After a number of recent interviews with some of the most interesting names on Bratislava’s electroacoustic and experimental music scene, Gianmarco Del Re talks to Juraj Hoppan from the Exitab and Proto Sites labels. Juraj also put together an exclusive mix especially for Fluid Radio.
Exitab is an independent Slovak label and booking agency. You release, publish and promote new music that is special to you. When and how did it all come? Also, what is your background?
Before the label there was a blog, it all grew from Filip Drábek’s idea to enrich the content by putting up some local music. We started Exitab in 2009 and soon after we found ourselves putting out a couple of digital releases and then more ambitious projects like the 12-inch Split by Pjoni and Ink Midget, at that time the youngest and some of the most talented weird electronica heads around. From there we went in various directions. Throughout these five years you could find left field electronics next to techno deconstructions and bass music mutations, electro-acoustic minimalist ambient next to shoegaze. A broad unpredictable catalogue really, with all the pros and cons that follow.
You’ve been going since 2009, when you released your first EP by Isobutane. What would you say you’ve learnt over the course of these five years? Anything you would do differently if you were to start all over?
We started as total newcomers to this world, so it was all a learning process in itself and with our new current focuses it still is one. Probably that’s part of the reason why I’m still enjoying it. If we were to start all over again, I’d probably steal the label name from Permanent Vacation. And of course in the early years we would have probably done plenty of other things differently, no regrets though.
In 2014 you’ve also launched Proto Sites which I understand is a sister label based in Sheffield and Bratislava. What was the trigger that made you embark on this new venture and what were the new challenges that you found laying ahead of you?
It came with our cassette series, which we started two years ago sparking some ideas about starting a more focused platform. Exitab is wide open in terms of genres and visual presentation attracting a wider audience. Proto Sites is the exact opposite based on connecting the dots between small number of sibling sub-genres and more abstract unclassifiable sounds. It is naturally an international affair starting in central and eastern Europe, where you can find a lot of great forward thinking stuff and generally scenes which are in the bloom and don’t have much hype around them — for better or worse. At least that’s my current view. So we are present in many places and sites at once, as the ideas fly through fibre all around the place, with most of it between Bratislava and the UK where my partners-in-crime are based.
The latest release on Proto Sites is the split vinyl from Casi Cadi Minuto and Imre Kiss. How did this inspired pairing come about and did Slavo and Imre Kiss discuss concepts and themes while working on their respective tracks?
Imre got me with his amazing “Midnight Wave” tape debut on the Budapest-based label Farbwechsel, and Slavo’s debut “In White Rooms” was always one of the most distinct minimalist records of ours, which I’d love to see on vinyl one day. I found some parallels within their work so it was logical thing to start off the A-Sites split series with them. We only discussed some ideas over a couple of beers, but the whole process was more in a favour of an intuitive subconscious ride. There wasn’t any need for strictly defined borders as they have quite defined styles. We are currently preparing a re-press.
In terms of artwork you’ve worked with the graphic designer Matúš Hnát, amongst others, a number of times, specifically for Proto Sites releases. What input do you have in the choice of album covers, graphic concepts and overall visual style of the labels?
Hopefully the artwork speaks for itself. With Matúš it always starts with some idea, usually me being very unspecific using all kinds of really weird word combinations I thought I’d never ever use. Next, Matúš sends me his output at 5AM. At that point, I either take it instantly after a couple of glances or we exchange painfully long essays by email until we are both happy with it. As for Proto Sites the visual should be in a way a mirror of the music and in part also a kind of misleading counterpart to it. For example with Foundlings’ cover for his “Wake up in Bits” tape you’ll get really dense structures crumbling on each other as opposed to airy calm feeling of these electro-acoustic compositions. However, there is still this grainy dusty texture in the background referencing the hissy landscape side of the record. It is morphing in different shapes like the whole catalogue but hopefully it keeps a focused identity. Exitab, on the other hand, like its roster, is more open to various kinds of design solutions from the likes of Jozef Tušan, Nenad Branovi?, Damian Herb and very occasionally by musicians themselves.
