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The cassette label Direction Music was started by Peter Harrison, previously only known in the electronic music scene for various reviews, articles and a few album cover designs, in March 1989. It devoted itself to a variety of artists that Peter felt deserved wider recognition. Aiming from the start to ensure a consistently high quality of production compared to other cassette labels, every release has been on good quality tape with a full colour inlay card. The label was launched with two initial compilations, featuring artists ranging from the synth instrumentalist Kevin O'Neill to collage surrealists Nurse With Wound.
Peter feels that launching a label wasn't particularly difficult: "After enjoying and writing about music for 15/16 years I had built up a sort of 'following' if you like and had made many good contacts and friends throughout the world. These have all proved very helpful indeed, and in fact the response to the two initial releases (both compilations) was overwhelming. I had originally planned to release just one compilation to launch the label, but I received so much good music from different sources that I expanded it into two tapes. Friends and contacts very kindly helped distribute the mailshots I produced and both tapes received extremely good reviews.
"I produce detailed mailshots for each release and mail these off to existing customers, fanzines, distributors, radio stations etc. so that they get to know of each tape's existence. I now have distribution deals in Italy, Germany, Holland and of course the U.K. and am currently negotiating similar deals in America and other countries. I receive regular airplay in Portugal, America, Italy, Belgium, France and even the U.K.! Yes, John Peel regularly plays Plant Bach Ofnus material on his Radio One show and has included tracks from the cassette of theirs that I have in my catalogue. Naturally, I also send out review copies to various fanzines and distributors and I have had good reviews in fanzines from many countries including U.K., Portugal, Spain, Holland, America etc."
The types of music released remain fairly variable. Recent releases include the ambient music of Vidna Obmana, dramatic synth work from Andrew Pinches, post-industrial avant-garde material from Morphogenesis, as well as even more offbeat items like the experimental and noisy Falscher Hase by East Germans Dieter Zobel and Jorg Thomasius, and the almost academic in style Biosonic Domains by Barry Christian. The label's aims according to Peter Harrison, are "to release quality music of many types - synthesiser, experimental / avant garde electronics, acoustic, progressive, and 'dramatic' synth music. My own taste in music varies from one extreme to the other and I'd like the music on the label to reflect this without being bigoted of course ... I would like to expand the label's horizons even further particularly in the release of minimalist / systems music and maybe some really experimental vocal music."
Peter finds it easy to trace the various sources of inspiration for his musical interests: "Ones that immediately spring to mind are Brian Eno, John Coltrane, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Shostakovich, Mahler, Peter Frohmader, Michael Stearns, Magma, Can, Laurie Anderson, Nurse With Wound, Kevin O'Neill, Xenakis, Anthony Braxton, Robert Rich ... I could go on and on! I got into electronic music via hearing a track by Tangerine Dream on the radio in the mid 70s, can't remember what it was, it made me go out and buy their albums and then explore further albums by Klaus Schultze, Can, Magma, Kraftwerk and the like. From then on it just progressed further and further and I got into even more experimental stuff by the likes of Nurse With Wound, Trevor Wishart etc whilst still retaining my interest in modern classical music and some modern jazz."
Like most such small cassette labels, the amount of music they can release is limited in part by a lack of adequate resources. Very few of these labels ever make a large profit, and most only break even or happily make a loss. They could easily be accused of settling for an easy option of remaining small when they could perhaps be ambitious enough to push for better things. But in reality, given the lack of any large established audience for the music they release, they do as well as can be expected. Like other players in the cassette scene, Peter Harrison reacts fiercely to any claim that he is part of some sort of indie "ghetto" ...
"I wouldn't refer to it as a 'ghetto', in my opinion and experience it is more of a 'fraternity'. All the indie labels are in it for the love of the music (no matter what type of music they deal with) and want to promote it. I've received no hassles from other labels, quite the opposite in fact, there appears to be a mutual respect between us.
"At the moment I'm quite happy with the cassette format. In most ways I find it far superior to vinyl (no scratches, clicks, warps etc and easier to store and handle, plus of course one can listen to it almost anywhere with almost everyone having a walkman and/or in-car facilities). As for packaging, well naturally I would like to continue to improve this as far as is financially possible. I'm quite happy with presentation for the present though, and most punters seem to be of a similar opinion. My packaging has improved since I began the label, and will continue to do so as money allows. Naturally, I would like to reach a wider audience. This way both musicians and the label would benefit. Both would gain more recognition, financial rewards would be greater for both parties and that would enable me to release more albums, improve the packaging and maybe even think of releasing CDs. Who knows?"
Future plans for the label include the release of a new album by Kevin O'Neill, provisionally titled Legends, as well as a new cassette by Andrew Pinches, White Harpoon. Morphogenesis have expressed an interest in the release of a retrospective album featuring their unreleased material from the mid 80s. There are also plans for an album of synth music by new artist Tom Sun. As well as a second sampler of tracks from previous albums, there may well be more compilations of new music, one of which compiling many of the short tracks that Peter has received, while another possibly having only four groups allowed 15-20 minutes each, to produce something more cohesive.
[Contact: Direction Music, 28 Nant-y-Felin, Pentraeth, Anglesey, Gwynedd LL75 8UY, Wales, UK]
[Interview conducted by post and copyright by Brian Duguid, © June 1991]