Sunday, 27 September 2020

INTERVIEW: So Called Hell

So Called Hell feels like one of the more seclusive labels out there. Having only a Bandcamp page, featuring three stellar releases, the label seems to keep itself distanced from the loud and bombastic characteristics of social media. We see something similar when it comes to its released acts. While the quality of Silent Cabin, Hasufel, and Uilos echo far and wide, the artists themselves do provide music that feels the utmost personal and intimate.

Dear Britt, thank you for your time! So far, I’ve been very charmed by your efforts when it comes to curation. Am I mistaken if I’d say there’s an overlap in atmosphere when it comes to your current roster? All three releases very much have their own personality and charm but to me fit perfectly together.

No mistake at all. The dungeon music sphere is obviously sprawling and subjectively defined but there's a wavelength within it I'm most drawn to: murky, mysterious, melancholy, and malevolent. Silent Cabin, Uilos, and Hasufel all share these qualities in different ways, channeling a sense of ritual, smoke, and descent.

Ah, the unholy four M’s of Dungeon Synth! What is it that really draws you towards these qualities? And what makes it that you find them within this specific genre?

My listening habits over the years have evolved / devolved to where I’m most fascinated by music for its mood and quasi-mystical effects, like sinking into certain drugs or meditative states. Dungeon Synth can be deeply transportive in this respect, conjuring ancient sorrows or supernatural darknesses far beyond the lives most of us lead. But it’s about more than fantasy; it's closer to some sort of divination. World-building realms we recognize but have never visited.

Remedios Varo, Creation of the Birds, Leonara Carrington, 1957

Can this divination be seen as some sort of mission statement from So Called Hell? And if so, would this explain the label’s withdrawal on social media, as the character of those platforms do not really match with your description of Dungeon Synth?

I tend to not think in terms of blanket statements but the subterranean gist of SCH is definitely some notion of music's shadowy, primeval qualities, uncorrupted by commerce, scenes, or hype. Social media isn't evil necessarily but it's certainly numbing in its omnipresence. Even the greatest creations feel more mundane in the light of some tech empire's marketing / spy network. And Dungeon Synth is even more out of place in such a context, since its origins and aesthetics are so fundamentally archaic, occult, and isolationist.

I would say that the way how the isolated character of SHC matches its releases, strengthens the appeal of the label. As a listener I gravitate to the genre because of its otherworldly and adventurous qualities, which feel slightly dented when served within the mundane grid of social media. Which makes me wonder: how does SHC find its roster? Is it as basic as tracking quality down through online platforms, or are there other factors at play?

Since DS tends to operate remotely, even anonymously, it's less common to meet artists socially, although both Hasufel and Uilos are old friends who I've known through various projects for years. Usually it's about hearing a recording online somewhere and just reaching out. As a newer label it's normal to not always get a response but most musicians also don't mind receiving a random compliment, and you never know what will lead to what. The process of finding strangers willing to trust you is basically the main challenge of every label. But what's far more important is distilling your curatorial desires so as to expand the ecosystem, not chase the same names as everyone else.

Labyrinth, Leonara Carrington, 1991

While the journey has brought forth three stellar releases already, I can’t help but wonder what might be in store for us in the future. Are you already scouting ahead?

Eternally. Digging in the trenches I come across eerie gems frequently and float fan message into the ether when inspired. That said, it's a fairly impersonal method and understandably some artists dismiss the unknown as internet white noise – which to some degree it is. Genuine connections are more complex than that; underground culture isn't transactional. Profound music can't be rushed and the best labels aren't brands. There're plenty of projects and collaborations I'd love to one day materialize but they either will or won't depending on chance and circumstance. What I want most though is for Dungeon Synth not to sink into predictability, or become a tired trend, burned out by repetition and imitation. Its template is infinite and every forking path of the cosmic dungeon should be pursued.

I’m glad to say that those words resonate heavily, as to me, real adventure always depends on the unknown. We see that since the genre’s revival, many artists have continuously morphed the genre into a broad variety of shapes; whether it is through radical re-contextualization, or by subtle twists and turns as one can find in Uilos’ I: Dark Night Of The Soul.
Having said that, I hope others will undergo their own adventures alongside and within the works within your roster. If there’s anything you’d like to tell them beforehand, what would it be?

Listening is active not passive. The road most traveled is the one most scoured. Stray off the path often and at length.

So Called Hell on Bandcamp