The label At War With False Noise was founded by Alastair Mabon in 2004. Based in Kilmarnock, Scotland, it has, as its name would suggest, specialised in noise and power electronics releases from artists including Shift, Panther Modern, White Heterosexuals, Winters In Osaka and Messiah Complex, although the label has also been making a name for itself in the underground metal scene, with releases from artists including French lo-fi black metallers Zarach Baal Tharagh, the fabulously obscure and unclassifiable Belgian weirdos Alkerdeel, Tyneside-based sludge metal band Marzuraan (whose Marzuraan Vs. Glasgow live CD-R was the label’s first-ever release), and Glasgow’s heaviest engine of doom Black Sun, whose Paralyser LP is the label’s most recent release. Alastair Mabon was also a member of the now-defunct band Seppuku (formerly known as Tetsuo), who have several releases available on At War With False Noise.
Heathen Harvest: One of the most immediately striking things about AT is the aggressive call to arms that is implied in the name of the label. Can you tell me what the intention behind it is? What do you consider ‘false noise’? What do you want to replace it with?
The name, T-shirts and ‘anti-logos’ have got me a lot of stick over the past couple of years, but that's to be expected. The name is part tongue-in-cheek really, a reference to the chest-beating posturing and elitism of 80s metal (which I love, by the way). I do think in ‘noise’ particularly – by the very nature of the music, musicians, and labels – that there's a lot of really boring, water-treading music going around, and it can be a very cliquey scene where everyone wants to please their friends, and not get on the wrong side of anyone. Fuck that! There's a lot of crap out there – bands who put out 50+ ‘albums’ a year, shops selling CD-Rs for $15+, ‘art editions’ of a record with some twigs glued on the front sold for twice the original price, gigs getting monopolised by those who have most ‘know the right people’.... It can all fuck off and die. ‘Noise’ to me is an extension of (or the ultimate end of) punk rock, and I want to keep that ethic always. That means treating people fairly, putting the MUSIC first, and not being afraid to call people out when you feel they deserve it
HH: Can you describe your musical background, the way your tastes have developed, any bands you’ve played in etc?
I'm pretty obsessive about music, and have a huge collection of stuff. I got into music at a young age through metal. I loved the aggression of it and the imagery. I basically just thought Iron Maiden
looked fucking cool! Once I'd got Reek of Putrefaction by Carcass
I thought that was as far as music could go – then I heard John Zorn’s Naked City
! It was like listening to a cartoon blowing up, just completely insane. That made me explore Japanese music a lot more, and when you get into that, there's no going back really!
I recently ended my most ‘active’ band, Seppuku, which was basically myself and anyone else who was around on the day playing as aggressively as possible. It was very much a live thing and as a result was completely different every time we did it; the nature of the beast dictated that sometimes it was amazing, and sometimes it was shite. I got a bit fed up of playing live, and since I hate to see bands who aren't 100% into what they do and give everything they have when they play, I gave it up. We have a few posthumous releases coming out over the next while, including a split CD with Culver on At War in the next couple of months which I’m very excited about.
HH: What inspired the decision to found your own label?
I saw a lot of complacency with similar labels going around. Sticking a CD-R in a paper case, some half-arsed artwork, bit of spray paint on the disc - it was like they didn't care! I wanted to put out music I liked that was reasonably priced, looked great and was of a high standard. I'm 100% happy with everything I've put out.
HH: When you started AT, did you have a very clear idea of the kind of stuff you wanted to release? Has your vision of the label’s purpose or ‘mission statement’ changed over time?
Thus far everything I've released has either been bands I really like who I asked to do something, or stuff people have sent me which I've really liked. Genre is completely unimportant. I suppose originally there were more noise-oriented releases, simply because that was more accessible for me to release at the time.
HH: Although your primary focus is evidently on noise and power electronics, AT has also released extreme metal, right from the very beginning with Marzuraan Vs Glasgow. Do you personally have an interest in metal, and what is the relative importance of the metal output of AT, compared to electronic music?
"Bangers take your stand and obey...our metal command!" I love metal, it's more important than pretty much anything! I think there's a lot of snobbery about it in experimental music, to the extent that if you like metal in any way other than posturing irony then you're a meathead. Bullshit! The same things that resonate with me in noise are evident in metal too; the volume, aggression, the bloody-minded singular focus of it all. Give me ‘In Trance’ by The Scorpions
over navel-gazing wank like Sunburned Hand Of The Man any day.
HH: How important to the AT operation is the distro side of things? Would it be possible to run the label without the distro?
Distro is essential from the perspective of trading with other similar labels. In terms of pure sales over the website, I do a lot less business than I'd like, but trades are always good. The best thing about doing a label is you essentially get a ton of new music for yourself every other day! I've discovered so many great bands just from doing trades with bands and labels, and I always like to encourage it.
Sales through distro are often slow, I'm not sure if it's downloading, the current macro-economic climate, shitty exchange rates, postage costs, or a combination of all of the above that are to blame. I bought a bunch of Iron Maiden tribute CDs in and haven't sold a single one in a year! What's wrong with people?!
HH: Do you think there’s a single common denominator to AT releases? Is there a distinctive flavour to everything you’ve released?
Not really, though I do find that when people agree to do something for me they always send me their most ‘noisy’ records. As I've said before, everything that I put out is just music I like that I'd like everyone else to hear too. The Zarach Baal Tharagh CD is a good example of this. I love the record, everyone who's bought a copy thinks it's great – and I have 990 copies sitting under my bed!
HH: Quite a few AT releases have been on vinyl. Are there special problems with releasing noise on vinyl? For instance, I’ve heard it claimed that it’s very difficult to capture the sound of an artist like Merzbow accurately on vinyl because of the sheer density of information that has to be put into the groove – is this true, in your experience?
