Hi there, readers! Today we have another special episode of a Yeah I Know It Sucks interview. I’m driving a special converted YIKIS truck around in Deventer (a Dutch city in the Netherlands near the German border) in search for the house of artist/designer/disc jockey/organizer & Esc.Rec label owner ‘Harco Rutgers’.
For the readers who don’t know Esc.rec. here is a little description copy and pasted from a very reliable source:
Esc.rec. is a small record label and platform for adventurous music, founded and run by Harco Rutgers in Deventer, NL. Quality standards are high and musical preferences broad.
Besides releasing excellent music, esc.rec. develops and supports a variety of related events, including the Ass-crack Stage-hack (ACSH) and The Diamond Exchange (TDE).
Don’t worry if this still sounds like abracadabra to you, as soon as we have parked the yeah I know it sucks studio truck in front of his house and have Harco inside, I promise you to find all the answers that you might have about Esc.rec the label and its activities. Hopefully we get to know Harco Rutgers (who runs the label as a one man show) also a bit better. Are you steamed up? Good! Because I think this must be the street and that there must be his house..
Hi Harco, thanks for letting us park the YIKIS studio truck in front of your house. Outside its just looks like a truck but inside is a late night show studio. Not the ones with erotic dancing, but you know the things the American television broadcasts at night with some host (in this case ‘me’) and some important guest (in this case ‘you’) ; chatting a bit, cracking some jokes and plugging the products and projects.
You want to come in and do the Yeah I Know It Sucks Late at night interview with me? We have water in a mug if you like..
Harco> Wow. You do realize that it’s 2 AM right now? This is late at night allright… Stop honking already, you’ll wake up the wife and kids! But anyway, nice to see you. It’s been a while. That truck looks amazing!
The Yeah I Know It Sucks late night show begins with music coming from a houseband that is previously recorded on a cassette tape, and a little intro clip for the viewers at home…
Yes, Harco you make yourself comfortable in the chair over here and I sit behind this desk. Ah, it just looks like the real thing! I even have my own mug..
So, Harco thank you for making time available to do this interview. It’s obvious that you are a very busy man with so many sides that I guess it’s difficult for most people to comprehend that you are running all activities of Esc.rec on your own.
The label started in 2004 with you and Bart Folmer as its parents, but Bart left in February 2007 to focus more on his own music. Can you think back to ten years ago and perhaps explain how the idea of setting up the Esc.rec label was formed? Was there a specific mindset behind it? is the label perhaps born as a necessity?
Harco> Ten years… sure I remember. I had just moved from Rotterdam to Deventer. It didn’t take long for Bart and me to realize that there was a substantial overlap in our musical preferences and we started organizing things together. At some point Bart told me he had been wanting to start a label for some time, but not alone. He then asked if I would be interested in starting a label together. I said yes, because it seemed like a good idea at the time. I personally knew quite a few really good artists who I would love to work with. Some of them had never released anything before. Bart and me decided that our personal taste in music would be our main selection criterion for releases. We both felt that would be enough to ensure high quality releases in a broad range of genres. At the time I had practically no idea what running a label would entail. I had never given it much thought, before Bart asked me. But that didn’t stop me. I learned everything I needed to know about the music industry as I went along. I still do. So, to further answer your question: Yes to a specific mindset behind it. No to born as a necessity.
Now ten years later, Esc.rec is keeping its cozy feel of a precious personal venture while growing up from a rare flower to a well-established secure flower field; spreading its quality adventurous music in numerous ways and platforms. Somehow you know how to deal with keeping the releases authentic and personal, while also using all kind of modern internet ways to release and spread the word. I’ve always wondered how you keep the modern technology and the more DIY hand-made aspect of the label releases in balance? You seem to have a large interest in both..
Harco> Thank you! That’s a huge compliment to me. And you basically answered your own question about how I keep the balance between modern technology and the DIY hand-made aspect of the releases: I have a large interest in both.
Personally I really enjoy the more conceptual releases that Esc.rec is rich off. I really wished to travel back in time to be able to join the ‘Jee-Haw!’ release. I believe that it was two CD’s of remixes of an almost silent track with a cowboy-esque Yee-Haw in it. Did it surprise you how many different kind of ways the remixes became? And can you perhaps tell us a little bit how the original track was born?
