In the last few months, I have reviewed a few of French record label XenoKorp’s releases over here at Moshville Times, namely Mercyless, Savage Annihilation and the Master/Dehuman split EP. All of the aforementioned releases are definitely worthy of your attention if you like all things deathly from originators of the scene, or the new school version of death metal.
France has always had a metal scene, but has struggled to receive the recognition that it deserves on the international stage. Nicolas and XenoKorp are trying to change that and against all odds, setbacks and obstacles on a daily basis, Nicolas does it for the sheer love of the music, bands and the fans. I urge all bands looking for a deal to look at the way that you do things in trying to get signed as you are about to read stellar advice from a record label that I believe will keep on growing, due to the persistence of Nicolas.
This was quite the hefty interview – Nicolas really gave us some in-depth answers, so we’ve split the article in two. The second half will be online tomorrow.
Simple question first. Are you mad, running a record label in the world of internet downloads? How do you survive and flourish as a label and sign new acts under the severe pressure of a diminishing market?
Hi, Ricky and thanks for the invite! Well… I must be mad, somehow, sure. But, you know, things are changing a bit for the better since a couple months / years now with the rise of digital services like Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify, etc. who now generate a bit more revenue where “pirate” download generates none, even though iTunes downloads are dead or so and BandCamp is not well either. So, it’s definitely tough and to be honest we’ve never made absolutely any money ever from any release in the seven years we’ve been at it, but it gets a very thin bit better these days.
And, well, when you’ve put some thousands of Euros first and got back a few hundreds, you’re using these few hundreds for a new release in the hope it’ll help pay the next one and back-catalogue sales help too so, all in all, we can continue from month to month, but we never know what tomorrow will be and never have a single Euro we could keep “just in case”, you’re true… so, well, let’s say running a small indie label these days is putting abject offerings on the altars of madness!
How did your life in heavy / extreme metal begin? What was it that brought you to this form of music?
It was nearly 30 years ago, now, in 1989. I was 15 and got the right to spend my first full weekend outside when a friend of mine invited me to go to some motorcycle race with a gig. It was a two hour drive to get there and we got driven by his uncle. He was playing a lot of tapes on the car’s stereo -that was another century – and among them shit stuff and some other I thought were awesome.
I couldn’t remember the bands’ names back then – terrible stuff was Warrant and cool one was Metallica and AC/DC – but when we got back home on the Sunday, I asked him if he could lend me that Metallica tape. I just couldn’t remember if it was one of the cool bands or the terrible ones, but I dubbed it and listened to it, Garage Days, for the full week.
The next Saturday, I was at the local record shop asking the dude there “I have that tape and I love it. What should I buy that would be in the same vein?”. He sold me Slayer’s Reign in Blood and Napalm Death’s Scum and that was it for the rest of my life!
How is the extreme and heavy metal scene in France? Is it growing to become a real force in music with bands like Gojira breaking through or will there always be a stronger underground scene in your opinion?
Well, the scene here has always been awesome, sincerely. Full of talented and original bands and full of killer releases but for some reason, we had to wait for Gojira for people to really care, somehow. You have to remember that we had a killer heavy metal / hard rock scene back in the 70’s / 80’s with bands such as Trust influencing the likes of Anthrax or Death’s Chuck Schuldiner wearing Satan Jokers tees on albums pics, etc.
But, for some reason, our more extreme artists, even though the French extreme scene – Agressor, Loudblast, Massacra, Mercyless – was there even before the Swedish one – think Nihilist, Carnage – it never managed to get the recognition it deserved, even signed on large labels and touring relentlessly with legends Europe-wide but, for some strange reason, the “spark” that would light the fire never came until the early 00’s. Many did good, for sure, but it’s like we didn’t get the “chance” other countries had back in the day, like Scandinavia, Germany or even Poland or Brazil, with “leaders” recognized worldwide on a large scale.
Language might be a reason: Frenchies have always sucked at other languages. But I think that for the most part, it’s been some sort of lack of luck. The scene is now recognized internationally and Gojira is some sort of leader these days, but I don’t think it brought the scene that much, to be honest. Having Gojira opening for Metallica didn’t bring much opportunity to any other French band than Gojira but, thankfully, besides this “leader”, we have others established leaders in the industry, like Listenable, Osmose or Season of Mist who all helped new French bands emerge in other territories and we have a bright future in front of us with the quality of our scene, now. I’m not a big fan of both, but take Regarde Les Hommes Tomber or The Great Old Ones, they’re both doing good, for example.
What would you recommend bands do in order to attract your attention and get themselves signed to your label?
Tough question… Be professional, first and foremost, and offer something “fresh” or really good, if not original in its formula. You can’t imagine how many emails or, even worse, Facebook PMs I receive on a daily basis that are just “Hey, dude, sign my band [random shitty link]”. This will never work for me.
Well-structured emails with a short but attractive bio, background info on the band and its history / discography, a few key points and an album download link in full quality tend to attract me much more.
Style-wise, XenoKorp focuses on death metal, even though taken as a “large” stylistic spectrum, say from thrash / death to goregrind and black / death to funeral doom to get an idea, so it’s obvious sending grind or deathcore is pointless, but even within a given “style” and even though that style has existed for 30 years, it’s obvious there’s still much to create and come with as a “new” approach.
