Spectrum Magazine Interview:
Published via Aversionline Internet Magazine: October, 2001
Magazine: Spectrum (ambient/ industrial/ experimental music culture) Magazine
Name(s): Richard Stevenson – editor/ interviewer/ reviewer/ designer & publisher
Year the magazine was formed: March 1998, with the first issue released September, 1998
What printing plant(s) do you use?
It is a small scale specialist printer, who offer a form of printing that does not require the creation of actual printing templates (this is particularly advantageous as plate printing would become excessively expensive with my current print run of 500 copies). Essentially they use an industrial strength lazer printer (called a docutech machine if I am not mistaken), that can print high resolution greyscale images.
What words of advice would you offer to those thinking of starting their own magazine?
Hmmm…….. expect to invest many more hours (and particularly dollars) then even the most excessive estimate that you calculate. Running a magazine is also not all about the perks of receiving promotional music either, as keeping enthusiastic and focused can become quite difficult, particularly if you start getting flooded with tons of music of average quality, or the music does not fit into the context of the styles you have chosen to cover etc. Moreover you often have so much music to wade through that you don’t get to listen to the great albums for pure enjoyment as you are always moving onto listening to newly received material, and/ or you are always thinking in the back of your mind of how to describe it when the time comes to give it a review.
It is also wise to remember that writing, producing and publishing a magazine is only half the work, as that you also need to promote and distribute the thing in order recoup your outlay costs of printing and postage(advertising revenue provides only partial assistance on this front). Likewise producing a magazine is something that you really have to be dedicated to and is also not to be tackled on a whim, particularly if you know you are a disorganised individual!
Drawbacks aside, I admit that it is particularly rewarding when you start getting positive feedback from both labels, groups and general readers saying how much they appreciate the time and effort put into creation of each issue. I imagine it is much the same as when a band release a CD that is positively received!
Lastly there is also the questions regarding the positive and negative of producing an actual printed magazine verses a web based one that I have not even touched upon!
Spectrum is one of the only magazines dedicated solely to the various genres of experimental music associated with noise, dark ambient, etc. When were you first introduced to these types of music?
In terms of the length of time I have been into experimental music it is not actually all that long (around 7 years), however once I grasp onto something, I will seek out as much information on it as possible. Thus since my initial introduction with experimental/ underground music I have collected quite a bit of background information & material (books, magazines & albums) enabling me to have a reasonable idea of its background and how this ‘historic’ context relates to the current status and direction of the scene.
As for when I was introduced to experimental music, it was in around the early 1990’s that I was heavily interested in extreme underground metal music and had established contacts with band members and individuals also in this scene. Around the same time a local metal music importer started dealing with the distribution of albums on the Cold Meat Industry label. Although there were all these fantastic projects on CMI, also being part of a scene that I knew little or nothing about, it nonetheless had quite a profound impact on me. Combining this with my waning interest in extreme metal music, it turned out to be the perfect scene that I could immerse myself in. Additionally given that I wanted to discover more projects that were not merely limited to the CMI label, it was Shane Rout of Australian black metal project Abyssic Hate who provided me with a tape with 2 classic albums on it (namely Kontakta – ‘self titled’ and Archon Satani – ‘mind of flesh and bones’), whilst also recommending the classic ‘Heresy’ album by Lustmord, and CD’s by Thomas Koner & Shinjuku Thief. Armed with such releases it was enough to set me on a path of total immersion in the field of (dark) ambient, industrial and experimental music. Other groups that I also soon picked up on were the quirky and avant-garde Norwegian project When, the fantastic German heavy electronic’s group Inade, American group Yen Pox and likewise the plethora of material coming out on CMI at the time etc. Another crucial step was when I managed to obtain copies of the now defunct magazines Audio Drudge (Issues 6 & 7) & Eskatos 2# – both being American based magazines with an almost identical focus to Spectrum. Essentially both magazines contained long form interviews and were jam packed with heaps of in-depth reviews that subsequently allowed me to empty my wallet by seeking out many of the albums that received positive reviews (I admit that I stillread these magazines as a reference tool!). Additionally the last three issues of Descent Magazine (3, 4 & 5#) were also a useful tool due to this publication (also now defunct) broadening and shifting its direction away from a purely metal basis.
