Maybe one or the other still remembers the Frankfurt band S/T, who have released countless albums in the field of Neokrautrock, Psychedelic and Post Wave since the mid-1990s and especially in the 2000s. Unfortunately, the duo Martin Brauner (guitar, vocals) and Joachim Gaertner (keyboards) were denied the recognition and attention they deserved for their highly original do-it-yourself charm, their exuberant creativity - which not only concerns the musical side but also the artwork and packaging - and their humorous character.
After some 7" singles and music cassettes the 1995 debut album was called "The Difficult Second Album". Other works had names like "Ringing clay compost", "Sperm label 26 - 28", "V:s/t", "StadtLandWurst" (with a pig on the cover) or "Psss/t" (packed in a pillow). The back catalogue contains an estimated 25 albums, many of them in extremely limited editions. The last one is from 2009. Since then silence reigns around the band. But it is rumored that maybe/eventually/possibly soon ... wait and see.
Joachim Gaertner has been running the independent label Pure Pop For Now People for some years now, on which vinyl albums of underground bands are released from time to time. The new album "Zufällige Übertragungen" by the US band The Vocokesh has just been released. Furthermore, Joachim Gaertner proves to be a vinyl freak who writes books ("They Could Have Been Bigger Than EMI") about underground vinyl labels that no longer exist.
These books collect information on countless labels and their publications on thousands of pages in the form of a reference book. A Sisyphus work that evokes incredulous amazement, a great desire to discover, a respectful pat on the back and an incomprehensible shaking of the head at the same time. He's a freak.
Joachim Gaertner tells eclipsed about his passions and hobbyhorses, not without pointing out that he feels slightly uncomfortable talking about himself and prefers to sit at the table and work. A nerd, that is.
eclipsed: Joachim, please describe the career of the label Pure Pop For Now People.
Joachim Gaertner: The origin of my label work goes back to 1990, when I opened a record store in Frankfurt with a friend and at the same time a label of the same name. In 2001 I had thrown in the towel, very disappointed by some bands and the CD boom that made even small vinyl editions hard to sell. Then there was five years of rest in which I took more care of a book project. But as a vinyl nerd you can't really keep your hands off it, so I founded Pure Pop For Now People in 2006. With your own restriction not to make the mistakes of before.
eclipsed: Where does the name Pure Pop For Now People come from?
Gaertner: I've always been a big fan of Nick Lowe's early things. When he released his first LP "Jesus Of Cool" in 1978, people in deep-faith America and Canada probably had problems with the title. So the LP was released there under the title "Pure Pop For Now People". When I was thinking about a label name, I wanted to find something to which I had a direct connection on the one hand, and on the other hand something musical should be in the title and not end in "records". I wanted something like Sympathy For The Record Industry.
eclipsed: Do you have a certain philosophy that runs the label?
Gaertner: I think that everyone who works creatively has a philosophy to his work. But if I am asked directly, it is difficult for me to find the right words. The whole label is just a little hobby and I don't have to earn any money with it. I want what I put into it to come in, and if a few records fall off here and there for my collection, I'm happy. First and foremost I do the label because of the artwork. I earn my living in the graphic arts and spend a lot of free time designing things. Preferably record covers and posters. The music in the covers is a kind of ego-trip to present my taste to other people. This is due to the fact that hardly any release came about due to recordings played to me, but mostly I addressed bands that I liked. Since there is a great band loyalty to my hobby label, the selection of different artists is not quite so large.
eclipsed: Why do you confine yourself to vinyl?
Gaertner: That's not quite true. There are a handful of CDs and my friends at Hyperbubble in Texas are free to use my label name for their CD releases. But first and foremost, of course, it's vinyl. So far only LPs, even though I'm a big fan of singles. I myself have been collecting since the late seventies and would describe myself as an addict to vinyls. I could never get used to CDs and for graphic works the LP format is the winner anyway.
eclipsed: What are the highlights of the label for you?
