ANOTHER BLOG + Pedro Leitão .interview 003.

We recently had the opportunity to get in touch with Pedro Leitão, creator of a Portuguese based net label project by the name of test tube. The term and concept of a 'netlabel' was new to me prior to finding test tube but what attracted me most to the project is the beauty and attention to detail Pedro has put in test tube's identity and how the music his label releases complements it so well+

Where did the idea of creating test tube stem from and how did you want to differentiate its releases from monocromatica?

Well, the concept of netaudio and netlabels wasn’t something new to me, I was already following most of them, like mono211, kahvi, thinner and enough records – another Portuguese reference for me – and maybe a couple of others. This was back in 1998/1999, even before I started monocromatica, the physical label. The concept of open source was always something very dear to me, and somewhere and the end of 2003 demo tape submissions were piling up at the office. I though that it was really unfair letting them go to waste – because we couldn’t release everything we liked, being such a low budget label – and then I though: ‘A netlabel? Why not? It was the logical step to follow. The work being done in test tube is completely different from the one being done at monocromatica. For once, there is no financial constrains dictating what can or can’t we release. And aesthetically, we’re really completely free with what we are releasing at test tube. No strings attached with anything except with what we love about music.

What attracted me most to test tube was how well the label’s design and supported music’s artwork complement each other so well, both giving a sort of ‘organic feeling’. Can you tell me what you wanted in regards to the website and various artists cover designs?

Thanks for your input! When I started to put the label concept on paper I realized that I would be doing most of the work: audio selection (and mastering sometimes), lineup, artwork selection and implementation, and so I thought that it would simply take too much of my time if I was to do special artwork for each release. I needed something that was to be ‘function over form’. This work process also has a strong relation to my academic formation in Architecture. The ‘Function over Form’ concept was something of a work rule to me since the beginning and it applies to pretty much all man’s design activities, from fashion to industrial design to graphic design. I also needed something that was easily recognizable by electronic music fans, something they could point the finger and say: ‘oh, that must be the new test tube release’.
The website was simply an extension to the artwork concept, and I’m still happy with the result. I still look and it and use it almost every day without felling that it’s already outdated. I think there’s still a good couple years ahead before a redesign is needed.

From your experience, what are some of advantages and disadvantages with running a netlabel rather than the traditional physical space?

Besides the obvious ones: financial issues and logistics, the biggest advantage of running a ‘free label’ is the aesthetical freedom you have on your hands. You don’t need to chain yourself to a music style of genre, be it mainstream or not, to make the public/consumers happy. You just put your feelings into it, your gut, and let the real emotions about music flow. It’s really the most freeing thing I’ve done related to music and makes for a really enjoying break from the ‘regular’ label activity which is often too frustrating. The only real disadvantage that comes to mind is that you don’t get any income from your work. Participating artists may get it indirectly, from promoting themselves or playing live shows, but the netlabel curator rarely gets any gain. Sure, there are some labels that sell some merchandising products like tee-shirts and posters and stuff and maybe that’s the way to go in the future: you buy some fashion article and get the music bundled for free. We also did a collectors item in April this year, a DVD with all test tube releases until number 75. We sold a little more than 100 copies, but they took much work and investment to fabricate and in the end there was no real profit, since we sold them at a symbolic price. But the idea wasn’t to make money of it but instead give the fans something palpable to put on their shelves. Somethimes you have to look at something to realize it exists.

With musicians submitting music to test tube often from across the globe, who in your opinion has produced a substantial amount of good work?

I’m really amazed with the quality that has been coming out of south American countries, like Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Argentina. I’m more and more convinced that there’s where the best electronic music is being made. They have amazing cultural references from their own ancestral culture and since last century they’re being flooded with western cultural references, in music and other arts. That amount of information has to go somewhere, has to output in some way. Plus, most of the countries there were recently freed from dictatorship regimes and the newest generations are eager to create and leave their marks on the world. Russia and Ukraine have also many good adventurous producers, as well as Canada, Japan and Australia.
Although still producing good quality music, in my opinion Europe is no longer on the vanguard of experimentalism. They have accommodated somehow to this condition from almost a decade now. They’re too much strained to pop-culture references and will need to do serious catching up when compared to their American pairs.