When I sent the Shift record off to the pressing plant I didn't hear anything for a while, then got a phone call from them telling me I'd send the wrong recording, that the whole CD was ‘just white noise’. Trying to explain to them that it was meant to sound like that was quite amusing! I think as long as you get test presses (and listen to them!), don't try and squash lots of music onto each side of the vinyl, and have the music mastered to vinyl by an engineer who knows what he's talking about, then you're fine. Stuff like the Black Sun LP – where there's a lot of bass and extreme volume changes, along with subtle nuances of sound – could have proven difficult, but I think we nailed it.
HH: What are the hardest things about running a small underground label like AT? What are the rewards?
Financially, it's difficult. Luckily I have a job that pays well, and I can afford to put a sizeable chunk of my wage into the label, but conversely I work long days in a stressful environment, and come home to fill out orders, do layouts and artwork, answer emails, work out trades etc. It's very hard work, and I more or less have no spare time any more, but if I wasn't getting anything out of it, I'd stop doing it!
I love picking up a new box of records when they come in from the plant, sticking them on my stereo and hearing how they sound. Getting feedback from people who've bought music from me and been really happy with it is massively appreciated too, and really keeps me going.
HH: Is there a flourishing extreme music scene in Scotland at the moment? Who are the local bands or artists you’re most connected to?
I don't know about ‘extreme music’, but there's a lot of really interesting stuff going on right now; there's barely a week goes by where there's not a noteworthy gig happening somewhere. Most people know about Kylie Minoise
and Nackt Insecten
, but there's so many other great bands that seem to slip under the radar that I want people from outside Glasgow to know about! Alistair Crosbie
's been making music since dinosaurs ruled the earth, but only really started having any tangible output in the past year or two; Noma
does the best live drones around; Rejectamenta
play some of the most edgy, constantly surprising and innovative solo sets I've seen; Messiah Complex are brilliant and seem to get praise from everyone on the planet except people from their own country; and Black Sun seem to bridge the divide between the metal and experimental crowds. Vomm
are fucking great too. They seem to have grown from a more metal My Bloody Valentine to a weird gothy Scream-era Siouxsie / krautrock hybrid of late. There's a healthy scene in Edinburgh right now too, Wraiths
and Fordell Research Unit
being my particular picks of the pops. My personal favourite band around right now is Bonesaw
from Aberdeen - total crusty Autopsy worship!
HH: Which other labels and bands do you respect and support? Have you heard any stuff recently which made you think, “Shit, I wish I’d released that!”
Lee Stokoe (of Culver / Marzuraan / Skullflower
) is a good friend, and has been running his Matching Head cassette label under the radar for years and years. He sells about two tapes a year, and it's totally criminal, ‘cos he puts out better stuff than anyone around, and has a real ear for great music. Part of this is because he still communicates with the outside world via two cups tied together with string, part of it is because the general record-buying public don't know what’s good for them. I like and support any label who do what they do for the right reasons – not for ego, money, or to be part of some vacuous trend. The good ones know who they are.
I wish I'd released that last Moss
album, Sub Templum. That was one of the best records I've heard in ages! I'm heading down to London to see them at Christmas, it'll be interesting to see if they can reach the same levels of claustrophobic paranoia that they did on that album. To me, they’re one of the only bands who have managed to nail the feeling of ‘horror’ in their music. Listening to them totally evokes feelings of the ending of the Lucio Fulci
film City Of The Living Dead
HH:: What AT releases do you have in the pipeline?
Out very soon will be a new 7" by the current hot property around it seems,
Gnaw Their Tongues
, along with the first ‘solo’ CD by Mike Page (a.k.a. Fire In The Head
) and a 12" by Portland power electronics trio White Heterosexuals. After that will be a split CD between Seppuku and Culver, the first full-length by Rape-X
, a Noma / Rejectamenta split CD, Tractor
/ Hey Colossus
split 7" (AmRep-style noise rock), a Culver LP, a CD (followed by an LP later) by my current favourite funeral-doom band, Persistence In Mourning
, a solo LP by Mike Williams of Eyehategod
, a series of split 7"s featuring black metal / doom band The Austrasian Goat
, a discography CD by Spine Wrench
(a 90s industrial metal band which rose from the ashes of Deviated Instinct
), and a series of CD reissues of rare archival material by Italian electronic pioneer Maurizio Binachi
. There's a bunch of other stuff coming out but that's what I can remember off the top of my head right now!
HH: How about live performances? You seem to hold quite regular events in Glasgow – do you have any plans to bring At War… artists south of the border, or to other countries?
I do loads of gigs in Glasgow all the time, including the At War With False Noise annual all-dayer, Glasgow Implodes. It’s a small enough operation that I don’t have any hand in bands touring; it’s certainly not something I’d be able to do whilst being in the job I’m in right now.
Black Sun are getting quite a name for themselves at the moment, and are playing in the US with Nadja
, as well as touring Europe with Asva
next year, in addition to a bunch of UK dates with the excellent They Are Cowards
HH: Anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks to all at Heathen Harvest for taking the time to do the interview, it’s very much appreciated. If I could be cheeky and plug a few gigs I’ve got coming up:
Friday 10th October, live at At War HQ:
Sindre Bjerga / HOH collab.
Contact At War for address details, free entry, bring your own booze!
Saturday 11th October, 13th Note Café
£4 in, 20:30 doors
Sunday 19th October, 13th Note Café
Married In Berbachev
Blue Sabbath Black Fiji
£4 in, 20:30 doors
Friday 7th November, 13th Note Café
DJ Cut Hands (William Bennett)
£5 in, 21:00 doors