There is so much movement in the tape underground that you sometimes get the feeling that CDs are somehow uncool. Personally, I find the whole tape things utterly pathetic and just some hipster cry for help and a deception that doesn’t really mark anyone or anything as different or interesting. The reality for me is that tapes were/are mostly poor audio quality, impractical (to play or rip to other formats) and of all the audio media, the most easy to break and the most difficult to find decent audio equipment. But the sad irony is that CDs may be uncool (or perhaps are just a symbol of consumer capitalism?), but for several decades there has been a lot of invention and imagination put into how they are presented. One label at the forefront of exploiting the artistic potential of CDs, both graphically and musically, has been Ukrainian label Kvitnu (although a Ukrainian label the postal address is now in Vienna, Austria).
Founded in 2006 by Dmytro Fedorenko (a.k.a Kotra) as an outlet for Ukrainian artists it has since gone on to have an international roster and organise nights and festivals as well as release experimental and abstract electronic music in the vein of Raster Noton and Sähkö. Most of the artwork is done by Kateryna Zavoloka who also performs and releases as Zavoloka on the label. The covers are usually beautiful mixed media designs incorporating base material of different origins (cloth, card etc.) and are embellished in different ways such as screen prints, embossing and with adorned other physical materials. The results are highly varied and original.
Sound wise, the label is pretty diverse, releasing anything from ambient works, to glitch electronica and more techno-orientated pieces with a tendency towards a darker sound. The label currently has over 40 releases from the last decade, perhaps the most famous of which is Sturqen’s “Peste” from 2010 which helped the label on to win three prestigious Qwartz Electronic Music Awards that year. Sturqen is the Portuguese duo of David Arantes and César Rodrigue and they have since gone on to release several albums for the label as well as branching out recently to other labels.
Some of their recent releases include Italian artist Matter (Fabrizio Matrone) who also works as Heidseck who just released his seventh album “Paroxysmal” and third for the label in as many years. Like the label, “Paroxysmal” is a diverse work, branching out from the stunning metallic and brooding ambience of opener “Fluid” through various chunky rhythmic industrial tracks via several outgrowths of dystopian noise like the grating and gritty “Surge”, the abstract the unsettling “Amplitude”. The closing sequence of tracks is both pummeling and with a touch of funk in “Ash” which bookends the album. Hiss and bass at its best.
Mingle’s “Static” album is something completely different. It is the work of another Italian, in this case Andrea Gastaldello, who plays electronics and treated guitar and piano. The result is a much more mediative and less abrasive ambient work, but still tinged with dystopian sounds and beats, especially on tracks like “Conditions” and “Words”. Whereas Matter favours bludgeoning and sparse percussion, Mingle often uses fast runs of light glitch beats to provide the momentum or keeps the rhythmic structures deep in the background. The emphasis is thus on flow rather than angular kinetics. With a lot more instrumentation and slowness, there is more emotional range and a sweeping feel to the album that is cinematic.
Other highlights include Isolat Pattern’s “Clinical Ambience” which is a classic glitch album full of rugged force and detail. Pan Sonic’s album “Oksastus” which was recorded at Kvitnu_live in Kiev in 2009 is one of the labels few forays into vinyl releases. Just announced is an upcoming release by another Italian artist Plaster (Gianclaudio Hashem Moniri) called “Mainframe” that will come out at the end of October with a driving techno feel to several of the tracks.