Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Interview with Gabriele Cruz of RUDE AWAKENING RECORDS by Dave Wolff

Interview with Gabriele Cruz of RUDE AWAKENING RECORDS

When did you get the idea to run a label, and when did you found Rude Awakening Records?
The idea of starting my own label is at least two years old, but I was able to start only one year ago with the first release, in order to set the main concept and the “structure” (website, social media, contacts). I’ll keep it totally on my own even in the future, so I can be free to choose the bands I prefer, but I’m open to work with other labels when it comes to particular ideas (that was the case of our second release). There is one focus: reissues of rare and out of print records.

What is the overall purpose and goal of Rude Awakening Records?
The purpose of Rude Awakening Records came from a question I’ve always had as a simple collector: why can’t I buy legit editions of the records I love? We all know about bootlegs (some famous, some less famous) and in the last years it has become harder and harder to distinguish between real and fake editions. If you are at least a little above the mainstream scene (as a collector), you just can’t calm your hunger with those bands. You’ll often be looking for that obscure Death Metal band (whose records are rare and expensive as hell) or for that cult Thrash band whose demo was only printed on 100 tapes in 1987… and I could go on. So you have two bad scenarios: you can download illegally the entire discography of those bands (clearly damaging them) or collect the only existing editions, taking the risk to choose the legit edition and not a bootleg (damaging your wallet anyway). That’s where I decided to “get in”. Clearly, as a producer you can’t account for the taste of the whole fanbase, so physical releases are strictly limited and chosen by personal taste. But I still think as a normal fan, so I’m not scared by legit streaming/download services, and these releases are and will be available online, because you just can’t afford buying everything you listen to. This said, the goal is releasing as many albums as possible, with slow schedules.

On Youtube there are many bootlegged rare albums and rare demos by thrash, grindcore and death metal bands, to indicate just some of the material uploaded by fans. Does surfing Youtube help you find them?
Sure it does. The main point is always the same: if big labels have no interest in re-releasing their old artists, or unknown labels produced great records in the 70s/80s/90s without the worldwide potential we have today thanks to the internet, and sometimes the bands themselves tried it, how will people discover them? In these cases, we must thank fans who originally bought those records and decided to share them with the world.

How much obscure material did you collect after discovering the underground? Do you still have the material you collected?
This is a never ending story! I must admit I’m attached to my records (and not only records) so I would never sell them, even those I don’t like much. Thanks to some crazy metalheads on the net I’ve bought rare albums such as “A Sceptic’s Universe” by Spiral Architect (Prog Metal), “The Edge Of Eternity” by Hexenhaus (Technical Thrash Metal) or “Hospital Of Death” by Section Brain (Thrash/Death Metal), just to name a few. But a record doesn’t have to be rare to be good, that’s why we must support newer bands too, and there’s plenty of labels bringing us the latest tunes. I’m not buying many records lately, so I can invest more in my next releases and trading records with other labels for my distro. However, my latest three purchases were definitely underground: “Transient” by Chaos Echoes (one of the best bands around right now, a black abyss swallowing an entire planet); “Speech Of The Flame” by Valgrind (by friend label Lord Of The Flies Records, totally devoted to Death Metal) and “Running Sore” by Deviser (they’ve got two things I love: it’s Greek Black Metal and it has keyboards!).

What can you tell the readers about Spiral Architect, Hexenhaus and Section Brain? How would you rate them alongside the other bands in your collection?
Spiral Architect was (or is, this is still unclear) one of the best Prog Metal bands around: totally different from what can be defined Prog today. They’re extremely skilled musicians taking lessons from bands such as Watchtower and Psychotic Waltz and giving them a more modern sound. Their only album was released in 2000.
Hexenhaus comes from Sweden. They were surprisingly resurrected in 2012 and are working on their fifth album which has no release date yet. They have four Technical Thrash albums released in the 80s and the 90s. For the cover of the debut (“A Tribute To Insanity”, 1988), they chose to use a painting by the Belgian artist Jean Delville, which was later also used on “Blessed Are The Sick” from Morbid Angel. My favourite album by Hexenhaus is “The Edge Of Eternity” (1990).
Section Brain was from the most obscure European underground. In the early 90s there was probably no solid Metal scene in Eastern Europe countries (with some exceptions such as Aria, Turbo, etc.) and they hailed from the Czech Republic with a skilled Technical Thrash/Death style in their only record “Hospital Of Death” (1993).
I would say all bands go for 10/10, but I’ll say Section Brain can be 8/10 because if they hadn’t stopped after their immature debut, they could have done something even better for a second album, with a better recording.