Gaertner: How can you upgrade something without devaluing the other? There's no release I don't like. No record was made because of any concessions, obligations or the like. There are also no contracts that I have to comply with, which means that other labels often slip in with noise that would not have been better done. But I won't step on anyone's toes if I tell an open secret. My favorite record on the label is also the worst sold one. Nobody from my circle of friends knows why, everybody loves this record. But nevertheless the 200 pressed pieces have found only 130 fans in 10 years. Nixon & Jarvis - "Untilted" from 2007, despite a confusing band name a one-man company by Maeyc Hewitt from Wales, who plays and sings everything himself. There should have been a second LP released in 2017, which I would have done immediately without hesitation, but unfortunately Maeyc died in October 2015.
eclipsed: What are your plans for the label's future?
Gaertner: I don't have any great plans. I let everything come to me and like to surprise myself. In January 2018 a 50th edition LP of S/T will be released on the occasion of the band's 25th anniversary. This year probably an LP by F/i with very rare unreleased recordings. Since I don't want to make more than 2 records per year, there would be another one good. The LP of F/i released in January is still 2016.
eclipsed: Let's get to S/T. The band used to be an insider tip for neo-herbal rock. Are you satisfied with this drawer?
Gaertner: In principle I can live well with the word "Kraut", even if it was never really planned to make music that is called that way. Much has developed there. Even though Martin, who is a few years older than me, came to music lovers via the seventies and I via Punk and New Wave, there are many interfaces. Often it's bands that we like together, that either make Kraut or are inspired by it. Something like this naturally flows into the music, without consciously wanting to pursue an appropriate musical direction. We never sat down and said we'd do this or that, but just started somewhere and experimented. So the first single sounds e.g. psychedelic, without us having planned this concretely. Later pieces, due to their length and often long continuous minimal rhythms, were often compared to things made in the early seventies. Martin's often German vocals of course also contribute to shifting the music to a Teutonic area. But I myself believe that we are much closer to minimalist things from the New Wave era than we were in the seventies. Bands like Normil Hawaiians, Ludus, Deep Freeze Mice or Spacemen 3 certainly influenced us as much as Can, Cluster or Faust.
eclipsed: Why did S/T suddenly stop?
Gaertner: Officially, S/T does not end there. Let's say it's a very long winter break and we don't know yet when spring is coming. Actually we only planned a small creative break after we gave the best concert near Hamburg in June 2009 for some people who know us for a long time. Even though Martin kept asking me if we would continue, I wanted to take care of labels and books during the last years. But it is rumoured that the first sunbeams of spring are already blinking through.
eclipsed: With S/T, a good portion of absurd humor resonates. Was that important to you? Are you guys that weird?
Gaertner: I don't think we're very weird, but we do have a certain sense of humour. Many things certainly result from the fact that we don't take ourselves and our music too seriously. It should be creative, be fun and set its own scent brand. We are far from putting any philosophies or interpretations into our thing that we cannot keep. I think many musicians with their huge worldviews and what they reflect in their art are crackpots. Then I'd rather be a little weird.
eclipsed: The artwork for the S/T albums is legendary. How did you come up with that? Did you make all this yourself?
Gaertner: Both Martin and I are professionally anchored in the graphic arts industry. It is of course a matter of honour to approach the packaging with just as much love as the contents. It is simply fun to try to visualize your music with different materials. As passionate music collectors, we know how much more valuable an item can be if the packaging is different from the average. Since we are not completely unskilled in our craftsmanship, we were able to implement many things that are not feasible by machine or would be far too expensive. Since we always had small, hand-made editions in mind from the very beginning, the effort involved in the implementation is also kept within limits. Roughly speaking, each of us is responsible for about half of the artwork. My favorite artwork is from Martin. It is about "Kilon Bauno" from 1994. Musically it is about the boss of the bikini atoll population at the time of the nuclear tests on the bikini atoll at the end of the 40s. The single was pressed on light blue vinyl and on one side rises a 3-D island with trees and small huts. So a small island surrounded by light blue water. For me a conceptional and optical direct implementation of the musical contents. Of course only one-sided playable. 15 years later there was also a homage of another German label with a one-sided 12", whose label is a small moon landscape with astronauts.
eclipsed: Martin made solo albums as "Allen Smithee". You as Jo The Gardener. How did this happen?
