LB : Hello, how are you today?

AB : Feeling surprisingly fit, thank you, considering how late I worked last night. Woke up fresh after 4 hours, no alarm, no nothing, just kinda ready... If I figure it out, I'll patent it.

LB : How did you decide upon the name “Radio Khartoum” for your label?

AB : The runners up were "Pecadillo" and "Geschmack International". "Khartoum" happened to be prominently placed on the atlas on the wall, resulting in my choice of the name "Radio Khartoum" for an instrumental recording sometime in the early 90's. I remembered the name circa '96, and I liked how easily it was to confuse "Khartoum" and "cartoon". At the time, that is. The confusion's initial luster has faded somewhat.

LB : What inspired you to start a record label as opposed to other creative avenues?

AB : My own musical endeavors were rubbish, for one thing. Plus, I'd grown up seeing indie labels as (potential) auteurs, the best ones showing every bit as much personality and creativity as the artists under their umbrellas. That's something to aspire to. Other than the music I was hearing at the time, the big starting push came from the need for an outlet for my graphic design.

LB : Do you run RK full time or do you have a “proper job” as such?

AB : RK is full time. And then I do freelance design work on top of that to keep the bills paid.

LB : If so, what do you do and how do you work the two together?

AB : I just steal time for RK wherever I can find it. And nothing on RK ever comes out on time.

LB : . What do you ultimately aim to achieve with Radio Khartoum?

AB : Whatever happens, I want RK to remain a personal mission. It's important for me to be creatively involved in every release - although this can mean very different things from one release to the next. I bombard some artists with ideas about the music, concepts for a record, ideas on how to put the record together and/or suggestions for titles. Then there are artists like Guillaume Gypsophile, who seems to know the lengths of the pauses he wants between the songs on the finished album before he steps into the studio. In every case I'm there, trying to design packages which act as foils to the artists' musical vision, adding (I hope) a grain of extra commentary to be taken in parallel with the music. The more I get to work on this side of the label, the happier I am. So, I'm not sure that I really want to grow the label too much. But I'm constantly getting distracted by assorted and sordid business aspects of running the label, so my ideal would be to grow things to where I could hire one or two people to take care of the nuts and bolts.

LB : What do you think makes a perfect, or near perfect, pop song?

AB : When a song seems to end before you're ready for it. And you have to catch your breath.

LB : What is it about non-Anglo-American music, or in fact music in general, that you find so captivating?

AB : The thing about British and American music culture is that it's so pervasive; it can feel like a diet of bread and water at times. The colorings and flavours which other cultures (may) bring to the music we call pop can be the seeds of fantasy, and a little escape in musical form is a good thing. I'm also really into the way certain languages sound sung. French and Russian, in particular, are unmusical languages (they both have lots of rough edges - I don't care what anyone else has been brainwashed into believing about French!) which sound particularly great sung, precisely because of the way they fight against the music. English would probably be the same story, if it weren't both my native language and the language of 90% of the music I hear.

Unfortunately, I get plenty of demos from European bands who sound almost exactly like American bands - kids who haven't figured out that an American label interested in French bands is NOT going to be tickled by a French band that sounds American. Don't get me wrong, however. I actually do love loads and loads of native-English-speaker stuff. It's just a matter of finding music which feels "fantastic" or "exotic" to my ear. And the most recent signing to RK is, in fact, an Australian by the name of Anthony Rochester. Not to forget The Hepburns, either.

LB : Do you make your own music?

AB : I do an insanely good sounding fake trombone sound with my mouth. Which inevitably sounds ridiculous when we try to work it into someone's recording.

LB : What has been the best and worst thing to happen to you as a result of setting up RK?

AB : That the work is so engrossing. And all the people I've met through it. Good and bad on both counts, though there have certainly been more good people than bad.

LB : Which other labels do you admire or are mildly envious of…and why?

