The purview of Norwegianism Records: Luifabriek meets Dead Neanderthals’ Rene Aquarius

June 10, 2014
by Jasper Willems

Heavy jazz artisans Rene Aquarius and Otto Kokke began their prolific off-the-cuff musical endeavors as Dead Neanderthals, yet their riveting alliance holds so much more. Three years ago, the Nijmegen-based twosome founded Norwegianism Records, a small avant-garde label harvesting releases by like-minded – or more aptly put,  “open-minded” – musicians. Like with anything else they tackle, Aquarius and Kokke apply an ingenuous “why not?” -stance to starting a record label. It has obviously served them well thus far…so why not continue moving forward? Luifabriek met with skinsman and pundit-of-everything-“out there” Rene Aquarius back in March.

We sit down in the anteroom at Roodkapje prior to the introductory Norwegianism Fest in Rotterdam. Rene points at a feller in black sitting at the head of the table next to us. “That’s the bass player of Louis Minus Seize, the first artist we worked with. He just came here from Lyon to attend the festival.” Indeed, Louis Minus Seize isn’t on the bill for tonight. Nonetheless, his pledge to come over and support his label says a lot about how Norwegianism correlates with the artists. “It’s starting to feel like a family, you keep running into the same people over and over. Dead Neanderthals will actually go on tour with Louis later this year.”

These four Norwegianism-stalwarts are playing here tonight: Zornian jazz-freakouts The Ames Room from France, sax-maverick Colin Webster (who has his own Norwegianism release pending) from Britain, havoc-wreaking math punk cluster Don Vito from Germany and Dutch refractory noiseniks DONNé ET DESIRéE (more on these cats further down). The only thing these bands have in common: they go far beyond any concept of genre or conventional band-hierarchy. Also, they generally leave their audience in either a state of suspended disbelief or utterly discombobulated.

It’s pretty much what we have come to expect from Dead Neanderthals over the past few years. Heedlessly creating, performing and recording, a rinse-and-repeat kind of dynamic. To Kokke and Aquarius, Dead Neanderthals is a self-anatomization of their musical bosom. Their unruly stage shows rely on frantic improvising, the band frequently found themselves in over their heads…and within those “hiccups”,  they harvest new ideas. While that endearingly brazen approach works as a band, running a record label is a bit more complicated. You have to manage budgets, manage artists and find a soapbox to get them into the fold.

Norwegianism Records appears to embrace the old paradigm of small independent record labels: creating a community of artists to work together, albeit without relating to a certain demographic or format. It’s a very loosey-goosey kind of reciprocity: Rene and Otto actively pursue artists they’re truly enamored with. In turn the artist buys into Norwegianism’s impromptu approach to releasing records. Take for instance Majeure, a spaced out post-modernish project by Zombi-drummer A.E. Paterra. Paterra gave Norwegianism an exclusive release, the experimental one track-album Transmittance, which sounds like some lost John Carpenter-soundtrack.

Aquarius, a huge fan of the previous albums, gave it a shot after scrolling through Majeure’s Facebook-page. “I figured – since he released all of his other material on Temporary Residence – it would never materialize. So I mailed him and asked if he has material left on the table and I almost immediately got a response. He was in. We quickly settled on when the record would be released. Turns out he was going to tour with Mogwai in the US for a month and a half, so the whole idea was to release the album before that. So then we basically did the whole shebang within a single night: the pressing, packaging and shipping. Within a week and a half I had all copies ready at my doorstep. I sent them to (Paterra) and just this week I got an e-mail saying “Hey , I’ve retrieved them! Thanks!”. Two weeks earlier than we had initially planned.”