Harco> Ah yes. This particular release is actually some pre-Esc.rec. history. My wife and me once formed an art-duo named J’ee-haw! and at some point we released a CD with some silent tracks, interrupted by the iconic cowboy-esque yell. Strangely this was very well received and it’s considered great fun playing this CD. Because of all the silence you most likely forget you put it on in the first place until somebody shouts Yeeeeeee-haw! and rudely interrupts whatever you were doing at the time… In fact we were so pleased with the powerful result of this simple idea, that we decided to take it one step further by inviting artists to do a remix. This resulted in a double CD with no less than 22 remixes by a variety of known and unknown artists. And like you said, they were all very different. I guess that’s what you get when the source material for the remix is so limited and doesn’t force you in a certain direction musically. Of course our selection of artists and the total freedom they got from us was also a reason for the diversity of the remixes. Both CD’s were self-released, but were incorporated in the Esc.rec. catalogue, as soon as the label was founded. I’m still very proud of this release today.
Do you make music (or experiments in sounds) yourself?
Harco> I have not made music in a long time. However, as a visual artist, sound is often an essential element in the work I make. But I guess I consider that to be more like building instruments than making music, because most of the time the sounds are generated by (or a direct result of) the artwork.
Harco, I always ask what the guest likes to drink but as we have only water.. I guess there is no point for asking it really. But what if we lived in a amazing world and we could arrange something else for you to drink, what would be your favorite beverage?
Harco> I don’t have one favorite beverage. I guess it depends. Right now I could go for either a good whiskey or a cup of herbal tea. In fact, since we’re parked outside my house, what’s stopping me? You want anything? Or aren’t you done gloating over your fantastic mug of water yet?
The label has a lot of interesting physical albums (I love the USB stick in handmade soap), but also a lot of free music for download. Some people say that the use of sites like Bandcamp is killing the netlabels and perhaps alternative labels in general. How do you see the future of independent music labels? And do you think perhaps that these music streaming / buying sites are actually beneficial or indeed potential killers?
Harco> From my own perspective I can say that I’m very pleased with Bandcamp. It’s a valuable distribution channel for Esc.rec. and I especially like it’s ease of use (from the consumer’s point of view) and the fact that I can set a flexible price, allowing me to give stuff away and allowing customers to pay more if they want to. I do think there is still room for improvement, but in fact I’ve come to like Bandcamp so much that it has become my main distribution channel over the years. Esc.rec. is perhaps not your typical (net)label, and I’m not sure if Bandcamp is actually killing any other labels out there… I suspect it’s not Bandcamp that’s doing the killing, but the inability of those labels to adapt to a new music industry landscape. Just the way torrents can be both a menace and a blessing, depending on the way you use (or ignore) them. I think any technology or platform can be beneficial or a potential killer at the same time. It’s how and when you use it that makes the difference. I’m not sure about the future of independent music labels at all. Their main purpose now seems to be that of a quality filter. Or at least that seems to be a popular perception. Only part true of course, because self-released music isn’t necessarily of lower quality. If at some point I come to the conclusion that my work with Esc.rec. no longer serves a purpose, I’ll stop right there, without hesitation. But so far I’m still able to add value to every release that comes out. That’s one of the things that keeps me going.
Obviously your personal music taste is very broad. You have released through Esc.rec such a diversity of styles and directions. From very experimental washing machine sounds to wonky pop. Do you scout for music? And what (next to taste) is that ‘Esc.rec factor’ that very strongly keeps the releases together as a recognizable family?
Harco> I do scout for music, but not very actively. I also get a lot of unsolicited demo’s, but most of them are completely misplaced. It never seizes to amaze me how many artists send their music to me, without checking what the label is about. Total waste of time. But occasionally I discover a gem this way, so I don’t discourage people sending me stuff. Besides my personal taste in music and design I don’t think there is an ‘Esc.rec. factor’. I do like it that you feel the releases strongly fit together as a recognizable family. I do too! But that is more like an organic process, a consequence of being honest and thorough in the choices I make and directions I take. By staying true to what I really like, I can make every release count, give it the attention it needs and make it the best it can be. This gets me a consistent and interesting label catalogue that still pleases me today. That doesn’t always reflect in more attention from the press or sales by the way. That’s a whole different ballgame… a part of music industry I’m also very interested in, but sometimes feels like a snake pit that I don’t mind avoiding.
Esc.rec seems to be able to collaborate with other forces outside your own collected artist Esc.rec family. The label Narrominded springs to mind and also the N.E.W compilation series.. Is is easy for you to work together as you can normally do everything Esc.rec based your own way? Can we expect more collaborations in the future?
