De Stijl Records
For over a decade, the Minneapolis-based label De Stijl Records has been “dedicated to unearthing primo basement arcana”, re-issuing ultra-obscure LPs from the past alongside releases from current d.i.y./outsider artists, while unassumingly connecting the dots between various factions of the global underground. Taking cues from bootleg culture, and with a vast knowledge of independent music both past and present, Clint Simonson, the driving force behind De Stijl, soldiers on into a new decade with a bevy of new releases sure to captivate the heads.
95? 96? I swiped the logo via xerox from a Walker Art Center flyer during a Hanne Darboven show. I was originally taken by the font of a Berlin magazine from the early 1900s called Der Sturm, but at the final moment of appropriation the De Stijl logo caught my eye so I grabbed. I didn't know much about Mondrian and wasn't all that drawn to plasticity but later a Dutch woman told me it meant "style" so I said, oh apropos, cuz I got miles and miles of that shit ..
I was inspired by many, many labels, but I was definitely looking to do my own thing. I loved Drag City. They were probably the label I admired most of all, and was just blown away by their early releases and invitational gigs. Other labels that I loved were Actuel / BYG, Majora, ESP disk, Folkways, Siltbreeze, Takoma, Twisted Village, Impulse, Xpressway, PSF, as well as labels like Flying Nun, 53rd and 3rd, Sarah and Slumberland. I also just adore bootlegs and the culture in which they are made. I was really drawn to the process of xeroxing and pasting. I've taken all kinds of shit for adopting those methods via De Stijl. I'll take the "hard nipples" (ZAP 7882) vibe over a $50 jacket every day. But more than any other label, it was Fusetron and Giardia, who were both good friends of mine and that era of my life was pretty inspiring as we were all sorta working and learning about the same and similar things. Funds were not exactly liquid during that era but as they became so I began collecting labels like Gate 5, America, Groovy, Piano, Shandar, Futura, Center of the World, Vanity, Saturn / Thoth, Jihad, Topic, Pink Islands, Green Brains, whatever. Hundreds more ..
I look for balance in planning a day between work / family / sleep / etc., but I never plan balance between reissues / contemporary artists. The projects just present themselves or you make them happen. I am trying to balance out the yr by doing a release every 6 to 8 weeks. There are myriad factors to working any releases dependent on what it is, if it is legally obtainable? Will it be a fiscal wash? Can
I work with this artist or are we on two totally different trips entirely? etc. Working a reissue is not really all that different than working a contemporary band, the only difference being the ability for an artist to tour is probably out. That said, we lugged Charlie Nothing's dingulators around Europe for a week and he was old and tough as fuck and we had a blast.
*Sperm “Shh!”: I don't remember where I came across the Sperm, but it's a rec that I've had for a long time. I tracked Pekka down in 2000 and he was agreeable to a reissue and then he just disappeared and I didn’t hear from him for a few yrs. I thought fuck, maybe he died or something, I don't know. So I was ready to just do it when I heard from him, returning from a trip to the Middle East. It's amazing that all these people who made recordings that one might summarize as "similar" are drawn to the East: Taj Mahal Travellers, Embryo, etc. I wish there was a film documentation of Pekka's journeys and stories.
*Virgin Insanity “Illusions of the Maintenance Man”: This was an LP that I was aware of yrs before actually hearing it. I read about it in a Paul Major catalog and was just blown away by the name of the band. I eventually tracked him down and scored one and it was this very deeply satisfying, special spin. After the LP reissue, we were pretty bummed when he signed it away to P Vine and it was impossible to score stateside on CD for less than $30, but whatever ..
*39 Clocks “Zoned”: I came into contact with Juergen because his wife Sabine did the artwork for the Black Vial LPs that we did in 2000, 2001. All the imagery and sounds on the Phantom Payn releases just oozed this intriguing, romanticized loner vibe. He and Christian (who was in a post-Clock band called the Beauty Contest) lived thru what I assumed to be this acid-drenched prankster period and had not gone nuts. All the Clocks releases I've found for next to nothing and I’d always loved them. They got a lot of press in the UK but it would seem nobody ever really cared how amazing they were. We thought if we put some of the great moments in one place there might be some people who will check it out. There weren't.
*Mark Tucker “Batstew”:This is another legend that existed long before I ever became involved. Tucker was supposedly this maddened, Beethoven-esque character that had spent all this time being crazy or whatever, but he's just this sweet guy that made a couple of LPs during his life. He carried the mail for the U.S. postal service. Nobody really heard “Batstew”, I think there were only a couple hundred of those, but “In the Sack” actually got some press. There was a Tucker article in Option magazine in the mid 80s. We should've done “Sack” on vinyl, maybe we should.
