Fractured Spaces Records is a new label, based in Milton Keynes, England, and founded by Simon Marshall-Jones, who also writes for Heathen Harvest under the name S:M:J:63. (Yeah, we’re more incestuous than the hillbillies in Deliverance round here!). The label declares itself to be “dedicated to bringing you the best of sinister & dark ambient, experimental, avant-garde, drone, industrial, doom/grind, harsh noise, power electronics, martial, neofolk and similar styles of music genres from acts, both well-established and those not so well-known, around the world.”
The first Fractured Spaces release was Strena Seu de Nive Sexangula (A New Year's Gift of Hexagonal Snow) by Swedish guitar-based drone ambient trio Keplers Odd, closely followed by Torture from the English dark ambient project Generic and Burning Sigils by Lebanese electronic musician Osman Arabi.
Heathen Harvest: Perhaps we could start with you describing your background in music – the kind of stuff you grew up listening to, how your interests have developed, your music journalism and so on.
Well, for me, this all came out of the goth scene in the early 80s. I was into goth and alternative music, and eventually I started getting into the World Serpent
people, Nurse With Wound
and David Tibet
and all that sort of thing, and out of that grew Fractured, which was a fanzine that I ran for a couple of years, during which time I met quite a few people. Fractured ran for three issues, but then due to personal circumstances, it all folded. But I’ve sort of kept my hand in with the scene over the years, and tried to keep up with things, but since that time it’s blossomed enormously. Practically the only alternative bands at one point were Current 93
and Nurse With Wound and Sol Invictus
and all that scene. I actually got back into it all through Justin Mitchell of Cold Spring Records
, because I was on eBay, and I saw the Cold Spring eBay shop, and I thought, “That’s a familiar name,” and when Justin wrote back to me, asking what size T-shirt I wanted, I re-established contact. So that’s really where the Fractured Spaces label started from – the fanzine and getting to know people. Originally, the intention was to include a covermount CD with the magazine, but because the magazine didn’t get anywhere, that idea had to be shelved.
HH: So what inspired your decision to start your own label?
The idea for the label came out of talking to Svartsinn
. Originally, I was going to make an exhibition of my paintings, and I wanted a soundtrack for it. I loved Svartsinn’s work, so I suggested to him that he created a soundtrack for the images. That idea eventually metamorphosed, because I realised that I couldn’t get as many paintings together as I wanted, but the idea for the label grew from there and catching up with Justin Mitchell. I talked to Justin a lot about my ideas, and there were various things I didn’t know about which he filled me in on. He’s helped me a lot over the last year or so, finding out what I needed to do, the technical aspects, and eventually it happened in June this year. I suddenly had a thousand CDs in boxes in my living room, and I realised at that point that I had a label.
HH: Have you produced any music yourself?
I used to be in a band about 20 years ago. During that time, I was into Steve Hillage
and all that hippy stuff. I played guitar, but 11 years ago I had a stroke, which means that I can’t use my left hand quite as well as I used to. Some would say this was a blessing in disguise, because my guitar playing was atrocious!
HH: The entire recorded music industry, from the largest corporate labels to the tiniest independents, is currently going through a period of great distress and turmoil caused by the increasing popularity of mp3 downloading and file-sharing, and the resulting reluctance of people to pay for music. CD sales seem to be in long-term decline. All in all, it doesn’t seem like the ideal time to be starting a label, particularly not one which is marketing music on CDs in the traditional manner. Why didn’t you just go straight into downloads?
Well, my music is actually available for download through iTunes and Napster and through CD Baby. But it’s something that I’m constantly aware of, that CDs will likely go the way of vinyl. They’ll fade out, and then digital means will slowly become the norm. But then, we wrote off vinyl 20 years ago, and that’s seen something of a revival. People seem to want the warmth of the vinyl.
HH: I did an interview a couple of years ago with Daniel Miller of Mute Records, and he said that at this rate, vinyl is going to outlive CDs.
Yes, I think it might well do. Yes, it’s more expensive in terms of getting the records pressed, simply because the market isn’t as big as it used to be. But I can see a time when, walking into a record store, there will be equal space given to vinyl as to CDs, if not more space. CDs really only happened, I think, because they were easier to store in the home, plus they had a cleaner sound. But there are limitations even to CDs, because the sound is too clean. I miss the crackling sound of vinyl. There was a warmth associated with the sound of vinyl which a lot of people miss. I will be releasing a 12” LP of Daniel Menche
early next year, and he’s actually said that he’s no longer releasing CDs, he’s sticking with vinyl. I think this could be the start of a trend away from CDs onto other platforms. But who knows what’s going to happen in the future in terms of new electronic platforms?
HH: I was also wondering why you didn’t start, as so many other small labels have done, with releasing CD-Rs. Your first three releases are all proper CDs in quality packaging.
