HANDS is one of the most interesting labels from Germany, with a long history and involvement in the post-industrial and rhythmic noise scene dating back to the late eighties and early nineties. Releasing artists such as Orphx, Monolith, Last Days of S.E.X. and Ontal, the label is also responsible for some of our current favorites as well. This year marks their 28th anniversary and they are celebrating with a special HANDS LABEL NIGHT at Bi Nuu in Berlin with a huge lineup that is not to be missed.
Ahead of the event happening this Saturday, we spoke to Udo Wiessmann about the beginnings of the label, what makes the festival Forms of Hands so special and what can we expect to hear at the HANDS LABEL NIGHT BERLIN.
The Brvtalist (Maria Bungau): Where did HANDS start and how?
Udo Wiessmann: I founded HANDS in 1990 in my hometown Fürth in Franconia. The first releases were cassettes of my own project ATRUM followed by WINTERKÄLTE, which was still a solo project at the time.
TB: What motivated you to start a label?
UW: I learned to play classical keyboard instruments and then started to get into electronic music at end of the 1980s. As I was looking for a label to release my musical output with absolute artistic freedom, I recognized to have my own label would be a good decision. At this point it was the only way for me to release that kind of sound without compromises. So HANDS became a part of the late eighties and early nineties post-industrial tape culture among the likes of Tonspur Tapes, Escape 3 Organisation or Prion.
TB: What was the first record to go out on HANDS and how did it happen?
UW: We released our first tapes in small editions, but selling 200 copies of the ATRUM tape “Fanum” gave us the confidence to attempt our first CD releases in 1994: The 3 track CD “Naturecide of Severance", a project of Udo Schubert, Eric De Vries and myself, and the compilation CD “1654 The Cave I”.
The first vinyl was the WINTERKÄLTE single in 1995. This 7” was delivered in a carton box with art prints and available in two different editions of 100 and 238 copies. It was released at our first live shows when WINTERKÄLTE were supporting Esplendor Geométrico and Dive during a memorable mini tour.
TB: How do you decide to release a certain artist’s work? What are you looking for in new signings?
UW: I'm interested in artists who have their own ideas and concepts and a unique sound. I also like to work with our artists over a long time and let them develop; I think this is the most and important point of a label and today even more than in the past. I'm convinced that a safe home base is the best thing to keep on researching and to develop musically and as an artist. So looking back at our label history for quite a few acts, their first or one of the first of many releases were on HANDS and we have continued to work with our “veteran” producers like Orphx, Ah Cama-sotz, Mono No Aware or Proyecto Mirage for almost two decades.
TB: The sound of HANDS moved from being strictly focused on industrial and power-noise to expanding to rhythmic-noise, drum’n’bass and even some techno. What would you recommend to someone who’s new to the label?
UW: Well, if you look back to the beginning, HANDS is for sure a kind of early post-industrial label. But my intention has always been to have an open-minded platform for electronic music and arts. This includes exciting and adventurous music and a sound aesthetic that is rooted in noise and distortion, but not as knock-out criteria. Already my aforementioned ATRUM project had very diverse tracks somewhere between industrial and electro, between ambient, harsh noise and beats. Then look at the diversity of the first WINTERKÄLTE albums as compared to Orphx’ “Vita Mediativa” or Ah Cama-Sotz’ “Épitaph” – that shows that HANDS has never been a label with only one style. My philosophy of the label sound is that there is no label sound, but a distinct quality created by our artists within the many aspects of electronic music. The first techno release on HANDS was the Orphx 10” single “Nullity” as early as 1998, the first drum'n'bass 12” release was Needle Sharing’s “Warez” in 1999.
For me, personally, genre limits don’t matter and so they don’t for HANDS. Of course, there are categorizations done by some festivals and magazines. But over the years, because of open minded DJs, promoters and online magazines, more and more music that fits together has come together regardless of genres. For some years now HANDS artists have performed not only at events like Maschinenfest, but also in clubs like Tresor or Berghain. On the other hand, a techno related artists like Ancient Methods dropped an amazing release on HANDS or the drum'n'bass act End.User has become part of the HANDS universe with his album “Enter to Exit”, and our releases are picked up by DJs who have both techno and industrial roots.
I think a good way to discover our label is to check out our annual label compilation CD, the latest of which is “FORMS OF HANDS 17” (the digital version is exclusively available through our bandcamp). Another good starting point for exploring the label sound is the limited 4CD anniversary compilation “25 Years of HANDS” featuring no less than 48 exclusive tracks by almost all active HANDS artists.
TB: One of the trademark of the label are the CDs which come in a special packaging. Why did you choose this particular packaging? At a time where vinyl seems to be leading the sales, and cassettes are getting more and more popular, do you think that CDs still have the potential to draw attention?