Harco> Strange, although I do feel related to a label like Narrominded and know the owners, we never actually collaborated as labels… it might still happen though. I did collaborate with another like minded label: Lomechanik. There is a clear overlap of artists in our label catalogues and we run our labels in a very similar way. We co-released a compilation and give each other feedback all the time. I can see this collaboration intensifying in the near future. I also work together with N.E.W., a platform for producers of electronic music in the East of The Netherlands. Esc.rec. is the digital distributor (and juror) for their yearly compilation, but I’m also actively involved in other aspects of the organization, mainly giving feedback for improvement and development. And there are other collabs with venues, festivals and art projects as well. Working together usually isn’t that hard for me, but it’s not obvious either. A collaboration does need to have some added value for both parties.
I remember that you were organizing things to stimulate experimenting with sounds and music for children.
And even put young kids making experimental music in the spot light.
Personally I think this is so awesome, just because I think a lot of ‘grown-ups’ expressing themselves with sound would have loved to have some kind of platform when growing up that supports and shows a different way of exploring sounds and music than the regular block-flute lesson at school. Can you tell something about this? Also what are the reactions of the children themselves? It would be so good to make an adventurous experimental sound album made by children..
Harco> Yes, you’re talking about an educational project, named ‘Muziek Raken‘ (Touching Music). I’ve been doing that for three years now and it’s very rewarding, both for me and the children. I have no background in education, but I have kids of my own. That helps I guess. Together with a great teacher I developed this project for a class of gifted young children in elementary school. We dive deep into the world of music. We talk about the definition of music and sound, design and build our own instruments, learn to play them, develop our own music notation for the instruments, form the best possible bands/orchestra’s, compose/improvise a piece of music with the self-made instruments, practice, and finally play in front of a live audience as part of an line-up with one or several established artists. I always make sure this line-up is interesting for both adults and children, which is harder than it may seem. I also make sure I take the children very seriously in this project from start to finish. Together with my ability to listen and give feedback, that’s probably what makes this project work.
If I am correct you are next to a designer also an artist. I remember your design of a ‘music rocking chair’ can you please tell something about this project and did you perhaps (or have plans) create other alternative sound instruments / furniture or inventions interesting for the experimental sound lover?
Harco> Sure. The Rockin’ Chair is, well, a rocking chair. But it also has a resonance box, contact microphones, an effects processor and a stereo output. Originally it was intended to be used with headphones in an exhibition setting. But at the first exhibition it also served as an opening performance when a percussionist played it while hooked up with a PA system. Since there was video documentation of this performance, the chair was booked in combination with different percussionists several times. Not what I had intended at first, but a great unsuspected development! At the time I did have some plans to create other furniture instruments, but so far never actually produced any of them. Could still happen though.
As a designer you must really enjoy colors.. What is your favorite color?
Harco> I have none. Sorry.
You are also behind the ‘diamond exchange’ which is basically a party where two people active in music (deejays?) are playing their favorite records to each-other. This comes across as a great concept that not only will push the disc jockey to be more personal, but probably also will make sure each record that is played is impressive one way or another.
Unfortunately I never could attend these party’s myself because of technical troubles with the truck, but I would like to know how in reality this concept had flourished? Are there some funny anecdotes of the previous nights? Did your ears receive notable records played at such a event that you wanted to grab a notebook to find out whose tune was being played and to get some more of it?
Harco> Basically I invite two people with a distinct love for music. They don’t even have to be deejays, or otherwise active in music. I had an edition with two graphic designers that was equally interesting. It’s just their love for music and their collection that counts. They take turns in playing their favorite records (or CD’s, or files, or whatever). And they play them to each other. Usually this quickly turns into some kind of musical conversation (if the participants match). Because they don’t have to focus on pleasing an audience, this quickly becomes very interesting. There are no limits to what can be played at The Diamond Exchange. The audience usually discovers a lot of excellent music and gets to know the participants quite intimately through the music they play and sometimes very personal stories that come with it. I’m really happy with The Diamond Exchange. It works. And it’s now expanding to other venues too, so I’m obviously not the only one that likes it.
To keep at the ‘Diamond Exchange’ concept. What do you consider the most precious physical release you had brought out at Esc.rec? I know it’s an difficult question as I’m sure they are all special and personally cherished, but if you had to choose your most precious Esc.rec diamond, which one would that be at this moment in time?
