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Interview: Yamabushi Recordings

When a label releases 15+ cassette/digital outings of fiercely over-the-top crude, caustic hardcore and metal in a mere year, I'm intrigued. When those releases include one band I compared to "'92-era Burzum covering Celtic Frost with a tone and ferocity much more akin to bands like Rot in Hell and Gehenna (US, not Norway)" some five years ago, and another that tore my head off just three weeks ago—I'm really intrigued. That's the Yamabushi Recordings collective. So, I spoke with one of the collective's members, Aaron, about how it all started, and where it's all going…

How and when did the Yamabushi Recordings collective form? Did it stem from the Disposable Culture label at all?

We formed, in reality, years ago. We have all been working together in some form or another since 2010, I would say, we just never felt the need to slap a label on it before. We officially started referring to ourselves as the Yamabushi Recordings collective around October 2014, when we released the Sessoviolento Mindfucker cassette and Turbochong's Disrespectful demo tape. We have nothing to do with Disposable Culture, they released the Cease to Exist demo and that's it.

Referring to the label as a "collective," does that actually impact the inner workings of the label at all, or is it simply a term to represent the involvement of a group of like-minded individuals?

Firstly, we wanted to distinguish ourselves from the millions of other D.I.Y. internet labels out there, so you could say it's a marketing technique if you take the cynical view of things. That and the fact that we all play in each other's bands and support each other in every way possible makes us feel we are more of a collective than simply a record label. We have been friends and created together for a long time. Also, I personally like the artsy-fartsy implications of referring to ourselves as a collective: for me, this is lowbrow primitive art, and is more meaningful than just a musical commodity or a form of entertainment.

How many people are involved?

There are five of us, although there are quite a few other people on the periphery just playing instruments and nothing more. We have three core members—Umberto, Faz, and myself—doing most of the work and being responsible for the creation and formation of the majority of the bands/projects. Umberto takes care of the majority of the label and the aesthetic/artwork side of things, while I am mainly focused on recording, mixing, etc.

And everyone involved in the collective also plays in some of the bands that are on the label, right?

I play in pretty much every band besides Nembutal (a savage hardcore band formed by Nic, the bassist/guitarist of Cease to Exist). Umberto plays in Sessoviolento (raw, black garage punk), Klux (melodic indie punk), Troglodytes (vicious, raw hardcore), and Nowt (punk fucking rock). Faz plays in Ewige Schlangenkraft (weird, psychedelic/experimental black metal), Turbochong (fast, obnoxious hardcore), Gormless (doom), Klux, Foot Powder (total rubbish), Cease to Exist (black thrash/grind/hardcore), Gevurah (same), and just recently joined Procrastinator—an ugly noise rock band my missus and I started by accident while testing new recording equipment in preparation for a Sessoviolento session.

The label has yet to release any material from Klux or Nowt. When might we expect to get the chance to hear something from those projects?

Klux will most likely be making our debut appearance on the upcoming Yamabushi Recordings cassette compilation, Cleanse and Purify, set to be released sometime in January. It features almost entirely exclusive tracks by a number of the bands from the collective, as well as a few other bands/artists I'm in contact with in Germany and the US. As for Nowt, they will hopefully release something before the end of the year.

What first got you into this really raw, harsh, chaotically noisy style of hardcore and metal, anyway?

When it comes to the more abrasive, lo-fi shit, it must have started with black metal records like Darkthrone's Under a Funeral Moon LP, although that record sounded like total shit to me initially and I was not at all impressed with it. That and Napalm Death's first couple of albums, I would spend hours looking through the ridiculously long thanks lists for more and more obscure bands to check out. For a while, I was just tracking down various old demos and 7"s from the '80s, which eventually led me into the world of badly recorded, unlistenable music. I think it was Anal Cunt's Another EP that really started me on the ultra lo-fi path. That 7" was recorded on a boombox and is totally blown out, I just absolutely loved it, and still do. Also, G.I.S.M., Kilslug 7"s, early US hardcore, and raw black metal demos: as far as I'm concerned, that is how this type of music is supposed to sound.

