Every now and again I'll pick up music that truly knocks me sideways. And Bureau B - a label which specializes in reissues and new releases from the krautrock scene and non-song orientated electronic music - have been a beacon of light. The Hamburg-based label excels in taking listeners on entirely original sonic journeys as well as harking back to the genesis of kraut, and making many detours in between.
A good entry point to the label is the extraordinary posthumous collaboration between Conrad Schnitzler (a founding member of Tangerine Dream) and Schneider TM; and the contemporary krautrock extraordinaires, Camera. Both featured in the albums of the year on Gigwise 2016.
But there's so much to explore. Thus far Bureau B have had over 250 releases out, with over 26 records released this year alone. Considering some take up to four years to complete in order to track people down, it's some mean feat.
Of the 250, 80 will be available at the Independent Label Market. Unfortunately, head honcho Gunther is unable to make it and is being represented by friends, so we caught up with him over coffee in the Rich Mix cinema, Shoreditch last weekend to get a little bit closer to the how it all works.
I asked what releases we should look out for at ILM, the posthumous Con-Struct series, how good Camera are live, Jarvis Cocker and Thurston Moore being fanboys, among other things.
Hi Gunther. Nice to meet you. I'm a big fan of the series called Con-Struct after hearing what Schneider TM did with Conrad Schnitzler's audio archive. It sounds like nothing else I've heard. How did the series come together and how does it work?
Yeah the series is put together with Wolfgang Seidel - his life-long musical partner - and his widow. They were putting it out on small label but it folded so they came to us and we work on it collaboratively. This year we had the producer Pole do something with it.
And last year Schneider TM... I really like what he's doing as a solo artist. The guitar sounds release we did with him a lot of strange noise but all made by him playing electric guitars is one of my favourite records.
How much more can we expect from the Con-Struct series? Is it ongoing?
His archive is massive so for a while but one release of this type per year is realistic.
For a live band to have a drummer as rugged, loud and hypnotic as Camera's is surely a rare thing.
They have been influenced by Neu! He's standing he's not playing the real drum set. It's a very impressive live show. They used to play in the Berlin underground. Michel Rother introduced the band to us, the guy from Harmonia. I love rhythm, I love repetitive rhythm, I love energy; and Camera has all of this.
Whilst Camera operate a live drum sound, you put out an array of records that use drum machines. What do you get out of each different approach?
I personally like both worlds. I have my own collection of rhythm machines I love to work with. I'm fascinated by old equipment. I like the limited abilities of old equipment. Today you open logic and you have unlimited access to anything. What makes the 70s so interesting is what they created out of very limited options they had from the technical equipment.
Is this love of vintage equipment something shared with a lot of people involved in the label?
I think many of them like old vintage equipment because it sounds different to digital synths which is one of the reasons we don’t have so many reissues after 1983, which is when the Yamaha D7 came into the picture. It's when all the analog keyboards were out of the studios… Both worlds are fine though.
Would you describe Bureau B as a community?
Yeah. We encourage our artists to work together we have a small 12" series called SELEKT which is open for new ideas. For example Sven Kacirek & Thomas Klein created four tracks only with rhythm instruments. Of course digitally or electronically manipulated. I like this idea of bringing people together and seeing if anything new and interesting happens. Afterall, it's what happened in the 1970s with Connie Plank in the studio; he brought together different musicians.
What did you do before Bureau B?
I was working in the back catalogue department of Universal in Hamburg and the 'Brain' label was on Universal. My introduction to krautrock started there. At the end of the 90s we contacted Dieter Moebius, and Michel Reuter from Harmonia - some of their famous 70s records were on Brain.
I made a concept of reviving the label. It's one of the very few things that German pop culture can be proud of in the last decades; the Brain label is popular within a niche. Despite my encouragement they simply didn’t understand this.
On one hand this is totally understandable. If you have all the initial costs in Germany and the records sold in the Uk and US it's not very profitable. But I left and went to start my own thing which is the best decision - not economically - but creatively and for personal content.
Was it quite a scary jump?
80 percent of my grey hair comes from running a company with 10 people working there and doing what the 10 of us like and still making enough money out of this to pay the salaries each month.
What kick started the label?
I contacted the owner of Sky Records, who was originally product manager of Brain who created his own label in 1974. We had access to his back catalogue and reissued a few of those things. The thing that got us on to doing original releases as well was we were reissuing Faust and they came in with a finished record of new music and it's gone on from there.
Are you involved in mostly German releases?
We started with mostly German releases, it is one of the very few moments where this boring country has created something interesting in the pop cultural context. So yeah... for whatever reason this so called Krautrock scene is very special and something very German.
But we moved on to France for example now. We have very good contact to this French artist, Richard Pinhas from the group Heldon. He is maybe not that well known over here; but he was a key figure in the 1970s, and he's helping us a lot.
Do you think of yourself as researcher?
I suppose yes. Sometimes you have to wait a couple of years for things to happen. Like Peter Baumann from Tangerine Dream... We wanted to reissue his 70s records for four or five years. He never got back to us as he's living in San Francisco and doing something completely different. But then I saw that Ulrich Schnauss was going to meet him for a tangerine Dream reunion and I asked Ulrich to contact Peter to see if he would be interested in those reissues.
He was like, 'of course'?
Peter said that he has a new album recorded… so we released this new album first and later the reissues as well. There's a list and whenever my colleagues and myself find the time go through the list and try to dig out those people. It is a bit of research then you have to find the best audio source which takes time as well.
Is it staggering how much stuff is forgotten about?
It is interesting to dig out music which has only been released on tape in small amounts and giving those artists and this kind of music a regular release is kind of fun.
There seems to a certain taste of music for which Bureau B stands for, that stems from krautrock. Can you tell us what you know about the anti-bourgeois approach and anti-pop approach of that scene?
The kraut scene was anti-bourgeois, it stems from being in art school and not being trained musicians and picking up instruments and using them to express… something.
At the time, in the 1970s it simply destroyed the known construct of pop songs. They reduced it to very small musical parameters and showed that when you are so repetitive small changes in sound and EQ can make a bigger difference compared to a regular band sound with many standard instruments.
Krautrock seems to be undergoing a resurgence among younger music fans. Do you notice that?
I think there are two groups of people who are interested. Older people who grew up with this kind of music and rediscover it but a lot of young people who recognise that their current pop idols use parts of this 70s music. Or are influenced by it. So Radiohead for example, they refer to bands like Cluster, Harmonia, Neu!, which brings younger music interest to this type of music
Do any of these contemporary indie/ pop heroes contact Bureau B?
There are some. Tim Gane form Stereolab did a compilation. Jarvis Cocker is always in contact with our publicist in the UK and likes the bureau b stuff. Thurston Moore is interested and talked about doing something with Schneider TM and played with Faust.
What would you recommend to listen to on Bureau B right now?
Dennis Young is a guy from New York who used to play in Liquid Liquid. He contacted us and said ‘I have so many tapes of me and synth and echo machine’ This is one of those examples which never had a proper release before. Similarly, Fondation, a French couple who have been recording music since the mid-70s are worth checking. Vono is very strange, they're two brothers who made music in the early 80s and we just did the re-issue.
Is it a spread of the entire roster at the Independent Label Market?
We try to keep as many, I think we have 250 or more releases now. Maybe 80 or 100 will be on the stall.
Who will be on the stall?
Unfortunately no one of us. Ian Button and Robert Rotifer of Gare Du Nord Records, and they are so kind to represent both labels at the ILM.
We look forward to checking it out, thanks for your time.