Music / TBA Invitations

The Berlin Agenda Interview: Bill Kouligas

Bill Kouligas photographed by Traianos Pakioufakis.

Bill Kouligas photographed by Traianos Pakioufakis.

Interview by Takis Zontinos, preface: Otis Chatzistefanou, November 21, Berlin 2014

Tonight, at Berghain, Polymorphism, in association with the prestigious CTM advanced electronic music festival and new music showcase/platform, presents a night featuring a great line-up of musicians and DJs from the Berlin-based PAN record label.

A massive line-up of musicians and DJs are featured from the roster: Beneath, M.E.S.H. (live), Visionist, Lee Gamble (live), Helena Hauff, Objekt and JM Moser promise to hit decks and stage and display their varied approaches to technoid dance music that ricochets between playful experimentation, austere purism, sound-art and unexpected flashes of Detroit house influences. Meanwhile, at the Panorama bar, It’s Upon You Records presents stars from their own roster: Ruede Hagelstein, Martin Landsky, Simian Mobile Disco and Marco Resmann.

Enjoy an interview with PAN record label founder Bill Kouligas by Takis Zontiros, originally published in the current issue of Nakedbutsafe magazine, The Berlin Agenda‘s print-only, biannual, sister magazine.

Since its inception in 2008, the avant garde PAN record label has been exploring distinct paths of electronic and experimental music. Focused mainly on contemporary artists, the prolific imprint is enormously influential in the contemporary electronic music scene with its eclectic and unique catalogue. Mainly ran by Berlin-based Greek, Bill Kouligas, the label embodies the spirit of the era: it is a vivid organization with a unique aesthetic and a strong identity that generates multiple creative relationships between innovative sounds, critical theory, graphic design and records, art galleries and nightclub culture. Artist Takis Zontiros interviewed Bill Kouligas exclusively for Nakedbutsafe.

– Why did you decide to move back to Berlin after spending some time in the States? How different was it running the label from there?

My stay in NYC was temporary as I was only there for one year to basically accomplish some projects I was working on for some years. We managed to put together a three week long festival that took many months in the making as long as other activities, including screenings, theory based discussions and design work.

– I know that you grew up listening to a lot of punk and metal music and then got involved in the noise and experimental scene. What do you keep from the punk mentality?

Everything happens organically and my taste expands more as I go along with it. It all has a natural flow and from the one thing i move into another but somehow i always try to link things up. I’m still in love and close touch with a lot of music I heard almost two decades ago either punk or not. I am definitely interested in all developments and try to keep myself up to date as much as I can. There are definitely good stuff coming out every year, and speaking of punk Dawn of Humans gotta be the most exciting band i encountered in NYC over the past year.

– Your events are held in a wide range of diverse places from popular festivals to underground nightclubs to art galleries and museums. How do you manage to bridge the gap between such places?

I think it has to do to with the narrative of how art and music is presented and comes together stylistically and conceptually. If you look beyond that, the way cultures form is actually quite chaotic, with influences and pivotal moments occurring that involve more than one field, or discussion, or inspiration. I will naturally reflect that in my curatorial work, and naturally that will involve presenting people with a multiplicity of contexts and ideas. This approach seems far more honest and organic than artificially attempting to present seamless “scenes” that only exist once the curator, or journalist, decides to. I do think a lot of this is because many people are looking from the outside, and attempting to superimpose their patterns and biases on what is occurring.

– What is your opinion about the re-increasing interest in different forms of electronic music? How do you feel about the institutionalization of electronic music?

This becomes more of an issue when everyone is collecting and scouring information online – it could be considered a creative pursuit I guess, but in many cases institutionalization is made more so to benefit the interests of the curator or even more the needs of the press than the actual trajectories and histories of the artists or music in general represented.

Image by Takis Zontiros for Nakedbutsafe magazine, September 2014

Image of Bill Kouligas by Takis Zontiros for Nakedbutsafe magazine, September 2014

 – PAN is a label ran mainly by you. There is a name and a personality behind the curatorial process inherent in every release. How do you define yourself within this ongoing project?