What had you been listening to prior to that?

Before I heard rock music, I was listening to UK garage—which is essentially a form of house music—and commercial hip-hop like Dr. Dre, Eminem, and Busta Rhymes. As with many people, it was Nirvana that sparked my interest in guitar-driven music, and they are still somewhat of an influence to this day.

I keep asking this question of people lately, in one form or another, but… cassettes are somewhat of a "trend" now. However, there's really nothing about Yamabushi Recordings that caters to anything that might be considered "trendy," so what's your stance on the resurgence of cassettes?

We think that they're a cheap and convenient way to physically release music. This is true of CDs also, but they're quite soulless, in my opinion. They don't hissssssssss. I can only assume lots of other people feel the same way.

Speaking of soullessness, is it safe to assume that you still feel an attachment to physical media in this day and age where every damn thing is gravitating towards streaming?

Yes, I like music to be presented as a full aesthetic package, although in all honesty I haven't bought a record in years. There isn't much that interests me, and I prefer to put the limited amount of money I have into my own projects. That's not to say that I don't think the internet is an awesome way of distributing music, as I have discovered a couple of great bands through Bandcamp—for instance, such as Misogynist and Rattenkrieg, from Karlsruhe, Germany. And, of course, many of my projects have released online-only records, demos, etc.—mainly due to laziness, but still… I doubt they would have been put out there at all otherwise, and probably would have remained on my hard drive forever. Basically, I think both formats are splendid and have their place.

What was the last record you bought, do you recall? Do you generally just listen to old favorites?

The last record I remember buying was a Wagner Tristan and Isolde box set from a second-hand shop in Southend-on-Sea for 50p. Before that, probably Gehenna's The War of the Sons of Light and the Suns of Darkness LP—as you already know, that record is fucking awesome!

When it comes to hardcore/metal, yes, I generally just draw from old favorites or my friends' bands. Recently, if I listen to music at all, it will be something electronic like drum 'n' bass, house, or grime—as I'm usually recording/jamming/mixing noisy, abrasive shit so much of the time, I don't really feel like listening to it in my down time. I've also been listening to lots of indie like Dinosaur Jr., Guided by Voices, Sebadoh, and Dunedin bands like The Clean and The Terminals over the last few years. I have a lot of love for that stuff.

Visually, most of your releases have a consistently dark aesthetic, but then there's stuff like The Lightning Dudes and Foot Powder, so it definitely seems like there's some sarcastic humor happening from time to time amidst all of the dark, violent, hateful metal/hardcore.

Well, I'm the one who's responsible for starting all the shitty joke bands in the collective. It's always been a hobby of mine to start fucking terrible bands with awful names, ever since I was a spotty teenager. I used to record them on a boombox and give out tapes; now I use a laptop and upload them to Bandcamp. The Lightning Dudes was just the worst band name we could come up with at the time that still sounded like the kind of name a group of total fucking idiots would actually call their band—or the kind of band name that punk bands have in sitcoms and soaps. One of the first bands I ever started—around 2001—was called Geoffrey's Brain Tumour, and basically sounded the same as Foot Powder, so I guess I'm just really fucking immature and should grow up. Obviously, the Turbochong lyrics are stupid/childish as fuck, and I'm also responsible for them.

Is everyone involved in the collective on the same page with the more sarcastic side (Foot Powder, etc.)? If not, does the majority have veto power, and if so, has anything ever been shot down?

We've never even had to discuss it. From the beginning, the idea behind the collective has been to mutually support each other in all of our musical endeavors—no matter how fucking stupid they are. The label is a means for us all to record and release whatever we like. So, no, nothing ever has been nor ever will be vetoed or shot down. We encourage total creative freedom.

You mentioned using a laptop, what's your full recording setup look like? The bulk of the label's output to date is still going for that harsh, rugged, boombox type of sound…

It's a very basic setup. I use a program called Multitrack Studio Plus and a Tascam US-1200 audio interface, two or three mics on the drums, one mic on the guitar and one on the bass, overdub vocals, job done. There's very little in the way of mixing, as I'm more interested in capturing the sound of a band playing live in a room, rather than indulging in technological fakery to achieve an otherwise unobtainable level of perfection—as has become the persistent trend in modern music of all forms, unfortunately.

