Consouling Sounds was founded in 2007 by Nele Buys, Mike Keirsbilck and Miguel Boriau as a record label specialising in post, doom and ambient music. It quickly evolved into something more englobing to now include an artist management agency, a sister record label as well as a celebrated record store-cum-coffee shop. Shaped by its relentless focus on exploring the darker, moodier and harsher sides of music as well as by its solid stable of artists – whose Belgian contingent includes such local luminaries as Madensuyu, Deuil and, of course, Amenra -, the independent imprint for whom style is just as crucial as substance stands proud as a testament that questioning the status-quo pays off. And although Miguel has since left the label, its operations are now split between Mike, who runs the record store as general manager and handles A&R, and his wife Nele, who heads production, promotion and distribution. In an interview that symbolises the sheer passion and dedication for which the label has gained cult status, Nele talks about a strategy shaped by going against the grain, nearly suffocating in a car filled with Alkerdeel releases and why owning your music is not in your interest anymore.
ON EARLY BEGINNINGS
At the time, the record label was imbedded in my organisation ‘de console’ which brought together different forms of media and art, hence the name Consouling Sounds. Then the label grew so quickly that I joined forces with them, still adding collaborations with visual artists where I could but with the main focus on releasing music.
ON BEGINNERS’ MISTAKES
Not knowing how many copies to make of a release. Otherwise, I wouldn’t say we made that many mistakes. We knew we’d be faced with a steep learning curve but we’ve had a lot of fun along the way. I can still see us sitting around the table, manually putting together all sorts of sleeves just because we thought it’d be fun… and it was, but not after 1,000 copies. That being said, there were always so many people we could count on to help us: family, friends, artists. Another move that, in hindsight could be seen as a mistake, is when I drove 50 km on the highway with my car packed to the brim with the wooden boxes for the Alkerdeel Morinde release packaged in freshly-cut wood. It stinks when you stack fresh wood in a small space.
It’s about being able to build something, and to use an economic strategy to do so, without putting the economics first.
ON THE BUSINESS MODEL AND MUSIC INDUSTRY
We’re constantly saying ‘no’ to a lot of regular strategies that prevail in the traditional music industry. We’re convinced that reigning models are over and done with. I guess we always keep doing what feels right to us, ethically speaking. And then we try to find a way to earn money, keeping true to that path. A very big issue is rights. We don’t want to own rights to the music. In a time where digital content is free… how can you make a living out of content? That’s by rethinking where your revenue comes from. And that’s what we try to do. It’s not easy. All the major institutions are built on the idea that a label earns income out of rights. It’s a constant battle to explain why we won’t take that road. But it’s also the key to our continuing growth. It saddens me to see today’s musicians struggle with the music industry. They keep claiming that they don’t get the income they deserve, but they sign away their rights to begin with! And then run to other institutions to protect those rights. It’s that easy: don’t sign away your rights. Rethink how you earn your money.
ON THE LABEL’S ARTISTS
We choose to release artists that operate in a certain niche, and that’s doom, drone, sludge, everything post- and experimental. And even then, it’s important to us that these musicians remain innovative in their niche. We do this because that’s the music we feel close to in the first place. And by choosing a niche you can create a market for yourself. But I use the term ‘market’ carefully though… it was never about scooping money and it still isn’t. It’s about being able to build something, and to use an economic strategy to do so, without putting the economics first. The day we feel it’s become about the money, we’d quit. I really want to stress this, it’s so important to us. The fact that we choose to release music that’s not at all “commercial” is proof of this. And still we earn money with it, just enough to keep going. So you see, it’s not impossible. It’s just not simple. But simple was never worth fighting for. Not in our book. As for the bands and artists we work with: Amenra, Church of Ra, Thisquietarmy, Aidan Baker, Nadja, Dirk Serries, Alkerdeel, Inwolves, Kiss the Anus Of A Black Cat, e Black Heart Rebellion, BARST, Innerwoud, Monnik, Eleanora, Daghraven, de portables, Tommigun and more. But, as I alluded to earlier, they’re not ‘our’ artists and we do not ‘sign’ them. We all work together, for every new project, as long as it feels fine for everyone around the table.
