Bill Kouligas (PAN): Interview
“It’s not a competition, it’s not a race. It’s a personal interest I’m working with here.”
So is that the drive of the festival, that it’s more experimental?
They have a lot of experimental music, a lot of techno and dub. It’s like a leftfield electronic music festival.
Are you getting involved in it?
Yeah, I’m going to do something. Probably with Jar Moff and Mohammad because they are based there, and I might bring Russell Haswell over and maybe one or two others.
How are the Greek musicians received in particular by your audience, as opposed to some of the more well known musicians you have on PAN?
For example, Jar Moff was an unknown name, so listeners were just approaching it as something new, but the feedback was very positive. A lot of people like the record and he was invited to play a number of shows, which is great, because he has been making this music for a long time. It’s great that people are finally getting to hear his stuff.
That seems to be one of the running themes within PAN — that you are making suggestions with what you release.
Exactly, I think it’s important to suggest stuff and build an identity. I don’t only want to release things by people who have done a million releases. I like to work with reputable artists as well though, like Keith Fullerton Whitman and Mark Fell; it’s good they have released a lot of stuff, but it’s important to work with these lesser known artists too. It gets quite interesting when we put them all together — when we get Mark Fell and Jar Moff together with Heatsick and Eli, it’s totally different. It’s good to bridge the past to the present with artists who are more established because I think it creates a dialogue.
That’s part of it, for sure. But recently I saw an interview you had posted on the PAN website, with Self-Titled, and they had a comments section that got pretty nasty.
Oh, that comments section. We found out that the guy who was being aggressive is somebody who has been sending me demos for three years now. I just don’t like his music that much, and I can’t put out everything I get in the mail every day. I mean, I didn’t say anything bad, I said, “Thank you for sending me your music, we are very busy at the moment…”
… Oh no! So he just went on a comment section rampage?
Yeah. A lot of people are grumpy. And every time something is posted about PAN, he always says the same thing — something about the artwork looking “shit” — I can’t please everyone you know, nobody can.
For sure, but I mean the reason I brought the comments up was because people were also talking about an identity with the label and how important that is. It seems like the audience is consciously looking for the identity of whatever you are putting out. From what I have read, and from what you are saying, it seems like that is not something you are specifically tuned toward; it’s more about what you are specifically interested in aesthetically and your personal preferences, not to mention your personal contacts and your friends.
It’s not only about working with friends, it just so happens that I still play shows with lots of people and I release some of their material. It means I’m also traveling all the time with them, which is great. I just came from Latvia a couple of days ago, and, generally, I get to see a lot of music all the time. That way I find out what is interesting and what is not.
From a performance-art piece to free-jazz albums or whatever, I’m trying to create a platform that makes all of these things work, to present them well and to make them interact with each other.
Latvia is quite interesting. There is quite a nice scene there.
It was very interesting to go there, because I had zero expectations. I got invited to do this showcase, a label showcase at a festival called Skanu Mezs; it’s like a big electronic festival. I went with Eli and HELM, who is a London-based artist.
Oh yeah, Luke Younger.
Have you met him?
Not yet. But I loved his Impossible Symmetry record.
Yeah, it’s great, and it was perfect going there to perform together. It was in a huge, huge cathedral with 400 people and it was just amazing. The scene was crazy because, of course I know where Latvia is, but you know, what can you expect when nobody knows your music there? It was really positive to see such enthusiasm. I think there is something more and more happening in Eastern Europe every year — it’s really interesting because actually it has a huge tradition of music. Mostly with classical stuff, but for some reason, post-War, it all went downhill.
I think censorship during Communism had quite a lot to do with it. It’s changing quite rapidly. I’ve spent a bit of time in Ukraine and Slovakia, and it seems as though censorship warped the public perception of art, particularly in music and film. I mean, the strangest stuff would get censored, anything that was considered out-of-line with the regime, but when Communism fell in the early 1990s, that’s when people started getting access to outside, international art — and that seems to feed into a desire to hear abstract work.
Sure the people there are hungry to experience more of this music. In a way I know this because it’s sort of similar to the picture of Athens. Because you don’t get to see a lot of shows when art works are censored — you just get people going to see shows that have been approved by the state.
From your perspective, especially as you are so aware of the situation in Eastern Europe, what has drawn you New York? The scene is established and the enthusiasm has been there for a long time.
