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Gaffer: Label Profile

img  Tobias Fischer

No army can stop an idea whose time has come, as Victor Hugo once claimed. For Hugo's compatriot and Gaffer-Records-boss Frank Garcia, that idea is free jazz. Fifty years after Ornette Coleman first coined the term, free jazz is experiencing a remarkable resurgence through a web of small, but dedicated labels, a worldwide network of passionate underground locations and, last but not least, a new generation of utterly original and forward-thinking performers. For musicians like Colin Webster, the Dead Neanderthals, KNYST! or The Ames Room, all of which have featured on Gaffer, free jazz is not so much a genre as it is an ideal, less of an approach but an attitude, in no way a thing of the past, but a promise for the future. Accordingly, Garcia's imprint doesn't streamline its thoughts into something instantly recognisable, quickly categorisable and easily digestible, but rather serves as a powerful recepticle, a high-pressure melting pot filled to the point of explosion with intriguing ideas, explorative techniques and inventive forms. This, not the myriads of painstakingly precise emulations of his legendary 1960 album, is the freedom Coleman implied, the music he may have dreamed of, the spirit he may always have wanted to conjure. It is the sound of uneasy times, unresolved tensions, of confrontations, conflicts and crises, of a world falling apart at the seams and splintering into its atoms, of inquisitive voices demanding answers. It will knock you out and blow you away, it will irritate and confuse you, it will make you want to shut your ears, but force you to listen. It is the sound of now, right now, and no army in the world can stop it.

=> Download a free label compilation personally compiled by gaffer founder Frank Garcia by clicking here (via wetransfer).

How did you go from being a listener to performing, organizing concerts and releasing music?
I was a listener until the age of 12, then I started to play the guitar. My first influences were basically metal and hard rock, stuff like Suicidal Tendencies, Iron Maiden and then, later, Sonic Youth, Mister Bungle, etc. From there, at the age of 17-18 maybe, I discovered Naked City, Boredoms and the underground music scene. Quite a shock to me.
I had a bunch of bands when I was a teenager, some rock, crossover shit and even a rap band. Then the first real one was a hardcore / screamo group called The Sons of Saturn … quite shitty but that’s when I started to tour and to enjoy it. When I was kicked out of the band, I then started my solo Sheik Anorak, SoCRaTeS (trio with my best friend and with my girlfriend, close to Arab on Radar/ Pink & Brown). And this is also when Gaffer Records was born.

Gaffer Records is based in Lyon and judging by the announcements on your Facebook page, the cultural life there seems to be quite diverse.
Lyon is a very active city, you’re right. Thanks to a lot of good bands and people who get organized. We have some very nice venues here like Le Périscope, Le Sonic, Buffet Froid, Grrrnd Zero … Also a shitload of good bands like Kouma, Ned, Cougar Discipline, Lunatic Toys, Kaumwald … to name just a few.
This activity is quite important as you can always be galvanized or inspired by what other people do. I mean, if some of your friends - or people you don’t even know - organize good gigs then you can get inspired from that and organize gigs yourself. And the same goes for starting a band, a collective, a label, a squat, etc. This works pretty well for noise music, improvised and free music here. We organize the Gaffer Fest once a year and we have more and more people who get interested by the music and aesthetic over the years. That’s a good motivation.

Next to these local aspects, gaffer seems firmly embedded into an international network of labels and artists. London seems like a partner city of sorts.
Sure, this is something I really like with this free/ improv scene. You can meet so many interesting people and get the chance to work or play with them easily. Indeed, there is a connection between Lyon (via Gaffer Records) and London (via Colin Webster, Alex Ward and venues like The Vortex and Cafe Oto), but also with The Netherlands with a duo like Dead Neanderthals, who are just awesome guys. It is always a pleasure to see how open minded and generous those people I mentioned can be. There’s also some connection with countries like Norway and Sweden, as Gaffer Records releases lots of artists/ bands from Scandinavia.

There are so many good musicians; it would be too long to name them all. I meet great people almost every day, and thanks to the Internet we can get in touch with each other very easily. And as musician, this scene is the perfect frame for connections and new experiences. I play with several good musicians and I know I’ll be able to meet more of them and share the stage and recordings with some great and interesting people. I’m looking forward to it, and I know that this is possible in this scene only and that free improvisation managed to break boundaries between people, musical genres and countries.