Obviously, technological shifts have radically altered the lay of the land. I used to track people down via the phone books at the public library. Now I Google. Is it harder now? Easier now? It's really hard to quantify things in these rigid categories. We've found that De Stijl has a buying audience of anywhere from 500-1500 people and it's not really growing / shrinking. Making that number grow is a challenge. I mean, when I hear Mark Tucker's “In The Sack”, it's just inexplicable to me why a release like that doesn't fly out the door, esp in this climate where artists like Ariel Pink and Animal Collective have achieved levels of almost unbelievable success. But getting anyone to review it was like pulling teeth. My approach has shifted a bit in the last few yrs as I tried to make CDs thru this M / D deal via Sub Pop and we've learned that my releases sell far better on LP. During that time they taught me a great deal and I guess I'm bringing that experience toward a return to vinyl / download production or whatever ..
The first fest I did in '02 at the old church space here in Minneapolis sprouted over an initial plan to get Ben Chasny to come out and play Patrick (Giardia / Muckraker) and Denise's wedding. Jon Godbert was also touring the U.S. at that time and he and Patrick had worked together and he was going to be passing thru, maybe the Double
Leopards were too? I can't remember, but I just started asking people to play and in seemingly no time an amazing bill had taken shape. The next year was a bit bigger endeavor, and I just approached it wildly. I felt NNCK had made a pretty radical statement by traveling south to work with Jerry Yester, and I wanted to approach a big gig with a wider scope and display not only the branches, but the roots as well.
It was really no different than the way I approach De Stijl. As much as I respected the Terrastock fests, I felt they only really represented a certain facet of what was happening in the global underground. I felt New Weird America represented another. Carlos Giffoni had not yet begun his No Fun events and in 2002, 2003, I felt there was a need for a show like the De Stijl fests. I no longer do, necessarily. I wanted those gigs to be fun, and good times were surely had but working them were very taxing and that completely sucked. I can't tell you how many people have come up to me since and said, "Remember me? We met at yr fest in 02 or 03" and I'll have absolutely no recollection of it as it was a non-stop barrage for 2 solid days.
I've spent a great deal of time / energy trying to do this Charlie Nothing anthology as a double CD. One of the LPs to be contained therein was owned by Fantasy / Concord (the company who currently owns the Takoma legacy), but it was a very low priority for them and I could not make any progress at all. So all the other material of his I have rights to and we're reissuing them this year (I swear to god).
Another reissue that I'm pretty stoked about is this kinda whatthefuck?!? single by a band called the Fucking Flying A Heads. I guess you would call them a punk band from Hawaii that existed in 1979 and 80. It's an amazing artifact called "Swiss Cheese Back / Watching T.V.". Reissuing 7"s is something I've never done before and it seems you don't make any money on them, but I'm pretty excited about it nevertheless. Also, we've got an archival release of an unissued LP by Phantom Payn. Phantom Payn is Juergen Gleue, who was in the 39 Clocks so we'd worked together before. And we're doing a fall LP with Jerusalem and the Starbaskets who evoke this modest greatness that is pretty rare. There is a new Pens single soon; I love working with them because everyone hates them. And there will soon be a new single by a band called Hype Williams that is totally unique / retarded.
The only unifier is that De Stijl is simply an expression of my aesthetic, which is something that is informed and inspired in the same way that you are informed and inspired to come up with the questions, I suppose.
Well, I no longer work a day job so I'm further inspired to make De Stijl recoup, but De Stijl is just what I do. I can't imagine not participating in this culture. I don't really feel that the practice of collecting records and the practice of making them greatly differ and I don't really plan to hang up either. Jonathan Poneman once told me that running a label is the greatest job in the world, but you get to a certain level of business and it becomes thoroughly unenjoyable. I don't want to get to that level, and I have no fear that I ever will as the projects that I'm drawn to are evidently just too arcane or difficult. So I'm aiming for modesty. I just want this thing to continue paying the rent.
**Be the first person to correctly identify the two De Stijl-related groups pictured above and win select titles from the De Stijl catalog. Please send your responses to David at HERE. Become a fan of De Stijl Records on Facebook for additional opportunities to win and for up-to-date information on new releases and tour dates.
-- David Perron (28 April, 2010)