[Ed. Note: It appears that Archaic Horizon is down, at least the website is not accessible. All of the releases and artists mentioned in this interview can be found in the Archaic Horizon collection on The Internet Archive.]
This year I’ve wanted to expand the types of articles I present on The CerebralRift. One of the ideas was setting up interviews with Creative Commons artists and netlabels. I tried to set up a couple of interviews four or five months ago, but they fell through (but hopefully we’ll get them back on track in the future). When I found Archaic Horizon in June, I resurrected the idea of doing a series of interviews. So, here is the first: the Archaic Horizon interview with Scott Smith and Dan Bettles.
This interview took a while to complete, but the results are excellent. I couldn’t be more pleased to present them, and feel this interview will set the standard for judging interviews on The CerebralRift. This is a long interview with a lot of questions, even a few that I thought could be kind of sensitive (such as the “business” questions). Scott and Dan didn’t shy away from answering anything that I threw at them, which is tremendously appreciated. If you enjoy this interview, consider making a donation to Archaic Horizon to help support their efforts.
Part One: General Questions
When and why did you start Archaic Horizon?
Scott: Around 2005, I started to discover all these independent record labels, and netlabels on the Web. It inspired me to start releasing some of my own personal music projects. And, after seeing how these netlabels operated, I figured I’d just start my own. So, late 2006, knowing a little about design, and even less about building a website, I hacked together a site that would become the platform for releasing music for the next three years – Dan jumped on board around 2009, and we redesigned, and rebuilt, the site. Once I had a site it was pretty easy to get the ball rolling. I knew a bunch of artists, and contacted those who I thought would be a good fit together. This was in the days of Myspace…
Dan: I came across Archaic Horizon through Systrum Sistum, a brilliant – but now sadly defunct – netradio station that played mainly CC-licensed electronic music published by netlabels. That must have been near the tail end of 2009 because I got in touch with Scott soon after hearing my first Archaic Horizon-published tracks. I was staggered by the quality of the releases – every one of them a winner – and felt completely at home with the vibe. Quite simply, I fell in love with the music and the label, and wanted to support it, to see it continue, and grow. I got in touch with the owner, Scott, and offered my services.
What type(s) of music do you release? Is there a philosophy behind your releases?
Scott: Well, in the beginning we were more focused on releasing music that had that dense, dreamy, nostalgic vibe — ya know, rich textures, warbling synths, and decayed sounds. Take, for example, the music of Orange Crush, Hills West, GABRIEL, and Sarin Sunday, to name a few early releases: they created some really standout albums that got Archaic Horizon started.
But the claim was to release music that was experimental, and that left it pretty open. Some wonderful ambient albums, produced by Celer, Sora Shima and Peter James, for example, characterize the other side of the spectrum, which is slow, moody, occasionally dark, ambient music.
Sometimes, the music fell right in between, like one of my favorites, the self-titled release by Track53; such a headspinner, that one. Or artists would approach with more serious experimental and concept-driven works, like Jeph Jerman & Tanner Menard’s The Now of Sound, and OPHIBRE’s Reference.
The only common thread is that most all of our release could be characterized broadly as electronic.
Dan: Yeh, the music tends to be “electronic”. I wouldn’t say philosophy, but it should be clear after listening to just a handful of our releases that the minds behind the music we publish are thoughtful – and are often melancholic or nostalgic. That, I think, is the essential ingredient.
Who is the target audience for releases on your netlabel?
Scott: Wouldn’t say we’ve ever targeted a particular audience. We’ve chosen artists because they came to us with something inspiring, something they’d obviously worked hard at and put some thought into. And if they fitted our general vibe then we figured our listener would wanna hear it.
Dan: At the end of the day, we publish music we think is good. I can imagine we appeal to plenty folks who are kinda like us, who appreciate the vibe and the quality, who are of a similar mindset, demographic, whatever, but I’m sure there are times when many of those listeners don’t like a particular selection – or even a run of selections. Some of our releases will no doubt find a home in the collections of those who claim not to like electronic music, even. Nah, I wouldn’t even think of aiming for a particular audience. It just is what it is: some listeners will like the music, and others won’t.
How do things work with Scott being in Los Angeles, and Dan being in Winchester?
Scott: Ya, well, they seem to work out pretty well. Everything’s managed through emails and without Dan the site would probably have fallen completely off the radar. But instead it’s this ever-evolving project that I’m excited to still be developing, and thankful to have some consistent help.
Dan: Yeh, it is – and always has been, really – quite straightforward; the separation has never caused us any issues. And these days there are a lot of great tools available that make working collaboratively like this a good deal easier. As Scott said, we’re in touch mostly via email. Scott works on Pacific time, so I pick-up where he left off when the sun’s shining over here – and vice versa. We use Google Docs for documenting ideas, planning, or whatever, and Dropbox to share files (music, artwork, etc). Then, for software development – for maintaining, or extending, the Website and the underlying infrastructure, including our REST API – we keep things in check using the Git version control system – standard stuff. At the end of the day, though, it works because Scott and I appear to be on pretty much the same wavelength; if it weren’t for that fact then we could have lived next door to each other and not gotten anywhere.
What drives you to run Archaic Horizon?
