We meet Chris Eckman at AB Salon. Distance, Light and Sky, his musical project with Chantal Acda and Eric Thielemans, is performing here tonight on January 11th.
You started out as a musician playing in bands like The Walkabouts, Chris & Carla and dirtmusic. How does this mesh with you producing bands like Tamikrest and starting the Glitterbeat label in 2012?
I started producing records in the mid 90’s, things similar to the Walkabouts. But in 2009 I worked with Tamikrest for the first time, producing their records. All of this stuff is part of an interlocking story. The producing led to founding the label. We just felt we had a lot of contacts in the scene. We felt the labels weren’t delivering what we needed. It’s probably the last thing in the world I expected to do, the last thing I wanted.
We started humble, it grew beyond or expectations and plans. It became more and more of a thing I had to put my main focus on. Now I see it as my day job, although I see it more as a big art project, not as a job per se.
When we started the label, I took a few years off from playing music a lot, but now I am again. The company grew to a size such that I could have other people step in, so I have time for my music. Probably that’s the role I feel the most comfortable in, because I’ve been doing it the longest, the musician.
What values are you looking for when selecting bands and artists to sign?
Mostly I think the idea of ‘new’ is a little overrated. You learn that from working with more traditional artists, the music comes out of the culture they come from. It’s still much more linked to everyday life: weddings, circumcisions, all these rituals.
What we try to look for is something that, when you hear it, just makes you go ‘Wow’. If it is something we would want in our record collection, we do it. A couple of times in the past, we’ve done a few because we thought they would sell, and both times it didn’t work out.
We think if we’re passionate about it, there’re are going to be other people passionate about it. It must have a transformative quality. It has to come from a deep place, not necessarily a new place.
Glitterbeat has won the WOMEX award for best label 5 years in a row. What does this mean for you?
I think there’s a good and bad in everything. The good thing is that what we’re doing is reaching a critical mass, where people are listening to it. When you have records from African artists or artists from Vietnam, it’s not that easy to get them played on Western mainstream media.
The ‘world’ music segment was pretty homogenized and predictable. It was music that would decorate dinner parties, background music. But we go for a totally different angle, for example Ifriqiyya Electrique: very high energy music that shakes things up.
The negative side is that us winning these awards means that the industry is not in great shape, it’s not a highly competitive situation anymore. A lot of what we’re doing is just contemporary music, just not from the Western world. But the industry isn’t following. They shouldn’t be following us, but they should be doing different things. Mostly because the market is so tough, it’s not happening.
With the rise of streaming services like Spotify, the world of music is changing rapidly. Music is more readily available and you don’t have to physically buy a record anymore. Is this a good thing?
I think things like Spotify help your business here a lot. People get the chance to hear things, they would normally have to pay an amount of money for.
Unfortunately, it does affect the label as a curator. December was the first month in which our label had 1,5 million streams, but the pay back is only a few thousand dollars. If the physical product, the record, disappears, there’s nothing that can replace it.
We started as a producing label, now we only produce records once or twice a year, we just can’t afford it anymore. It’s starting to be more and more that the market is dictating what music is being made. I think that’s scary.
How do you see the importance of music as live performances evolve?
Live performances are essential, you guys have given us great support. Live performing is one of the only reasons we sell records. Everything changed in the music business since 1985 except the live experience. It’s essential to the whole ecosystem. It drives the whole process, even more than publicity and marketing.
What was your first AB experience?
The Walkabouts played here several times, like in 1997 with a small orchestra in the Theatre setup. But there’s also the history with the label, BRDCST has been really supportive of our artists. I’ve been to the festival 2 years in a row and it’s always a great experience.
Here at AB, our BRDCST festival (link website BRDCST) is our favourite time of the year. Musicians from around the world, who all bring something different, are gathered together. According to you, what is the importance of festivals like BRDCST?
I think it’s another layer of curation. An organization is giving the music a stamp of approval, and not in the sense of mass marketing. Festivals like Le Guess Who?, Rewire and BRDCST are more focused on creating an experience and not on getting the hot headliners. And yet it opens a lot of doors for artists who are not seen as traditional festival artists.
Glitterbeat presents a number of artists that will perform at BRDCST in April. Give our readers one good reason to come and hear Refree at BRDCST?
I think Refree is a great example of a Glitterbeat artist. He’s going deeply into traditional musical forms, in this case flamenco, but he’s looking at it from the outside and seeing ways where this can be transformed into something that’s relevant for younger audiences. His background is in indie and post-punk. It’s very hard music to describe. You just have to come and listen and discover this immersive experience.
Another musician that will perform at BRDCST is Yonatan Gat. Tell us more about him?
Yonatan comes from an Israeli band Monotonix, which is very garage, and he is just a very open-minded guy. For BRDCST, he is bringing the Eastern Medicine Singers: a Native American drum group. They met playing at the same festival, where Yonatan Gat (link event) was so taken with these drummers that he invited them up on stage with him. It was only after the Medicine Singers saw him perform that they joined him on stage. They put the drum in the middle and started playing. Collaboration between different peoples from different backgrounds carries the danger of tending toward appropriation, you have to do it right. And Yonatan does this.
Last year we welcomed Selda Bagçan and Baba Zula to AB, two Turkish psychedelica artists. Baba Zula (link event) is coming back in May, and in April young Gaye Su Akyol (another Glitterbeat artist) will play the AB Club. What can you tell us about her?
Gaye Su Akyol (link event) is very much into 60’s and 70’s psychedelica but also into post-punk, surf music, Nick Cave and Nirvana. Which makes for a complex web. More than anything, she’s a 21st century woman. Which, in Turkey, is a very difficult thing to be. You have to walk a very fine line to do that. The result is an incredibly interesting artist in between tradition and the now.
What’s the one thing you’re looking forward to, musically, in 2019?
I’ve been invited to Korea and I will probably go there. There’s a traditional Music Academy in Korea and a lot of young people from that school are starting projects that combine electronica with traditional instruments.
I love going on trips because it informs you on what’s going on in the world and reaffirms this idea that on all continents the conversation between western music and music from these various places is very complex. It used to be a very one way conversation, like Paul Simon did with Graceland: you go to Africa and record with African musicians and that’s it. Communication used to be based on power and money, now it’s wide open. You can go to the Sahara and hear music that has autotuned on the vocals and is produced like R&B music but is still Touareg music, I think that’s amazing.
Turkish Psychadelica Night feat. Gaye Su Akyol - Friday 19.04.19 - Tickets & Info: HERE
BaBa ZuLa - Saturday 18.05.19 - Tickets & Info: HERE