I note that your question touches upon the specific focus of Spectrum, with this being and factor which often receives favourably comments. Personally I dislike magazines that try to cover too much and therefore loose their focus, or simply cover too much and as a result only contain maybe 1 or 2 articles and a bunch of reviews that I might be interested in. As much as my publication covers a wide ‘Spectrum’ of styles and sounds, I feel that the content generally blends together well. As many readers would note, this is often by virtue of the record labels covered creating a loose collective and focus for the overall ‘scene’(whatever that means!). Likewise to have it said, it is not as though what I cover in Spectrum are the only forms of music I listen to, as my overall personal musical interests span styles and scenes far removed from what I write about and choose to cover. Yet, further expanding on the question of focus, I do however feel that Spectrum’s content has broadened far wider then that written about in initial issues – which were much more focused on dark ambient/ industrial side of things. Given there is now there is a growing emphasis on neo-folk/ apocalyptic folk, technoise, power electronics and beyond, I think the “ambient/ industrial/ experimental” tag has become slightly defunct. This is to the point where I am considering dropping it altogether in favour of simply “Spectrum Magazine” with future issues, rather then trying to add to the list of descriptions contained in the sub heading!
What led to the decision to start Spectrum?
I had always had the idea of starting a publication to promote obscure music to a wider audience, which was also compounded by the fact that I am not musically minded enough to have a project of my own(and the scene can certainly do without another second rate death industrial/ power electronics/ noise project). Likewise I had been involved on a very minor level in another friends fan’zine by providing cover art and background images, borders etc, however as this was not entirely satisfying, I got thinking about creating my own publication in order to have total control over content, focus and direction. But the real turning point in solidifying my thinking came when Jason Mantis of Audio Drudge informed me that he had quit the magazine in favour of dedicating more time to his upcoming label Malignant Records. Essentially this meant that there were too few magazines being produced covering ambient/ industrial/ experimental music, thus I started Spectrum in an attempt to fill this void. Another concept I wanted to achieve through Spectrum was to create a publication with a ‘fanzine’ concept, but bridge the gap to commercial music magazines in terms of layout and design. Whilstbeing modest, I feel that the later issues of Spectrum are now partially starting to achieve this intent.
I find it interesting that you don’t have your own musical project. I would think that having heard so much music from all facets of these genres you would be able to create something quite unique, not to mention your extensive knowledge of the scene and the number of contacts you’ve gathered over the years. It’s true that the scene can do without anymore “second rate” projects, but surely you would be able to rise above that category?
There is a saying which goes something like: “those who can play music play, those who can’t write about it” which I feel is more then apt when applying this to me. I have played music when I was much younger (I was taught medieval music on the recorder, and also completed around 2 years of piano), whilst more recently I took to teaching myself the very basic’s of the bass guitar (about 3-4 years ago now) for a period of around 6 months. However, as I have always found playing music relatively difficult, I am wise enough to be able to admit that while I know what I like to hear, this does not automatically equate to myself having the actual ability to create music.
On a related tangent, having spoken with quite a few artists during my travels, during discussions of music they might make a comment along the lines of: “I know how that was created and it is simple to do”. In this circumstance I generally do not have the first clue on how an album has been programmed or created, so in a way my technical & musical ignorance is bliss and subsequently does not detract from the magic when listening to and appreciating music.
To further cover my “second rate” comment, while it is certainly not true of the truly great noise/ power electronic/ death industrial artists, it seems that individuals without a defined musical ability tend to gravitate towards these styles when they have a burning ambition to have some sort of project regardless if they have talent or not (and on a certain level I am guilty of this! …..read on to glean insight!).
Above all I simply do not have the time (the one thing I would need ample amounts of), to acquire and experiment with a range of synths, samplers, effects units etc, in order to learn how to use these before even setting about creating something that might even be part way to being worthwhile,and of utmost importance – original. For all the unknowns surrounding this and likewise that it would most certainly mean that I would have to sacrifice Spectrum to this cause, it is not something I currently have an inclination for!