You said Deviser is from Greece; where are Chaos Echoes and Valgrind based? How many releases do they have out and where can they be found?
Chaos Echoes is a four-piece act from France, formerly known as Bloody Sign. Their third and last album with that monicker was called “Chaos Echoes” (2010), then they changed name and started releasing as Chaos Echoes. Up to now, they’ve got one full length, two EPs, a live album and a demo. Their style has changed much from what they played previously, so I strongly recommend listening to them to get an opinion. They’re currently with Nuclear War Now! so their releases can be found almost everywhere in the world distros dealing with extreme material.
Valgrind from Italy have been active since 1993 but they came out with their debut album in 2012 (“Morning Will Come No More”) after many demos. Their line-up consists of members of other famous bands in the Italian underground (Hateful, Voids Of Vomit). Not too difficult to find for someone at least a little familiar with the internet and its famous market places such as Discogs. But the first channels I’d like to recommend are obviously labels and band themselves, to support them for more releases.

Where is Nuclear War Now! Records based, and how many artists are they currently supporting?
Nuclear War Now is based in the United States, precisely Redwood City (California), and can be easily classified as one of the all-seeing-eye labels about the cult underground and next trends coming in the extreme side of Metal. They produce dozens of bands at the moment, including new flags for younger bands such as Antediluvian and Irkallian Oracle; but they also released cult established bands such as Thou Art Lord and the reissue of “Fallen Angel Of Doom” by Blasphemy, which repeatedly sells out.

Would you want the chance to release Blasphemy’s “Fallen Angel Of Doom” if you were given permission from the band?
There’s no need fortunately, because it’s widely available on many formats, a joy for collectors. I bet someone has more than fifteen copies at home. The world is still full of chances to take advantage of, so you don’t have to run behind one particular band. There’s plenty of bands I’d like to exhume from the past, but this “plan” can’t be told obviously. I can only say the list is very long.

How many fans are you in contact with who retained their demo collection over the years?
There has been no need yet, because I was lucky enough to find bands who kept almost everything they did, from tracks to pictures and sometimes local newspaper articles. About Disphere, I tried my best to find flyers of the years they were playing to promote “Abscience” and “Shinra Tensei”. Anyway, fans are an important source and someday it could become necessary to get in touch with someone with something rare to show the world.

In how many ways has downloading changed underground music in general? Social media sites do help newer bands promote their material around the world, and labels do the same. I imagine it’s done to curtail illegal downloading.
Downloading unfortunately started as stealing, not only affecting famous bands, but also the underground ones. Anyway, you have to adapt your strategy in order to survive this kind of business: if a label chooses not to put anything online and rely only on physical copies, someone will buy them, but will also rip them and upload for streaming somewhere without anyone’s consent. This means that nowadays we can’t see any more streaming and download services as monsters: some of these are totally legal and let you share your music all over the world without being unfair to artists or producers.

Were you part of the tape trading network in the 80s and 90s? How many bands did you hear of through this process?
I wasn’t part of that because I was too young, however the current situation has some similarities: labels still do trades – mine included – and you can always find new bands this way. I keep a little distro and I’ve traded with people from Mexico, Ukraine… all over the world. Where you can find good bands and labels interested in your music, then it’s just a matter of time, when you’ll have those records in your distro and yours will be somewhere in the world and more metalheads will get to you. Dozens of bands can be discovered like this, when you find a label and check its roster. The goal is obviously choosing good quality bands to have in your distro, something unique, or hard to find on the net and in the shops.