I was originally trained as a designer, and for me, quality is very important. When I see a product, I automatically look at how it’s made, how it’s presented, how it’s packaged. I wanted people to know that I was serious about my label, that it wasn’t just going to be a fly-by-night operation. And I wanted people to notice my releases. There’s so much stuff out there, and I wanted people to look at my stuff and think, “He’s really thought about this, he’s putting out a good product, and he’s created something which has value quite aside from the music.” So design is very important. The packaging had to be clean, it had to be vibrant, if people wanted that – you walk into a record store, and there are just racks and racks of music. How do you choose? I think most people would look at a CD-R and think that it’s not as good as a CD, so they’ll go for the CD. I’m just a stickler for quality.
HH: Do you believe that small, cult music scenes are to some extent insulated against the prevailing trend towards downloading, because a lot of people within say, the industrial scene are dedicated collectors?
Well, there will always be people who want a physical object, and I’m one of those people. I like to feel a CD in my hand.
HH: You don’t get any sense of ownership with a download, do you?
Exactly, and if you listen very carefully to mp3s, you’ll notice that the compression is not as good as on a CD. Many people have said to me that they download to see what they like, and then they’ll go and buy the album, so it’s swings and roundabouts really. There’ll be people who are dedicated downloaders, and there’ll be people who say, “Well, no actually, I want the physical object.”
HH: OK, so having made the decision to start a label, how did you set about recruiting some bands to release?
Originally, I started out on MySpace, putting bulletins out – bands wanted, send me your demos, etc. I was actually going to release the Generic album first, but Keplers Odd wrote to me and I already had their first album, and they had this new album and were looking for somewhere to release it. So they sent me a demo, and I liked it so much that I decided that was going to be the first Fractured Spaces release. Bizarrely though, the first track on the Keplers Odd album isn’t the first track on the demo. I didn’t like that one, but the band said, “Oh, we’ll change it.” They sent me a few different tracks to choose from.
HH: What’s the toughest thing with running a label – getting distribution?
Distribution has been very hard. Before I even released a CD, I wrote to hundreds of distributors, and the impression I get is that, unless you have an actual physical product, they’re not interested. I think only about 1% even bothered to reply. It’s a different situation now that I’ve got the albums out, now that the reviews are there, and I get contacted by other people running labels and distros who want to trade. So it’s starting to build a momentum now, but that really is the toughest thing, getting people to know about your product. When you look at someone like Justin at Cold Spring, who’s been doing this for nearly 20 years, he only has to announce on the website that he’s releasing something, and probably hundreds of people decide that they’ll buy it. So I really want to get to that point, where people automatically associate the Fractured Spaces name with good music.
HH: Do you have a very clear vision of the kind of music you want Fractured Spaces to be associated with? Or come to that, the kind of music you don’t want to be associated with?
Well again, going back to the question of quality in packaging, I’m looking for quality in music. I’m looking for old bands, new bands – if it appeals to me, I’ll release it. Obviously, taste is a very subjective matter, but the stuff I’ve released so far has appealed to me on a level beyond merely being good music. It doesn’t have to be music from specific genres. I want to cover a wide range of genres within the underground music scene, because there’s so much out there that there’s a lot of good music that’s being missed, simply because you can’t buy everything, and you can’t listen to everything. So I would say I’m looking for the usual genres, like drone, ambient, dark ambient, but also dark folk, and even some of the more non-mainstream regions of metal. Next year, I’m planning to release an album by a Swedish band called Walk Through Fire
, who sound a lot like Isis
– very slow and sludgy. I’m hoping to release a Methadrone
split as well, and they’re drone / shoegaze bands. So there’s a whole spectrum of styles. I also want to release black metal, but it has to be quality black metal, not just ‘turn your guitars up and scream as loud as you can’ stuff.
Yes, there’s a lot of generic black metal around these days.
I want to get away from the generic – even though I have a band called Generic! The bottom line is that I’ve been listening to music in this scene for about 20 years, and in that time I’ve heard everything from really top quality, the bands that make the money, right down to the bands who sell maybe a hundred copies, and it’s just somebody banging on the table with a spoon and calling it art. My watchword is quality, and I listen to music critically. I’m not even that bothered if I don’t sell that many copies – my main motivation is to get the music out there, to get people to listen to it, and to realise that there’s music that they’ve been missing, even if they’re into underground music. I just want to get people to challenge their own perceptions of what good music is. I’m hoping that my label will be a paying hobby, put it that way, but it always comes back to quality, that’s the word I keep coming back to.
HH: How have the three FSR releases to date been received?
Well, all the reviews I’ve had so far have been very positive. The Osman Arabi album was made Album of the Week at a record shop in Leeds recently. Even my sister-in-law likes Osman Arabi! And Zero Tolerance
magazine seems to like Keplers Odd. I seem to have hit a chord with a lot of people. They appreciate the fact that I’m not just putting music out for the sake of it, I’m thinking about what I’m doing and I’m trying to create something of value, not necessarily financial value, but intangible values, where people say, “Fractured Spaces, they put out good stuff, they think about what they’re doing, and they really love the music.” That’s what it’s about for me.
HH: It seems as though Osman Arabi is an important associate of FSR – not only have you released his Burning Sigils CD, but he’s also mastered the other two FSR releases so far. How did this association come about?
I got in touch with Osman through MySpace. I’d done a few reviews of his 20.SV
albums, and he liked my reviews.
HH: I reviewed those albums too, and they’re so different from the Osman Arabi album.