Scott: For one, I love hearing from new talented artists from all over the world. It definitely opens one’s perspective. Cool to see artists develop as well, especially if they go on to bigger things. Secondly, it’s a project that challenges us. It forces us to improve our writing, our technical skills, our ideas about what we’re doing.
Dan: Absolutely, yeh. Being involved with all these talented folks, being exposed to the music, is an inspiration, and it gives me a great deal of pleasure to think we’re helping these guys in some small way. As a project, it’s been a great outlet for our creative energies. Scott gives me a different perspective on things, which is a great help. I think we’ve both learned a great deal, one way or another, and it’s really interesting to see how far we’ve come. We’ve had ups and downs, but we’ve kept it going and I think our output is still strong.
What or whose music inspires you?
Scott: Couldn’t name a single artist or band. It’s too difficult.
Dan: I’m interested in art that says something about the artist, expresses something of their own experience. So the sort of music that interests me tends to be more distinctive, has some kind of identity of its own. Certainly, I’m drawn more to melancholic, and thoughtful, music. Doesn’t have be didactic, or overly conceptual, or whatever: it simply needs to have soul, some kind of feeling to it. In terms of electronic music, my heroes – the people who stand out in my mind – include FSOL, Orbital, The Orb, TPower, and Eat Static, because they were the folks who really blew me away when I started down this road back in the early nineties. I’ve discovered many brilliant artists since. The electronic genre, alone, is such a vast, and incredibly varied, landscape.
Are there any “must-hear” releases on Archaic Horizon?
Scott: Oh I have no idea. I think it depends on what the listener wants to hear. I’m a mood driven person. So for instance, sometimes I want to hear something somber and heavy that keeps me in that mood. Other times I want to just snap myself out of a funk and need something upbeat and cheery. Tell me your mood and I’ll prescribe you a release on Archaic Horizon.
Dan: Yeh, it’s a difficult one, that. Each release was chosen on its own merits, and since we’re quite picky, each one of them has something to offer: if I started reeling-off titles for one reason or another then I’m certain you’d end up with a list of everything on the label 😉 If I was forced to choose a handful of Desert Island Discs, though, I’d pick: Heroines of the U.S.S.R. – A Map Of Lost Causes; Naono – Sleepy Pebbles; Opake – Frescoed Clouds; Melorman – Expressing Thoughts; Electricwest – Divine de Vice. Those were picked for personal reasons.
What value(s) do you wish to express through Archaic Horizon?
Scott: Since the beginning it’s been about distributing music freely and openly, and gathering an audience through a collective effort. I draw a lot of inspiration from the open source movement and I’d hope that Archaic Horizon reflects some of that movement in spirit.
Dan: Sharing is caring, right? It can take tens/hundreds of hours to put together an album of the quality that appears on Archaic Horizon – and thousands of hours, beforehand, in perfecting the skills needed to get to that point. And Scott and I have spent many hundreds of hours in developing the label. Not everything has to be about money: you can do things purely for the love of it.
Part Two: Business Questions
What role does community play in Archaic Horizon? What do you consider Archaic Horizon: a business, collective, community, or?
Scott: Certainly not a business. A collective would be the best description. We have ambitions to make it more of a community, or at least be more socially driven.
Dan: It’d be nice if it was more of a community; that’s something we’re looking at right now, actually. In terms of running the label, it’s always been a collective.
How are donations handled?
Scott: Donations are so few and far between that the site is really funded by Dan and I. The little money that does trickle in goes to offsetting the cost of managing and hosting Archaic Horizon.
Part Three: The Future
Are there any projects you are working on? What’s next for Archaic Horizon?
Scott: Well, we’re very seriously working on the next update to the site. We want to bring some new features that make release pages more personalized to the individual artists and their music. And we want to improve the streaming functionality of the site, add things that will benefit the listener.
Dan: We’ve also been spending a lot of time discussing the future; we’re looking at ways to take things to the next level. The next step might involve souping-up Archaic Horizon, or creating a new kind of netlabel, or we may decide to develop an entirely different music-related service. The way that music is distributed has changed a great deal over the last few years, so if we want to continue to bring up-and-coming artists to the table then we need to find ways to improve the service we provide to them. That, of course, necessarily involves giving our listeners some kind of new, or improved, experience, too, so there’s plenty to consider.
Any specific artists you’d like to mention?
Scott: Well, there are many artists I left out in previous comments that are worthy of a mention but I’ll let the readers discover those gems for themselves.
Dan: Yeh. Plancky is kind of a cool dude. Though he does have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with Top Gun…
Any upcoming releases you would like to mention?
Scott: Yes, I’ll say that we’re very excited to see the return of one of the artists of our earliest releases: Corwin Trails. He put out a spectacular self-titled EP that really grabbed people’s attentions. I think our listeners will be excited to hear his latest EP, which should be out in the coming months.
Dan: We’re also very pleased to be working with the first solo female artist to appear on the label. We should be presenting her album within the next month or so.
I’d like to thank Scott and Dan of Archaic Horizon for the exceptionally detailed responses. I’m excited to hear that there are two releases in the works from them. Again, if you enjoy this interview, consider making a donation to Archaic Horizon to help support their efforts.