Who in Mexico and Ukraine have you traded with? Do you hear a lot about bands from those countries? In how many other countries do you have contacts for information about bands?
I’ve done trades with Satanic Porno Records (Mexico) and Eclectic Productions (Ukraine). Especially in the first case, it took a lot of time for him to get my CDs, and for me to get his releases, so those records have something “special”. Both countries have amazing bands (to do one example for each country, I could say The Chasm and Khors), but potentially you can have contacts with people all over the globe asking about Rude Awakening Records and bands asking to be released. It’s still a little network, but growing little by little with selected releases and trades.

Do you get catalogues from Satanic Porno Records and Eclectic Productions? How frequently do you receive their updates?
Sometimes I do, but usually not by personal e-mails. This is the thing I like most about social networks: you can choose who and what you want to see. So you are constantly updated by the network you build, and not somebody else who chooses for you what you need to know. If I want to be informed about next Dark Descent or Witching Hour releases, I just check their newsfeed or official sites. If you remember music theme channels on TV, it was the contrary: you always hoped to listen to some artists you liked, but it rarely happened. Today you can watch or listen to what you want in the moment you want.

Do you read many fanzines to hear about new bands and demos you previously hadn’t heard of? Which ones?
I was never into paper fanzines for some reason. When I hadn’t much choice to listen to new music, I bought as many magazines as possible (mostly mainstream) to read reviews and interviews. When the internet started being more easily accessible to me, I read lots of reviews on webzines and I was a reviewer for some years.
Today, since you can’t always trust reviews because the reviewer simply can’t match 100% with your taste or say something totally different from reality, I buy only one magazine, where I can find material no-one else has: Classix! Metal, written by original metalheads and journalists who were in the scene in the 70s and the 80s. Their retrospectives are always full of detail and a point of view that only someone who was there can tell. They lived it, saw it with their own eyes and listened to new styles as they were something really fresh and never heard before. On the internet, I usually read Metal Skunk, an unusual Metal blog born by the ashes of Metal Shock, one of my favourite magazines back in the day. The style is totally iconoclast and full of funny stories which apparently have nothing to do with the review itself, but always better than reading on five or six webzines “the style of X band is influenced by Y band with hints of Z band etc. etc”. When it was on paper, it was already different from other magazines, but reviews went anyway to the point when you finished reading. Now that it’s on the net the authors write more or less whatever they want. But the attitude is true, and that’s what counts.

How long has Classix! Metal been in circulation and how much worldwide distribution does each issue receive?
Early numbers of Classix! Metal have been distributed in 2011, a new number more or less every two months. It was born as a spin off of another magazine, Classix, which focused – as the name says - on Classic, Prog and some Hard Rock bands. In the first years they had a hard time with distribution, so it wasn’t so easy finding them in the news-stands, even in big cities. To avoid problems, one year I chose a subscription to get it at home, but now they have a very good distribution and you can find it easily. I’m a proud collector of all the 27 numbers, the early ones are long unavailable and sold to high prices by jackals on Ebay and forums. This number may not seem so high, but for a magazine with so many changes about editors and distribution it’s an amazing result.

What bands have you read about in Classix! Metal? How informative would you say their articles are?
Well, by looking at the front cover you’ll find the main picture that shows what will be the longest retrospective: last one, for example, had Rob Halford on cover and they let the fans choose the picture to use by making them see some on Facebook. In the main article you’ll find simply everything about the band: detailed discography reviews, parts of interviews from the past, side project of members explained, rare tracks or secondary releases, interviews with producers, roadies, managers, exclusive pictures, stories of life on the road, and everything that can be helpful to build a complete picture of the past.
Some other numbers definitely worth of mention were about Queensryche, Manowar or Slayer, but up to now there has been space for Def Leppard, Metallica, Death, a special about Christian Metal and who knows what else they’ll put in for the next numbers.

What zines or webzines did you review for, and how long were you with them? Did you save your reviews on your computer?
When I was in high school, starting more or less in 2006 we had a very well printed magazine and the music section was all about the local area. On the internet I had my first experience with a long dead webzine (Underground Attack), where it was all about demos from Italy and I wrote for a year. It doesn’t exist anymore, so reviews are stored in my external hard disk. The longest experience was with MetalWave, a long established webzine (online since 2004), where I got the chance to review bands such as Vektor, Todtgelichter, Doomraiser, and taking care of some live reports of gigs and minor festivals too. This material is still online and anyway I keep everything, just in case. I stopped writing for lack of time more or less in 2012/2013.

