Interview: Ulf Eriksson of Kontra-Musik

As an accompaniment to the Kontra-Musik mix just up on RBMA Radio, Gerd Janson speaks to the Swedish kontrarian about the work of his label and music with a personality.

If you take a look at Kontra-Musik’s philosophy it’s pretty clear that the Swedish label isn’t your average techno or house enterprise. Headed by Academy participant Ulf Eriksson, KM releases records that cover different angles of the spectrum and put the musician over the producer. Albums from Jason Fine or Jonsson/Alter, 12"s from Luke Hess or Agaric and brilliant remixes from the likes of Marcel Dettmann, Move D, Donato Dozzy or Heinrich Müller portray Eriksson’s and his label’s open-mindedness. Elegant techno stands next to true-school house and ambient textures. Their music might be a secret order, but Kontra-Musik surely welcomes everyone to be a member.


RBMA: What made you start a label? Have you been working in the music industry already or did you make a fresh start? Please share a bit of the label’s history with us.

ULF ERIKSSON: For me it was sort of a boyhood dream to start a label. It was just something I had to do. Or I could not stop thinking about it. My plan from the beginning was to make a label that lasted over the years. To grow slowly and not to get connected too much with a certain sound or style. Then things never last. It feels good to still be up and running. I cannot say I had been working in the music industry before, but I have always been very much involved with music. I have played in bands and had been working as a DJ for many years before I started the label. Back in 2002, I started Kontra-Musik as a club night in Malmö focused on all sorts of electronic music. There was not much around at that time except for some illegal parties in the outskirts of the city. I wanted to move the music into the clubs and sort of make it socially acceptable. Back then this was not the case in Sweden. Techno was considered something very ugly. Mostly because of the way it was presented by the media during the rave heydays. Also the plan with the club was to raise money to start a label. Thing is, I never made any money from producing clubs in this god-forgotten city, I still don’t, so it took until 2006 before I could put out my first release. My friend Patrik Skoog, aka Agaric, had just had great success with his We Are imprint, so it was good and rather safe to start with him. He did some very special releases for me. Even if this was when minimal was at is peak, these records where different. They still stand out today, I think.

“Nowadays I am more into trying to remove all things connected to an image and just keep the music. I want the label to be free, moving in different directions. That is not possible if you are too busy focusing on the aura of the label.”

RBMA: Any role models, inspirations or benchmarks?

ULF ERIKSSON: No, not really. Too old for that. But I get happy and get a lot of energy when reading about people who stood up for their ideas even if it was not always the easiest way to go. Sun Ra is good example. I really recommend the Sun Ra biography by John F Szwed. Read it! When I was younger, I was of course very much in to Underground Resistance and their militant profile and using sound as sort of a secret weapon to change society. I still really like artists who have something to say with their music. Who take a political stand. Oni Ayhun for instance. Anika is a good example. I really like her album on Stones Throw. Drexciya was a big inspiration back in the days. Man, what great music they made. Anyway, today I think I more look up to labels without an image. Labels who focus on music, nothing else. Honest Jon’s is a good example. Spanish label Semantica I like, and Swedish label Börft is legendary. Anton Zaps label Ethereal Sound is amazing. It also goes all over the place musically. No borders or limitations and always quality. Inspiring.

RBMA: The question of all questions: why Kontra-Musik? What is the philosophy behind the name and the label?

ULF ERIKSSON: When Kontra-Musik started in 2002 as a club night, the name was clearly a statement against the musical climate in my city at that time. Sort of an ‘anti’ thing, a protest. Nowadays I am more into trying to remove all things connected to an image and just keep the music. I want the label to be free, moving in different directions. That is not possible if you are too busy focusing on the aura of the label. Still, of course it is very important for me that the music I release is different, not just productions to please dancefloors. Yes, the purpose right now is trying to dissolve any purpose. Just follow intuition and what feels right at this very moment. As Robert Anton Wilson once said about his writings: “[T]his book intends to show different angles of perspective, not to convert you to a new Religion or Ideology.” I think that pretty much summarizes what Kontra-Musik is about today: to show different angles of perspective. Maybe I should rename the label, Kontra-Kontra-Musik.

RBMA: To play the devil’s advocate, is there still a need for labels as institutions in today’s music market?

ULF ERIKSSON: No, not really. We will see how long it lasts.

RBMA: How do you find music for the label?

ULF ERIKSSON: I have my small clan of artists that supply me with pretty incredible music. They are at the moment Mokira, Kondens, Jonsson/Alter and Rivet. Also Frak (Börft) is on board and I have recently signed a new guy called Tyler Friedman. His demo blew me away, so different. I also get a lot of demos. Sometimes you stumble on something great, like with Tyler, but it is not often. But lately, I have noticed that the demos I get often sound different from the masses. Hopefully people have noticed that the label is a platform where you can get some honest things out.

RBMA: Does Malmö play a part in the label’s history or could you operate from any place in the world?

ULF ERIKSSON: Hmm, I could operate from anywhere. Malmö is not a source of inspiration to me. It is not really the place to be if you are into music a little bit to the left of the recent hype. I have released Patrik Skoog and he is from Malmö. Minilogue are good friends and they just did a remix for the label. So in a way Malmö is present. Also right now, I must say there is something very cool going on here in Malmö. When doing my club night at Inkonst (a venue in the city), I think I have one of the best audiences in the world. It is not a very big crowd, but they are very dedicated and good people. They come early and just dance the night away – all ages. There is no ‘ass ‘n’ titties’ attitude involved. No alcohol sponsors. None of the ugly sides of club culture, just good music. It is very clean and beautiful. It is cool and very unique. I have big stars coming here to play for decent fees and they usually like it a lot. It is just special in some way, low-key and honest.

RBMA: How would you describe the music that you release to someone that hasn’t heard of Kontra-Musik?

ULF ERIKSSON: That is hard. Maybe a mess? I think a good way to describe it might be club music for the living room. My God, that sure was a very bad slogan, haha. Well, today the label goes in so many directions, so it is hard to put a description on it. I think the strength of the label is that I am not a producer. I do not listen to the music from a club music producer perspective. I come from rock, blues, pop, punk and jazz and I still listen to dance music with those ears. I think that has contributed a lot to the sound of the label.

RBMA: What does a track or an artist need to have for you in order to work with him/her or to release it?

ULF ERIKSSON: I give you the recipe:
Mix well before sending it to me.

RBMA: How much do you interfere with the artists’ opinions or help with decisions?

ULF ERIKSSON: Very little. Sometimes of course, but just small things. The artists and I work sort of as a team, I would say. We create the records together. It is easier that way since I am alone. Funny thing is that usually it is the tracks that I like the least that are the ones the record buyer like the best. So much for my A&R-skills. In the end I do not release music I do not like. There must be something about it. I try to listen to other opinions, but if something really is against my idea of good music I say no. I mean, doing a label the size of Kontra-Musik is basically a lot of work and you get very little back financially or other ways. So, to continue to do it, it must feel right – the music must feel right, the process must be joyful, otherwise there is no reason to keep on doing it.

RBMA: If your music is a secret order, how does one become a member?

ULF ERIKSSON: Pay the entrance fee and you are more than welcome.

By on May 15, 2012

On a different note