Thomas Ekelund is the man behind the label Beläten. He’s also a musician, graphic designer and visual artist and comes from Gothenburg. His older projects include Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words a musicproject active from 2000-2010, Fukk God Lets Create a MP3-label active from 2000-2005, Fukk Tapes Lets Erase a tapelabel active from 2005-2009. And also a bunch of other projects, currently he’s occupied with these projects: Trepaneringsritualen, Swollen SS (with Lina Babydoll), IRNI (with Joachim Nordwall) and also, at times, Teeth. So, in other words this man is obviously occupied and have been occupying himself with projects throughout the years. I got the opportunity to interview Thomas about his current “sideproject” Beläten, where he draws his influences from, what he thinks about the music industry, where he is in the piracy question, tips for people wanting to start out their own label and much more. This is the first label-interview ever published on Invisible Guy, make sure to check it out!
What’s the history behind Beläten and what inspired you to start it up?
- I’ve always had one small label or other, for the past 13 years, first a mostly online label called Fukk God Lets Create, then the tape offshoot Fukk Tapes Lets Erase. In 2009 I realized that I was entirely fed up with the whole format I was working in, and ended it all with one massive, 120 minute compilation that completely ignored what I had been doing previously. I’ve always known that I would start a new label at some point, but I did enjoy the break from it.
The reason for starting Beläten, is pretty hazy even for me. I guess the time was just right. The urge had been building for a while, and I think I’ve know how to counter act the things that got me bored the last time around. I have no interest in becoming a drone label, or a noise label, or a minimal wave label. I focus on the emotions, not the genre or scene. I want to publish art — in what ever form it may take, music, video, printed matter, sigills, maybe even events — that speaks to me in some way, emotionally or intellectually. So, to answer your question—what inspires me—I would say that it’s the search for those emotional/intellectual stimuli.
So what would you say are your influences intellectually and emotionally speaking?
- I am interested in dichotomies and how they interact with each other. Good/Bad, Light/Darkness. Life/Death. I think it’s because I’m quite obsessed with equilibrium, everything I do is part of an overarching quest to achieve balance. So far, I think I’m failing pretty miserably at reaching that goal, but at least it makes for an interesting journey.
This obsession translates into fixations on certain things. Crucifixion, self-sacrifice and crosses in general, Masks and disfigured/erased faces, the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalen, the golden and black suns and transmutation in general, sacred geometry, and death in general (both in a physical, bodily sense and in a metaphysical sense — i.e. birthdeath/death/rebirth). I think the easiest way to find out what I mean is to have a look at my personal tumblr (dreadwords.tumblr.com), which is basically a stream of things that catches my fancy in some way or other.
Intellectually, I get most my stimuli from what I read. Lately there’s been a lot of books on Christ Myth Theory, rune magic and World War I. I also enjoy biographies, on just about anyone as long as it’s well written. I’ve stopped reading fiction almost entirely though.
Musically, I’ve always been drawn to extremes; the very fast or the very slow, the very sweet or the very sinister, the very dark or the very light, and so on. I guess it ties back to the whole idea of equilibrium. You’ve got to enjoy the extremes of either end of any spectrum to be able to achieve that balance. At least that’s my theory.
Since you started it out, what kind of artists have joined your ranks and why? In what way do you decide which band or artist you should add into the roster?
- I’ve only done four releases so far. The first three were either by me or by close friends. I didn’t choose to do them because of friendship though, quality comes first. Luckily, I have very talented friends.
The fourth one will be releases on Monday, the 4th of June and that one is a bit different. It’s a compilation called A Somatic Response and it was compiled by synth pop duo Soma Sema. It’s the first in an on-going, irregular series of compilations curated by artists I like and trust. The twofold idea behind this series is, on the one hand, to see what inspires artists who inspire me, and on the other, to avoid becoming predictable. I want to challenge my own preconceptions of what constitutes great music. Of course this might lead to having releases in the catalogue that I don’t like, which for some reason is a very appealing notion to me.
I’ve got most of this years releases planned, and they include Blitzkrieg Baby, IRNI, Joachim Nordwall, Th. Tot, Ekman, Militær Enhed and Imiafan. I also hope to do more releases by Æther and Michael Idehall in the future, and I’d really love to do full releases with all of the artists on A Somatic Response.
The only criteria for me to release something is that I really enjoy the music in some way. Like I said before genres or scenes aren’t very interesting to me, I go by feel alone. So you might expect just about anything in the future, or perhaps it’s best to not expect anything at all, lean back and enjoy the ride. It might be confusing, but hopefully also rewarding for everyone.
