1.The Beginning: political (Deutsch) Punk. 2.The Move West : US-Punk 3.Berlin Underground under Communism 4.European Metal Awakens: Trash, Death and Melodic Metal 5.Melodic Metal and the Rise and Fall of Helloween 6.Machinery & Dynamica Records – EBM plus Industrial 7.Label Cooperations:T&T Records ( Melodic and Progressive Metal) and Hellhound Records (Stoner Rock , Doom) 8.Disillusion and a radical change: Moving to LA and opening NOISE US 9.The Dawn of the Internet and the sale of NOISE 10.Building a Studio in Berlin West and experiences with Gothic and German Rock 11.2010 Dealing with Rock and Metal in the Digital Age: The new Set-Up
The Beginning: political (Deutsch) Punk
My name is Karl Walterbach and my active music history goes back to 1979 when we – a group of anti-fascists – organized a Punk Festival at the technical university with than popular female fronted punk band HANSAPLAST. Out of this resulted the formation of a committee of punk obsessed anarchists and musicians, I was one of the twelve enthusiasts. our centre of activity took place in the heart of Kreuzberg 36 in a squatted factory building. It was just a matter of one meeting that we decided to take over the groundfloor of the building and use it for our purposes: to build the first punk club in Germany. we appropriately named it KZ36 (Kommunikations Zentrum) to provoke the old left by using this reference to germany’s dirty past. The club was extremely popular from the day of the opening: hordes of punks found a new Mecca and all our (left) neighbors positioned themselves as good citizens, trying to throw us out of the area. For a year we persisted. Dozens of punk bands played their first gig in Berlin and we left a vinyl document named KZ36 compilation as our heritage. And I fucked the singer of the notorious all female punk band ÄTZTUSSIS.
Without an office or telephone I personally continued my obsession with all things punk by establishing the label „Aggressive Rock Produktionen“ and the first two compilation releases „Soundtrack zum Untergang“ 1 + 2 (Soundtrack to the Apocalypse). The fear of Armageddon was quite intense in Berlin. The Young feared the Western Imperialists, represented by NATO to start World War III and the Old panicked about the Russians.
In these phobic times, surrounded by the Berlin Wall, life was intense. My first successful band SLIME from Hamburg played in front of ever growing fan armies, battling fascist skins on one side and the police on the other. The bands radical political lyrics and statements were the target of numerous police raids and record confiscations and resulted in the censorship of the „Soundtrack1“ compilation as well as the band’s debut.
It was a wild rollercoaster ride. Records sold in big numbers. The underground embraced us. Promotion was an unknown word. In addition to running my Punk Label I continued to set up shows with Punk and New Wave bands in the more established SO36 Club in Kreuzberg from ’81- 83. But my booking activities came to an end with two big influential festivals under the Banner „Berlin Atonal“ I + II. The punk label demanded more and more of my attention.
The Move West : US-Punk
Due to my interest in West Coast punk – I had collected every US punk single since 79 I could put my hand on – I decided to broaden my label approach. Black Flag, The Misfits, Bad Brains, Hüsker Dü, Angry Samoans. I had to get involved. SST records was one of my main contacts. And BLACK FLAG was after SLIME the band of the hour for me.
Around their debut „Damaged“ and the follow-up „My War“ I helped to establish the band in Germany and brought them over for touring twice. One of the most exciting live bands I ever experienced. They oozed the word rebellion with every tune and word.
But in 1983, the 7th year of the punk movement, things slowed down dramatically. The punk craze ebbed and vinyl sales started to lag. However the contact with BLACK FLAG had opened my eyes to metal in a mixed way. Every time we came through Hannover Gregg Ghin was raving about – in his words – the amazing SCORPIONS. I laughed it off, as for me they where just one of the many 80’s stadium bands I despised. For more info about AGR read this lengthy interview (plus full discography) with myself in OX Magazine, Germany’s leading punk mag (sorry in German only !):
Berlin Underground under Communism
But before I made my next big musical move into Metal there is a little side story to tell here. My friend and partner on the Atonal Festivals, Dimitri, who later was also instrumental for the start of the Techno-House movement and the founding of the Tresor club, had introduced me in 1983 to some illegal underground bands in the eastern, communist part of Berlin. Punk, in it’s most basic and raw form under project names such as Zwitschermaschine and Schleim-Keim.(http://de.goldenmap.com/DDR_von_unten)
I should have known from the start that something was wrong here. Paranoia ruled in every meeting I had with the musicians. Everybody was suspicious about everybody. But somehow we managed to smuggle the crude tapes out before everything blew up and most of the musicians got arrested and interrogated by the East-German STASI. Under the appropriate title „DDR von unten“ („DDR from below“) I released a limited Vinyl Edition in the West to lot’s of media attention. But there was a price to pay as I soon learned. The transit ways out of Berlin where suddenly a no-go zone for myself, a Visa for East Germany unobtainable. And even after the wall came down in 1989, the Russians still blocked me from entering their territory until today!
