Debemur Morti Productions
by Niklas Göransson
Debemur Morti is a French underground record company with an emphasis on diversity within the black arts. The label’s manager, Phil, shares his thoughts about the woes and hardships of operating within the modern metal scene.
– Back when I was still a musician, playing with bands as well as in my solo project, I had several bad experiences with unserious labels. I also heard quite a lot of negative feedback both from personal friends and on the forums I used to frequent. As a customer, I had my fair share of bad advice and vinyl deliveries in pizza boxes. For instance, I remember calling a French mail-order to ask for bands in the vein of LIMBONIC ART and getting recommended NOKTURNAL MORTUM. Besides the heavy use of synths, I never understood how anyone could reach such a conclusion except from shady hopes of selling a few more albums – at the expense of their customer’s trust.
Phil decided he could do a far better job of it himself – that underground doesn’t necessarily have to equate mediocrity – and founded Debemur Morti Productions in 2003. His first release was the vinyl version of French black metal band HAEMOTH’s debut album, “Satanik Terrorism”.
– I now know, and most likely did unconsciously back then too, that I’m dead serious and professional in my way of operating. Plus, I’m not afraid of getting through a lot of work. It’s probably partly thanks to how I was raised and in part because I, when there’s only my inner self to talk to, would never bear facing myself knowing I was a fraud. I wouldn’t be able to cope with the self-knowledge of being a thief, liar, cheater, etcetera. I strongly believe that if you don’t stand by your word, you’re first and foremost deceiving yourself. Therefore, I never make empty promises, I don’t rip people off, and try to treat my bands the way I’d like to be treated if I still had one.
Has life as a label manager turned out anything like you’d envisioned it?
– It’s hard to answer this because, back then, I had no fucking clue what a ’label manager’ was. And that’s probably the charm of the whole story: I jumped in with no plan besides serving the art and its creators as best I could. From a business perspective, I’m probably too honest to be the best out there and I never bothered playing the game of becoming friendly with all the key scene people. However, from an artistic perspective I lack no sincerity, passion, or devotion. This is also why I kept a ’bread job’ all along this journey; sacrificing integrity for the sake of paying my bills? No thanks. I pride myself on exclusively releasing bands I support to one hundred percent. Of course, my tastes and interests are constantly evolving so the acts I currently work with reflect my development somehow.
I must say, running a professional label the size of Debemur Morti on the side of full-time employment sounds like quite the challenge – especially if one hopes to entertain any kind of social life.
– Just like Frodo couldn’t bring the ring to Mordor alone, running DMP as a side project wouldn’t have been possible without a lot of help. I never had tonnes of strong friendships, but the few I do have I’ve always been able to count on for help whenever it was needed. Some readers might remember how, at one point, parcels ordered from our shop would be dispatched from Finland. The entire stock had been shipped over there to be handled by a friend of mine. Furthermore, as I said earlier, I was never afraid of getting through shitloads of work. There have been long stretches where I’ve gone to my job during the day and returned to pack orders, answer emails, and run the label throughout the evening and night; then wake up early to ship everything by post before heading back to the office. Sleep was clearly at the minimum around that time. Not the best idea, health-wise, but it had to be done! For as long as I can remember, I’ve always dared to try new things – new ways of working and thinking instead of just sitting on my knowledge, so this mindset certainly contributed to moving forward with the label.
Phil adds that he places heavy emphasis on visuals and design – that Debemur Morti has, from the very beginning, sought to be associated with stellar packaging.
– Some believe the physical representation to be useless, that only the music and lyrics matter, but I strongly disagree. Humans are sensitive to different kinds of stimuli; visuals, scents, sound, touch, etcetera. I’m all for what can extend and enhance the audio experience. Spinning your CD or LP whilst staring at each booklet page, reading the lyrics, and contemplating the artwork can change the entire experience. Also, Vindsval from BLUT AUS NORD keeps telling me how inspiring it is to look at pieces of art – paintings, illustrations, photography – when he’s composing music, and I can only agree.
