Later this evening Parents are releasing their new 7” release. I’m very excited, not just because Parents rule, there’s also a stellar line-up of supporting bands. Mean Girls and Caroles have gone from strength to strength recently and will surely put on a spectacular show but I’m absolutely giddy about the prospect of seeing Old Loaves again! If you’ve read any of the HINL zines you may remember that I gave both their ‘Bad Prawns’ EP and their album ‘Drowser’ 10 out of 10. That’s not hyperbole, they truly are amazing. Check for yourself and then go see an awesome show at Whammy tonight ($10 and doors will be around 10pm).
Shaun Hemsley has been involved in music for a long time, for the last decade he has been supporting music all over Australia, New Zealand and Asia through his label Tenzenmen. Everything is done his own way, DIY to the core and solely out of love for music. I first met Shaun while touring Australia (he released my band’s debut album over there) and as you would expect from someone who puts some much blood, sweat and money into helping other people he’s an incredibly nice guy. For the last couple of years I’ve discovered some incredible music by delving into the Tenzenmen back catalogue and it has really opened my eyes to some of the incredible stuff coming out of China and SE Asia (Tenzenmen also does distribution for Genjiing and Maybe Mars). The label recently released my favourite album of last year (Yes I’m Leaving’s Mission Bulb) but has been winding down a little bit in order to focus on other things so I thought it would be a good time to have a chat over email about all things Tenzenmen.
You can buy Tenzenmen releases here: http://tenzenmen.bandcamp.com/
And more info can be found at the label’s website: http://tenzenmen.com/
HINL: What drives you to continue releasing music year after year?
I think it’s like a perpetuum mobile or gyroscope - once it’s going you just keep going. When I started doing releases and shows/tours it was all a bit daunting but I didn’t see any real reason why I couldn’t do it if others had done it, and that’s why now I encourage others to start doing it too. It’s also easier to keep going than stopping for a while and then starting from scratch again. Things have been relatively slow for the last six months as I was preparing and received redundancy from the job that was financing my little hobby. I’ve just been making adjustments to the way things work to be able to continue during this period. Part of that is an exciting new portal for Chinese alternative music - keep your eyes peeled for that.
HINL: Tenzenmen is one of the only labels I know that releases music from bands outside of their own region on a consistent basis, what drew you to the music of China and SE Asia?
For a while I was distributing and releasing music from many parts of the world. Whilst I still work occasionally with bands from elsewhere it seemed like it was important to give a voice to lesser known parts of planet. A couple of trips through China and South East Asia in 2007 and 2008 solidified this when I saw how exciting and energetic the music scenes were there. I wanted to bring that energy to more Western ears. As I’m based in Australia I’m really trying hard to promote things here but seem held back by our propensity to look to Europe and the US for musical queues. Luckily we’ve been able to spread our wings a little and work with partners in those parts of the world too and once they discover it I’m sure Australia will play catch up.
HINL: You’ve worked with similarly minded labels like Maybe Mars and Genjing doing distribution in Australia and recently joined up with MUZAI and Bomb Shop for some releases. Do you enjoy working with other labels? Are there any drawbacks to this kind of relationship?
This was something I first really came across in South East Asia. On the inserts for a CD release often there would be many different labels co-producing the release, most in SEA but sometimes including others outside the region too. At the time it was out of most bands’ reach financially to produce an album even on CD so a bunch of people put in some money and created their own labels and communities. My work with all the labels you mention is an extension of that, helping spread the costs but in our case helping spread the word as we search for partners everywhere. There isn’t really any drawback beyond a bit of extra organisation to get production sorted and it’s better to share in the glory of a finished product rather than keep it to oneself!
HINL: DIY music culture has always been associated with a smaller-scale, cheaper production. Zines are xeroxed, releases came out on cassette etc. At present it seems like there is a move towards underground bands releasing on vinyl, even though the cost to produce is still quite high, especially compared with the decreasing costs of CDRs and tapes. Do you see this trend as sustainable? Where do you think the future of DIY releases lies?
