sunnuntai 27. marraskuuta 2011

Paradigms Recordings – A Puzzle Unravelling

An interesting label from the beginning, the London-based Paradigms Recordings set out to do something different. In fact, the label practically seemed to be destined to be a cult-label, as their limited releases were uniquely printed and packed and their musical perspective far and wide. While some Paradigms releases in the past six years have been bordering on pretentious and artsy-fartsy, there's definitely been a couple of true gems among them. One of them is naturally
Heaven Is All by my good friends Blueprint Human Being who were actually the ones that introduced me to Paradigms. Other great releases include Coma Waering by the unfortunately succumbed The Angelic Process, the eponymous Murmuüre album and the recent Kinit Her cassette.

The label has probably had its share of difficult times, but having unleashed more than 50 releases in the past six years, they're still going strong against all odds. They're also having a massive sale until December 3rd, so this is a good time to broaden your musical horizon: Paradigms store. The interview below from 2007 was done with label boss Duncan Dinsdale, plus members of early Paradigms artists such as Amber Asylum, Throne of Katarsis, Titan, Woburn House and Blueprint Human Being.

"A Puzzle Unravelling"
An article on the
UK-based Paradigms Recordings label.
Originally published in The Serpent Bearer I, March 2008.

The Golden Age of record labels is long past. The whole concept of a label has gone through a massive devaluation, a depression, if you will. Some people long for the earlier days of labels like Noise, Peaceville, Roadrunner or Candlelight. In the beginning of the new millenium the logo of Prophecy Productions in the album sleeve was many times enough for me to have faith in the quality of the release. Indeed, more often than not, it did pay off. How long has it been since you last bought an album based on the label it was released by?

These days the compound noun record label tends to have rather negative connotations, and most of the labels certainly have had it coming. Of course there are still label bosses around that have their own artistic vision – and the means to concretize that vision. Undoubtedly, some of the most fanatically idealistic labels have gone bankrupt after a handful of releases, whereas the rest have to work extremely hard to make ends meet. Since the early years of the new millenium I, for one, have grown more and more suspicious of record labels in general, yet there are still some labels that I tip my hat to unconditionally.

In early 2006 I was introduced to an up-and-coming British label Paradigms Recordings who seemed in every way determined to live up to their name. Once again the word record label could be used to denote something almost mystical. It seems to be the basic imperative of Paradigms Recordings to deliver us music that would’ve otherwise escaped our ears. With releases ranging from psychedelic acid-rock to grim black metal, and from funereal drone to eerie neo-classical music, Paradigms isn’t just a curiosity from the margins of the music industry. Indeed it is working its way in from the periphery, ceaseslessly garnering more and more attention among music fans regardless of their normal genre orientation. Perhaps not all Paradigms releases epitomise the absolute top-quality in their respective genre, but I daresay even that is beside the point here. Instead, it is already an achievement of sort that each and every one of their releases would seem to have a distinct purpose, more or less. Duncan Dinsdale, our label boss of the day, agrees that looking at the releases is, in a way, like looking into a kaleidoscope.

– Yes, I like the kaleidoscope idea, that makes sense to me. I guess with each release people will understand a little more about the ideas and visions behind what we’re doing. There is no end goal or solution, so each turn of the kaleidoscope will make the whole label look and feel a little different. And that’s just the way I want it to be.

Indeed, Paradigms is like an ever-expanding puzzle, a kaleidoscope made flesh, whose every move should be observed with extreme care. That being said, it has proved an impossible task to predict which direction the label was going to take next. Rather, several times during its first two years of existence it hasn’t so much moved to a specific direction as it has teleported itself from one place to another.

It might be stating the obvious but even in all its absoluteness, the label ideology of Paradigms appears to be rather broad-minded, though far from being all-embracing. With the exception of the label uniform, the imprinted brownish envelope that has covered many of the releases so far, the lifespan of Paradigms has been somewhat fragmented, something very difficult to formulate ‘the big picture’ of. In fact, to be totally honest, at first the releases didn’t seem to take Paradigms anywhere. Bereft of the ideas of continuity and progression – ideas normally attached to a record label – the releases, too, were like a bunch of snap shots, one-off things, that didn’t really seem to come together on any apparent level.

