Arcane Trickster

Arcane Trickster

It seems you can blink an eye and an entire decade slips past. Blink again and suddenly it is 2017 and one of Australia’s most enduring independent electronic record labels is the better part of a couple of decades old and has well and truly established a legacy. A global reach has been built around a strategic partnership with a European based label with similar values, and a refusal to be too pigeonholed has ensured the label has retained its vibrancy. There is no doubt that the 90’s were a Golden Age for independent electronic music, but as the new century wore on and the industry changed at a very fundamental level, labels folded in rapid succession. Which leads me to a small personal disclaimer – I have released my own material with these guys on occasion, and what I have come to appreciate about them is their survivability and willingness to absorb a bit of risk. Although there is a general theme to the label, each release is quite distinct. This takes some guts in a world that seems completely risk averse.

So it was with great pleasure that I posed some questions to Tempest Recordings’ Damiano Verna.

Can you outline a bit of background of the label?
Back in the 90s I was trying to get various musical projects off the ground, and eventually fell into a partnership with Chris Innes. We had started in indie rock bands where I was playing bass guitar and he was drumming, but my first instrument was keyboard and I was always into electronic music. Chris had eventually drifted away from playing drums altogether and into electronics and production.
By ’98 we’d had releases through a variety of different labels, under different aliases, and wanted to take a bit more charge of our careers. By chance we met some guys who were experimenting with making their own vinyl cutting lathes. They believed they could make shaped vinyl, not just round records, but other shapes and were working on a hexagonal shaped record. They were looking for an act, preferably an electronic act, to be guinea pigs to try their hexagonal shaped record, and we agreed to do it.
We wrote a song “Hex” and remixed it as “Vex”. Long story short, the technology never worked, and we ended up with a pair of tracks mastered for vinyl, without a release.  Anyway, waste not, want not, we decided to release the material ourselves on a 7″ single under the band name “Harmonic33”. Chris dubbed the label “Tempest Recordings” and that was the start of the label.
It would be 2 years later before we did another release, this time releasing under the name “Arcane Trickster” which I’ve continued to use for my productions on and off until today, but it wasn’t until around 2003 when we decided to pursue a label for real. Our motivation came from a desire to control our own musical destinies to some extent, although we had distributors to deal with, and satisfy, we had more freedom than our experiences on other labels, and we wanted to extend that to other artists as well.

What is the label’s intention? What does it hope to achieve?
Tempest Recordings has changed a lot over the years, its had several hiatuses, Chris eventually left the music industry. I eventually formed a strategic partnership with a pair of labels based in Greece, Cosmicleaf & Unicorn, both run by a very fine producer named Nick Miamis. We put together a label group called CUT Music, and since we’re added a further sub label, Slice Records, run by my younger brother, Cristian.
Nowadays the focus of the label is on underground australian electronic music, mostly downtempo, but not exclusively. This said, I like the idea of a label being defined by quality music, not by genre.

We have seen a transition from physical product to digital – how is that working for you? And what thoughts do you have on this? Good thing … bad thing? Why?
The transition from physical to digital has been a mixed bag in lots of ways. Physical products was very wasteful environmentally and financially in lots of respects, it meant their was barrier to releasing music. It was harder to get a deal, and in many ways you had to earn your dues, and keep earning your dues in lots of ways. The transition to digital was inevitable, and really the music industry wasn’t ready and thought it would happen much slower than it did. These days it is simpler to release music, you can do it cheaper and more often, and there are fewer barriers to creativity. This is all positive. But it is harder to stand out in a sea of music these days. Sometimes I think there is such a lot of mediocre music being released, I wonder if I’m being a grumpy Gen X when I say this.  Now we just try to make good music, I still have a lot of affection for physical releases, but ultimately the format is less important than the music.

Scanner talks about the chill spaces of 90’s raves as being a ‘cultural nexus’ whereby a vast range of multi disciplinary ideas were exchanged and seeped into the mainstream … do you have any thoughts on this?
Scanner is on to something here. The chill spaces in the nineties was the town square of the rave, a place where diversity was embraced, even if sometimes you could catch yourself playing from your parents’  record collection! For introverts like me, perhaps the most interesting part of rave culture. Alas these days for most gigs, and many festivals, it is no longer deemed necessary. Most of our label gigs like the old chill spaces, just without the main floor!

There is a trend back towards vinyl – what do you attribute this to? Are people reaching a threshold of discomfort with digital format and disposability?
We all love vinyl, and have large vinyl collections, our first release on the label was vinyl, and its still part of our label today. The 2 most recent Garagee albums on Tempest have been released on beautiful thick virgin vinyl with full colour sleeves, and we are really proud of these releases…. but I suspect, the vinyl revival is really a passing fad. Its mostly about repackaging Beatles and Stones records to baby boomers, and I don’t think it has much to do with vinyl addicts like ourselves. Ultimately the future is digital, even though I don’t like it as much personally. With technology there is very little a DJ really needs vinyl for, and as the technology improves there will be even less reason to have vinyl records. I’ll lament their passing, but this fad will pass. This said, I imagine we will still do the occasional vinyl release.

Is electronic music in a good state of health and why? What about the music industry in general?
Electronic music is everywhere now, it is the dominant style of music, and in every pop song and mainstream hit, with the production techniques pioneered in the underground seeping into the mainstream. So from that perspective, it is in rude health. I like to think that primes people nicely to become interested in progressive and innovative underground electronica. As for the music industry in general, I’m not so positive. The business is dominated by Silicon valley technology firms, who treat music as content rather than art. The music industry has always been flawed. Like I said early, there are fewer barriers to releasing music, and that’s positive, but its harder than ever to earn a crust from making music.

What continues to excite you about this genre of music? And what else are you listening to?
I get excited by the endless palette of sounds available to work with. At the moment I’m listening to lots of Melbourne based act, Alphaloopy, who creates, what she calls rustic beats, live, Circ, who is releasing an EP on our sub label, Slice, who has an old school acid sound, with a modern twist, I’ve also been enjoying Martilin, and a Clan Analogue artist, Kable 54.

Far from here web versionOkay… tell us a bit about some of your most recent releases….
I’ve just released an album as Arcane Trickster, called “Far From Here” its a collection of downtempo material I’ve made with a long time collaborator of mine, John Crombie, who is a collector of synths, and he utilises his skills as an electrical engineer to design and build his own synthesisers from scratch. We really enjoyed making the album, it came together easily, despite the massive collection of synthesisers and technology we used on it, not to mention a handful of guitars, and I’m pretty proud of how it turned out.
Also on Tempest we’ve also recently released a new album from British ex-pat producer, Stickleback, who acts as our in-house engineer. It’s called “Fireworks” and its glitchy dub influenced breaks in his own inimitable style. We’ve also released an album from local producer Lonely Faces called “Silver Moon” which is an all analogue affair. Our next release is a remix collection for my project Red Eye Express, which features a collection of tracks originally released through Cosmicleaf, in addition to some new previously unreleased remixes.