There once was a record label, a small little indie label with some rather idealistic ideas …but rather than give you my version of the story, here’s a piece written by the danish magazine Geiger which gave me great pride and summed-up better than i, what the label was all about. A link to the original Danish article in question can be found here: A Portrait of Alternate Records. The translation was made in conjunction with the writer.
Marc Alexander (label owner)
COOL OR WHAT!
A portrait of Alternate Records
Even though the small Copenhagen record company Alternate Records is a relatively new phenomenon, it is one of the Danish underground scene’s fastest rising, guiding lights at the moment. In less than three years it has efficiently marked itself as a consistent project in both colourfulness and quality, a project that equally cultivates ambiguity, absurdity and the progressive impulse.
It started on a small scale in may 1998 when the eclectic indie-rock band Harry Lime’s debut EP Hey Stupid placed the record company on the map. Since then a lot has happened. Suitable for its name, Alternate appears as the roomy home of bands as different as the electro-goth project Column, the surf-orchestra El Ray, the folk duo Neon and the pathologically barrier-breaking Cockroach Houdini. The best exposure of the company so far came last year, when Column’s substantial electronic debut single ‘The Sakura Building’, was used as the continual theme and background music for TV-Danmark 2’s documentary Sex in Japanese – a serial of 12 programs which later was sold to TV-stations all over Europe. However, at present Alternate enjoys a rising degree of attention. Column’s latest single, Piece of Glass, was “the profile of the week” on radio P3 in July and harry lime’s single ‘Fuzzy’ that has just been released, could very well obtain the same degree of attention even though none of these numbers, can in the common way, be said to be premeditated radio-friendly. And since Alternate has begun to place numbers from every one of it’s groups on the internationally well-reputed payment-website Vitaminic it will almost certainly start to draw some attention from foreign countries. Alternate has already had a fore-taste of this kind of attention in February when Harry Lime, Column and R.O.C. appeared at the 1st Festival of Modern European Culture in the capital of Latvia, Riga.
The man behind the record company is English born Marc Alexander. Geiger made an appointment with him to shed some light on one of the Danish underground’s more exciting and varied record companies.
Anonymity and absurdity
Alexander himself is a practicing musician in one of the more characteristic alternative Danish bands these days – a fact he deliberately chooses to play down. Actually, he appears on the company’s home page Alternate Records first and foremost as an enigmatic linguistic presence : this is due to the fact that he does not want to emphasis his own band more than the other bands he is eager to release. And when asked about his personal background, he evades the question easily and elegantly – prefers to tell the company’s story rather than his own.
– My own background is under wraps. All in all, the only strictly relevant details are that i started Alternate Records two and a half years ago with a partner who soon left the project. Since then I have run the company on my own and produced many of the bands that it has released. We have been against a headwind since the beginning and have been progressing slowly ever since. But when you think about the fact that Alternate is a small company that exists on a very tight budget, we actually do get a lot of attention right now. Something that I would first and foremost ascribe to the quality of the bands.
That Alexander has in this chosen to place himself in the back-seat does not however mean that the company as a whole seems transparent. On the contrary : If you go through the home page, wry and absurd humour that greets you from everywhere. In this way, the site offers a weekly “weather report” and if you enter the category “A word from the boss” you are stared directly at by Alexander’s black cat Harry. The subordinate home pages of the individual bands show an equally surrealistic approach. This way, if you enter the action-surf band S.P.E.C.T.R.E.’s home page, you will be met by a regular spy novel in a punk form, that takes place both by land, by water and in space – and the introduction text on Harry Lime’s home page, The Harry Lime Zoo, is a both entertaining and, if you read between the lines, a discreet informative cut-up. But is all this a part of a deliberate strategy from the company?
– Fine point, says Alexander : I have deliberately tried to create a company with personality. When I first became interested in music,some of my favourite companies were 4AD, Creation and Factory. Companies that had a special style and gave me the impression that they were really interested in the products they released. This meant that I bought many of the releases they put on the street and was rarely disappointed. The trick is to create a style that is recognizable and an honest personally – not to thought out and artificial. A difference you can really feel. But it also demands that the company as a whole is a mixture of the different bands mentality and my own ideas……..good and bad.