– Paradigms is not particularly about developing bands or the label, it’s all about capturing specific moments of magic and wonder. To document those feelings that music can give you that makes life exciting and worthwhile. So I guess Paradigms is more like a dream diary than a conventional record label, Duncan readily admits.
– The great thing about music – especially more underground, esoteric and experimental music is that because it is exactly that, you never know what you will discover next. For example, this week I discovered the first two albums that were released on 4AD Records by Xmal Deutschland. Both albums are about 25 years old, I had never taken the time to investigate the band before and now, 25 years later, they are making a huge impact on my life, rejoices Duncan before elaborating on the Paradigms ideology.
– Paradigms is our own personal way of exploring new, challenging music without real boundaries. The most important aspects of any Paradigms release are atmosphere and visual aesthetic – to create a rather introspective soundtrack and vision to transcend everyday life. There is no fixed ideology or code to the Paradigms concept – but all the bands and releases hold a small part of the puzzle that we are unravelling. It all makes complete sense to us, at least...

For some reason my discussion with Duncan seemed to touch upon the concepts of aesthetics and ideology even more often than I had intended it to. Perhaps that’s what one should expect from a person who obviously considers music an ideology in itself. Although Duncan says personal ideologies of the artists Paradigms works with are never a consideration for him, it is only natural that the ideological differences behind the Paradigms artists aren’t as prevalent as their musical differences. After all, one’s personal ideology is seldom as accomodating as his taste in music. Anyway, I’ll let Duncan do the talking.
– I think what comes first is atmosphere and aesthetic. I have my own personal ideologies and beliefs but these do not become part of Paradigms – I think the power and depth of the music become central to what we want to convey, not an ideological message. When I say ideological, I am meaning more traditional social or political ideologies. We will let the art be our message. So maybe that is in fact the label ideology… As I said, Paradigms is very aesthetic-based, we tend to let the art convey the messages and expressions rather than action or words.

Duncan goes on to saying that if there was something he felt uncomfortable with that an artist was saying or doing, then it wouldn’t be right for him to work with that artist in the first place. To be honest, I don’t know what peculiar current of naïvety got into me as I, pretty much inadvertently, asked the Paradigms artists whether they would feel awkward being on the label if the other bands’ ideologies were completely different from theirs. What’s naïve about that is that, were every band in the world to take a close look at their labelmates’ ideological background, few bands would ever end up on any label. Some of the Paradigms artists found a way of agreeing with me, nevertheless.

– My opinion is that there should be a connection in both the music style and the ideology, and blasphemous black metal is not for everyone, states Grimnisse of Throne of Katarsis who was in for a small surprise about the Paradigms label policy.

– We had no idea what kind of label Paradigms was when we signed there for this release. I guess we assumed it was a black metal label, but we didn’t give it much thought really. I have to admit that we weren’t too enthusiastic when we heard the other bands, or projects, nor when we saw the ad in Terrorizer Magazine. Not quite our style to be honest, but at the same time we didn’t really care.

Being now signed to Candlelight Records and a March 2007 album release behind them, Throne of Katarsis have probably seen their albums advertised in Terrorizer again. On the presumable collisions between their and other artists’ ideologies Grimnisse declares that they don’t truly care about what the other bands might think of them, even if the other bands would fight against Throne of Katarsis, because “that would be a fight they could not win,” slabs Grimnisse.

Other Paradigms artists are more in the lines of Sebastien Martel of Utlagr who believes the other bands on Paradigms are really aware of the label policy, so there’s no reasons for them to stand against each other. Sebastien then goes on to explain how it’s important for Utlagr to avoid any kinds of political issues, while Fabian from Woburn House exclaims they want to have nothing to with “any fascist/racist/sexist-pricks.” These days it’s more than predictable to hear something like that from a German, and I’ll give him that, even though stating that “it is about music, not politics, ideologies or anything else that draws any more borders between people” might be misinterpreting the meaning I intended the word ideology to convey.