When did your love for electronic music developed and how would you describe the independent scene in Portugal currently?

I think it was when I listened to bands like My Bloody Valentine, Spacemen 3 and the rest of Peter Kember projects, and Trip Hop acts like Tricky and Massive Attack that I became really interested in electronic music. Before that I was listening to a lot of industrial rock like Nine Inch Nails, Front 242 and stuff like that. It was probably easier for me to start enjoying and understanding electronic music from that point than if I had been listening Anglo-Saxon pop-rock exclusively. I know lots of people that still listens to U2 and Rolling Stones as if they were doing the most refreshing music in the world, and they’re acceptance of electronic music is minimal. I find it a bit awkward, because usually humans like to discover new things.
Portugal’s music scene is a very atypical one. Sometimes I compare it with the Japanese scene, in a way, because it has more parallelisms with them than with the Spanish scene, even if we have borders with them. For one, Portugal is very attached to classic Anglo-Saxon pop-rock, mainstream rock and so on, and very little with latin music, like our neighbors. The typical consumer buys what’s on the Top 40 charts, but I guess that’s not very different from a lot of European countries, but on the other hand, we are seeing and fast growing underground community of self-made artists and musicians, bands that don’t get radio play but still manage to sold out venues around the capital and even do small European tours. That’s really amazing because there’s no grey area between the mainstream market and the underground one, like we find in most countries, like Sweden and France, or even United Kingdom. My guess is that we’re still in the process of consolidating a ‘real’ independent community worthy of that name. The actual underground scene needs to grow some more before they get past the usual 500 or 1000 people that follows them, and establish themselves and ‘mainstream independent’ like I used to call it. There are a couple of names each year that achieve that status, but nothing that you can stick a label into. It’s just too small to get noticed by a larger community.

How many individuals are involved with the management of the test tube project? Are most of the labels organizing dealt with over the internet?

Currently I‘m the only person involved. I have occasional collaborators writing liner notes or even designing a couple of artwork pieces but nothing really steady. This is a time consuming activity and most people don’t see any point in working without getting paid for it. Who can blame them, right? And since I have a lot of free time (I’m currently unemployed), and also since I have an 18 month kid around the house, I find myself at home doing homework stuff and dedicating myself to the test tube project.
As for the organizing, yes, 98% of it is done from my computer, with only 2% or less spent in activities like checking out some of artists playing live or organizing small gigs. I hope to get this 2% growing over time, ‘though…

Other than music what other fascinations do you have that inspire you?

My son, which is really inspiring in everything, and will always be. And everything that surrounds me, nature, art, life. And the music I hear, of course. I listen to a lot of netaudio, more and more everyday, over regular music products. Mostly because when I have available time to listen, I need it for the test tube submissions, but also because the quality of netaudio around the world is growing steadily.

In your opinion what makes or breaks the appeal of a label to prospective artists?

Well, I want to believe that it’s the music the label releases in most of the situations. I also believe that most artists feel connected with the label releases and wish to be part of the family too. Maybe there’s some kind of artistic competitiveness too, which is good, or maybe they want hard to be listened to and get some recognition, regardless of the style or genre that the label works on. In any case, most reasons and purely personal and only the artists themselves would explain them.

Who are some of your favorite labels within the electronic music culture, anyone you admire?

WARP has always been my number one reference, even before the regular monocromatica was born. There was so many good stuff I enjoyed and learned from WARP that it has to be the top one for me. But there are others like intr-version, Thinner, mono211, Stadtgruen, Miasmah, Type, M3rck and lots of others. They have always been part of my common knowledge about the music ‘industry’ and most of them inspired me into wanting to be part of all that too.

Best test tube album cover art…

Ouch! Difficult question, man. I really don’t know, there are so many that I love and I don’t want to be unfair just picking one up and not the others… but if you asked me about the one I listened to the most times in the last 3 or 4 weeks, it has to be Entia Non’s ‘Distal’. It really is my cup-of-tea and the one that suits best the my recent moods.

Any last words?

Thanks for noticing our work and for listening what we put out. That’s really what makes us keep doing it. You listeners and fans, the real supporters, are the most important
cog of this machine. Peace!

.test tube a netlabel

No comments: