"I'm still amazed with every tape I sell to somebody I've never met."
Niels Verougstraete runs his micro label KERM out of Gentbrugge, Belgium. Your life will be so much better once you got to known KERM.
Why did you start KERM?
Niels Verougstraete: The first tape I made was part of my graduation project at art school, where Moniek Darge was my mentor. She and the Logos Foundation were an inspiration for me at the time and encouraged me to do my own thing with sounds within a course which was not at all focused on music. This was around December 2010, beginning 2011. While this tape was filled with harsh, unsettling and unpleasant noise-collages, I was also trying to make some more 'musical' stuff together with my girlfriend at the time. We recorded a whole bunch of material. Field recordings, tape loops and psychedelic drones but we didn't know anyone who would want to release it. I guess it wasn't all that good anyway but I kind of wanted it to see these recordings in a finished state, so I released it myself. For the third one my buddy from school Tom had a cool concept for a noise tape that came in an oversized silkscreened box filled with moss. This was the Draaier / Frezer release. Things kept going from there.
Each time I was working on a tape, I was already thinking about the next one. One release followed the other quite naturally, really, without even thinking about any direction or meaning for some kind of label or anything like that. There's no real mission statement or philosophy or anything behind it all. It's just a bunch of stuff happening and I'm having lots of fun doing it. I just do what comes naturally and what feels right. There's always a list of releases in my head waiting to be finished. But there's no rush: Kerm is a stress-free project. It's a one-man operation so I don't have to argue or get along with anyone except the artist, so that offers us a laid back atmosphere to work in. I guess the Kerm-discography mainly reflects what music I'm into and who I'm hanging out with at that moment. Sometimes it's hard for me to see it as a real label
Why a tape label?
Tapes are allot of fun to work with, they look good and they feel great. They're more like 3D objects than say a vinyl record or a CD. They're easy to make and they're cheap, what's not to like? It offers lots of interesting ways of packaging, to make it more than just a sound carrier. To me it also feels like an artist has more space or opportunity to really experiment and go all out on tape. Music can be more spontaneous on cassette than say a vinyl or a CD release. These seem more final, finished pieces. I can simply record something else over a tape I don't like. It has this kind of playfulness. It's hard to describe.
Weird Dust - Oceans of Mountains
But Kerm isn't just a tape label anymore. 2015 saw the release of a vinyl record, a 7 inch by Death-Tech Thunder, which I'm really happy of. It comes with a download code for a mini album also. The guy is better known as Acid Quiff and makes these really weird experimental acid tracks. They sound out of this world and really fit into the stuff I'm looking for these days. Besides that there was the Megaphone Ensemble VHS and the Kermacultcha? magazine. In the near future there will be a double-CD compilation with a 40-some artists celebrating 5 years of Kerm. Later there will be more vinyl records and magazines. So it's not merely a tape label anymore. I got a bit bored doing tapes only and I don't want to restrict myself to anything. Although I'll keep putting out tapes.
There are no companies anymore who produce tapes, so it's just a matter of time before all tapes are gone. Is this an aspect that attracts you, the temporary thing?
Not really. When we're out of new tapes we'll recycle old ones if we need them I guess.
Why a VHS for the Magaphone Ensemble release?
Using VHS is pretty normal to me actually. You can easily find a VHS player somewhere for free and it's a super cheap and easy way to get yourself a great movie collection. You can buy old collections of 100 movies for like 5€ on the internet if you look around. I see al lot of crappy movies like that, but sometimes you find some gold. Those are great moments. The image is warmer to the eye. The tape is alive. It has a history, it has had previous owners. I like those small mysteries that hang around secondhand movies and music. I don't really care for the so-called loss off image quality with video cassettes. The VHS adds a great filter to your film. And to me, it's just what I'm used to at home. Why not do video tapes if you do audio tapes? I have a DVD player here too, but I don't use it much. But who knows, maybe someday I'll release a DVD. That would be great! The Megaphone Ensemble VHS also had a riso-printed magazine with art by Jo Caimo and each tape had different hand-drawn stuff on it. It also came with a poster. So even somebody without a VHS player could enjoy this release.
Why releasing a very small amount of copies?
With each release I raise the amount of copies a little bit. The first ones I made were in an edition of 40, and I was always amazed these editions got sold out! Of course you always give a bunch away for free or trade them for other stuff, but I would never think anyone would want all those tapes. The last tape I released by Godfried-Willem Raes was an edition of 100, it sold out in a couple of weeks. That's amazing to me! Who are all those people that know what you're up to? Internet is pretty crazy. Of course Raes is probably the best known artist ever released on Kerm, but still, it's weird how someone from say Japan or the United States knows about the little project you do as a hobby, almost secretly at home. It never had anything to do with exclusivity or anything like that. I just never thought people would be interested. I'm still amazed and excited with every tape I sell to somebody I've never met.
Is artwork an important part of a release?
Definitely. The graphic design, packaging and choice of medium are almost equal to the content. All the elements should go together into forming some kind object that is both visually and musically interesting. I'm not really interested in doing a digital-only release. Where's the fun in doing that?
Do you release only Flemmish artists just because you live in Flanders?
It's something I don't really think about. Like I said the releases kind of happen in a real spontaneous way and yes this happens mostly with friends or people you meet and get along with. For me that's mostly Belgian people indeed, but that's not why I release them.
I don't think I could release something by someone I've never met in some way. We don't have to be best friends but I don't think I could work very well with strangers. It's different on a compilation, there it doesn't really matter that much to me. But for a full release it does, is that weird? I don't really feel like Kerm is a normal label like that. It's not like I feel this urge to release lots of stuff and sell as much as possible and get known out there or whatever. It's just what happens when you're hanging out with friends that make some weirdo music.
Discogs mentions KERM is about noise, non music and outsider music.
I should update that. I'm terrible at updating online stuff. Since the first years there are lots of more 'musical' sounds coming out on Kerm now. All kinds of music really. I myself listen to almost every kind of music and whatever I like could be released on Kerm, anything is possible. I think the main requirement is there has to be some weirdness or mystery to it. Humour is also a pretty important aspect in it. I try not to take the whole thing too serious, not to get carried away too much in it.
Scott Foust said if you run an underground record label, you're not even going to break-even, you will loose money on it.
It's just an intense, expensive hobby for me. I'm not going to try to make a living out of it, that would bring stress in the game for me. Not every release makes break-even, most of them don't actually. But I don't care about that, I'm just happy to put them out. I'm just really into music, that's all. If money would become too important it wouldn't be the same fun. It would become a restriction to the creativity. Same goes for sponsors and all that stuff, no thanks. Sometimes I already know a release won't sell before it comes out. But it can't be a reason not to do it. When there's no money, I'll just save up to do it later and in the meantime I still can do cheap stuff like photocopied magazines or recycled tapes. A good part of doing a one-man project is that I can do whatever the hell I want.
Joris De Rycke
Interview made by Joeri Bruyninckx/2015
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