When asked the same question as the artists above, Kris Force from Amber Asylum, too, is somewhat careful in her choice of words.

– Although I would not adopt the aesthetic values of Throne of Katarsis for my own project, I have no problem sharing audience with them. I have no issues with Jesus or the Antichrist for that matter, so in this respect I cannot relate. Living in California I haven’t been overshadowed or force-fed by centuries of Christian icons and archetypes.

I must confess that I was a little disappointed when I realised I couldn’t really juxtapose any of the Paradigms artists. I mean, what happened to ‘extreme music for extreme people’ – a slogan most often applicable to underground genres in general, and not just metal? Even Utlagr, who solemnly avow themselves as black metal want to dissociate from the majority of the black metal scene, because they are not satanic, but more like anti-monotheistic.


Before I got introduced to Paradigms it had been a while since I had really bought much else than metal records. While many of the most enjoyable Paradigms releases are at least tangentially metal, the rest also have a fair amount of good things to offer. Of course there are releases that are less mouthwatering, like Norway’s Hjarnidaudi whose metallic drone-ambient doesn’t even distantly reverberate into my brain. Many of the earlier Paradigms releases were actually reissued versions of self-financed demos, like in the case of Blueprint Human Being and Throne of Katarsis, or other recordings that were getting increasingly difficult to find, such as The Angelic Process’ brilliant Coma Waering or Amber Asylum’s 10” EP. In fact, The Angelic Process and Blueprint Human Being releases originally date as far back as 2003. The first contacts between Duncan and the bands that later would release stuff via Paradigms date even further back in time. Erno from Blueprint Human Being sheds some light on the first encountering with Duncan.

– Actually we came in contact with Duncan around 2002 when he was running the label Rage of Achilles. There was some discussion about future collaborations but nothing happened, and then Rage of Achilles went down in 2004. In 2005 Duncan contacted us again as he was launching Paradigms. At that time we didn’t have anything new to offer since we hadn’t rehearsed for about two years, as the members of the band were spread across Europe doing whatever studies. So eventually Paradigms ended up re-releasing Heaven Is All.

Kris Force from San Francisco’s Amber Asylum relates that she, too, has followed Duncan’s work since the days of Rage of Achilles, although Amber Asylum didn’t come in contact with him before the release of Garden Of Love was scheduled for early 2006. Initially the plan was to release the EP through Codebreaker Records, but that plan fell through.

– I’m not sure exactly what happened. It was all a go and then suddenly it wasn’t, but shortly after that Codebreaker vanished and Paradigms became in existence and then the plan was executed, although slightly modified to include Paradigms image policies.

Duncan himself doesn’t feel too comfortable discussing his past deeds in the music business. Admittedly, the man has had his share of calamities, but examined from a purely musical perspective I think it’s fair to say his undertakings were laudable already back then in 2001 when he was putting out albums like the self-titled debut effort of Cult of Luna and so on. Although the scope of Rage of Achilles releases was to expand substantially, perhaps even uncontrollably, it might be said that with the 2004/2005 Codebreaker Records releases – from stateside drone-doomsters Hyatari and Deadbird – Duncan eventually found to where he had started from with Cult of Luna. However, with Paradigms Duncan undoubtedly started afresh, this time from a slightly more modest launching pad, perhaps. Therefore it’s not surprising that the bands are fairly unanimous in their good opinion about Duncan and the effort he’s put into the label and the releases.

– The great thing about Paradigms is the freedom that Duncan offers. We were basically given complete control over our recording and were able to do whatever we wanted, musically, which is a really inspiring place to be. We took a bunch of drugs, locked ourselves in a friend’s basement and pressed record, commences Kris D’Agostino from New York’s hypno-prog phenomenon Titan.

– In many ways, Paradigms has a finger on the pulse to current needs of the audience and is satisfying increasingly diverse listening tastes. Neurot Recordings attempts this but with less risk taking. Duncan has exquisite and discriminating taste in all genres that he represents, praises Kris from Amber Asylum even though she did have her initial doubts about a certain aspect of Paradigms.

