attitude is more important than genre in the end…
– tenzenmen records philosophy
LTW has recently been featuring a selection of Chinese bands, we have reviewed albums by the likes of Carsick Cars, Lava Ox Sea, Hinterlandt, and The Noname ”â many of these albums are available via Australian label tenzenmen records; the label is true DIY independent – a maverick, devoid of shareholder control which allows it to release anything it chooses, in any format; current trends, sales projetions, market penetration – none of that matters, what does matter to the label owner is the discovery of new music, and to be able to make that music available to a world audience… we took the opportunity to chat to label founder Shaun.
You will notice that the name tenzenmen appears in lower case ”â there is a reason for this”Â¦
LTW: Shaun, when did tenzenmen start?
Shaun: The name tenzenmen was imagined in the early 90s and was first used on an album called ”ËQuarrychase’ that was released in 1994 on Very Good Records (Germany) and is a much sought after collectors piece now. The name was revived for the label in 2004, with plans to release a series of CDs; the first being a 2 disc collection of recordings from the 2003 NOWnow Festival. These were soon followed by the first in the series of Eccentrics 3 band compilations and the second Kroko CD titled ”ËRabia’.
By the end of the year tenzenmen had successfully toured Japanese punk band Limited Express through both Australia and New Zealand and had started to dabble in tour organisation. Over a period of time this also developed into organising gigs for local and interstate bands in the Sydney area.
Also during this period tenzenmen became disenchanted with its forays into the music industry and started moving away from the traditional routes employed in the entertainment industry. This included self distribution of releases, distribution of other releases from around the world, setting up stalls at gigs, organising gigs at warehouses, art spaces and youth centres.
LTW: Was tenzenmen the name of the band/artist who recorded ”ËQuarrychase’
S: Yep. It’s a great record, on thick pink vinyl.
LTW: So why did you set-up tenzenmen?
S: tenzenmen, the label, started as a result of a realisation that I was really incapable of actually making music but still had a need to be involved in some way. It started out with releasing friends bands from all over the world ”â I had connections particularly into Finland at the time ”â culminating in the eccentrics series as the first 3 numbers in the catalogue (004tzm was actually the first release date wise).
LTW: Where in Australia are you located? Is there a decent local music scene?
S; I’m based in Sydney. Ask anyone about the Australian music scene and they’ll tell you that Melbourne is the place where everything happens. Lots of musicians from around Australia relocate to Melbourne, thus diminishing the chance of ever establishing something as good anywhere else! This is one reason to stay out of Melbourne! Another reason is that it is also a little too easy in Melbourne. In Sydney and the other major cities and towns it is quite a struggle for most bands but I think this also helps develop a hard-work, can-do attitude where bands may support each other a little better and develop a better music scene for all. There has been a healthy underground music scene (of all sorts of genres) in Sydney for the last 10 years (and probably more before my time) with shows and events happening in art galleries, warehouses, shops and other unusual spaces. It’s rare for me to go to a regular pub venue at all these days.
LTW: When you started out, were you influenced by any other labels?
S: That’s an interesting question that I haven’t really thought about before. I grew up in England during the post punk and DIY punk boom of the early 80s. I was surrounded by motivated kids doing a million things by, and for, themselves. Undoubtedly this had an influence on me but not one I’ve really consciously thought about. I didn’t have any particular plan when I started the label ”â I just wanted to be doing something that related to music in some way.
LTW: Interesting that you mentioned you grew up in England – were you born in England, and where did you grow up?
S: Yeah – born in England and spent my teenage years growing up in countryside Dorset. Not too far away from the Subhumans and that scene from the early 80s.
LTW: Where you educated in England if so what year did you leave – I ask as that will indicate perhaps your musical era, first gigs attended, first record shop fraternised etc.