To me, the stylistic territory of gaffer is a breath of fresh air. Can you tell me about your own connection to free jazz in particular and what makes it so exciting to you? Where do you see points of contact between free jazz and experimental improv – and how do they mutually complement each other?
Thanks for the nice words, a “breath of fresh air” sounds very sweet. I like free jazz so much because to me, it is the wildest music I ever heard. I do love metal, black metal, death metal, noise; etc. but they’re not as powerful and exciting as free jazz can be. Indeed, I really love the fact that people can create this “intense” music with only acoustic instruments. But I also love this music for other reasons that I couldn’t explain. To be honest I never think of a connecting ALL the music I like. And I never thought of a common ground for all these music to fit within the label roster. I just like it, that’s all … that’s Gaffer Records main ideology. “Like it? Release it!” Someday I could also release hip hop or electro if I had the chance. It may happen sooner that I think.

It's a shame somehow,  that all these scenes ARE separated …  that you have some free jazz labels, some metal labels, etc. For me, it was never a question of musical genres. If it’s good, it’s good, period. And it seems like more and more people share this point of view and enjoy music regardless all genres.

How did things get started?
I started Gaffer Records when we finished the recording of the first SoCRaTES CD and we were looking for a label to release it … it's as simple as that. This was 10 years ago. The very first record was then SoCRaTeS “s/t“ CD. A 3“ CDr we printed and burned ourselves at the time. We made 100 of them and sold them during our shows. It was exciting to create this label …and a bit messy as we didn’t think back then, that this label would last this long and become what it is today.
The name comes from one of my good friends who is from Dorset, in England. His nickname is “the Gaffer” or “Gaffer” (as he’s the coach of a football team made of some friends of his) and we agreed it was a good name for a label. Gaffer is not my family name like many people seem to think. I would never call a label after my family name … I’m not that megalomaniac.

What are the quality standards you will mostly look for in a release?
Actually, there are none …  No standard regarding the object itself. It can be a tape, a CD, a CDr, a vinyl record, mp3‘s … whatever. Regarding the artwork, it’s the same. Some bands want to do their own artwork or to get it done by their friends. I don’t like all those artworks, but if that’s what the band wants, then so be it. And regarding the music, I won’t say there’s any quality standard as the only judge is me. That would be pretentious. As I said above … if I like it then let’s release it. It’s only good to me, this is very subjective.

And to be honest, I receive a lot of shitty demos or recordings. 50% of what I receive is not interesting at all. 30% is interesting but I cannot do it for monetary or other reasons. And sometimes among all these stuff, I discover bands/ musicians like STAER, Colin Webster, KNYST, and I HAVE to release it.

And there’s also all the musicians I was already aware of (or like) who gave me the chance to release their music like Marteau Rouge, Mats Gustafsson, MoHa! or Jazkamer.

How deep are you involved in the musical process through deliberation and suggestions, in the artwork, mastering and other aspects of an album release?
I would say I’m involved in almost every aspect of then record … more or less. Some bands/ musicians already have everything: recording, mastering done, artwork ready, ideas of how they want to do this … And some just arrive with music and we discuss everything else, in order for everyone to enjoy the collaboration. I sometimes do artworks myself - like for the free jazz CD series - or ask a friend to do the mastering when it is necessary. I try to get involved in every release – as I do care – but at the same time, I don’t want to impose anything on the bands or artists I work with. Sometimes it works perfectly, sometimes it doesn't. I won’t complain or say it is tough to run a label, but it is not that easy and it’s really a full time job.

How far do you see artful packaging as a way forward for you as a label? Are the objectification and value of music inherently related to each other, would you say?
I don’t think the “object” itself is important … BUT bands usually do.For my own records I just like to make or have a nice artwork. But a jpeg file for a mp3 folder is way enough for me. The music IS what matters.
But I can totally understand the fact that bands usually prefer the vinyl format. I also like it a lot, and if it matters to them to have their music available on vinyl, then let’s do it! But personally, I don’t think the music AND the object have to be related somehow. These are 2 different things, and I’m not really into labels that make wonderful objects for some lame recordings. It drags people in some kind of “trap” according to me. My best experience regarding music – when I was a teenager – was with all these albums I ripped on tapes, recorded on a shitty stereo with hand written sleeves. Fetishists made it a “cool” object today, but back then it wasn’t really cool … just the better and cheaper way to collect and listen to music. MUSIC is what matters!

I'd be interested in your position on the label concept today. What is your role would you say?
A label can do nothing more than what musicians would do for themselves. It is just a “shop window” for bands, some kind of family or a brand they can be related to. The only help a label can bring is to spread the recordings through its network and promote it. But musicians could this themselves, it’s just not really an interesting thing to do and quite long/boring/lame … especially when you just want to focus on your music. Sometimes I wish someone would do it  for me (laughs).