He said he could master albums, and I was looking for someone who could do that, who wasn’t too expensive and could produce quality. But when he sent me the Burning Sigils album, it’s so different from the 20.SV and Seeker
stuff. He said that it was a lot to do with growing up in Lebanon. Being a war-torn country, I don’t think it’s a good place for any child to grow up in, and Osman was having flashbacks to things he’d seen in his childhood. So he decided to record something to exorcise those flashbacks, and the result was Burning Sigils. If you look at the cover, under the disc, there’s a picture of him with his brother, when they were children. That’s a typical use of music, as a means of creating a safe platform from which to exorcise demons, or feeling of negativity. But Osman has become an important part of Fractured Spaces, because he knows a lot of people, he does the mastering, and he produces good music. He’s absolutely dedicated to music. He spends hours and hours in the studio.
HH: So what else do you have in the pipeline as far as future releases go?
The next release will be Diskrepant
from Sweden, and then after that Kadaver
from Israel, because I wanted a bit of noise on my label. But I like Kadaver’s music, because it’s not just noise – there’s almost a poetry to the noise, he’s actually thought about what he’s doing, rather than just turned all the equipment on and made as much noise as he can. Daniel Menche is also slated to appear, plus Aidan Baker
, and a few other bands like Wicked Messenger
, and some lesser known people like Kathrine Heilesen
, who does traditional Danish folk music in her own way, which is very tinged with gothic darkness. I’m also doing a re-issue of an As All Die
album, Failure Of Human Spirit, which Clint Listing
felt wasn’t properly promoted in its original edition.
HH: Do you have any plans for live events?
Aidan Baker’s contacted me regarding possibly putting on a solo show while he’s over here in November, so I’m looking at doing that. Again, it’s all to do with finances and finding the right venue. But he’s coming over to do the Cold Spring event in November, and he’d like to do a few solo shows after that. I think he’s also doing some shows with Atavist
, another band that he’s involved with. So there’s definitely a possibility of doing live events. Diskrepant have raised the idea of doing a German tour next year, or maybe some Scandinavian dates. But it’s all to do with finances. Being a small label, it’s often very difficult to get all the necessary money together in time to get everything sorted, but I’m hopeful that I can incorporate live events.
HH: On your Heathen Harvest writer’s profile it says you are a “satanist (yes, with a small ‘s’ – ask me about it sometime)”. Well, I’m here and I’m asking you – what does spelling ‘satanist’ with a small ‘s’ signify?
Well, there seem to be two camps in Satanism. There are organisations like the Church of Satan
, for instance, who distinguish themselves as Satanists, and people like me, who don't necessarily like belonging to groups, who label themselves as satanists, and who like a bit of independence rather than any species of hierarchy. My definition of satanism is based around the Hebrew term 'ha-Satan' ('Opposer' or 'Adversary') and as such I deplore and despise any system or philosophy that has as its basis the need to stifle creativity or original thought, and seeks to repress and condemn rather than empower. It's admittedly a personal interpretation but nevertheless one that fits my ethos completely. I’m an atheist, and satanism for me is about being the adversary or the opposer. I oppose any sort of system that categorises people and keeps them suppressed, where they can’t express themselves in the way that they want to, they have to live in prescribed conditions, they have to do this or they have to do that. I think that anyone who tells me that I have to live my life a certain way is wrong – it’s as simple as that. I have the right, however wrong they think I am, to live my life the way I choose to, without being told by people that I’m living the wrong way. I don’t like religion, full stop. I include everything with that. Religion in itself is not bad – the problem is people. Once you get people involved, then it just goes tits-up. So really, that’s my take on it.
HH: Finally, and this isn’t really anything to do with your label, more a case of idle curiosity on my part, but you are very heavily tattooed, including your face, scalp and neck. Now, I have more than a few tattoos myself, but none that can’t be hidden. I imagine it must be a very heavy personal commitment to have tattoos permanently and prominently on display in the way you have. Do you find that it affects the way people behave towards you?
Well, you either get people who cross the street, or you get people who say, “Wow!” and want to know more about it, why I had my head done, what, if anything, my tattoos mean, and so on. It’s definitely a conversation starter. There are some people, obviously, who no matter how much I tell them, just do not like tattoos, and will always make judgments based on what they assume, and they’ll assume that I’m some kind of drug-addled dealer or something, I don’t know. And of course, there’s the perennial question – “Did that hurt?”
HH: Is it more of a problem when you’re travelling? Have you been to the Middle East, say?
No, I don’t ever intend to go to the Middle East. Not that I don’t want to, but I know that it will cause problems. I do have a sense that if I want people to respect me, I have to respect them, and I can imagine that even going to a place like the United States would be hard.
HH: Or Japan.
Or Japan, yes, exactly. But you know, we’ll see what happens. I’m intending to get more done, and finish my head off.
HH: I remember being advised once that I should never to try to be kind to a man with tattoos on his face. Is that sound advice?
I don’t know. I respond to kindness better than to anything else. Offer me a beer and I’ll be your friend for life!
HH: Well, that seems like a good point at which to stop. Cheers, Simon.