Common Time 076: 22 Years of Running A Label w/ Allon Kaye of Entr'acte

Early last month, an email landed in my inbox which read:

Hello everyone

Entr’acte has left the building. I and we had an incredible twenty two years. Thank you for being a part of it.

There will not be any new releases henceforth. Our catalogue will remain available until the stock is depleted.

While I can't say it's surprising to see a label shutting down operations these days, it's sad to imagine a new music landscape without Entr'acte's constant presence.

Founded by Allon Kaye in London circa 1999, the label issued a staggering 258 releases over its 22 year run. In this informative (and rare) interview with Allon, he describes the style of music showcased on the label as "unusual" - which is about as good a term to describe it as any.

The following back-and-forth gives some good insight into the ideology behind the label and the ins-and-outs of making Entr'acte happen over all these years.

What was the reason for starting Entr’acte? How would you define the style of music/type of musician/scene/etc that you were inspired to document with the label?

It came about quite spontaneously. I’d been making fanzines for a while, forging contacts, when around 1998 my newish friend Daniel Löwenbrück (who runs Tochnit Aleph, now based in Copenhagen) asked me if I’d be interested in releasing something of his. I suppose those recordings are quite representative of my interests at the time: very sparse but almost inaudibly harsh computer music. Strange and extreme, in other words.

At the time, (2000?) was starting a label like Entr’acte something that could be financially stable?

I wouldn’t know. We had a drink one night and then just got on with it. I don’t recall really thinking about costs, distribution, etc.; I just wanted to do it. I’m afraid I’ve learnt nothing from that experience; I’m still very much like that.

How many copies - generally - were you making of your releases? If money wasn’t a concern, was the label something you funded simply for the creative reward of doing it?

On average 200–250 copies. Indeed, I did it because I wanted to; I believed in the quality of the endeavor and product.

Were there other labels that provided any sort of roadmap for Entr’acte to follow?

Not really. I was influenced by almost everything at that time: technology, music, graphic design, packaging. I guess Touch would’ve come close to encompassing all of these elements, and I liked many of their releases.

Over the last 20 years, we’ve seen a huge amount of structural change in the music world. I’d be curious to hear your take on a few things:

Let’s start with format (LPs->CDs->streaming):

Entr’acte’s criteria for choice of format was straightforward: it had to service the content as best as possible. So if something ended up on vinyl it’s because it was deemed the most suitable carrier for it. Likewise CD, cassette etc. On the few occasions we released music digitally, the material had to be remastered accordingly.

Have you been affected by changing formats?

I like the accessibility of streaming and digital music. It’s not much to look at, though (Bandcamp is hideous), so I’m curious to see what comes next.

Do you see any signs of better options emerging in the streaming world?

Not that I’ve noticed. At some point I would love to create an Entr’acte app; a permanent and free archive of all its releases.

Next, press. Did PR play into the label’s release process at all? What are your thoughts about music press generally?

In the early days of Entr’acte, the first twenty or so copies of every release would be sent to potential reviewers. Over the years, that narrowed down to basically zero. I guess that says it all. I respect anyone who takes the time to write about music properly, but these days it’s seemingly in the service of sales, not journalism.

Finally, retail. How did you weather the changing landscape of physical shops to online, rising shipping costs, emergence of Bandcamp. etc?

The shift wasn’t so problematic for us. We never sold that many records to start with. And quite a few distributors and shops never paid us, so good fucking riddance to them.

Do you have any thoughts on how a label should walk the line between operating on a global level and/or being fully enmeshed in a local scene (working with friends, documenting music and people that you have personal experience with, etc)?

Entr’acte only released music from demos so its remit was global from the beginning. However, its location (first London,then Antwerp) did play a huge role too, in terms of putting on events, but also what was happening around us. I met countless people in both cities who’ve been very influential on the label.

What is the worth of operating a label that seemingly has no robust financial reward?

Personally, I just really enjoyed it. My work (I design books) allows for the basics and affords me a great deal of free time. I wouldn’t want to run a label for the money; I don’t find that interesting at all.

Obviously, package design was a big part of Entr’acte’s thing. What was your thought process behind the aesthetic? Do you have any general feelings about album art and walking the line between a musician’s aesthetic and that of the label?

I always wanted Entr’acte to have a generic look, believing it to be more effective and powerful than individually designed sleeves. It‘s important to state that Entr’acte was a project, not a label per se: there was some room for collaboration with its artists, but not much. Suffice to say that this did not suit everyone.

What differentiates a “project” from a label?

It was a project in the sense that it encompassed the label but also events and other kinds of publishing (i.e. books). The Touch influence looms large! Perhaps ‘organization’ is a better word for it.

Had I carried on with Entr’acte, the next thing would’ve been a radio station and a video streaming channel.

Entr'acte 250: a drawing by Dennis Tyfus

Are there structural reasons that Entr’acte needed to stop (shipping costs, vinyl delays, decline of physical retail) or was it just time for you personally?

No. It just felt like the right moment to do it. Actually, I wanted to stop around three years ago, before it turned twenty — such an ugly age — but I guess I got distracted and carried on.

Is there an arch you can trace over the last 22 years in terms of how easy/hard it has been to run the label? Have things gotten worse? or better? always been the same?

It was more-or-less the same except for times when distribution was better. I should mention that apart from using Twitter for a while Entr’acte never had any social media. So perhaps it could’ve gained greater visibility through those channels but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Looking back at what you’ve done, what do you see is the worth in releasing music like the Entr’acte catalogue, physically, into the world?

I’m immensely proud of its quality and variety. It’s a formidable library of music.

Do you have any thoughts on how this catalogue will be preserved and presented over time or do you simply let it out into the world to become whatever it becomes?

I would like to archive it properly at some point (i.e. the app idea I mentioned earlier) but I’m also content with it existing as it does, in people’s record collections and in my experience and memories.

What’s next for you?

Nothing music-related. I co-run an exhibition space called Universal Exports. It’s in my apartment. We have a new show coming up in autumn.

Universal Exports was also the name of the label you ran with Roman Hiele. Is the space affiliated with the label? Is there a difference between an “exhibition space” and an art gallery?

Universal Exports is — was* — Roman, myself, and Yves De Mey; The label and the space share a name but are otherwise independent from each other. [*I quit the label when I stopped Entr’acte.]

In this case, the difference between a gallery and an exhibition space is that we don’t represent anyone or receive any income from the sale of works. It’s a bit like Entr’acte: we do it because we want to. [Also: there’s no social media, nor website. Photography in the space is strictly disallowed.]