Etch Wear is one of Norway’s longest running underground labels. The now 20 year old DIY label is the brainchild of Tom Helge Kleberg. The label is hard to define due to its vast variety of releases from indie rock, free jazz to experimental beats, electronic and drone/noise. With a ton of releases under its belt, Etch Wear seems to be a long term project with no signs of stopping.
Bad Sounds were granted the label’s very first interview.
So tell us how Etch Wear got it’s start?
At first there was no intention to start a label. I was actually trying to make a fanzine focusing on all the local acts that were popping up at the time (in my hometown of Tønsberg). Grunge was in full bloom, and everybody were starting bands and releasing cassettes. I was already a collector and a pretty nerdy one at that, so as long as the band were local I would buy it even though I was not a fan, and kept track of concerts and band trivia. I had a lot of pages for the fanzine finished, it even had a name; Etch Wear, but I never really got structured enough to actually release it. After writing a longer piece on the Tønsberg music scene for my school paper with the best parts, it seemed even more distant.
Also, I had gained an interest in releasing poetry collections and music instead, and when I had the chance to co-release Tor Erik Goruds first poetry collection late 1993, I needed a label name and Etch Wear (the label) was born.
Did you start with alot of money invested?
Not at all, it was all DiY. I was 16 years old and lived on what I recieved from my parents. I stole access to the schools zerox machine from time to time. The first cassette released was actually sponsored by a parent of the band (working at BMG Norway) . No structure, just energy and luck.
Where does the name Etch Wear come from?
I have always loved to collage, ever since I made Duran Duran scrapbooks during my childhood. I was cutting out letters from magazines for the intended fanzine. I just loved the letters, and thought it sounded cool to use the words; it was a really limited choice anyway as it was only 10-12 letters to choose between; I think it was from an add but not quite sure. I didn’t think about saving it.
How has your focus changed in the last 20 years?
Pretty much runs on the same track; it is still unstructured, slow, limited and unavailable. And still not an official label, just something in my head.
You put out a lot of limited edition releases, is this a conscious decision or do you think that is the limit of the market?
It is more a coincident, I have never been a businessman, and I don’t have any ambitions to make this my living, so rather than releasing big editions and crying for some press and fame, I am drawn to the very limited editions.
I seem to always make every release so expensive I actually end up losing money even though every copy eventually is sold …also, for the more experimental stuff (“pling plong” according to Tiger recordstore) released on Etch Wear, it is the limit of the Norwegian market anyway, and since shipping to abroad is out of the question (due to greedy postal service making it impossible for a small label like EW to ship records outside), I need to keep the number of editions low.
You have released music across many genres. How has the label sound evolved over the years?
Over the years there is a little movement of focus from indie rock to more electronic music. But then again already in 1994 EW released a ltd. promo cassette (actually semi-bootleg as the band was unaware) with Psykopoharmaka, which was something totally different. And that has been a red thread for Etch Wear, to never stop too long but to speed on to new projects, resulting in a lot of contemporary lo-fi and noise relations in the last 20 years.
What are some of your favorite releases over the last 2 decades?
It’s hard to choose, but one release that really describes what Etch Wear is about, is the debut album of Europ Europ from 2002 (‘no .one in Germany’ EW 11). Originally intended as a 111 copies 7″+10″ release, all with different sleeves. All the sleeves were finished, and we had 11 copies testpressings, but because of personal economic barriers, we never actually printed the last 100 copies. We assembled 11 complete copies, handed copies out to friends, and 2 copies were on sale at Big Dipper. Strictly Limited !
I am waiting for Europ
Europ to have 5 mins of fame so I can sell my copy on ebay and make a fortune.
What upcoming releases are you working on?
I’m scheduled to release the latest Japanese Gum album on vinyl on EW this year; and the third issue of the Conspiracy fanzine series. It will include vinyl as usual, this time with works by Dao De Noize, Japanese Gum, Laconic Zero and Crystal Iron Metamorph to name a few; the rest will be a surprise for the release, so look forward to that!. But as usual, all in EW time schedule; it will just suddenly happen, maybe tomorrow, maybe next year, you never know.!
You have just had your 20th anniversary festival at Mir. Are there plans for more celebrations? (You’ve got a lot of bands to choose from…)
There was a plan for a second festival, exactly because there are so many to choose between! But it will not happen; celebrating a 20 years anniversary is so passé. Next events planned are release parties for Epilektrician and Japanese Gum. Anyway an Etch Wear label night always feel like a celebration!
Tell us about some of the most memorable gigs/tours associated with the label
We put on a concert with Solar Temple, Next Life and hometown favourites NoPlaceToHide + djs aus Europ Europ at Vega in 2000, it was one of the first ever Next Life gigs, a great evening and the first real EW official concert. I put on some shows in Tønsberg 1992, right before starting Etch Wear, but not until 2000 did I more frequently start putting on shows; and now there is a couple of happenings every year and some tour booking now and then.
Joining Europ Europ on 3 tours around Europe, with Mindy Misty in 2009, Far From Tellus, LoGre (FRA) in 2011 and the latest one in 2013 with Distel (NL), was very memorable, and EW found a lot of new bands and collaborators.
You once said, if you don’t do it properly why bother doing it at all…. has this been the philosophy from the start?
Most definitely! I consider every release on Etch Wear as a piece of art, and the packaging is just as important as the music. Also I treat any label night or flyer or whatever EW related with the same mindset. As a dayjob I make architecture models, which is all about the details and the finish, so I guess it is a work habit.
Is there anything you would do differently (or not at all) over the last 20 years of decisions?
I would have tried harder to find the money I didn’t have when Jaga Jazzist asked me (twice) to release their record in the late 90ies.
Any particular bands that inspire you personally these days?
Lately I’ve picked up some records from labels like Dark Entries, Sacred Bones, +++ bands like Soft Metals, Vår, Led er est, Pop 1280, EDH, and Fire Flower Revue have been on repeat the last year… and any release by the label Enfant Terrible; the biggest influence on EW lately, with bands/artists like Kim ki O, Neugeborene Nachtmusik, the Spectrometers, Sololust, Miligram Retreat, and now also Europ Europ +++ incredible catalogue, highly recommended to check out.
Any bands that were influential in your label start?
92-95: Psykopharmaka, Munch, Joy Division, a lot of alternative rock from Sub Pop, Alternative Tentacles, EBM and Industrial music; also the local Tønsberg scene with names like NoPlaceToHide, Seigmen, Planet Bee, Dual Crush, Jaga Jazzist, Plastelina, Nome, (that DIY feeling that everybody could start a band thanks to grunge +++) and fave band since 86 Duran Duran.
Anything you want to plug or mention?
This is the first time Etch Wear ever agreed to an interview, so this is actually breaking a 20 year norm!