Prior to this interview, we were talking about how it's becoming increasingly difficult to get people to check out new and obscure music. Do you get any substantial feedback at all?

I don't really know what to say about it, there's clearly a proliferation of music available online these days. There's a million different options in terms of media to devour. We accept that the lo-fi music we primarily release isn't everybody's cup of tea, and we will always be catering to a niche audience. We ultimately do this for ourselves, but we would ideally like to build a small but loyal fanbase, release vinyl, and put on regular gigs. I'm sure it will just be a matter of time.

A few Yamabushi Recordings artists recently participated in a digital compilation from COF Records, so it seems like you're getting support from at least some factions of the UK scene. How did that come about?

We've been in contact with Laurence for a few years now. COF Records released the Ewige Schlangenkraft Enlightened Violence cassette about this time last year, and they had worked with Cease to Exist prior to that. When we saw that they were putting together a new comp, we simply sent them a few songs by Ewige Schlangenkraft, Turbochong, and Ohrmuzd and hoped they'd appear on the compilation. I believe copies of the Ewige Schlangenkraft cassette EP are still available from COF, if anyone is interested.

What's your target audience? If you were pitching the Yamabushi roster to listeners—i.e. "If you like that, then check this out!"—who are you after and how would you "sell" them?

This is a real tough one. It's not something we've really thought about or discussed with each other, as we really don't have a clear "target audience" in mind, and after a year of existing as a label we really are no closer to knowing who our target audience is. The people who buy our releases are a real mixed group. I think the only answer I can give you is: people like us. Whatever that means. I guess there is some similarity between our stuff and Youth Attack Records—also there are obvious parallels between us and Les Légions Noires—although we are of course way more musically diverse. It would depend on the band or project, really, as we aren't a genre label as such—we will release anything we create, regardless of what category it falls into.

I just realized that I've failed to ask one of the most obvious questions: how did you settle upon the name "Yamabushi"? How do you correlate ascetic Japanese mountain hermits with what you're doing with the record label?

As I remember, Umberto had a dream a few years back where the word "Yamabushi" came up. He wasn't familiar with the term and was immediately quite intrigued with these esoteric Buddhist hermits. So, it holds some personal meaning for him. Faz and I really liked it, as we have both had a strong interest in Buddhism for many years, and I'm particularly fascinated with the ascetic/eremitic way of life as it manifests itself in all cultures and religions. We are all fairly unsociable, solitary people, too; so it seemed appropriate. I personally feel that the name is doubly appropriate considering the abstruse and esoteric nature of the music we as a collective create. I of course mean "esoteric" in the most general sense, rather than referring to mystical philosophy or occultism.

What's next for the collective? Any future releases or other plans that you can share at this time?

As always, we have many, many releases in the pipeline. Next up is our first vinyl release, which we are all very excited about. It's a split 7" between Sessoviolento and Sump. After that, as I've already mentioned, there should be something from Nowt, as well as the Cleanse and Purify compilation that I am currently working on. Procrastinator will be releasing a split tape with Misogynist, from Germany, due for release in January. Ewige Schlangenkraft have recorded a 60-minute LP, entitled Eternal Serpent Power, which is set to be released on tape in February. There will also be new releases from those arseholes Turbochong, Klux, and a cassette LP from my solo black noise project, Ohrmuzd, at some point in the new year. Possibly something new from Cease to Exist, and hopefully another Sessoviolento split 7".

Also, Ewige Schlangenkraft and Nowt will be playing in Brighton together on December 19th at the Cowley Club. We are going to be playing live a bit more with some of the other bands next year, so expect gigs from Sessoviolento, Procrastinator, and Klux, too. Nembutal tends to play live a fair bit, so they will most likely be out and about all over the place. I think that's about it!

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Listen to an endless assault of Yamabushi's "primitive degenerative rock music" at Bandcamp. Cassettes and other tangible goods are available through Big Cartel.