Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Metal Advisor Interviews Armand of Breathe Plastic Records


As a DIY label from The Netherlands, Breathe Plastic Records enjoys a medium long past its prime to everyone but enthusiasts. The label's founder, Armand, says he doesn't mind rewinding cassettes and dealing with the medium's quirks, but also acknowledges CDs, vinyl, and digital files as a great way to experience music, too--something most music lovers will stand behind. The Metal Advisor sits down with Armand to find what makes Breathe Plastic tick, how the label started, and the kind of music in store for the future.


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First off, I’m very curious what attracts you to cassettes, Armand. The medium seems to have experienced a small resurgence lately; did that inspire you to make Breathe Plastic Records a cassette-only label?

Armand: Yes and no. It's not only the recent resurgence. My own first musical purchase was a cassette when I was 8 years old or so and on vacation with my parents. It was Duran Duran's Seven and the Ragged Tiger. I was incredibly impressed by their Wild Boys video at the time and thought that song would be on that album. It wasn't, but I liked that album a lot, nonetheless. 


After that, I spent years buying cassettes and taping songs from the radio, and later on, I was taping a lot of CDs that I borrowed from friends. So, cassettes have been a big part of my musical life. In the years after that, I mostly bought and listened to CDs, mp3s, and vinyl. Cassettes were a bit forgotten until one day my parents visited me with a few boxes that had been in their attic for years. One was stuffed with tapes, and it had all these old mix tapes, demos from friends' bands, and stuff I taped in the nineties--which I started playing on a regular basis for a couple of weeks from then on, again.

Around that same time, I noticed there were still quite some underground labels that did cassettes, and I ordered a few tapes from several labels which revived my enthusiasm for the format. One of the labels I ordered from was Dutch tape label Tartarus Records. 


A little while later, I was doing an interview with Richard from Tartarus about his band Ortega, and I asked him some questions about his label as well. In his enthusiasm, I recognized a lot of my own newfound enthusiasm for cassettes. We talked about cassettes more that period, and he explained how he handled and did things for his label, which made me even more enthusiastic. So, it's basically a combination of my nostalgic feelings towards the format from my youth and seeing other labels still releasing great stuff on cassette that inspired me to make it a cassette-only label. 


How did you go about creating Breathe Plastic? Was it a gradual build-up, or did you wake up one day and realize you wanted to help bands release/promote their music? 

Armand: Breathe Plastic is a domain I've had since about 2004, and it started out as a personal web-blog, evolved into a photo-blog, and then a music web-blog, on which I wrote and posted about music. After a while, I was asked to write and photograph for another metal webzine here in the Netherlands, which I did for a couple of years causing Breathe Plastic to be put on hold. When obligatory writing about music lost its appeal, I stopped doing that and I thought about a way to revive the website again. So I started posting about music that I liked again, and doing reviews and interviews with bands while thinking of what else to do with it as I had been down that path of being just another weblog already.
During the interviews I did with bands I noticed a lot of the bands I like struggled to find a label that wanted to invest in them. Bands that, to me, where a lot more interesting than the stuff most labels release. 

So all those factors, together with the newfound enthusiasm for cassettes, I decided to do something about it myself, resulting in Breathe Plastic Records.

I find that those fortunate enough to experience the eighties have an emotional attachment to cassettes, and their labels tend to reflect that. Did you live through the eighties when tape trading was at its height?

Armand: I was a bit too young in the eighties to be in the actual tape-trading scene, and I didn't get into metal and more underground music until the early nineties when things had already shifted towards CDs mainly. But I carried my Walkman with me all the time when I was in my teens. At school, my summer job, and in my group of friends there were quite a bit of people that liked the same music as I did, and we all bought CDs (there was no Internet with endless streams and downloads then). 


So every week I would borrow a couple of CDs from different people and tape them, listen to them on my Walkman or in my room, and then the next week that process repeated itself while my friends borrowed the CDs I bought. It was that, or we made mixed tapes for each other (and, of course, the cheesy ballad filled mixed tapes for the girls you wanted to impress).

Besides that, bands that weren't signed still released their music on a cassette, so there were still some demo tapes being passed around, although, not as much as in the eighties, I guess. So since there were quite a bit of cassettes in my youth, there is definitely a form of nostalgia involved for me by doing a cassette label.


That being said, how do  you circumvent the inconvenience cassettes present? Or does it not bother you, even when having the same music digitally? 

Armand: For me, listening to a cassette (or a vinyl record, for that matter) isn't an inconvenience. It's a way to wind down after work or to get my mind off things. I tend to listen more focused when I listen to a cassette or a vinyl record, compared to listening to mp3s, so it doesn't bother me at all. 

Of course, there are times when I don't have time for playing a cassette, or it's inconvenient, so I just pull up the mp3s then. I can see how it would be an inconvenience to others, or they want the music with them when they aren't near their tape deck. I offer free downloads when someone buys one of my tape releases, that way they can listen to it on their phone or on their computer.


Do you sell digital downloads by having a Bandcamp page? Is the tangible release only for the love of a physical medium? 

Armand: I don't sell the downloads. People can stream the music on the Bandcamp page, and when they decide to buy a cassette, they will get a download of their purchase for convenience. You can't buy just the mp3s, although I guess you can see it as buying mp3s and getting a free tape with that, of course.

But it's definitely because I want to offer a physical copy of the music. It's what I prefer myself, even though I have a hard drive full of mp3s. I don't have any feelings towards that, and I would always prefer owning a cassette or vinyl over a hard drive with a million mp3s.