How much detail did you put into your reviews while you were writing? Did you review zines and live shows as well as releases?
I must be honest, my style was quite concise: I’m not so good at bringing a topic miles away from the main point, because as a reader too the first thing I want to know is what the record sounds like. So some reviews of bands I liked were good enough, but for some others it was a struggle to avoid being boring. I reviewed some little festivals such as Armageddon In The Park in 2011, a Southern Italy fest. Every year, until it existed, the line-up was pretty cool and in 2011 they had Vader, Gama Bomb, Natron and some more local bands. And when I was inspired I also wrote reports for local gigs, but not asking for free passes. It’s not fair when you have 50 people to a show and 10-15 are writers who get in for free.

Have you ever listened to internet radio stations to discover new bands? If so, which stations have you visited?
MetalWave itself has its own radio show on FM, and it lasts three hours! The webzine boss and some of his fellows take care of it, it’s quite popular. However, today the radio as a whole medium is the protagonist of a revolution: thanks to the internet streaming, you can listen lots of transmissions while they are on air. FM is still the main source but there’s more and more now coming from the net. There’s plenty here in Italy, such as Metal Corrosion, Black Night, Heavy Demons, Over The Wall to name a few. But our releases are also included in foreign podcasts such as Les Décibels Sont Dans Les Prés, from France and when I get the chance I listen to them. Can’t tell which is the best band I’ve discovered so far, but passionate speakers usually choose good music, even in the mainstream.

Do those Italy based net radio shows get any exposure in other countries? Do you know of any programs based in the U.S.?
I hope so! Online streaming is a powerful weapon, but I suppose metalheads mostly follow shows from their own country. I sometimes listened to Century Media and Relapse podcasts, but they can’t be counted as radio shows. I write to many radio shows all over the world to send digital promos of my releases, USA included, but I get no chance to listen to them usually.

Speaking of Italian bands, are you familiar with Bulldozer? They were around in the 80s and 90s; are they still releasing albums?
Sure, every Italian metalhead who is familiar with the 80s national scene knows them. They got very famous again when they reunited in 2008 and released their fifth album “Unexpected Fate” under Scarlet Records. They took the chance to do some live shows, so I was lucky enough to see them three times: first, at the 2010 edition of Armageddon In The Park as headliners, then at the last edition of AITP in 2013, where they performed with some of the best Italian bands, and finally in Rome some time later for an indoor show. They’re only re-releasing old material and live albums nowadays, by what I read some time ago there’s no intention to compose new albums. I support this kind of decisions usually for bands who choose to re-unite: still don’t know what I can expect from Toxik, for example.

Do you personally prefer physical CDs, albums and demos or social media sites and mp3 downloads?
I personally prefer physical format and would never hope for a music world made exclusively by downloads. My favourite format is CD, both for a matter of wear (LPs need much more care in that sense), space to store and time you can dedicate to listen to it, but I’ve got CDs, LPs and some tapes too in my collection. I’m around 1000 pieces and my goal is making it grow at least five times this number (speaking only of Metal records, otherwise it would be higher too).
Anyway, as I said before, times change and we cannot refuse to see what happens: a common scenario recently is a band that chooses self-production (today you can have much better results compared to the past, even in home recording), uploads a demo/full length on Bandcamp and lets fans download it for free or for a symbolic price. Then, by word of mouth this record is spread all over the world and it can reach an interested label maybe even without sending an e-mail. That label will take care of the physical release: it’s the case of bands such as Mesarthim, Chthe’ilist, or Abyssal. All of them were first known on the net or their “cult” demos or full lengths, and then they were releases on CD/LP.

Can labels that continue to deal in physical releases still help the underground sustain itself?
Sure, and it has to be done. A band nowadays pays most of the processes, from rehearsing to touring, not to count years spent in learning how to play. And often, when it comes to the final product, due to low budget they may choose to release low quality CDs or have no releases. A label will take care of this, and sometimes something more to spread the word of valuable underground bands.