Take the new Savage Annihilation album we’ve just released as an example: it’s a concept album, sung in French, not trying to be more brutal or faster than anyone else, but focusing on creating an atmosphere of their very own, not being that millionth “HM2 – worshipping Dismember rip-off”, but trying their best in being themselves and quite succeeding at it, in my opinion. That’s the kind of stuff I like to release, even though we of course have our “more straightforward” artists like Dehuman, for example: pure evil death metal, but doing it so well that they really have their own way of doing it, even if it’s, and I now it’ll be quite contradictory, but listen and you’ll get it, totally orthodox in its approach.
What level of pressure are you under every day in order for deadlines to be met and what setbacks can you face running a record label?
I’m working 18 hours a day, six days a week when not seven and I’m still always behind schedule all the time. The more orders, the healthier the label, but the less time for promo, accounting, production, etc. so less orders…
That’s the pressure: finding the right balance in “what should I do” among all the things I should have done since months! About setbacks, there ain’t that many, besides money problems and factories not keeping their promises when it comes to production delays, but what can you do about it? Ah, and shitty UPS lost three parcels of 50 vinyls each recently, most of them being planned to end on the Defeated Sanity merch table for their latest US tour and never getting there. That sort of shit happens on a daily basis. You get used to it with time!
You have had a tough time of things health-wise recently. How are you feeling now and do you feel that you are getting close to 100% capacity and able to put all your energy into the label?
I’d take the question another way in fact. Back late last year, I’d been diagnosed with leukaemia (“blood cancer”), a problem which should have been solved with a few chemotherapies so I just had the first one, trapped for six weeks at the hospital and got released in a very bad shape: I couldn’t even walk and had to use a wheelchair, but I thought it’d be better with time and the next chemotherapies were supposed to be “lighter” so there was some hope it could be better quite quickly. But right after the second one, I was told that in fact, my case was quite severe and I had to undergo a stem cell graft, which meant a tougher chemotherapy than the first one and a survival rate divided by two.
That’s when I decided to close Kaotoxin. I knew that even if I could survive the graft, I wouldn’t be able to run the label for a very long time, in terms of energy and health. But well, I got trapped for six more weeks in the hospital and figured out I would survive but would be trapped home for at least one full year with nothing to do… and that’s something I don’t know how to deal with so I had to find something I could do on a daily basis to help me spend this time “jailed at home” without becoming mad… and what could I do besides running a label?
That’s what I’ve been doing for ages… that’s how XenoKorp was born. But things had to start slowly, with not much new stuff with a lot of pressure. That’s the reason why we had EPs and reissues first and, now the Savage Annihilation album as the “big new thing” as I’m a bit better.
Health-wise, it’s still extremely complicated and the graft isn’t working as planned so we’re experimenting with other things with the team at the hospital, but so far so good, as far as “how I’m feeling” goes, even though I know the blood tests say otherwise… but we’re working on it. I’ve been so close to death as of late, that I sincerely don’t pay much attention anymore, sincerely. It’s just part of “my life”, now.
It has been some year for your label which you only resurrected after long term illness at the beginning of 2017. Do you think you have fulfilled the goals you set yourself at the start of 2017 or are you constantly striving for more?
I’m not saying Kaotoxin was an “ambitious” project, it nevertheless had a very wide stylistic spectrum, from rock to goregrind and that meant a lot of different “scenes” to work with for promo and distribution, etc. so it was a hell lot of work. I wanted things to be a bit simpler for XenoKorp, just in case I would have to spend a week at the hospital or something… “just in case”. Plus I’ve been into death metal my whole life, so it was quite natural for me to focus on that style rather than any other.
As I said, the goals were to start “slowly” with goals I knew I could achieve with my health issues and I think I did, even though shit hit the fan when the vinyl factory we used, France’s MPO, delayed three of our releases by months, sadly. Yet, I think one of the goals was to “introduce” the label and make some sort of statement saying something like, “Look, it’s a new thing, but with the quality of service and artistic quality you used to know with Kaotoxin. It’s XenoKorp and it deals with both legendary artists such as Master, Defeated Sanity, Meryless, Putrid Offal, Avulsed, etc. but also brings you fresh stuff we think will stand the test of time (like the afore-mentioned) like Dehuman, Mithridatic or Savage Annihilation. We’re here and we’re here to stay and if you’re into death metal, add XenoKorp to your favourites, because we aim to be part of ‘em.”
I don’t know if it’s been heard and understood, but that’s what we’ve been trying to “say” with this first year. Hopefully, 2018’s reissues and “fresh blood” will reinforce this in people’s minds. It’s not something we’d like to be considered as pretentious, of course, but we want people to know that with us, they’ll find both quality reissues and will have a bunch of new artists to discover along the way. I mean, we have such killer labels here, and when I say killer, I really mean it, like Osmose, Listenable, Norma Evangelium Diaboli, Debemur Morti, Apathia, Season of Mist and many others that you have to find your “niche” somehow. Death metal is ours, both old and new, with a fetish for quality over quantity. And anyway, I know I’ll never make any Euros with XenoKorp, so I have no “pretension” about it. I just want our customers to be delighted each time they open one of our parcels. Because they are the ones this label wouldn’t exist without. Now, we have to let them know who we are and what we do. That’s what I meant.
Part two of this interview will be published tomorrow.