their work and my friendship with someone, as 95% of people in BDTA roster are my friends for sure. So this also helps, as usually human beings pick friends similar to them somehow, maybe also in aesthetics point of view ;-)
And even if some of artworks are not fitting in my opinion, or I don't even like those (which sometimes also happens) – I am not interfering. I am a fan of marber grid solution, but situation in which labels layout or label logo is more important that vision of musician really sucks. Somehow I like visual consistency of artworks from Sacred Bones, Posh Isolation or Czaszka Records, but as someone who also makes music and is trying the artwork to be a part of the album narrative on my own, I would rather cut my dick off than release my album with some fucking black square on the cover in the place of my artwork that I wanted and thought will fit.
How do eroticism, architectures crumbling or not, archival pictures displayed on your cover relate with the musics on the label and its goals on the listenner ?
Although I deeply cherish your effort of contextualization for my work, I am afraid I will disappoint you here, as I really never though about it and have no idea if this anyhow even remotely relates. For a lot of artworks I cannot speak, as it was – as mentioned – made by artists in cooperation with designers, so they would have to speak about every situation on their own and to make this statement. For me, this is purely aesthetics that interest me and which I like, and also when it comes to my work, it simply fits to the narrative. When I was making material for “Rape Culture” based on gruesome concepts of sex violence and rape pornography I just knew that I need artwork that will correspond to the subject. When it comes to Mazut, we are both fans of industrial aesthetics and minimalism in design, and it can be seen on artworks made by Pawel or Martyna, at least I hope so. But this is something that connects with the previous question, I don't feel as someone who should put words in “my” artists mouths.
What is the distribution of your releases like ? You have distribution through polish digital underground shops like Serpent Music and 8merch, can we find your release in some other stores or at events ? How have the orders you've received over the years progressed ?
Well, most of our titles are released in very small and limited quantities, so we don't really push it hard into distribution. Mainly because the distributor needs – obviously – his piece of cake as well and we can manage without them, it is not really some hard to achieve goal to sell for example fifty tapes nowadays. 8Merch you mentioned is a platform similar to bigcartel or whatever, where you have your own store, so this, as well as our bandcamp, is operated by me and my girlfriend. Besides that we push some titles through the discogs and we are cooperating with serpent.pl which is possibly the oldest and the best known webstore with very often underground music and very fair attitude towards labels and musicians. They don't cut much of the commision, they pay on time and they are great people, besides that with postal rates and stuff like that it is much convenient for our customers to buy few different titles from different labels at one place rather than pay for shipping costs of one tape. When it comes to digital, we are also using an aggregator for streaming services (which are necessary, but from the financial point of view they should just go fuck themselves, not an original statement, I know) and for some digital stores like itunes. But as I mentioned before, with our policy of selling digital releases through our bandcamp for one dollar, our earnings from itunes or amazon music are not spectacular, obviously. But on the other hand, why shouldn't we do this? Maybe it helps somehow and it costs nothing ;-)
Quantity of orders placed obviously grew little bit when we transformed from Oficyna Biedota, focused mostly on polish music, with polish lyrics etc into BDTA which is much more, let's say “universal” and approachable for people from abroad. Most of the orders placed are from our fans, who support us since a long time and very often are buying almost every new release. We can basically function mostly because support of our loyal fans. People who just liked this particular or another and wants only that thing are somewhere around 10-15% of all orders.
You have series of compilation records that do not display no musician names or track titles and you have mentionned how this practice was aimed at focusing people more on the music than on who made it. Can you talk about these sorts of excesses in musical digging cultures ? Are there some other aspects you are bemused or critical of ? Centralia for example made this cover "You fucking people could dance to anything"
Scene, whenever you define it as an art scene, music scene, underground circle of x people or whatever, always goes with certain trends, and one can go for them, or try to use it in certain way - I guess you can't skip the fact that this is the way it goes. Numerical series was one of ideas of how you can just point your finger onto those practices – when the unnatural hype is rising, based more on the name of the artist and their status more than it is based on the music itself. We wanted to cut off the flesh of all PR bullshit and strip it down to the music, so you have to focus on it’s purity. When you observe techno parties, it's often done the same way, with politics of no announcing of the DJ's, so you go there not knowing if the one spinning would be a prime-booked star, or some rookie. As with Centralia, Schwarze Kanal EP, with the cover you mentioned, was a last part of a progressively rhythmic and dance oriented trilogy. This topic, of how modern techno culture strives for a controversy, and feeds itself by a certain aesthetics, is a recurrent one in most of our - Paweł/Centralia plays in Mazut as well - work. How you can transpose this interest/expectation into something with a meaning behind it? In case of Centralia's Schwarze Kanal, whole EP revolves around violence in Germany - be this German Autumn, riots on Mainzerstrasse or Solingen neonazis. I guess, Paweł's point was to prove that you can pour anything violent, pair it with 4/4 beat and it would fit, never mind the source of the samples.
