Emerging from Vienna’s techno scene, Ramon Bauer and Peter Meininger took inspiration from the explorative sound palette, and looked to start a more experimental label. Teaming up with Andi Pieper, they founded Mego, and released a plethora of landmark albums, including Kevin Drumm’s Sheer Hellish Miasma, Fennesz’s Endless Summer, Jim O’Rourke’s I’m Happy And I’m Singing And A 1, 2, 3, 4, and many other creatively courageous artists including Yasunao Tone, Stephen O’Malley, Mark Fell, Merzbow, and Rob Mazurek.
One of these artists, Pita, AKA Peter Rehberg, also joined in the running of the label, and when Mego folded in 2005, Rehberg stepped up to keep the Mego ethos alive and started Editions Mego, as a means to maintain the original catalogue as well as releasing new works of the avant garde. Rehberg has kept the aesthetic alive while embracing the future, releasing more music than ever, including such modern day mavericks as Oneohtrix Point Never and Emeralds. In this edited and condensed interview with RBMA Radio, Rehberg details the birth of Mego – and highlights a few tracks from the label’s archives.
The idea of Mego started around about 1994. Basically the root of it is in the Viennese techno scene of the mid-’90s. One of the labels in Vienna at the time was a label called Mainframe, who were famous for numerous things, including Ilsa Gold. Two of the guys from Mainframe, Ramon Bauer and Andi Pieper, they wanted to move on to something else, a bit more experimental, not just 4/4 techno.
At the time, I was involved in the techno scene. I was a so-called ambient DJ of the scene there and we often met in the early to mid-’90s. Then finally in ‘94, we actually did a show at the U4 Club in Vienna. I was in the club playing with stuff and they were in the studio behind, and then we drilled a hole in the wall and we collaborated. That’s the first time Mego was actually put on a flyer somewhere, but it wasn’t really called a label by then.
Then a few months later, Ramon and me flew to Berlin to work with Andi in his studio and we made the first record, which was the General Magic & Pita Fridge Trax, which we then released in ‘95 along with two other records by Elin and General Magic. Around that time Fennesz got in touch with me, because there weren’t that many labels doing this kind of thing. There was Cheap in Vienna and Sähkö in Helsinki. This was all quite weird territory for everyone to be working in, and it just picked up from there.
One of the things we’ve always had around our neck is this whole laptop thing, which wasn’t something anyone sat down and decided, “Okay, we can use laptops now.” It just happened in that direction. I guess the fact that we were making quite abstract music, we didn’t have this problem of, “Oh, if it’s just with a laptop, I can’t do what I did in the studio.” We were free of this restrictive way of making music that some other people had in those days.
If we fast-forward to the mid-2000s, the original Mego label had a bit of a hiccup in its running of its business model, which meant that Ramon and Andi decided to stop and the whole company was put to sleep, but I decided to carry on and I rebranded the label as Editions Mego in 2006.
One of the things I always wanted to do when we started this back in the mid-’90s was that it wouldn’t become a genre-based label.
One of the things I always wanted to do when we started this back in the mid-’90s was that it wouldn’t become a genre-based label, because I used to work in a record store at the time and I remember a lot of the techno distributors would send in faxes of all the new records and the description of the record was always just one of five words. “Techno house,” “pumping tracks.” It was always a very minimized vocabulary of how to describe music. Everything in this little box.
I guess that’s how they worked, but I’ve always thought this idea was stupid because then people who are only into that one certain label listen to that kind of music. So I decided, if people would stop following this label, then they might listen to music they wouldn’t necessarily listen to otherwise. Of course, there’s not many people who buy every single record on Editions Mego because there’s so many, but the idea that someone might get to listen to something which is not in their little shoebox is something I was quite interested in.
The scene in Vienna, we came from this so-called, whatever, new electronic scene in Vienna in the mid-’90s, which got quite a lot of attention around the world, mainly because of those big wars and everything that happened in Vienna before, so just soon as somebody made one record which was sold outside of Austria, they’ve gone, “Oh, that must be interesting.”
