Many of Sea Of Tranquility's dedicated readers may already be familiar with the name R.A.I.G. which stands for Russian Association of Independent Genres. Originally conceived in 2002 by Igor Gorely (aka Raigor) this Moscow based indie label has focused on releasing limited edition CDs, preferring to stress quality over quantity. R.A.I.G.'s modus operandi has always been about pushing away from conventional forms of music (which in Russia isn't easy to do), and their eclectic roster of talent is a testament to this commitment. Whether the listener is seeking out the sounds of the avant-garde, spacey psychedelic rock, electronic or progressive rock, chances are pretty good that Igor will have it covered. Another integral element which makes his label out of the ordinary is that not only do the musicians have total control over their music, but R.A.I.G. also works directly with each artist they represent to ensure that every album meets their incredibly high standards, and comes across as a one of a kind and truly unique piece of art. As such Igor and his partner, artist ZonderZond (more on him later) try to ensure that the aesthetic element of each release acts as a direct extension of the music itself. When the listener purchases one of R.A.I.G.'s limited edition discs (usually in runs of 500) they can be assured they are holding something more than just a mass produced chunk of commercial plastic. Do yourself a favor and check out what R.A.I.G. has to offer, I can guarantee you will not be disappointed. You can buy from them directly at www.raig.ru or through their various distributors which are listed on their website. I have to say it was an absolute pleasure for me to have Igor share his unique vision of R.A.I.G with Sea of Tranquility's readers.
SoT: Can you give me a bit of background on the origins of R.A.I.G and how it all started?
Igor: It was launched by artists, and for artists who stopped seeking deals with established companies and decided to go independently. In 2002, we decided to combine our individual efforts and pool some of our limited resources. So, RAIG was formed and the next year we made our official debut with three releases.
SoT: Tell me about your business model and how you strive to be different from the typical record label.
Igor: As far as RAIG is concerned, I've never thought of myself as a businessman, though it's easy to make money on music in Russia. We have a huge unprotected market, low production costs and high manufacturing quality. Also, local publishers don't bear promotion expenses. They simply pick the bestselling artists and make Russian replicas of their albums. All new products are duplicated here, legally or illegally, and everything is available at local markets at half of the cost of the US, and three times cheaper than in Europe. Curiously, Russian replicas sometimes look much better than the originals. It's a good working business model for most of the Russian record companies, but not for RAIG. Yes, I'm losing an opportunity to become a millionaire. I still make strictly limited editions of experimental music by unknown artists. I still pay for everything from my own pocket, and some of our artists still contribute to cover production and manufacturing costs. There are no employers and employees at RAIG and no one including myself receives a salary. The profits are totally spent on making more new releases. I strongly rely upon free help from friends and volunteers. In business terms, I think RAIG is a sort of a nonprofit creative organization. But some people prefer to call us "a protracted culturological experiment".
SoT: I think it's great that you are injecting any profits right back into RAIG, but are you completely against making any money for yourself? Does this seem unethical to you? Because unlike the traditional record label that takes advantage of their artists and owns the copyrights to the artist's work, RAIG does the exact opposite and actually takes care of its artists.
Igor: There is nothing wrong with artists and publishers making money from their products. When it's a job it should be paid. However, there is a certain point of no return for everyone in the music business, beyond which one starts to believe that the only good music is the best-selling music. Also, the majority of publishers and promoters, even if they do it independently, believe that only those artists whose music they can sell are worthy to deal with. In short, I'm not against earning a living with music. Though, I personally prefer to be as distant from that point of no return as I can.
SoT: As you know one of the things that have impressed me the most about every one of your releases is the fine attention to detail that goes into each one. You obviously believe that the visual aspect plays a vital role and is equally important as the music itself.
Igor: Yes, in fact RAIG strives to make art-objects which combine sounds with original graphics, photos, image-design, packaging, etc…though we are not always able to accomplish our plans because of time and money shortages. I don't think that traditional CD-audio is as important as it was in the 90's. Lots of people, especially young people prefer other sound-formats. With this in mind, we opened Accessory Takes last year, a net-label with free downloads under the Creative Commons license. However, the production of quality CD-releases remains our principal line. At the moment, we are possessed by an idea to create ultra-limited complex art-objects like multi-paged image-books inspired by musical work. In other words we hope to transform a regular CD-release into an original and collectable artifact.
SoT: The fact that you have set up a net label is an interesting, but not unexpected move considering that the CD as a medium has been slowly declining for years now as more labels move strictly towards downloads. Back when CD's came out a large portion of the visual element was lost from the vinyl record album with the gatefold covers etc… The digital age has now taken that feeling of holding something tangible in your hands almost completely away. Considering how vital the visuals are and how they go hand in hand with how RAIG operates, how do you see this unfolding for you in the future?
Igor: I know that there are lots of people, including musicians, who think that visualization and tangibility are unimportant elements when it concerns a musical edition. I do not intend to bring them over to my point of view. Instead, we try to give our listeners a choice. We're compiling free mp3-releases for "the children of the digital age" or for the music lovers who are unfamiliar with the artists on our label. Also, we are going to continue with regular CD's and ultra-limited CD-editions with the increased visual and tangible value which we address to the connoisseurs or those who simply want to support RAIG and our artists.
SoT: On the topic of visuals tell me about your right hand man who goes by the name of Zonder Zond.
