In the Lab with Chemical Tapes: An Interview with Rob Gibson
One of the most interesting and worthwhile labels to emerge in recent times is surely Chemical Tapes. Look at their catalogue and you will notice not only a roster of gifted artists (Tidal, Benge, Machinefabriek to name just a few), but also an aesthetic sense of design that is both unadorned and beautiful, fitting with the intelligent and no-nonsense music that they release. I spoke to owner Rob Gibson recently about the label’s philosophy, history, and plans for the future.
Could you describe how the label started?
Having always been into experimental electronic music, I found that around 2008 and 2009 I was buying more and more releases on cassette, especially the more drone and synth oriented material coming from American labels. It was also around this time that I had the urge to start my own label, CD-Rs didn’t really appeal and vinyl was too expensive for a first time venture. With the prevalence and seeming interest in cassette-based labels it appeared to be a cost-effective method for dipping the toes into the label game. I personally really enjoy the format and as a customer of other labels I liked having the limited edition psychical release alongside the flexibility of a digital download. This seemed like the perfect way to go.
On and off for a while I was thinking about this, how to get artists I respect interested in a start-up label, the general aesthetic, researching feasible options for tape production, cover printing, digital sales, web presence and of course a name.
At this time two people were important in helping move things forward, first was my friend Andrew Webster who shares the passion for the same music as myself, has a great eye for design ideas and who is also a professional web designer, the other was Tim Diagram [of Maps And Diagrams]. I had been a big fan of Tim’s work over the years and around that time discovered that he lived in the same area as me, we got to chatting and I bombarded him with lots of questions and he was gracious enough to answer them! He also agreed to be our first artist, which was a great boost for us, to come out of the gates with a recognisable artist and one who I highly respected.
By early 2011 we had a name, aesthetic, website and our first artist on board.
How would you describe Chemical Tapes’ aesthetic? What labels influenced the look of your design?
The influence didn’t really come from any label, we wanted something that reflected the psychedelic, mind altering qualities of the music we would release and Andrew Webster had the great idea of basing each release on the psychedelics of the book PiHKAL: The Chemical Story, by Alexander and Ann Shulgin. This in turn influenced the whole aesthetic of the label. We wanted a clean pharmaceutical/laboratory research kind of vibe across the board, from website and logo to PR materials, etc. The only element that really changes from release to release is the artwork, which either Andrew designs or is supplied by the artist and we tweak, and of course the Chemical [logo].
What do you look for in the artists you choose for your releases?
I guess this falls into two categories, artists I know and follow and have bought many releases from for myself over the years who I’d love to work with, and artists who I am initially less familiar with but submit a demo that grabs me, opens my eyes and excites me to work on a release.
What is your demo policy like? What is the most interesting demo you’ve heard?
We are always open for demos, nothing excites me more than receiving amazing demos out of the blue. I would have to say a recent demo from Japan stands out and is something I am very excited to be working on!
If you could work with any artist, who would it be and why?
Justin Beiber. Give him a week in the lab and he’ll come out a psych-drone convert.
I’d like to hear your thoughts on artistic integrity: What makes a work honest and interesting to you? Why do you feel these qualities attract you in music?
I think artistic integrity is a belief held strongly in the more underground music scenes, people who aren’t looking for instant financial reward, fame and to be a star. People live and breathe the music with a passion. I guess this honesty and dedication is what attracts me.
Do you feel that the present is a positive time for music?
I would say it’s a positive time for music, certainly for the consumer. The internet has opened the door for music consumption, although I do feel it takes some of the romance out of discovering new music. Long gone are the days of hearing obscure records on the John Peel show, not knowing the name, the label or where it’s from. Now everything is revealed in a few keystrokes.
What are the positive and negative aspects of owning your own label, and what advice would you give to someone looking to start one for themselves?
If you have a passion for it then go for it. A lot of people start labels if they are an artist themselves, or are already involved in music in some way. For starting out from scratch I would suggest having an aesthetic idea and a basic concept of what you wish to do in place before reaching out to people, I think artists are more likely to be receptive if they can identify with your vision. The positives are being able to work with artists you respect, to shape and curate your own vibe, and if you have that passion for music, just being involved is a positive. As for a negative, don’t expect to make any money!
What interests do you have outside of music? What are your favorite books, movies, or paintings, for example?
I like to travel, I enjoy photography. Favourites change from day to day.
What releases from other labels have most captured your attention in the last year?
I’ve been enjoying a lot of stuff from SicSic, Ginjoha, Stroboscopic Artefacts, L.I.E.S, Prologue and Hospital in the past year. If I starting naming releases we’ll be here all day!
What will we see from Chemical Tapes in the future?
Well, we hope to keep the lab busy and continue releasing new music, I want to get a compilation release out of existing label artists and new artists, and also to get the currently dormant Chemical Beats into action, which will be a vinyl-based offshoot for the more deep psychedelic techno experiments.
You can find the Chemical Tapes Bandcamp page at http://chemicaltapeslabel.bandcamp.com