Denovali is an independent music label founded by Timo Alterauge and Thomas Hack in 2005. Not focusing on any specific genre, the Denovali roster varies from from ambient, electronica, experimental, drone to jazz, modern composition and sound art. In parallel with the label activities, Denovali also opened an online record store and launched a festival series in London and Berlin. Throughout the years they brought us fantastic artists like Bersarin Quartett, Birds of Passage, Dale Cooper Quartet And The Dictaphones, Saffronkeira, Ricardo Donoso, Petrels, Never Sol, Greg Haines, Field Rotation… and the list could go on! We had the chance to chat with Timo about all things Denovali, so read on to find out a bit more about your favourite label.
How did you first get involved with music?
I think both of us – my label partner Thomas and I – have started to listen to music very early. From the age of 14 or 15 on we’ve developed a rather detailed taste in music. Thomas comes from the electronic music scene. I’ve listened to a lot of post-punk / hardcore and also film scores back in the days. I guess the label profile exists like it is today because we both always enjoyed a lot of different types of music and both of us always were very interested in new kind of sounds or the mixture of genres. I guess that’s also the reason why it’s hard to label most of the music on Denovali.
When and how did you get the idea to give birth to Denovali Records?
We’ve started to organize a few concerts in Cologne in 2005/ 2006. After a while we thought it could also be a nice idea to release a couple of CD-rs and 7 inches. The development of a real label agenda arose a year or two later. Since we were quite young in the beginning, we firstly needed to find our way into a clear philosophy.
What is the concept of the label?
I don’t think that we follow a fixed concept. We’re not fans of stereotypes and scenes. We’re rather seeing the label as an open platform for challenging music.
How do you usually find and select the artists/music you’re going to sign to your label?
Thomas and I are constantly exchanging sound files and the artists which are still interesting after weeks / months of listening might be an option for the label. In the earlier days we have contacted the artists in most of the cases or artists and people we know have started new projects they’ve introduced us to. Today we’re receiving a lot of demos. Since we’re currently only adding two or three new artists per year to the roster we’re now able to pick releases from a wider pool of interesting musicians.
What do you find the most stimulating/disappointing thing about running a label?
Internally it’s great to work together with close friends. We’re always having a lot of fun. The artistic aspect after ten years is still very interesting and challenging – it’s also exciting to develop new ideas or concepts.
I think we needed to learn that we shouldn’t allow other people to steal our idealism. Over the years, you’re working with people who have a different approach and different goals. We needed to learn to establish a border between our philosophy and these kind of people.
Do you think that in our digital era the non-musical elements – eg. album artwork – are overlooked and not appreciated enough? How important are these kind of aesthetics for Denovali?
There are surely several approaches: People who really appreciate physical objects and who are still spending money for well packaged CDs or LPs. People who also appreciate it but don’t want to spend money for music anymore. And maybe the biggest group of people who simply don’t care about it. But those people also don’t care about the album format and they’re only streaming single tracks / chart hits. Without a judgement: I guess that’s not the group of people who ever could be interested in the music we’re releasing.
For us these kinds of aesthetics are very important. I think it’s indeed very comfortable to listen to millions of songs with a small digital player. But listening to vinyl is a process which reflects way more respect for the art. It’s beyond that not either-or for us.
Besides running the label you also organize the Denovali Festival (in Essen, Berlin and London), hosting a number of extremely successful artists, getting stronger year after year. How does organizing the festival complements the activities of the label?
We’ve started the festivals in 2007 to give our artist a platform where they could play for a wider audience – mainly because other festivals at this point were not interested in the Denovali cosmos. And it’s still quite hard to bring some of them to bigger events. Today the festivals are a nice opportunity to create conceptional evenings which are not following commercial goals. We of course also need to sell a decent amount of tickets to finance the events – but since we’ve scaled everything down to two nights festivals with each four or five acts per night in London and Berlin we can rather focus on the artistic part.
How does a ‘regular day’ look like at the Denovali office?
It depends on the day. Normally we’re all sitting in front of computers and are answering e-mails for 10 hours. Twice a week some of us are packing orders. Running a label mainly is coordination work – internal talks, bad jokes and external e-mail conversations.
Are there any artists you would secretly love to sign to Denovali?
There are a lot of good artists we like and respect – but those have a very good home at other labels we’re also fan of. It would be interesting to release something with Bohren & der Club of Gore. We’ve already talked about it years ago – so maybe it happens someday.
Do you have a personal favourite among your releases? Which one are you the most proud of?
I guess it’s like asking mom and dad which of their children they love most.
Do you remember a particularly wonderful moment in the history of the label?
It’s always fantastic if you like to start to work with an artist or if you like to book an external act for the festivals and if you’re then getting a positive feedback after a while.
What kind of advice would you give to someone who is interested in starting their own label?
I honestly wouldn’t do it anymore in 2016. It was already quite insane ten years ago. It’s super heavy to build up the structure and for years we didn’t gain any money with it. I wouldn’t recommend to have the goal to start a full time job record label. Even for a hobby label it’s quite tricky because the expenses of the production are very high and hard to cover in the first years. If you’re searching for an expensive hobby it’s of course still an option.
What are the latest news at Denovali? What should we keep our eyes and ears on?
Until the end of 2016 we will continue to release one or two new albums per month – new releases of Ricardo Donoso, Petrels, Franz Kirmann, Sankt Otten. We’re hopefully also able to announce a few interesting new artists in the course of the year. Beyond that, it would be interesting to bring the festival to a new city in 2017 or 2018.
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