Let us imagine summer slowly fading away — sunlight faintly tanning your skin, hot yet dry and crystalline air, utterly silent afternoon approaching sunset, white streets with no one in sight.... This will no doubt be a day in utopia, a place that never exists, because in reality a typical summer day here in Tokyo is too humid and almost aggressively hot which won't even allow you to ponder over something. Most certainly, however, this superb compilation album will let you spend hours simply sitting/lying about doing nothing. And it will bring your mind to some place some day that never was/is/will be, to a precious dream-like summer's end that is both curiously empty and surprisingly fertile at the same time.
I have never had a chance to visit Lithuania. Its name reminds me of reports on the media about the "Baltic countries" towards the end of the Soviet era, or of Sugihara "Sempo" Chiune, the "Japanese Schindler" who was stationed as a diplomat in Kaunas, then the nation's tentative capital, during the WWII when both the Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were struggling to establish hegemony in the region, but nothing more. Now I know that Lithuania is home of the netlabel par excellence Sutemos. I wonder what the summer is like over there.
Crepuscule, second coming?
The high calibre of music that is released by Sutemos is clear to anyone if he/she has listened to any track from their catalogue. This cannot be brought about by sheer chance, as the label's ten releases so far definitely have something in common, a "policy" or "intent" of sorts, a consistent taste — which becomes all the more evident when you listen to the Sutemos compilations, where a wide range of musicians/bands with their unique musical styles, instrumentation, etc contributes to giving a very integrated feel to each album. The brains behind this label appear to be always aware of what they aim to put forward as their label's characteristic, and have issued releases slowly but steadily with utmost care and pure love of music.
In theory, their musical excellence is not to be surprised at for me, since I have already called this label "the netlabel par excellence"; yet in practice, it must be a demanding endeavour to actually achieve and maintain the standard this high, in terms of amount of time and labour. Anyhow, what initially attracted my attention the most was that this label was from Lithuania, a country which many would hesitate to name as one of the musical centres of the world.
Sutemos' fast and far-reaching success inevitably reminds me of another seminal label in the past, of more than two decades ago — Crepuscule. The Crepuscule label claimed to hail from Brussels, Belgium, a rather unexpected location for music label headquarters, where many popular/unheard of musicians and bands of unique music styles and superior merits were (at least virtually) gathered. And the label released quality music, often in the form of compilation that almost always managed to convey a sense of integration, a unified atmosphere to its listeners. I should quickly note here that the musical styles and genres of these two labels, with almost a quarter of a century in between, were not that similar. The resemblance is strictly limited to the fact that each label has a sort of distinct "colour" common to each of their releases, and also that the overall standard of music they released is extremely high. And as it happens, both of them are from countries with relatively low musical profile. Hopefully, this comparison of Sutemos to Crepuscule won't be totally out of place.
An "interview" with Sutemos
Out of my ever growing admiration for and interests in Sutemos and their music releases, I gathered my courage to write to them. What follows is a virtual interview conducted through e-mail, with one of the founding members of the label, Walkman.
In my initial message, I explained that I am a relatively new listener to netlabel music (and electronica in general) and that I am not a professional music journalist, just a music lover and occasional scribbler with tiny readership for this humble weblog. Despite these shortcomings that clearly won't contribute much to Sutemos' publicity, Walkman was very cooperative in conducting this virtual interview. My most sincere thanks to you, Walkman!
[Q] To be perfectly frank with you, my very first impression about your label was "Why from Lithuania, for this high calibre of music?" I believe I am not too wrong in saying that very little is known over here (and perhaps in many other countries) about the contemporary music scene of your country. Can you tell us how Sutemos got started?
[Walkman] The website Sutemos.net as a project was born more than two years ago. Original intent of it was to introduce Lithuanian youth to experimental electronic music, IDM culture. I guess that's been achieved a while ago through this website of ours, so we launched its English version, and opened a netlabel to introduce other people around the world to the sounds that we really enjoy.
There are two goals that we aim to achieve through Sutemos. First, to develop such a netlabel which would be no worse than a real label. And second, to prove that free music in the internet is of the very high quality. That's what we have tried to do, and needless to say, what we intend to continue doing, too.
[Q] Can you give us some "background" information of your label — the main personalities behind the netlabel operation, what are their favourite types of music and bands/musicians, some interesting episodes related to the label?