Do you feel there is a community around your label or of which your label is a part of ? Do people with different approach on musicality and sound meet ?
Do generation meets ? Do people from different cities get to know each other ?
Is it common for people to jump in and out the stage and be at the same time public and musician ? As of my experience, I can feel there is always a more or less slight unease linked to experimental practices being perceived or pursued as a form of cultural elitism, especially when they tend to happen in more institutional settings. But at the same time that you can't always completely blame institutions that at least give these musics a space to exist. So another question I want to ask you is about underground spaces in Poland and in neighbouring countries, what are they like and what are their relationship with cultural and state institutions ? Do you go to see shows in bars and club ? In squats ?
Oh man, this is a lot of questions in one, but I try to answer all without any omitments. Probably have to write myself some kind of blueprint for that one. I think that there is a strong community around my label. Sure, we release a lot of one time albums, accept some demo requests and so one, rarely I release music that I fell love with, without even meeting the guy or girl who made it, but most of the artists on the roster are my friends, as mentioned. And those best friends are making the core of the whole label. Few people which I know for years, who I love spending time with, who are let's face it – most important for me in some ways. And this is this community for which running a label is a cool thing, even when I am under the weather from time to time. Pawel Starzec is one of those guys, he plays with me in Mazut, he is releasing his solo outlet Centralia in BDTA, making artworks from time to time, helping in many other ways, even consulting some more intelligent interview questions ;-) And as his help is remarkable and exceptional, there are few others similar to him, I like to think about this core as some kind of a collective. But when it comes to the contacts with outside world, even on very small scene like the one we have in Poland there are some ridiculous frictions from time to time. There was a time few years ago which came with a boom of a few new labels being born at the same time, and sometimes it is shown that we are still too young in knowing each other to cooperate on the best possible level. Guy from label A is talking shit behind the back of the guy from label B because he released a tape of the artist that released before in label A, guy from label C is whining that we are agreeing for the interviews, as is his opinion cassette culture is something elite and exclusive and we are making this whole thing approachable for hipsters and shit like that. And sure, this is something that happens in every small and somehow inbred community, but this is absolutely unnecessary. Or the situation when you have three techno party bookers in one city and two of them are making their own gigs at the same day, in venues that are 300 meters away from each other, what the fuck. But I want to believe that we all just need some more time to reduce this frictions, as in the end nothing that we do really fucking matters and we are not making this world a better and more peaceful place with our experimental music CDRs ;-)
About the community in broader context, it is just awesome, that everything blends in a great way. I remember the stories from my older pals, when skinheads where chasing punks and depeche mode fans were beaten on the streets by heavy metal fans, who thought that they have exclusiveness when it comes to wearing black t-shirts and so on. Right now, in this global village, with internet, postmodernism and other shit it is all thrown into one jar. I spot the same people on classical avantgarde festival called Warsaw Autumn and on the Black Metal gigs. People who are attending hardcore punk gigs are buying my tapes and sitting in front row during my gigs with their eyes closed. This all blended, and this is awesome, that we have an army of great open minded people rather than stupid subcultures. Although I was a part of quite tense situation two months ago for being bald and wearing a flyers jacket as someone took me for a nationalist scum probably, but I think that twenty years ago someone would give me the taste of blade before I would lit my cigarette after leaving my flat ;-) One of the greatest music bloggers on the experimental field that I know of lives in a small village at the end of world, where postman leaves parcels with records for him at the house of his neighbor living kilometer away, as no road leads to his house. And this doesn't stop him from writing or making music on his own, this is one of many proofs of the great times that we live in. Usually people from both sides on stage does not blend in Poland, I personally don't recall the situation like that, but maybe we are still more uptight that others as the whole nation, I don't know. I was talking with Wojtek Kucharczyk recently, who is a manager and helper of great techno act called RSS B0YS and he told me that abroad, even in very close to us Czech Republic people are just going crazy during their gigs and storming on the stage to dance, when we are for sure more stiff as the whole nation and it takes twenty minutes of a set to notice someone slightly starting to dance.
