Kaotoxin Records is an up-and-coming French label specialising in extreme metal, and has already put out releases by bands like Brutal Truth, Gronibard, Lycanthrophy, Magrudergrind and many more. M3 contacted label manager Nico for an insight into independent distribution, and to discuss the definition of ‘art’ in the digital age, the pros and cons of copyright and the label’s history…
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Nico – Well, I’m Nico, Kaotoxin records label manager. Right now, it’s a very DIY adventure which I doubt I’ll ever earn money from, so, what I do is basically spending 18 / 20h a day in front of the computer, promoting the bands, doing the paper work, planning and arranging the technical aspects of the releases and various other things like these ones and, depending on the orders the label receives, some hours doing parcels and going to the post office to ship them.
What inspired you to start the label? What is your own musical background?
I’m 38 now, you see? So, it all started a long time ago now. In fact, when I was something like 15 (that was in the eighties!) some friend had me listening to some AC/DC and Metallica tapes, I can still remember them: “If You Want Blood…” and “Garage Days…” and then, through some other friend, I discovered Slayer (“Hell Awaits”), Napalm Death (“Scum”) and Death (“Spiritual Healing”). There was that little shop in Lille selling tons of underground stuff (the shop was actually named “Underground Records”, by the way) and I’ve been discovering the whole rest of the underground extreme Metal scene through them, spending days there and getting to know each and every style, each and every band, knowing about and going to all the gigs and getting to know the local scene (Disgust, Loudblast, Supuration…). The next year, I’ve started “working” as an assistant for the guy that was doing the sound for gigs in the local pub where we’ve had such (now) legends as Anathema, Brutal Truth, Fear Factory, Gorefest, Gorguts, Marduk, My Dying Bride and so many more I can’t remember them all.
The venue closed its doors such did the shop. One of the guys working at the shop opened a new venue (le Kaméléon, now known as la Chimère) and I was at each and every gig. In the meantime, I was like 17 I guess, I opened what I, at the time, thought was “a label”, named “Necrosis Records” (I eventually didn’t know about the Earache sublabel by the same name) which was more or less a distro, only buying wholesale stuff from Osmose productions and Nuclear Blast records and selling the stock around.
After a while, due to the huge amount of high-school work I had closed the distro and started singing (well, growling, actually) or playing the guitar in local bands (with whom I’ve only recorded a bunch of demos). At some Cannibal Corpse gig, I got to know Nico of what would later become Bones Brigade records. It was just about buying him a Demise (US) tape and then ordering him a Benediction t-shirt at the time, but it would change my life a bunch of years later!
In the mid-nineties, I’ve opened a “better” label which was still distributing shitloads of underground stuff and released two MCDs, one by The Netherland’s Goden and the other by France’s Kraal. It was named Agony records. Two years or so after the label’s inception, due to some problems in paper work, I had to close it, sadly. We were doing quite well for a very very very underground label at the time (remember, Season Of Mist or Holy records weren’t even open at that time!), but the French state decided it was to be no more. At that time, I got to know the Gronibard guys which were all teens at the front row of each and every of my band’s gigs…
I’ve quitted the “scene” for a bunch of years when my last band disbanded. The label was closed, no more bands and a day job… quite a depressing time… Then, in the mid-00’s, I’ve offered Nico of Bones Brigade to become his webmaster and since then, we’ve been working together. When he offered me to work together on some releases in 2010, I knew it was the opportunity I was unconsciously waiting for for a decade… So, in 2011, we released the latest Total Fucking Destruction album (“Hater”), the latest Magrudergrind 10” EP (“Crusher”), the debut full-length from Lycanthrophy (“s/t”) and then a 12” LP from Brutal Truth (“Evolution In One Take”). Of course, these were Bones Brigade records releases, but I had a share of stock which I started distributing, having the new “Kaotoxin” logo on the back covers thus the label was born.
I was, with some friends, organizing a festival and gigs in Lille since 2010 and I got to reconnect with the local underground scene as well as the international one. We’ve been having something like 90 bands playing there in two years!
So, late 2011, my good ol’ buddies of Gronibard offered me, with Nico / Bones Brigade records’ obvious agreement and official licensing rights, to re-release their 2002 recordings released on various stuff on a single “collection” 12”, the “Satanic Tuning Club Turbo!” LP. It has been released on January 2012 (TOX005) and the label was really born as a separate entity ot its own.