AB : I like labels that manage to give you the sense that if you don't buy their next (and every) release, you're going to be missing out. Some of my old favorites have been missing the mark a bit lately. I won't name names, but on the bright side, Italy's S.H.A.D.O. Records gets my vote as the next Siesta. The last couple years' worth of releases have been superb. And for the envy factor, they've signed Orchestra du Soleil, a German band who made this incredible honeyed, sopping wet trip of an album which I don't mind plugging as one of my favorite things heard this year. I've got high hopes for Japan's 333discs, though they've only released three CDs thus far, but everything is wonderfully packaged and works, musically speaking, to send you into another world. And there's Bambini, as well, also from Japan. Every disc is stylish, and never a false step.

LB : Why do you choose to use ickle 3” cds for rk releases?

AB : The original idea was to have an alternate to the DIY 7". Most everything recorded these days is mastered to digital at some point in the process, if not entirely done in digital. I'm willing to argue that some of the old LPs in my collection sound better than their respective CD reissues, but that shouldn't be the case with new music. Having decided to go digital, the 3" seemed like a good idea. It could be neatly packaged with a certain amount of DIY flair, and it's the most friendly thing ever for mail order. It also imposed a healthy discipline on the musicians - they had to edit their would-be albums down to 22 minutes or less, which was a really good thing in a few cases. The 3" was a great thing when the label was starting out, but ultimately I ran into the problem that a lot of stores don't know how to display a 3", and so don't buy them. As of 2001, I've pretty much sold out: releases over 22 minutes on 5" discs (but in digipacks), with the occasional vinyl edition. Gasp.

LB : Would you say that the artwork and packaging are just as important as the music, as all your releases seem to be particularly lavish?

AB : Definitely. From a label's point of view, anyway. It was labels like Factory and Les Disques du Crepuscule that made a bell go off in my head that said, "this is an indie label, this is the difference between major and independent". Labels which, on top of the music, had a lot of distinctive design going on. Which made me want to own the records instead of just taping them. A point which should be relevant than ever in this age of CDRs and MP3s.

I heard an apocryphal story about someone scoring "single of the week" in the NME or Melody Maker by sending in a handsome 7" sleeve with no record inside. Well, it probably happens all the time.

LB : If Radio Khartoum could be a figure from history, who would it be and why?

I've got a few historical obsessions, but I doubt I'd want the label to be any of them. Leni Riefenstahl for example. I'm way on the left of the political spectrum myself, but I can't quite help obsessing over this character. It's all the contradictions - and I like contradictions in general - in her life. How did a woman manage to be the most prestigious filmmaker in what we think of as a thoroughly patriarchal society: Nazi Germany? And her films were quite abstract too; something that the Nazis normally didn't go for. Ditto the fact that she portrayed blacks and Asians as models of beauty in her Nazi-era Olympics films. Her obsession with beauty was something she had in common with the Nazis, and yet it yields all these contradictions. After the war, she could never really work on feature films again, but she reinvented herself as a photographer working among tribal Africans, and later as an underwater photographer. I haven't heard if she's died in the last year or two, but as far as I know, she's still diving and shooting at 99. All that said, I see the redeeming contradictions in her work as accidental, and her aesthetic of "uncompromising beauty" really isn't my thing. But she just lives on and on, while people like George Lucas and Francis Coppola borrow from her, or Mel Brooks riffs off her.

Closer to home, I like the way that Luis Buñuel stayed true to his surrealist sensibility throughout his career, while going through many a mutation at the same time. On top of this, his personality was strong enough that people tend to love or hate his work as a whole. But if you like him, it's OK to see every film, because he was always pulling surprises.

LB : What would your label motto be?

AB : "Where the kitsch hits the fan." Proposed, but it never got used, thank goodness!

LB : If I were to declare you supreme ruler of the world, what would your main objectives be?

AB : Abdicating, though I'd definitely topple a plenty of politicians and corporations beforehand.

LB : And finally, tell me a secret…oh go on!

AB : You know those names we discarded in favor of Radio Khartoum...?

LB : Thank you.

This article has also been published in Laura Branch's own Frog of Destiny fanzine. The Frog of Destiny will be next month's Pennyblackmusic magazine's Fanzine of the Month. More information about Frog of Destiny at its website

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