What tip(s) would you have to anyone that want to start their own label? Do you think there’s any lack of certain aspects when it comes to label?
- First and foremost, think things through. I think it’s important to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve. Secondly, don’t try to please anybody. Go with what you feel is right, ignore trends but not to the point of consciously going against trends (that’s as much being a slave to conformity as always following trends is). Thirdly, be prepared to lose a ton of money. The practicalities are easy to figure out, with a little help from Google.
I think there’s a general lack of seeing the big picture. When I think of labels I love — Factory, Industrial, iDEAL, Gallakthorrö, Hästen & Korset, Release The Bats, et cetera — there’s always a sense of focus. It might be something very fleeting and impossible to describe, but they always seem to make sense. Even in cases where I don’t like a particular release — and in the case of Factory, I would go so far as to say that the majority of what they released is utter garbage — I always get the feeling that it fits into a bigger scheme. I also think that a lot of labels should take more care in presentation. There are an awful lot of horrible looking records floating around, and that might seem shallow of me to say, but these things matter. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, it doesn’t have to be expensive, it just has to show that a little bit of effort was put into it. If I’m going to spend money on something, I need to feel that every aspect of it, from the sound, via the packaging to how it’s presented has been thought through. If it doesn’t convey that feeling, chances are it will be ignored.
What does Beläten stand for and who are you?
- It’s an archaic Swedish word for effigy or idol. It sounds nice, and the letter ä looks good. Further more I like the implications, the releases somehow being objects of praise and veneration.
My name is Thomas Martin Ekelund. I’m a graphic designer, musician and visual artist. I guess my most well-known musical alias is Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words, which I worked as between 2000 and 2010. Now my main focus is Trepaneringsritualen + a long line of collaborations and projects.
Earlier you said that you’ve already planned all releases for this year – could you tell me anything about them?
- I won’t go into specifics, but acts lined up so far are Militær Enhed, Ekman, Imiafan, IRNI, Joachim Nordwall, Terrence Hannum, Blitzkrieg Baby, Eolomea and a solo release by myself under the Th. Tot alias. I also hope to be able to do more releases by Æther and Michael Idehall, and of course I’d be honored to do a full release by any of the acts that have contributed to A Somatic Response, but that’s further in the future. The next batch of releases are planned for later August.
How much time, effort and dedication is put into your label? Could you tell me anything about the creative process?
- That’s not an easy question to answer really. Of course it takes both time and effort to put things together, but I’ve never really calculated just how much. Since I just released a new cassette the past few weeks it’s been several hours a day, but typically I’d guess maybe 3-4 hours a week on average.
The creative aspect of it is kind of hard to pinpoint really. I even have a hard time thinking of running a label as something creative. But of course in a sense it is, because I am trying to communicate something. I think I go with my gut feeling really, both in how I choose what to put out, and how I present it. Since the music is very varied, I want to keep a strict label style when it comes to the covers and marketing material. The goal is that when you see a Beläten release, you know it’s a Beläten release, even before you’ve looked closely at it. I’ve always been a fan of labels with a strict “corporate” identity. Crass Records would be a perfect example of what I am aiming for.
You’ve also got the Sect. IV 1590 art-zine up for purchase on bigcartel – could you tell me more about it?
- There’s not really much to tell about it. I try to make a few collages every week, just to do something creative that isn’t work related. And occasionally I collect these in fanzine form. Most of the material in Sect. was done during this spring, but some of the pages are older than that. I’ve made a couple of these zines before, but this is actually the first one I am selling. The others were just given away to friends and customers.
Sect. IV 1590 is 40 pages long, and it’s a mishmash of collages, found images and general xerox mishaps. There’s no real theme, but like all my work its usually inspired by death, desolation and isolation.
I plan on doing bigger print projects on Beläten in the future, but the plans are still pretty sketchy. It’d be nice to do a perfect bound book with contributions from all the great visual artists I know, or maybe a tabloid style edition. We’ll see what happens!
Will you be expanding Beläten in the future if everything goes your way? Or will this continue to be a one-man project?
- I somehow doubt that Beläten will ever be anything but a side project, but I certainly hope to be able to expand it a bit at least. I’m already planning a few vinyl releases, and even though I don’t see myself abandoning the cassette format completely, it’d be nice to be able to do vinyl regularly.
What other projects do you have going at the moment?
- I’m working on some Trepaneringsritualen material at the moment. A tape for Waves of Decay in the US, that has taken far too long already, and still isn’t finished. I’m also contributing to a massive 6 cassette box of artists doing new soundtracks for Ingmar Bergman films, that Black Horizons are putting out. And I’ve started slowly to work on a cassette for Lust Vessle in Japan. Early next year I am doing two CD compilations of hard to find material, one on Silken Tofu and one on Malignant. And later next year should see the release of the first proper Trepaneringsritualen album on Malignant (CD version), Land of Decay (cassette version) and iDEAL (lp version).