Since then, I’ve been signing Darkall Slaves (Brutal Death Metal from France), Unsu (Modern Grindcore from France), Insain (Fast Death Metal from France), Infected Society (old-school Grindcore from France), Dehuman (old-school Death Metal from Belgium), Eye Of Solitude (dark funeral / evil Doom / Death from UK) and VxPxOxAxAxWxAxMxCx (stupid Goregrind from Austria). The Insain (“Spiritual Rebirth” – TOX008) and Dehuman (“Black Throne of all Creation” – TOX010) debut albums are out, such as the Unsu debut MCD for Kaotoxin (“The Filthy” – TOX007, they’ve been having a split 7” EP with France’s Atara out on Douchebag / Rewolucja recs from France before that).
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
To be honest, I can’t really tell… I love the vinyl for it’s a fragile and large medium that you have to take care of, it’s a collector’s fetish stuff, you see? But, at the contrary of what most people would tell you, I prefer the “surgical coldness” of the CD sound for its high-quality.
I’m a huge collector of 90’s Death Metal very very underground DIY releases, mostly demos, on MP3’s but, as far as files go, I prefer FLAC ones, or other lossless formats, for MP3 is a very very bad compression format in terms of quality.
I don’t have a tape player anymore, but it’s like vinyl, you see? Collector item that deteriorates very fast… A fetish, again.
Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
Yes and no. If you think of an album as a “piece of art”, let’s be honest, are there that many albums falling under this categorization?
An album has always been limited to and by technical means. I mean, when you don’t have the money to record and manufacture a 3hrs long release, you’re gonna, if you’re lucky, split it in three parts and release each part one after the other, sometimes with a decade in between each. That’s exactly what France’s Supuration have been forced to do with their “Cubic Trilogy” for example.
If you’re very lucky and successful, then you can release a triple CD, LP, whatever but, before the DVD and Blu-Ray came, there was no physical support for a three hours long release on a single support. Now it’s over a decade the DVD is available but, as far as I know, at least in the “extreme Metal scene”, nobody ever released a DVD-only, three hours long album, you see? An “album” is a business concept inherited from 70 years of music industry, nothing more, nothing less. It has nothing to do with “an artistic point of view”.
Remember when Slayer’s “Reign in blood” was released? Everyone was complaining about its very short length to finally agree that it was (and still is!) so brutal that 28+ minutes were enough. Both the artists and the audience are so much used to it that when a band releases a 16mns “full length”, the public complains it’s too short and not many artists would like not to have a “traditional full-length” out. See what I mean?
And, you know, I don’t believe the “Internet killed the concept of the album”. Since the very beginning of the music industry, most labels and artists have been focusing on “hits”, filling their albums with one or two great songs and then some unnecessary fillers. By chance, we haven’t been falling that much into this trap in the extreme Metal scene even though it was really a current habit in the 90’s to have really extreme bands, take Napalm Death, i.e., releasing “singles” out of their current releases (think the “Suffer The Children”, “The World Keeps Turning”, “Hung”, “Greed Killing”, etc. EPs).
By the way, check Deathspell Omega’s “Veritas Diaboli Manet in Aeternum: Chaining the Katechon”. It’s 22 minutes long, it’s only one track but, artistically-wise, it’s far more dense, solid and intense, than most of the so-called “albums” that are, for the most part, a “collection of tracks recorded during the same session”. Releasing a track each month or twelve a year makes no difference, in my opinion, if the artist is all about “songs” the “usual way”: that’s “just” the “way the band is sounding at a given time”.
Much has been made of the supposed death of the record store in recent years. Do you believe the digital age has killed the record store, and if so, do you think that this is a necessary part of progression, or a tragic loss?
Again, my answer would be a kind of “yes and no”.
I really think “record stores”, I mean the large, nation-wide, chains of record-stores killed themselves, that doesn’t really have to do with the so-called “digital age” if you’re speaking of “digital files”.
I mean with the advent of the Internet, it became more and more easy to get the stuff you’re searching for, even on physical supports, directly from the label at half the price it’s sold in retail shops that their expensive costs and mall-like practices kills them. I don’t know the price the Kaotoxin releases are sold in (large) retail stores, but I’m pretty sure it’s at least four times the wholesale price I’m selling them to my distributor. What’s the point? Anybody can order them directly from the Kaotoxin web store or my retail distributors’ ones for half the price, shipping costs included.