UW: We have never been limited to a certain format, but tried to choose the most appropriate medium, the one that will also appeal to the relevant people.
For us – that’s me and my wife Nicola Bork who has done most of the HANDS designs since the early cassettes - a nice artwork and packaging is important to make a release a good one. For the CDs, we were looking for a high quality packaging, but also tried to avoid plastic. Since catalogue number HANDS D006 WINTERKÄLTE's “Structure of Destruction” we switched to our Hand Paper Packs for CDs, which is produced like a book cover and gives the digital medium a beautiful and quite ecological cover. More than 250 CDs later we still produce them, only had to replace the paper holder by clear trays some years ago, as the original holder became much too expensive. So the CD is still in many fields the most important medium, especially for full-time albums and is as vital for us as vinyl. Nevertheless, we have always done vinyl, over 70 releases altogether (most of which are sold out like the WINTERKÄLTE vinyl albums, the early Orphx EPs or most of the 5LP label compilations) and after a pausing vinyl from 2006, we’re well back in that business – most recently we have done the 4 track 12” “Fisión” by Geistform and the 2LP version of Ontal’s “Amass”. And so far we reached also a vinyl catalogue number of over 70.
TB: You are also one half of WINTERKÄLTE, who set the foundations for the Rhyhtm'n'Noise scene. What keeps you inspired?
UW: I founded WINTERKÄLTE to have a platform for my musical work without limitation of styles. After the very early years, Eric de Vries joined the project. WINTERKÄLTE is working on pushing the limits forward in the field of intelligent sounds and rhythms by working with many different tools from analogue synthesizers and modular gear over field recordings to digital sound gear.
Inspiration is everything surrounding and touching me in life and through art and media, especially economic, ecological and political issues. In the field of art, I enjoyed many good and diverse things recently: My favourite museum visit last year was the Tate Modern, the paintings of Miriam Cahn and the movie 77sqm_9:26min by the London based Forensic Architecture really caught my attention at DOCUMENTA 14. My favourite documentary was “Beuys” directed by Andres Veiel, my favourite movie Blade Runner 2049 by Denis Villeneuve. Regarding concerts, I enjoyed the Maschinenfest 2k17 edition a lot, and the best live was for me the A/V Abul Mogard with Marja de Sanctis at Berlin Atonal. My favourite track released last year was Ancient Methods’ “Immured In Supreme Beliefs” on Hospital Productions, my favourite EP “The School of Intolerance” by UVB on Mord and my favourite album the soundtrack “Men against Fire” by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow.
TB: Besides the label work, you are also involved in the organizing of Forms of Hands, a festival which became bigger and bigger over the years, and is now being held every year in April in the Ruhr area. What is exactly your role in the team?
UW: I started the label festival in 2001 together with Michael Pfefferkorn and the promoter LaborNeun. Nowadays, it’s a 2-day label festival with 16 artists every year. In 2018, we'll have our 18th edition on 28th and 29th of April in Bönen / Ruhr Area. All the festival editions, over the years, were held in old industrial complexes like a historical steam train museum in Arnstadt, the Maschinenhalle Gladbeck and since 2012 the historical Förderturm Bönen, an old winding tower from 1929. It's amazing for us to work with a reliable organization like LaborNeun, and today Karsten Plewnia and his team take care of issues like venue, technic, homepage and catering the needs of visitors and artists. With such a good partner, we are able to focus exclusively on booking the artists and taking care of the festival’s visual presentation.
TB: Finally, what can we expect from this event at Bi Nuu? And what will 2018 bring in terms of news from the label?
UW: Expect an energetic night with 10 hours of techno and rhyhtm'n'noise that will make you move and entertain in a great way. You'll get the following six live performances: Rhythm'noise sets by WINTERKÄLTE, powerful kicking techno sets by MONOLITH and GEISTFORM, rhythmic noise by GREYHOUND, intense techno by NEW FRAMES and another rhythmic and noisy sound by LAST DAYS OF S.E.X. . Furthermore, before, between and after the bands dj sets: One 90 minute ONTAL set focused on their own tracks and some great sets by SUPERSIMMETRIA.
For now, we're still happy about our very well received 2017 releases – especially the late 2017 releases like the Mono No Aware CD “OTO”, the Geistform 12” “Fisión”, the new Ontal album “Amass” on CD and 2LP, the Greyhound CD “Ground”, the dark Techno album “A_Drum” by Gatto Nero and the Phasenmensch+ICD-10 CD album!
2018 promises to become one of our most exciting label years with strong releases of very well established artists as well as new faces who will have their first release on HANDS. The next big event after Berlin is our FORMS OF HANDS 18 in the Ruhr area. Besides, we are working on some very exciting showcases – so it's good to keep your eyes open about news!