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Recovered: An Interview with Fractured Recordings

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Dusted’s Brad LaBonte interviews Fractured Recordings’ Kamal Ackerie about his 10 7" boxset, Recovery.

Recovered: An Interview with Fractured Recordings

Upon hearing the concept behind and the artists involved with the Recovery box set, my curiosity instantly piqued. Released by the Fractured label last fall, the Recovery box consists of 10 7” singles of electronic music artists covering songs near and dear to them. Lest that sound relatively straightforward, here are a few of the artists, matched up with the artist they chose to cover: Mika Vainio and Kate Bush; Christian Fennesz and A-ha; Ryoji Ikeda and AC/DC; BJ Nilsen and OMD; Alva Noto and Afrika Bambaataa. It’s a project by and for those who embrace the extremes of pop and experimental music and can’t help but try to find the common ground between them. I exchanged e-mails with Kamal Ackerie, the sole man behind the Fractured label and Recovery‘s organizing force, about the logistics and theory behind the project.

Dusted: Did you have any prior experience, either making music or on the business end, before launching Fractured?

Ackerie: I had absolutely no experience whatsoever. I came at Recovery as a total and complete amateur. I don’t make music, and despite being beaten over the knuckles by nuns at school, I am not a very good piano player. My day job is that of a technical director. I tour a lot of diverse work within performance and music, so there I got to meet a lot of the artists and also their label management. Mike Harding at Touch became a close friend and guided me through the production process.

Dusted: When did the idea for Recovery take hold? Had there been any prior projects or compilations that inspired you or served as blueprints?

Ackerie: Recovery took hold in a moment of great disbelief. I was touring with Christian Fennesz, when he declared to me that A-ha were his favorite band of all time. I was so sure he was taking the piss and needled him on the point. It became evident that this was no joke -- Christian eulogized on the production and the work overall. I began to ponder my disbelief, which in effect drew from my own preconceived notions of Christian’s work. Shortly after, whilst on a show with Ryoji Ikeda, I brought the matter up with him. Ryoji’s favorite bands were AC/DC and the Ramones. I found this incredible. The idea came to me to address this by allowing all these incredible artists to pay homage in their own style to music that had been influential to them. The starting point could not have been clearer. First, it had to be vinyl. I wanted it to be a significant release, an artifact, something you would hold in your hands, feel its weight and appreciate as an art work as much as a musical release. Blast First (under Paul Smith’s direction) put out The Devil’s Jukebox box set in what must have been 1992 (Ed. Note: 1989). I am in awe of it and it takes pride of place on my shelves. A box set of 10 7”singles – I wanted to pick up where it had left off. Recovery is my tribute to The Devil’s Jukebox.

Dusted: What was the rationale for using the 7" format and having the box set, rather than just putting out a less-expensive CD or LP compilation, or a series of separate 7" releases?

Ackerie: Pure fetishism! Because there is nothing like the feeling of handling vinyl. No other format allows for design to be so playfully implemented. The sound is superior and has a warmth that I adore. All of the work covered was originally released on vinyl. All I have seen recently in London is record shops closing down. So many have gone over the past 18 months. I wanted to redress this and pay tribute to a format that I love. Yes, CD and LP comps would have been a hell of a lot cheaper, but that was not the point. Recovery had to be special for me. I wanted to produce something I could be proud of. I also wanted it to be unique. I had no interest in being a record label; Fractured was set up purely in order to release Recovery.

Dusted: Speaking of the 7" format, how did you select the pairs for each record? Mika Vainio with Ryoji Ikeda on the flipside is pretty inspired.

Ackerie: Ha ha! God, I spent so much time worrying about how to pair the artists. I did not want to have it be balanced, evident, proscribed or obvious. I spent weeks trying to sort out the way the double A-sides would run. Finally, I gave them numbers 1 through 20. I got Benny Nilsen (BJ Nilsen) on iChat and asked him to randomly call out numbers from 1 to 20. That’s how we did it, his first and second numbers became record No. 1, and so forth. It was a huge relief having no responsibility here, as I was determined not to curate the project. Coupling artists would have given in to my own preconceived notions as to where they belonged – which is not in line with the project. Funny enough, the first number Benny picked was his own track.