Gaertner: Martin is the bigger musician of us and likes to tinker with songs and sounds. He's also the only one of us who can write lyrics and sing. In the course of time he has released some beautifully presented solo CDs on which he plays all instruments himself. Great material, very own. You can also get a great overview of the Bandcamp page. The little bit of material that was released under my name is more the result of mixing and mastering work, not real compositions.
eclipsed: Do you still make music yourself?
Gaertner: Since 2009 I have taken care of other things like labels and books, so my own music fell by the wayside. Although my fingers itch again and again, I am shocked to find that my day has only 24 hours. Something will still happen, but probably not live anymore, even if we owe our fans a "real" last farewell concert. Maybe in a friendly record store or something similar. But that is far from concrete planning.
eclipsed: To your books about former Vinyl-Underground-Independent-Labels: When you see this meticulous work, you have to think: "This guy is crazy". It's not quite normal, is it?
Gaertner: I think I'm pretty normal myself, but everyone thinks that about themselves. During the more than 15 years I've been working on this project, I've heard a lot of comments between respect and incomprehension. There aren't that many people who had the books in their hands. But real vinyl nerds who are interested in labels know about my work and understand how to deal with the information. Others see only lists with data, which one finds nevertheless also in the net. A fatal mistake.
eclipsed: How long did you sit on it?
Gaertner: It started about 2002, but with many private records that I had collected in the nineties. Since then I've been sitting on it almost every day working through collections, magazines, inserts and of course the internet. I also put a lot of work into cover illustrations, although I would like to point out that none of the thousands of covers I have prepared come from the Internet. About 95% of the plates were on my scanner, the rest was scanned by friends and sent to me. Meanwhile there are three editions, the last edition has two volumes (one European, one overseas) with more than 1,300 pages. At the moment I'm only looking after UK and Ireland, there will be a band of their own next. Probably just this one with over 700 pages.
eclipsed: Where can you find all this information?
Gaertner: If the blasphemers, who say that everything can be found on the net, were right, I would have no gaps in my work. The internet has been filled with databases like Discogs, 45cat or RYM, but there is still not much to be found. Especially if you look for labels according to catalogue numbers, you notice where the weaknesses are. Often one does not know whether missing numbers are occupied at all or what was perhaps planned. Such information can often only be gathered through magazines, inserts or collector's knowledge. The sources of error, e.g. in discogs, are much too large to accept data without questioning. That's why I'm more careful or avoid it altogether. A lot of information came about because I evaluated different sources against each other. The most beautiful sources are still old fanzines or record inserts.
eclipsed: Was that great explorer fun for you?
Gaertner: It's still a lot of fun. Almost every day I discover something interesting, but there is no chance to consume everything you encounter in time alone. I have a big penchant for micro-labels, where some fan has put his small pocket money into some of his friends' records. Then there are often tons of small notes in the plates and it can open up again a new world, which one still has to discover. Admittedly, really big surprises on unknown labels are becoming increasingly rare for me, but I'm always happy to close a small order number gap, even if it's just a never released tape.
eclipsed: How do the books sell? Who buys the books?
Gaertner: Of course it's all nerd literature, the numbers aren't quite so high. It's all right within the bounds to be called a hobby. Since I unfortunately get very little feedback, it is difficult to define the actual circle of interested parties. Some of it goes to libraries, as you can see from the address. Most of them are probably people like me who love vinyl, are looking for information and maybe are a little crazy.
*Interview: Bernd Sievers