Monday, 31 December 2012
Both because of its longevity & its fiercely non-strident aesthetic, LMYE's Label of 2012 is easily overlooked. So long an essential part of the fabric of what we term 'less obvious music', it can seem that 12k - the standard-bearer for accretion over assertion - has always been there.
Lauding its output this year is partly a prod against complacency over a treasured imprint, then. No label is just 'there', least of all in the current environment. Sustaining one - especially one that works with more challenging music of limited commercial appeal - is clearly a struggle. The most obvious dimension: piracy that brings "nothing but hurt", as 12k founder Taylor Deupree notes in an exclusive interview below.
Recognition (which follows its earlier selection as 'staggering consistency label' in our first set of label awards, back in 2009, & adds it to Type, Low Point, Experimedia & Room40 in our roll call of overall winners) is also about celebrating what will go down as an exceptional year - even within a body of work as rich & deep as 12k's over the past decade & a half. Framed by two Japanese-inflected (like so much of its output) pieces - the exquisite, jisei-enjoined Zen songs of Steve Peters & Steve Roden's Not A Leaf Remains As It Was in February (one of our Furtive 30 essential 2012 releases) & the 'supergroup' (Tomoyoshi Date, Marcus Fischer, Corey Fuller & Simon Scott in tandem with Deupree) Between's gorgeous self-titled Kyoto performance in December - the label unveiled a thrilling, near-flawless run of misty, intensely textured releases.
Further key moments in this were Scott's glowing, dense Below Sea Level (previous coverage); Kane Ikin's hazily blurred & warped Sublunar (another Furtive 30 pick; NB: each LMYE co-author was limited to one release per label/artist); & Deupree's spare, delicate Faint, as well as Stephan Mathieu's Coda (For WK) - rightly blurbed "a journey into the essence of sound".
This sequence further refined what Deupree characterises as 12k's "hushed & delicate" sound, adding impressionistic warmth. It & other releases also carried the label towards a more acoustic, sometimes voice-centred music. It explained the two developments as "continuing to move away from the “electronic” tag" & "further play[ing] the line between experimental electro-acoustic sounds and structured music."
While Deupree offers a valuable reminder below of previous "eras" in the 12k sound, he also concedes (of Gareth Dickson's Quite A Way Away (featured on of Mountain7's outstanding best of the year list, incidentally...)) that "if you played me this album 14 years ago and told me i was going to release it i wouldn't believe it." He relates this to his & the label's identity. "12k is always simply a reflection of my own tastes and continues to evolve and change."
Even so, for a 15 year-old label to still be pushing at the boundaries of its sound (also this year via the subversive post-pop of The Boats' Ballads Of The Research Department) seems like a powerful index of vitality.
So too its appetite for extending the scope of physical formats - most obviously in the case of Scott's 80-page book of geography & memory in the East Anglian Fens that accompanies Below Sea Level. The recent Faint boxed set (augmented with photographs & a bonus CD), as well as that of Deupree & Fischer's earlier In A Place Of Such Graceful Shapes (photos & a 7"), are further instances.
What next? Further Deupree collaborations, a second Illuha album & a new solo Fischer are scheduled for the new year. Several vinyl releases are due too.
But the most tantalising prospect is an undefined format innovation Deupree reveals below ("it's not USB, but it's taking a lot of work and will be a really exciting development for some time to come"). Whether this relates to the beguiling Mono/logues video that recently trailed 'A new series, coming in 2013' is not yet clear. But while only a fluttering moment the clip offers much in any case...
How has 12k developed this year? Have you done anything different in 2012? Anything new you want to keep doing now it's started?
"i think the obvious thing that sticks out this year was the release of the gareth dickson CD. 12k has obviously explored guitars and acoustic sounds over the years but to have something so straightforwardly singer/songwriter is quite different. if you played me this album 14 years ago and told me i was going to release it i wouldn't believe it. it just reinforces the fact that 12k is always simply a reflection of my own tastes and continues to evolve and change.
starting late last year, with mine and marcus fischer's "in a place of such graceful shapes" boxed set and continuing this year with simon scott's "below sea level" book edition and my own boxed set for "faint" i think the idea of expanded physical packaging is something 12k will do more of going forward."
Did you always expect to make it to your 15th anniversary? Do you anticipate following Touch's lead & making it to your 30th?
"i never had a doubt about that. 12k is who i am and i will always do it even if the music industry falls apart so totally and no one needs labels anymore... that it becomes a label i release only my own work on. i see no reason why i would stop doing it. it's not terribly profitable, which is a good thing. it doesn't need to make enough money to make business partners happy, it only needs to make enough to print the next release.
i started the label in 1997.. january 1st ..... so, jan 1st 2013 will mark 15 years complete.. onto the 16th year... it's great!"
Is being an US label significant for 12k? How do you assess the state of US 'experimental' music currently?
"i think being a US label has hurt 12k over the years. there are certain distributors and magazines that seem quite anti-US... like the people and artists are as bad as our politics, which simply isn't the case. there is so much great music being made in the US, but it's never been as "cool" of a place as a lot of other countries so it never gets taken as seriously. it's a weird thing, but it's been on my mind a lot since i started the label."