A good background story about this compilation can be found here (Sorry but it’s in German again!): http://www.klangverhaeltnisse.de/textwerk/ostpunk-auf-schallplatte-ddr-von-unten/
European Metal Awakens: Trash, Death and Melodic Metal
But things changed dramatically upon a visit in LA in 1983: at a Black Flag show a couple of Metal Bands played who sounded pretty much like Garage-Metal. My eyes and ears opened wide.
When I consequently stumbled upon Metal Blades first „Metal Massacre Compilation“ and Metallica’s „Kill them all“ I recognized that the hour of THRASH was upon us – a radical new approach to metal.
Lame-ass VENOM in Europe did not convince me, but the new Trash breed from the US did.
So I dug deep in Germany’s Hinterland (back yard). SCORPIONS and ACCEPT where the only German metal acts well known, but besides them – nothing. There where no Metal Magazines at all. But the digging produced diamonds:melodic Speed Metal million seller HELLOWEEN, (who fucked themselves in the knee by selling out on album #4 named „Pink Bubbles goes Ape“ causing sales to drop by 75%), Celtic Frost, the originators of Death Metal, (who, after a US-Label-Tour, imitated US-Poser Rock to attract the girls and therewith, against my advise,also sold out on their third album „Cold Lake“ and consequently broke up), Pirate Metal band Running Wild (big sellers but despised by the press), Thrasher’s KREATOR (very street level down to earth and hard workers).
All the above first Generation Signings on my newly established label NOISE sold ultimately in excess of 250.000 and managed to make a living with music.
In the following years NOISE branched out with offices in London, NY and later LA and had tremendous success in Japan. Many bands like Stratovarius, Gamma Ray, Rage, Voi Vod, Overkill, Bathory, Tankard, Kamelot , Coroner , Virgin Steele etc. etc. helped to keep the profile of the label up.
But Success and greed go hand in hand. The saddest story of my whole career started in late 89 when during the Christmas holidays my fax machine ran amok, spewing out legal gunfire in form of termination notices targeting all my HELLOWEEN contracts. After IRON MAIDEN’s management had eliminated the bands personal manager, I was finally in the line of fire. And it got really wild in the following two years. A true Rock’n Roll story was about to start.
For us ex-Punks there is nothing surprising about misuse of corporate power. We have heard it all before. The Sex Pistols scandals, the dirty image of EMI should have warned me. But I wanted to do it my way and ignored good advise. So what happened?
Before I go into the full story I must take flak against all those „honest“ journalists. Up to today I have not made my view of this rotten story public, I was not given a chance because I was never asked to tell my version. A story with a whinig Kiske (Helloween singer) or Weikath (Helloween songwriter) is just a stronger selling point: the label or a high profile label manager has always to be the bad guy.
And isn’t to be the bad guy the perfect role for a record company boss?
I, the bad guy – my always favorite character in movies – replaced the gun with music business hired guns, the lawyers. And I fought back.
My publishing and recording contracts where all terminated by IRON MAIDEN’s lawyers. Their key argument: under-accounting of royalties – a standard means of managers to attack recording contracts. To make things worse „the good guys“ (as seen by the press) did not just count on legal strategies. Shortly after the termination notices, they signed Helloween directly to EMI-UK for the world. The irony here: I had signed the band one year prior to EMI-Germany for the world as part of a four-band-mini-label deal for a guaranteed multi million DM-Advance.The deal covered next to Helloween, Running Wild, Celtic Frost and newcomer V2. So this deal blew into my face too. The than managing director of EMI-Germany Helmut Fest brought me the bad news via phone by pronouncing himself as the devil. Cooperate gangsters joined forces with Manager Muscle Man. All of a sudden I had 16 different lawcases to deal with. But I was lucky to have a war chest, filled with the income of over a million Helloween record sales. And after a year of legal battles, it started to dawn on my opponents, that their case did not look good at all at the Berlin courts. I was winning! But it took them about 2 years to realize that they had to offer me a substantial deal. They faced defeat when the German courts decided that I had actually overpaid the band.