But having said all I have above, there is a reasonably recent release to which I contributed some sound source material to. To tell the storey in full, some 3 years ago I was living in a shared house arrangement with a group of friends, of which a number played the guitar, which gave me access to a lot of equipment to experiment with. Thus on quite a few occasions I would plug a bass guitar into a pre-amplifier, two distortion pedals and finally an amplifier in order create basis feedback loops that I would morph and evolve in a purely improvised manner (much to the bemusement of my friends!). These experiments culminated in probably an hour to hour and a half of very basic recordings that were nothing of worth – other then for my own interests. Yet it was some time later the Swedish black industrial group MZ412 put out a call on the Cold Meat Industry e-mail list, requesting sound contributions for a upcoming limited edition 2 track 7″ ep. Well, with this invitation I dug out the tape and gave it another listen and found that although very basic and crude in style, it would be perfect for MZ412 to work into a composition of their own. Subsequently I sent off a tape to MZ412 containing three culled segments from the recordings (being about 15 minutes in total and about 5 minutes per section), each showcasing some of the different sounds I had been able to improvise. Although I did not really expect too much become of my submission, I was pleasantly surprised when the finished product arrived (in the form of 412 copies on white vinyl/ 412 on black vinyl), given that I could detect my own contributions throughout the length of both pieces (of course in amongst the material submitted by the other contributors). So for the moment at least having a release out that contains my name on the sleeve as a contributor is more then ample to satisfy my musical yearnings!
Is there much of a scene for these types of music in Australia? I’m not sure I can think of any labels or projects off the top of my head that are located there.
Well, if you can’t think of any wait for the following barrage of information!
Of the current crop of artists, the most well know and respected exponent of dark ambient music from Australia is Shinjuku Thief, with the artist Darrin Verhargen also being the label boss of the superb Dorobo Records (who release Shinjuku Thief’s material along with other local and international artists). With reference to Dorobo, one artist in particular is Australian sound collage artist Alan Lamb who has done some fantastic recordings of old disused telegraph wires, releasing two CD’s of this material thus far. There was also a remix album of his recordings (also released on Dorobo), with the remixes executed by artists including Tomas Korner and Lustmord to name two. Likewise all of the other catalogue items on Dorobo are of a high quality standard (both in an audio and visual sense), hovering mostly at the experimental end of sound (be it experimental dance theatre soundtracks, sound manipulation/ exploration etc).
It is also a reasonably well known fact that Douglas P of Death in June now resides in Australia – but admittedly most would still consider him to be a UK artists. However, he does have an offshoot of the NER label (under the NEROZ title), which is managed and operated by Chris McCarter of the more gothrock oriented band Ikon.
When making reference to NEROZ and Death in June, on related tangent Ostara (formerly Strength Through Joy) formed in Australia, however now both member Richard Leviathan and Timothy Jenn reside in the UK and Germany respectively.
Industrial music icon John Murphy comes from Australia also, but currently splits his time between here and the UK. His activities over the years include being involved in, or collaborated with many excellent projects – SPK, Kraang, Lustmord, Genocide Organ, Death in June, Knifeladder, Shining Vril to name but a few. And lets not forget that the Industrial music pioneering legends SPK were originally from Australia (with SPK members also including notables Graeme Revell and Brian Williams aka Lustmord).
The reasonably prominent Extreme label is another successful Australian export, with one of the most recent releases being the excessively ambitious Merzbow: Merzbox release.
On the techn(oise)/ electronica side of things there is the quite well know David Thrussell with his projects such as Black Lung, Song, Soma etc.
Refereeing new labels, there is a new home based Brisbane label called label:KETTLLE that is doing some interesting things via melding pure artistic type experimental electronics with a darker streak.
Female solo artist Cat Hope is likewise creating some interesting droning soundscape material using manipulated bass guitar sounds – of which I have managed to catch her play live once. I also believe that she plays with a collective of other musicians, including the group Lux Mammoth. I am also aware that the individuals behind Lux Mammoth have an affiliated record label called Bergerk, but I must have only heard about their activities and have not yet had an opportunity to check it out.
Submerging to an underground scale, there are a few projects popping up which align perfectly with Spectrum’s content – with two to mention being Isomer, dark industrial/ ambient from Adelaide and Terra Sancta, dark ambientfrom Sydney. I also believe that the controversial (yet quite obscure) power electronics project Striecher comes from my hometown of Melbourne.
There is quite a bit of activity on the pure experimental side of things, but often this tends to be more “artistic”, in the chin scratching, university undergraduate type vein, so I am not really attracted to this.