As for the institutional support, with few small exceptions like people from Kronika Art Center in Bytom, Daniel Muzyczuk from MS2 in Lodz or an absolute hero, Andrzej Zaleski from CSW in Warsaw, when it comes to institutions we are in “us and them” situation clearly. I am not the guy who is going from door to door begging for some support, but most of the institutions in Poland does not even have any programs or whatever alike in which we could participate or sign into. In Warsaw it is very visible, that each of the cultural institutions have their favourites, specially when it comes for example to visual artists who are kind of “by the way” making music or somehow personally connected to the people from so called “Artworld”. Few names playing over and over again each year in three different public places or galleries, this is ridiculous. Artworld is sticking to itself basically while we are trying to do our job. Of course, as I said, there are exceptions, for example mentioned Andrzej Zaleski is making this year a cycle presenting few underground DIY labels like mine in CSW (Centre For Contemporary Art) Warsaw.
There is one situation from last year which is a great summarization of the whole topic – Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw booked Wolf Eyes for a gig, after they finished a local noise rock band called Sierść started some guerilla concert there. Two smallest guitar amps on the world, one drum, one hihat, vocalist, they just came there and started playing a noise gig after a fucking noise gig. It was like a minute and the half before security intervened and stuff got out of hand in physical kind of way between a guy from the band and someone from the institution. This says all about how supportive most of them are, with this loud statement saying that noise and counterculture is good, as long as we can take control over it and as long as it is for our guests in white shirts sipping red wine from plastic cups.
But as long as we have squats, local venues and so on, we don't really need any support from institutions, we can manage. This space left by museums or galleries mentioned is greatly filled by owners of great places, which on one hand make some profit-oriented bigger gigs, but on the other hand let you play there and give all infrastructure and support for the gig, even if they know that this act will interest mostly your partners, few friends and a local homeless dog. Even when we have in Warsaw, which is biggest polish city, only four or five places so open and supportive like that, trust me, this is enough for us to function on level allowing to repay those institutions with the same urine they gave us :-)
You promote show with BDTA as BIEDOPAD and you also organize a festival. How often ? Is it easy ? Are there obstacles ? What spaces do you use ? Are there many organization promoting DIY shows and event in Poland ?
BIEDOPAD happened one time in Wroclaw as a three days evening festival with something around 15 gigs on it, after that we made few one and off gigs under the same name, and after that we put this idea with single gigs on hold. It is too time consuming for me to book gigs in a city three, four hours away from my current home and to go there every time once or two per month to see if everything is ok. Also, I had some minor health issues on my end, and the club which hosted the event had some problems on their own, so this idea is not dead for sure, but simply not happening currently. But I hope that we will be back on track with the weekend festival, maybe even this year. The festival was really not my idea, I just agreed to a proposition made by two of my friends who own the venue in Wroclaw, it was named Neon Side, now they changed the place and it is called Carpe Diem. And for me this is the best possible solution and the most convenient for sure, as they provide financing backup, and I am mostly responsible for the bookings and lineup, and everything else, from technical to PR stuff we are doing together. So, as long as I don’t have to risk with my own money, but I can use some provided ways of financing – I am in heaven as you can imagine. So in that particular case we did not have any more obstacles than every booker or owner of a small venue has anywhere in the world. Of course, making a lineup strong enough so people will have the reason to go out of their comfy houses, but not strong enough to make the tickets with some bizarre crazy pricing, this is a hard task. Finding this balance is risky, sure. Trying to promote the event and to drop the flyers around the city is hard, of course. But it is a nice thing to do. About organizations – not really. If you have “organization” trying to do an event, in most cases this is not a DIY event anymore ;-) We have few very open-minded and fair for artists venues, we have here great local activists who are doing the bookings etc after their hours spent at normal day job and so on. So I cannot complain about that, a great folks are here on the scene. Besides doing this Festival I am not really doing much concerts now, as I simply don’t have enough time, but I know lot of this from the other perspective, when I am trying to book some gigs or small tours for my music outlets. And I know the countries where this is really harder than in today’s Poland. But those are not any organized forms, mostly just single people with great passion.
