Enfant Terrible founder M shares his thoughts on the duties and pleasures of running a label and gives us a stunning selection of forthcoming material (listen/download now)
M founded Enfant Terrible in the Netherlands in 2004. Over the years the label gained the reputation of a trusted source of cherry-picked synth/wave gems as well as an entry point into the weirder Dutch synth underground. Enfant Terrible emerged before the intense wave of synth reissues began and stood out with excellent curation ever since the very first releases, which defined the label’s direction. Compilations like “Trumpett Sounds” and “Kamp Holland” introduced us to the beautiful and unexplored landscape of Dutch electronica with sounds ranging from naive kosmische tunes to the angular and heavy synth soundscapes of Distel, and from the ice-cold minimal wave of The Actor to the blissful chill vibes of Hunter Complex. This diversity manifests throughout the vast catalogue of Enfant Terrible, where we can find such diverse acts as Swedish electrified post-punkers Agent Side Grinder, electro/tech heavyweight Drvg Cvlture or the twilit Turkish new wave gem of Kim Ki O. These are just a few of the many examples.
The label’s diversity is clear from the accompanying sampler, compiled exclusively for Secret Thirteen by label boss M. It features forthcoming material from the label’s artists and gives some insight into what Enfant Terrible is.
In this interview M shares some thoughts about the duties, challenges and pleasures of running a label, the growing vinyl and reissue market and other things.
What was the first thing that made you start the label? How does the label differ from its initial idea?
In the end I was and I (hope I) always will be a music enthusiast and a record collector. From a very young age I have been buying vinyl (and CDs of course at some points in my adolescent life), even to the point where I spent my clothing money on records. Later on I started DJ’ing, writing about music for magazines and organizing parties. Due to this I also came across a lot of music that did not get released (demos and self released cdrs by bands) and I wanted to have some of that music on vinyl. So I started doing that myself - quite simple - and in the end this is still what I do today. When I come across some music I truly like for one reason or another, I like to have it on vinyl to enjoy at home.
Of course when you run a label you need to think what to release at which point. For example it is not really a good idea to release a record by a musician if there was just another of his records released. Also, sometimes I feel it is not the time to release a specific record and then I wait a bit, but this is like a personal feeling, not the result of market research by me in any form. So, of course, my label is more structured than when I started, but I also like to keep the freedom to do what I feel like doing at a specific moment.
Besides Enfant Terrible, you also operate several other notable sublabels (Gooiland Elektro, Hex Grammofoonplaten, Stg Art De SuR, Vrystaete). What is the history behind them? Was it the need to explore other genres and disassociate them from Enfant Terrible?
Enfant Terrible started 12 years ago out of my passion for collecting music, so it is easy to understand that over time my personal taste in music also has developed. I listen to almost everything from indie pop to classical music to techno to folk music.
It is not that my labels follow my personal interests and taste completely, but some sounds that are of interest find their way back into records I am releasing, and I felt that some paths I was going down needed series of their own, so that is how the sublabels started.
First was Hex Grammofoonplaten, a sublabel related to quite a famous party I organized and dj’ed at in the past. When the party ended I wanted to release some of the weirder and punkier sounds of that event. The compilation LP is a perfect companion and document of these parties. Not very much is released in this series and I do not think I will revive it either. It belongs to the past.
After that I started the Enfant Terrible Unlimited series (Enfant Terrible catalogue numbers), a playground for me to experiment with sounds, format and artwork. It was mostly through releases in this series that Gooiland Elektro, Vrystaete, and other such series/labels came into being.
More dancefloor minded sounds needed a series of their own so Gooiland Elektro started. More recently I moved on into a new phase again - some lighter sounds in the field of experimental folklore, lo-fi and psychedelic sounds, so Vrystaete was founded. This label includes handmade art prints that come with releases. This label pushes DIY to the limit of what is possible for me to do with Enfant Terrible right now: everything except the pressing of the vinyl records is done by me. So there are no factory printed labels but hand stamped ones and no regular sleeve, instead there are art prints. The stamps and designs are also handmade or designed by visual artists doing manual printing techniques.