The label started back in 2008 from me mainly because of my general involvement in music but also as a platform to express some design and curatorial ideas I had. I never think of it as a solo label though as I always had people involved from designers and photographers and as well as all the artists who are a huge part of it, and not only musically. I definitely believe in team work and it is definitely very exciting every time there is a new member in the group. Apart from that there is Kathryn Politis who has been collaborating on the artwork since day one and also more recently Mat Dryhurst who is taking care of a lot of the label’s activities and needs. We are hoping together to expand its idea even more as Mat comes more from a technological and theoretical background and we have a lot of ideas we would like to achieve in the near future.

– PAN has a consistent visual identity, yet unique in every release. How do you approach each one of them? Which are the creative conditions between you and the artists you work with?

We always work very closely with the artists and trying to put all the ideas in one place and also filter it through our imagination and influences so we feed something back that is coming from the right place but looks forward without trying to recreate something already done before. It’s all an experiment I suppose but we keep things playful yet tied to the initial concept. Aesthetics are very powerful, and we consider all aesthetic dimensions to our work as being highly important – it is an attitude.

I understand that running a label which spreads out in many different fields can be a really demanding job. Your whole lifestyle must be revolving around activities that have to do with the label. Do you manage to find pleasure in the procedure?

That is definitely true and is certainly a really hard thing to do as people tend to prefer things that are places in specific boxes which create a comfort zone. So despite its fast pace and multi-identity we always follow our instinct, personal taste and interests. We never force things and let it grow organically. That involves our whole lifestyle to say the least as it goes along with all of us involved. It is an integral part in how we represent ourselves.

Image of Bill Kouligas by Takis Zontiros for Nakedbutsafe magazine, September 2014

Image of Bill Kouligas by Takis Zontiros for Nakedbutsafe magazine, September 2014

– Archival labels are spawning lately and there’s an everlasting hunt for lost treasures going on. How do you feel about this? Is this a new approach of revisiting history or just a strategy for selling records?

We personally feel it is very important for us to represent the landscape in 2014, and that is our central focus. There is a huge concentration on reissues for the past few years, and we have worked with artists who are older, however it is very important to establish that when we do, it is because we believe that this artist is relevant as an active participant in contemporary culture – we are not a historical archive, that is not what we do.

– In a previous interview you said about Ghédalia Tazartes:

“those people found their own unique voices and they were completely outsiders. There was nothing involved in their process. Like you know there was no career involved, in that they had to follow a certain path or being part of a certain scene and stuff, they were just doing their own thing.”

How do you connect with such artists and which are the reasons that make you want to create a platform for them? How would you define an outsider artist in the contemporary age?

Purity and originality are quite hard to find in the internet era when the distribution of information and self-promotion is so easy to happen. Things travel everywhere in an extremely fast way but there are still a lot of artists and general thinkers who find their own pace through it and try and keep their own identity and focus on developing their body of work based on what they truly believe without being influenced from the outside.

– What are your plans for PAN in the near future?

We have many things to come in 2014, in all kinds of formats and forms of experience, and it still remains very exciting. We hope to continue to grow our community, evolve ourselves as an institution and hopefully introduce more people to the kind of work that we appreciate. We are fortunate to have the support we have received so far, and want to continue to reflect that in the quality and variety of the work we do.

– How difficult is it to remain relevant in the current era of overflowing information and short attention span especially when you create projects that demand time and concentration?

Full involvement, dedication and right representation. We all work really hard in how everything is being presented and also the artists themselves do so by playing frequent shows, exhibit and have a public voice on what they do.

Tonight at midnight | Am Wriezener Bahnhof | Berghain/Panorama Bar | Facebook event

Image by Takis Zontiros for Nakedbutsafe magazine, September 2014

Cover image by Takis Zontiros for Nakedbutsafe magazine, September 2014


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