Sunday 23 July 2017

LABEL INTENSIVE: Sounds from the underground with Transcending Obscurity Records

Perception is a curious thing isn’t it?  It is the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted, but our ability to fully appreciate something can be stunted by a lack of knowledge or awareness, or our blind refusal to embrace something without having consumed it first.   Something which is unfamiliar can be scary and as individual’s we tend to stick to what we know, in fear of making ourselves vulnerable, or the target of ridicule from friends, family, work colleagues etc.   

Take music for example, and for the sake of this blog, heavy music. The way that we perceive things is often based on familiarity, oh that band sounds like Sabbath, I’m sure to like it, or the way we perceive a band can be based upon uneducated stereotypes or associations on a superficial level, black metal and churches, nu metal with baggy trousers and so on, but if we take a step back and perceive something without prejudice, by educating ourselves, by absorbing information, or in the case of music,  judging a band solely on the music, as individuals we can transcend these boundaries or barriers to good music and judge music solely on merit.

If we strip away the baggage associated with music, things such as consumerism, or prejudice associated with gender, race, religion culture, it doesn’t matter whether it is popular music or underground music, if we strip it back to its core, if we listen without prejudice or fear of ridicule, then as individuals we can truly have a better appreciation of things and break down barriers.

Why has THE SLUDGELORD gone all philosophical you might ask, because today’s guest Kunal Choksi, is a man attempting to change public perceptions in heavy music,  a heavy metal fan of 20 years, he created a label whose very name Transcending Obscurity resonates with many of the themes discussed, indeed if you take those two words and attach some meaning to them, the very essence of their philosophy is to rise above stereotypes and educate consumers that there is talent  all over the world, yes it may be unintelligible and ambiguous to some, but by giving this talent a voice or a platform, the obscure can rise and hopefully in the process change perception and if that occurs, then Kunal Choksi has succeeded in his mission,
to transcend obscurity. 

Kunal, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

Thank you very much for this interview! It means a lot to us and hopefully our bands can get better exposure. Well, I'm from Mumbai, India and have been a metal head for over two decades now. I've been writing since 2004 and started a webzine called “Diabolical Conquest” which was renamed to “Transcending Obscurity” to signify better intent and purpose. Along the way a record label was started and subsequently even a PR company of the same name. I'm also learning guitar and drums and hope when I'm old and bitter, I can start a band of my own. I don't have high expectations of it but it's some kind of a carrot dangling in front of me that makes me crawl ahead despite being overburdened and stressed already. I dabble in art too but suck and need more practice (and time!). 

What inspired you to start a record label?

In the last decade, it was after having reviewed ALL the releases of this obscure death metal band from Australia called THE DEAD, and even conducting an interview with the band, that I was asked if I knew any record label that they could work with. It then dawned upon me that instead of urging my label friends (in vain) to sign that band; I could do that myself and give them what they wanted. The intention was noble and naive but I suppose I did well for that band eventually. I'm grateful to all the bands that put their faith in me and I can only hope I didn't let them down a lot. 

What are some of the difficulties you have faced and currently face?

The most difficult thing is to convince bands to work with you, especially when you're based in India. It's not my fault that I was born here. I worked my way up and spent countless years trying to push bands without expecting anything in return mostly via the webzine. With my label, I had to face a lot of criticism when I decided to start a sub-label and even distribution legs and work with inexperienced bands. My intention was to give them a good platform and visibility internationally and I think people in the press and even otherwise are not as surprised as they used to be when they come across Indian metal bands after having put out over 30 releases of bands from the Indian subcontinent. Some bands take it all for granted and give you a hard time, as if you're their servant. I get tired man. I work very hard and under depression most of the time. All things said and done, I suppose my work had some result and perhaps some bands are better known after all I did for them. I guess I can live with that. 

What would you describe as Transcending Obscurity's 'vision' or 'philosophy'?