Despite the wide range of sounds I still think that all of my labels and series are new wave related in one way or another, also somewhere related to the elektro-wave/post-punk tradition. I try to avoid clichés and always move onwards and push boundaries of the different new wave genres, but also pay tribute to classic sounds from time to time as long as the energy and attitude of the musician is authentic. So in the end Enfant Terrible is a platform for independent (counter-)culture and all things new wave and beyond.
In your old websites there was a passage about the words neo, post and retro. Nowadays we face an intense stream of reissues and revivals. What is your attitude towards it? Do you think that such repackaging of the past leads to something new or it just an exercise in nostalgia?
This passage was written as a pamphlet for an event I did in Berlin with friends living there (Neugeborene Nachtmusik and crew). I think this pamphlet is quite clear in what my attitude towards the trend of re-issues is. For me this recycling culture is boring. I dare to say that 99,9% of all re-issues today are irrelevant. It is quite simple this music was not released before with a reason. The reason being it was not good enough to release back then. So how can it be good enough now? Another reason why it is irrelevant is that it is often about re-issues of non-obscure music today, at least non-obscure in my opinion as a collector. And next I see a new trend of re-issues of re-issues or re-issues of already re-issued material.
I am confused why you would want to do this as a label. My only guess is money. The current vinyl hype is mostly based on re-issues, interesting contemporary music is selling quite badly most of the time.
For me, as a label it is only interesting to release music that was not available before, or at least not available on vinyl - music that adds something to the overwhelming amount of music already out there and being released. So to me this trend of re-issues is not even an exercise in nostalgia, to me it is simply a commercial activity.
Enfant Terrible has been active for more than 10 years. You had the possibility to notice various changes in the industry of underground music. How do you think the role of the label changed during these years? What do you think is the primary role of the label at the moment in the underground scene?
See my comment above. A label should release interesting music that was not available before. As a label you have a responsibility, in my opinion, to invest in new and daring music that adds something to the cultural landscape. This can be in a huge edition or in a very small edition (like I do). That makes no difference to me. It depends on the label’s vision and mission, but content is all. The content you put out should be relevant.
I know some people will think this attitude is elitist and maybe they think I have no right to say this, but I do not care. Enfant Terrible is a radical DIY label that is truly independent. I am not here to make friends, my mission is to put out records I like to have myself, and which I hope are relevant to a few more people. After 12 years I am still here. I have released about a total of 100 records in total. Most labels never reach this point as people think running a label is fun only, but it needs devotion and it takes blood, sweat and tears to do this, and in my opinion it also takes a clear vision and mission. In the end there are not many people who have what it takes to do this for real. That is why most people/labels only last for a few releases.
As your label includes lots of Dutch material, how do you think this scene is special and different from other scenes? Are there any peculiarities in its history and development?
To be honest I think the Dutch scene is quite boring. I like the Belgian music scene a lot more. It is more diverse and more adventurous. I mean, the Belgian music scene in general, not the new wave scene or whatever.
But because the Dutch scene is quite boring I like to cherish what there is and fits on my platform, and hopefully this inspires some more people to make daring music. That is why part of the focus of my label is on music from The Netherlands. I like to showcase what I think is interesting music coming from this country and to stimulate musicians to start and continue. I do this through my labels and on my radio show Radio Resistencia that I produce with some friends for Intergalactic FM and Concertzender.
What are the biggest challenges in maintaining the label? The intensity of information flow is getting higher and there is also more competition. How do you manage to deal with it?
The biggest challenge is to create a good continuity and flow for a label. When I started my label in 2004, I got a finished record in about 4 or 5 weeks. Nowadays if you are lucky and all goes well, it is around 4 months, which is crazy. And with this vinyl hype, it is all about re-issues. For labels such as my own, and also almost everybody else I speak to, it is harder and harder to sell copies. Everybody sells less than before.
My strategy has always been and will always be to just do what you like to do, and how I like to do it, or as Ken Kesey put it, “Don’t play their game”. Keep true to your own values and ideals and these can change in time, but do not get lost in hypes or trends or “industry stuff”.