Dusted: The artists in Recovery all heavily toe the line between experimental and accessible. Would you say that this is the common thread uniting the project? Were you reluctant to reach out to someone like, say, Villalobos, who has a highly individual style, but mostly adheres to genre conventions?

Ackerie: Yes and no. The line up is really my fantasy football (Ed. Note: soccer) team. These are the people I listen to. I wasn’t too concerned if an artist was or was not appropriate to the project, as I knew that the combined contributions of the artists would create the project. I did not wish to influence its structure beyond making the suggestion to cover a track. I drew up a list of about 30 and bought it down to 20. Villalobos would be an interesting prospect, as would Ritchie Hawtin, Alan Vega, Hot Chip or Merzbow. The list could be endless. In the end, I only had 20 slots. I wanted there to be some coherence to the line up, only as it would have made a discordant artist stand out too much and perhaps not be so comfortable. Gee, now that I think about it - I really should have approached Kiss.

Dusted: Were you surprised by any of the artists’ cover selections?

Ackerie: Yes, and thrilled, too. I was mostly surprised when they all agreed to do the project. I discovered that as artists they were so happy to get involved and behind the idea and have fun with it. Each time an email came through with their suggested tracks, I usually squealed with laughter. Ikeda – “Back in Black,” JG Thirlwell doing (The Normal’s) “Warm Leatherette,” Mika Vainio covering Kate Bush. It was all so seemingly unbelievable. But then the work started coming through and it all made such sense. I have to add here that all the artists contributed to the project free of charge! Such was their belief and faith in the project. Without that I would not have been able to release Recovery which cost me alone 20,000 (I remortgaged my flat). When the artists sent through their masters, I was so shocked at the work they had done, the production, the depth. It was then that I knew I had to repay them by producing a box of exceptional standard. At every stage of production I went for the most expensive option – quality was my way of repaying the artists.

Dusted: What do you want people to take away from Recovery? What is the message? I’d say it’s two-fold: roughly, that pop music should be more exploratory and experimental/electronic music should lighten up a bit.

Ackerie: The message, gee, I am a bit anti “message.” I would say, yeah, definitely lighten up, throw away your anorak, stop nodding in time to the beat! Seriously, I have been seeing a lot of romanticism toward the 1980s. A lot of stuff I’m hearing is derivative and not inspiring. Fashion and music are dredging up the ‘80s (Jesus, Spandau Ballet just reformed – who is responsible for this?!?!). I wanted the project to address appropriation and tribute with integrity and respect! And, let’s face it, most of the artists were there the first time around!

Dusted: Do you see pop or electronic music following any of the paths that Recovery lays out, be they artists returning to their roots and original inspirations, embracing contradictory impulses, or opening themselves up to new sounds and approaches?

Ackerie: I think this is really a question you have to put to the artists. A lot of the artists -- no, all of the artists -- are involved in the integrity of their music. The questions it raises for them and their ways of dealing with it is their craft, and is essentially what allows them to define themselves as artists. Recovery, I think, allowed them all to take a break from producing work for their own releases and be playful and enjoy the process of making a bespoke track. Ikeda put this to me plainly – “For an artist, this project is fun.”

Dusted: Are there any future Fractured releases in the works? Would you consider more standard releases, or would you like the label to focus on conceptualized art projects like Recovery?

Ackerie: I didn’t set out to produce anything beyond Recovery. But because I enjoyed the production process so much, yes, it will continue. Fractured will continue to release limited edition projects, always on vinyl, and also hopefully continuing to provide a point of intersection for sound and visual artists (Recovery was designed by British artist Graham Dolphin). Fractured is funded completely from my pocket and all profits go back to the artists. So I need to work slowly. However, I have a pretty wild idea for the next release, actually the next three releases. I’m working with some major visual artists collaborating with sound artists. I just need to not go out drinking for the next year and save up.

By Brad LaBonte

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