In shows you organize and which you attend is there a link between musics that are more party music and musics that are more deep listenning musics ? Are there events when both happens ?
For me personally the best event that links both ways of connecting with various liveacts and various ways of associate with music is Unsound Festival that occurs every year in October in Krakow, Poland. The whole thing lasts a week, which is little bit too long for me, but specially the final weekend is really packed tight with various events. Usually during the day and of the evenings you have many experimental gigs, very conceptual, ambient or whatever, with the narration and context great for just sitting in the chair with the eyes closed and listening, and during the night you have great techno parties at old Hotel building named Hotel Forum. It is impossible for me to see everything and usually at the beginning I am trying to cross out at least something that is not a priority, but after few days anyway I end with skipping something that I was really eager to see. But this is how festivals probably works anyway.
Is it usual to travel to attend shows or hear music ? If so where and how far ?
I’m not much of a traveler to be honest, I am a boring guy sitting at home and focusing on work that has to be done, so I am probably not the best person to answer this. When I was living in Wroclaw, we often went to Prague or Berlin to see some gigs, as the city was much closer to the border and much more dull itself than Warsaw is currently. While living in capitol, so many things are happening here constantly, as I mentioned before, that I don’t really feel the need of traveling anyway. And I hate festivals, so even with some great events like that in Poland I rarely visit those, with exception of mentioned before Unsound in Krakow. Very often it goes other way around, that I am going somewhere with my girlfriend for some holiday and I – of course, as most of the people – have my laptop with me. And when I have my laptop I have everything to play a solo gig with Gazawat. Sometimes we try to somehow connect our personal vacation with some small gigs, just in the meantime, on the occasion.
Lastly, I would like to ask you about to recommend us what are some interesting places to go to listen to these musics ? What are festivals or fairs to look forward to ?
Well, it connects very much with the previous question and the best answer I can come up with is – stay home, read a book. Reading will make your eyes sore after some time, but this is good for you. And if you want to leave and travel, and for whatever stupid reason you think that Poland is the best option, oh come on. Seriously, Poland is great, it is a beautiful country with so many awesome thing to see, but it is much better idea to go and see the Baltic Sea or some old church or whatever than go to polish festival. Everyone are so psyched about Off Festival for example, but polish musicians are usually treated there like shit and playing in some bizarre slots like 2 PM in the full sunlight. You will be probably tired and hangover so you will skip those local acts anyway, and all of the headliners are made of an ensemble cast of headliners from other festivals. So don’t bother with Off, you probably have the same festival in your country. If you really want to attend the festival in Poland – pick Unsound. It is the best one. Probably.
And what are some musicians you are interested in now and we should keep an eye on ?
I am a really lucky man, who works with most of the artists that he loves, so this is a hard task for me, as I don’t like to brag about artists from my label. But obviously, those are in most cases my favorites. I strongly recommend two acts emerging from the polish noise scene, but doing currently some absolutely awesome things on fields that are way above the, let’s say, “typical” noise as most of the people imagines that genre – Purgist and MAAAA. Besides that I can surely recommend great works of guys such us Robert Piotrowicz, Piotr Kurek, Jacek Sienkiewicz, Lutto Lento….We have great black metal scene, with Mgła, Furia, Blaze of Perdition, Morowe or Mord'A'Stigmata to name just a few.
But if I would have to recommend just one and only one CD from Poland to someone interested in polish experimental music, it would be debut album of Księżyc from 1996. It was recorded more than 20 years ago, but still it is absolutely mind-blowing and something I cannot even describe with words. If you are into digging into obscure archives of strange blogs, you should get yourself into the old catalogue of label named OBUH, a lot of beautiful gems there.
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