This is why I create records in small editions for a few truly interested people and I value the people who buy my stuff and shops who sell my records and are enthusiastic about them, but commercially of course it is not a good decision. Producing a record in an edition of 500 copies costs almost the same as 200 copies, so everybody can calculate that it is hard to break even on small productions, but this is my choice and I like to create special products with a personal touch. Like with the hand printed artwork I do most of the time to keep it all truly close to myself. Every record that goes somewhere goes through my own hands from day one onwards.
In short, I think you should run a label out of passion and you need to be a little crazy to put so much time and money into it. If you are not willing to do this you’d better not start at all. Except if you like to operate on a more commercial level, but that is no fun for me. I like to keep it all close to me and to keep it somewhat secret, sort of like a special club for special people.
What are the main criteria for you when you consider a release for the label? Do you often confront the situation when you have to sacrifice your own taste in order to maintain label's integrity or does it fully reflect your personal taste?
My label is not 100% my personal taste. As I said before I listen to all kinds of music from indie pop to classical music to techno to folk music and I am not doing all that. I think in the end my label still has a focus on all things new wave, even though I look beyond the edges of that genre. So when I consider music to be released on my label it has to feel related to this new wave tradition, but it needs to avoid the typical clichés. There is so much “minimal synth” stuff put out today, for example, but to me most is not that interesting. I have heard it before most of the time.
I get many demos with requests to release them by people who think they know what I do. Then they send me minimal synth stuff and although I listen to all of what I get, I have a policy to not accept demos. My label is invitation-only.
In addition to having to match with the focus of my label music-wise, it also has to fit with my personal interests at that specific time. I have various sublabels and sometimes I’m more focused on one or two of these, and at another moment, I’m more focused on another sublabel. For example, the Enfant Terrible series (the first series I started) has been quiet for some time, but right now I have some releases planned on this one. To give another example, in 2013 I released 12 releases on Gooiland Elektro, while right now I am taking it more slowly with that series. So in the end yes, it is my personal taste, but my personal taste is reflected in my label’s policy, so it is not easy to grasp for people except myself and I like to keep it that way, it gives me freedom to do what I like when I like.
Quite a number of items in your roster are sold out. Are you planning to re-release any of them?
I create records in small editions, when sold out they are sold out. I never do a re-release. I rather invest my money and time in new records with new interesting music that has not yet been released. To me doing a re-release because of the demand is too commercial already and I am proud to see that my older and sold out releases get sold for higher prices on discogs. It is a sign I succeeded in creating a relevant record and a true collector piece.
On the other hand I understand that a new generation of music fans want this music and were not able to get it when it was first released, and many people ask for a digital version of the releases. I have always held back on digital releases as to me they are nothing. I like the physical product, one that can be damaged and destroyed, one you can relate to and which comes with certain memories because you bought it during a certain period and/or listened to it during a certain period. For me, a true product comes with artwork/packaging you can hold it in your hand and it transmits a certain feeling or tells a story in a certain way, so it is created to have an impact. Digital releases are without context to me. People can get one track and have no sleeve / packaging with it to hold in their hands and look at, so the true meaning and idea behind the release is lost.
Also I do not like to put time into getting my releases out in digital format, but to get the music available again I might consider this in the future. Having said that, I might change my mind too, because as I said it is not what I am interested in myself.
01. FDSL - Come Walk With Us (from upcoming album)
02. Roberto Auser - Untitled 1 (from upcoming EP)
03. Monocorpse - Orange Blossom (from upcoming EP)
04. Vektor - V1 (Neugeborene Nachtmusik remix) (from upcoming EP)
05. The Untitled - Urban Decay (from upcoming EP)
06. Zarkoff & Ikonal - Dose Response (from EP released in 2016)
07. FOQL - Certainly Not (from upcoming EP)
08. Zosima - Katorga (from upcoming mini album)
09. Ian Martin - Untitled (from upcoming EP)
10. Europ Europ - Basement Floodage (from upcoming album)