Given that any scene will also include record stores, and after having the opportunity to see quite a few shops over here in Europa, I’m actually quite surprised at the general quality of the few local record stores I have back home in Melbourne: namely, Peril Underground, Heartland Records and Synathesia – the later which has started a small record label under the same name focusing on the cutting edge, lap top type experimental music.
The above information is all I can think of for the moment and I’m sure I have forgotten quite an amount – sorry to those inadvertently forgotten!
However, despite there being appearing to be quite an amount of activity, due to the sheer size and expanse of Australia, there is no overall ‘scene’ to talk of, rather it amounts to small groupings of individuals pursuing there their interests and obsessions with experimental forms of music. Likewise as 90% of Spectrum’s sales are accommodated overseas (particularly in the US, the UK and mainland Europa), this means that in most part (for Spectrum at least) the greater scene lies overseas, resulting in the majority of my efforts being focused internationally.
I didn’t become aware of your magazine until around the time of issue #3. In the earliest days of the magazine’s existence, around the time of the first two issues, what was the response like from both the readers and the bands/record labels? Was it hard to garner support?
The interest was surprisingly positive from the outset, but more so with regards to the comments from record labels then in regard to actual feedback from individuals. Also gaining interviews was surprisingly easy once I had indicated my intentions to the artists regarding the intent and focus of Spectrum – likewise their subsequent feedback (upon seeing the finished product) was encouraging enough to spur me on to continue with Spectrum.
From the outset, another way to generate interest from record labels was to offer free advertising space in the first issue, then moving onto paid advertising with subsequent issues once I became a touch more established. Basically I feel that the increase in print runs with each issue (also referencing increase in size and overal content) tells its own story, with Spectrum being produced in the following volumes: Issue 1#: 150 copies, Issue 2#: 250 copies, Issue 3#: 330 copies, Issue 4#: 500 copies & Issue 5#: 500 copies. Currently I am sold out of Issues 1# through 3# and only have Issues 4# and 5# available from me directly (Although select mail order companies might still have copies of Issue 3# if you are lucky). That said, 500 copies is not a significantly large amount of copies and I am convinced that there is the potential to at least double this figure, but I am finding that a lot of people seem to be hesitant to order a magazine via the post if they have not first seen a copy – the proof of this being that I sold out of all copies of Spectrum that I brought over to the UK at the first show I attended (the same occurring at the Maschinenfest with the copies that Spectre Records stocked). Also sending small quantities abroad becomes quite cost prohibitive, and many actual record stores I have approached don’t seem keen to stock Spectrum for this reason (for reference my current distribution network is predominately with mail order companies). So, in order to expand Spectrum reader base what I really need to work on is some sort of distribution deal with a company that stocks records stores directly…..
In many cases you seem to have researched your interviews fairly well (for instance the recently published discussion with Death in June). What measures do you take to properly prepare yourself for each interview, especially when speaking with such infamous acts as Death in June, Brighter Death Now, etc.
Well first of all I never interview an artist or project I do not like, so chances are by the time I ask for an interview I have been a fan for quite some time and have already gained quite a bit of knowledge about them through releases and other interviews.
But to deal with one specific aspect of your question, I admit that the Death in June interview was a rather daunting prospect, despite it being Douglas that actually offered to provide an interview to Spectrum! It was after I had interviewed Albin Julius/ Der Blutharsch in Issue 4#, that Albin inquired to if I had sent a copy of it to Douglas. As I hadn’t, I subsequently forwarded a copy of Issue 4# onto Douglas, who incidentally by coincidence (or fate?!) had heard about Spectrum from three different people in the preceding weeks. So after seeing the issue and being rather pleased with it, Douglas promptly wrote back with the offer of providing an interview for inclusion in Issue 5#. Anyway I digress….given that Death in June has been active for around 20 years, I realised that my interview would be up for scrutiny from fans who have been familiar with the group far longer then I. Therefore I obtained as many previous interviews from Douglas that I could find in order to be as informed as possible work when conducting the interview, and also to work from a questioning basis that on a certain level expected the reader to have an amount of familiarity with the concepts and themes behind Death in June. It would seem that most interview I conduct contain around 20 to 25 questions, however I think the DIJ interview spanned in excess of 30 and accordingly many comments I have received have mentioned it is the most comprehensive and in depth interview that Douglas has given for many years. I take this as a compliment and also take a bit of pride in Douglas commenting that 1 question in particular was one of the most interesting questions he has ever been asked!
