I was intrigued when No Type first emerged from a long slumber last year. Label boss David Turgeon’s approach feels familiar in some ways but very much in its own space. The label covers a lot of sonic terrains while managing to feel cohesive in surprising and exciting ways, and the music landscape is richer with Turgeon and the label active again. Further, he’s developed a digital platform that offers ideas for a road forward as further consolidation from the likes of Bandcamp occurs. Check it all out HERE.
So I always start interviews by going back because I love hearing how artists and musicians first feel a connection or call, and even though we’ll be focusing on the label side of things with this, I want to put the same question to you. What are some of your earliest music-related memories or experiences stuck with you through the years?
Some of my earliest experiences are of popular music played through my parents’ car stereo, usually on vacation. Tapes from the Beatles and popular Québécois singers such as Diane Tell or Fabienne Thibeault. One of my dad’s various jobs before becoming a computer analyst was as a DJ, mostly for weddings, but he kind of abandoned that path once my parents had children. For a long time, there was this huge reel-to-reel tape recorder in our living room, which was almost never used, & it had a very mysterious aura. My younger brother was much more of a music fan than I was. He used to record the year-end radio hit parade on cassette tape, after which I would design the cover artwork. I still have one of those mixtapes from 1988. I was late getting into music as an active listener, i.e., not just someone listening to whatever’s on the radio. The first tape I bought myself was probably “The Seeds of Love” by Tears For Fears.
Did you always want to be a musician?
I was into a lot of art-related things. Comics, writing, theatre. I was in the school choir for a long time, & as the only boy able to sing soprano (which I’m no longer, sadly), I was often asked to solo. My best friend at the time became a huge heavy metal fan (he had Iron Maiden posters on every wall of his bedroom, which seemed near unthinkable to me). Soon enough, he had his own band, & I was following along to the practice space, sort of wanting to join in, but I had never learned any instrument, & my voice was absolutely not suited to the kind of grunge-metal they were playing.
It was only after high school that I met Frédérick Blouin (later to become Oeuf Korreckt), who was making electronic music on tracker software. It’s thanks to him that I found I only needed a home computer to make music. We had a short-lived band where we’d mix grunge guitars with electronics & overly angsty lyrics (it’s unlistenable). He also introduced me to IDM (Aphex Twin, Orbital, etc.), thus helping me outgrow my grunge period.
So, what made you want to start a label?
Once I started fiddling with music software & eventually became happy enough with the music I made, I started wondering what to do with it. I had a lot of friends experimenting with music as well. Three friends had a radio show in Québec City on Sunday nights called “Napalm Jazz,” where they would play free jazz, hip-hop & everything in between. Without telling anyone about it, the guys turned the show into a weekly improv session, which they would often record to tape (the results of that became the “Free transgénique” album). I also had a long-distance band called Asyncdrone with Kaia Wong, who was living in Philadelphia at the time. I had met her through an electronic zine we were both writing for. She is a great singer & violin player, & was playing in many bands, most notably Mixel Pixel. There was a very surprising chemistry happening when we jammed together, even though I really couldn’t play anything. It’s just that she was so good she could follow (even anticipate) every one of my moves on noise guitar, no matter how nonsensical, as you may hear on the first two Asyncdrone albums (the later ones are very different).
So I had this bunch of demos from Napalm Jazz, Oeuf Korreckt, as well as my own projects, Period Three and Asyncdrone. Common wisdom at the time would have meant: Let’s record them on tape or CD-R! But that would have meant investing money & I was a broke college dropout. Then I happened to hear about MP3s & I figured that the cheapest way to release our music was to simply put it out for free on the Internet. The “trick” was to design those releases like regular albums, with elaborate HTML “cover art.”
I had the name No Type in mind for a while. First, it was going to be the name of a deconstructed design magazine (I was heavily into David Carson’s design work for Raygun), but that was mostly a pipe dream. Then I thought to use the name as a guise for a web design company. I thought it would be a funny name because, at the time, web design studios always released free fonts for publicity, whereas we wouldn’t (“no type”). I ended up purchasing the notype.com domain & then the label idea came up, & the name fit.