Well, tapes and CD/CDRs still rule in South East Asia. DIY culture almost demands a physical product of some sort whilst also embracing the any-can-do-it attitude of digital only releases. I think most bands end up making a physical product for themselves, a record of their own achievement, if they can sell a few along the way then that’s great. Once the demand runs out - give them away. Send your old punk albums stuck under your bed and in your distros to Myanmar or Aceh like I do!
With more production of vinyl, costs are slowly coming down again so they will become affordable to more people over time (and adopting the model of split label releases already established for other formats). Where does the future lie - who knows? I don’t feel nostalgic or wish for the past. Kids today will grow in a totally different environment to that which we did, there’s no need to force the concept of listening to a whole album on them. They’ll do what they want (or in mainstream terms, what they’re sold).
HINL: As someone who has toured across Australia and China the name Tenzenmen has garnered a lot of respect and goodwill. It’s obvious that everything is done for the love of music alone rather than any financial incentive, how do you see the label taking shape in the future?
As alluded to above I now have some financial restraints and also some other life plans. I was (and still am) considering stopping doing any further releases but think I’ve found a way to keep things ticking over for now. The name ‘tenzenmen’ is also something I use for whatever it is I’m doing, whether it’s releasing records, organising tours/shows or writing a book. I’ll probably be involved in some form of music organisation wherever I am in the world. I can’t help myself.
HINL: What has been your favourite release so far? What sort of attributes do you prefer in a band when releasing their music?
The first question is unfair and unrealistic! With 150 or so releases it’s impossible to choose. Everything I have been involved in releasing has been worthwhile even if sometimes I didn’t particularly dig the music. The joy of working with other people around the world who share the same concepts and values around their art is very rewarding and I’m glad to be able to facilitate that.
From a purely musical enjoyment I lean more towards the noise rock side of things along with the experimental and unusual. Any genre that has a few new twists added to it interests me and that can be seen throughout most of the catalogue. I really don’t get into a lot of current popular alternative music from Australia - I still find it too derivative. I know I’m an old cunt and don’t want to tell the kids that it’s all been done before so it is nice to find a few gems out there amongst what I would consider quite dull.
HINL: How healthy is the Australian music scene at the moment? Do you think the recent change in government will have any effect on the kind of music being made in Australia?
As mentioned above there are some gems but your question is quite difficult to answer as I’m not clear that there is a ‘scene’ here that can be clearly defined. Even amongst my friends and colleagues in bands it’s hard to identify a scene with any concrete definition. This is possibly due the continual division and classification of genres into sub-genres but perhaps also due to dwindling numbers inspired by music with the masses of different forms of entertainment available these days.
I’m all for diversity at shows and actively encourage it, even knowing that it will cut down attendance or mean people only come to see one or two of the bands. I just prefer going to (and organising) shows where I’m entertained and kept interested in some way. I know others don’t feel the same and I was the same when I was their age most likely. I grew up on a diet of punk rock that included The Clash, Slits, Bauhaus, Au Pairs, Crass and Alternative TV amongst many others - none of these bands sounded alike, but they were all punk.
This article made the rounds a little while ago (it normally takes me a while to actually write anything so I’m a bit behind on this one) and for the most part I agree with the points it makes:
I think it is important to have a conversation around this sort of thing; by thinking and discussing things that can be improved it can only make the live scene better.
Shows should be an event, there should be a motivation for people to come along. The cost of a night out goes beyond the entry charge; once you factor in transport and a couple of drinks (as much as alcohol shouldn’t come into the enjoyment of live music this is an important part if bars are going to stay in business) a $5 show can end up in the $60-$80 region. For that amount of money the least that can be provided is a line-up that plays on time, reasonably sober and puts on a good show.
There must be something in the water at the moment, all the shows I’ve been to in the last few months have had the air of a special occasion about them, next week there’s at least two shows that are going to be along those lines.
