In Paradisum's origins and the creative process of running a vinyl record label
Words by Miguel Ferreira. Photo credits: In Paradisum
In Paradisum is a brilliant French record label from Paris. Founded in 2011 by Guillaume Heuguet, In Paradisum doesn't chase trends, but its music seems to find the right ears anyway. In Paradisum's sound is dark, ambient, droney, industrial, noisy, dense, and sometimes distorted techno, but always original and interesting. I interviewed Guillaume about In Paradisum's origins and the creative process of running a vinyl record label.
1. Tell us about the story behind In Paradisum - how did the label get started, what really sparked you into getting the label going?
Back in 2011 I was pretty frustrated with the music scene in Paris. It was mostly electro bangers and the same old minimal techno/house. At the same time I was excited by artists who were never playing in Paris, so we did a couple of events, bringing Oneohtrix Point Never, Emptyset, Demdike Stare... I was also helping out my friends Paul (Mondkopf) and Philippe (Low Jack), giving notes on their music and how to release the music, finding them a booking agent etc. As I knew a bit about these things. Paul and I were exchanging a variety of records, i was introducing him to Ancient Methods, he was giving me early Swans, things like that. One day, we were under a tent on a rainy day at a festival and he made me listen to his song « Ease your pain » on his iPod. I was excited to release that and thought it could be a good idea to borrow the name of his ambient/metal blog In Paradisum to explore the mix of our music tastes. Soon enough we realized we knew people in France who had interesting music that wouldn’t find a home in any French label. At the time it could be difficult to release vinyl if you weren’t producing banging electro or minimal. International labels seemed out of reach for many French producers as well. So we decided to open up the label to some friends who had unreleased and exciting music, and it grew from there. Also, I had just stopped deejaying, I found living in Paris stressful, and working on the label was a good thing to focus on.
2. What are the main principles and ideals of the label?
I have two intuitions: the quality of the music has to come before pleasing artists, but otherwise helping the artists should come before any benefits for the label. Especially when they take their own music seriously and when they have to handle precarious situations and the stress that comes with it in order to keep doing their art. I think it’s important not to chase new releases and to accept voids in the calendar instead of trying to build momentum based on sonic trends. Otherwise I think it’s more about questions than rules. For example, is it still possible to run an underground electronic label properly and still not make it all about branding?! One important thing for us has been to support releases or artists that wouldn’t find a home easily somewhere else, because they’re unknown, because their sound is "too much of something", or just out of the main genres. It makes everything more difficult but the work is more rewarding. But in the end I think it’s the music that should embody ideals. In the current social context, running a label is just another precarious job like many others out there, I think it’s more honest to recognize that. To me idealistic principles of running a label rely on retrospective myths about labels from the past (like Factory records). If I start taking what we do too seriously, soon enough I will end up just doing silly marketing stunts or weird merchandising and asking a PR agency to present that us as avant-garde. Which would just be a more elitist version of marketing a “label-as-aspirational-lifestyle-brand” as we have seen a lot in France. It’s bad enough that an independant label is barely "do-able" these days without any capital, we don’t have to romanticize it as some grand gesture mixing business and art. As long as we don’t bother inquiring more about the condition of workers who produce our vinyl records in France or in Czech Republic, we better stay quiet on principles and ideals.
3. Can you name some of the artists/albums that made you want to dig even deeper and inspired you to do what you do at In Paradisum?
In the early days of the label, I was into the Seldom Felt white label series, the early Oni Ayhun, early Milton Bradley, Levon Vincent's first records… Different things but mostly dubbed out psychedelic club music, things that could be pretty slow or really heavy… After scanning my picks for a while, Blaise from Syncrophone's shop in Paris handed me these at a time when no nobody else seemed to care much about them. Also Paul, Low Jack and me couldn’t believe that no one was pursuing what people like Errorsmith or Cristian Vogel had set up to do. Paul and I were really into Ancient Methods, Perc, Pete Swanson, Robert Turman, Unit Moebius, Earth, Godflesh, Pan Sonic, I Am a Lake of Burning Orchids, Liberez. I think soon enough came out the first L.I.E.S 12“, like Two Dogs and Vapauteen, my friend Quentin releasing IUEKE on Antinote… looking back, I’m sure I'm forgetting the more important ones. But Paul and I have shared a lot of music for over 10 years so there’s a lot of non-contemporary music as well, we were really into Claire Hamill, Dome, or Ghedalia Tazartes. And I liked a lot of post-punk, This Heat, early Wire, then industrial Ministry or Killing Joke dubs, things like that. I also have a tendency of liking one record and not necessarily embrace the sound of the scene that surrounds it, so that makes for chaotic lists.
4. How much influence does Paris have on In Paradisum’s sound — would you say there’s something distinctively Paris about the label?
I think there can be something “on the edge” and high-paced about Paris that made me look for intense and cathartic sounds. But there are not that many Parisians releasing music on the label, rather people from all over France, except Run Dust who just relocated from Germany to Upstate New York. I like to think that we translate the inspiration of the wide net of “industrial” music in a different context, because most of us grew up in small towns or French suburbs, sometimes moved to bigger cities, and now always look for an excuse to play music and experiment with in situ acoustics. The musicians we work with tend to approach their music and not focus on "international electronic scene".
5. How would you describe the ambient/drone/experimental Paris scene right now? And where does In Paradisum fit into the Paris scene?
My experience of Paris has changed a lot in the past few years : in the early days releasing records was like sending a message in a bottle to escape from the suffocating trends of the Paris club scene, and now there’s more links between noise-rock, DIY noise/electronics, and the larger electronic scene and it’s easier and more friendly to work alongside Parisian labels like Gravats, Population, Mind, etc. I think In Paradisum is at the crossroads of different networks of people, some from the DIY autodidact french noise scene with Somaticae and Kaumwald, which in Paris means guys playing at great festivals like Sonic Protest or venues like Les Instants Chavirés, some from a more noise-rock and ambient scene with a metal background, like Mondkopf playing with Saaad and Frederic D. Oberland, in places like Church of St Merri… Then with people like December and my own background its more the ambient side of techno… I think a lot of ambient music, whether it’s electronic or a mix of instruments, can get formulaic and too dead serious really quickly. Ambient has a dedicated audience that sometimes really embraces only one kind of sound, and although it would work well this way as these kind of records sell nicely, I want the label to be able to breathe and stay open to all kinds of winds, as we would say in French. We have a really interesting new record by Low Jack coming up that’s a more digital sounding collage with strange sound-synthesis and samples that will help keep this variety alive. To finish and answer your question, I’m pretty sure there are people who like the more process-oriented music and hate emotional ambient, and the other way around, and also people in both groups who don’t pay attention to our more club-oriented records, like Qoso’s amazing Printemps Eté, so I think we’ll always cross these scenes without totally fitting in.
6. What kind of music did you listen to when you were a kid?
When I was a child I was listening to commercial radios, mostly french rap/rnb and "dance", which in France means trancey dance-pop. Later I was lucky to have a public media library just near my bus station in my hometown. They had crazy niche electronic records so I was getting back home with 5 new CDs every evening that I could check out and record on tape at night. The funny story is that Quentin from Antinote was going to the same place, we met as teenagers in the same small town in the center of France, but we only realized it a couple years ago that we had been indirectly schooled by the same librarian who was buying all these CDs. Later as teenager I got active in two very different and influential french messaging boards, one very much into southern rap, grime and futuristic electronic beats and the other more focused on "abstract hip-hop" and classic electronica and ambient. I think the local/global scenes that were being built through the messaging boards got me more interested in what France had to offer outside of the media reference to the French touch, which was really heavy after some time.
7. Did you have a breakthrough record or artist that opened the door to ambient/experimental/techno/electronic music for you?