I was in Québec City at the time, but I moved in Montréal a few months later, and I still live there.
So No Type started in 1998 – a very different time (massive understatement, obviously – ha), but this seems super early in the realm of ‘net labels’ to me. I had a website in 96 or so for my first label, but in that period, digital music distribution wasn’t even something I could imagine (granted, I was 16 or 17 and lived in a place that is routinely a decade behind the curve, but still). How did you first get the idea for distributing music this way, and what made you want to use this approach for No Type?
When we launched the label in October 1998, I believed we were the first in the world to ever think of this. I found out pretty quickly that we weren’t. Monotonik & Thinner, for instance, had launched a few months earlier. But we were definitely among the very first batch of historical netlabels.
The idea wasn’t entirely novel, though, because as early as the late 1980s, you had people using music tracker software to make electronic music, usually on Amiga or DOS. With this software, you created “modules” (or MODs for short) that could be easily distributed on hacker-adjacent BBSes & on the early web. These files were like a complex set of piano roll instructions that required proper software for playback, but still, they were significantly smaller than any corresponding WAV files. So historically, underground tracker groups are the precursor to netlabels. Being into BBSes, I was well aware of this scene, not to mention that Frédérick Blouin used this kind of software extensively for his own music. The songs featured on Oeuf Korreckt’s “Podweek” (which we’re reissuing in a few weeks) were all made using a music tracker between 1995 & 2001.
So basically, when MP3s came along, the thought of sharing your own music on the low-bandwidth web of the time became a real possibility. All you needed was a web server, which a friend of a friend graciously provided to us in the beginning in exchange for a few pixels of publicity. Once you had that, it didn’t really matter that we wouldn’t make money because we wouldn’t lose any either. The main point is that the music was around.
What were the biggest challenges you dealt with in those days?
The web was just not as reliable as it is nowadays! Server crashes lasting months, dead links, etc. Other than that, there weren’t that many actual challenges. Promoting the music was possibly easier then because there was a novelty aspect to what we were doing (“Breaking: MP3 can be used for something other than piracy!”). We had some pretty extensive profiles in the local press, & magazines such as Spin or The Wire mentioned us as an interesting music website to visit. There was a real appeal, which, paradoxically, we couldn’t really measure because web analytics software was extremely rudimentary back then. But some of our releases had download counts in the 5 digits, & our MP3s ended up being traded on the same channels as pirated music, which is funny in itself.
In No Type’s first run, which lasted over a decade, what were some of the most memorable stories or some of your favorite experiences?
The first surprise was that we wouldn’t remain a “local” label for long because a bunch of young musicians quickly found out about us & started submitting demos, & impressive ones at that. You had these guys doing IDM, drum ‘n’ bass, or experimental ambient. Early projects from Eryk Salvaggio (now of The Organizing Committee) or Todd Drootin (now Boo Hiss). The first Kevin Krebs (833-45) release came out in 1999 on No Type. Early on, I received a CDR through the mail from this kid, Tomas Jirku, who was making some really stellar minimal house. He was soon picked up by a few bigger labels. This was the first time I realized that we could, in the very least, serve as a stepping stone for musicians who were looking to make this a career but didn’t have a scene to call home. This also led to us being featured at the Mutek festival.
What you have to keep in mind is that almost nothing about the label happened IRL. We really were an online international collective, we had our private mailing list where we would exchange songs & ideas, but we almost never met in person unless we happened to live in the same city or unless one of us was touring in someone else’s city. So it means the memorable stories about the label are mostly about these exchanges among people experimenting with music, & finding out what exciting stuff everybody was involved in.
This online aspect is also why it became honestly kind of hard to navigate the transition towards physical releases in 2002.
I have a very fond memory, however, of a mini-festival we put together at Casa del Popolo in 2002 with an incredible Books On Tape set. Just this guy playing samplers with the energy of a guitar & drums three-piece. Later on, we released his “Plays the Blues” CD, which, in my mind, is a pure classic of leftfield IDM (for lack of a better genre to call it).
