Steep Gloss is one of those fantastic labels that is constantly giving all manner of fun sonic weirdness with amazing consistency. Everything from tape oddities to acoustically generated percussive weirdness is produced and distributed by the artists on this label and everything is made available on digital and cassette. Recently, we sat down with the head of this exceptional UK-based label to discuss his motivations for starting the label, his thoughts on live performances, and what is coming up in the future for the label.
LH: First off, thanks for giving us an interview. The music and art that comes from Steep Gloss has captivated me since I heard the first album you sent over from Brandstifter & Arma Agharta.
RSB: Thanks for inviting me.
LH: When did you decide that you were going to start your own tape label and when did you formally establish Steep Gloss?
RSB: Before hitting on the collaborations concept for Steep Gloss, I'd never really considered starting a label. Or rather, I may have briefly daydreamed the possibility at some point, then dismissed it due to having no interesting angle for a label - nothing new to say etc.
The concept of the label being strictly for collaborations kind of fell into my lap almost fully formed. It just took a lightbulb moment for me to join up the dots.
Around Autumn 2019, I was listening to Earth Trumpet & Midwich - The Integrity of the Vehicle. Then a digital-only release, that I wished was on tape. At the same time, my friend Andrew Sharpley was telling me about a collaboration he'd just finished with Romain Perrot (aka HNW artist Vomir) that he was hoping to do a physical release of. Also around this time, I was trying to convince my friend Darren (from the duo Honkeyzontal Picnic) to get some recordings together and consider a release. So all these elements were orbiting/staring me in the face when it dawned on me that they were all unique collaborations, quite different from the work I knew from the artists involved. It made me start to imagine them as cassette releases and I started to think of the collaborative works I'd enjoyed in the past. And how collaborations can take an artist down a path they wouldn't be able to get to on their own. 'This is worth doing!' I thought. So I decided to ask the above people if they would consider me doing a tape of their work and if they all said yes, then I'd have a label on my hands!
Well, of course, they all said yes and the Earth Trumpet & Midwich and Andrew Sharpley & Romain Perrot became the 1st two releases on the label. The Honkeyzontal Picnic one came a bit later, but was equally integral in the formation of the label and was very important in helping to establish the remit of balancing absurd/daft/playful works with serious/sinister/melancholy works.
LH: What’s your reasoning behind accepting only collaborations and no solo artists?
RSB: As I briefly mentioned above, I'm interested in how collaborations make an artist produce works they wouldn't have been able to produce on their own. That working with another person brings out something in them that couldn't have been accessed by them alone. I believe this area is worth putting under a microscope and exploring what can emerge from this focus.
I have a thirst for sounds I haven't heard before and the most interesting ones to me come from collaborations of two or more disparate sources combining to create something greater than the sum of the constituent parts. It's alchemy, basically.
I want to go down this hole and see what's in there, unfortunately, I have to leave something behind in order to go in there.
Of course, I have nothing against solo works and I listen to them often and enjoy them immensely. When you specialize in one thing, you have to ignore another thing and in this case, it is solo works. Luckily, they are well catered for out there. Put simply: without this concept, any interest in running a label would be non-existent for me.
I haven't come across any other labels that focus solely on collaborations, so maybe nobody else deems it worthy of such specialization. Maybe others see it as an unnecessary restriction or needless exclusivity, but for me, it's worth pursuing with such focus to get to some new, unheard sounds. And it's an avenue that continues to interest me greatly. I'm continually enlivened each time a new work comes my way for a potential release.
As an artist, I've found, when listening back to the collaborations I've done, that more often than not I'll be pleasantly surprised by what I've been able to achieve. I come away enriched, not just because the collaborative partner(s) has taken my sounds where I couldn't take them, but also with the discovery that a new part of my creativity has been unlocked and that only through that *one* particular collaboration was the route to unlocking it possible. No other route would have gotten *that* out of me. And it's this that I want to tap into with the label's releases and have that transmit to the listener too. For example, a listener may go into a release for the 1st time already knowing one of the artists (or even all of them) but they probably haven't heard them do *this*. They haven't heard them be unlocked in this way. That's the hope, at least!