Sure, (large) retail stores are still selling a truckload of stuff (they sell my stuff better than the label’s web store does), but I’m pretty sure they’ll all die in a few years, when my generation would be used to the Internet, which is not yet the case, at least in France, to be honest: my grandma used to give her credit card number, over the phone, to absolutely unknown employees of some mailorder companies but wouldn’t do the same to a secure encrypted server over the Web. This kind of “fear” will last, for sure, some people of my generation are acting the same way, but it won’t for long. I think that, in ten years, these shops will all be gone or, at least, will stop selling physical supports when it comes to music.
Now, I think that the Internet is a great opportunity for smaller, specialized, retail shops. I mean, there are zillions of releases out each and every day and everything’s available over the Web (I mean, on physical support) and a bunch of people start to notice most of the “large” medias are just about telling bullshit, being paid to have interviews and good reviews and stuff like that (not all of them, thankfully!)… It’s a great opportunity for passionate people to open small stores and “sell” the “service” of being of good advice, helping people discovering new stuff, having physical meetings with the artists when they are in town, partnering with the local promoters for before or after-parties when there are gigs, having exclusive little gigs in, and many many many other events around the music and the releases. Add to this a good sense of business and the ability to deal limited editions with labels and you’ve got a winning business, for sure.
I’m considering opening a physical shop for some years now. But, you know, money’s the problem, as always…
Similarly, do you feel that the abundance of recorded music that is easily available on the internet has led people to place more importance on the live experience as the ‘authentic’ way to hear music?
To be honest, I used to think that way but, you see, having put together something like a hundred gigs in the past two years, I’ve changed my mind: people are still sheeps and they’d blindly follow, for the most part, what is “mainstream”, even in this so-called “digital age”. People are lazy and don’t want to “discover” things, even in the underground extreme Metal, for the most part, at least.
Many of them will still rely on the “major press” “opinions” and all its paid-advert-lies-ing, going to large open air festivals hundred of kilometres away from their place, paying a shitload of money to “discover” “new bands” that are twenty years old and played twenty times at the corner of their streets for a price I couldn’t even buy cigarettes with. That’s sad, but that’s the way it is.
I’ve had some “faith” in people, thinking that the great liberty and access to all the information they wanted to have, without the filter of the “press”, discovering and judging of the artistic qualities just by themselves, would radically change the way they would “discover” music. But the facts proved me wrong: nothing changed and most of the “Universal-and-their-likes” labels are doing all they can for this situation to continue as long as it could because they, really, don’t want people to discover about “new music” which they haven’t released themselves.
Do you think the digital age has rendered traditional concepts of copyright obsolete, or do you think they are still relevant?
Hard one. I mean “concepts” are “concepts”, if you take the philosophical definition of what a concept is. So, sure, concepts are always relevant but, sure also the “copyright” jurisprudences and ways we’re applying them are varying a lot from a country to another so it’s quite hard to answer, but, again, I’d answer “yes and no”.
I mean, whatever happens to its creation, that’s all normal that the artist owns it and all of the creator’s rights. But, it also relies on how you define art, doesn’t it? I mean, the band writes a song and that’s its art, pretty simple. But, sure enough, a “disc” is not art, such as a lithography is not art, the original painting is. A picture printed on paper is not art also. The picture itself, on the computer, on the film, on the memory card is art. See what I mean?
So, sure, as a label, I want the producer’s copyright for I’m putting a lot of time, effort and money into having the physical releases out, promoting them and such. But I don’t want these rights to use them against people. I want them to protect me, such as for the artist’s ownership, against any third party that would to take our common, the artist and me, creative work to make money out of all our hard work without doing or paying us back shit, see? We’re no slaves working for free for someone else to get paid out of our work!
Now, you see, doing a bootleg CD and selling it is stealing. Ripping a CD and sharing files (and I say “files”, even lossless) for free is a very different thing, it’s promotion, actually.
Do you think taking a picture of Vinci’s “Joconde” at the Louvre museum and printing it ten times to your friends, which will print it ten times for their friends also is stealing the actual painting? Sure it’s not and it has never been. It has nothing to do with the “digital age”. Only the scale of sharing is different but, who cares? If you print 2 billion copies of the picture, you’ll may be get more people interested in seeing it live or buying the official lithographies.