ON THE LABEL’S AESTHETIC
Mike is the one choosing our releases. It’s an aesthetic he has developed with Miguel, but since Miguel chose a different path it’s mainly Mike that decides these days.The choices are rooted in Mike’s and my passionate love for music ever since we were small kids. You can’t believe the range of music we listen to at home. Everything from old medieval music, to opera, Sinatra, The Beatles, a LOT of jazz, Dutch and Belgian classics like Doe Maar or dEUS, Neil Young, The Cure, Air, Calexico, Neurosis, Roisin Murphy, Nick Cave… a lot of experimental metal too, and Max Richter, right up to the kind of music we release ourselves. We have a very broad musical universe so to speak. We don’t confine ourselves to genre as such. But what we release has to make sense to us, and to the creative route we’re taking. The music has to be crafted in a certain way, fit what we have been doing, the artist has to have a certain ethic, we need to be on the same page.
ON THE LOCAL SCENE
Our local scene is Ghent, Belgium. We dedicated our second label to that local scene, as we introduced ‘9000 Records by Consouling Sounds’ in 2015, to work with music that is different from the typical Consouling Sound music. We didn’t want to restrict it to a certain genre so we decided to take geography as a lead. 9000 is the Belgian postal code for Ghent, the city we live and work in. It’s an amazing scene, with several venues and a lot of people active in the creative industry. Well worth a visit, if you want a refreshing city trip. It’s the city where we also have our pilot store, the ‘Consouling Store’. Here we sell music and coffee. It’s a hang out. We’ve had fans visiting us, coming from Germany, Austria, the USA, Switzerland, the Netherlands, France, Scotland, the UK… we even had a Brazilian fan over at one point. It’s amazing to meet these people in person! We often already know their home addresses because they order online. And all of a sudden, they’re standing in front of you. It feels heartwarming that the community stretches out so far beyond Belgium. Every time we feel people appreciate what we do, it helps to keep us going. Sometimes that’s just a little e-mail or a note they drop on Facebook. It gives us a lot of energy. So our ‘local scene’ feels like it’s spread out over the globe. It’s a glocal thing. I once called our ‘business’ a ‘little- big friend-based company’. I think that’s still very accurate.
ON THE FUTURE
We have dreams but it’s important to remain grounded. Keeping it real, taking one step at the time. We have several different ideas about what the future might bring. We’ll see which one makes the most sense.
…what we release has to make sense to us, and to the creative route we’re taking. The music has to be crafted in a certain way, fit what we have been doing, the artist has to have a certain ethic, we need to be on the same page.
ON THANK YOU’S
We couldn’t do what we do without the invaluable support our volunteers, and it’s important to put them in the spotlight. Thank you, Sander van den Driesche, who manages our Twitter account. And thank you, Jan Vrijens who helped us during our Incubate pop-up in 2014 and later on for some much needed stock administration. Also Brecht Wille really rolled up his sleeves for this. We have a lot of photographers that grace us with pictures of our bands, like Fleur Coevoet, Leon De Backer, Nicky Hellemans, Damon De Backer and many others. We have Stefaan Temmerman, who not only takes pictures but also joins Mike every week to be the technician of the Consouling Sounds radio show. He helps us wherever he can. We have Dehn Sora and Wim Pauwels who help us out with checking artwork. We have had some amazing interns like Lisa Vanderschaeghe and Martijn Maes. We have Gummy PiracyLeague who just helps for whatever, when we need it. We have Tim De Gieter of MuchLuvStudio that will help us out with anything regarding recording. We have several mastering studios offering advice. We have promo agents that completely understand us. And SO many reviewers, bloggers, radio presenters in the alternative scene that support us. Big thank you to Echoes and Dust, and CVLT Nation as well, for everything they do for us. We are probably still forgetting a lot of other people (sorry). Thank you dear family and friends who babysit our twin daughters when necessary. We get the goodwill of so many concert venues and promoters. ere are other labels we work with to reinforce one another. Other store owners we work with. And we keep meeting all these amazing artists that are totally up for a new way of working in this wonderful music scene. And last but not least, thanks to all the fans who buy what we put on the market and keep us going.Listen to The Counsouling Radio show every Wednesday, from 10pm till midnight CET, on Urgent FM.