THE BEGINNING

There’s been some weird electronic sounds coming from east London of late.

robotelephant

Since pressing their first 7-inch in 2010, Anthony Chalmers and Sebastian Weikart have been responsible for giving us a fair chunk of experimental music from around the world, a lot of it dark and electronic. More is on its way in the form of Fostercare’s black trance album ‘Altered Creature’ and a split LP compilation with the equally ‘out there’ Tundra Dubs label of Oakland, Los Angeles. But if you think that makes them a Witch House label (like we did), think again.

Robot Elephant started with a garage release (the brilliant London trio Speak And The Spells), but has since really come into its own as a great Witch House label, having released ‘ISVOLT’ alongside US label Disaro. What excited you so much about the genre?

“We think it’s a bit of a misconception that we are a Witch House label. We release music that the two of us like, so it can turn out to be garage rock, chip tune, bedroom produced electronic music or folktronica or whatever. As far as Witch House is concerned, it’s interesting bedroom electronica going beyond all generic boundaries, which produces extremely innovative music by amazing artists. The genre was massively diluted by hobby producers flooding the market with poorly produced tracks, which lead to a lack of confidence. But in a way, this is just part of a creative revolution where everyone can produce something, having real talent or not.”

Sub Pop founder Bruce Pavitt always felt that a label should have a look and a sound (his label’s being grunge). You have a strong identity yourselves that suggests it’s a theory you adhere too also.

“This idea comes from the ’90s – a time where a lot of music was categorised strictly into genres and new movements were separated into tribes. If you look at the recent Sub Pop catalogue, you will find that they themselves moved away from that philosophy, releasing garage-punk bands like Male Bonding alongside chillwavers Memoryhouse, hip folksters Fleet Foxes and hip hop from Shabazz Palaces. That’s were we want to see Robot Elephant in a couple of years – an eclectic collective of artists producing music that is simply brilliant. If you want, you could call our distinct label sound “future pop” (a term we like to argue over). Music that’s a bit ahead of its time but will soon be inevitably meshed into the underground and overground.”

But your output is definitely focused. Do you think that’s what makes Robot Elephant different to other indie labels?

“A key thing is that we’re releasing music that we like without too much thought to popularity. Our persistence to release music that ‘hardly anyone likes’ (a running gag between the two of us) keeps it a bit different. We also have quite a lot of ambition for the label and are really trying to run it professionally. Proper PR Campaigns, proper distro, videos etc. It annoys us that people seem to think that having a D.I.Y. ethnic means that you are unprofessional and basically winging everything. What it means is Do. It. Yourself. On your own terms just for wanting to do it. It doesn’t mean you don’t have to do things properly!”

We’ve interviewed a couple of bands from your roster – Ritualz from Mexico and Husband from northern Italy. How did you come across these people making these nightmarish songs in their bedrooms?

“Our main medium to discover music is obviously the Internet. Soundcloud is now the primary website to receive and find demos of bands. As far as music discovery is concerned, we check on Soundcloud what trusted people favourited, listen to podcasts and listen to what other trusted people recommend.”

In fact, Speak & The Spells aside, you’ve only released acts from outside of the UK, right? Do you think there’s something quite un-British about doomy electronic music, particularly?

“We would like to release more UK acts, and in fact we’ve got three releases lined up with UK bands and artists. We still think the geographical identity of a band is an important factor that can be utilised in promoting them effectively, even in the times of the Internet. In London there are so many labels and ‘music industry’ that nothing stays remotely underground for more than 5 minutes, so it’s not so much fun for a small label to pick up on.”

Since starting the label, what are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned?

“Patience mainly. Don’t rush into anything or try to rush the act to finish quicker. Make sure you provide quality on every level.”

How would you describe what Robot Elephant is all about to a member of The Wanted?

“Releasing music that hardly anybody likes on an antiquated format that hardly anyone has.”

This weird, dark kind of electronic music that has been dubbed Witch House – many people thought it would have buggered off by now, but we’re pleased to say that it hasn’t. What do you think is its staying power?

“The thing is that if people like it, then people like it. It might not be cool in the press anymore but it still means a lot to a lot of people. Press and buzz wise, people are starting to freakout about ‘Seapunk’, which is basically the new Witch House thing. I don’t really know what that is all about but maybe there is some great music in there.”

What’s up next on Robot Elephant?

“New unusual sounds from all over the world: Hipdiebattery from Romania, Ourobonic Plague from Perth, Woodpecker Wooliams from Brighton, Blue on Blue from London, Os Ovni from Florida, Deadfader from Berlin and more…. including a long-in-the-making full length album from Husband! Right now we are focussed on the Robot Elephant vs. Tundra Dubs compilation and the Fostercare album and tour. Check out our Robot Elephant party at Shacklewell Arms, London, on April 20, and Sticky Mikes Frog Bar in Brighton on April 24 featuring Fostercare, Husband, Blue on Blue, Hipdiebattery.”

Originally published in issue 36 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. March 2012

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