LADLO, or Les Acteurs De L’Ombres Productions to use its proper name, are a label I’ve had a great deal of time and respect for since receiving their debut release; Pensees Nocturnes ‘Vacuum’ back in 2008. Having introduced me to some genuinely interesting and unique bands under the black/doom/avant-garde banner, they truly epitomise the “quality over quantity” ethic. I was keen to quiz label founder, Gerald Milani, about his acts, ethics and the industry in general and he had plenty to say.
AN: First up, can you give some background on what LADLO productions is and how you started out?
Gerald: A few words to put things in context. I co-founded the “Acteurs De L’Ombre Webzine” along with Cyril Planard back in Y2K. As we were members of some dark bands, we had in mind to build up a webzine in order to give a hand the underground bands as ours. While, and since 98, I was organising gigs in Marseille and its region for the band I sung for “Atropos”. In 2003, I was sent to the Paris area for work. I still made gigs in the capital, in the beginning on the barge Alternat (1 per month). In the meantime and with my new encounters, I decided to make a Parisian editorial team to make the webzine more active. The gigs went bigger and intensified and, on the 5th of February 2005, I organised the first “Black Metal Is Rising Festival” at the Locomotive. With the success encountered, I wanted to build up an organisation to team with motivated passionate people. The same year, we officially created the organization and I quit my editor-in-chief role for the webzine to focus on the management of the organization and the development of its activities (we were 50 active members). The following year, we made 2 more festivals (3 of our fest still rage every year: the “Black Metal Is Rising”, the “Doom Over Paris” and the “Cernunnos Pagan Fest”). Since 2006, we are one of the organizations residing at the Klub in Paris and we make 1 or 2 shows per month in it and some tour dates. In parallel, some organization members living in the south of France where organising some shows in Lyon, Nice and Marseille. As I’m writing these lines, we can count more than 130 show dates and festivals, which represent more than 500 different bands. In 2009, after a new work moving and return to south of France, I decided to leave the presiding of the organization to Marie, and jumped on a new activity: the Label. A dream that was floating in my head for years. The organization completely financed the first label release which was nothing less but the project of one of its member: Pensées Nocturnes.
AN: Could you present your releases?
Gerald: We started the label releasing the first album of an organization member musical project: PENSEES NOCTURNES “Vacuum”. It completely matched with what I had in mind, a mix between Depressive Black Metal with some Classical Music arrangements. The little of exigencies from Vaerohn allowed us to launch the label with low risks and costs, which was part of the deal. This production, released with 1000 copies in 2009 quickly went sold out. There is not one week without a customer or a label demanding for a rerelease. This should be done with the release of the 4th PENSEES NOCTURNES album in early 2013. We did not produce the 3rd album of Vaerohn, but the 2nd one was a real bend for the label. Released with 2000 copies, a pressing of 1000 additional copies was necessary to meet the demand. This “Grotesque” went over all hopes by every levels, and allowed with a real investment for the promotion (400 promo CDs sent to the media + 2000 euros in ads and sampler magazines) to set up the notoriety, any kept proportions, of PENSEES NOCTURNES, and of the label by the way. This album received an exceptional welcome, and was brought to light by many Medias as one of the best 2010 album. It shall be honestly told that Vaerohn worked his art to its paroxysm, making his oeuvre unique in its way, an extra-varied music, even twisted and fool.
The first album of the Belgians of CULT OF ERINYES for me stays an all particular release. It is a little jewel of blackness of which I am the first fan! A piece of music so intense and deep that it carries me away with each listening…I am really proud of our collaboration which partly made them sign with the Italian label CODE666 for their second album. It is like an accomplishment of our first goal, bring talented artists to light, and so much better if they can sign with bigger labels.
The EBONYLAKE second album was more of an artistic strategy. I didn’t succeed in signing a young promising band, and I thought that the legendary Avant-garde of this English band would sit the label image to the fans of this genre. Even if it did not sell extraordinarily (I clearly knew it we released it as it is really demanding in terms of artistic approach), it eventually clearly placed the label as a non-mainstream and daring one.
Finally, I’ll talk about our latest release, the “Al Azif” album of a band from Bordeaux THE GREAT OLD ONES (April 2011) which we will have much difficulty to keep in our row for their second album it is exponentially gaining attention to it. ANTITHETIK RECORDS, an American Label, handled the DIGIPACK & LP editions of this release. Their fame is rising quickly, and it is nothing but deserved. 3 guitars with very fine arrangements, introspective atmospheres while others are much wilder, a feeling that could only please all the Hipster Post Black Metal fans, of which I am. Show proposals, and even tours, are arriving non-stop, and that’s a revealing thing!
The quality of our artists is a fact, as is the limit of our support. It is obvious that that if these CDs were released by bigger labels, they would have sold 10 times more. But that’s the rule, small labels for the young wolves, big labels for more renowned bands. All has to be made step by step, everyone got his role to play…
AN: Was there a particular vision that you had in the beginning that you set out to achieve, and would you say you have achieved what you set out to?
What are your main motivations for running a label (eg. To make a profit, to contribute to a “scene”, etc)?
Gerald: Our will of releasing a small amount of CDs to take time to work well on them was respected up to now. We only have 7 productions in 3 years of existence. I will manage not to have more than 2 or 3 release per year. We wouldn’t be able to do it anyway. I come to the label, as everything I made for the association, only in the joy of feeling useful, the will to support the Underground while trying to bring light upon the bands we like. For me, the purpose is really to bring bands to people, and obviously, all possible benefits is directly reinvested in the label in order to support the bands the best we can. The label is thus a promotional tool. Generally our released are pressed between 1200 and 1300 copies with 250 booked for promo, which is a great amount that do not allow us to hope for great benefits. But here is not the goal; everything I hope for every release is to make it profitable in order to make a new one and so on.
AN: Do you have any particular plans or goals for the future with LADLO? Where do you hope to be in 5 and 10 years time?
Gerald: In the near future, we have the March 2013 releases.
This fourth album surpasses « Ceci est de la musique » at every level and will see the light of day by the end of March 2013 in jewel case and Digipack limited to 300 copies. Never the eccentricity and genius of its composer went this far. While following the same direction than its predecessors, this more groovy and jazzy album is incomparable with the others due to its accuracy and originality. The sound, the interpretation, the transitions, the wayward parts……Everything is above the previous albums de Pensées Nocturnes. A masterpiece for fans of demanding and varied music. It’s already available for pre-order here http://www.lesacteursdelombre.net/productions/label/index.php?reqCode=store&lang=en
– REGARDE LES HOMMES TOMBER.
I am really proud to make people discover this band from my region and which I discovered playing before Wolves in the Throne Room in Nantes. Coming from the Hard Core and Black Metal scene, they practice an oppressing Sludge / Post Black Metal made to hit the stage. The first album is set to be released in March 2013 in LP & CD editions. To listen to 2 tracks in pre-production without the vocal parts go here: http://www.lesacteursdelombre.net/productions/label/index.php?reqCode=news
- WAY TO END – “Various Shades of Black”
I got to know this band when they released their first album “Desecrated Internal Journey” on Debemur Morti. They play a kind of very original black metal. It’s hard to get into the music but once you’re into it, the richness is amazing. Their music is really inspired, full of little details that pop up everytime you listen to it. The new album “Various Shades of Black” is more melodic than the first one, with a great variety of voices, guitar sounds, ambiences. It can be pre-ordered here http://www.lesacteursdelombre.net/productions/label/index.php?reqCode=store
In a farthest future, I’d like to continue as we do now, not really to grow, but to be more organized. To tell but the truth, it would extraordinary if I still have the energy to go on in 5 years. To make it I have to keep on choosing well the people I work with for a better repartition of responsibilities. I am always dreaming of a real International distro, and why not a numeric one…that we finally get a proper webshop to distribute the CDs we have in a less craft way…and eventually have the pleasure to have enough money to make super products with luxurious and original packaging…
AN: You seem mainly focussed on black metal, in particular with an avant-garde/ experimental approach and so far you’re doing a great job of picking interesting and unique sounding acts. What qualities do you look for when signing new acts to your label? Bands that you would like to sign?
Gerald: We receive some approaches from bands, by letters or mails (up to 40 a year). It is not so much in the end, and really a few meet the label spirit. Only one of our bands actually comes from one of a band approach. Most of the time it is us who contact the bands we’re interested by, but it wasn’t the case every time (as for THE GREAT OLD ONES).
We have but only few meanings and as the label goal is to promote young bands, it is obvious that our choice will focus on very young talents (even if it is not a rule, as we released the 2nd album after 12 years of silence of EBONYLAKE, as well as the re-edition of the 3rd cult album of Basque Spanish NUMEN first released in 2007). With the Internet, and all these new tools, it is really easy to realize the potential and seriousness of a band. Once we contacted them, presented them our project and if they are interested, we discuss of our proper visions of such collaboration, the waits of every part….and we quickly see if this will lead to something or if we are not on the same line.
Every deal is different and according to band’s fame, it must stick to its demanding. Thus I can’t make generalities. The themes we approach are: recording, mixing, mastering, pressing, author/composer/player rights and mechanical reproduction, royalties, promotional campaign, distribution, shows and merchandising.
Regarding the amount of mails we share, the time we spent on a common project, personal sacrifices we all have to do, compromising that such a project demands, the affinity comes inevitably. A band is often grateful of the human investment we put on every project because it’s only pleasure, and this leads sometimes to a friendship or in the worst a great mutual respect. We are artisans of the shades, and the relationship between the label and the band is of course different from the one in the bigger structures.
To admit all, I can’t imagine releasing a Heavy, Thrash, Pagan album or whatever different from Black Metal (or Doom). Being particularly fan of Black Metal, it couldn’t be different. And thus whatever the Black Metal style is, quality must be there, the album has to be credible and musicians must be sincere, simple and available! I must say that I am more attracted by melancholic, experimental and psychedelic, the choice of or signings is in adequacy with my personal tastes.
We address to a very restricted public, a niche within a niche! I wanted to be very different from all the labels rising here and there. And I can see that it’s beginning to pay. We got regular people that order every release we make, a sign that they recognize themselves in our artistic line. More and more people seem to follow the label’s evolution. I often meet people from the scene (that I knew throughout the association activities) that congratulate us for our work. It’s a real satisfaction.
Band we would like to sign? Yes, plenty, but I’ll tell you about 2 signing we missed due to our lack of meanings. There first was the 2nd album of Finnish ORANSSI PAZUZU (Psyche Black Metal) with who we were in contact since a year for a deal. As all seemed to be ok with the band, they asked me a month more to search for a bigger label. It is completely justifiable and unfortunately for us, SPINEFARM showed up interest. We obviously couldn’t get to their proposal and then fly away the little bird, as quickly as it settled on the branch. Some months later, I could see that the promo of their album was totally fucked up and that they would have greatly won signing on a smaller label, but which would have defend their album with all meanings and courage that we have. SPINEFARM got much bigger bands in their roster, and an ORANSSI PAZUZU does not make the sales…. We will make the re-releasing of their sold out first album. I am really proud to help a band I am a big fan of getting bigger!
Things will not end up so well with Australians NE OBLIVISCARIS who offer a really high level melodic progressive Black Metal. I invested myself to help their French solo guitarist to get his visa. But they’ll eventually release their 2nd album via the Americans THE END RECORDS… Here too, the battle was long before lost…
AN: Obviously the internet and other new technologies have changed the music industry significantly in recent years. How much do you embrace new technology and in your experience what are the positive and negatives to being a record label in the “digital” age?
Gerald: The label is very young, consequently it didn’t follow the technology evolution. When we arrived, illegal downloading was already at its peak and labels were already sending electronic promo, Facebook was used and abused….without talking about electronic distribution with Itunes and so on…. I am not totally closed to this environment, depending which level.
