Music label, art gallery, and creative space 56 Stuff has been working for the past fifteen years to create an international art collaborative that spans more than five countries and twenty artists. We sat down with a few of label's artists/founders to discuss the advantages of recklessly following ones creative impulses, how to successfully operate in multiple markets, and why collaboration is more important than competition.
What's the 56 Stuff "origin story"?
Yellowhead: It came from a chain of happy occasions. A few young people met each other, their collective intention for creating had to be somehow accumulated -- so it organically evolved into an art community. It was suffice to use any uniting idea whatsoever, and we just chose [an absurd] construct: “fifty six is the best number in the world.”
At 56 Stuff, there seems to be considerable emphasis on cultivating an international artistic community. Why is that so important?
Idiosync: Nothing helps [us] better understand the world than going to other countries and meeting great people there. If everybody can forget grudges of their past and learn to create together, there will no longer be a need for states. People will be moving around freely. We do what we can to inspire this process.
Yellowhead: Geotargeting is good for marketing managers and politicians but it has nothing to do with real life. So why spoil the fun with borders if we can easily avoid them?
Creating an international community means being able to understand and operate within hundreds of individual markets that make up the whole international scene -- how are you able to successfully achieve this?
Yellowhead: We've got success? Really? That's great! I have to celebrate this fact with a couple of cocktails. Right now -- excuse me.
Idiosync: In our activities we mostly use new media that doesn’t acknowledge any international boundaries. And then it’s just a matter of finding common language with people we’re interested in working with.
Do you see any major differences between the way the American music market operates and the way the European music market operates? Do you see any major differences between the buying patterns of American music consumers as opposed to music consumers elsewhere in the world?
Idiosync: I think in principle, markets in Europe and US are identical. Everything’s available, from cumbiaton on vinyl to industrial on torrents. As for the rest of the world, I’m sure there are still places where people trade in cassettes and have little interest in transatlantic trends.
Yellowhead: Buying patterns, you said? I know only two of them and they are both universal. The first pattern is "I like this track -- so I support the artist with my tiny payment." The second pattern is "Nice album! I'll find out where to download it for free."
A vast majority 56 Stuff releases have a strong electronic and experimental feel. Is there a reason that genre is such a prominent focus of the label?
Cycle Hiccups: Everything needs to be digitized in order to be put online -- so why not deal with something that's already digital? I cannot pay salaries to my orchestra; I cannot promise my band any gigs -- but there is a website that publishes my own tunes sometimes, when I got them. And after all, a computer is just a method.
Idiosync: I believe that electronic music will take over in the future. Already, pretty much all music is digital -- and soon there will be completely new interactive interfaces for live performances. Clinging to traditional forms is unreasonably conservative. Rock bands look and sound obsolete.
Scaly Whale: A person who speaks about music genres in 2012 is like someone who voluntarily closes him/herself in a prison. I would like to divide modern music just into two categories: interesting and boring.
Why create an artistic collective as opposed to a traditional record label? Have you found any significant advantages or disadvantages to running a collaboration-based business?
Idiosync: We prefer collaboration to competition. And the advantage is that this way your mind is not being affected by mercantile incentives, scale of ranks, style guidelines, or contract commitments. [You] remain creatively flexible.
From an artist’s point of view, what's the advantage to releasing an album through an organization like 56 Stuff as opposed to a traditional label?
Cycle Hiccups: It's like wearing regular shoes [versus] those with green polka-dotted lining.
Foolk: To me, 56 Stuff support means a visually appealing way of distributing great music. Creative concepts [like] "Music Take-Away" or awesome compilations are unmistakabl[y us]. To make simple .JPG artwork for a digital compilation is not enough now. 56 Stuff does more nice things -- and nice things sell themselves.
Beyond music, 56 Stuff also plays host to a ton of visual art, ranging from traditional photography to "Neoidiotism." Have you found any link between housing other artistic forms and boosted music sales?
Yellowhead: We invented Neoidiotism long before the idea of establishing a music label came into our minds. From the very beginning, we didn't separate our activities into "supporting" and "leading" [categories]. We just go with our creative impulses, and various results of these impulses support each other.
56 Stuff has been around since 1998, and is still going quite strong. How has the label managed to successfully navigate all the issues that have negatively affected a vast majority of independent labels in the last 10 years?
Idiosync: It’s easy. You cannot not do it. It takes all your free time; you put commercial projects aside; it can make you go nearly broke -- but [you have to stay] immune to lures of popular sound and continue making music that you like, because that’s what it is about.
Next year will be 56 Stuff’s 15th anniversary. Where do you see the organization 15 years from now?
Idiosync: Ideally somewhere in outer space.
Scaly Whale: A huge community residing inside its own large museum of modern art, presenting its art in countries over the globe, and enjoying its success!
Yellowhead: If you are really interested, subscribe to our newsletter and stay in-the-know [regarding what we'll] be doing in next five, ten, and fifteen years. Anyhow, I will be really surprised if humankind survives until the year 2028.
Cycle Hiccups: Ask me where I see it 41 years from now!