Something I’ve always appreciated about No Type is that you release a broad swathe of styles and genres (I always figured that was part of the reason it was called No Type, actually). What has been your approach as far as deciding what you want to release?
First I need to like the music, of course. But what I found out pretty quickly is that I need to have a good relationship with the person behind the music. This doesn’t mean becoming close friends, just feeling you’re on the same wavelength in some way. I’m interested in artists who like to try things, & don’t mind failing at it. I guess I’m looking for a sort of commitment that isn’t directed towards a career but rather towards your own art. I enjoy classicists who aim to be classicists. I love experimenters who make a point of being all over the place. I’m a fan of people who don’t seem to know what they’re doing but go at it blindly anyway.
There’s also been a principle from the beginning that once you’re on the No Type roster, I will trust your instincts more than mine. This means that I won’t mind putting out stuff that I truly don’t enjoy or understand as long as I feel there is commitment. Usually, this just means that I’ll get to enjoy it later. I’ve always had a fondness for albums that take some time to get into until they become favorites. And then sometimes a release just doubles as a great practical joke. We have quite a few of those in our catalog.
One unfortunate thing I learned the hard way is that no label can truly afford to be “type-less.” There are a bunch of genres, mostly in the electronic/experimental scene, that are naturally accepted as belonging to the same “galaxy,” & that’s where we mostly reside. Once you move out of this galaxy, though (like when we tried releasing post-rock or folk), then you’re playing against type, and it’s like you have to work all over again to find an audience for it. This has been a disappointment for me because it’s the sort of gatekeeping I’ve always railed against. I mean, if I can enjoy both Napalm Jazz & The Eastern Stars, then why shouldn’t everybody else? Oh well!
After a bit of a hiatus, you returned to it last year. Why now?
Basically, in early January 2021, I found myself with some free time, and the site framework hadn’t been updated in over ten years, so I took it upon myself to rebuild everything from scratch. I ended up contacting all of the artists who released with us over the years (those whose email addresses I still had anyway) & to my surprise, many of them were still actively making music or hoping to get back to it. It wasn’t long before some submitted some new recordings, & I couldn’t really resist releasing them, either digitally or physically. The fact that it’s so easy nowadays to release small runs of CDs or cassettes was another factor.
In addition to the label, you have this fantastic digital platform you’ve developed. Can you tell me a little more about it and how it works?
That was an old project that the site rehaul allowed me to do. Our music files, until recently, were hosted for free on the Internet Archive, which is a great service. But then, at some point, there was a bit of a scare that it might close because some big publishers were suing them or threatening to do so. This made me realize that we might not be able to count on this service forever. Moving to Bandcamp would have raised the same questions: What if they close? What if they change their conditions?
What I realized, really, was that No Type had become its own archive. If we close down, our whole catalog disappears. So I had to take some precautions. It just so happened that I had worked on the front and back end of a streaming service (electrotheque.com) that specialized in electroacoustic music. So I pretty much knew how to build my own platform, which would no longer depend on any outside third party, however well-intentioned.
Another thing I wanted was to give our affiliated labels some freedom, most importantly Panospria, which has a very solid catalog dating from 2004. Previously, whenever Constantine Katsiris (Panospria label head) wanted to release a new album, he had to send me the release details, which I would input manually into the site database. With the new site, he can do this instantly by himself through the web interface, which is pretty much the way Bandcamp works.
Lastly, I wanted to introduce a sliding-scale payment scheme, which is another thing we borrowed from Bandcamp, obviously (though the original idea originated with Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” release).
With the Bandcamp buyout happening earlier this year and labels looking for other potential options, how can No Type help be a solution? I know it’s something I’ve been interested in but never had enough time to pursue, but it seems like such an attractive alternative.
We’re definitely open to new partnerships with netlabels. The new platform was built with this in mind. Partnerships don’t have to be exclusive either (our own releases are also on Bandcamp, for instance).
The way I see the platform currently is as a proof of concept. When you survey the current options for digital music distribution (Bandcamp, Spotify, etc.), one thing you notice is that they all appear inevitable. We get the feeling that one has to be there to exist as an artist. That certainly wasn’t the case in 1998, when digital music distribution was infinitely more complicated. I don’t see why this should be the case in 2022 when it’s paradoxically easier to build your own site & media server. Essentially I’m trying to fight the mindset that the web is basically three websites. It’s an uphill battle.
