“. . . tapes mean less risk, warm sound and affordability.” This installment of Through a Speaker Rumbly features a Q&A with Caligari Records owner, Hansel Merchor. Merchor has been running Caligari Records for about two years now and, in that short amount of time, besides having accumulated hundreds of my own hard-earned dollars, Merchor has released several modern kvlt classics, including Ellorsith’s 1959, UNRU’s Demo MMXIII and Skelethal’s Interstellar Knowledge of the Purple Entity, as well as reissuing the demos of Sweden’s Heavydeath (ex-Runemagick). I took a break from pestering Hansel about his potential distribution of whatever latest cassette the message boards tell me I must own to ask him a few questions about what it’s like being on the other side of the underground tape-trade madness.
So, how'd you get into being a tape distro?
The label started first and the distro started later after people overseas started to ask about where they could buy my tapes locally without paying high shipping prices. That’s when I started trading with other labels and bands that self-release their recordings on tape. The distro was never part of the plan, but it was born out of necessity. The focus on the tape format came from the purpose of keeping things simple and affordable. Put it this way: I am pretty impulsive when it comes down to stocking releases, so limiting Caligari Records to tapes keeps that impulsiveness under control. That may change in the future, though…
What made you decide to start Caligari?
I have always fantasized about running a label. Since I was a kid, that was my dream job, to work for Roadrunner, Earache, Peaceville or Combat, but I always knew that was just a pipe dream and that the music I love did not sell enough to make a living out of it. So to me, at this point, this is a hobby, or almost like a part-time job, since it really consumes a big chunk of my free time. Really, I started the label out of the love of music and, as cheesy as it sounds, it has turned into the idea of being part of an underground movement that subsists solely out of passion.
Are tapes your preferred format?
Not really. I like all formats, with digital as a far behind last. I collect tapes, CDs and vinyl and, to be honest, like them all. To me tapes mean less risk, warm sound and affordability.
Why do you think that cassettes have remained a somewhat popular format for underground metal?
I don’t agree that they have always remained somewhat popular. I think tapes almost totally died in the mid-to-late '90s with the popularity of CDs only to slowly become somewhat popular again with the reemergence of vinyl. I think that this popularity has a lot to do with the scene we are in, a scene that is very DIY and a scene that is very price-sensitive. And you’ve got to think about the fact that some people, especially metalheads, like to collect physical products that have a strong visual connection. The idea of "collecting" MP3s is as dumb as it gets; CDs are looked down on by some, and vinyl is too expensive for others. So, tapes are a nice analog alternative in between. What I find interesting is the high number of bands that are not interested in CDs at all. Many of the ones I speak to are only interested in tapes and vinyl.
What separates Caligari Records from other distros, both U.S. and foreign?
From a distro perspective, I’ve got no idea. Maybe the fact that I am extremely active with distro updates and I am very quick to answer requests makes a difference. To be honest, I am more concerned with establishing Caligari Records as a solid label than differentiating the distro, but I recognize the fact that the distro and the label are one and the same. At this point, one could not work without the other, as sales from the distro help finance the label's releases.
Were you surprised when your releases sold out? Are you still surprised when it happens now?
Not really. So far I have been printing between 100 and 200 tapes, so selling out is not such a feat. To those numbers you have to subtract the copies that I trade as well as the copies that I ship to the bands. Ideally, I am left with enough copies to cover all my costs and create enough revenue to finance the following release. That's the case now almost every time, so the label is self-sufficient and I am quite content with that at this point.
For me, what makes Caligari Records an outstanding label is that Merchor doesn’t focus on just one subgenre. Just in the last few months, take a look at Caligari’s recent releases:
From Denmark, the Hyle’s warm, mellow doom is so perfectly suited for cassette format that any attempt to burn these demo tracks to a CD would likely result in failure and a wasted blank CD. Put it this way: If Electric Wizard is a dirty bong rip, then the four songs that comprise the Hyle’s demo--with two on each side of tape--are like vaping some quality medical grade while riding a ski lift into the cosmos.
Whereas Boston’s Human Bodies are more like dirty thumbs driving into your eye sockets. You’ll beg for mercy the first time you listen to this only to pick up whatever’s left of you off the scorched earth and put yourself through it all over again--assuming you survive the first listen. Indeed, Human Bodies play blackened hardcore that only a place as mean and miserable as Boston could produce.
These Danes call themselves Alucarda after the steamy, late '70s Mexican horror movie, and theirs is a rockin', cock-out kind of dusty, doomy rock 'n’ roll that only metalheads could've come up with. Listening to Raw Howls, I can’t help but think of how cool it would be to attend one of Alucarda's rehearsals sometime. I imagine an orangely-lit, smoky room where raunchy posters of heavily bushed women hang on the walls as the three, presumably stoned and shirtless, members of Alucarda just jam and wail and until they conjure a coughing, blood-shot-eyed Satan.