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Interview: Miniless Records
By Jul 22, 2008 Nightlife


Formed in 2006 and based in Heifei, Miniless Records is an independent label recording and distributing Chinese bands and artists at the experimental end of the contemporary music spectrum. Four bands on their roster -- Muscle Snog, Grace Latecomer, Self Party, and LAVA|OX|SEA -- are coming to town to play a label showcase this Saturday at Yuyintang called "Miniless: Shanghai Calling."

SmartShanghai caught up with Hans, the manager of the label and singer of LAVA|OX|SEA, to talk about the art, politics, and business of indie labels in China.

SmSh: So, firstly... can you talk about how Miniless Records came to be?

Hans: Ah, sure. It all started about two years ago. I had the idea that since I'm familiar with several bands which have "something" in common, why not start an indie label?

So I talked with several friends, who had been listening to music -- I mean not only rock but also experimental jazz and even classical music -- for at least 10 years...

We finally figured out whether it would become a major label or whether we would try to keep it underground. And we decided that we would offer a comparatively distinct audio, visual and also, if possible, spiritual impression.

At that time, the founders were Yang Chang from Chengdu, Li Xiaoliang from Shanghai, and me in Hefei.

Another reason why Miniless Records came about was that we thought that there was no label which could be considered as a gathering of people who shared a common idea toward the world and society. Most of the bands on the label tend to view society as "absurd" or "funny," and nearly all the bands tend to consider the world in a more cynical way.

And most of the people at Miniless are interested in youth culture and their inner feelings about the world around them, rather than being in bands to become famous or attract female fans... at least I think so.

SmSh: So how big is the label in terms of band roster? Releases? Staff?

Hans: About five of us on staff I think, but other people in bands will help us out also. As of now we have nine releases, but by August I think there will be 12 or even more. Bands? Let's see. Including side projects there are 18 bands.

SmSh: What kind of distribution network do you have? How do you make the music available to people?

Hans: We work with people in Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan, and other major cities right now. But the most convenient way for us is using the Internet to sell records... like taobao.com. Promotions are also carried out online mostly. But also, in the last year, several magazines have reviewed Miniless Records releases, which is great for us I think.

SmSh: I'm not really familiar with the legality of CD distribution in China. Is there legal problems with pressing CDs? Like... don't you have to register them?

Hans: Yeah, there are legal problems if we press CDs I think. So that's one reason why we put stuff out on CDRs. But we can't register without financial support. But we are planing that...

SmSh: So what kind of artists/bands do you look to work with then?

Hans: I'm more willing to work with artists who are talented but also have their "life" -- meaning people who know how to enjoy life and not only make their living on selling records. If an artist said to me that music is his life, then I'll be scared maybe... [Laughs].

SmSh: Regarding the bands/artists that are on the label, this line was taken from your MySpace introduction :

"We don't have any kind of restrictions, however what we most concerned is the true emerging status of the musician rather than a false gesture of indie/rock or any other kind of obsolete stuff."

Can you talk about what you mean more? How are the bands reacting to mainstream / "false" gestures?

Hans: I would use the world "irrational" to describe our take on mainstream music, and "pretentious" to describe false gestures.

Talking with my friends in the US and the UK, or other countries seemingly more democratic, in my opinion all media in all countries is irrational because they're designed to "push" something on their audiences. And that's the most absurd thing. As we all have a job or are still at school, we have our own routines. So "the true immerging status of the musician" is what is valued at Miniless.

SmSh: "True emerging status" as what then?

Hans: Well, when bands are rehearsal or having a show at a livehouse, maybe they should be affected by themselves first. Only in that way could the music they make inspire others.

A C, F, or G chord with loud guitar riffs may cause the audience to pogo, but that's too easy and totally nonsense to us.

SmSh: Would you say the label is a business venture, a creative one, or both? Do you see Miniless Records progressing into a large business? This is the point when we start asking about indie vs. major politics...

Hans: That's a good question I think. Yeah, I like that question.

In fact, at the beginning we didn't expect Miniless Records to become a large business. But as the bands are more... matured now... you know, I think their music should be promoted to a larger audience. But it's a tricky thing, especially in China. Plenty of people think that "indie" should never be mixed with business stuff, but actually I think independent music is a "miracle" engendered by the music industry itself.

So, I think, if there was opportunity for it, we wouldn't refuse growing. By the way... we hate the word "indie"... because it's also nonsense to us today, I think.

SmSh: So you don't see a distinction between "major" and "indie" labels so much?

Hans: Yes, in my opinion there are only two kinds of records or bands: one is boring and obsolete, the other is creative and inspiring. It doesn't have anything to do with business or being "indie," I think. Maybe that's a little extreme... but those are my thoughts.

SmSh: It's not really extreme... I don't think the labels really apply either... it seems the Internet erased them... and maybe the bands themselves
did 15 years ago too.

Hans: Totally. China is like a new continent to indie music these days, I think.

SmSh: How does Miniless respond to the emphasis on Internet sharing of music. Is it changing the way you record albums? Release albums?

Hans: Absolutely it will, but not right now... in fact, we are planning to sell albums online in October or September of this year. By that time, our releases might be available on itunes, napster, and other platforms.

I think digital forms are more convenient for both musicians and listeners. But we'll also keep on releasing limited CDs.

SmSh: Do you think P2P file sharing of copyrighted music helps or hinders the label? What is your opinion of illegal P2P file sharing downloading in regards to independent artists?

Hans: As far as I know, most of the so called independent artists use soulseek, emule and BT to collect music, at least in China. So I think... well, it's inevitable for our releases to be shared too.

And in fact most of us would be glad if our albums get shared. Because, as I've mentioned before, we are not dependent on the money from selling albums. One of the bands on the label Monkey Power even uploaded their first EP to the Internet themselves and told people who did not want to buy the CD to download them. So I think P2P helps labels, at least small or "indie" labels.

Since it's uncontrollable, why not face it. Like the label called "Rune Grammonfon" in Norway. Their releases always have beautiful design and great sound quality, and the music on CD could be a completely different experience to listening to the MP3s.

SmSh: Which releases are you most proud of and what can you recommend that people get?

Hans: Can I recommend three?

SmSh: Sure.

Hans: Okay, those would be "mini004 monkey power - pop songs," "mini005 muscle snog - live @4live," and "mini008 porn moon twins & junky - junky is not edison." I'd also recommend patel pretal from London and luhn from Canada, who will release their first album on Miniless Records in August or September.

***

Check out more of the label and their releases at their MySpace page and their website. "Miniless: Shanghai Calling" is this Saturday at Yuyintang. Cover: 45rmb (35rmb for students). Starts 8pm.
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