Shedding some light to the backstage of brilliant Mannequin Records - an interview with Alessandro Adriani.
Shedding some light to the backstage of brilliant Mannequin Records - an interview with Alessandro Adriani.
Since 2008 Mannequin Records has been pleasuring our ears with cherry picked wave, post punk, industrial, synth, psychedelic releases. It is definitely one of those labels, that have a strong sense of concept and style, yet manage to be diverse, innovative and unpredictable. Considering synth elegance of Mushy, dark kraut/kosmische jams by Phantom Love, desert psych folk by The Coombe, catchy new wave subtleness of The Present Moment or italian wave egzotic, it seems that Mannequin crystallizes one of the best moments of musical past, present and future without falling into nostalgic cliches. Mannequin is truthful, sincere, genuine and not chasing the hype and presents a colorful, intriguing and adventurous soundworld.
In this elaborate and honest interview Alessandro Adriani, the founder and owner of the label, sheds us some light on the backstage of Mannequin Records and the present minimal/synth scene. The running of a label, situation of Italian synth scene, the peculiarities of minimal wave definition and nostalgia are one the many topics discussed in this interview.
Also, while reading be sure to check the Alessandro's excellent exclusive selection compiled of tracks by artists from Mannequin roster. It also includes many unreleased tracks from forthcoming releases.
Alessandro Adriani: I think after 5 years of activity it was time for a change and I realized that Berlin together with London are really one of the few places in Europe, where our message is received and appreciated as it should be.
Italy was basically ignoring us always, the music we are producing was basically never part of our culture at a mainstream level. I think that in the 80's in Italy wasn't easy at all to be part of this kind of dark wave, cold wave, minimal wave music, call it as you want. Our culture historically is permeated by other emotions and feelings. These guys felt even further on the outside, away from the focal points of Manchester, Sheffield, Berlin and NYC. But even now, things are not different so much. New bands who are singing in English are destined to have more success outside the Alps.
The only person I really would love to thank for believing in us since the beginning is Giorgio Mortari from Dissonanze Festival, who unfortunately is not with us anymore. He was the best. A real visionary man, always 10 steps ahead of the others. Love you and miss you.
Oh, yeah, I was questioned already few times about this topic. The name of Mannequin comes from a real mannequin head (I suppose it's from the 70s, I found it in a old perfumery, where my mother was working for 30 years), that I have in my recording studio, where I usually put my headphones on. The old logo itself was a vectorization of a picture of the mannequin head taken in the studio. Only some time later I was able to reconnect many similarities with the music we are proposing. In fact, Mannequin was the name of a Canadian label who produced bands like Ceramic Hello and Kinetic Ideals, Mannequin is the name of the track by Experimental Products and The Wire and so on. Or think of "Showroom Dummies" by Kraftwerk...
Newclear Waves started in 2006-2007 alongside my experiments with analog synthesizers. In 2009 I released many tracks with my voice on. They were released before in some limited tape and CD-R editions, then Desire Records from France made a collection of all the tracks, which is the LP that you can see around. I have basically another full length ready, compiled of tracks recorded in the same period, but I don't plan to put my voice on them anymore. I'm asking some of my favourite singers and friends around to do it. Curious about the result.
My recordings were already shifting from minimal synth to some dance stuff 2 years ago, but people are still into the old tracks and sometimes it is a bit frustrating. Now it's a big mix of all my electronic influences: you can find a bit of wave, italo disco, acid techno and EBM and even some industrial.
In fact, apart from few appearances with voice and synths, which I made in the past, my live set is basically a full analog battle with Roland TR 808, Roland TB 303, Roland SH 101, Doepfer Dark Energy and a table of pedal effects with a Space Echo pedal in the aux of all the channels. Well, to be honest, I never know where the flux of music will bring me, it is almost improvised. I recorded some tracks in Los Angeles last summer thanks to Michael from Part Time Punks, and I think I will release them soonish!
Regarding the management of the label, it is a pretty much clear message: I was looking for a label myself to release my own stuff, to have a feedback from other people, to improve myself and to show that is not easy at all to be in our label. As I'm basically not releasing myself, I think it is a strong message to the bands who submit music to us.
Nowadays we experience quite an intensive revival of obscure synth/minimal wave/cold wave/ post punk production. Many lost gems are rereleased and some interesting new bands are being formed. Do you find difficult to find interesting albums/artist in the genre to release? What are your criteria for that? How do you pick the artists?
I personally listen to every demo we receive, but sometimes it could be that a friend is bringing something to my attention or I see something in the internet. I do think that every media is absolutely necessary to have a proper vision of the good things that are coming out. And an advice from a friend counts more than one thousand reviews on Pitchfork.
It's a game which is not really hard to understand. To sell and keep the label alive and to live with this job as I do there are three crucial points: the press agency, the distribution and the booking agency. If you have a great and influential press agency and a proper distribution in Europe and the States, and your bands are able to book shows around, well, you can make a really important score.