Who are the first bands you hooked up with for your label? How did you contact them and what have you released so far?
When I started, I decided to reach an Italian band with a particular artistic path: Disphere started as a Technical Death/Grindcore band, when this kind of music was much less popular than now; after two albums, they changed their style to more modern Alternative/Post Metal sounds. More detailed info can be found in the little bio I wrote on the CD booklet. Anyway, I was listening to their second album (Shinra Tensei, 2010) and it was simply astonishing: fast, aggressive, bizarre and technical, something you don’t hear every day; I knew there was a previous album (Abscience, 2007) self-produced by the band, but couldn’t find any trace. So I asked them directly if I could buy a copy somehow and they were very kind to let me download it for free. I had a feeling: even before listening to that record, I was sure that it would have been my first release. That feeling was right, so I asked the band if they were interested in a professional reissue. It was a very easy collaboration, the band mastermind was very kind to cooperate on lyrics check, booklet pics and so on.

Have you worked with any artwork companies in connection with your label?
The artwork choice was a finished opera by Indonesian studio Abomination Imagery: even in that case I had the feeling it perfectly suited music and lyrics: a man on his knees, head on the ground, succumbing and de-personalized with a cold “electrical” aura around.
About the second release, it was a totally different story: a friend’s label (DeathStorm Records), almost 100% focused on Thrash Metal, had an idea to exhume Italian Thrash Metal demos from the 80s and the 90s. I was offered to start this project together and so “Italian Thrash Relics” was born. I love Thrash Metal too, especially with Technical and Progressive elements, so I couldn’t say no.

How much information can you offer the readers about Abomination Imagery?
Well, he’s been an insider for a long time, so I think his works speak better than anyone’s words: to name a few, I could say he worked with Spawn Of Possession, Korpse (NL) or Infest (SRB) for CD artwork or merch.

What are you planning for Italian Thrash Relics? How many bands will be included in this release?
This series will have two bands for every release, each one represented on the cover by a character, and it is old school by choice, about artwork and overall realization. In “Volume I” you can find Furious Barking and Desmodus: for the first band I can say there’s a richer discography and a continuous history all over the years in the music scene with other projects too; we chose to re-release a 1991 EP, while for the second band it was a total cult represented by one demo on tape in 1992. We tried our best to recover this demo from an old source, and we did it for three tracks of four. For the last one we had to use an mp3, because after 24 years that source was almost destroyed. But it’s an important step to preserve the memory of Desmodus and their founding late member, Ares.

How long has DeathStorm Records been around? What gave them the idea to give exposure to old Italian thrash bands?
DeathStorm Records has been active since 2012, and its founder plays in one of the most famous Italian Thrash bands (Ancient Dome, currently published by Punishment 18 Records), so we can say he has some kind of “faith” in Thrash Metal. He had this idea more or less for the same reasons I started this label, but he also published some releases for his own band to recover early songs published on demos. We have lots of similar ideas, so the workflow is fast and without disagreements. However, his next release won’t be about Thrash, so stay tuned for some classic tunes (in the past someone said we could only do this, haha) by Aeternal Seprium.

Does DeathStorm Records handle any material from Ancient Dome? How soon are they releasing Aeternal Seprium?
You can ask them for all Ancient Dome records, and their service won’t disappoint you. The release for “Doominance” is set for a very short coming date, October 1! So don’t miss a chance to listen of the best young Heavy Metal bands from Italy. This edition will be limited to 500 copies worldwide.

How much material can be purchased from Punishment 18 Records? Is this label based in Italy?
Tons of records, their distro keeps at least one thousand CDs, I guess. It’s a label based in Italy and one of the most active about releases: both new and old records, many young talents and some sacred monsters too in between (I’m thinking about re-releases by Despair, Borknagar, Cro-Mags). If you’re lucky enough, you can find their stand at some Northern Italy festivals sometimes. This label deserves respect because here probably lies the so-called old school attitude: their releases are mostly about Thrash, Death or Heavy Metal. A lifelong fan won’t be disappointed by Punishment 18 releases.