In reality, it really wasn’t much of a scene there at all, and it’s definitely not electronic music. Everyone said to me, “Why don’t you live in Berlin? There’s so many things happening here.” I said, “That’s exactly why I won’t live in Berlin,” because this is my work. When I live somewhere, I don’t want to be surrounded by all the things, all the trappings of a music scene, so I live in a quiet part of the city. I don’t really get involved and I rarely go out. I won’t be able to tell you where to go. I can tell you a few nice restaurants, maybe, but I won’t tell you where anyone goes or what they can hear.
It doesn’t matter where you live. If you’ve got an idea, your idea is going to still happen if you live on the moon or in the middle of a desert.
Because I travel so much and move around all the time, I’m often in Berlin, I often go to New York, Japan or wherever, I don’t need to have it in my doorstep. I’d rather live there quietly, get on with things, get work done, and then come to places where it’s all happening, but then on the other side of it, most of the artists who are released on the label don’t come from the so-called centers of the universe, either. John Elliott lives in Cleveland. Most of the Spectrum Spools catalogue comes from all sorts of places like Tennessee and Missouri and Georgia. I think this idea of a city being an influence on you, if you’re good at making music, you’re good at making music, it doesn’t matter where you live. If you’ve got an idea, your idea is going to still happen if you live on the moon or in the middle of a desert. This idea of moving to a city to be part of something, I never really got into that, really.
Of course, you could move somewhere else, but the thing nowadays, basically all we need to do a label is, firstly, the ideas, and then a good internet connection and a post office, and maybe an international airport that’s not too far away. That’s all you need. That’s it.
I’ve got a very varied taste in music. It started off with John Elliott in Spectrum Spools. Instead of asking someone to do a release, I said, “Can you do a label for me?” because all the people I did labels with, all have very different tastes and come from different backgrounds, because shortly after Spectrum Spools, I started one with Stephen O’Malley, which is called Ideologic Organ.
That was Stephen’s vision of what he finds interesting. That’s anything from doom metal to Tibetan chants to nice folky, breezy songs to medieval music and just weird academic new classical music, but all very much Stephen’s taste. You can see that O’Malley tinge to everything which gets put out on the label.
It just built up from there, and then after Ideologic, there was Jim O’Rourke and Old News, and then I started having conversations with the people at GRM in France and we came up with the Recollection GRM sub-label, which was vinyl reissues of all the old GRM music, electro-acoustic recordings in the ‘60s and ‘70s, which has become probably the most successful of all the sub-labels, which was quite surprising for almost everyone involved.
The final sub-label at the moment is Sensate Focus, which is Mark Fell’s house label. Let’s put “house” in very broad terms of house music. That’s it. The problem now that we’ve got all these sub-labels it’s just a juggling about when to do things, because of course John or Stephen or Francois from GRM goes, “Oh, we can do this, we can do this.”
As I still do this all on my own, they only have seven days in a week and 24 hours in a day, so it’s a bit tricky. It’s not so much it can’t be done or I don’t want to do it, it’s just this is a practical thing of life. These are the people I know and these are the people I respect and they’re all good friends of mine, so that’s how I like to keep it. It’s like a family of labels.
“Young people don’t know anything about music.” Of course they don’t know anything about music. If they did, then it would be really boring.
Many people at my age – I’m now 46 this year – complain, “Oh, it’s not as good as it used to be.” As soon as you have that in your brain, then you can just go and retire. Stop. I think that’s something which should be avoided. There’s no such thing as the good old days. Maybe you could sell more records in 1983, but there were lots of other things in 1983 which you couldn’t do. I think now is a very exciting time for music. Everyone bemoans the lack of the depth of the music industry and stuff like this, which is true because of downloads. It’s a different thing, but you have to adapt to these new things. I think nowadays there’s more people involved in creativity in music. There’s more people making music as well as listening to music then there were at any time.
People don’t stop listening to music when they’re 50. They carry on. The so-called market is much wider and bigger. I’m not going to start moaning about, “Oh, the good old days,” and “Young people don’t know anything about music.” Of course they don’t know anything about music. If they did, then it would be really boring. That’s the whole thing. It’s the random unknown element which makes the whole thing interesting. As long as there’s that random element, the unknown, then that’s the reason to live for, the reason to do this. As soon as I get to the point where I wake up and go, “Oh, I wish it was 1983 again,” then it’s time to stop.