Do you see yourself & the other 12k artists as working in any kind of tradition? Is there a 12k sound or typical artist?
"i don't think any of us are thinking about traditions or genres or trying to fit into one thing or another, we're just creating what comes naturally and exploring techniques that interest us. most of the current crop of 12k artists are pretty firmly rooted in what they do and have developed their own styles after years of creating. it's not so much about fitting in or putting themselves in a certain niche, just more about creating and doing what they do, and let the press or listeners place them wherever they want for whatever reasons they need to. 12k definitely goes through periods of sound as the years go on. periods that get marked as "eras" in 12k by the general sound. it meanders and evolves as the years go by. i don't think, at this point, i would be very eager to categorize 12k though recently there's definitely been a marked move towards hushed and delicate music."
Any 12k artists you believe merit more attention than they've had so far?
"all of them, of course! it's always the lesser-known ones, though, who perhaps just release one album and then sort of disappear from the light a little bit. artists like jodi cave or motion... such brilliant, beautiful releases but no one hears much from them anymore!"
How do you see 12k developing in the future? Any new artists you can mention &/or forthcoming new releases from established 12k artists?
"i never like to project or guess how things will develop, i prefer to just let them go naturally. early in 2013 i hope that the new Illuha album will be ready, which is going to be a beauty. i've also got a couple of personal collaborations coming up which i'm excited about and will be on marcus fischer's case to finish a new one next year. the door is always open for established artists and we'll see about new artists. nothing planned yet."
Will you be releasing vinyl in future? Cassettes? Other media (DVDs/USB sticks/etc)?
"there's been 5 or 6 vinyl releases so far and that will continue in the future. i've got a vinyl-related series coming up in 2013 that should be pretty interesting as well. i'm not sold on cassettes as a final medium, though i do like the sound of them for recording.... DVDs.. perhaps... there has been a project on the back burner for too long already... USB sticks.. who knows? nothing's out of the question, i guess. there is a very exciting development we've been working on for the past few months that i hope sees the light of day in 2013 ...it's not USB, but it's taking a lot of work and will be a really exciting development for some time to come."
Mono/logues (2013) from 12k on Vimeo
Best thing anyone's said/written about 12k music? Worst?
"there's always the occasional negative review about an album, but i still love what the late alternative press magazine said about 12k many years ago which was "too minimal for its own good." i once turned that into a full page advertisement in a magazine. though lately i've been hesitant to throw around the term "minimalism" mostly because i try to stay away from any sort of genres or descriptors at all.
best thing? i'm touched by every positive review and kind word from listeners, though being compared once to factory records wasn't a bad thing. for all of factory's blunders and craziness, it's probably my main inspiration behind starting 12k."
How important is artwork to your releases? Who decides it?
"yes, of course, always. finding a visual theme was very important in setting up the label identity. i sort of took that idea from Fax records with its instantly recognizable package design. but 12k is also about a very anti-design aesthetic. by that i mean design that is very simple, nothing fancy, very much inspired by dieter rams and his ideas of functional design. the special editions and limited series gives me a chance to break away from the traditional 12k design to play around a bit more, but otherwise i'm really just trying to be as simple as possible.
i design all of the packages and do most of the photography for the covers. however, sometimes an artist will have a particular image they want to use and that's fine by me as long as it works with the overall aesthetic."
How challenging a time is this for labels? Are you tempted to go digital-only? Or the opposite?
"it's a very challenging time! almost entirely because of the pirating of music. on one hand it's a great time because we can offer releases in a variety of formats as well as downloads with many easy ways to purchase them. the social media outlets offer both a great way to reach fans but also make it a lot of work for us because we have to stay on top of all of these little areas.... but it's really the music pirates stealing the music that give us the most challenge. i don't care what argument they give for "helping" labels and musicians but it does nothing but hurt. i don't ask them to do their jobs for free and they shouldn't force that on us either.
digital only? i guess if you're going to talk about the death of 12k... that day would be if i ever decided to go digital-only. i have no desire to become a digital-only label and i've yet to meet one artist who prefers a digital release over a CD, vinyl or other physical format. yes, you're correct, it's quite the opposite. we'll be offering more music that's NOT available as download."
PS Where does the label's name come from?
"the name 12k came from the file size of midi song files on my computer during the creation of the album "12k" by one of my old musical projects (with Savvas Ysatis) called Arc. we released the album, as Arc, "12k" on KK Records (BE) in 1996 (it's now available digitally from 12k). i started the 12k label the year after and wanted to use that name for the label because it was short, abstract, mathematical, technical, and graphic. while technically it comes from "12k kilobytes" it can mean a few things.. like "12k kilohertz" or "12,000" or .. or it can mean nothing at all. most important to me now is that it's short and abstract and has taken on a life of its own."
Water Veins by Steve Peters & Steve Roden
Europa by Kane Ikin
Between (excerpt) by Between
Dreams Of Stairs by Taylor Deupree
_Sealevel.6 by Simon Scott
Kane Ikin - Rhea from 12k on Vimeo
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