Unwucht is a German label that has been unearthing unreleased obscurities from the past that make that certain type of person twitch and writh. From jams by 90s Aussie lurches Three Toed Sloth to New Orleans noiseniks Impractial Cockpit to their absolutely stunning and sprawling compilation of 80s New Zealand underground sounds, Krypton Teni , they have proven themselves to be the label anyone with half a brain would gladly sign his or her paycheck over to post haste. I tracked down the elusive one who runs the imprint and simply goes by the name Peter.
VICE: What were the motivations behind starting the label? Was there a specific band and/or record you had in mind that you wanted to release?
Peter: I ran two small labels in the early to mid 90s, although nothing relevant from today’s point of view. It was a time when the whole independent music business was drifting towards a low point, with distros going bankrupt and owing lots of money to small labels, which in turn collapsed. The decaying business structures had been one reason for stopping it, along with other, more personal ones.
A decade later those new labels like S-S appeared on the scene and I was fascinated that one could run a small DIY label again without ending up in total financial disaster. The seed was planted, although the idea had to take shape. One day that Range Of Greatdividing CDR appeared in my mailbox and things changed. Tom Lax [Siltbreeze records proprietor] had mentioned the Greatdividing label in his blog and I instantly placed an order. I was their first overseas customer, and so Andrew sent me that brand new CDR of archival stuff he had put together. I was thrilled by the variety of music, and at the same time, the strength in style. I thought it was a shame it was only available on an obscure CDR, so I proposed a vinyl pressing of 300. Andrew loved the idea, and Unwucht was born.
Are you the only person who works on the label?
Basically I’m the only person, but, especially with design, I like to collaborate with the artists. I’m not a designer, but I know enough about the technical stuff and I think I’m pretty good in structuring things, like putting original material in a well working correlation. As far as mastering is concerned, I‘m working with Duophonic studios here in Augsburg. It's run by two great guys who love the kind of music I’m releasing. They’re not involved in the label, but without Moritz’s skills records like Krypton Ten wouldn’t have become what they are.
Is Unwucht strictly a re-issue/archival label?
Not strictly, but the tendency is obvious. There are many great labels around that concentrate on current stuff, and there are bands who release their records on many of them. I think there’s no real need for another label like that, but there’s definitely a lot of archival music around that no one would care about releasing.
I don’t stick to a certain period or style. The early 80s were a period of experimentation in public. Cassettes were a cheap medium for communication, ideas were recorded and distributed to a small circle, the feedback was heard, and the next week another cassette was produced. This led to a lot of development, and basically the best results were pressed on vinyl, where they belong. I don’t see any sense in releasing all those experimental tapes as 5 LP boxes with gold imprint and a club membership card. They stand in people’s record collections next to the one or two essential LPs a band may have produced and, in most cases, they’re totally redundant. This kind of approach warps history.
I don’t release any lost masterpieces because they’re just another typical manifestation of a well-established style. It’s the quality and originality that counts. An Unwucht release can be based on a lost cassette from 1981, a CDR from 2011, or it can be a compilation that covers a period of time not defined by a style.
What's your reasoning for getting involved with the projects you work on? For instance, were you a longtime fan of the things released on the Onset/Offset label? How did you find out about the Three Toed Sloth or Impractical Cockpit tapes?
While working on A Range Of Greatdividing, Andrew sent me a CDR of an old Three Toed Sloth studio session. Some of the tracks were just great, although the quality wasn’t satisfying. It was a rough mix and you almost couldn’t hear the voice on some tracks. Andrew told me the unmixed tapes still existed and so we decided he would remix them for release.
As for Impractical Cockpit, I’ve been a fan for some years. I think they’re one of the most interesting, yet vastly undiscovered, bands around. Their discography listed one album that was cassette-only, so I asked Dan Beckman if he could copy it for me. It turned out to be one of their strongest recordings from that early period and it was clear Pretty Totally had to become the second Unwucht LP.
All the records you've released thus far have had beautiful packaging. How much time is put into pondering what a record on the label should look like?
Minimalism is the hardest discipline, so the answer is quite some time, actually. The Three Toed sleeve was a collaboration between Andrew and myself, based on an original idea of his. We e-mailed drafts back and forth over several weeks, and there was a lot of experimentation with type fonts, paper quality, and reproduction techniques. In the end I used a stubborn old analog copier who would implant a bit of his own will into the artwork.
The Krypton Ten sleeve is based on photos I collected from the represented artists. I spent a few months getting really good ones. The design was secondary here, although there’s a funny story about the type font I used for the title. My son was supposed to do his homework while I was trying to finish the Krypton sleeve at the computer. I wasn’t very successful in finding a suitable font, but after an hour he walked into the room with an alphabet he had drawn. It looked exactly like what I had in mind, so we scanned it and there it is.
What's your personal history with music? What were some of the first pieces you heard that interested you, and how do you think it led you to releasing the records you put out today?
Apart from the old reel-to-reel tapes my father played, I used to listen to the radio a lot in the 70s. I think the first music that interested me more than usual was by the Electric Light Orchestra. I was a bit too young for punk, but there were some crucial experiences when I first heard electronic bands like Human League and Soft Cell, and shortly later Throbbing Gristle‘s Heathen Earth which was so different from anything else I had heard before.
An interesting observation is that from the beginning I always tried to dig deeper and listen to the less accessible recordings by my favorite bands. Like at school we used to swap Pink Floyd LPs like Wish You Were Here, Animals, Dark Side of the Moon, Ummagumma… but no one had The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. I convinced my mother the LP would be a nice birthday present, and so I ended up having a collection of ten tapes, and the most uncommon one as a vinyl album. It’s still a bit like this. If there are eight Impractical Cockpit albums with one of them being a totally obscure cassette, that’s the one for Unwucht to release on LP.
What are some upcoming projects for the label?
I’m currently preparing re-releases of Bill Direen’s first four EPs—each as a separate 12“ single. Most of them were editions of 100 back in 1981 and '82, and they’re impossible to find nowadays. We’ve already remastered most of the music using many different techniques. Bill turned up some unheard mixes, and even unreleased tracks, so there will be some surprises. The sleeves will be screen-printed reproductions of the original design, but each record will include additional material to document the cultural background of the time. Like Six Impossible Things were in close relation to a small anarchist/situationist community in Wellington. Again, I’m collecting photos and other stuff and Bill is very active in digging up all that long lost material.
Also out soon is another LP by Impractical Cockpit called Dance Traces. It covers almost the full decade of their existence and tracks down roots of dance-oriented music in their work. The "Dance" in the title refers to everything from T.G./ SPK-style marching music over to their most recent driftings into dubstep-influenced soundscapes. It’s very different from Pretty Totally and very unlike most other music around. I fell in love with these tapes upon first listen and will release it despite the total absence of any commercial potential.
Why do you do Unwucht? Is it a money-losing project?
It has been mostly a money-losing project, but now I manage to at least almost break even. The problem is the main market is in the United States, but due to the conversion rate most distros won’t pay more than 5 Euro for an LP. The production cost is 6 to 7 Euro, and I need to sell a certain number of copies via direct mail order to break even. The mail order copies of Krypton Ten included an additional 7“ single for the sole purpose of encouraging people to order directly from Unwucht. The label can’t exist without these direct sales. This is why there will be a fifth Bill Direen EP exclusively for mail order customers that will include more otherwise unavailable archival material.
The presentation is definitely one of the aspects that interests me most. I enjoy developing a concept that catches the original spirit without being anachronistic, or, approaching from the opposite direction, putting something in a contemporary context without affecting its embodiment in history.
It’s a narrow path but it fascinates me, especially as the parameters are always different and it’s a new challenge with each release.
Previously - Black Humor