– I’ve got to admit I had trepidation in surrendering Amber Asylum’s graphic image to Paradigms since we also have a specific brand identity, but Duncan seemed more than willing to combine the themes with respect to each. I thought they were very compatible. I quite like the actual digi envelope and the printing quality of the Paradigms concept, concludes Kris.

One of the most striking features of Paradigms releases is indeed the packaging. In addition to the more common items, digipaks and DVD-cased CD’s, Paradigms put out the first seven of their releases in beautiful hand-stamped presentation envelopes. Might not be the most practical object I’ve held in my hands, but damn it looks good. The Paradigms artists are also more than happy with the outlook of their releases. Fabian from Woburn House compresses their opinion to one word, “mouthwatering” – and his fellow artists happily agree.

All in all, it would seem Duncan has put in too much of his time and heart-blood to make a dear hobby into a miserable business this time. That, in turn, entails the absoluteness about certain aspects of music, the least of which is not purity.

– I guess that one thing which I need to feel with all the music on Paradigms is a kind of purity in the music – something that shines out to me and has an effect on me personally. I find this purity in a lot of bands that pioneer new sounds and new ways of making music, but also with bands such as Throne of Katarsis, for example. Black metal, when it is done properly and sincerely, has an overpowering purity and power which still exists after so many years. And I think it is this that still keeps me passionate and excited about discovering new black metal alongside all the new and experimental music that I am listening to, explains Duncan.

To a certain extent at least, the bands are in for a same kind of ride. I think Grimnisse from Throne of Katarsis puts the right words into use on this one.

– Our prophecy was and still is to craft purified and atmospheric occult black metal in the true vein of the early 90s Norwegian black metal, and to be focused on spreading the unholy message through our blasphemous lyrics. We do not think about what others might think of our music, nor how the audience will react to our songs being played live. This is a total ego trip.

– I feel it is more inspiring and motivating trying to find your own way of doing things than just recycling old things unimaginatively. Of course the influences are always there, but I see them – or this present world of experiences – more as a kind of starting point for the search of new possibilities, heading for the unknown, utters Erno from Bluepring Human Being, pretty much in the same lines with Grimnisse. Kris from Titan relates yet another aspect to the discussion on the origins of music.

– I think the most important thing is knowing where the music you’re making is coming from, what inspired it and how you can take those ideas, that have already been done, and make them new again, and different. We actually borrow a lot of our sound from a myriad of bands that we love. All of us are big 70s prog-rock and electronic music fans so we look to bands from that era for inspiration.

The above description of Titan’s influences would, in some respect, suit the whole Paradigms imprint. Duncan obviously knows where music is coming from, and how he can take that idea and make it into something new. His own influences for Paradigms, though, come from a slightly surprising source: the early 80’s catalogue of 4AD Records, the UK-based indie label that has released some true indie/shoegaze gems, Dead Can Dance and Red House Painters being perhaps their best-known artists. Admittedly, Paradigms, like 4AD, is far from being a metal label. Duncan goes on to explain that Paradigms was created with a serious discipline in mind from the start. This discipline, in turn, can be traced back to his love of many esoteric and eclectic recording artists from Ulver, Dead Can Dance, Mazzy Star, Cocteau Twins and Amon Duul to Emperor or My Dying Bride. In more ways than one it is easy to see Paradigms as a sort of escape for Duncan. But what is it that he wants to get away from?

– I think because we live in a consumer world, where music is so readily available and disposable and where imagery is constantly flashed at us every minute of the day, Paradigms was my personal way to take a step back from that. To release music that demands care and attention, to design and present our music in more interesting ways and to distribute the editions in a more direct manner so that we can interact more with the people who discover our work. That does mean that because we are not mass marketed and mass distributed, people have to find us themselves and invest time and interest into what we do – and that is the most precious element of Paradigms for us, elaborates Duncan.