Harco> The ultimate trick question to ask a label owner. Especially since you yourself have some excellent releases out on Esc.rec. too (check them Toxic Chickens out people!). So no, I’m not going to fall into this trap of doom. But seriously, every single release I have put out over the past ten years is still very much worth listening to. For me, the most fun to make are the conceptual remix/compilation projects. Probably because there’s more room for my own creativity.
Next to being Harco, you are also available as Deejay. I really like your mixes because you simply manage to mix and match the biggest diversity, but yet all is good and adventurous. Can you please throw in some online mixes (if available) and how would you sell your deejay style to a party booker?
Harco> Haha, thanks! I’m having a hard time selling this to party bookers, because I don’t like to repeat myself and play lots of different styles, preferably in one set. Party bookers are usually looking for DJ’s who excel in one particular style. Also I don’t like making promo mixes, because they set a certain expectation. Which is exactly why bookers do like them… Nevertheless I played a lot of parties (I’m deejaying since 1992) and really enjoy it. I know what gets a crowd on their feet, but in the end that didn’t satisfy me enough. I get a bigger kick out of letting people hear exciting new things than doing whatever it takes to keep a dancefloor going, so I started creating suitable contexts in which I could do just that. The Diamond Exchange is such a context. Here are some (old) recorded DJ sets: http://www.mixcloud.com/harcorutgers/
To me Esc.rec comes across as a label that even though it’s large presence on the internet and artists being featured from other countries or parts of the Netherlands, I feel as if the label’s location of Deventer (and it’s province Overijsel) is an important factor in the representation. To me it feels at times that Esc.rec is like an Asterix or Obelix trying to keep Deventer free from the bad music taste delivered by the troops of Julius Cesar.. How important is for you the location of the label? Do you feel the label is somehow a representative for adventurous music from the region?
Harco> Yes. Location is important. But more in a state of mind kinda way. When I lived in Rotterdam, I wasn’t triggered to start a label or organize concerts. Most of what I wanted was already there. When I moved to Deventer I sensed certain holes in the cultural landscape that I wanted to fill. Because Deventer is a much smaller city then, say, Rotterdam, this is a continuous struggle. Audiences are smaller and harder to find, funding is difficult if not impossible. But I feel it’s very much worth the effort. Even though for many locals I’m still just “the guy who likes freaky music” and Esc.rec. is better known (inter)nationally than locally, my audience in Deventer is steadily growing and more interested. I guess the label and the concerts I host and organize are not so much representative for adventurous music FROM the region (there just isn’t that much to represent that I really, really like), but more for adventurous music IN the region.
You are also the brain and the oil behind the Ass-crack nights. They come across as stage events (just like Esc.rec) for more adventurous ways of experiencing sound, music, humor , experimentation and food. Is it your goal to create some kind of family orientated alternative broad entertainment? Or perhaps a bit of provocation? My American friend asked on an invitation to ass-crack ‘what is this?’ so could you satisfy the man with some clarity?
Harco> The Ass-crack Stage-hack is the live stage version of the Esc.rec. label actually, sometimes featuring the same artists, sometimes not. Ass-crack is just Esc.rec. pronounced differently and Stage-hack means it could happen at any stage or venue. I successfully tried combinations with food, humor, lectures, art and other music events to increase the number of visitors. But “some kind of family orientated alternative broad entertainment” sounds good too. Anything that lures people in and doesn’t compromise the integrity and quality of the content is okay in my book… Some music just needs a well conceived context to appeal to a larger audience. You see, I’m just not convinced people don’t like what they don’t know. You just have to get them to try… which can be quite the challenge.
What would you say to people being virgins to the Esc.rec output, to come over to the escrec website?
Harco> “Come over to www.escrec.com. You might like it.”
I think it’s time to end this review and get back to your house and loving family. And I will of course drive the truck home to wherever the truck had come from.. But before we split up I really want to say ‘thank you!!’ For being there and for keeping Esc.rec as a stable loved factor for music and doing all the amazing things you do for music and outer border music. Do you have any last things you want to say?
Harco> Yes! Thank you! I really enjoyed this. I have of course been interviewed before, but you actually had questions that made me want to think about the answers. Thank you for taking the time to thoroughly prepare yourself and I hope we meet again soon. Have a safe trip home and try not to honk that horn too much when you leave.