Well, I am between New York and Berlin at the moment. So I was in New York for five months, now I’m in Europe, and then I’ll be going back to the States in December. Travel is part of my personality. I like interacting with different cities and finding out what is going on. New York is so important in that there is so much happening there, so it is kind of important for me to experience it, plus I did a big festival in New York as well, which ran for three weeks.
Yeah, it looked like a huge project! How did it go?
It went really well. The main reason I moved to New York was to work on that. I planned to do a showcase there and it turned into a whole festival. I had offers from three different promoters to do something, so I suggested that we just combine forces and do something united. It became a three week festival, which again, was interesting because we had so many different types of shows; from something in a museum to a lot of experimental and improvised performances, which were all great.
Is it something you are going to be doing again?
It’s not an annual thing. But, I like being involved in all these things, I like curating shows, but I don’t want to predict what will happen. If I have something in mind then I will put it together of course.
It seems from your output that you are constantly on the go — I mean, you finished the New York event and then you released Rashad Becker’s LP and then Rene Hell…
Yeah, and in between I released two 12 inches, one by Black Sites and one by Regis and Russel Haswell as Concrete Fence. Then there was the new Helm 12-inch, which came out last week. And then with the Marginal Consort show. It has been a really busy time.
I’ve read interviews with you in the past where you are just plowing through all of the people you work with and the artists you are putting out music for. So when we planned to meet, I promised myself I wasn’t just going to run through the artists and ask about all of them, because I don’t just want to reel through musicians. But one release in particular that really struck me, aside from Mohammad, was the Rashad Becker album. What did you feel when you first heard that?
Rashad is a very special person to me. We have known each other for a very long time and he is actually very much a part of what the label is. He has been there since day one. He is integral to everything, not just what the records sound like. He has mastered and cut every release up to date, but when I started, I wasn’t aware of everything, production-wise. He was extremely supportive and enthusiastic about everything — and he has always been there for every release. So working with him on his own record is a very special thing. It’s like a sonic personification of the man.
Of all the work you have put out, Notional Species just stands out because of his approach. What did you like about it in particular?
One of things I like about Rashad’s music is that he might be working in a field that has been played so much, but he still finds his own voice. You might hear a lot of stuff that makes you imagine something else, but he constructs his music in a way that takes you to a different level. A lot of people who work in electro-acoustic music, they all operate in a specific background, but Rashad just works in his own unique way. I know every step of that record because I have seen him play it live so many times, and I have worked with him so often in the studio.
How did you guys meet?
I met him years before the label, I think we met through common friends. In fact, in the beginning, I didn’t know what he was doing — he was just our friend. He was visiting me in London loads when I was here so we have a great relationship. It was really important that I met him — I wanted to be a label but I needed to know more about how it worked and he helped me through it all.
How about that process then, of moving from design to even just putting out your first record — how did you make that leap of faith?
Well, I finished my studies and I was working in advertising in London. Music is where my heart is, so I had to make the decision; was it going to be design or music? I still work freelance as a designer but I just tried to combine all of my interests and make it one thing. I don’t want to sound pretentious, but I don’t really see PAN as just a record label; I like the idea that it could expand into something else. All of these shows and the conversations between the records, the artists and everything — it’s all part of one idea. It’s not like I don’t want to do a traditional record label, it’s just like all of these people are doing so many interesting things, they all have different interests — look at Eli, he’s drawing now! [Eli is sketching something beautiful in his note book]. A lot of the artists I work with have an interest in critical theory, and in illustration, and in installation works, or even computer science, so I think it’s good to not only have an artist present his sound, but also his other interests and see how they interact with each other.
I have to say that of all the shows, last year’s CTM 13 festival in Berlin was just the perfect example of this; I had a one-day showcase at Berghain. There was Florian Hecker doing a sound installation in all three levels of the building, and I had Keith Fullerton Whitman playing with a huge modular synthesizer, and then Heatsick was playing with a broken Casio keyboard. I think that the whole flow of these ideas was really effective and that is what I love to do — it’s so important to give people the space and the room to express their talents and the things they like.
But that is my point, I guess. It’s a wonderful thing you were able to do with that project — it’s not like these things just happen. This comes from you, this comes from your operation — you need to have the contacts and the skills to make it work.
If you have the energy and the will to do things, you will just go and do them. Life is short.