As I mentioned earlier I also plan to do a release on Beläten under the Th. Tot alias. I haven’t quite decided what that will be, but it is happening never the less. I am also working on a 12″ for my synth pop band Soma Sema and trying to find the time to work on a few other collaborative projects. Too much to do, and not enough time.
Would you say that you have a hard time not doing things and that’s why you end up with too much to do?
- I think that’s part of the reason, yes. I am not very good at just sitting around doing nothing, and I need to work towards something. I would like to have hobbies that are just hobbies, stamp collecting or gardening or whatever, but I think my creative urge is too strong to get into something like that. I need to create things in order to function.
Since you’ve talked a bit about other labels – which ones are in the top of the line, that you’d sincerely recommend?
- One of my absolute favorite labels have just announced it’s closing down, Release The Bats. It will be a great loss for Sweden, but I also understand the decision. Sometimes you just need to move on.
Other great ones are iDEAL, Järtecknet and Posh Isolation. Of course all the labels I have released on or will release on in the future are highly recommended: Genetic, Black Horizons, Land of Decay, Malignant, Fall Of Nature, Black Goat, Fang Bomb, Hanson, Small Doses, et cetera. I really like what Mannequin are doing too, and Avant! have made many very nice records. And Aufnahme+Wiedergabe, and Falco Invernale, I could probably go on for ages, there are just so many good labels around.
Will there be any collaboration with any other label?
- I can certainly see myself collaborating with other labels in the future, but there are no such plans at the moment!
What would you say are the advantages of being in the underground and being a smaller label? And what are the disadvantages?
- I guess I’ve been in the underground for so long, I rarely even think in those terms. I’ve long since filtered out the mainstream world. I don’t think you can even compare the two really. The music industry is business and nothing but business, which makes the music they release products. That’s fine by me, as long as I don’t have to listen to any of it. Labels on the level Beläten is at, are an artistic expression, our existence is an end to itself really. Sure there are examples of labels that manage to be both somewhat commercially viable and still maintain some sort of artistic validity, but those are rare and becoming even rarer. So all in all, I can’t really see any disadvantages of being underground.
So, what is your opinion on the music industry as a whole?
- It doesn’t interest me much really. I try to ignore it the best I can, and what little I have to do with it just seems to piss me off. The music is generally devoid of any relevance and the way the industry is acting in regards to file sharing is just insane. I certainly appreciate that artists need to get paid, but that doesn’t warrant the music industry helping the US and EU legislators to usher in a new dark age, in terms of surveillance and privacy invasions. If, as they say, file sharing is putting them out of business (something I sincerely doubt) and that means the world is rid of the garbage they try to sell, I think the world will be a slightly better place.
There was a time when the industry released good music and not garbage – what do you think happened? When did it shift to a product-based moneymaking machine?
- There certainly was a time when the industry took more chances than they do now. Psychic TV were on a major label, which is completely unthinkable today. One could easily say that it’s because of piracy, but I really doubt that’s the whole truth. I think it’s mostly about trying to maximize profits really, and there are more and more “artists” whom are interested only in becoming famous. So naturally a label is more likely to sign an artist that’s willing to whore him- or herself out, than an artist that actually has something worthwhile to offer.
What’s your opinion on internet piracy? Have you been affected by it?
- File sharing affects everyone to some degree, and of course it will only get more and more difficult to sell records and tapes. There are still enough people around who wants the actual artifact, but we’re seeing a generation of kids that have NO relationship with records. And I think THAT is the root of the problem, and it can all be blamed on the music industry. They’ve worked very hard at making pop music utterly disposable, turning records from beautiful artifacts into a lifeless storage medium, and in the process turned music into something that just isn’t worth any money to most people.
I think the question of piracy is quite difficult. I fully support the concept of intellectual property, but if the price for maintaining it is constant state surveillance, then I say to hell with it. I try to support the small labels that are around, by buying their releases, because I like records, and I pay for downloads if there’s no analog format available, but I am quite aware that at some point, there won’t be any records around. It might not happen soon, but it will happen eventually.
I think the saddest thing about being able to download just about any record ever made, is that it has devalued music, even for me. A new record used to be an event, something almost sacred, and you would listen to it over and over and over. Nowadays you hear so much music, all the time, that it’s rare to spend any time getting to know an album. That’s something I really miss actually.
Clearly the fact that the younger generation doesn’t really have any relationship with records – do you think there’ll be a rise in popularity of aesthetically perfected designs and collectibles? Since people are buying more vinyl-records now than ever before?
- Yeah, I kind of do. You can see it even in the mainstream, there has to be some sort of added value for people to actually buy a record. It’s a good thing for the most part I guess, It’s hard to beat the feeling of holding and looking at something that someone has obviously put a lot of time and effort into, but it doesn’t have to be very extravagant to convey that feeling.
Do you think that this fact will get more and more labels and artists to abandon the mass-produced maxi-CDs and go for collectibles and limited editions?
- There’s instances where limited editions make sense, but I often it seems that labels limit releases just to limit them. I’m going to try to keep Beläten releases in print, at least the tapes, just because it’s easy and I want as many people as possible to hear them. Right now the first two releases (Roi Perdu by Trepaneringsritualen and Edifice Of Nine Sauvastiaks) are available in a very nice repress done by Black Horizons, and once they sell out I am gonna make more copies of the Beläten versions. I also plan to do another issue of the Michael Idehall tape soon.
What format do you prefer the most and in what format would you like to release records in the future besides vinyl?
- Honestly, I can’t see myself doing CDs on Beläten. And I certainly can’t see myself doing download only releases either. I hope to be able to do more and more vinyl, but like I said before, I can’t see myself abandoning tapes all together either.
Personally I prefer vinyl and tapes for home listening. There’s just something special about the analog formats, the way they sound, the way the smell, the way they look. It’s impossible to get that kind of attachment to an audio file, and I generally feel the same way with CDs. I haven’t bought a CD in years, and the ones I get for free I just rip and stow away in a box somewhere, unless the packaging is sensational.
What kind of aesthetics have influenced your way into the signum that makes Beläten?
- I have gone through many different aesthetic phases, and I expect to go through many more. The past couple of years I’ve been very fascinated with an era beginning in the fin de siècle up til the end of the Weimar era. I’ve tried to verbalize what it is about that time period that fascinates me, and I am not sure if I have succeeded. I think it’s partly about the clash of the old and modernity. It’s a time frame of immense change, an almost total revolution of the human existance, perhaps the most revolutionary era of all and it shows in the aesthetics of the time I think. The meeting of the organic and the mechanical. It’s also a period of clashing moods as well. On the one hand, an energetic, futuristic outlook — the belief that technology is going to solve all our problems — and on the other a great sadness, a sense of loss of the old. I guess I am attracted to both.
What is your opinion on letting multiple artists showcase their talent on a single release? Like someone doing the artwork, someone doing the music, someone writing beautiful words?
- That isn’t a bad idea at all. I guess that’s sort of what I have in mind for the publication I mentioned earlier, but it would of course add an extra dimension to include an audio aspect with it. Or maybe video? There really aren’t enough video work being released. That’s something I’d enjoy doing I think, showcasing video work somehow. I’m not sure how feasible it is to release DVDs, but I could see an online forum for it, in some form or other.
If you had the possibility to choose – what bands or artists would you like to add to your roster in the future?
- If I permit myself to fantasize I have to say The Ronettes, Cortex or Current 93, three acts that, emotionally, have meant more to me than I can describe. More realistically though, I hope that I will at some point have the honor of releasing something by Mattias Gustafsson (he continues to amaze me with a consistent level way above the average), it’d be great to be able to do something with Sutekh Hexen (same goes for them, they are hard to top for sheer intensity and they have been going in a very interesting direction lately, incorporating a far wider pallet of sound than before), and, as I mentioned I’d relly like to do proper releases for all of the contributors to A Somatic Response.
Would it be likely for you to produce videos for any of your releases?
- The thing with video is that it’s a hell of a lot of work, and it’s not really something I am very good at, nor do I particularly enjoy it . It’d be great to work with video artists in the future, either as stand alone projects, or in more of a music video format.
So, to conclude this interview – what is your outlook for the future? Do you have anything planned for 2013?
- Nothing set in stone. I don’t want to have firm plans too far ahead. I’ll just keep looking for art that excites me on some level, and find ways of dispersing it to whoever is willing to pay attention.
What label would you like me to interview next and what would you want me to ask them?
- You should talk to Hästen & Korset, and ask him what it is in the waters of the Black River that makes music from that area so dark and twisted.
Thank you for this interview! Do you have any last words of wisdom?
- I don’t know if I possess any real wisdom, so I’ll leave you with a thank you for the opportunity to talk for a while and the words of Michael Idehall: “The sounds do not keep the forces at bay, they open a window to them“.
Here’s a stream of A Beläten Sampler by Beläten:
You can also find Beläten over here: