Radio Show – Summer of Netlabels vol 1
Every Thursday morning, just after midnight, I confuse, bemuse, and irritate the insomniacs and late-shift workers of Santa Fe, and whoever is listening online, with the music of my radio show Lullabies for Cthulhu. The magic of freeform public radio is truly realized in my show, I think, and much of that magic is thanks to the various free netlabels that run out of Japan. My weekly playlist creation involves trawling through forty or so of them every week scouting for new sounds to play for you all. Sadly, it seems the golden age of the free mp3 label in Japan is past, though some still push on. Years ago, and even further back, before Soundcloud and Bandcamp made it easy for artists to have their own branded outlet for their music, netlabels were a way for people who shared the same tastes(and perhaps an Ableton Live license code) to pool their efforts into the embodiment of a musical ethos: a label. Netlabels exist all around the world, of course, but when I started my radio show seven years(!) ago I decided to play mostly Japanese music(themes are nice, and it encourages me to keep learning the language), so I went deep into the rabbit hole of Japanese netlabels.
And it’s quite deep, but not as vivacious any more. Few new netlabels seem to be springing up as artists turn to self-distribution. Many older netlabels haven’t put out releases in years, though their websites remain up. Bless whoever keeps those servers lit, because it means you and I can download that music and keep the fire of those netlabels burning. Despite the quiet, I still believe, and sometimes, old netlabels become active again, even if only sporadically.
So, in honor of these labels that have contributed a billion gigabytes to my music collection over the years, I’m going to be crafting playlists all summer long from their catalogues. One show, one netlabel! This week’s show features music from the first netlabel I became excited about(and first one I discovered, not coincidentally), Altema Records. Altema hasn’t released anything since 2014, sadly, but its catalogue is rich and still available. Most netlabels skew towards electronic music, and Altema is no different. It leans heavily on the anime and otaku subculture, but never becomes beholden to it, nor is knowledge of anime required to enjoy the music(though when listening to the now deleted(due to copyright claims, I can only imagine) SCHOOL GIRL AKATHISIA, it does help to know it’s all tracks sampling and inspired by the beloved anime K-ON, one I never got into myself, but is perennially popular).
Many of the artists on Altema also appeared on other netlabels. Many, including Go-Qualia, y01ce, and Calla Soiled, appeared on the wonderful Bunkai-Kei records. Some appeared on Maltine records and Marginal. Seeing these familiar faces across netlabels reinforces a sense of community among these artists and labels. Certainly they knew of each other, influenced and worked with one another even. It proves this is a real scene with its own rules, aesthetics, and personalities. In fact, it even has a physical hub: Club Mogra, in Akihabara, where the artists would perform live, hold release parties, and the music was celebrated and danced to. This little niche is a universe to many. Please enjoy.