Anyway speaking more broadly, I generally undertake a bit of background reading on an artist before drafting the questions and as all of my interviews are conducted via e-mail, I feel I have the ability to ask more in depth questions (then if it were conducted in person or on the phone), with the artist likewise having the ability to take their time in responding adequately. It is also a policy of mine to never use form questions. Admittedly certain questions may be asked of all groups, but I always write the interviews from scratch to avoid repetition in the wording of the questions asked, and to also tailor them specifically to the artist.
If I’m not mistaken, aside from a few review submissions you take care of everything Spectrum related yourself, including the graphic design elements. Is this the case? And if so, how much time would you estimate spending on Spectrum each day?
Yes, you are certainly correct on this front. I can say that the input of my contributors is invaluable, but in essence 95% of all work on Spectrum comes from myself. As for these contributors, I have two people (Chris Forth & Joseph Aquino) who assist with proof reading and likewise the excellent reviewer JC Smith contributes a small handful of reviews – but yet again the remainder of input lies solely with me.
When I am working on an new issue, it is essentially undertaken in the hours outside of my full time professional career. Of a night time I will generally get home mid evening, and then spend 3-4 hours toiling away on the PC – be that preparing layouts, writing interviews and listening to and reviewing the mountains of CD’s that I get sent. On weekends, apart from catching up with friends and going out drinking, I probably invest a similar amount of time per day as during the week.
Thereafter once all of the reviews, interviews & design/ layout work is complete (this being really only half of it) I then need to co-ordinate the printing of the file with the printer (there is ALWAYS some sort of problem that must be overcome), receive the finished product, and THEN start to promote and distribute it. This is even before putting on the accountants hat and having to chase up invoices, prior to the preparation work for another issue getting under way! (nonetheless there is maybe a month or so after actual publication where I don’t review any material at all in order to recharge my ‘inspiration’ batteries and also simply listen to music for pleasure again).
As for amount of time I have dedicated to Spectrum and with regard to the last two issues in particular (4# & 5#), it is reaching a point where it is almost out of control and getting to be more then I can personally handle. Thus far I have managed to release an issue every 6-8 months, but with each issue growing in content, this is becoming increasingly unmanageable. As I am currently taking a break with Spectrum between Issue 5 & 6 due to my travels through the UK and Europa, I am currently considering certain options to reduce my personal workload without compromising the focus and content of Spectrum – and more importantly to strengthen it.
What are some of the options that you are considering, and what would be the desired outcome of these options, specifically?
First and foremost it would be recruiting additional individuals to assist with providing reviews – as this is where the greatest part of my time is taken up. However with anyone potentially coming on board with Spectrum, I would firstly demand that they have a solid and individual reviewing style and likewise I would need to ensure that their musical tastes go hand in hand with Spectrum’s coverage (hence back to the issue of keeping the publication focused). I have in mind a few people that I am considering of personally inviting to contribute to future issues, but I shall have to see what their responses are before I potentially start casting my net wider. I have also thought of getting in guest interviewers, but at this stage I am a touch more hesitant on this front as this is what I really quite enjoy co-ordinating and undertaking.
Regarding another aspect of strengthening Spectrum (and whilst not necessarily relating to reducing workload), I am considering modifying the format of Spectrum (but still remaining a printed publication though), and likewise might branch out with the introduction of a compilation CD of artists interviewed. These modifications however hinge on a number of specific factors that I am still exploring the logistics of – which is proving to be a bit of a task considering I am not currently at home in Australia at the moment!
I’d like to end with a potentially complicated question that I rarely ask, but in this case I’m curious. What are the single most positive and negative events that you have encountered as a direct result of your work with Spectrum? (For example, becoming closely acquainted with projects that you admire, or perhaps offending an “artist” and having an interview session go incredibly poorly, etc.)