What I’m saying is that, yes, No Type, as a platform, can be an alternative to Bandcamp. It could become any label’s first, second, or third home. But it can also be an example to be emulated elsewhere, showing a way to achieve independence on the web in the 2020s. How to build new online communities outside of the mainstream. I’m not a fan of Epic for various reasons (the fact that it makes its money hiring psychologists to find out the most efficient ways to hook young kids’ brains on Fortnite being the main one), but I don’t want Bandcamp to go. It’s the best thing we’ve got right now. But we can’t afford to take its future existence for granted. If Bandcamp goes, what remains? We have to start thinking about this.
This is a question I ask myself almost every day lately, but with all the obstacles (seemingly greater every week) and challenges with playing, releasing, recording, etc., music that’s in the margins, what keeps you pushing ahead?
At this point in my life, I decided to ignore the fact that it’s always going to be hard. I’m just blessed that a few extremely talented artists are counting on me to release their music. I’m trying to help them as well as I can.0
What do you see happening in digital music, especially outside mainstream concerns, in the coming years? What possibilities are you most excited about, and what worries you the most?
Sometimes I think of punk in the 1980s. The majors at that point had made themselves inevitable, just like the digital platforms today. Yet you had this bunch of musicians & punk music enthusiasts who collectively decided they didn’t need the majors. They could build their own network of labels, distributors, record stores, zines, venues, etc. This made for a working ecosystem. Not perfect, not always fair, but certainly better than the alternative. I feel like we’re currently on the cusp of having to do this all over again, but with digital music. Stop waiting for Spotify to pay a decent wage. Just ditch it. Learn PHP. Make your own streaming server. Do this with a few like-minded labels if you need to, but stop relying on the big platforms. Create new communities. Start a zine. That, to me, is what independence should mean in music today. I’ve said it before, but I don’t understand why, say, a big indie like the Beggars Group isn’t launching their own Criterion Channel for fair music streaming. If they did, I would be tempted to subscribe, whereas there’s no way Spotify will ever get a cent from me.
Lastly, what’s coming up next and into next year for No Type?
When this year started, I was looking at a pretty slow release schedule for 2022 (which is fine because I already have like four other jobs). But then I wanted to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Oeuf Korreckt’s Podweek, which was first released on CD in 2002. Frédérick Blouin salvaged his original tracker files & we asked Angel Marcloid to remaster them. It’s pretty fabulous & also completely anachronistic, but anyway, that’s who we are. This will come out on cassette in November 2022.
On top of that, we have two new releases, also on cassette, coming out at the end of October. First is Eryk Salvaggio’s “Worlding,” a pretty incredible recording of modular sound experiments with mushrooms. It has the one quality I search for in ambient/microsound music: unpredictability. It’s also downright gorgeous. Salvaggio is a top-flight artist & a truly kind human. It’s really a wonder to be working with someone who’s been associated with the label for over twenty years, & who’s still looking into new musical avenues.
Our other October release is from a band dear to my heart, Montréal’s La Fièvre. Their latest project is a concept EP called Tu ne les as jamais entendus crier, Mais ils crient, which means “You have never heard them scream, yet they scream.” This album is both inside & outside of my comfort zone because it’s focused on a horror movie narrative, & I’m absolutely not a horror fan. But at the same time, it’s this extremely solid forward-thinking pop music in French, which is a miracle in itself. This band is doing great locally & I just hope it will catch some random ears around the world as well, even past the language barrier.
Early in 2023, we’re looking at a new CD from The Organizing Committee (Salvaggio’s other project) called “Communication in the Presence of Noise,” a fantastic plate of robotic kraut-pop that’s more subtle & catchy than he’s ever been. And as an aside, I also have another cassette reissue lined up of my own Féministe EP (released under the name Camp in 2001), which has been remastered by Stephan Mathieu.
There are a few other things on the radar as well, but mostly I’m keeping my ears open and operating without too much of a schedule.