VAN RICHTER RECORDS
Interview with Paul Abramson
Van Richter Records was founded by longtime industrial music fans in 1993. How well established was the industrial music scene/subculture in San Diego, California then?
The scene in California as a whole was pretty small but there was a buzz and loyal scene across the USA which fueled our interest in starting a label. Also there were many German bands out of a huge scene there that were not getting representation across the pond which gave us a point of entry.
Van Richter artists encompass a wide range of the industrial spectrum, including the aggro, electro, darkwave, noise and ambient subgenres to name a handful. Do you make a conscious effort to appeal to fans of each subgenre?
Even though we only have seven bands on the label we do have the objective to appeal to fans of the subgenres, but more importantly to have leading bands in these genres or the potential to be. Our latest addition was Underwater Pilots who we believe has the potential to rival or surpass the leading bands in Synth and Future pop. It is nice to have a diversified roster but more importantly they are the best talent we can support in the industrial genre of music.
For what reasons was Van Richter dedicated to industrial music as opposed to black or death metal, two genres that were the focus of many independent labels in 1993?
Our back ground and more importantly our passion was in industrial music. Back in 1993 it was the height of the grunge movement which certainly was not our cup of tea. As you can read from our online mission statement we were fans of the genre first and wanted to be part of something we believed in not just push crap for some major label.
Why do you believe grunge lasted for such a brief period aboveground while industrial managed to keep an underground listenership for much longer?
Grunge received immediate commercial main stream success whereas industrial has only had one real breakthrough artist, Nine Inch Nails. There is also a good argument that industrial never had a chance of mainstream success because other than NIN all the bands used treated vocals. Mainstream fads come and go. Also most underground purists believe grunge destroyed all the progress that punk and new wave had achieved up to that point in time. Industrial will always be underground and have a small following because of these historical facts.
Was Van Richter among the first industrial labels from San Diego? How many industrial labels existed in the States at this time?
There were two others in San Diego when we started. One owned by Cargo that was shuttered in 1999 and the other that was more experimental that was owned by a plumber who is no longer active as far as we know. There were three other labels in L.A. as well as about the same up in the San Francisco area. There certainly were substantially more dedicated labels to the genre when we started then the few today. Many seminal labels folded or were sold off including Zoth Ommog, KK, Machinery, WaxTrax and TVT among others.
Van Richter Records has always placed quality over quantity when it comes to its releases, besides the support of music over money. How has this mode of thought helped you remain active for almost two decades?
At first it kind of worked against us from the point of a regular revenue stream as our competitors saturated the market with numerous substandard artists. Also, being an artist development label is a tough road as we are committed to the artist over the long term. However in recent years our business model has been successful as we have built a brand name that fans trust. Having a quality catalog over the long haul has paid off in the long run.
Name the staff of Van Richter, and indicate their respective responsibilities to the label?
Paul Abramson, Label Manager. Daniel S. Alderman, Esq., Counsel. Gabriella Turek, Webmaster. Alex Tsang, New Media. Sales Representatives: Shaun Hamilton, Leigh Ackerman, Joseph R. Romero. Street Team Reps: Callum McGowan, Christian Dragos, Sarah Berg, Rodger Turley, William Wilson.
Which of the staff founded Van Richter? How did you undertake hiring representatives and street team members?
Paul Abramson founded Van Richter in November 1993. We get applications through our employment page of vanrichter.net and we interview everyone that applies. We look for people that understand the job is long hard hours of work and not a glamor job of partying and hanging out with bands. Those who are delusional wash out pretty fast or do not make it through the vetting process. Most important we look for people that have a passion for the music and willing to do whatever it takes in order to make the label and bands successful.
As early as 1993, were there local publications dedicated to industrial that helped to spread word about Van Richter, or did the label get around mostly through word of mouth?
Back in the day there were many fanzines dedicated to the genre that helped spread the word including Industrial Nation, Permission, B-side, Interface, New Industrial Sounds, Arts Industria among others. Even AP believe it or not used to cover the genre. The net was not very widespread so it was all about media support and word of mouth.
How did Van RichterÕs selectiveness related to signing artists develop since the label was founded?
Our business model was to create a brand of a quality roster with long term artist development. We tried to learn from the mistakes of our mentor label Wax Trax which expanded too much and became so debt laden that they had to file bankruptcy then bailed out and TVT who eventually shuttered as well. We have used very strict A&R standards when considering signings, which has not changed in eighteen years because our personnel has remained the same. Unfortunately due to the decline of the music industry there is a lot less talent even to consider these days, so the development per se was keeping a staff in place that has a passion for the industrial genre first and foremost.
How many substandard artists were saturating the media through your competitors in the beginning? What were the first steps you took to keep Van Richter afloat, and how was the label established as one fans could trust?