In the meantime the band was in crisis mode. The courts had put out injunctions against any live activities in Germany. Support of the bands illegally produced non-metal flop „Pink Bubbles Go ape“ was therewith banned. Kai Hansen, a key songwriter, left the band earlier. And the drummer committed suicide. A real Rock’n Roll tragedy unfolded born out of greed and star-obsession by a manipulative band leader.
The result: the band lost the majority of it’s fanbase and EMI dropped the band after just two album failures. Only some time later the management of IRON MAIDEN, instrumental for this desaster, also left the Helloween carcass behind. HELLOWEEN was virtually destroyed, now a shadow of it’s former glory, but it did not destroy NOISE Records
However the legal battle had a deep impact on my relation to the music industry and especially the big corporations running it. But before we deal with the consequences we need to cover our expansion into different labels and music styles, starting in the early 90s.
A good overview (incl. Cover pictures) of the first 150 NOISE (out of roughly 340) releases can be found here: http://www.thecorroseum.com/labels/noise.html
And here you find a very lively discussion about the validity of all NOISE related lists such as this one: http://www.discogs.com/label/Noise+Records
and this one: http://www.discogs.com/label/Noise+International
on THE CORROSEUM (see above link too) in English: http://www.discogs.com/help/forums/topic/373547
Another discography with ratings of each record in chronological order can be found here (but note that the records listed beginning 2001 were just re-issues of SANCTUARY Records under different catalogue numbers): http://rateyourmusic.com/label/noise_records/
For those of you interested in 80s trash (& extreme) metal here are some very comprehensive pages with lot’s of pictures and international tour activities of the most important NOISE band’s in this genre:
Coroner: http://www.metallipromo.com/co.html Celtic Frost: http://www.metallipromo.com/cf.html Voivod: http://www.metallipromo.com/vo.html See Kreator: http://www.metallipromo.com/kr.html Sabbat (Top producer Andy Sneap's band): http://www.metallipromo.com/sab.html
1991 Machinery & Dynamica Records – EBM plus Industrial
After the legal battle with Helloween’s IRON MAIDEN manager’s was won and successfully settled, we were flush with new funds. This gave Modern Music, the parent company of NOISE, the opportunity to expand label wise. Better to invest than pay high taxes was my thinking. My friendship with Jor Mulder, former lead singer of FOU GORKI – an electronic outfit from Berlin – resulted in the establishment of two non-metal labels: MACHINERY Records, an EBM leaning label, and later on DYNAMICA , committed to industrial styles. Jor Mulder was in charge of overseeing the daily business . The flag ship band on MACHINERY turned out to be AND ONE, strongly influenced by DEPECHE MODE. But Oomph!, a fast growing industrial band from Braunschweig, first released on MACHINERY and later switched to DYNAMICA, surprised us even more. Their provocative lyrics released on singles titled „Suck,Taste,Spit“ (now deleted from their official discography) and „Sex“ as well as their album „Sperm“ made them a forerunner to RAMMSTEIN and an influence. Their music was as hard hitting in these early days as RAMMSTEIN turned later out to be. But besides these two strong sellers everything put out on these two labels was way too artistic with sales flagging. The label was consequently closed by my newly appointed managing director of the Modern Music group,Antje Lange, shortly after my move to Los Angeles in August 2004.
Here you find a good overview and discography for both labels :
1992 Label Cooperations:T&T Records ( Melodic and Progressive Metal) and Hellhound Records (Stoner Rock , Doom)
T&T’s owner Axel Tubeauville was notoriously underfunded when he approached NOISE Records in 1992 for a joint venture. We liked his Artist profile with it’s leaning towards the more progressive side of bands. Stratovarious and Virgin Steele were the two bands which got our special attention. We saw real potential there. But due to his ongoing financial troubles we aquired the 100% of the label one year after we started working together. The growing international success of STRATOVARIUS (culminating into a #1 success in the finish official charts, and the forerunner of the finnish metal boom later) under our wings justified this step. However, besides VIRGIN STEELE, nothing really made an impact. The time of progressive metal had not yet come.