Anyway, I'm very grateful to have found something I think is worth doing, and hopefully, the resulting releases give people as much pleasure as I get out of them too.
LH: Do you organize or conduct any live events in conjunction with artists on Steep Gloss? If not, are planning or considering doing so?
RSB: As the label started in late 2019, most of the label's operations have been during the Covid period, so this hasn't really been possible. I have thought of maybe doing an SG night, featuring some of the artists on the label, but I would say it's more likely to be a one-off than anything regular.
The closest I came to this was my duo Liminal Haze's brief tour in early 2020, where, at the Manchester date, Craig Johnson, Gidouille, Darren of Honkeyzontal Picnic and Calineczka all played! The joy of doing that one may provide the inspiration to do something else similar one day….possibly. I'm no gig promoter though, so it would need to be in collaboration with somebody who is.
LH: Are you an artist as well? If so, can you tell us a bit about your style and your influences? Also, do you distribute your own material through Steep Gloss as well?
I record under the name Diurnal Burdens. This is my solo project. Works under this name have been released by labels such as Invisible City Records, Falt, Matching Head, Chocolate Monk, More Mars, Crow Versus Crow, Liquid Library, Moonside Tapes, Flux on Demand, Czaszka, Courier.
Many of these releases have been collaborations with artists such as Several Wives, Brandstifter, Matt Atkins, and Territorial Gobbing.
Style-wise, I don't really know what it is I do! I'd say it sits in the electronic/experimental field and contains elements of drone, ambient, field recording, musique concrète, tape music, minimalism, sound collage, etc in varying degrees. I continue to be influenced all the time, which no doubt filters through into my work. The last thing to really change my head was The Conduits, for example.
The real instigators for me starting to make my own sounds in the first place were people like The Hafler Trio, Nurse With Wound, and :zoviet*france:
I have an ongoing duo (with Craig Johnson aka Rovellasca/Invisible City Records) called Liminal Haze, which specializes in minimalism, decay, and texture. Releases from this project have appeared on the labels: Invisible City Records, Park70, Important Drone Records, Matching Head.
Elsewhere I have recorded under my own name (Ross Scott-Buccleuch) in a collaborative trio with Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson & Andrew Sharpley. Two albums from this trio have been released so far, Ghost of dAdA (Chocolate Monk) and Mask of Cheerful (Test Recordings).
Also, I have reworked the sounds of Howard Stelzer and have appeared on 3 albums (so far!) of his Suburban Observances album series, amongst an array of other wonderful artists.
As for issuing my own sounds on Steep Gloss, beyond including a track of mine on the 1st blank tape compilation, I haven't really done this. I dare say it will inevitably happen at some point, especially as I tend to work more collaboratively than solo these days, but for the time being, I'm focused on releasing the sounds of other people.
LH: Is there anything new and exciting coming up for the label? It looks like you’ve got quite a full release schedule through the remainder of the year.
RSB: Yes, the schedule is pretty full for the next 6 months or so (up to Spring/Summer 2022 at the time of writing.)
The rest of 2021 will see releases from X°=1 (which is a 4-way live cassette plunderphonics collaboration between Harold Schellinx, Emmanuel Rébus, Blenno Die Wurstbrücke & Anton Mobin), Culver & La Mancha Del Pecado, Eating the Internet, Shakeeb Abu Hamdan & Sholto Dobie. Early next year there'll be releases from Joan La Babbleuh (Ben Presto & Angela Sawyer), Tim Olive & Matt Atkins plus a few other surprises I'm keeping under my hat….
Beyond that, I'm completely open to whatever may come my way!
From 2022 the release schedule will slow down a bit from 2 a month to a more sedate and manageable less frequent rate of something like 2 or 3 tapes every few months or so.