Interview: Debemur Morti Productions
I think the way to stay afloat is to remain true to yourself and be honest and professional with the people you work with / sell to. Not serious about your craft? Then do something else.
For anyone who’s ever dabbled in metal’s strange outer realms, the name Debemur Morti Productions will be a familiar one. Home to heavyweights (Blut Aus Nord, Ulcerate), trailblazers (…In The Woods, Manes), rising stars (Aara, White Ward) and iconoclasts (everyone they have ever worked with), the French label has been a consistent source of intelligent, spiritual and though-provoking dark music for the past 20 years. To celebrate this milestone in their existence, David Bowes caught up with label founder Phil to discuss some of the highs and lows of their existence and the what the future holds in store.
E&D: Thanks so much for giving me your time and for delivering so much great music over the years. I think I discovered your label through covering the 777 releases for Rock-A-Rolla Magazine so I haven’t been around since the beginning, just for a long time. What a time though!
Phil: My pleasure. It’s been a “long” time indeed but in retrospect it went by so fast, it’s crazy!
E&D: Why did you choose to start the label and what are your memories of those early days? Did you always have an idea of the kind of music that you were going to release?
Phil: It was a mix of several factors that ignited the idea. First and foremost, I’m a music addict. As far as I remember, music has accompanied me. Be it as an emotional support, an inspiration, a means to cope with hardships and life in general. There is music out there that, depending on my state of mind, can lift me up or drag me down. Put a smile on my face or tears in my eyes. Music is everything to me. I couldn’t see life without it and of course getting involved was kind of a natural path. I also used to play in bands and had short but shitty experiences of labels. As a fan, I’m also someone who buys and experiences the difficulties of receiving mediocre services.
As a metalhead I never questioned which kind of music I was going to release, it was crystal clear. When it all started I was deep into the underground black metal scene, it was (and still is) the art I cherish the most.
E&D: What have been the biggest changes in the industry that you have noticed over the past 20 years and how have you had to adapt?
Phil: When I started 20 years ago, vinyl was not a “trend” and social media wasn’t as “important” as nowadays. Music was also less “accessible” online (Bandcamp and Soundcloud were created in 2007 I believe). We had no e-shop (just a list of available stuff on a website). There was a time where we had to throw away records because we had over-pressed. Fast forward to recent years and vinyl demand was so high that manufacturing delays went up to several months and manufacturing costs increased quite a lot. Throughout the years we adapted without compromising ourselves. We use the tools available and make them fit us. We have also improved and learned from past mistakes/experiences in order to keep offering our bands and people who support us with the best service. Challenges are part of the life cycle so I guess we’ll face many more. This year, in particular, is quite odd so far. Let’s see what comes ahead. Two of our biggest challenges right now are the lack of storage space due to our catalogue of releases being much bigger than it was (and the need to keep titles available vs selling out of everything) as well as the ever-increasing shipping costs which tend to throw people off from ordering online.
E&D: I feel like there’s a common ground with most of the artists on Debemur Morti. They’re the bands who exist on the fringes, the ones who are willing to completely subvert ideas of what their music ‘should’ sound like. Do you seek out people with this mindset, or do they look for you now?
Phil: You’re right indeed. It’s not something I’ve forced to happen but more related to my personal tastes. Debemur Morti Productions, in the end, is but the reflection of my own personal taste in Metal and music in general. And it’s got “worse” with the years. As much as I love some “straight-forward” classics, I have a particular love for one-of-a-kind music, albums with a special aura/atmosphere will have a more heavy impact on me.
Sometimes I seek them out, others get recommended to me by friends and sometimes they look for us, it really depends. One thing I’ve noticed is that as the years pass, having heard so many now, I find it more difficult to appreciate the majority of the black metal albums that are submitted to us.
E&D: One of the first things I noticed when I started collecting your records was the quality of the art and materials used. Since then you’ve begun to release things like screenprinted / artist editions, as well as items like the recent Bacchus box. Do you think that the quality of your physical releases has played a part in your longevity? As an aside, do you think that limited ‘deluxe’ versions are the future for labels trying to stay afloat?