S: I finished school aged 16 in 1984. I hated it. It wasn’t until I was much older that I developed a passion for learning and knowledge – I guess I was learning other things at the time so just took a different course to get where I am. My first gig was Stiff Little Fingers at Poole Arts Centre. My first DIY gig was Self Abuse, Subhumans and others at a church hall somewhere in the Bournemouth suburbs.
My local record store was Square Records in Wimborne – I used to push bike the 6 miles or so on a Saturday morning and hassle them to try and order the latest records I heard about coming out of America. Somehow they managed to snag me original presses of Black Flag’s Damaged LP and the Bad Brains Destroy Babylon 12″ – what a day that was! I managed to buy these by saving money that I was supposed to use to buy my school lunch. I left England for Australia in 1994 – have only been back once since and that was only for 3 days!
LTW: How and why did you relocate to Australia, was that a family decision?
S: I met an Aussie girl in England and she decided to go back to Australia because she thought England pretty much sucked in comparison. I couldn’t disagree, without even knowing what Australia was like! It was kinda tough for the first year or two, just trying to make new friendships. One thing that was a dramatic change though was how laid back it is in Australia. I fell in with a bunch of punks who were trying to get things together for an issue of Maximum Rock N Roll and I, not being so laid back at the time, managed to get enough stuff together to do a complete Aussie special issue! I was quite proud of that. I like to think I’m a little more laid back now but when I look at the release schedule for the label it’s quite obvious I’m not!
LTW: So how many releases have there been up to now?
S: I think there’s about 80 or so now ”â and with things in the pipeline it will probably be around 100 by the end of the year. There’s so much great music out there that I’ve discovered I hope people feel they can come to tenzenmen and discover something in the same way.
LTW: In what formats do you release the material, is that aspect of the label important to you?
S: It’s mostly been CD but that is changing now ”â more vinyl and tapes coming. Almost everything is offered digitally too. These days I have no personal preference for format. I’ve moved myself across the world and moved house too many times to be precious about a vinyl collection anymore. For ease I prefer just listening to new music online (even downloading zip files and importing into a music player is too many steps these days!) I do still have a bunch of CDs and vinyl of my most listened music ”â I even paid for a CD the other day too! (Nomeansno ‘Small Parts’ remaster)
LTW: Do you have a favourite band/artist or just genre – has that developed from one style. I myself grew up within the initial punk era, but that broadened out into all sorts and continues to do so”Â¦
S: Probably my favourite band is Cardiacs. They seem to encompass what I love about music the most. Quite challenging difficult music but with rhythm and melody. I like music that makes me think, or makes me listen – music where you can hear something new even after being very familiar with it. Genre wise I can dig anything so long as it’s outstanding though I do tend to go back to a lot of indie/math/noise rock that I was listening to in the 90s. I generally get right into one or two new bands a year and they tend to stay on high rotation too…
LTW: No doubt everyone asks; but why is tenzenmen not capitalised?
S: All letters have the same importance. It’s a metaphor. It just is.
LTW: Why does tenzenmen tend to only focus on Asia?
S; Over time I began to narrow the focus of the distro side of tenzenmen as music from most other parts of the world is fairly readily available. Living in Australia makes it relatively easy to travel to Asia and many of the places I’ve been to have incredibly active and supportive music scenes, less influenced by monetary gain and more about creating something special with depth and meaning.
LTW: I bet you must get asked – Why does tenzenmen only release stuff the majority of people have never heard of?
S: Music has always been about discovery for me. I want to be excited about the new bunch of kids making music in their garage and playing their first show to friends in a bookstore or backyard. If they eventually go on to bigger and better things then good luck to them ”â I’m back to the garages. This is how I wish to present music thru the label to other music fans on a similar journey of discovery. Most folks are jaded by the time they get to my age ”â I’m still excited. I remember once being light heartedly chastised by a bunch of kids making awesome music, something along the lines of being so old and hanging around people half my age. I just replied ”Ëlet’s see what you’re doing when you’re my age’.
LTW: Sadly innovators are often over shadowed by those following with a watered down version ”â is that the same with tenzenmen; is running the label profitable, or is this a labour of love?