I think Motorbass’ record Pansoul was a key record for me because it has this freeform quality that cuts through abstract rap beats, techno and collage. I used to spend my free time after junior high writing and rewriting all the detailed names of the songs and records they did, as well as the ones from people like M.Oizo, from the info I could gather on the few websites available at the time. For the more experimental things I had a revealing experience with Merzbow on headphones when I was in high school and then I’ve always picked up noise records occasionally. It’s always been there as one style among others for me. Although I think when we started the label in 2011 I was at the peak of my interest for power electronics.
8. What attracted you to vinyl as a record label owner?
Just before I was launching the label most of the records I bought were mostly vinyl-only and I had to find them on record shops, so that was an inspiration. I was really into MP3 blogs as well but I didn’t find this kind of sound through them. I’ve never stopped buying second-hand records and some of the records I like the most, I found digging through the crates, not looking for something in particular. I’d love our records to be found the same way in a few decades and generate the same kind of awe I’ve experienced. Also trying to push French artists, I knew that releasing vinyl was the good way to present them to an international audience of DJs and dedicated music explorers that would care to evaluate the music based on how the record sounds, with curious ears toward the pile of the week’s news, as I’ve been doing myself.
9. What has been the most challenging aspect of running a vinyl record label?
Over the years, probably distribution. It’s not easy if your records appeal to different scenes between one release and the other, and if your records are not DJ oriented. There are not a lot of good distribution companies for the kind of electronic music that we do (which makes sense as there’s no great room for benefits), they all have a lot of labels to take care of so communication can be hectic, often they don’t have not enough space to keep and sell your records in the long-run, etc. It looks like a crazy job to do.
10. What’s a typical day like as a record label owner?
There’s no typical routine. I used to work from early mornings to well into the night for the first few years, now it’s more like a regular office job, except it's not my main job. I still try to squeeze everything heavy for mornings and evenings to free some time. Usually it doesn’t work that well because there are often different things to micro-manage anytime. Sometimes I do the biggest work on weekends, or I pick a day in the week so I can work deep into the night until I have a cleaner plate. I don’t like to push back conversations on music, videos, artwork and discussing with the artists about their options. If i’ve any of these things on my to-do list, I tend to make it a priority. I see both editing music, visuals and being there to exchange ideas with the musicians on a daily basis, as an important part of what I do.
11. Let’s say someone is new to the label and wants a solid introduction to the range of sounds that In Paradisum represents. Pick two records they should listen and why.
« Verdaillon » by Saaad has been recorded on an organ at Church de la Dalbade in Toulouse. The record is based on work in situ (like our IPX series). It represents the fact that we see ourselves more as a French label rather than as a Parisian label. Saaad were inspired by the intersection of the religious myths and the ordinary experience – the artwork showcases the migrant workers who built the church. This mix between ordinary, simple life and a desire for more abstract beauty runs through everything we do, from the artwork, video, or the combination of grotesque or playful techno records and beautiful ambient. In this sense « Printemps-Eté » by Qoso is at the opposite side of the spectrum, it’s a techno record but very purified. It does something very fresh and consistent with amen breaks, which on paper could be a pretty bad idea. To me it’s a statement, than there’s always room to find new smart ways to do entertaining club music with new techniques – he has very special grooves which come more from rap beatmaking, and uses basic filters in a way that’s pretty unique. It also represents our desire to present long-players of purely instrumental electronic music, or club music, that really works as fully home-listening albums, like it used to happen more in the 90s, even if we like them to be a bit shorter than they used to be.
12. What type of legacy do you hope to leave with In Paradisum?
My focus is more on making it possible for the label to work on the present, and maybe be still there in the long run, than leave a legacy. That means trying to develop each record individually, take enough time so that the artist can perfect them and give enough room for each one to shine. I hope the label won’t have a peak or a downfall, and that in the end it will only stand as the common denominator of a couple of outstanding electronic records from different time-spans, or of a network of strong, idiosyncratic artists.
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