You are right that one of the major positives of running Spectrum is that I have been able to make contact with many people behind the projects that I have admired for some time, with this positive aspect certainly being much more pronounced now that I am over in Europa (as I have finally been able meet many of my contacts in person). At many of the festivals and shows I have been able to attend since being over here, I have actually been quite overwhelmed by the reception that I have received from acquaintances, as they have gone absolutely out of their way to make me feel at home. This was particularly so at the Electronic Gathering Festival in Stockholm in August 2001 where many CMI acts were performing, and I can attest that the ‘Karmanik Family’ (the general grouping of the Cold Meat Industry roster & associates) is certainly one big happy family! I also have to send extreme gratitude to the following individuals for providing me with accommodation and hospitality during my initial travels: Alex of Cynfeirdd Records, Stefan of Fusarium Distribution/ Promotion, Hans of Run Level Zero & Stefan of Ironflame.de (and for those I have had a drink and talked shite with, you are too numerous to mention – but you know who you are!).
As for conducting interviews I have never had any trouble on this front, but as I said earlier these are always conducted by e-mail so the ‘interview session’ is slightly more formal then a personal one. The only issue that has ever been raised was when a particular artist refused to respond to a question and likewise requested that the question to not be published with the interview. This situation arose not out of offence, rather from the perspective of potential negative ramifications if it were responded to and/ or published, and in that I understood the artists view I could respect and adhere to their request.
As for any other negatives, it is just the general stresses with managing my workloads and the anxious moments when the computer decides to have a fit with a particular technical request. Yet, maybe the biggest negative in recent times was when the time came to publish the last issue. I had calculated my advertising rates against my printing and postage overheads (comparative to what I had been charged in the past), but when I submitted the finished file to the printer, they indicated that it had been discovered that they were loosing money with my particular job, thus with their new costing it roughly doubled my printing overheads. In that I was hoping to offset printing and postage against my advertising revenue (in order to make the final sales price cheaper) this increased in printing costs blew out my budget and meant that I had to increase my wholesale prices just to ensure I would merely break even. I did contemplate trying to find a new printer, but as I was departing for Europa in a mere 5 weeks, I simply did not have the time and had no option to fork out the extra money. Luckily after publication I managed to shift 90% of the print run in a matter of weeks so all was not lost!
Lastly, at times I have expected that I might get some hate mail, or otherwise protests regarding the coverage of certain acts, or use of certain images – but thus far it has been silent on this front. Whilst European based acts and publications seem to be subjected to such vilification, it seems that Australia is a little far away for anyone to be bothered with the likes of me and my activities. Also, if anyone where to potentially have a problem with Spectrum, after reading a bit of it I’m sure they can ascertain that my agenda is to have no agenda at all (other then music coverage and exploration of ideas of course!).
Well, it’s obvious from your lengthy and informative responses that you are well aware of how an interview should be conducted! Thanks for your time, and if you have any closing words, please feel free.
Other then the obligatory “thank you” to you Andrew for giving me the opportunity to spout off some of my thoughts, it is likewise about time that I cranked the promotions machine into overdrive! So, for reference the most current issues of Spectrum (4# & 5#) feature the following:
Released October 2000, featuring interviews with: Bad Sector, Black Lung, Cold Spring, Der Blutharsch, Desiderii Marginis, Dream into Dust, Grunsplatter, Ildfrost, Law, StateArt, Warren Mead and Yen Pox. Plus: Death in June show report, Inade profile, & extensive review section (150 recent items at over 53000 words). Full magazine size, professionally printed in greyscale and 72 pages in length.
Released May 2001, featuring interviews with: Brighter Death Now, Crowd Control Activities, Death in June, Folkstorm, House of Low Culture, IRM, Middle Pillar Presents:, Novy Svet, Tribe of Circle, Skincage, Spectre and Vox Barbara. Plus: extensive review section (130 recent items at over 48500 words). Full magazine size, professionally printed in greyscale and 68 pages in length.
Otherwise if you don’t want to order direct you might be able to track down copies (for slightly cheaper prices too!) in your own country, from one of my following distributors/ shops:
USA: Malignant Records, Soleilmoon, Middle Pillar, Self Abuse, The Rectrix, Live Bait Recording Foundation & Selfless Recordings.
FRANCE: Athanor & Nuit et Brouillard.
GERMANY: Drone Records, Tesco Organisation, Artware Productions, StateArt & Ars Mascarbe.
UK: Cold Spring.
AUSTRALIA: Heartland Records, Peril Underground, Missing Link & Polyester Books (all Melbourne based).
And finally……o’vr’n’out…………end transmission………..