Rocket Machine started up about a year ago now and has been etching out its own spot on the ever-growing tape label horizon. Besides releasing a wide array of music, label head Luke Morris has distinguished Rocket Machine through it’s consistent visual aesthetic. There really aren’t any other tapes that look like his and it’s that cohesion that has helped set him apart. Also, he’s releasing a lot of stuff that nobody else really is (alongside some mainstay favorites like Black Eagle Child). But this is only the beginning and I look forward to seeing what the future holds. Luke took some time to answer a few questions about the birth of the label and what we should expect ahead.
Who started the label and why?
Rocket Machine was started by and is still run just by myself. To be honest I can’t really remember the moment where I said to myself, ‘I’m gonna run a tape label.” It was just something that fomented in my mind for a while before coming together. I was actually pretty naïve with what I thought it would take to get a label going. Luckily for me I got a lot of support from good friends early both as artists and as audience. I was also incredibly lucky to get the support of Matt from the awesome Discriminate Music who has been my main distro from the very start. I love that guy and his importance to the current experimental scene can’t be overstated.
Phil and Myste French were a massive influence on me doing it also. Obviously Stunned was an amazing label but more than that I loved the generosity of spirit they bought to the whole endeavour and the way they really reached out and tried to make a connection with their audience. I found that really inspiring and I still do and I try to bring something of that into what I do in my own way. I’ve made some great connections with people doing this and it’s the thing I enjoy the most about running a label.
What’s the story behind the name?
Rocket Machine is the name of a song by Opal which was David Roback’s band in between Rain Parade and Mazzy Star. I love the song and the name always resonated with me and I always wanted to use it for something so when I started the label it was the first choice. I think it fits the label well.
What keeps you inspired to continue doing the label?
Well first and foremost it’s the music that inspires me. Ultimately there’s a pretty selfish reason I run a label and that is I get to hear more music from artists that I personally like and being able to keep hearing them is the main reason I keep going. But beyond that there’s also a real satisfaction I get from putting a tape together from scratch and sending it out to the world as well as the connections this action creates with people.
Also it’s a great excuse to own more tape decks than I need.
Tell me a little bit about the visual aesthetic of the label and your thoughts on having a cohesive look to all the releases.
All of the visual design work and printing for Rocket Machine is done by my best friend, Paul Rasche and I am completely in his debt. Basically there wouldn’t be a label if he wasn’t involved.
When I started the label and asked him to do the design for me the only instruction I gave to him was that I wanted a consistent design style and everything else was up to him.
I’ve always liked labels that have a house style, so to speak. Labels like Stunned, DSQ, 905 tapes that had a well thought out, instantly identifiable look to them.
When Paul showed me the mock up for the first two tapes I was rapt. They looked even better than I had hoped for and because Paul is not connected to the experimental music scene they looked different to anything else that was out there and avoided a lot of the tropes that go along with the tape scene. I think he’s created a unique look for the label that I love and it seems to connect with others too. I get more feedback on the design of the tapes than the actual music ha ha.
What’s the hardest thing about running a tape label these days?
I think the hardest thing in general these days is the sheer amount of tape labels out there right now. It’s hard to get established and stand out from everyone else. But I kinda think it’s reached its peak and that the field will start to thin out a little.
On a personal level the hardest thing about running a label in Australia is something we call ‘the tyranny of distance’. Australia is a long fucking way away from everywhere so that means expensive shipping for the majority of my orders. I try to keep the prices down though and so I struggle to break even but I keep my operation small so I’m okay with that. I never wanted it to be a ‘business’ model but rather an art model, if that makes sense. Which is good, cause I’m the world’s shittest businessman.
If you could work with any one artist, who would it be and why?
Damn, that’s a hard question. There are so many folks I’d love to work with. So I’m gonna cheat and name a few. The three artists in the tape scene I’d really love to work with right now are KPLR, Social Drag and Opponents. KPLR are probably the band I’ve listened to more than any other over the last year. They just really nail some of my favourite musical elements; minimal, mechanical, repetition with a bit of grit in the seams. Social Drag put out one of the best debut tapes I’ve ever heard last year and Opponents have this brilliant low-rent murky take on electronic music. Their Together We Will End The Future was criminally overlooked, in my opinion. I’d be thrilled to work with any of them.
What’s your demo policy?
I don’t have one ha ha. People send me stuff sometimes and I try to give them the respect of having a listen. However I run a very small operation and I don’t put out many tapes each year so my roster fills up pretty quickly. But yeah, I’m open to people sending me stuff.
What do you have planned for the future?
Up next I’ve got tapes from Husnaan, which is a great solo synth project from Indonesia and Berber Ox from Sydney. After that I’ve got an all-Australian split planned from Zonal Taste Wand and ZX-9 and other tape that I’ve still got to confirm and that will see me out for the year.
Next year I’m really hoping to put out a tape from Rosalind Hall and Alice Hui-Sheng Chang who are two Melbourne artists who do this awesome vocal and prepared sax thing that I love. I’ve been chasing them to do something since the start of the label.
What’s the best record you’ve heard in the past year?
God, that’s another tough one. My ‘best’ records change every day. The best thing I’ve in recent times is the Romare – Meditations On Afrocentrism EP. I’ve been playing that one non-stop.
Ask me again tomorrow though and everything will change. There’s just so much good music out there at them moment.
Any closing advice?
Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way… turn.