Promotion wise, having made up a webzine by myself, I know about the work it demands to voluntary columnists, and I think it should be standard that they can get a real CD even if it is a big investment for us. Adding that our bands are not famous and it would be even more difficult being commented via electronic promotion.
Regarding electronic distribution, I am not hostile to it, I simply do not have time to put into it….It is not just a question of inscription; it would add more administration and so on. We may get into it if only we find someone to handle it.
What is positive is that with the Internet, music spreads really much faster, surely faster than 20 years ago with tape trading, but by the way there’re loads of new labels. So the bit of cake is smaller, but I really think it would be worse without the Internet. What is important is that everyone finds its place and its audience, and makes money enough to simply go on. That’s all we ask for.
AN: What are the biggest challenges for you as an independent label?
Gerald: Every independent label is managed on the spare time of its manager. And when he’s got a job, family and house, I let you imagine what can be his life. It’s a constant running against the watch, everything is anytime put back in question and you always think about the amount of time you put into your passion. Don’t we miss the good things of life, if the family is not left over….It is not easy every day.
Until last year I was managing everything, alone! But I had to realize that, if you want to provide a quality service, it is not possible. 2 persons went to the promotional side during 2010/2011 because it is extremely difficult motivating people on a long course. It demands big investments for a little reward and beside the satisfaction of feeling useful there’s nothing to gain. When someone is not on the origins of a project you can’t ask the same effort as the one you put into it or take initiatives, even being autonomous. It is quite frustrating to see that you could do its job better, in a more regular or more applied, with more faith and conviction. It is one of the things that conducted me to leave the head of the association; it is highly tiring managing a volunteer’s team.
I am tempted to believe that we’ve found our rhythm and our stability. Since September 2011, 2 friends of mine are helping for promo, and some more sometimes. All isn’t perfect, but they are serious and have respect for what they do. Obviously we have to make deals with private life, job, bands….. Availability is thus our great battle and even if the financial part is an obstacle for the label, human investment is even more valuable for us. You always can do something without money, if you have the necessary people knowing in the scene (many things work thanks to cronyism), but when you have a lack of time to make everything, there’s no miraculous solution, except by bungling things, and this will never happen with us.
Since some weeks I wonder if I will not stop trading. Yes it helps me sending many things, but it takes a huge amount of time. In fact it is a snake biting its tail! The more time passes by the more I want to offer a quality service to bands and this also takes more and more time. It’s like a drug, we always want more. It would be simpler for us if we could find distribution contracts. But our level of production is not interesting for distributors, we do not make enough CDs and thus we do not earn a lot of money. One cause to this is our promo budget, which stays small, and obviously small is the number of CDs we make. We are currently distributed in France by Season Of Mist, and the only foreign distributor that accepted us was Twilight Vertrieb and they just filed for bankruptcy with our money.
Another difficult challenge for labels like us is to succeed in being commented in paper magazines. Most of them do not even answer to us and as we systematically send our physical promo to about 80 magazines we only get around 15 reviews. And we don’t even speak of interviews….If you don’t buy adverts, you merely get a chance for your band to be interviewed.
AN: What aspects of running a label do you most enjoy, and are there any parts of it that you really dislike or that frustrate you?
Gerald: To tell the truth, I believe I like all part of it. Even if I must admit that the “Promotional task” is one of the most tiring parts that needs a good organization. Hopefully I got my 2 acolytes to help me. .
Here are the tasks for everyone:
Ronnie deals with the French promo part (Radios, Fanzines, Magazines and Webzines) while Jo takes care of the foreign Medias. Their duty is as follows:
– Emails sending to present our release(s) of the moment.
– Dealing with each interested media about the promotional plan which will be developed. Case by case for at least 250 Medias (Interviews, reviews, news spreading, web banners or flyers, contests…),
– Promo supervising (get the reviews, call back for interviews, send the diverse articles or interviews demands to the band and myself, putting everything online on our duty forum, daily upgrade of our working spreadsheet indicating every step of the promo process for each Media, and particular remarks for each….)
All this being hundreds of mails for each release.
Everything else being my job:
– The rest of the promo, namely Internet promo (on Boards and social networks, writing and sending of newsletters…), physical and paying promotion (ads, sampler, flyers, promo sheets, making and sending of 250 promo parcels…)
– General managing of the label (artistic and graphic coordination with our suppliers, printings and diverse manufacturing (Merchandising, Flyers, promo sheets, patches, pin’s…) and artistic direction.
– The accounting and administrative management of the label. This is my real nightmare…I don’t like numbers or papers… And as I have to make all the faster possible, I have to admit that it is a bit bungled.
– The management and distribution of our products. A task alone taking at least 4 hours per day depending of the period.
I would lie if I don’t tell that my preferred part is searching for bands. The pearl that make you chill, in which you’ll put all your hopes and for which you hope that people we feel the same. When I discover a band, I listen to the CD everyday while going to sleep during at least 4 months before the release. It’s like a ritual I can’t leave…. Meanwhile I think of all things I had no time to do during the day, what I’ll have to do the day after, to what I want do make better….And when I have nothing to think about, I dive into the music and I peel it or abandon myself to it depending of my mood. And the sooner the releasing gets the more excited I am…
Gerald: I believe that Metal, as aniche music, will always be risen by passionate people. But it is clear that it will be more and more difficult to make money in Metal. CDs/LPs/MCs selling are going down and will go even deeper… But I believe that there will always be a part of fans that will continue buying stuff but not enough to make bands living, or very few. The real Metalhead is a collector, passionate and dedicates his life to this art that bring so much talking. Metalhead is not a sheep, he’s got codes and bands, he’s creative and will always be a misunderstood fan/artist. This leads to this much linked community and while there’s life, there will be Metalheads. Metal is underground, in the shadows and this is what will keep it alive, if I may say. It is destined to stay a simple pleasure, for most of us…and this is maybe what makes it so strong and independent.
Le metal est souterrain, dans l’ombre, c’est ce qui, je pense, le préservera. Il est voué à rester pour la plus part d’entre nous, un simple plaisir… Et c’est peut être cela qui le rend si fortet indépendant.
Disc market has changed completely. On the contrary of the 80’s when major bands were 80% of the industry, nowadays these 80% are made by underground bands with great numbers of limited quantities pressed CDs. This underground economy threatens the majors companies and big structures, some of which already passed by. Hundreds of little labels see the light of day to support this ever blooming scene. Every month billions of Black Metal bands see their CDs released by small structures but with a well organized web. Downloading is to blame, but also perpetual technical evolution of the sound and computing, allowing everyone to record by their own meanings for a really correct result at a good quality/price rate.
VORKREIST’s A.K. vision about the rising Internet and the crashing of CDs selling is quite seductive to me (excerpts from the Violent Solutions Webzine): “Everything since 10 years is divided by 2, and even more. The other aspect is that we may sell half but there’s 5 times the people listening to us. By the way, I didn’t think I would make money when I started making discs. It seems to me like we are back to the time of demos when you had to do by yourself to record your album, releasing it and giving it to everyone for it cost you just a tape. Mp3 got this thing too. Everyone wants to be listened to, for different reasons but I will not go through psychoanalysis. By everyone got this ego, this will to exist in this a little bit matrix world where we’re always seeking satisfaction and a kind of emotional return on investment. As soon as we do something, we hope for some “Like” on Facebook”.
This situation leads to a real question. Will the quantity of bands and even more the easiness of recording your own stuff and spreading it, lead to loss regarding the composing or sound quality? Eternal question of quality versus quantity….. But what doesn’t change is that everyone is free to like this or that band making its own idea of a good band.
AN: Thanks for your time. Any final words for Ave Noctum readers?
Gerald: Thank you for making us known of your readers. I invite you to join our facebook group or the label website to stay aware of our news.
Interview by Luci Herbert
TGOO Photo Pete Woods
Naturally keep your eyes open for reviews of the three forthcoming releases on LADLO Productions on Ave Noctum