Igor: In fact, "ZonderZond" is a master's mark which my partner-in-crime Dmitry uses when creating musical artwork. Generally he makes a living with book design and graphics. He is a well-know professional in this field, with many great works and some prestigious National and European Awards to his credit. Dmitry creates artwork for most of RAIG's releases and supervises the process when the artwork is ordered from other designers. As you can expect, his professional standards regarding the quality of the artwork are very high. Thus, we do not ask musicians to give us an artwork package for their album like many other labels do. Quite the contrary, Dmitry suggests elaborating the artwork as he forms his personal impression of the music. Of course, we always work in close contact with musicians, and the final version represents a collective vision in many ways. Nevertheless, this approach often leads to unexpected and original results.
We think that it's important not to have the artwork done by a musician, but by someone who was not involved in the process of creating the music. As you may have noticed, most of our releases consist of instrumental music so there are no textual tips, except song titles or an album title. We know that every author had specific images or objects associated with his music, but we know nothing about these associations. We build our own associations when listening to each new album and we ask for permission to express our vision in the artwork. In many cases, musicians are surprised with how we hear their work. Most of them consider it a good test of their own musical efforts. Sometimes, we'll go further into discussing details and nuances with the musicians.
SoT: So it's a collaborative effort between the musician and RAIG?
Igor: Yes, it's a collaborative effort in most cases.
SoT: Seeing as how you are based in Russia it's understandable that approximately 80% of the music that R.A.I.G. releases comes from your native country. However you do have other artists such as October Equus who come from Spain, Sendelica and The Surf Messengers are from the U.K. and Ahkmed is from Australia to name a few. Your roster of artists is quite eclectic and definitely offers listeners a diverse selection to choose from. How do you go about selecting who you want to be on your label?
Igor: From its very inception RAIG appealed to western listeners, who in my view are more experienced in and more loyal to deviant forms of music. The natural emergence of foreign artists in our label's roster was merely a matter time. As you may know, RAIG doesn't stick to any particular musical genre or style. I invite a partnership to both Russian and foreign artists who, in my understanding, deviate from old musical forms and are able to blend various influences from classical music, academic avant-garde, free-jazz, progressive rock, psychedelia, metal, noise, experimental electronics, etc…into forms of their own. It's a matter of principle that we don't do re-issues or regional replicas. Thus, all albums released through RAIG are published on an exclusive basis. In fact by demonstrating their confidence in RAIG, U.S.Christmas, Ahkmed, Sendelica, October Equus and other foreign artists actually contributed to the creation of the new independent scene in Russia. By performing music that is undeveloped here, and publishing it through a Russian label, they indirectly forced local musicians to look beyond familiar forms.
SoT: How do you go about finding artists to add to RAIG? It's obviously a lot easier with the internet, the world is a much smaller place these days and anyone that makes music can instantly make their music available for the world to hear.
Igor: You're right. Like no other medium before, the internet allows artists to show their music directly to a world audience and to each other. The internet is important to those searching for new original forms of music. That's how I get to know many new names in far distant Russian regions and in other countries as well.
SoT: Over here in North America the record companies are slowly going extinct. I think they're getting what they deserve in a lot of ways because they've been screwing both the artists and consumers forever. What are your thoughts on this?
Igor: The situation is exactly the same over here in Russia. It seems highly unlikely that big record companies would continue making as big a profit as they have in the past. However, they've been able to endure the declining sales and restructuring. As for artists, many of them mistrust labels and publishers now, but do very little to have their music heard due to passiveness or lack of a culture of civic engagement. They often blame their lack of commercial success on publishers, promoters, consumers, or even political regimes. I think it's a time of challenge for both record companies, musicians and consumers, but it's also a time of opportunity if people choose to view it as such, and are daring enough to not just crawl into a corner.
SoT: Music is a lot more affordable these days, especially with regards to downloading, however there will always be people who want it for free and will pirate the music. What are your feelings on downloading and how it's affected the industry?
Igor: Well downloading files from the internet has already become an integral part of the industry. It's only a question of time before music companies have complete control over the matter. They might even stop producing and manufacturing discs, except for maybe small quantities for their loyal customers. As for RAIG, illegal downloads from the internet has not affected our sales. The point is that by making 500-copy limited editions, we have been focused on our loyal customers ever since our very first release. We work for those who value quality and originality, and do not measure music in megabytes. In general, my only concern about downloads is that lossy compression, which is used in mainstream consumer audio devices, is that it often misrepresents the essence of the musical work. Except in cases when music is especially designed for the digital formats, downloads are good for increasing an artist's popularity, though at the cost of losing his individuality and sound.
SoT: How would you describe the music scene in general in Russia? I've never been to your country but if the music you're releasing is any indication I'd have to assume that the scene is pretty fresh and exciting.
Igor: That's a painful question for me. We have great and noble traditions in Russian classical and avant-garde music, but ironically those local artists who dare to continue developing this heritage are doomed to be public outcasts. Free thinking artists have a very short life span here, one or two albums to record, a few gigs to play, no response, disappointment and total oblivion. RAIG represents a very small group of beings who chose to stay together and create something in contravention of every rule of the Russian music scene. As far as I know many of our overseas colleagues are approximately in the same situation.
SoT: What does the future hold for RAIG? I' m assuming that as long as it remains fun for you RAIG will continue to be responsible for more great cutting edge music.
Igor: We have just released worldwide the long-awaited new album Lovest by The Surf Messengers from Wales. This is a gorgeous and expensive image-book edition for true connoisseurs. More recordings will come out soon including a new studio album by Vespero, whose name might be familiar to SOT readers thanks to your past review. We're going to finalize a new Bosch's With You album in remembrance of the band's leader and my close friend Dima T. Pilot who died in May from stroke. We are also compiling new mp3 albums as free downloads through our affiliated net-label Accessory Takes. There are a lot of things to do before we say it's all over and done.