Thanks for speaking with me Vincent. I’m very interested to talk with you as you’ve been involved with digital music for so long. Can you tell me about the beginning of Camomille in 2002 and the web Tracker Scene?
Camomille was born in a very personal way out of what was one of the most musically exciting times for me, in the early 2000s. If we go a bit further back to 1995-96 when the internet was a term more akin to today’s .onion as it was more of a social myth with it’s own tales of strange lore. Before “hacking the internet” through the terminal application, me and my friends used to connect to local B.B.Ses or Bulletin Board Systems, which were local software that was modem-accessible, where you could host files, chat, play very basic games, and upload and download. This is where we discovered that through a very local and physical limitation, people would share files from area code to area code, distribution of these files only insured by the few people who could afford long distance to connect to the next city’s BBS systems. I stumbled, there, upon module files, a MIDI type file ( except it contained samples as MIDI files only contain notes) that you could play through certain module playing software.
These files were presented often by groups or crews and I would start following their progress all the way from those BBS years to even now ( Kahvi being one of the only ones still standing ).As a 14 year old kid listening to alternative rock and hip-hop, the sounds and styles found within these modules were mesmerising and highly enticing to me. It was as if they were creating totally new styles of music (which they were). All this made me want to create music as well as give it away like the groups I liked were doing. That’s one part of where the need to have a groupe / netlabel / label comes from. Just hoping that somehow someone would get the same experience and excitement that I had discovering new styles of music. The latter part is a more personal one.
Back in 2001-2002, I was a very anxious 18 year old kid, fighting with depression and panic attacks. It was a pretty painful time for me and my social circle kind of fell apart around me as a result of being high maintenance. One day I finally decided to go to the doctors and he gave me a couple of prescriptions for pills and some advice : tonight, go home, when you feel anxious, drink some camomille tea, it really helps. I was a pretty spiritual person back then, and i remember a very precise moment : I felt at the bottom of the lake with not enough air to come back and only saw death in front of me. I put on Chimera’s A long way from heaven ( he was on my favorite tracker group, Hellven) and drank my first camomille tea and somehow everything became better.
A broad question perhaps – what are some of the ways you’ve seen online music change over the last ten years?
I’ve seen many ups and downs and a lot of people come and go. Back in 1999-2003, when the tracker groups were multiplying and growing like crazy, the effervescence of the scene was positive. Nobody was thinking about making money, it was a self-proclaimed amateur community and that made it fun and not too serious. Back then, marginal music was harder to find in record stores and innovation was happening every day in the tracker scene. There was a very distinct excitement to do your weekly website roundabout when you’d download a 1.3 MB zip file. It was like a little digital box of goodies.
As the internet connections became faster and faster, there was a logical progression in the tracker group scene as you began to see more and more mp3s and .oggs pop up (because module files are smaller than mp3s), first as a second rate download option which then became more and more prevalent as the artists could now afford ( both in bandwidth and effort ) to do post production on their very hard to mix tracker files. The .it, .xm and other popular module files disappeared and we entered in the reboot of the scene into what came to be the netlabel era.
Also a very interesting time as labels took it one step forward in professionalism (better websites, better content) with a slew of supporting sites (scene.org, archive.org, united-trackers, traxinspace, nectarine radio, noerror, traxernews, and much more) showing up and really pushing the community forward. The scene completely changed and so did their principal actors. It was a volatile time for online music as the Napsters of the world were starting to piss off the big labels, the mp3.coms of the world were hustling the musicians and Myspace reared it’s big ugly head with a word that would probably fragment and thin out the net label scene forever after : social media. This is when Camomille jumped in the pool.
I’m not sure how online music is today. There is certainly no more scene or community. That has all gone away with the advent of self-promotion and social media. It’s understandable though. At a certain point there were so many net labels and daily releases that I think the output overcompensated and kind of gave in on itself. Our own little community black hole. All the net labels closed down one by one and without any trusted output, listeners went back to “commercial” or rather, music from a record label, which by the way, had become pretty awesome in the mid 2000s.
Ambient, experimental and electronic music was also all of a sudden much easier to create with software like Fruity Loops and was popping up everywhere. Not to say that there weren’t some awesome endeavours in the later 2000s with netlabels such as Thinner, Aerotone, Starvingbuthappy and others. There was still a lot of great music to be heard, but the model of the netlabel needed some change. I mean Kanye West did his own netlabel thing for a while. Musicians started to give away their music for free on Soundcloud and the netlabel kind of seemed like an unnecessary third party.
I now think that a label should be viewed as platform of trust, like a podcast or a radio show. I might have a negative tone, but I actually think that it’s pretty exciting right now also. I think it’s finally possible to make some pocket change out of your bedroom-made record and do small local shows again. The entire online music thing is feeling a bit like an early punk or hip-hop scene. Sell your mix tape to your friends for a few bucks and hustle on.
Your label has a strong visual identity and you use a lot of your own photography in the artwork. Has this always been the case and can you talk a bit about how you design the packaging for a release?
I’ve always been passionate about visual arts and that’s one of the reasons why I think Camomille has been such a great experience for me. It’s helped me so much with my graphic design, illustration and photography skills. At first I think the covers were pretty eclectic and kind of bad, but as time went by i was also very much influenced by what the “commercial” experimental/ambient labels were putting out and was really inspired by the consistency of their visuals. Today, photography is part of my daily life and creating covers was kind of an excuse for a lot of the shoots I’ve done.
Much like my music, designing and creating visuals is a super organic and kind of chaotic affair for me. There’s not a whole lot of thought behind it, just a lot in on the moment inspiration.
You focus largely on electronic, electro acoustic and ambient music – music often described as experimental. Can you tell me about your interest in this music and your own work as Muhr?