I used to be very anal earlier on and didn't sign bands easily. I was interested in more original-sounding music or what appealed to me in a certain way. I've become more open-minded since but I'm still very particular about the quality. Since the name change to Transcending Obscurity, the intention has been to help them rise as the name suggests and that's why I'm focusing a lot more on the PR part of things than anything else and still prefer to do the PR work myself as opposed to hiring other PR companies (not that I can afford them anyway, haha). 

Are there other labels that have inspired you? Other labels you think people should look into?

Of course there are labels that I keep observing and ones that keep repressing all the time because their sales are so good. Admittedly I've yet to reach that level but I don't have a lot of strong local support nor can I attend festivals like in Europe and have stalls there or travel in vans carrying my merchandise. It's a drawback for sure but with low shipping costs worldwide, perhaps the word will spread and for the sake of getting good music, they won't hesitate to order from India directly haha. 

Tell us about some of TO's earlier releases you think people may have slept on.

Oh there are a few that could've done better but probably due to the year-end timing, didn't as much as anticipated. They'd include this fantastic stoner doom band with death metal influences called ALTAR OF BETELGEUZE, the sublime sludge/doom band from Ireland called SOOTHSAYER, and even the great Finnish blackened death metal band SEPULCHRAL CURSE. There's also this reissue of the old school death metal band WARLORD U.K.'s classic album that's as solid as it gets. I wish the SWAMPCULT album did better for all the effort that I put into its packaging and promotion. Oh well, at least I tried. Thanks for asking that question! Here are their official Bandcamp links - 

What upcoming releases are you most excited about?

Right now I've got my hopes pinned on the Israeli black metal band ARALLU and the stoner/doom/shoegaze band MINDKULT from US, but beyond that, I'm very excited about the upcoming releases of the experimental black metal bands ISGHERURD MORTH (International) and ARKHETH (Australia) who've used saxophone bits in their eccentric music. Even the black/thrash band AFFLIKTOR are very refreshing in their approach and their album will be up soon for pre-orders. There are also releases planned of a couple of unannounced Spanish death metal bands. Then there's this crust band MARGINAL from Belgium and their music flat out rules. And then there's this sludge/doom band from Brazil called JUPITERIAN and they're going to release a stunner as well. It's going to be coupled with the release of the Finnish sludge/doom band LURK which I love. There are also these two supergroups, HEADS FOR THE DEAD and TOWARDS ATLANTIS LIGHTS who're yet unannounced and their music is jaw-dropping. Watch out for their official announcements/pre-orders soon! 

With regards to the bands on the Indian/Asian sub-label, you can look forward to the releases of death metal bands like GUTSLIT and FRAGARAK, doomsters DJINN AND MISKATONIC, heavy metal band KNIGHT (for whom I'm painting the album artwork) and there's also the upcoming release of thrashers EXALTER from our neighbouring country Bangladesh. Somewhere down the line, I also have to put out releases by black metal bands SOLAR DEITY and STARK DENIAL

Tell us about some of the newer bands on TO's roster.

I haven't yet announced most of them but the latest signing that was made public was of this Swedish death metal force FERAL. You can find the announcement link here -

It's going to a mix as always of all styles and sizes. I understand as of now it's difficult to find a niche tag for the label but I hope eventually, people will embrace the diversity and see the consistency in quality. I'll work hard as always and will leave it for others to decide. I've seen too much to be shaken by criticism or setbacks. I fear letting the bands down by not doing enough but I can't control the outcome where it comes to the sales at least. This year hasn't been too good financially with my foray into vinyl which has yet to pick up, but without daring to try new things, I'd never find out for sure haha. The box sets have met with a very good response however. I'm going to experiment with the tape format next. 

What does the future of TO look like, from your perspective?

I've never been able to predict such things but I'm glad to make new friends, customers and have more bands working with me. I hope people will look beyond the country I'm from and give me a fair chance. Again, worldwide shipping for a T-shirt/CD is only $2.99 USD with just $0.99 per additional item so it shouldn't be too difficult haha. 

Thanks once again for taking interest in my activities and appreciate all the help that you/THE SLUDGELORD have offered us! 

Transcending Obscurity Official Site
Transcending Obscurity Records Bandcamp
Transcending Obscurity Records Facebook