After the initial idea of selling the Paradigms releases exclusively from their own website, Duncan has handpicked a selection of trustworthy distributors from across the world. It would feel like stating the obvious to say I share Duncan’s view of today’s music world, and I’m sure that in time Paradigms will find initiated listeners. In today’s music world where there’s a well-paid but a less dedicated promoter lurking around each corner, it won’t be an easy task, though. Of course I have to admit that there are days when I feel I no longer have any reason to believe in those naïve phrases about people recognising and being able to respect music that comes straight from the heart. I dare to say that while labels showing unfaltering dedication to music are few, Paradigms would definitely count among them.


While some Paradigms bands had already won some renown with their earlier releases, Jarboe and Amber Asylum unquestionably being the most acclaimed ones, for the rest of the bands Paradigms offered a convenient springboard out from the deepest pits of the underground. With the unfortunate exception of Blueprint Human Being and The Angelic Process, the bands that have so far added a Paradigms release to their resumes are still active as ever. Blueprint Human Being have been on a break of undetermined length since the late 2003 release of the Heaven Is All demo, and in October 2007 The Angelic Process was put on hold indefinitely, due to drummer-guitarist K. Angylus’ serious hand injury. Utlagr have welcomed back into their ranks the guitarist Jacques Villiard who was going through an intensive cancer treatment. The band has also finished the recordings for their debut album entitled 1066 - Blood And Iron in Hastings to be released via Canada’s Sepulchral Production in December 2007. Furthermore, Titan have their new full-length A Raining Sun of Light and Love, for You and You and You… out on TeePee Records, and the more organic, less kraut-esque approach they’ve taken promises good things from the new material. Amber Asylum and Woburn House are busy playing live in their natives, USA and Germany respectively. Amber Asylum have their new album Still Point out on Profound Lore Records, and the same label is also responsible for the release of the recent The Angelic Process album Weighing Souls With Sand.

One thing I didn’t see coming was Throne of Katarsis being signed to Candlelight Records. Although a quick look at the current Candlelight roster tells us that two of their most prominent artists – Kaamos and Emperor, that is – are either dead or, well, undead I guess is what you’d call Emperor these days, Throne of Katarsis could’ve shopped a deal from a label far worse than Candlelight. The aptly titled debut full-length An Eternal Dark Horizon hit the stores in March 2007.

January 2008 will mark Paradigms’ second anniversary, and from what I came to understand when the label surfaced, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if their first anniversary had already marked their death. The fact that Ducan rather took to calling Paradigms ‘an imprint’ or ‘a recordings series,’ apparently in an attempt of dissociating himself from all the ‘labels’ out there, implied that the lifespan of Paradigms would have been predetermined. They would issue a handful of quality releases in limited editions, and vanish into the thin air before anyone really had detected them in the first place. Duncan himself doesn’t admit this, however. Instead he states that the only predetermined idea was to further a strong aesthetic for his grand vision, one day, one release at a time.

Appears to me, he found a little cozy corner for himself, and is in no rush of going anywhere. In fact, as I said earlier, at some point down the road, that was what I thought he was doing – going nowhere. Re-releasing a rather incoherent bunch of recordings, albeit some very good ones, seemed a tad too indeterminate and unfocused an approach to be very succesful in the long run. According to Duncan, the foreseeable future will see – and has already seen – Paradigms concentrating on new and exclusive material. The way I see it, that will bring Paradigms to the first full circle, and will hopefully bring about further years full of meaningful and interesting music. In conclusion I try to pry into the deeper motivations behind the whole Paradigms excursion. Duncan calmly ponders on the notion of ‘selfish motives’ that I deliberately blurt out.

– I think my selfish motive behind Paradigms is to create a musical interpretation of the way I would like to live in the world, if that makes any sense. Paradigms is all about going back to what got me excited about music in the first place – not the money, the big sales, the marketing and promotion. To me Paradigms is here to create a little bit of magic for a small amount of people. To create a pure, decadent, rich artistic expression with unique and esoteric music. That’s what I would call success.

Now, we might have to return the ‘dead cult label’ trophy with Duncan’s name already engraved on it, but that, I guess, is a price we should be willing to pay for some more insightful Paradigms releases.

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