Here you find a full listing of all the T&T releases we did in the 90s: http://www.discogs.com/label/T%26T
Hellhound Records was a very different story alltogether. Berlin based, as was NOISE Records, we were aquainted to the owner’s Tom Reiss & Michael Böhl. They had been doing licensing deals with mostly US based Metal Underground bands of the Stoner und Doom variety since 1989 on string budgets: St. Vitus ,The Obsessed, Unorthodox and Count Raven from Sveden stuck out here. But the base of these bands was even smaller than of the T+T bands. Doom was not on the forefront in those days. Sales where generally disappointing. Retrospectively I must admit there was potential, and during my LA years, when I dug deeper into the roots of Doom I much regretted not to have supported some of the more promising bands with a longer breath like The Obssessed and Count Raven . Consequently the labels demise came in the mid nineties when new Rock styles like Grunge (Nirvana…) and Alternative (Jane’s Addiction etc.) took over and dominated the rest of the decade.
Again here you find a good overview of the Hellhound releases: http://www.discogs.com/label/Hellhound+Records
Disillusion and a radical change:
1994 – 1999 Moving to LA and opening NOISE US
After the lengthy legal battles with Helloween’s UK Managers in the early 90’s I was ready for a radical change. This came by accident after my former sales manager Antje Lange (MD of Century Media Europe these day’s) left Börje Forsberg’s BLACK MARK Productions (home of BATHORY) and was looking for new opportunities. With her appointment as Managing Director I was finally able to make my big move to L.A. After having had an office in New York for almost 5 years, between 1987 – 1992, I figured the new office should be where the Rock action is, and that has been traditionally in Los Angeles. So I arrived in California in August 1994 in a city still full of scars from the LA riots after the beating of Rodney King by a bunch of racist cops. Our first office opened right at the Sunset Strip in Hollywood in close proximity to such legendary clubs such as The Roxy, The Wiskey and the House of Blues. Whereas Metal in Europe was strictly underground and ignored by all Major Record Companies things in California where just the opposite. Metal here was mainstream and could potentially sell in the millions. A very different playground which I learned early on when I showed interest in an unknown band named SYSTEM of the DOWN. Just after the first contact and meeting
they got approached by superstar producer Rick Rubin (Metallica,Slayer,Aerosmith,Black Sabbath etc.) and numbers skyrocked and I learned a lesson. Every single band I had signed previously on NOISE Records I had signed without any competition. I was always the only one interested. This tells you what a sleepy backyard the metal scene in Europe was even until the mid nineties ! But here in America the check-book ruled as we were in the Entertainment Casino of the world were expectations for overnight success even dominated the Rock world, a disease I had before only attributed to Pop and MainStream Music.So I kept looking and finally found female fronted band MANHOLE(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpYLhLVoz9k) After national tours in support of DANZIG and TYPE o NEGATIVE a strong buzz started and Kerrang Magazine in UK picked up on it, resulting in three title pages within 18 months and two UK tours (MTV Interview:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEfgbG6oVIA). But the instable character of female lead singer Tairrie B lead to the break-up after just one record and reformation under the new name Tura Satana. Not a good scenario for success.Out of the five US signings we did, MANHOLE proved to be the most promising and the most frustrating. In general we tried to concentrate on building a market in the US for our European signings. And here we learned a really hard lesson: if you want to break big as a band you have to give the US market a priority, success does not come over there by touring a meager 30 days or 6 weeks. Touring needs a year-long commitment and huge funds to support it during a band’s build-up period. The conclusion:if you are not willing to settle over to the US, at least for an interim period, there is hardly a chance for making an impact. Due to these circumstances every US musician and every US band early on commit all their energy and time to music, rather than playing the German wait and see approach, on one side flirting with an academic career and on the other side halfheartedly
playing around in a band.(….to be continued)
2001: The Dawn of the Internet and the sale of NOISE (to be continued…)
2002 – 2005 Building a Studio in Berlin West and experiences with Gothic and German Rock
2010 Dealing with Rock & Metal in the Digital Age: The new Set-Up
After an arduous five year hiatus in real estate I was back 2010 in my professional „hobby“ – the Rock world. It was clear from this new beginning that I wouldn’t once again do classical label work, with which I had been involved for so long. I simply do not see a future for labels in the digital age. And I only can warn bands to
not fall for their crippling honey traps, which consist of a spider network of rights control and teasing promises.