A while ago I started writing an article about how to put on a decent show. Most of it was just a passive aggressive rant at the mistakes that are constantly made by local promoters (mistakes I know all to well as I’ve made every single one of them and continue to do so). I came up with a list of things that I think are essential to putting on shows, the absolute basics to take into account before booking anything. Most of them line up with the above article but with more of a New Zealand focus.
1. First up ask yourself these questions before accepting or booking the gig:
When was the last time we played? Is my girlfriend/boyfriend sick of having to come see my band?
Are there any really big international shows/festivals happening around the same time? Like within a fortnight either side? Because people won’t have money to come see your band if they’ve just spent $100 + the week before or are planning to the week after.
Is the line-up worth making the effort for? If I saw a poster for this gig would I get excited?
Are all the bands willing to make the same effort in promoting the show?
Do the bands have a full backline between them?
2. Get a poster. Seriously, not sure why so many people don’t realise that this is a pretty important step in the process. The better the poster is the better your show will go (usually). Having a good poster draws people’s attention. Get a talented friend to make you one. If you have no talented friends, pay someone who is talented to make one.
3. Confirm the line-up far in advance. Make sure you play with bands that aren’t in the same group of mates as you and are willing to help make the show as successful as possible.
4. Communicate with the venue. Ask what they think you should be doing to get people along to the gig. Make sure they have copies of the poster, info on run times/start times/backline/line-up etc so they can promote via their own channels.
5. List the gig in every local gig guide, both print and online. If you have any special reason for putting on the show make sure you send out a press release and follow up.
6. Put up posters!! Around town, at the venue, around your work/school/practice space, in shops and cafes.
7. Talk to people about the gig. Hand out flyers at every opportunity.
8. Don’t pay any attention to facebook event pages (in saying that you should still make sure you have one). They are completely and utterly unreliable as a source of information about the attendance of your show.
9. Go to gigs yourself, at least three or four in the month before your gig. Take flyers with you and talk about your show (without acting like a twat). This accomplishes a few things; first you get to interact with other bands, see how they do things what they do wrong/right and what reaction they get. Next, your peers are more likely to attend your shows if you routinely attend theirs. Third; you get to interact with people who enjoy live music, if someone is at a show then they obviously enjoy going to see bands, talking to these people will result in some of them coming to see your band (and enjoying it).
10. Text and email workmates/friends/family and let them know that you’re putting on an event, tell them how much you’d appreciate if they could come and hang out with you. Maybe even buy them a beer. I hate going to shitty theatre performances and awkward costume parties but I go along to support my friends and colleagues, time for payback!
11. Have all your crap organised before the night starts. Make sure everyone knows what time soundcheck is, what time the doors open and what time they are playing. Make sure it is easy for the audience to know what time bands are meant to be playing, people can plan their night around this information. Have posters outside advertising what’s on. Make it really fucking obvious. Get someone friendly to do the door, make sure there is adequate lighting, a stamp, a float and maybe even some CDs to sell.
12. Take photos, record the bands, film the thing. Create a record of your bands existence through these mediums, people love to see photos of events they attended. People are also more likely to attend future events if they see photos that look like the last one was fun and exciting.
13. Don’t get drunk, seriously there’s no better way to ruin your set than being sloppy. It’ll cause tension with the band, the audience won’t enjoy it as much and you’ll feel worse. Wait until after you get off stage before getting stuck into the beers.
On the stereo at the moment is a gem that I sometimes forget about. Every time I put it on I remember just how genius this album is.
Upon first hearing of a band that hailed from the same town as REM and named themselves after a visionary politician I was expecting music that was reasonably interesting but when the opening notes of opening track A Small Turn of Human Kindness rang out something altogether more baffling spewed forth. In equal parts brutal, confusing and surprisingly melodic, Harvey Milk’s first album does nothing by the numbers but somehow works. I tend to listen to it less than I should but every time I do it just amazes me.
Nothing beats getting lost in the epic sweeping majesty of the Anvil Will Fall (lifted straight from Holst):
And for one of the best ever closing tracks you can’t beat All the Live Long Day. A song that manages to appropriate “I’ve been Working on the Railroad” and twist it into a something menacing and spiteful.