INTUITION AND PASSION - an interview with Roberto Mammarella (Avantgarde Music) pt. I

Avantgarde Music is a well-known name in the metal scene. Indeed over the years this label from Milano has succeeded in distinguishing itself from other local labels thanks to its authenticity and intuition for producing extreme and considerable bands both from Italy and particularly from international countries.
The one talking about its history is its founder Roberto Mammarella, with whom I exchanged a "few" words about his relationship with the artists, his colleagues, and moreover about his devotion to Avantgarde and his job.

    Unia: How were Avantgarde Music and Wounded Love Records born?

Roberto: Wounded Love Records doesn't exist anymore. It was a sublabel created without a particular aim. It was my partner's label when we opened up Sound Cave in '96, while I came up with Avantgarde in '94. Some releases, which were supposed to be published by Avantgarde, came by Wounded Love Records, and that was not totally correct, because, if you decide to create your own sublabel, you should create your own concept too. Instead, Wounded Love released some albums which could have been published via Avantgarde. This label lost sense over the years.
On the contrary, Avantgarde was born as a transformation of a previous label called Obscure Plasma Records, which used to publish only 7" and tapes. In '94, I decided to create my own stuff seriously.

    U. : Which were the goals that encouraged you to found your own label? Which were the first steps?

R. : At first I started as a consumer, but I have always had a sense of distribution. Indeed I didn't buy the copies just for myself, but five or ten more for my friends too. Certain times I even gave my release to the unsatisfied friend, which copy never came back...

    U. : Knowing your background experience as a musician in Monumentum and Cultus Sanguine projects, what made you turn into a producer? They're not the same thing...

R. : Indeed there's a huge difference! Promoting your group by your own label wasn't so obvious at that time. For example Cultus Sanguine's release was published by Wounded Love Records. On the contrary Monumentum published their albums under different labels since, being a "musician", I didn't want my full-lenghts to be published by my own label. I preferred others to take on the task.
With the passing of years you see things from a different point of view. Avantgarde will soon publish the reprint of Monumentum's first album [In Absentia Christi], but I only do this since there's a great external demand.
Production has completely eliminated musical creativity. Talking from my experience: everybody is asking me to record another Monumentum's album. I would like to record it, but when I come back home, I'm so tired and exhausted that trying to compose or play music is the last of my thoughts. I never say no because I still feel an inner desire to release another disc. If I just had the label, I would probably use my time for that. Only having a shop still open nowadays is a big responsability. Furthermore in 2015 the so-called studio projects have no sense any more. Either you go around playing everywhere, or studio projects are "short-lived". You know: if in October someone releases an album, in December nobody will talk about it anymore. That's why I sometimes wonder why I have to face to this phisical and psychological hardship.

    U. : In Avantgarde's roster there have been many bands with a musical and professional importance. I would like to quote some of them: Behemoth, Mayhem, Carpathian Forest, Evoken, Katatonia, Thergothon, Solefald, Keep Of Kalessin and so on... So what was the input that made you promote and then produce these groups?

R. : All the groups that you quoted have taken part in the genre, and just this for me is a great satisfaction. They left their mark in the metal scene: Unholy, Kvist, Dolorian... At the beginning Thergothon gained nothing from the release of their first album, but everybody knows them for being the god-fathers of funeral doom, Kvist released one of the most important albums of Norwegian black metal, Keep Of Kalessin did the first two full-lenghts for Avantgarde... So this for me is a great satisfaction.

I think that there was not a proper reason for producing these groups. Obviously there was the intuition for searching them. What people always like of Avantgarde is that I've never pretended to show any kind of bragging. I've never wanted to take my job too seriously. Mine is not a professional label as Century Media. So I took it with the freedom of a hobby. Sometimes I've also risked having my attitude misunderstood. Bands like Katatonia and Behemoth started to demand more, so they decided to change label...
However I'm the first to say that these groups made the right choice. If they had stayed with Avantgarde, they would probably never have succeeded. In other cases instead, changing label is seen as naive, meaning that nothing changes. For example Shining [from Sweden], I consider them an hopeless group beacuse they have always changed label since they were born, Lifelover too... There is this common belief that changing label for a bigger one means changing the mood of a group.
I've always left many groups to move apart from Avantgarde and take their own way without bitterness or rage. Another good quality of Avantgarde is that the bands finally had to face a normal person like me.

    U. : Compared to the past, is there something which changed in the label as far as production or relationship with the artists are concerned?

R. : Today groups are more "touch and go": you collaborate with a band, send the copies and sometimes they will never answer back. When I said that albums are "short-lived" is not only from a consumer's point of view, but also from artists'.
Last year I produced two groups: Sivyj Yar and N.K.V.D. After three months from their releases, they sent me two e-mails with their new album in attachment and ask me if I wanted to produce it. Groups used to release a full-lenght every two years.
So N.K.V.D. released his one under another moniker [Autokrator via Iron Bonehead Productions]. On the contrary, Sivyj Yar decided to postpone the release until September, one year after his last one.
So the question of the "short-lived full-lenghts" influences the group itself. Either you play around, or you vanish.

    U. : I think it is also due to the fact that during the last years the usability of albums changed too.

R. : The resource of albums has extremely decreased. There are small groups which succeed in selling 500 copies every two months – except for Abigor and Darkspace. At that time 500 copies were the promos, while now it is the number of the albums you sell!

Interview by Mara "Unia" Zanetti (C) 03/10/2015

Translation and editing by Mara "Unia" Zanetti and Noemi "Noe" Valceschini (C)

for the Italian version, check this link