THE FANZINE THAT FEATURES SMALL AND UNSIGNED BANDS
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
INTERVIEW WITH JAMES NICE (FOUNDER OF LTM RECORDINGS)
HELLO JAMES, I GUESS LTM CAN ONLY BE THE WORK OF SOME PASSIONATE MUSIC LOVER
Actually now I see myself more as a historian or archivist. Less keen on the word curator though. But it's true that music from 1978 through to the mid 1980s is a particular interest of mine. I was born in 1966, so in 1980 I was just getting seriously interested in music, and was introduced to groups like Joy Division and Wire, then more underground and arty groups like Josef K, Section 25 and Crispy Ambulance. Through the Factory Benelux connection I got interested in The Names and Minny Pops, and after that the whole Les Disques du Crépuscule catalogue and Brussels scene, Tuxedomoon in particular. If you're asking what I listen to in the car for entertainment today it's Lady Gaga, The Whip and School of Seven Bells.
IF I MAY SAY SO, THE BACKCATALOGUE ISN'T EXACTLY WHAT YOU SHOULD CALL THE TASTE OF A TYPICAL BRIT
That may well have been true in the 1980s and 1990s, but the web means that groups like Berntholer, Marine and Isolation Ward, who only made a few singles, have now reached a truly international audience. I've always been pretty Eurocentric though, and moved to Brussels in 1987 when I finished university. I thought it would be like Ernest Hemingway's Paris in the 1920s.
I MEAN, JAMES, BRITISH PEOPLE WHO ARE AWARE OF LES DISQUES DU CREPUSCULE CAN BE COUNTED ON ONE HAND..
That's not true, although certainly it does not have the same profile (or collectability) as Factory or 4AD.
HOW DID LTM START?
Fanzine to cassettes to 7" singles to albums (William Burroughs, Crispy Ambulance, some compilations.), in the space of four years between 1982 and 1985. In those days Rough Trade Distribution paid to press and store the records. Then in 1987 I moved to Brussels, and worked for Crepuscule and then PIAS. After that I was a lawyer for a few years. LTM only became a full-time job in 2001. But it was never my intention to try to discover new bands. I leave that to people with better ears.
YOU SOON BECAME THE LABEL THAT GIVES US REISSUES FROM LONG FORGOTTEN VINYL ALBUMS THAT NOWHERE CAN BE FOUND..
Not so very soon! When CD became financially viable for indie labels I was one of the first to do reissues with bonus tracks and sleevenotes, from 1989/1990 onwards. I was still working at PIAS then, and some people thought I was wasting my time. But CD gave you great sound, space for bonus tracks, and a higher profit margin that allowed for small runs, digital remastering costs, etc etc. Which is why I don't really understand the fresh appeal of vinyl editions today! And 180 gram vinyl pressings now are nowhere near as good as they used to be.
MAJORS COMPLAIN THAT THE MUSIC IS IN DEEP CRISIS, DOES A LABEL LIKE YOURS FEEL THAT?
Certainly the market has been shrinking for the last few years, and becoming more fragmented. So, for example, some people want a vinyl edition instead of CD, which isn't really a format I want to revisit. Most or all younger people - teenagers - don't really expect to pay money for music, though fortunately most of the people who are interested in LTM releases still want to buy a physical CD, nicely packaged, with sleevenotes. The day that music is only available by download is the day I stop doing LTM, as my job would just be data management rather than running a record label. But I don't think that will happen. It's just that everything is becoming more and more niche. Deep discounting annoys me though. Filesharing too. I think if you trade files, and like what you hear to the extent that you play it more than once, then you should buy the track or album. But it's hard to pin down. Just because someone listens to an illegal fileshare or download it doesn't mean they would have paid money for a CD.
YOU REISSUE STUFF FROM EXISTING LABELS, IS IT THAT SIMPLE TO CONVINCE THEM THAT YOU DO THE REISSUES?
Usually I work with the artist direct. But certainly it is easier and cheaper to licence catalogue from major labels these days, as they are not interested in physical reissues of marginal catalogue any more, only download. One of the reasons that I do a lot of Manchester and Brussels catalogue is that the rights have often reverted to the artist, so the working relationship is easier and more enjoyable.