S: Totally unprofitable and I don’t mind that. What I’m doing is not motivated by the need to make money. I’m happy if I can cover costs on most things but if not I see it as an investment in the bands, the music and the development of a scene amongst like minded people.
LTW: So away from the label you clearly have to work – are you able to say what you do. Are the two easily compatible?
S: Just before I left England a friend of mine was working in ‘computing’ as it was known then and with his knowledge he was doing very well for himself. I had been working in an electrical warehouse as a stock manager and the only place to go in that job was to be a boss and didn’t like the idea of that too much so when I came to Australia I took the opportunity to go back to school and study ‘computing’. So these days I’m working in IT – sometimes I enjoy it and other times I hate it. I tend to enjoy it more if I can do some label work whilst I’m in the office!
LTW: How important is the look and the packaging of your releases ”â I like the Gato Pak CD sleeves, much more tactile than plastic jewel cases ”â I presume they are made from recycled materials ”â Is that aspect of business important to you”Â¦
S: I really don’t put too much input into the packaging of the release myself ”â I prefer to leave that up to the bands as it’s really their choice how they want their releases represented. The arigato paks are a nice option for a CD and there are also options for tape and vinyl paks like that too.
LTW: With obviously limited resources, what methods do you use to make the wider world know of your releases?
S: Mostly it’s through word of mouth, a little bit of advertising in relevant DIY magazines and I’m slowly starting to send out to blogs around the place. This is the toughest part of the job. It’s time consuming and not much fun unless and until there’s some feedback. I also release such a wide range of music that I have to tailor where I’m sending things. Because I’m such a hunter of new music I sometimes overestimate how much effort others are putting into discovery and have to remember that most people are lazy. It’s also a particular phenomenon of Australia that people here kinda wait to be told what’s good by folks in the US or Europe. Things get popular here once pioneered by Pitchfork or the NME for example. Again I hope that tenzenmen can be a place for people to come and discover something they might not have otherwise heard before.
LTW: What sort of number s do you sell for each release ”â have you managed to secure overseas licensing and distribution for the bigger acts?
S: This really depends on the release ”â and a lot of the Chinese releases I’m licensing for import into Australia so it’s not something I can license back out to other territories. I also don’t own any rights to any of the music and artists are welcome to take their music and releases anywhere they like once sold out at tenzenmen. I’m undecided on proper distribution at this stage. I personally feel the best place for an artist to sell a physical product is at a live show ”â the artist should be the distributor and retailer themselves. Having distribution doesn’t guarantee sales either. If a band did get more popular then seeking out full distribution would be an option, so again, it’s really on a case by case basis.
LTW: We spoke about this earlier, but can you explain the Sino Australian music exchange?
S: This is a project that kicked off in 2010 with some Australian government funding that saw us send a bunch of bands over to China to tour. Once the funding ran out we kept the contacts going and now bands, with their own financing, can take advantage of this infrastructure. Getting Chinese bands to Australia has been a little more difficult due to the high cost of our dollar but slowly we’re starting to see more visits.
LTW: What are your plans for the labels future ”â I presume more discoveries, more releases?
S: Every year I consider what I might do with the label and try to calculate how much money I can afford to lose! It’s great the amount of artists that ask for support from tenzenmen and that inspires me to continue. I do have a longer term plan to move to South East Asia and that will definitely see some changes, probably some slow down in the amount of releases as I will need to direct money elsewhere. It will be hard for me to stop cos I enjoy doing this too much!
LTW: Whats the next release?
S: Things are pretty hectic right now, I have just put out four Hedgehog CDs, they are another really interesting Chinese band (LTW review to follow), and we also put out ”ËNothing’ by Australian band Yes I’m Leaving. Next up will be a few 7”Â singles; we have got two from Chinese band Dear Eloise, and finally one from fanzui xiangfa
LTW: To stream nearly all the labels available releases head to the website… then buy something