From Chip Moan to Head Drone

Cristiana Yambo and Sabastian Boaz about the new label "Square Wave Media" and Sabastians new album

When Retinascan got online and made his connections into the world of web based music publishing, one of the first contacts was with the young artist Sabastian Boaz. At that time - around 2000 - he sported an angry young man attitude, moved between toy trash pop and noise and had strong opinions and especially emotions about almost everything that could be discussed, which is a nice characteristic to keep up long severe discussions. Releasing at 8bitpeoples and Retinascan, he slowly turned styles and developed a very own handwriting
Around 2002, he encouraged Cristiana Yambo, designer and music lover, to write a mail as she had hassles with a German independent label and their policies of copy protection and wanted to have a letter translated from German to English. That triggered a wonderful collaboration on two of Retinascans releases so far, and admiring her work, Burkhard Kerlin, head of Retinascan, was very enthusiastic when he heard, that these both Nu Yorkers would start a new "real" label, using the net as their main public platform. One day in September we were meeting in a chatroom, and both answered my (sometimes silly) questions with more or less patience.

Burkhard Kerlin: Cristiana, you work as a design pro is that correct? I mean you do this for a living
Cristiana Yambo: I am a designer, and a web programmer
BK: for how long?
CY: Since I graduated college in 1997
BK: What made you put your time and money in the downgoing music business?
CY:I always wanted to start a record label; I used to make music in the mid nineties, and right now I dj
BK: But you have to admit the time is not the best now..
CY: how so ?
BK: mp3s upcoming, sales of the major labels going down...
CY: yeah, but independent music sales have been going up
Sabastian Boaz: We aren't the major labels, we are a underground label. People buy CDs to support the artist, it feeds back to the fans when the artist tours, releases more, etc. The same things that hurt major labels are a benefit to independent labels.
BK: Not necessarily, at least not in Germany, but that could be an interesting difference. Sabastian, how have you come into business?
SB: I've been making different forms of electronic music (8bit, noise, synthpop, electro, industrial) for about 5 years now and I'm currently attending college, studying music.
BK: Did you already get any reaction to the yet slim Square Wave media page?
CY: no, not yet. It has only been public for a few days
BK: I know. Tell me a bit about the planned direction of the site/label
CY: right now we are about to go into production of our first release, Sabastian Boaz's Head Drone, and that is taking up most of the time
BK: Yeah, that album is a bomb. You've put quite a lot of time in that work, and it's far off from all stuff you did before...
SB: I've worked quiet a while on it, perfecting my vocals, completing re-recording songs, etc. it's actually what I always intended to do but in the past, it was always more like practice. Now when I play a show, people are shocked, they expect what they heard from me before. but I'm happy that even though it's a much different style, all my older fans seem to love the new work
BK: Your older material is mostly instrumental. Were you singing during your live gigs before?
SB: There were tiny bits of vocals, and I sang the computer voices through a vocoder but, mostly I ran around like a singer yet with a toy keyboard. it was sort of awkward and confusing in the past.
BK: Some lyrics seem very personal, was it difficult for you to write texts?
SB: lyrics are usually the difficult part for me but those lyrics just happen. Some are quiet direct to situations yet I try and keep them general. Some (like the song trans-message) are just situations I made up, though it can still seem like it's directly from my life when it's really fictional. Actually, I try for other subjects
BK: all of your later CD-Rs and now also the CD carry your face as artwork. Are you obsessed by yourself?
SB: I think Cristiana and anyone else would answer yes to that question (laughs) but I don't think so... maybe I am.
BK: Cristiana, is he obsessed?
CY: I don't think so
SB: I have been caught looking at myself in the IKEA mirrors
CY: not obsessed, but maybe a maniac
SB: It's like when I started playing shows, everyone was behind a table or behind a laptop. I decided to get in front of the table, got really close to everyone
BK: Most electronic artists hide behind abstract pics on the cover, you weren't - even earlier. So it looks like a logical consequence to start singing and getting into "stardom", more ?in yer face?? do you feel liberated in that live situation?
SB: I was like that too but I was just bored to death by other laptop artists so I didn't want to bore everyone else
BK: how did Cristiana and you get to know each other by the way?
SB: a very long time ago I was dating a girl and she told her friend she was dating me, he said something like "oh man, that guy threw a shard of a broken keyboard at me when I saw him play".
BK: so you threw that keyboard at this guy? and then?
SB: My early shows were kinda of violent
BK: the question was how you both did meet?
CY: he was dating my friend
SB: Who I was in a band with? she actually wrote lyrics on two of the songs off the album, Drama Queen and with me, Microbeat
BK: What was there first: the new Boaz material or the idea to open up Square Wave Media?
CY:The idea for SWM. I registered the domain a long time ago, before Sabastian and I had even met. I think I started this idea in 2001 already.
BK: Did you look around for adequate material for a long time?
CY: I just did not have the time to devote to it
BK: did you already have a style in mind at that time?
CY: I always had a style in mind, which mirrored my musical taste: Synthpop, EBM, Industrial, etc
BK: a wide open field? Has there ever been a band in your acquaintance that you would have liked to "sign" before?
CY: No, not really
SB: I was working in several bands around the time I met Cristiana. I gave up on being in a band and decided to just devote my time to solo work. I was also looking for a label that would fit my new style. Also I wanted to be part of a label that (no offense) is not a "netlabel" I think that ends up hurting the fans in a way, no tours, etc.
BK: Cristiana, do you have the same issues about netlabels?
CY: Well, the one thing I feel, is that since almost anyone can make a cdr and print up nice labels, it removes a barrier to entry and that, can lead to some terrible music. For example, when I was working at the radio station, there were so many horrible bands that send out cdrs and, I feel that the cost of manufacturing cds can keep out all the fluff. Well, to be more blunt, all the crap
BK: so quality is the all reigning issue at SWM?
CY: Yeah. I don't want it to look like we are just some hacks who throw together some music and pretend to be a label. However, I feel there are tons of unknown bands, and I want to be there to promote them
BK: any music style you would not sign at all?
CY: yes, things that I don't like or listen to
SB: hrm the thing that comes to mind is scrEaMO
BK: black music?
CY: If you mean hip hop, or rap, then yes, but, music made by black people is a different story. I don't care who made it, just what it sounds like.
BK: Don't you feel afraid of the need to become commercially successful?
CY: no, because I am not using this as my sole source of income, and I have no fear of failure. If I fail all I lose is a few dollars and some time
BK: sure, but I know a good two handful of friends sitting on boxes and boxes of vinyl and CDs from starting their label
CY: yeah, but, I have confidence in the first release
BK: So will you work from release to release? If one is successful, you'll start the next one?
CY: No, if I get a band I like, I will go on regardless of the success or failure of the previous band
BK: but there's no master or development plan for the next 3 or so years...!?
CY: no, I have no master plan
BK: I don't really know how a plan would work, you never know what artists you'll meet in the future. I could have waited longer with my album for a plan but I felt the time was right for this album.
BK: Yeah, I know what you mean, the album sounds quite on point. All your tracks are completely prelistenable on the page in quite good sound quality. Do you feel in opposition to the mp3 market?
CY: Actually, the quality is low on the website, only 96k mp3s
SB: the sound quality is actually the lowest possible with the music still being understandable, at a lower stage some instruments were actually removed completely
CY: My only fear is that these low quality tracks start to get traded. If people are trading around high quality mp3's I?d have no problems with it
BK: why that?
CY: I think it is just more exposure. When starting out, exposure is worth more than money
SB: I actually feel as if mp3s that aren't given out for free are traded peer to peer more.
BK: Isn?t it conservative to stick to CDs??
CY: It is just one form of distribution. We are looking at the iTunes music store and other forms of electronic distribution. Anyway, right now we are focusing on the CD release
BK: I remember you were one of the persons to call out the death of the CD two or so years ago, Sabastian.
SB: Yeah, I think the CD did die a few years ago, the prices were also very high. but I think this has also gotten boring and there are new reasons to want to own something tangible.
CY: I think CDs died as a way to listen to music, but, not as a form of distribution. And I priced the cd at a reasonable cost, it is available for $10 on the website
BK: I personally have the impression, that especially young listeners really completely stopped buying discs, probably also because they have no interest in cover arts anymore.
SB: I know we have actually gotten a few orders by some teenagers. I meet more and more people these days that are sick of not having the CD, not having something real.
BK: Cristiana also made some really adorable designs for Retinascan (Nebogeo ? 0 and Engineered Beautiful Blood ? Children Play In Sunny Fields), though I guess the music wasn't really among her faves
CY: Well, in the past I was really into experimental music. So, I can appreciate a good experimental band
BK: Would you be interested in some more CD/CD-R artworks?
CY: Yeah, I love doing design work. It is something I do to relax
BK: SWMs homepage also has an interesting look that teams up with the dark impressions of the Boaz album. Was it intended to touch Nazi aesthetics?
CY: yes it was
SB: Somewhat an influence from the film Downfall.
CY: Nazi, and Russian
BK: is that a political statement?
CY: no, the look just intrigues me
SB: I always enjoyed the design elements of nazi/communist graphics/clothing/etc. never for the meaning of any of it but just the actual art itself
CY: Yes, they had horrible ethics, but great style
BK: this is difficult to take, especially for me as a German; doesn't a look transport ideas?
CY: yes, it does. But, I always am on the edge of being offensive in terms of artwork. I feel I can use that imagery, because it is so against my opinion
BK: So: the music of Mr. Boaz as well as the page design is sporting a white, dark, superior taste. All just provocation?
SB: I've always thought such a powerful look could be a reason for such horrible things to be able to happen. I can't help but be interested in artwork like that.
CY: I guess it is in some ways confrontational, but, I feel that someone interested in the music will not be fazed by it. Well, it might put some people off, but I can't be bothered with them
SB: I've always tried to be a powerful figure, it goes along with the in your face, like you said stardom
BK: Sabby, I know you?re very afraid of your material getting stolen. Isn?t that perseverating with an ?official? album surfacing?
SB: I am? I encourage sharing of my music
BK: I know we were talking about Creative Commons and you didn't dig the concept... you wanted something "stronger"
SB: Well CC is a joke. If you mean someone else selling my music, I'm not okay with that, but if anyone would, creative commons would do nothing
CY: Everything in the US is automatically copyrighted to the author
BK: what about internationally?
SB: I'm not going to really worry about that anyway, I doubt we would have the power to stop international pirating. Actually there are Russian websites selling mp3s of 8bitpeoples releases that are free for download in the first place.
CY: yeah, there are a lot of those sites? and, there is nothing even the big RIAA could do.