I’ve been proven wrong, for the “live” part here, in Lille. But if you have the beautiful product, the nicest lithography you can with the best quality you can afford, then, sure, there’ll always be people to buy it.
Now, artist ownership rights are made to prevent the lithographer to use their stuff freely. Producer’s rights are made to prevent another lithographer from releasing unlicensed lithographies and not giving the artist what he owns / wants from his licensee. Same goes with music, in my opinion.
In the eighties, we had the tape trading, it was the very same stuff: shitty copies spreading all around to promote everyone. Nothing changed. See, even with Divx and full-quality rips, cinemas did their best year to date in France, so, I’ve got no problem with that.
The concepts are still relevant. The way the “industry” is using “jurisprudence” is obsolete, but, anyway, it has always been.
What do you think are the main challenges that face up-and-coming record labels today?
I don’t know if Kaotoxin is an “up-and-coming” label, but it’s a young one for sure and the main challenge I’m facing, right now, is to have the bands I’m signing to understand that “selling albums” is not the point anymore. We’re living in exciting times and the “albums” are just merchandise, nothing more or less than a (very expensive to do!) t-shirt or something of that kind (I mean the physical release). Doing physical releases is an obvious necessity, you have to have stuff to sell to pay back the costs, but a band could live with only t-shirts as “physical releases” as long as the sound and concepts are spreading.
In these times of globalization, even a rather unknown band can spend each and every day on the road with a good label, a good manager and a good booker. Sure, having some CDs on the merch table is always good, but that’s not the point and that actually is the challenge, for a label.
As a label, I’m trying to mutualise means between my artists. I’m trying to be the third party that will help them achieving their goals, among which having CDs out, sure, but not only that. It has always been the point, anyway: having your bands touring, etc., but it just became more and more important. Let’s hope they’ll understand that answering interviews or playing gigs is far more important than having a CD out if they have a good album and are backed up by a great team.
So, being “a label” now really means, in my opinion, being a manager, having an artistic vision of a coherent and solid catalog so, even when you sign a new band nobody ever heard about, everyone knows what to expect in terms of quality, it’s all about having a shit load of contacts, it’s all about millions of things besides simply having a CD out, making a bank transfer to some magazine to have a full page ad, an intie and a decent review. It’s doing whatever you can to help the band and build a brand.
What do you personally believe the future of music distribution will look like?
I don’t really have a vision, in fact (in fact, I’m legally visually impaired, true, with the guide dog, the white stick and so on, so, having a vision is not my thing, ah!). But, right now, for it can change in a few weeks – things are evolving quick, nowadays, I think that “music distribution” won’t change that much. I mean, for economic matters, one still will need distribution partners such I have with Season Of Mist in France, for example, to gather a lot of different labels’ physical stuff and offering them to the public and retail stores (I mean the one that’ll survive). It helps costs being kept low for everyone. Sure, large retails chains are suffering and it will get worse for them, but that’s no problem with me. I mean, I don’t care if you’re ordering on my distributor’s Web store or if you go to a shop: I’m having the very same amount of money back.
As sure as I need (and have) a “distribution partner” that is taking care of having the digital sales up on each and every platform (iTunes, Amazon, eMusic and so on), I need physical distribution partners and I don’t see that changing much in the long term.
Maybe amounts of individual physical titles sales will decrease, quite sure in fact, but who cares? Man has always needed to express stuff he can’t with words through other medias so, sure, there’ll always be music around and the creative mind will always create. And, when you feel the urge to “say” something through other medias than simply words, you’ll always feel the urge to have it “heard” so there’ll always have people like me around to help the “artistic sayings” being “heard”, may it be through a CD, a t-shirt or a live performance or whatever.
Finally, what does the future hold for Kaotoxin Records?
Right now, we’ve been announcing a whole lot of releases for such a small and starting label. They’ll all be out for the first half of 2012. Some “yet to be announced”, even if less than during that said first half, will be out during the next half of the year and we will concentrate on promoting the artists’ catalog and finding distributors in each and every country.
We already have the Unsu full-length and a brand new Insain MCD planned for early 2013, though. We’ll also try to put together a kind of “label only” festival so each member of the “family” will be able to meet others, share ideas, plans, and such and… have fun!
Whatever, as long as the future brings me such kind of interesting opportunities of chatting as this surprise interview offer, it’s gonna be full of pleasure and joy! Thank you very much!