New Disquietude podcast episode: music by Lesley Flanigan, Dave Seidel, KMRU, Celia Hollander, and John Hooper; interview with Flanigan; commentary; short essay on reading waveforms. • Disquiet.com F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #field-recording, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

Dark Ambient, Down Under

Interview with Darrin Verhagen, aka Shinjuku Thief, founder of the Dorobo Records label.

By Marc Weidenbaum

Marc Weidenbaum: You are a musician as well as someone who operates a record label. How do these two activities cohabitate? Do you turn off Verhagen/Dorobo and on Verhagen/Shinjuku?

Darrin Verhagen: Just from a time management perspective, the two activities rest fairly uneasily together. The label started off as an outlet for my own material, and fairly quickly turned from servant to master, stealing time previously reserved for the studio. Obviously this is a cause of considerable concern to Verhagen/Shinjuku — but as the label gains more momentum and recognition, it becomes more difficult to slow down. And given that much of the time spent on the label is in chasing outstanding accounts, it’s not something you can really afford to neglect. When composing, the relationship between the two Verhagens is interesting. At the moment, for example, Mr. Dorobo is a little concerned at Mr. Shinjuku’s direction for third Witch instalment. Whilst compositionally it’s more interesting than the previous two albums, from a marketing point of view it’s much more difficult to pigeonhole. Resting midway between “serious” ECM post-classical and CMI dark gothic ambient endears you to neither crowd. Despite having such reservations, such are never acted upon in the studio. There, I just work on what interests me. Where it finds its market, is a different, later problem. (Unfortunately, not someone else’s though!)

Weidenbaum: There’s no record companis like Virgin U.K. in the U.S. Which means that there’s really no corporate-size label producing electronic music. There are licensing situations — Island has relations with Pork, American has Too Pure, Elektra has its contract with Aphex Twin. Most types of music (rap, rock, jazz, classical) have independent and major-label corollaries, but not so with electronic music — it is almost entirely an independent-label world. Why do you think this is?

Verhagen: I think it just comes down to sales. No major label is going to invest good time and money into a niche market product if it’s not likely to yield significant returns. Far better to survey the field, pick the already “proven” winners then licence the product — allowing it to sell virtually through sheer force of distribution power (rather than any costly investment and “push”). I think the sheer fickleness/unpredictability of, and change in the underground scene would worry majors as well. When they sign a Mariah Carey-type figure they know she’s marketable for at least five years. This month’s smash trip-hop act isn’t necessarily bankable into the next season.

Weidenbaum: What experience has Dorobo had with majors. Have they come courting? Have they threatened your relations with any of your artists?

Verhagen: Can’t say they have — and I guess it’s hardly surprising. Take Alan Lamb’s Primal Image. The demand for the hum of telegraph wires is yet to take off in the mainstream,and it’s hardly a market they could cultivate with just a sexy TV campaign. By the same token, that’s not to say I’d dismiss any approaches out of hand — they’d just have to be assessed on their merits. Clasping your integrity too tightly doesn’t help pay for the next release. It’s all very well to spend outrageous amounts on packaging, and give support to underground acts — but at the end of the day, going out of business doesn’t help anyone.

Weidenbaum: Do you sign artists to long term contracts, or do you work on an album-by-album basis?

Verhagen: It’s generally an album-by-album basis. Personally I don’t like the ring of contractual obligations. If both parties are happy with the relationship, then they’ll continue to work together. Being locked into something where either side is miserable is no fun for anyone. I can understand the majors looking at “first option” clauses — to protect what is often a significant investment — but if you’re only spending $1000 on advertising for a given release, there’s less of a need to look at a long term relationship to recoup your initial expenses. Majors like the idea of the long term for obvious reasons.

Weidenbaum: I understand that you have a relation with Fifth Column Records, which has led to distribution through Caroline in the U.S. Could you explain this relation, and give a brief history of your experience with distribution?

