Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Netlabel Profile: 20kbps rec.

In Lars Von Trier/Jørgen Leth's film The Five Obstructions (go here for a trailer), Leth is made to recreate his film The Perfect Human five times, with a series of seemingly arbitrary restrictions placed on him by Von Trier. As the restrictions changed from remake to remake, so did the structure and appearance of the film - not to mention how each film made you feel

Formed in December 2002, Mathias Aeschlimann's Switzerland-based netlabel 20kbps rec. imposes a single restriction upon the work of the artists it releases - they must encode their work at an audio-buff-frightening 20 kilobytes per second (that's around one seventieth of CD quality...)

I spoke to Mathias to find out more...

How did the label start?
Well, I don't think I was influenced by anything I could mention. In the beginning, the netlabel started as something like a joke - it was just that I hadn't enough space on my hard disk for my musical crap (I was able to download a lot of music as I was part of the mp3 ripping scene), so I down-encoded it to have more space. It was still too much for me, so I uploaded it to the internet and deleted it from my hd. That's how 20kbps rec. was born. Then I showed it to some mates who were doing sound-stuff, and they were somehow delighted and started to release

Do you see any parallels between what you're doing and the punk scene in the 70s, in terms of reacting against the drive towards an increasingly high-fidelity sound?
Somehow yes. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against hifi-sound, I love it, but a lot of people always want to buy new, expensive, better sound equipment (soundcards etc..), and still all they produce is crap. You don't need the best hifi sound to knock someone off their feet. People should concentrate more on good music. Bullshit still sounds like bullshit at 96khz and 24 bit

Why 20kbps as your chosen bitrate?
There are several answers to this question. Firstly, 20kbps uses less space and it can be downloaded faster (cynically one could say, 20kbps rec. is for audio what Mcdonald's is for food). This is important for people in 'developing countries' where most people don't have high speed internet. Secondly, there's a very interesting aesthetic in lowbit sound - it's a pseudo-retro thing, I guess. Thirdly, and for me the most important reason is that it's a philosophical thing and has much to do with media theory. To really understand 20kbps rec. you should read Marshall McLuhan's 'The Media is the Message'

What inspired you to set up a netlabel that provides its content for free, instead of a more conventional music label that produces items for commercial sale?
Simply because I'm not interested in conventional music. I'm interested in so-called underground music. Most record labels the size of 20kbps rec. lose money with their releases, only gaining money from their artist's live shows, so setting up a commercial label would have been difficult

Does the 20kbps format work live?
Hmm. I talked about that with dimitryghost (in his interview for, and we had different opinions. He thought it would be very interesting to have 20kbps live-acts, but for me the 20kbps format is inextricably connected to the form of internet media . An online live-show would make sense to me, but not a real concert. 20kbps rec. artists play all over the world, but normally in high-quality

Is running the label a full-time occupation?
Running the label takes up a lot of time, but it's not a full-time occupation, I'm a student at HGKZ (Academy of Design and Arts, Zurich), studying new media

Your releases are commercially unavailable. Is finding money problematic?
Up to now, a mate of mine is paying for hosting. He also designed the website and he was the first 20kbps follower we had, back in the days. His name is Laub and he's studying animation. He's made a video-clip for a Jimmy Slaughter track released on 20kbps rec. called 'Me is the Killer' (available here) The clip is also low-quality, in keeping with the label's principles

What is your relationship like with the artists on your label? - I'm guessing they don't get paid. Do you feel they use your label as a means to an end (ie. a stepping stone to getting signed to a commercial label)?
At the moment we have more than 30 artists and it's still growing, so I have very different relationships with them. Some of them were mates before I created the label, like Jimmy Slaughter, Aunderwex, Deemage, Pimuri. Other's became friends after time, like k9d, Overthruster and The Hardliner. They don't get paid and I don't think that the majority are looking to get signed on a commercial label, it would be simply the wrong way because 20kbps rec. is a very specialized, 'nerdy' netlabel

Do you think netlabels are the future of music distribution?
Very difficult question. I'm not sure yet - I don't think that the generation of musician we now have is able to accept the netlabel as a serious form of music distribution. Perhaps the next generation of musicians who have grown up with internet media will change things and a streaming format (mp3, ogg,..) will be the most used way to listen to music. It's gonna be really long until vinyl disappears (and I hope it doesn't)

Do you think future musicians will be put off releasing music at all if their work is going to be distributed for free?
I don't think so. Even now, a lot of artists gain nothing or almost nothing for bringing their music out on sound storage mediums. Besides that, a lot of musicians are giving out their music for free already


As I'm sure you've gathered, all 20kbps releases are free to download, so go here to take your pick from their offerings. I've chosen a couple of my favourite tracks...

GOTO80 - Alaska.mp3
GOTO80 - Motocross Love.mp3
True Type - Luv Thru The Wind.mp3
True Type - Emutl & Bawob.mp3

Scoop!! Love the whole idea of this - I shall get 20kbps in my links bar forthwith!
Very interesting post. I think this advice can be very helpful for many people.
this is great. nice work I'd like to read a bit more concerning this topic. Thanks for sharing such a nice information..
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