Gothic gaze: Blackest Ever Black unites the dark corners of music
Under clouded spotlights, Jac Berrocal cowers to the floor.
His sinewy frame jerks beneath a low sunk trilby and thick-rimmed sunglasses. Impulsively, he releases air from his lungs into a trumpet. The sound rattles through the murk of the ICA’s blackened corridors. He convulses on his knees. Beside him, David Fenech writhes around, flippantly twanging guitar strings, appearing and reappearing from the stage shadows. Furthest away is Vincent Epplay who, with one hand, strokes the air above hardwired sound boxes.
Earlier this year the trio released Antigravity on London-born, Berlin-based label Blackest Ever Black. Tonight is their debut London performance, supported by art-rock cockney romantics Officer! To open, Finnish autodidact and Officer! label mate Af Ursin manipulated metallic sheets with muffled sticks and slowly exhaled into a microphone. In the wings of the venue, is Kiran Sande – founder of Blackest Ever Black. With the performances being held to celebrate ‘Five Wretched Years’ of the label, he fumbles from one room to the next, overseeing everything.
Since 2010, Sande has been a focal force in forward-thinking avant-gardism. From the electronic eclecticism of Raime and Regis to the clamorous stridency of Dominick Fernow’s Prurient or Marco del Rio’s Raspberry Bulbs, Sande has used the Blackest Ever Black label to tie together various strands of sensory subversion.
Less than 24 hours previous, Sande is sitting outside. His hot breath chugs clouds of vapour in to the cool September air. With the ICA event imminent, he seems to be revelling in a moment of peace; a moment to remove himself from the hysteria of managing his label. “It’s like I can’t help myself,” he begins, attempting to articulate the strain of work he has inflicted on himself over the past five years. “I suppose my work ethic could be comparable to Dominick Fernow in so far as I do have a slight mania about releasing records. I have a compulsion to committing to new projects and new records and new artists.”
As the governing head of a rampant index of artists (currently standing at thirty-seven), Sande is first to highlight the towering responsibilities weighted on his shoulders. He sighs and laughs, “It actually gets harder and harder because the more you take on doesn’t free you of your responsibilities to the artists that you already work with. So there’s always a balancing act between ‘the new’ and keeping the family well intact,” he explains. “Both are crucially important. And labels only work if they’re extremely pure and limited in their remit, their dedication to their artists and their aesthetic. Or you go in the other direction. Funnily enough if I’d have stopped after about ten releases Blackest Ever Black might have been regarded as the former. But now it’s becoming this sprawling beast that knows no reason or logic.”
Blackest Ever Black, Sande attests, was born out of boredom. Five years ago, his passion for techno had found itself drifting towards inertia. Nothing falling on Sande’s ears was challenging him. He was looking for ‘the shock of the new’, coupled with an aesthetic to mirror London’s municipal severity. Something playful, yet insidious. Something with forceful nods to the gloom of gothic ambience and the experimentalism of industrial power electronics.
Sande forged the general concept of his label through these stark emotive parameters. Yet it wasn’t until he met Raime that his ideas fleshed out into reality. With Raime came a formula, as Sande puts it, “to make you feel something.” It galvanised the idea of Blackest Ever Black beyond just a ludicrous name. The trio, managed by Sande, found solace on the fringes of fringes rather than in the latest dance fads. Monochordic drone, black metal, noise, industrial, goth, ambient, free jazz and post- punk are but a few loosely constructed genres that make up Sande’s roster of outsiders and rogues.
Presently, the label continues to mutate and bulk out its releases from the likes of F Ingers, Tropic of Cancer, Moin and Bremen. According to Sande, he has so many projects going on at the moment that he’s finding it difficult to fathom what he intends to release next.
Prior to the label’s inception, Sande worked at FACT Magazine as Editor-in-Chief. Here, he eventually grew weary of his former passions, uninspired by the glut of techno flooding his inbox. “I was very bored for a long time,” he laments. “I thought I was bored of what I loved. I had this kind of blind faith that I would always listen to techno and it would evolve at a faster rate than my own interests. There was then that shocking moment when I realised that it didn’t. Obviously the genre is growing, but at the time I had to look elsewhere. And that’s where the label helped.”
His experience as a music journalist provided Sande with a certain ‘perspective’ on electronic music; “a lack of delusion,” he calls it. FACT gave him a lifelong lesson in criticism and the ability to fine tune his creative virtuosity. “If I hadn’t had that opportunity to basically sit and do nothing but listen to music for five years of my life, both good and bad, I would never have developed an antenna sharp enough to reject anything confidently,” he says. “To state the obvious, whoever immerses themselves in anything, be it politics or film or anything, you become immune to all the spin, all the PR, all the promo. A lot of people are very susceptible to what’s being pushed at them. I’m not just talking about pop pap, I’m talking about what’s pushed as trendy. Being so close to all of that taught me a lifelong wariness which has been infinitely useful.”
From this highly calibrated wariness Blackest Ever Black has formed a labyrinthine laboratory of non-genre releases. But does Sande fear that the label’s evolution is almost fractious? And are his followers purely exploiting Sande’s knack for discovery? He pauses, begins and then revises his words somewhat apprehensive of his own success. “People get gripped by the desire for ‘stuff’ and forget to actually sit down and listen to it. To use a horrible modern metaphor, music can be like one continuous hyperlink. Everything just a link to something else. But what I try to do is offer a little map and the map is supposed to guide you. It’s the search that’s important. I omit the noise and provide a blueprint.
“And as much as I loathe the word ‘curation’,” he continues, “the one soundbite I adhere to is that the most important part of running a label is exclusion rather than inclusion. It’s about saying no. Establishing limitations. With my early mixes, it was as much being about giving a context for the music as it was about what not to include. It was so important that there wasn’t any techno. I really did have something to prove.”
The success of the ICA event is a testament to Sande’s ability to bulk out his label without losing its authenticity. As he zips from one space to another, checking on his acts and generally playing boss, can he stop and take pride in his independent empire? “Now that it’s five years and I can look back with some kind of perspective, I can say it’s all pleasure but hard to live off,” he laughs. “Borderline impossible. Living on the edge stuff. But I’m still alive. And what I realise is that I’ve been loitering around long enough that people actually know the name or know that it exists. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a good feeling.”
The Blackest Ever Black compilation I Can’t Give You The Life You Want is out now