You release on a variety of formats, from CD, to digital and from tapes to vinyl. What determines the choice of format for any particular release?
Vinyl can take almost everything but unfortunately we can’t put everything out on vinyl. It’s very specific with tape releases where, to me, it makes sense to release the more hazy, analogue based, dirty stuff which can take the hissy sound and it usually even adds to the final feeling. As for the digital releases that’s partly a logical substitute for CDs, which is seemingly a dead medium.
Notwithstanding 50 + releases to date, you seem to work with a limited number of artists, including The Ills, Casi Cada Minuto, Dead Janitors, Pjoni, Ink Midget, Stroon, Herzog Herzog, Obete Sekty, Lowii, .soundscapes, Sky to Speak, Subject Lost, Teapot and Jonathan Fox aka Aches and Foundling. This also seems to be quite a tightly knit community with several artists doing mastering and remixes for their label mates. Have the focus on live events been a contributing factor in creating this sense of camaraderie?
Apart from holding to the original roster we are also looking for new people, although that is happening in more sporadic manner — you don’t have to do much detective work around here to find the good stuff in such a small scene. In the past three years there have always been a small number of newcomers so we are still open to releasing new music if it meets the criteria. As for the Exitab praxis and other events, the main point was always simple: putting on the best gigs possible, preferably with artists who have never played in Bratislava before and preferably ones we have seen already playing live. Everything else comes by and is really a side effect, hopefully a positive one.
Bratislava seems to be quite a vibrant city in terms of experimental and electronic music thanks, amongst other things, to a number of artists and labels, such as Jonas Gruska’s LOM, and the Blank Stare collective. What kind of audience is there for this type of music in Slovakia? Is there fertile ground in the rest of the country as well, for example in cities such as Košice and Prešov, or do connections seem to happen mostly on an international level, with UK-based Opal Tapes, for instance?
Currently there are a number of interesting things going on. With LOM and their affiliated Zvuk festival being just one example. The next thing is Next Festival hosting everything from small yet undiscovered personae to established artists like Rashad Becker, Evol, Pan Sonic etc. And of course there are a few other active groups, plus there are a pretty nice number of independent contemporary art centres all around Slovakia, although they deserve way bigger government support than they get. Music-wise, things in Bratislava are moving in a kind of sinusoidal wave. The core of people who are looking for more forward-thinking, abstract or experimental stuff mostly revolves around two or three venues, with one of them, the warehouse space called Fuga, being forced to re-open in a new venue this spring. So this situation is preventing some activities from happening but at the same time, the re-opening will hopefully kick-start new developments. The number of people going to gigs and festivals is still relatively small, though of course it adds up in attendance numbers as you add more clearly-defined genres, beats, and bpms. As I’m also partly working as booking manager, there has been some international connections crafted in that way, from Stephen of Opal Tapes’ mastering of our two latest records, to a soon-to-be released artist. But that last one’s a secret for now.
What do you have in store for 2015 both for Exitab and Proto Sites?
Our next forthcoming release is the debut EP by Czech based producer Tatratank who also happens to be a newcomer to our roster. On the local scene he is rather well-known for his hazy field recording techno landscapes, but this EP favours his other sonic persona: hybrid juke-inspired electronica with found sounds and distorted vocal manipulations. After that is the insane new Sound Sleep record, resembling everything from fluid high-res microtonalities, to Mark Fell being locked away backstage with John Lee Hooker doing some nasty stuff. Some other things coming from the usual suspects are planned as well. After the A-Sites debut Proto Sites will see its second vinyl release, hazy hypnotic tape-decayed house from Farbwechsel’s label head S Olbricht. There are of course a lot more great things in store too.
Here’s a mix that Juraj kindly put together for us — enjoy!