Where did you first hear of Disphere? Do they only have those two albums out or are there others they released?
The first time I heard Disphere was while browsing on webzines looking for shows to attend in my area, it was late 2007. Couldn’t go there unfortunately (they played with Italian Thrash/Black legends Necrodeath and with the Black Metal band Nefertum), but I kept that name in my memory and much later I’ve found their second album in a Grindcore distro. They’re still active, although some line-up issues, and they published “Sink To The Core” in 2012 and their latest “Mountain.Crushing.Waves” in 2015. Those guys are really kind and I would like to meet them at one of their gigs, but there was no occasion yet since we live in different cities.

When were Furious Barking and Desmodus active in the Italian underground? Is either band still releasing anything today?
Italian 80s and 90s, like the rest of the world, were prolific years in terms of quality and quantity: members from both bands were active in the late 80s and early 90s under these or different monickers, but today Furious Barking members are busy with other projects, while Desmodus disbanded in those years. So I can’t tell if – at least for Furious Barking – there will ever be new releases.

Has Italian Thrash Relics been released to the public? Are people and more bands responding to your promotion of it?
“Italian Thrash Relics – Vol. I” is out, and there has been a good response in terms of reviews and streaming on radios from all over the world. Since we work with old material, the process goes backwards: we search for members or former members of the bands, to explain them our idea. There are many bands we’d like to reach, but it takes some time, since we are talking about two DIY labels. There will definitely be a “Volume II” in the future, but there’s no official project yet.

In addition to demos, would you consider releasing live shows through your label? Are you in contact with bands who would give you permission to do so?
I’ve never thought about this, so thanks for the idea. The problem is live shows are exclusively material for die-hard fans. It’s difficult that someone who hears about an underground band for the first time will buy a live show CD. I love the idea of having some rare tracks with live recording as bonus tracks, or rehearsal recordings. But an entire live release should be something epic! No bands proposed me this kind of deal yet, we’ll see in the future.

How important is it to hear what a band can do in the studio and before an audience, to fully experience their capabilities?
In the era of hyper-clean and extremely powerful productions, being able to match studio and live dimensions is an important challenge to bands. I remember, as personal experience, that back in 2009 I bought “Black Future” by Vektor after listening to three tracks on Myspace. I was astonished but skeptical about the singer, because I didn’t know if he could scream in the same way on stage. Well, after watching to some live footage on YouTube, and finally being able to see them live, I realized what kind of beasts they are on stage and they deserve all the success they are getting. They’re bringing Thrash Metal to a new level; it’s not just nostalgia or another revival band. The same thing happened when Fear Factory published their masterpiece “Demanufacture” back in 1995. Onstage they proved that Raymond Herrera was real, not a drum machine.

What do you hope to accomplish with Rude Awakening Records? Would you like the label to become prominent in the underground?
I’d like to match two things: what I like to release and what people want to be released. That’s for one main purpose: if Rude Awakening releases get sold out in shorter time, you’ve got more chance to have new releases and more distro updates in the meanwhile. The releases will be always different from each other in the future, you’ll always get surprises in a certain sense. No need to focus only or Death, Thrash or Black, because I love almost everything that comes under the “Metal” definition. Sometimes, you could also get extra-Metal releases, but it could happen only for certain bands and maybe will never be done.
If the label becomes prominent at underground levels, and I hope so, this means that what I’ve just said has happened. This means more, but always standing in high quality, releases and a bigger distro where you get obscure records you can’t find so easily.
It will require years, but I’m not worried about it because the keyword is only one: constance.
Next release is coming in the early months of 2017, and I can anticipate here, worldwide, that it will be a cult sold-out Black Metal release with exclusive merch for the so called “early birds”.
P.S. the pic you see is 100% home-made and it represents a homage to one of the most extreme UK bands, Akercocke. Always loved the idea of Metal bands in suits and ties to create dissonance between look and music, well at least in promo pics. Too hot on stage!
Keep following Rude Awakening Records on its official channels:

-Dave Wolff

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