[Walkman] Interesting episodes? Well, to let you share a secret with us, one of our founding members initially conceived of starting the Sutemos.net project as a personal gift to his girlfriend ;)
This kind of rather private anecdotes aside, Sutemos as music label simply wants to release the music/artists that we really like. We had only pure love of and interest in electronic music at the label's start. Now, after some two years, we certainly have good relations with various artists, but we try to push the boundaries further. By "pushing the boundaries further", I mean we are doing the stuff no one else thought possible to do.
Let me give you an example. Sutemos has released four compilations: Intelligent Toys, Intelligent Toys 2, Flow.ers and the latest Red, Green, Blue & Other Summer Feelings. Most typical of how we have "pushed the boundaries" would be Intelligent Toys 2. The artists who contributed to this compilation are real superstars in this kind of music — so that's a good surprise to start with. And not only did these artists agree to take part in our compilation project, but also they were happy to provide us with tracks specifically created for this album, and they even let us distribute these music freely and exclusively through our label.
I guess what was achieved through our compilations is some kind of revolution among netlabels — we did push the boundaries where no one else could before us (at least people tell us such things — I don't know if I believe in them). We always thought it would be just plain uninteresting to do the usual, conventional things that almost every single music label does and release music that doesn't stand out on its own. We have to be different because we really want to be noticed by people.
[Q] Is Sutemos into some particular music style, would you say?
[Walkman] Talking about musical style, it is based on our personal tastes. By "our tastes", we mean those of the two people who run the label — Sutemos and myself, Walkman. And since the tastes are very different between the two of us, there is no particular style. The only thing we care is absolute quality of the release that we enjoy ourselves.
[Q] The quality of a label's output of course depends on the talents and abilities of musicians/bands that the label carries, and in this sense your label's network of extremely talented musicians/bands is surprisingly well-selected and well-formed. How have you achieved this? How do you approach musicians/bands in the first place? Is it a kind of chain reaction — like a musician knows another, introduces him/her to you, then another and so on?
[Walkman] This was achieved through hard work. We write beautiful reviews, translate many of them into English, inform the artists reviewed of our review's URL, and wait for their responses. You are most likely to be surprised at the number of positive responses you'll get from artists, if you contact them directly. When you tell some artist that you love his sound, that you have written a review of his album, and ask him politely to read your review, you already have conquered his heart. So that's how we are building our network of artists, and I guess this is the root of our success — start communicating with hundreds of artists via our reviews, which contributes to forming a solid mutual trust between the label and the artists. But of course not all of our reviews were written and translated in pursuit of artists — I believe other people like to read them as well.
And yes, in some cases, it is kind of chain reaction as the world is relatively small — everyone knows each other. Sometimes we discover new artists by accident, like in our encounters with 3tronik, Stockfinster and some more.
[Q] While many compilations are nothing more than a collection of music with no apparent interrelations or significant connections between each track, I am truly impressed by the quality of your label's compiled albums, their "integrated" or "unified" atmospheres and tastes. Can you reveal us a bit of the secret of how you do this?
[Walkman] I guess we have talent for that. It happens naturally when you strive for the best quality available. I always give a lot of attention to the order of tracklisting — I guess this works very good for all the releases. Second thing that we care a lot about is we MUST LIKE THE MUSIC and the music must fit the content of planned release. I have tons of unreleased tracks on my computer just because they did not fit in musical context. This is the price we pay for quality. Sometimes we kind of joke that if the day comes at last when we have nothing to release, we will compile all the music that is left unreleased and make a "Sutemos B-Sides" compilation.
Up until here, you may have wondered that I am a bit obsessed with Sutemos' originating from Lithuania. But I have my own reason for this: the Sutemos catalogue contains many tracks from musicians and bands from/in Lithuania, like IJO (about whom I referred to in one of my previous articles (sorry, this is in Japanese), FusedMARc (linked to their official website; there is an interesting introduction in Sutemos.net as well) and Lys, all creating impressive music. This may be one of the signs of active music scene in that country, and that was a surprise to me.
Actually, geographically speaking the musicians/bands that get released by Sutemos are scattered around the globe, from North America to Europe, to the label's home Baltic countries to Russia. In this age of electronic network which facilitates literally instantaneous communications and exchange of music in the form of encoded files, perhaps Sutemos should better be called a label "via Lithuania", rather than "from Lithuania".
Red, Green, Blue...
The English release note of Sutemos' latest Red, Green, Blue & Other Summer Feelings says as follows:
.... Full of summer's evening beauty Red, Green, Blue & Other Summer Feelings will be dedicated to something that can be named as a soft mixture of post/indie rock, instrumental, synth, ambient music with a sprinkle of electronic experiments. Additionally, almost all tracks will be featured by vocals.