The bigger labels don’t do real A+R work anymore. They expect a young band to already have created some kind of buzz with the full package at the labels exploitative disposal: Master, Coverartwork, Video, Promo Photos, all financed by the young artists themselves. Here we step in through our Publishing Company MALDOROR, in existance since 1987. We indeed do A+R work, discuss the creative concept of the band, the music, the visuals, the image. Connect the dots of identity and fan relationship building. Of music, and what defines a good song for the band’s genre.A helpful tool here is our Berlin based studio Musicflash (http://musicflash.de/) which I build in 2002. It gives us and the band’s we work with a lot of leverage to develop the songwriting, improve things, limit the time pressures, the ticking money-clock, which always governs studio recordings. In addition we have a range of 7 engineers to choose from,mostly specialised in the different rock styles which define the Rock and Metal underground these days.I had to start this studio simply Berlin always has been a big Rock wasteland. The 90s were the worst, with Berlin turning into the techno capital of the world.
But back to the Publishing. In addition to our work with bands on their concepts of identity, which is not limited to music, we try to help bands to position themselves in the music scene and the business end of it. Build up contacts to booking agency’s, labels, producers , video directors. The whole package to get a band kick-started. And we always have to make clear that overnight success is the illusion sold by massmedia and not the reality on the ground. So this is how we get involved with mostly very young bands on an early level. Of course our hope (or shall I say expectation ? ) is always to get involved deeper. But that has to evolve organically. You can’t force-feed management services on anybody. First a working relationship must be established and that, as stated before, can take up some time.
At this moment we have established management services for the following bands:
ALPHA TIGER from Saxonia with their Melodic Metal just introduced their new singer to the fan community:http://youtu.be/kidgp_E84Yw ,
HAMMERCULT from Tel Aviv and their extreme Metal fusion of Thrash/Death whose third album will be released late August 2015 by Steamhammer worldwide except for Japan, where Spiritual Beast Records is taking care of the release: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cc3UOf6Hbro
DIE VORBOTEN from Wismar with their cutting edge German language Rock who after their succesfull support of Apolcalyptische Reiter https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Le1MIrUAnAo are currently working hard to complete the preproduction for Album #3 to be recorded in fall 2015.
WUCAN with their innovative 70s heavy retro rock now signed to MIG-Music Hannover, owned by Manfred Schütz the former Boss of SPV/Steamhammer.
The publishing side through our company Maldoror Musikverlag GmbH we consider an entry level for band cooperation. We have been especially thrilled by the new rock scene evolving out of strong influences from the 70s. Our signings in sofar consist of the following bands:
WUCAN from Dresden with their Zeitgeist Hippie style around young bluesy lead singer Francis and her fascinating flute playing which the band calls Heavy Retro Rock.After the November 2014 Vinyl release on Metalizer Records and the strong Underground buzz it generated the band has currently their debut album „Sow the wind“ in the pipeline: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjkotHQmM_8 The ltd. Edition Vinyl will come out first on Sept.11th and the CD two weeks later. They are scheduled for an extensive Club Headlining tour throgout Germany in October and November.
SAMBA CEMETARY , a trio from Berlin, with their latin influenced, powerful riff oriented Stoner Rock. They just completed recording nine songs with „Godi“ Hildmann in our Musicflash studio, out of which the songs „Latin Undead“ and „Pushaway“ have been released as a digital single via Zebralution.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXGiiVSOt1I
MINERVA with their innovative Saxophone driven 70s ProgRock from Potsdam.They are currently working hard on songs for a new album currently scheduled for recordings in Nov/Dec.http://minervapotsdam.bandcamp.com/
SLOMIND from Düsseldorf who just released independently their Fuzz Rock debut „Solar Plexus“ to critical acclaim.
And finally some reading suggestions:first a relatively new article from Sept.2013 about my old and new activities in English, written by US journalist David Gehlke, who is currently working hard on the NOISE book project:
For those of you speaking German, the following two links might be of further interest. under these links you find excerpts from the book „Kreator – Violent Evolutions“ presented to you courtesy of Hilmar Bender, the author (and co-author of the upcoming NOISE book), dealing with the foundation of NOISE Records in the eighties and unwritten „metal rules“. Enjoy: http://www.musicflash.de/html/violent_evolution.html http://www.musicflash.de/html/metal_rules.html