Another area where this interaction can be expressed is in Alexander’s independent studio, Alternate Studio, where the bands, as mentioned before, often record their material with him in the producer’s chair. As a result, there is a continuity of sound that appears in many of the company’s products – however you cannot say that a particular style has been forced upon them. Rather, the Alternate-sound is based on some more overall aesthetic criteria. A deep and detailed – but also simple and clear – production with plenty of room both at the top and bottom . According to Alexander this was not the plan at all, the studio was meant to be his own private working tool – but he has trouble hiding his enthusiasm as time progressed.
– It actually started rather by chance. I only began my career as a producer to be able to create the sound that I wanted for my own music. A lot of producers are like hair-dressers : you tell them how you want your hair to look and then they do it exactly the way they want see it, and try to convince you it’s what you wanted all along. I started with a 4 -track tape recorder and then things just expanded. All of a sudden I was where I am now. With a lovely small studio, that has specialized in a unique blend of lo-fi, hi-fi, where I can produce records for a lot of different bands which I often get the privilege of releasing. If my 16-year old alter ego could put it in words he would probably say “COOL OR WHAT!”
Versatility as the lighthouse
One of the essential things that characterizes Alternate Records is, as mentioned earlier, the large stylistic range in the company’s catalog. To Alexander there is no contradiction in, on one hand, housing the modern folk name Neon or an unrestrained surf band as El Ray and on the other hand be the label to Column’s electronic twilight music and Cockroach Houdini’s “alternative sci-fi on acid”:
– The main criteria for what can be released on Alternate is quality, instinct and originality – and first and foremost I need to like what I hear. Of course this is a deeply subjective way to judge things, but if you run a company, someone has to make the final decision and it is never money that motivates my choices (i hope!). All the records that alternate has released could just as well be in my own record collection. I have a broad taste of music which is reflected in the company’s releases, of course. Actually I will put it like this : are you original – or an extremely good performer of the style you have chosen to pursue – then you can come to me.
All in all, it can be said that Alexander has difficulties with musical barriers. Therefore, in 1999 and again last autumn, he held two events, A State of Alternate part 1 and A State of Alternate part 2 at Vega in Copenhagen and at Brunske Pakhus in Fredericia. There he gathered a number of widely different Danish bands to overcome both the personal and the stylistic contrasts which too often has marked the alternative Danish scene. Evenings that in reality anticipated the Toneart-initiative that has flowered later, but then again, seen from his side, were not unambiguous successes.
– Basically I wished to do something that would create a bit of unity within the underground scene. Denmark has a lot of good bands, but there is a distinct competition mentality between them. Many of them do not want to help each other get ahead. Both events worked fine on the outside, but on the inside the problems showed themselves clearly. Anyway : I would like to arrange a third A State of Alternate event under the right circumstances. I still believe in the initial idea and that it could be possible to realize it. I’m working hard to find the right sponsors and venues and should the right people be out there among the readers, are they very welcome to contact me, says Alexander, who also has plans about possibly capturing the event on record.
However, right now Alexander has primarily turned his eyes on the record releases of the months to come. October and November present new initiatives from S.P.E.CT.R.E. , Neon, Harry Lime and the Icelandic garage-core quartet Drep (the debut EP ‘Doctor e.p.’). In the coming months the debut albums from Cockroach Houdini (‘Bamboo Gods and Iron Men’), Column (‘Centipede’) and El Ray will also see the light of day. An impressive profile for such a small company. And when Alexander is a finally asked what he thinks is the biggest thing Alternate has achieved as a company, he answers in a voice with equal portions of pride and humility : 1, to survive for so long as a company without a large budget and yet 2, to release what I hope might prove to be indispensable records. Actually, I would like to send a personal thanks to the bands, friends and followers who have supported Alternate Records up until now. The company exists first and foremost because of them and I hope that everybody that has been involved knows that I am grateful for it. I take my hat off to all of them.
By Steffen B. Pedersen, December 1, 2001
Original Danish Version at Geiger.dk