The works on this compilation started last autumn. From the very beginning we tried to concentrate on esthetics and beauty, not names. No numbers, no facts, no data — just pure and gorgeous beauty.
This summery sad and longing compilation will feature artworks from a little fairy No_joy that will be filled with sincerity, tenderness and calmness.[See the original in Internet Archive, on this album's release page]
I'd urge you to give this compilation a listen, in one sitting from start to finish. Comprised of 14 tracks in total for the duration of approximately seventy-five minutes, the music on this album never betrays the description of the blurb quoted above. What Walkman told us as the label's two goals, "no worse than a real label" and "the free music in the internet is of the very high quality" have been realised beautifully and elegantly in this release.
The title of my article, "A Vaguely Sad Summer", is of course overtly influenced from the album's title itself, particularly "... and Other Summer Feelings", as well as from the phrase in the release note "summery sad and longing...". And it is my humble attempt to capture the music on the album itself in words, too; this compilation as a whole is indeed filled with a flow, an atmosphere of summer, with lots of emotions and memories. Plain code progressions (be it in major or minor) in most of the tracks, slowish tempo throughout and comfortable, not too strong beats, effective sound control with lots of "spaces" — all of these contribute to giving a unified, strangely attractive impression of summer. The album title is definitely apt — and this aptness in turn signifies the sure and solid production process/methodology of this label, with clear purport of the entire compilation firmly in the producers' mind. In this respect as well, Sutemos as music label is competent and strong.
Hot and dry, yet subtle and somehow sad breeze of summer immediately starts to seep into your mind as the album kicks off with its first track, Marsen Jules' "Couer Saignant" (my personal favourite on this compilation). The layered sound of sampled(?) acoustic instruments (harp and strings?) functions as the perfect introduction, and is a true gem uniquely his own. The vocals that the release note referred to are mostly low whispers or choruses not overly expressive, and use of synthesisers and other electronic devices blends well with sounds from acoustic instruments like guitars and cellos that are featured in many of the tracks. The sixth track "A Crack in Time" by Stockfinster, particularly its featured male voice mumbling about something abstract, reminds me of Labradford's "Everlast" (from their 1993 debut masterpiece Prazision LP), but the music here is somewhat brighter. Towards the end, the album apparently changes air and gathers pace at its tenth track, "The Great Century" by Reed Rothchild (another personal favourite), in what I consider to be a typically "Sutemosian" fashion of flowing and quiescent beats; the three tracks follow, two of which can be described as so-called "post-rock" numbers driven by guitar riffs and steady drumming. And "Funny" by FusedMARc, the longest (some eleven minutes) on the album, closes this 75 minute dream trip, with a stronger beat created by the heavy bass guitar line on top of which ethereal high-pitched female voice dances.
The image at the top of this article is "Instability", a painting by no_joy aka Erika Minkevičiūtė, who was also mentioned in the release note. I chose this piece and asked for the permission to carry its image to accompany this article, as I thought it was perfectly fitting to and the most representative of the entire mood of this superb compilation. Many of her impressive works are displayed in the artist's own website and repeated visits to her site is rewarding; her paintings appear to me to share a unique strength hidden deep within the easily discernible delicateness and fragility.
Twilight, the magic hours...
When I was almost finished with the draft of this article, it occured to me that I had forgotten to ask one obligatory question: what does the name of the label "Sutemos" mean?
Walkman quickly gave me the answer, and it surprised me very much:
"Sutemos" in Lithuanian means "dusk" — the magic time of the day when the sun is already down and sky is coloured with most beautiful colours.
This was a genuine coincidence to me, as my comparison of Sutemos to the Belgian record label of more than twenty years ago had been in my mind as I began exploring their catalogue and got hooked immediately to their releases several months back. It was totally beyond my expectation that their label names shared an identical meaning.
Walkman also informs us that there will be another release from Sutemos towards the end of this month, September 2005, from one of the musicians who participated in the Red, Green, Blue... compilation. I am 100% certain that I am one of the many around the world who are eagerly anticipating more from this superior music label, one of the best of the bests, be it real or net- label.
[Translation completed and posted on the 10th of September, 2005. The original article in Japanese with the same title was posted on the 9th of September, 2005, under the category: music.]
[English Articles Index of this site is here.]
First, as to legality. Please note that the image of No_joy's painting in this article is a copyrighted material, and carried here resized, with permission.
This should have come first, but once again my deepest gratitude to Walkman and the Sutemos label, for their cooperation in writing this little article about them and their music.