Sadly, it is not the quality of the music, that makes the difference. Some bands could be very lucky and just be in the right place at the right time. But this is sort of 5% of the market. The truth is, that I see many many underrated bands around with a big potential, but unfortunately big magazines are not taking care of them at all, so booking agencies as well don't consider them and at the end the label can just make 300 copies. Nobody wants to take the risk to keep them all in a basement for the rest of the life. It's tricky game and never, never easy.
I deeply admire the work of Sacred Bones. Caleb is a sweet guy and we even made a collaboration for the reissue of UV POP last year. In 2007, when we started as mailorder, we were one of the first in Europe to distribute their records, I always saw a huge potential in their work, amazing music, stunning graphic design, strong concept around.
I also really enjoy Captured Tracks, they had a similar path. I remember when I was at their basement in NYC, Mike Sniper was cool and he gave me one of the first Blank Dogs 12''! Honestly, I don't like 100% of what they are producing, the indie side of the label is not really for me, though this is just my personal taste.
Most of the "reissue" bands never had a proper music career, at least not with the bands they were involved at that time. Some of them continued to make music under other names and received a lot of popularity. Some are doing something completely different. It's a life cycle. You can't preview, what is going to happen. I would not say we specialize in reissues only, although in the beginning the label had the dual and parallel aim to unearth hidden or unpublished gems, running along a road that starts from the period of reference for this kind of music (late 70's – mid 80's) and comes to nowadays. There are so much new bands to discover.
I guess it's useless to say that it was a different time, but it is also not as simple as we can think. Yeah, it is true, bands were selling a lot of records, but look what happened to the minimal/cold wave bands we are so much into now. They released 1000/1500 records and probably they didn't sell not even half of them. Some records are impossible to find not because there were made a few copies, but because most of the copies were probably destroyed to recover the Copyright costs or are lying in the basement of a band member.
Factory Records / 4AD deeply inspired me. If I would image my label in the 80's, I would be on their side! We are not a "wave" label only. Just listen to the production by The Cult Of Dom Keller, Vision Fortune, Octavius or DUST. It ranges from psychedelic rock to experimental/industrial from acid house to post punk. In fact, wasn't it the same with 4AD, where you can find such bands as Bauhaus and M/A/R/R/S in the same label? Or with Factory Records with Joy Division and the late Hacienda? People should learn to enjoy the music because of emotions it provides for their hearts, not because of the hype from internet and magazines or the genre they are categorized.
Your label is physical format based? What do you think of the increasing digitalization of music? How does it influence you label? How does the physical form/package important to you? Would you agree, that digital format and downloads go against the original concept and idea of minimal/coldwave genre?
Honestly, I don't see anything going against the original concept, because there is no original concept. We created it nowadays. In fact, minimal wave didn't exist at all in the 80's, it's just a newly created term to indicate some bands in the new wave cauldron. Because in the internet era, we need to categorize, we desperately need to put some order in our folders. By reading a lot of old magazines and fanzines, you can easily discover that all the bands were just new wave or post punk.
Mannequin was always paying a lot of attention to digital sales. I was working for two of the biggest digital distributions in the world in the past years, before starting to concentrate on the label only, so I know the market very well. I have never wanted a nostalgic feeling in my productions. I even hate it for some reasons. It's just not moving, still staying forever. Like Rome, the city where I was born, is a prisoner of its past. Imagine 3 million and a half people living with 2 metro lines, just because there's no possibility to apply more, to evolve, because every time you make a hole in the ground, you discover a new archaeologic artifact. It's beautiful and sad at the same time! We are a modern label, living and producing records now, not in the past.
I guess my interest for the past comes mostly because of my Cancer sign. We like history and archeology and everything reminds us of the past. Well, I should not have told that, because now you think I'm crazy, ha ha!
I lost my initial enthusiasm to be an "archeologist”. In fact, I can tell you that, when I started in 2004 to search for the artists that were lately included in Danza Meccanica, I spent almost 4 more years to find them all. Myspace in Italy was just starting and there was no Facebook. Seems that now almost everybody is able to do a reissue, a new reissue labels are starting monthly, so I don’t see the point anymore to continue on this side. I love new challenges, so our focus switched to new bands as they are surely the present and the future of our scene. So we will only do reissues, that we strictly consider important and with a preference for italian wave scene.
Next coming releases will include Deathday second full length and a 12'' with a remix by Legowelt, Void Vision first full length, Police Des Moeurs first full length, Phosphor second full length and Phantom Love second 12'' EP. There are more to be announced, but I prefer to keep them secret, because they are still not confirmed 100%! In October we will release a trilogy of italian new wave from Torino, with Monuments, Tommy De Chirico and Musumeci, while in the end of the year will see the reissue of Red Temple Spirits complete works on vinyl.
I can anticipate you that soonish we will start a sub label. It's a project that I have been developing for a year and a half. Now it is time to start!
I hope we will keep bringing more love and emotions to people's ears.