I think the role of a label is to gather artists under one flag and get their names spread as much as possible. This done, it would help other artists. I mean, if someone visits the webpage of the label after hearing that this or that band has release a new record, this person can also have a look at the roster and check if there’s some other bands he/ she may like also. If Gaffer records can be helpful in that way, then I’m satisfied. The release of a piece of music by Gaffer Records means that I consider it deserves to be released, that I think people need to hear this and that this music shouldn’t stay unpublished. I wish I could do more and release even more records. But there is already so much music available today!

Tell me about the gaffer Fest, please.
Gaffer Fest is not a communication strategy of any kind … even it appears to help somehow to spread the name of the label. It is just an occasion to have bands I like and friends to perform at the same time in the same place. The selection of artists is simple, half of them have to be related to the label - or at least I try to - and the other half are friends and local bands, related to Gaffer Records or not.
I used to organize gigs on a regular basis a few years ago, but it was exhausting! So the idea was to spread out all the shows over 3 days and have a large amount of fun and good music during this period of time, that’s all. It appears that Gaffer Fest is quite a success regarding that kind of music and the zero budget we have to organize it. I therefore like to say thanks to the Périscope team and especially Pierre Dugelay, the main man of the venue. When I say “success”, I mean that we’re able to fill the venue, roughly 100-120 people. To grow bigger would be difficult and pointless. That's not the idea behind this fest.

Live events are a good promotional tool, but the gig organization came before the creation of the label. I've always enjoyed it. This is the best way to meet people and have a good time.

How would you describe the situation for your label right now? What are the financial realities you're faced with, for example? How satisfied are you with the exposure you've managed to create for yourself?
I’m quite happy with what the label became and what it is today. Of course, as with every independent label, it's always hard to face the financial difficulties … especially because Gaffer Records never used grants to release any records. The way the label works, is simple: I have a day job that allows me to put some money in the label - and that’s it! We received some help from a big venue in Lyon called Le Transbordeur in order to release the 2nd LOUP album called “The Opening”. Besides this, we also released some records in collaboration with some other labels, for example The Pitch LP with Maquillage & Crustacés, the Will Guthrie LP with Antboy, Pourricords & Electric junk, etc.
As for the exposure, of course I’d love to get more exposure … especially because I’m really proud of the records released by the label so far and I’d love the artists and bands to have more exposure as well because they deserve it.

What were highlights from ten years of gaffer Records to you? How much have things changed from when you started a decade ago to today?
I would say that the 10” split series really helped with the development of the label with bands/ artists such as Mats Gustafsson, Weasel Walter, Jazkamer, MoHa! Offonoff, FAT32, Ahleuchatistas … So I would say this series was a highlight to me. And it’s not over yet! There was a short break in the series but it will be back soon.We also had some records that got sold out very fast or sells very fast. A.H. Kraken was one of them and so is STAER.
Some things changed of course, like the exposure, the way people look and talk about the label. I’m glad to see that this audience is very interested in the music Gaffer Records releases and the interest and support the label receives from a bunch of musicians, other labels. The network that has been created is something important to me and I’m really enthusiastic about it …and thankful at the same time.

What are you plans for the future of the label?
We'll release the Pitch LP "Xenon/ Argon" in early 2015. The Pitch is a four piece band with Morten Olsen, Koen Nutters, Boris Baltschun and Mickael Thieke. They play some "deep acoustic" music.
A bit before that we'll have the digital release of "Last Blues" by a trio called The End (with Heddy Boubaker, Matthieu Werchowski and Fabien Duscombs).

We just had the 5th edition of the Gaffer Fest where we released "Prime" from the mighty Dead Neanderthals (w/ Colin Webster). It is the latest release and it's one hell of a release! A 40 min piece of relenteless, dense free jazz. Like acoustic Borbetomagus, see?

Then the plan for the next year will be the release of the new LP from The Kurws (polish band that takes the music of The Contortions and The Ex even further !), the new LP of France Sauvage (french trio who mastered the art of sonic collage and noise manipulation ... they're brillant !). Then we'll start to focus on a genre we didn't work with so far: electronic music. We'll have a release from Kaumwald (great french duo who push the boundaries of electronic music), the first EP of a new project from Lyon called Bless/ Curse (minimal techno/ house) and loads of other plans ...

Check the webpage of the label or the Facebook page for more info and news.

Gaffer label profile interview by Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Gaffer Records