Stories | The years that made Glitterbeat records
- by Mathieu Durand
- June 2020
Five times winner of the label of the year award at the Womex, Glitterbeat has become the reference house for hybrid folklore. Its co-founder Chris Eckman looks back on the meteoric rise of this structure based in Slovenia.
The Year when it all started
“The first records we released were in 2013. My Glitterbeat partner Peter and I already had been involved with the first two Tamikrest albums, with him as their manager and me as the producer. We licensed those records to a label that Peter owned at the time called Glitterhouse, along with a couple of other productions we had done in Mali: Lobi Traore and Ben Zabo.
The actual first Glitterbeat release we had was a 12″ where the famed Berlin DJ/electronic artist Mark Ernestus (Basic Channel, Rhyhtm & Sound) did two remixes of Ben Zabo tracks. We pressedup 500 of them and they all were shipped and sold in a couple of weeks. A pretty cool start. Needless to say not every release we ever did went so smoothly.”
The Year when things got real
“Already in 2013 things started to feel very real. Our original plan was that Glitterbeat would bequite a part-time pursuit. We would release three or four records every year and I would have plenty of time to still pursue the other things I was doing at the time – producing records and making my own albums and touring them. The third album we released was Tamikrest’s “Chatma”and it caught fire right away. Things were immediately too busy for us to handle on our own. We hiredSilvij – who is still at Glitterbeat – to help out. I was working 12-hour days just to try and keep up with things. That album went on to sell fabulously well and was really the thing that allowed us to grow as a label. Withoutthat early success the situation would have been much harder.”
The Year you felt very proud.
“Probably around 2016 or so. We started to consistently get offered really amazing projects. We had builta pretty solid reputation and we had expanded our roster to include artists from all over the world. Vietnam, Brazil, Bosnia, Mauritania and so on. When we started we had a motto which we still use: “Vibrant music fromAfrica and beyond.” The only thing was, we actually only had music from Mali on the label so far. We didn’t even have anything from other counties in Africa, let alone anything that could be called “beyond.” It took a lot of work to expand our network and to earn people’s trust. And it was around 2016 that it started to feel as if we were doing that. I remember that was the year we released an album of traditional songs from Cambodia. The record was called Khmer Rouge Survivors. Very tough, emotional stuff. One day I saw it had been reviewed very favorably in the British rock magazine UNCUT. That made me very proud. This might seem strange to someone from the outside. It is just another review. But what it signified to me was that we were helping to enlarge the musical conversation. Those sorts of records don’t usually get reviewed in that sort of magazine – sitting right next to much more famous and mainstream artists. And more and more that sort of thing started to happen with our records. It is good for music when those sorts of disruptions can happen. And that’s exactly the sort of thing we set out to do with Glitterbeat from the beginning. Not to just talk with the so called “world music” ecosystem, but slip and slide between genres and scenes and cultural expectations. Act as though all music ultimately comes from the same deep source. Because somehow it does.”
The Year you felt useful
“I think we felt reasonably useful right from the beginning. Though our intentions were probably stronger than our ability topull them off. We met Tamikrest at the famed Festival in the Desert in Mali in 2009. The festival used to happen deep in the Sahara desert – a day’s drive from Timbuktu. I was there with my band Dirtmusic, and Peter Weber, my future Glitterbeat partner was also with us. We heard these amazing sounds coming from the tent next to ours. It was a fortuitous moment. We went next doorand met the the musicians and jammed with them for the next days. It was a young version of Tamikrest. Since then we have been tied to the hip with them, as they say. We helped them record their first album and get it released. Peter in particular helped them with visas and arrangements for their first tours. We partnered with them to bring their music to stages and record stores and media in Europe, North America and Japan. It has been quite a journey. We made mistakes along the way for sure, but it does feel really satisfying to help share wonderful music, from all over the world, that might not get the same exposure otherwise.”
The Years to come
“I think survival is always our first challenge. As we all know the business is pretty brutal and certainly the current Covid situation has made things even more difficult. But we are mostly optimistic. The great indie label Subpop has long had the motto “going out of business since 1988.” I like the humor in that, and the also the spirit. It has always been a crazy, romanticproposition to run a record label. That is just woven into the fabric of it. The most important thing is to do it with credibility,and to recognize that you are there to work for your artists. They are the foundation. Also, for us anyway, we want to keep the idea of the label morphing. We are broadly committed to music that is outside of the hegemony of North American/European pop sounds. But nothing is permanently fixed. In the last year alone we released records by the Mekons, one of the first British punk bands, and by the Polish post punk/experimental rock outfit Trupa Trupa. This year we will release an album by four young women from Moscow called Lucidvox. They play shoegazey rock music that incorporates Russian folk melodies. It is loud and wildly electric. Two weeks later we will release the second album from the Pakistani singer Ustad Saami. it is sacred music. All acoustic. Recordedlive on his terrace in Karachi. We see a shared path through these different types of musics. We are excited by both extremes.”