Speaking of BLUT AUS NORD, back in September 2019 their new album, “Hallucinogen”, leaked three weeks ahead of its release date. This, in turn, enraged the band’s creative mastermind to the extent where he cancelled all scheduled media engagements. Not optimum circumstances for a label about to release its biggest title of the year, I’d wager.
– No. Intentionally leaking an album in advance when the music will be made available for streaming as soon as it’s been released can only be regarded as a concerted effort to hurt both the artist and the label. Nowadays, you don’t need to go to illegal sites to download music, everything is available from a variety of sources yet people still can’t resist fucking things up. Not only that, once the album had leaked, some assholes began uploading the music on their YouTube channels as if it was their own; no respect whatsoever for either BLUT AUS NORD or the people who’d pre-ordered the album. Unless you hate the band and want to sabotage their career, why would you ever do such a thing? Knowing full well that we have our own YouTube channel and worldwide digital distribution… I really don’t get it. Are people unable to wait for D-Day? How do they handle things when it comes to learning skills, do they need it straight away too? This sums up everything I hate about modern society.
How did the leak happen in the first place?
– All thanks to a journalist who was clearly unaware of the basic fundamentals of IT security: never, ever, share your login credentials! As a result, we had no choice but to change our plans and release the album in digital format earlier. Fortunately, we already had the CDs and cassettes and could ship them pretty fast, but neither vinyl nor merch was ready… it messed up everything; people were annoyed that the music was online without their orders having been shipped, and some medias refused to cover the album since it was already ‘out there’. Just lots of extra stress. I think, in the end, what pisses me off the most is that it was some sneaky assholes who got to hear it first, not those who really support BLUT AUS NORD and Debemur Morti. I wish it would be the other way around and people who, in one way or another, purchased the album would get it first. There’s nothing we can do to change this now but, most likely, in order to avoid future mishaps, there will be no promo at all for the next BLUT AUS NORD. There’ll always be someone who prides himself on ruining your plans, someone who probably doesn’t know all the work behind the scenes… too busy boasting about leaking a record which would’ve been online a few weeks later anyway. An amazing contribution to the world, no doubt!
After Phil acquired Bardo Methodology #4 for the Debemur Morti webshop – where, I might add, all available printed issues are currently in stock – he mentioned having resonated with some of the topics former Terrorizer and Iron Fist editor Louise Brown spoke about.
– Well, it’s not that hard to find out how most printed media works. Flip through a magazine and pay attention to the interviewed bands – and which labels they’re on – then flip once more and note the advertisements. See any correlation here? Too many of these publications won’t even consider your acts if you don’t book an ad; this isn’t ’journalism’ to me. As much as I understand that everyone needs to cover their bills and put food on the table, this ’pay to be featured’ mentality is total crap and happens in many countries. And the worst of it is that I feel as if I have no choice but to contribute to this since some of our artists wouldn’t ever get any coverage otherwise.
Funnily enough, when I mentioned to Louise that I was featuring Phil she revealed how he was indirectly referenced in her interview: ’I love the guys from Deb Morti, we always had an amazing collaborative advertising relationship. It was them and Sepulchral Voice I was talking about when it came to smaller labels ending up paying more for ads than Napalm or Metal Blade.’
– Knowing that some bigger record companies pay less for ads than independent labels makes me even more sick of it all. Anyway, the more I think about this, the more I wonder if these ads really are worth it? With the arrival of the internet, all the normal rules have changed; the vast majority of people don’t even consider paying for music to be a ’normal’ thing anymore, so who’s still buying what’s essentially a catalogue with boring interviews inside? Go figure.
For quite some time now, I’ve wondered how efficient such advertising really is. Ads were crucial for readers to stay up to date back before the underground became digitalised, but for the last fifteen years or so I’ve just flicked past them without taken any notice whatsoever.