Phil: It’s part of the DNA of the label because it’s the way I like things to be. Even before I started Debemur Morti Productions, I always loved quality releases so when I launched the label, it was clear to me that I wouldn’t go for the standard stuff. It’s a way to show respect to the band that worked hard creating their music. It’s also a way to be grateful for the people who support us/our bands by buying the physical releases. I’m most pleased when a band writes back to say they are truly proud of the final result. Same with customers being happy to own these albums and feel we have put in the work to get a proper result worth their money.
It’s hard to answer the question regarding our longevity. Would Debemur Morti Productions have gone belly up without those? I don’t know. I hope not! But one thing I know is that we love doing these and will keep doing so as long as we can. I think the way to stay afloat is to remain true to yourself and be honest and professional with the people you work with / sell to. Not serious about your craft? Then do something else.
E&D: Given the fact that your artists are so willing to experiment, how much input do you have over the musical and artistic direction of your releases? Do you ever have to step in to change something that you feel might not be well received?
Phil: Musically speaking I’ll keep my “veto” on releasing anything I wouldn’t fully like but I don’t step in except giving some advice here and there if I get any advance material. Our bands have 100% creative freedom. I’m more involved in the layout/packaging part as well as the creative side of things for exclusive Debemur Morti Productions variants, vinyl effects/colours etc.
When it comes to musical direction, I’m 1000% involved in the project I created with my friend Nico. The band is called Ershetu and we shall release our debut this year if all goes well.
E&D: I’ve always appreciated your Debemur Morti EPs. After Blut Aus Nord and White Ward, do you have anyone in mind for the next instalment?
Phil: Good question!! We had something in mind for our 20 year anniversary, a collaboration between 3 artists of the label but I’m unsure this will happen at this stage so I prefer to remain vague on this. I hope it will happen and I hope it turns out being the third Debemur Morti release.
E&D: A few years ago, you began the Order of Outer Sounds as an artistic community that seems to operate both alongside and outside of the label itself. What prompted the creation of this and what are the plans for the future with Order of Outer Sounds?
Phil: The idea came via one of many talks I have with Vindsval (Blut Aus Nord). We wanted to try to experiment by launching a different kind of artistic project with a small group of like-minded Art lovers. We wanted to offer them some exclusive content, a platform to share about art in general and see where it would lead us. It lasted 2 years and it was a nice experience to be honest! I believe most people loved it. Not only the exclusive music / editions that they got access to, but the whole community. People shared their projects and what not. It was a great opportunity to discover new art (in general, not music only) and discuss about it.
It was also a lot of work for me ‘cause such a community only survives when there is “action” and when someone is bringing things up. We decided to put it to rest after 2 years for different reasons but it was really a great experience which we don’t regret.
E&D: Are there any artists you wish that you could have put out a release for?
Phil: I would have loved to release Norwegian Covenant (the debut!), Limbonic Art or Summoning!
E&D: You’ve released well over 200 records over the years, which is a considerable output for this timescale. Are there any that stand out for you or that you feel represent the label’s ethos particularly well?
Phil: Let’s say that there are releases that helped us garner some more recognition and step up in terms of notoriety. But if you check among our releases, even in the back catalogue, there have been, since the early days, those “unique” bands like (V.E.G.A.) for example. Still love that sick album!!!
Albums that helped us step up are those from Horna, Arckanum and then signing Blut Aus Nord was a massive milestone for Debemur Morti Productions. Since then I can name Akhlys and Ulcerate who had a big impact. And our “baby”, so to speak, White Ward, which we released all albums for so far. I’m extremely proud and grateful to all the artists we had/have the chance to work with, known or not.
E&D: Finally, I’m just curious what your plans and hopes for the future of Debemur Morti are.
Phil: Nothing fancy here: keep releasing sick music which I love until I can’t do it anymore for one reason or another. Let’s hope we can celebrate 20 more years in 2043 indeed! And I’m also trying to put on some Debemur Morti Productions ‘live’ event, let’s see if I manage but my expectations are high for it! Time will tell.
Thank you Dave, and thank you to all the people that read this and support our bands / us one way or another.
E&D: Thanks again so much for your time, and here’s to another 20 years!