It’s a funny thing really, because I listen to a lot of pop, hip-hop, rock and less and less to the more experimental side of things. I was reeled in by the emergence of the IDM scene and all that it entailed as well as the Kranky ambient like Stars of the Lid, Dead Texan, Pan American, Eluvium, etc. There was something deep and melodramatic. Something that spoke to me like nothing that played on the radio or on my friend’s sound systems would. But like all ageing aficionados, I have a hard time finding that special something again. It was a golden age of sorts. I guess all my labels are ways for me to find something that would make me resonate like they did. Which I often did. Shiftless’ “Triumph” is definitely still one of the better things I’ve ever heard.
As Muhr, it’s really of a stylistic trainwreck! I used to be really anxious about that, but now i’m pretty happy that I feel comfortable doing whatever I feel like. Improvisations? sure. Hip-hop? Why not. I want to do it all.
What is your relationship to the artists on your label, do you know them personally?
It’s always been a pretty global thing with the artists on my label. Some I became friends with, even though I’ve never met. I probably talked more to Kaneel and Blisaed between 2000 and 2010 than all the people that surrounded me in real life. Today I’m fortunate that a lot of the artists I have the pleasure to work with are people that I’ve learned to know over the years and develop relationships with, where we can just share music and whine about the state of things together on Facebook. I’ve met and shot Lyndsie Alguire a good couple of times, though and it was awesome to have someone sitting in front of you that understands the little things of our ways of life that our families and friends rarely do (that’s if Lyndsie actually understands the words I say with my french accent ).
It seems Montreal has a strong experimental community, do these artists perform live often? What are some of your favourite Canadian experimental artists?
Something happened in the 2000s, I’m not too sure what, but the musical culture in Montreal kind of exploded and became this self-sufficient scene that was far from the grasps of the more bland and commercial music Quebec was used to be putting out. My favourite band of all time is from here, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and I feel like artists are still kind of dipping their toes in all the creativity that’s come forth from their music.
I’m a huge fan of Arcade Fire, Silver Mt. Zion, Bernard Adamus, Clues, and hip-hop acts like K6A, Alaclair Ensemble and Dead Obies. I’ve recently been listening to a lot of Exist Strategy and Purity Ring also. Right now there’s a lot of hype surrounding our own little hip-hop variant called Piu Piu, so it’s really exciting again for Montreal music.
What were artists that influenced you musically or otherwise?
I think a good place to start is really from the tracker scene and the sounds of early tracker groups like N.O.I.S.E. and the murky trip-hop of Tokyo Dawn Records. I’ve mentioned before Dead Texan and Godspeed you ! black emperor but we can add World’s End Girlfriend, Aphex Twin, Massive Attack and Bjork to the list as well when it comes to my more pop and beated sensibilities.
I’ve also been very attracted by Darkhalo’s music, he really understands how to portray a certain concept within his music while still exploring many different styles.
Hip-hop has also been a very predominant presence in my life, as well as it’s culture. I have an affinity with raw, simple music and art which is something I always try to create.
What are some of your favourite record labels, past or present? What appeals to you about them?
In the tracker group / netlabel world, I really, really miss N.O.I.S.E., the trackerscene variant of Tokyo Dawn Records (not really into their new funk revival ), Hellven and Starvingbuthappy. I was also always looking forward to the releases on Ogredung, Mono and Inpuj. I think that, historically, the record labels that would put out the stuff that I would consistently buy or download were Kranky and Constellation. They really opened me up to a whole other side of listening and consuming music that was involving and lucid. Recently, I’ve had a lot of fun listening to Type Records‘ output and I’ve been interested in the whole limited edition ambient/post-modern scene : Heat Death, Miasmah, Sonic Pieces, Home Normal and others. That’s a scene all on it’s own and I’ve been staring at it from afar for the last few years as it grew.
Tell me about what’s happening with Camomille now and your new project, Trembl.
Camomille has actually fell into deep slumber. I’m sort of pulling the plug on it. I’ve had a lot of great fun operating a project like that for the last 12 years but I felt I was at a certain point where me and my listenership needed a change. All my physical label endeavours have also put me back quite a lot money-wise and I have to be honest, I really suck at sending the records people buy. It was a chore much more than something I was viscerally happy to do. I’ve spent the last twelve years kind of trying to catch up to the people I admired but always feeling like I’m falling short of some measure of success. Most probably because I was trying to emulate rather than trust myself completely.
Also, the last twelve years, I’ve been releasing with a lot of the same artists and I love their music. I’m myself a starving artist, contributing to the free music culture for more than fifteen years, and you know what, I think what we do is good enough to at least pay a meal or two from time to time.
From these realisations, I dreamt up a place that would retain that tracker scene heritage of weekly goodies that didn’t need to be full length albums, as well as provide the artists that I love for a place to release music and maybe make a buck or two. On top, it would be a place that would follow my vision stylistically as I’ve been too often stuck between filtering my output to fit in a certain style guideline, afraid “of what people might think”. You know what? I love ambient music and experimental music, but I also deeply want to put out some hip-hop, some dub, some techno, some pop.
So with that in mind and seeing the next stage of my life being one that is more serious and feeling that i’ve gained sufficient experience to at least try this, I’m opening a digital label called Trembl. The premise is quite simple : one release every Tuesday (Trembl tuesdays sounds cool! ) that’ll either be a beat (TRBxxx) or a texture (TRTxxx). It will also be either a single, a split or an EP ( no full lengths ). I will herald the artistic direction, as usual, and will follow some of the latest releases on Camomille (like Emil Klotzsch’s “4” ) but this time all releases will have a cover and accompanying gallery of sensuous, mysterious ladies. So basically, Music and Girls.