Incendiary interview Subroutine Records
Koen, Tsjalling and Nieke run Groningen’s Subroutine records, a veritable powerhouse of interesting underground pop and rock. Really, we could speak to a number of labels and organisations who are releasing very interesting records at the moment - Wham! Wham!, Subbacultcha, Kuriosa - to name but a small cross-section, but Koen’s a mate and knowing he’s an articulate bloke, and after having shared one or two lunatic adventures with them, Incendiary decided that Subroutine could ‘speak for the labels’, just this once mind…
IN: Tell us why you set up Subroutine Records
K: We first started talking about setting up a new label back in 2004. I ran another label (Silent Minority) in the years before, but that label quit releasing records that year. The demise of Silent Minority let me unable to fulfil some commitments to bands. In that period I met Niek and Tsjalling, who shared the same enthusiasm for new music and supporting bands. Our first release was an EP for a local singer/songwriter that was just starting to make a name for himself. In the nice Factory-tradition, I think we eventually lost about 10 cents per sold copy of that one. But we did realise our first release, and Subroutine Records was born.
IN: And why you continue to fight the good fight, despite being an essentially small organisation?
K: I don't really think we consider running the label as part of 'the good fight', though we do share the same ideals of independently releasing new music, the DIY-spirit and responsibilities that characterize other (international) indie labels. The bands that we release or feel associated with deserve to be listened to. To achieve that, they need good distribution and promotion. We can help them with that. It's not that easy to get your records in the stores in The Netherlands. If we can help some good bands with that, we will.
IN: Do you have a “house style” to speak of? I always see Subroutine as a Zoo or Postcard-style label, poppy, slightly deranged, intelligent music with a twist.
K: We (certainly) do not limit our releases to a specific style or genre of music. The stuff that we've done so far reaches from singer/songwriter music to home recordings to ‘indie pop’ and rock. The three of us have different preferences in music. We have to share enthusiasm for a band, before we even consider releasing it.
IN: Tell us a bit about the bands on your roster.
K: Currently we have six bands on our roster. One of the first bands we wanted to release were Vox Von Braun, who started in 2005. We've just released their full-length debut in September. They play poppy, slightly psychedelic songs, in the cool tradition of bands like Pavement and My Bloody Valentine. Fuck the Writer is a Rotterdam-based singer/songwriter with an amazing productivity in writing edgy folksongs, a bit like Beck between Odelay and Mutations. His first two records were based on solo home recordings, but now he’s working on his next album with a full band. The Sugarettes are from Eindhoven and play very catchy pop/rock songs. AC Berkheimer just released a great ‘shoegaze’ record, a bit like Asobi Seksu.
IN: I see AC Berkheimer as a classic Subroutine band
N: AC Berkheimer are a four-piece from Rotterdam, they’ve been working with Corno Zwetsloot, (manic Dutch producer, foreign kids – ed) who has honed their shoegazey, droney sound. They remind me of bands like Sonic Youth or Electrelane, and the odd bit of My Bloody Valentine…The Very Sexuals is an internet project (though we’ve just released the LP proper) from Joep van Son (Sugarettes) and singer/songwriter Pien Feith who also works with Neonbelle and About, amongst other projects. They make great pop songs, very Dandy Warhols; very Bowie too. Skipper is a project that’s already been two and a half years in the making, that’s going to be a fantastic release.
IN: Holland needs fiercely independent labels, agreed?
N: Well… there already are a number of interesting labels who also dare to be different over here. They all operate in differing spheres musically, which is great; Svartgalgh Records, Tegel, Knife Slits Water, Badmintone, Kuriosa en Wham!Wham!
But you know the real problem is that although there are lots of good labels about, the media is only really interested in what is accessible and musically exploitable here. There’s an ingrained play-safe attitude, ‘give the public what they want’ as opposed to maybe broadening the public’s perspective by playing new sounds.
IN: What would you say is the single biggest problem with the Dutch independent scene as you see it?
N: Not enough eyes on and certainly not enough appreciation for, original talent. Dutch bands play for peanuts, because, according to Dutch programmers, the Dutch musical public aren’t interested in seeing Dutch bands.
N: If there was the same enthusiasm, support and interest for Dutch bands as there was for all those Belgian bands during the mid-nineties, or the same support for local talent there is for French and German bands, you know a little bit of national pride in your own produce, then there would be a noticeable knock–on effect and some really great acts would get the attention they deserve. I should also say that people like Subbacultcha and 3voor12 always try to do interesting things…
IN: I know I shouldn’t steal your thunder in your own interview, but Wham!Wham! Records & the Kuriosa label are also based near you. It’s funny that the organisations releasing really different bands are all up in the North. We were wondering if you could give us any reason as to why that is.
N: We all took sustenance from the cultural cornucopia that is Vera. And if you already have a love for interesting music then you can’t do better than going to Vera. Kuriosa looks towards German garage and beat records and Wham! Wham! looks to release pretty experimental stuff. The music doesn’t necessarily have to come out of Groningen; we look round all of Holland. But we all share a passion for releasing things that don’t get a lot of attention in Holland, a country where musical tastes are almost ingrained and take some shifting when something new or different comes along.
Of course the bands we promote all deserve attention, but obviously, it’s difficult talking the stance we all do. Kuriosa do that in a totally different manner than Wham!Wham! and us; what I would say is that the other two really try to grab the media’s attention. We just plug along, we have done for a number of years… and we are slowly but surely getting recognition from the trendies in the Randstad. Better late than never!
IN: Groningen is a rock and roll town. But lots of people outside Holland would never know that. What is peculiar to Groningen’s psyche that allows the flourishing of places like Vera, and all those garage rock bands…
N: Mostly it’s the difference with the west of the country, which can be seen as the biggest disadvantage. However this distance is the main reason why Groningen has developed the way it has musically. It’s a fertile scene but at the same time there’s not a lot of competition from outside. The scene is timeless, answerable to itself. It ensures that only a very hip agenda is followed, at all times. Which can be a bit… restricting intellectually.
From the outside it seems that Groningen is the centre of garage rock, but that’s not really true, there’s a wide range of really excellent music. Lots of electronica (Kettel), through nihilistic no-wave (Adept en Bonne Aparte), noise (Propeller), indie rock (Vox von Braun) to real pop (WeSwimYouJump). These bands have all gone through the Vera filter, but they’re all bands with a different, independent agenda. There’s no band I’ve mentioned that simply copies or plays fashionable games. Independence plays a big part in this. Vera is independent and Groningen bands are proud to follow Vera.
IN: What’s planned? You’re always up for doing different things, going on madcap tours, etc. Anything you’re working on?
N: We’ve got one more release planned this year, the last part of our summer offensive. And that’s Skipper, which is the child of Mike Scheepers and Corno Zwetsloot (the indie producer in Holland). It’s been two and a bit years in the making and we hope to release it in October. Think Animal Collective in terms of a sound-bite, 3voor12 called it 'Beach Boys voor gevorderden'. We expect a lot from this one. After that we’re going to do some daft adventures in Germany and Belgium, just like that last one in England. Just with a few good bands in tow, shaking things up.
Words: Richard Foster
Pics: Courtesy Subroutine