And here’s the remarkable thing. Where a lot of folks in the alternative/avant-garde world seclusively tend to turn inside their own respective enclaves, Aquarius and Kokke are outward personalities. True rare bird types. It’s not just an inherent curiosity for more wayward styles of music, but just being amenable to interact with people, regardless of whether they’re an adherent to a “scene” or whatnot. Aquarius: “That’s the most important aspect to me, to really collaborate with people. We’re love to exchange ideas with the artists about imagery and packaging. I do the bulk of corresponding with the artists while Otto is more involved with the product. We always like to lend a hand and take some form of initiative. We actually design some of the record sleeves ourselves, we handpick the manufacturer. To find the best packaging options possible yet still keep costs relatively low. Often times, Otto and myself work closely with the artist, but there are always artists who prefer to take the reigns and do things a certain way. Other artists aren’t as preoccupied with that and ask for our input.”

Aquarius admits that Norwegianism initially wasn’t something he invested in to the extent as he’s doing now. “I eventually decided for myself to make it a priority, so see where we can go with this. What kind of artists we’d like to work with in the future. The goal isn’t to make money, but to make something special possible. It’s interesting to see if there are bigger names who’d like to release in limited issues.  Things like that, you know? We would like to get to a point where artists will approach us an as underground label the same way as Subroutine or Narrominded.”

Aquarius assures it’s been a fruitful undertaking, with not a whole lot of setbacks. “Thus far, we’re running things quite smoothly and organically. Norwegianism’s tenth release is due.”, he assesses. “The first releases are starting to sell out. One has sold out already and with another, we’re down to three copies. We had to instill our first pre-orders, which indicates that people are definitely keeping tabs on us. It kind of feeds the notion that you want to grow and expand a bit more.” Aquarius explains that this was the initial goal to begin with. “Our first three releases were by a French band, a Dutch band and a Norwegian band. We deliberately didn’t want to focus exclusively on Dutch bands, not demo’s from aspiring musicians. Norwegianism tends to artists you wouldn’t necessarily expect to hear anywhere else.”

A logical mindset, given Dead Neanderthals’ own tendency to seek refuge for their releases on an international scale. “We’ve experienced many different scenarios.  Our LP Polaris, for instance, we wanted release on (Milwaukee-based) Utech Records. We felt it was a long shot, but they almost immediately agreed.” Curiously, Dead Neanderthals refuse to harbor their own releases on Norwegianism. “I don’t know”, Rene ruminates. “It doesn’t feel like a classy thing to do. If Dead Neanderthals fail to get hold of a record label to release an album, we usually do it ourselves and/or move on to something else. We’d like to think of Norwegianism as a platform for other artists.”

Highlighting four Dutch Norwegianism releases  you must hear:

DONNé ET DESIRéE – Three World Premieres
This post/avant rock duo is quite something, a downright unique blend of dour DC hardcore punk bravado, heavy avantgarde free-jazz and John Cage-ambience. Their live shows are a sinister and suspenseful, utilizing a vast array of drum sounds, guitar effects and tape loops. They’re known to perform in the middle of venues to harness the natural acoustics. Never heard or seen anything quite like them. Riveting stuff!

Machinefabriek – Kluwen
Ambient sovereign Machinefabriek (Rutger Zuydervelt) collaborated with Dead Neanderthals last year to form DNMF.  Prior to their debut performance at Valkhof last year, they gave Luifabriek an elaborate rundown of their LP, slated for release this year. Guess it was only a matter of time before the ever prolific Machinefabriek released some of his own stuff on Norwegianism. Kluwen is an unsettling, glitchy trip, flurries of white noise jumping out from 4 foot speakers in ectoplasmic shapes.

Aafke Romeijn – Stella – The Cold Case EP
We always digged Aafke Romeijn’s off the wall, clever and brutally honest songwriting MO. The Nijmegen-based songstress has never been at a darker place than this spin-off of her fantastic LP Stella Must Die. These melancholic, piano-based confessionals sound as if they’re recorded in this huge synagogue. Goes to show Norwegianism isn’t just about the drones, free-jazz, noise and avantgarde. Pop music has a place here too.

The Dear Listeners – In Hyperreality
If there was a type of music that truly encapsules what space dementia must feel like, this is probably it. Such a grand ambient record. It really has that vintage sci-fi feel – the scope of it –  which I love. The perfect  soundtrack to read some Phillip K. or Asimov novels.