There were too many artists to mention. One competitor label was literally releasing one record a day. Record stores complained because shelf space was limited. One label general manager advised us to just release every demo we received in the office to increase cash flow. Thankfully we never followed that advice as the same supposed consultant sunk Fifth Column Records, caused Machinery to pull out of the states and turned Cleopatra Records into a shell of its former self. The first steps we took to stay alive was to cut operating costs and run lean and mean instead of throwing crap against the wall and see what sticks unlike many competitors. We followed the original Wax Trax model when they focused on a small artist development roster. Back in the day when you bought a WT release you expected the best in industrial music. Our mission statement is to follow that ideal without sacrificing integrity.
How did Wax Trax become Van RichterÕs mentor label, and how did their expansion result in becoming debt laden to the extent of folding?
Working as a sales representative and doing some A&R work for them gave us experience on the indie side of running a label as opposed to prior experience at a major. Word of mouth and creating a cool underground culture was what it was all about as well as innovation of music most people have never heard with sampling, machine noises and treated vocals. Wax Trax made some bad business decisions including doing blanket licensing deals with Play It Again Sam which financially was a money loser even though they had some great bands like The Young Gods, Click Click and Borghesia. Also at the end they expanded into other genres which caused the label to erode their fan base. Eventually not managing the increasing costs caused Wax Trax to shutter.
How long was Wax Trax active before meeting Van Richter? Were there any bands signed to them worth mentioning?
By the time Van Richter was founded Wax Trax was owned and operated by TVT Records. We were still friendly with their staff and have had a working relationship with their retail indie record store of the same name, Back in the day Wax Trax had the leading bands in the genre including Ministry, Front 242, KMFDM, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult and Coil among others.
When Wax Trax handled Ministry, KMFDM, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult and the other industrial bands you cited, how established were they aboveground? Are these bands able to remain established since Wax Trax folded?
Ministry had success on several major labels and even went gold with Psalm 69 which was their metal cross over break through record. Ministry was always a well established band before and after Wax Trax. Wax Trax was also a good outlet for Al's other side project bands such as Revolting Cocks, 1000 Homo DJ's, Pailhead, PTP, Acid Horse. KMFDM was originally discovered as a license from Cash Beat Records Germany, the same label that first had Sielwolf. KMFDM after Wax Trax went on to have their best sales when Wax Trax was taken over by TVT thereafter the lead singer left the group and even though the name carries on it was never the same band again.. TKK never had more success then their glory days on Wax Trax.
One of the first major industrial bands to crossover with underground metal and other genres was Godflesh. How much do you think they spearheaded the industrial movement with full lengths like Streetcleaner and Pure?
Justin Broderick is a pioneer in the metal industrial noise genre. Those releases you mention are seminal timeless classics. Ironically there was much more support of Godflesh with metal than industrial fans. I would not consider them a major band but more of a cult band of a breed of industrial noise metal bands at the time from England that included one time label mates Pitchshifter. Many critics have compared Sielwolf's Metastasen release to Streetcleaner.
As an independent label that remained established for close to two decades, what do you believe caused the current decline of the music industry? What are some of the A&R standards you have adhered to since the beginning?
Oversaturation of poor releases in the market place by greedy labels, peer to peer and other pirate illegal stealing of music, stores and media that illegally sell label promos, parallel importing and the general publicÕs wrong perception that music should be free. The 10% of the public that buys music perceives it as a diminution of value. Despite these challenges we try to keep a tight roster of the highest quality artists whose music has a timeless quality within the genre.
Where do you stand on the issue that illegal downloading causes artists to lose money?
This consumer behavior started with the first illegal peer to peer services over a decade ago which has conditioned multi generations that music should be public domain (which is free). The 10% that buy music whether it is physical goods or digital will not allow most music as a business to survive. Illegal downloading causes not only artists to loose money but creates a domino chain of support to loose money including the labels, stores, pressing plants, marketing and media companies etc....
When you began discovering bands from the German industrial scene, how well established did you find it to be compared to the industrial scene in the U.S.? Do you know of an active club scene and independent magazine network there?
The German scene at that time was probably the most prolific in the world. The subculture was and is more developed than the states. In Europe radio and TV is not as important as the U.S.A. Bands are developed more in the clubs and festivals circuit. Dorian Gray in Frankfurt was legendary for breaking new bands as well as Zwishebfall in Bochum. There were a few magazines like Orkus that helped drive the scene. Also the DAC was an important dedicated DJ chart for mostly Gothic and Industrial artists
Who are the first artists to be signed by Van Richter? How did you hear of and establish contact with them?
Testify was the first band we signed and the most successful to date. We discovered them when they showcased at the Pop Komm festival in Germany. Working for Wax Trax helped us in scouting and making contacts with prospective bands. Also back in the day before the internet there were many overseas labels looking for U.S. licensing partners, so there were not only more opportunities but a greater talent pool available for signing.
What information can you offer about the Pop Komm festivals in Germany? Is this a yearly event? Was Van Richter present at the festival by invite or did you attend it as concertgoers?
Pop Komm is the largest music festival/conference in the world, now being held every summer in Berlin. They showcase over 500 bands of various genres. When we were there it was as attendees and by chance we checked out Testify at the advice of a friend who used to work for Rough Trade Germany.
How many times have you attended the Pop Komm festival altogether? Have you been introduced to bands there you would consider helping through Van Richter Records?
We attended the Pop Komm the summer before launching the label. Once we ramped the label up and the word was out we had no shortage of bands looking to get signed. We have not received too many good prospects recently which again is the reflection of the state of the industry as talent tends to dry up when the prospects of their success is diminish. Most of what we receive as demos these days in not even in our genre but we have set up a digital distribution division to handle the artists we pass on. This at least gives them the opportunity to get their music out on Itunes through our vendor account and a additional source of revenue without adversely affecting the Van Richter moniker.
How did your recording contract with Testify come about? How much of their material has Van Richter released and how has the general press response been to them?
We first licensed Testify from another German label. When their agreement was over we signed them directly to a worldwide agreement. It was the good working relationship with the band during the early days that help establish a long term relationship. At that time we gave Testify more support than their first label. We also set the guys up with Adam Grossman the legendary founder of Skrew and guitar player for Ministry to produce their sophomore release Mmmyaoooo which is probably the most seminal Aggro Industrial release in the history of the genre. The press was more receptive with the metal writers than the pure industrial media. All of Testify's album reviews and interviews are archived at vanrichter.net/testify. We have released all six of their albums to date.
Fans of each band Van Richter handles can find extensive information on your official site. Each band has a page with bios, interview links, full discographies, press reviews and lyrics. How much research went into compiling these pages?
These pages were originally compiled with the help of the bands such as the bios, lyrics and pictures. As interviews and reviews came in as a result of our efforts they were added over time. Every band page has a complete archive of each interview and review done as a member of the Van Richter roster. Album information was added upon release. Very little information was culled from outside sources. Deep content for each artist has been a priority as we have created virtual press kits for each band.
An internet radio outlet is offered on Van RichterÕs site. Does it help get word around about your bands, particularly in Germany and other countries where there are audiences for industrial music?
Internet radio helped get the word out more in the U.S.A. We have a station called Van Richter Radio dedicated exclusively to our bands that plays on live 365 and Itunes which also helps drive digital sales. Even though per percentage of the population industrial is smaller than Europe when you crunch the numbers the U.S. is still by far the largest market for music of all genres. Van Richter Radio is a valuable outlet foe doth awareness and sales.
Your band The Fair Sex, released a two-CD retrospective The Dark Ages following a long absence. Describe the response The Dark Ages has gotten from fans who have their previous recordings?
The Fair Sex fan interest peaked around the Machine Bites and Labyrinth albums. The Dark Ages was released at the request of the lead singer Myk Jung and includes an unreleased cover version of Children of the Revolution as well as best of out of print material from the band's earlier days on Last Chance Records. Unfortunately other than the T Rex cover the rest of the material though remastered was not their strongest and really only appealed to the collectors of the bands previous releases. Ironically The Dark Ages had the best art work of any The Fair Sex album.
Sielwolf, who as you said has drawn press comparisons to Godflesh as well as Einsturzende Neubauten, have a new full length Nachtstom which Van Richter is handling. Are there any other recent releases from this band you want to reveal to the readers?
We have released several other Sielwolf records since Nachtstrom including their first same title release and IX and X both produced by Mick Harris of Scorn. The later two albums are very much more experimental ambient noise and less on the Godflesh metal side. The band has a very loyal cult following even today. Their song VerstŠrker Zerstšrt was featured music on a Dutch Amstel beer commercial which is also posted on their web page.
As Van RichterÕs listenership continues to expand, do you hope to organize your own industrial festivals and sign additional bands to your roster? Name a handful of the bands you would be most interested in signing in the near future.
A festival would be nice but a huge financial risk which because of depleted sales we are unwilling to undertake. However if a concert promoter wanted to do it we would be more than willing to help organize a Van Richter festival. We are always looking to add new talent to the roster unfortunately as stated before the pool of artists out there has really dried up due to the collapse of industry wide music sales. However we will be here until the end and welcome as before all unsolicited demo packages as stated on our website submission page.
PHOTOS: Testify, Sielwolf
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