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Extreme Measures

Roger Richards celebrates 10 years of CDs with Extreme Records.

By Marc Weidenbaum

Simply the list of bands and individual musicians associated with Extreme Records goes a long toward describing the nature of the label, which at 12 years of age (10 under the stewardship of Roger Richards) is one of the senior electronic record companies. The old-world agit-ambient of Muslimgauze, the jazz-inflected work of Paul Schutze, the noise of Merzbow, the abstract cinema of Soma, the tinkering of Jim O’Rouke—none of these sounds are unique to the Extreme label, but many of these musicians have done their best work here. As evidenced by a sly emoticon [ ;^) ] midway through the text, this interview was conducted via email. It was done in preparation for a story for Pulse! magazine (“Black Label,” September 1996).

Marc Weidenbaum: The business chronology of Extreme is, to the extent I am familiar with it: formed in ’85, you took over in ’87, initiated Extreme Europe in ’94 through an association with Artelier, with whom I am not familiar otherwise. Could you sum up the last three or so years: what new business developments have occurred? What is your current distribution situation?

Roger Richards: Since establishing Extreme Europe, we have been working hard to develop stronger distribution networks in each of the territories. GAS, Benelux, Scandinavia, U.K., etc. also require specific marketing strategies and it has been a challenging time. We have also recommenced distributing our own releases in Australia and this has proven most successful. In U.S.A. we are distributed by Dutch East India Trading and it was an important decision to work with a distributor that understands our music.

Weidenbaum: The marketplace has caught up with Extreme, to some extent. The sounds of Muslimgauze, and Soma, and Shinjuku Thief are more familiar to listeners, thanks to the ascension of ambient and electronic music in recent years. Rock — lyrics, guitars, songs for that matter — doesn’t enjoy the force of hegemony that it once did. Is this occurrence a comfort, or does it make you want to record entirely other types of music.

Richards: There are certainly other contemporary artists that sound like Soma or Muslimgauze or Shinjuku Thief and that is an expected situation. We see imitation as a form of flattery and are comfortable with this situation. We have always worked with artists that pioneer a certain style, the unique voice of the musician, and many musicians respect what Extreme releases. However, we do like to be leaders, as you suggest, and that is why we are working with artists like Social Interiors, Skuli Sverrisson, and Fetisch Park.

When a genre, such as drum and bass, is already established and has produced its seminal recordings we make a conscious choice not to release that style of music. Extreme is about innovation and experimentation and our audience is looking for a challenge.

Weidenbaum: Which, if any, of the newer electronic labels do you feel an affinity toward?

Richards: Extreme does not look to other labels, or music, for direction. Therefore, we don’t have an affinity for newer electronic labels although we do enjoy listening to the music they release.

Weidenbaum: Extreme started as a tape label, and has grown tremendously since then. The Internet offers many opportunities for small labels, from marketing to publicity to distribution, even to artistic collaboration. Do you think that the Internet could become a kind of late-’90s equivalent of the tape-networking culture: people posting their music on personal web pages for others to discover and download?

Richards: If the World Wide Web is not already the ’90s equivalent of the underground tape network then it should be. The Internet has done so much to reduce the tyranny of distance, both from a cost and time perspective, and it offers so much flexibility for the exchange of music and information. The only difficulty that it poses is how you find what interests you. Newsgroups are helping to fill this void.

Weidenbaum: Are there any musics you wish you could record and release, but which you think would be a bad investment?

Richards: Most people who hear what Extreme does would consider what we consider to be music a bad investment ;^) The 50-CD Merzbox is certainly a big investment but we see it as a realistic project for Extreme. We don’t seek out music with strict financial criteria. We make our judgement based on the music. However, if an artist is seeking an advance that would financially cripple our operations then we do say no. After 10 years we have learnt that there will always be some more great music to discover.

Weidenbaum: What have your experiences been with major labels? Have they come a-courting?

Richards: We have done some releases through major labels, although not in the U.S.A., and it is a worthwhile experience. Stores will stock, and sell, the title and we can gain press in mainstream media. However, the success of a release through a major does not necessarily translate to sales of other titles as it is a totally different network. The downside is lack of involvement in the release and little understanding of success or otherwise until after the event.

Weidenbaum: Is there a supportive independent label community, either in Australia or across the globe?

Richards: There is a network of independent labels across the world and this ensures that many of the specialty stores are kept informed of very specialized and esoteric releases. There has to be this network to ensure that unique music is not lost to the world. The Internet is also helping this network to maintain its presence.

Weidenbaum: To which three releases would you direct newcomers to Extreme? Richards: I would suggest XCD-038, Soma’s The Inner Cinema, as it is accessible and enjoyable music that also provides a challenging cinematic listening experience. XCD-031, Pablo’s Eye’s You Love Chinese Food, is a very special album that is the true voice of this group and intriguing for its diversity of form. I would also suggest XCD-008, Merzbow’s Music for Bondage Performance, as it showcases the greatness of Merzbow’s noise music and the cultural differences that still exist between Japan and western civilization.

Having said that, I think it is impossible to define Extreme with three releases as each release is unique. The real test of what we do will be what future generations think about the music released on Extreme.

Weidenbaum: What is due out next from Extreme, say through the end of ’98?

Richards: We have just release new albums from Skuli Sverrisson and Social Interiors and a new EP from Soma. We will release new albums from Fetisch Park and Ed Pias in fall, along with a 10-year anniversary compilation album. The Merzbox by Merzbow is also scheduled for release in the fall.

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  • 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

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