WE ALREADY UNDERSTOOD THAT YOU ARE A FACTORY-DEVOTEE.. TELL US: IS IT YOUR GOAL TO REISSUE THE WHOLE FACTORY BACK CATALOGUE?
No, though I see Factory as a discrete art movement like the Bauhaus, so everything that Factory issued and released is always interesting on that basis alone. On a commercial level, it's far better for core Joy Division and New Order catalogue to be managed and distributed by a major label. True indie labels are becoming increasingly niche, and the channels for distribution more limited.
YOU RECENTLY STARTED THE AUTEUR LABELS SERIES. ARE THERE ANY OTHER IN THE PIPELINE? (MY MIND SAYS SOMETHING LIKE SARAH .)
I'd love to do an Auteur Labels volume on Sarah but they refused, on the basis that they wouldn't want any other label to do a Sarah compilation. Which is fair enough. I'd love to do Industrial, Postcard and Fetish. For me, an 'auteur label' has to have some sort of firm identity, so Rough Trade would be difficult as the catalogue was so big and eclectic, and not always well designed, even though it occupies a large space in The Culture. A few people cite El, but that's not a label I take very seriously.
I WANNA BET MY MONEY ON IT THAT YOU ARE ONE OF THOSE GUYS WHO COLLECTED IT ALL.
At the time, sure, I was a hardline completist. But not now - if I'm interested in a group or artist I just go for the core catalogue. I'm less insecure. How much money did you bet, by the way?
WHAT IS IN YOUR MIND THE PERFECT LABEL? (FOR ME IT'S STILL 4AD)
I was, and remain, sufficiently fascinated by Factory to write a book about it, Shadowplayers (Aurum Press, 2010). 4AD I found a little bit too stylized and boutique, though I still play their Cocteau Twins and Colourbox records. I suppose the ultimate 'auteur label' is ECM, though I don't own a single release on that label. But I do like Blue Note, even though I'm not really into jazz. And I find Creation interesting even though I don't own too many of their records.
I GUESS YOU LOVE BELGIUM A LOT HAHAHA...
For sure I like visiting Brussels. It is a much better place now than when I lived there, between 1987 and 1991. A cop in a leather jacket once threatened me with his submachine gun outside a small bar on Kolenmarkt because I was drinking a glass of beer on the pavement, rather than inside. I doubt that would happen today. Anyway I much prefer the Au Daringman (aka Chez Martine) on the Rue de Flandre.
I GUESS DUE TO LTM YOU GET IN TOUCH WITH A LOT OF HEROES, SO IT MUST BE SOME SORT DREAM COME TRUE, NO?
I suppose it is, but I don't start screaming or sobbing when I meet members of New Order, and so on. Although I did shed a tear at the funeral of Larry Cassidy (Section 25) in February. It was great meeting the Savage Republic guys in the States last year.
IS THERE STUFF AROUND YOU LIKE TO RELEASE BUT IMPOSSIBLE AS THEY REFUSE TO?
Not many, though Clock DVA is a notable one. I'd love to work with Front 242, the first two albums, but it never seems to happen. Other projects just take a very long time, like 23 Skidoo.
I ASK THIS TO EVERYBODY: WHAT 'S YOUR FAVE RECORD OF ALL TIME AND PLEASE STATE WHY..
Too hard to answer, and they change over the years. But Night Air by Blaine L. Reininger was a huge influence on me. Crépuscule released it in 1983, and the music and lyrics and ambiance was one of the things that drew me to Brussels a few years later. I think it captured the expatriate atmosphere of the city really well, at least at that time. If I hear it today it still has a very strong emotional pull. Probably too emotional! I'm being sentimental.
THE LAST WORD IS YOURS, JAMES
Perhaps you could explain that to the musicians on LTM! OK, I'm not above shamelessly plugging my Factory book again, Shadowplayers. It is the definitive history of the label, and also includes a lot about Factory Benelux, Crépuscule, Plan K and the Brussels cold wave scene.