Russell Haswell is a multidisciplinary artist we’ve been working with since before Mego. He’s an old, old friend of mine. In 2009, he decided to do a record called Wild Tracks, which was various recordings he made out in the countryside. We didn’t like to use the word “field recordings,” because these are like intense studies in recording techniques. The track “A Horde of Flies Feast on a Rotting Pheasant Carcass (Extract)” isn’t your usual “Oh, look at the nature. Isn’t it nice?” The idea of a horde of flies feasting on a rotting pheasant carcass is quite horrible, but that’s what happens in the countryside, so that’s what it sounds like.
Fenn O’Berg came about in 2007. Christian Fennesz and myself were playing at the jazz festival, if you can believe such a thing, in Nikolsdorf on the Austrian-Hungarian border. We were playing in this project called MIMEO, which is an electronic improv band of 12 players from all over Europe making plinkety-plonkety improv music. It was all very nice, nice guys, but that’s what it was. Then, one day, at the festival, Jim O’Rourke was also playing in another improv plinkety-plonkety band, and Jim decided, “Why don’t I play together with Christian and Peter downstairs in that cellar?” We set up and we did our version of plinkety-plonkety improv stuff and it was very popular and got a good reception despite it being 5 in the morning.
We took it from there, and it just so happened there was a booking agent in the room, and he decided to book us on a tour of this stuff we did. We did the tour in 2008. What was quite amazing about this tour is we just turned up with three laptops, which in those days was quite crazy because before the old Mego-related events, we always played in some kind of electronic or techno setting. But with this tour because of Jim’s involvement, we started to get involved in more traditional indie rock venues. Us turning up with just three laptops was a bit of a shock for some people because they couldn’t quite get their head around what we were doing. The great thing about Fenn O’Berg is, yes, it was an improv band, but we were pushing things in all sorts of different directions, just chucking samples around and not really worrying about where things came from and where they were going.
Emeralds is a turning point in the label’s history, because since the mid-2000s, I started becoming interested in this so-called US synth underground, which is basically guys from the noise scene behind synths figuring out how to use them. One of the bands I really enjoyed was Emeralds and the various cassettes and limited vinyl editions.
Then in 2009, I was in New York and I finally saw them play, met them at the No Fun Festival and I just said, “Do you want to do a record for me?” Of course, they were like, “Ooh, that’s a bit strange,” and then, “Why not?” They didn’t say yes straightaway, I have to say, but then they did, and a year later we released Does It Look Like I’m Here? which turned out to be a very successful record and hit a nerve amongst various people and became a very popular record, much in the same way [Fennesz’s] Endless Summer did almost ten years before.
Bill Orcutt’s musical choice is a four-string acoustic guitar and he plays a very abstract version of Americana blues. “Blues” is probably not totally the right word for it. Everyone would say, “Why is he on Mego?” Firstly, I see Bill Orcutt’s genre of choice as no different to Hecker. It’s still unique, it’s his style, he’s got his own voice. I’ve always liked artists who have their own voice, their own strong identity in what they do, and they believe in what they do. Our first collaboration was when I asked him to reissue on CD his first album, A New Way To Pay Old Debts. He immediately said yes. The reason for this was that he’s an old Farmers Manual fan, so he was totally happy to be on the same label.
Mark Fell is another person I’ve known for some time, a fellow traveler. He’s in a group called SND. We knew each other by playing constantly together and being involved in different projects, but it wasn’t until 2010 he suggested that he would do a record for me. Since then, he’s done many records for me.
A good thing about Mark is not only does he have a very, very great sense of humor, which some people don’t understand, but he’s got a very strong love of Human League and house music as well as many academic or very scientific approaches to music. I won’t use the word “academic” because that’s not what he wants to talk about, but he’s the most non-rock person I’ve ever met in my life. He’s always slightly off the center, but still very perfect.