Verhagen: The doorway to a distribution network came through our first Dorobo release, Shinjuku Thief’s Scribbler, having previously released Bloody Tourist on Extreme. Most overseas companies were familiar with the band — and picked up on the label from there. Our relationship with Fifth Column is in its early stages — so we’ll see how things progress. At this stage it looks more likely to evolve supporting non-Dorobo label releases (such as the albums on our techno arm, Iridium) — but we’ll see. Our main distribution has been done through Projekt/Darkwave. Whilst not having the distribution muscle of companies such as FCR, they’ve been very supportive of what we do, reliable and enjoyable to work with.

Weidenbaum: What are the names Iridium, Nova Zembla and Helix — all, apparently of record labels, associated with Black Lung releases?

Weidenbaum: Iridium was set up as I didn’t want to confuse the image of Dorobo too much — covering anything from dark ambient, through gothic postclassical up to pumping techno. Nova Zembla (KK, Belgium) licensed Black Lung’s Depopulation Bomb from us for Europe. And Helix is an Australian label which signed up Black Lung’s Disinformation Plague when we turned it down.

Weidenbaum: What’s ahead for Dorobo?

Verhagen: At this stage, the next release is a CD of Alan Lamb remixes. All contributors — Lustmord, Koner, Gunter and Ikeda — were given the same raw wire footage (from Alan’s forthcoming CD, Night Passage) and were given free reign. Given the calibre of the musicians, the end result is four extended tracks of fantastic dark ambience. Later in the year, we’ll issue the actual album, together with the next Shinjuku CD. Beyond that, things are open. I’m very keen to spend more time behind the keyboard than the fax machine.

Weidenbaum: Oh, yeah. What do Dorobo and Shinjuku mean?

Verhagen: The band name was taken from the experimental Oshima film, Diary of a Shinjuku Thief. The film’s mix of genres and jump cuts we felt appropriate to what we were doing. The use of the word “thief” also seemed appropriate given the amount of “found” footage in Bloody Tourist — with all the bagage associated with such “cultural theft.” Dorobo is just the Japanese for “Thief.” (In retrospect, hardly an encouraging name for an honest record label, huh?) Thanks again for involving me! Hope the above is useful.

/ Leave a comment ]

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*
*

Subscribe without commenting

  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

  • Field Notes

    News, essays, surveillance

  • Interviews

    Conversations with musicians/artists/coders

  • Studio Journal

    Video, audio, patch notes

  • Projects

    Select collaborations and commissions

  • Subscribe



  • Current Activities

  • Upcoming
    • December 13, 2022: This day marks the 26th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com.
    • January 6, 2023: This day marked the 11th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.

  • Recent
    • April 16, 2022: I participated in an online "talk show" by The Big Conversation Space (Niki Korth and Clémence de Montgolfier).
    • March 11, 2022: I hosted a panel discussion between Mark Fell, Rian Treanor and James Bradbury in San Francisco as part of the Algorithmic Art Assembly (aaassembly.org) at Gray Area (grayarea.org).
    • December 28, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the Instagr/am/bient compilation.
    • January 6, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
    • December 13, 2021: This day marked the 25th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
    • There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too.
    • A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen. (Details at oup.com.)

  • My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, was published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury. It has been translated into Japanese (2019) and Spanish (2018).

  • disquiet junto

  • Background
    Since January 2012, the Disquiet Junto has been an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making community that employs creative constraints as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list (each Thursday), listen to tracks by participants from around the world, read the FAQ, and join in.

    Recent Projects

  • 0544 / Feedback Loop / The Assignment: Share music-in-progress for input from others.
    0543 / Technique Check / The Assignment: Share a tip from your method toolbox.
    0542 / 2600 Club / The Assignment: Make some phreaking music.
    0541 / 10BPM Techno / The Assignment: Make some snail-paced beats.
    0540 / 5ive 4our / The Assignment: Take back 5/4 for Jedi time masters Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond.

  • Full Index
    And there is a complete list of past projects, 544 consecutive weeks to date.

  • Archives

    By month and by topic

  • [email protected]

    [email protected]

  • Downstream

    Recommended listening each weekday

  • Recent Posts