– I don’t see any tangible results, at all. I believe most metal fans are like both you and I in that they no longer pay attention to ads; probably ninety percent of the people get the info they need online. And this made-up-number might be far from the truth – it could very likely be a lot higher, I wouldn’t be surprised. All you need to do is lift your eyes from your smartphone screen and look around to see everyone else’s buried in theirs! I remember discussing this with Hervé from Osmose a few years ago and he told me that, in his opinion, printed ads don’t change a single thing, yet they still do it because some in his team would disagree. Well… it’s hard to track, how can we really know? I guess, unless you’re Nuclear Blast or Napalm Records and have the financial power to place your ads everywhere, all the time, it’s more the matter of ’supporting’ a mag than any proper form of promotion tool. A bit like buying someone you know a beer… expect beers are far cheaper, haha!
I’d also like to hear Phil‘s thoughts on reviews. I personally see little point in reading them when essentially any release can be streamed for oneself a few seconds after learning of its existence.
– Much to my surprise, people do seem to read reviews! I had the same opinion on the matter, rarely reading any myself, but I recently asked on the DMP Facebook page if our followers read reviews and was surprised to see that many still do. Quite a few of them check out new music for themselves but there seems to be a good amount of people reading reviews, especially when they can identify with and trust the writer as having similar tastes to theirs.
Phil’s full-time profession is in the IT sector. He mentions having given some thought as to how giant business entities such as Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook are gaining a worrisomely tight grip around modern society.
– Over the past few years, I’ve gotten increasingly concerned about these big corporations which have been invading our lives. Some of them have grown so big and generate so much revenue they now wield more power than many smaller nations. Their very opaque use of our personal data is a massive concern to me because I don’t want my behaviours studied in order for them to offer me products they deem I ’need’, presented with exactly the ’right’ info and visuals at the optimum time. In a sneaky way, instead of encouraging people to seek out different kinds of information – to form their own opinion – these companies broadcast only what they want us to see. They represent a reality based on algorithms, bots, and mass-consumption; a world where appearing is more important than being, where showing what you’re doing is more important than actually experiencing it.
What, if anything, can be done to counteract this?
– I believe it’s possible but you have to delve deeper into the ’geeky’ realm, and that throws a lot of people off. There are many alternatives to these big tech companies, but most of them aren’t well known. To name but a few – you can use Diaspora* instead of Facebook, Mastodon instead of Twitter, and there are some alternatives to Android… eelo looks promising to me. Then Peertube instead of YouTube, DuckDuckGo instead of Google, etcetera. Strangely, or perhaps not, most people don’t seem to care to any greater extent; everyone is too busy trying to cope with life in general to consider how the very tools they depend on threaten everyone’s freedom. It’s always funny hearing people being totally pleased with unlocking a smartphone using their fingerprints…. well, considering it’s one of our most intimate characteristics, sharing it with a multinational corporation without even knowing what’s done with it doesn’t sound like the ’coolest’ thing to me.
Streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, and similar are now how most music is consumed in the Western world. Phil says that, as a label manager, he has mixed feelings about this.
– Yes, it’s nice to have access to tons of bands and albums for free or very cheap – however, this model is neither sustainable nor especially worthwhile. Spotify pay something like 0.00437 US dollars per play, so just do the math. Let’s take one of our bands as an example: over a period of twelve months they had 700,000 streams, which pays roughly three-thousand dollars. Now, for the same band, during the same period of time, I see there were 110,000 listeners. We know most people wouldn’t ever pay a dime for their music, but let’s imagine ten percent of them were willing to pay one dollar for twelve months of access; this would generate $11,000. One dollar per year of unlimited music from one band; sounds reasonable, yes? Yet reality is so very different. Also, most of these companies are operating at a loss every year.
Taking Spotify as an example – the biggest streaming service with some 207 million users spread over eighty countries. Back in February, the company informed its investors that they expect to lose up to 390 million dollars in 2019.
– I don’t see how this could ever be sustainable. And if it ever becomes profitable for the purveyors of these systems, this will no doubt be at the expense of the artists. As for the worthwhile part, I think these services are a good mirror of today’s society: easy, cheap and fast mass-consumption. More, more, more. Always more. Filling inner voids is ever more complicated… or so it seems. Yet nothing worthy ever comes easy, cheap, or fast. I’m clearly digressing here, but music and art in general require time and effort to properly unveil their mysteries.