How do you feel about the modern music industry? Likewise, do/did you face any obstacles running a small start-up label in this day and age?


Armand: I really like the fact that with the Internet a lot of bands in the "loud-and-noisy" genre (even the bigger, more familiar ones) have developed more of a DIY attitude these days and don't depend on labels too much anymore. Of course, bands still need labels for some things, but overall it's easier for bands to start up. They can start a crowd sourcing project for financing the recording, where in the old days they would have needed a label for that. Bands can do their distribution and marketing much cheaper, and they can reach an audience much faster nowadays through all kinds of social media and weblogs. I like the idea that, in those cases, you are ordering a cassette or a record from the band itself (or a small label); instead of ordering it from some major label, and you wonder if the band will actually see or notice from that purchase, which are definitely upsides to the current music industry, in my opinion.

The downside of it is that with things getting easier for bands even more uninteresting bands surface, which you have to wade through to get to the good stuff. What I dislike is the power that the big labels still seem to have with all the restrictions they are putting on music (like some YouTube videos not available in all countries) and their lobby work, which causes the witch hunt on people downloading a few songs. Instead of evolving, they desperately cling onto the old, lucrative-for-them, situation.

Concerning the label; I haven't had any big obstacles running a small start-up yet, actually. I've noticed that especially in this "scene" there are a lot of people willing to help each other or cooperate, be it designers, bands, fans, or other labels. Most of the bands I release aren't in it for the money, and neither am I (otherwise we would should have chosen a different style of music), and most people involved have that same mindset, so I guess that helps. I've noticed that the bigger the band, or label, and the more money is involved the more complicated things get. So I try to stay away from that as much as possible.


Let's talk about the bands on Breathe Plastic. What kind of music do you tend to focus on?

Armand: There isn't a "genre" in particular that I focus on, really. I usually approach bands that I like. Since I'm a big doom/sludge fan, most bands I release seem to come from that corner, but it's definitely not limited to that for me. The only requirement (for lack of a better word) a band needs is to have an atmosphere that I like. The music needs to have a bit of an "edge." I don't like music that's too neat or clean. So usually I have a preference for music that's dark, moody, sad and/or aggressive. I'm not a big fan of happy music, over all.


It's also not limited to metal. For instance, I'm going to release a post-rock act this autumn. I'm having talk about releasing a friend's band that's more in the industrial/ebm scene later this year, and having talk of a release for a bit of a dark/psychedelic/surf/rock band. It's a bit different from what I've released until now, but I think the atmosphere in those acts does fit the other releases I've done.

Would you make an exceptions for artists that don’t fit that dark, moody, and aggressive style?

Armand: Funny. The other day a friend, who is in marketing and advertising and therefore thinking more commercially than I do, asked almost the same question. He wondered if I would release a band that I really disliked, but knew would sell a lot. I don't think I would make that exception.

The label's main purpose, for me, is to try and promote bands that I think deserve more attention. I'm trying, and hoping, to be more of a quality label than a label that just releases anything that is a guaranteed sell. By releasing a band that I don't like I think that defeats the purpose of this label.

What sort of bands do you find favor a cassette release? 


Armand: I've noticed that every band or artist I've approached so far has been enthusiastic about being released on cassette. There are also bands that are approaching me if I want to release them, so it seems a lot of bands in this type of music are still charmed by the thought of being released on cassette. It occurred to me that it isn't just old farts like me that like cassettes, but also younger people.

I don't know how acts in other genres, like pop music or dance music, would feel about releasing their stuff on cassette. I tend to think they would prefer digital or CD releases, but maybe I'm just prejudiced about those genres. So I don't know for sure, and I have no interest in finding out either.


What purpose does your blog serve?

Armand: As mentioned earlier, before I started the label, Breathe Plastic was a weblog/webzine on which I reviewed albums and the concerts I attended, did interviews, and posted news. After a while, I started writing for a Dutch metalzine and stopped updating my own website. After I quit writing for them, I started my own weblog again, doing interviews, and posting news of bands that I like.

But now with the label, I am thinking it might just be confusing to have both a weblog in which I write about bands that aren't on my label and the stuff that I am releasing. So I'm thinking about not posting about other bands anymore. There isn't much use in it, anyway, in my opinion, as big sites as CVLT Nation, Invisible Oranges, The Obelisk, Pitchfork, or Metalsucks, among others, already bring all the news. No one will go to Breathe Plastic for just news then.


Do you have any specific goals you want to accomplish for the remainder of 2013?


Armand: The only goal I have now is to be able to keep releasing quality bands (in my eyes, at least) without having to invest too much of my own money in them. All profits from selling cassettes and the distro go into my next releases, so as long as I can continue to do that, I've reached my goals for 2013. Of course, I like to grow a little bigger and develop more of a name for the label, but since the label is still fairly new I'll just take one step at a time.

Any last words or shout-outs?


Armand: Thank you for showing interest in Breathe Plastic! It's definitely appreciated.

The only thing I would like to add is that I have a couple more releases coming out these next months with Nonsun, doom/drone from the Ukraine, Appollonia, hardcore/doom from France, IRN, doom from Canada, and Electric Citizen, seventies-inspired metal from the United States. All of those are, or will be, streaming on the Bandcamp page.

For more information you can head over to breatheplastic.bandcamp.com or breathe-plastic.org. Or like me on Facebook, if you want to keep up to date. 


-TMA

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