Hello Thomas! Please introduce yourself, and tell us your musical history!
Hi, I am Thomas Hartlage and I am running the labels QDK-Media and Shadoks Music in Germany. I moved a few years ago from Hamburg to the Northern Sea island Amrum where I live and work. My first 25 years I was living in Bremen. Beside releasing LPs and CDs and a couple of DVDs I am collecting LPs since I was 15 (so it started in 1970).
Do you remember your first purchase?
Yes of course I do. I took my Christmas money and bought my first album (a double album for 38 German Marks which was as expensive as a good pair of Jeans) and bought Tommy by The Who. I just loved that album and still do. It came out on German Polydor, later on I have bought several other copies such as UK Track. I did not have my own turntable or HiFi so I had to use my father’s poor equipment to play my record. He did not like that music so I could only play it while he was at work (after school). The next couple of records I got were the first Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin II, and Fat Mattress (I never liked that album). Many albums I acquired were released in the magic year of 1969. Within the next year a good friend introduced me to albums such as MC5 – Kick Out The Jams, Steamhammer – MK II, Fleetwood Mac – Then Play On, Don Ellis – At Fillmore, Miles Davis – Bitches Brew, Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed, Chicago Transit Authority and some others. They became my favored records ever since then. I still have them, I still play them
When I started studying I began buying records at flea markets in my hometown Bremen; I kept some and sold those which I did not like. A lot of German Krautrock albums were easy to find and good sellers in Europe. I placed ads in the German Chatterbox (pre-Oldiemarkt) magazine. A bit later I took a first trip to San Francisco and bought many rare US records, at least stuff I did know such as Litter, Chocolate Watch Band, C.A. Quintet etc. I bought an old leather suitcase and packed it with about 40 kilo of records and returned to Germany. The following auction went pretty well. Over the years I took also many trips to Liverpool visiting a friend. They had great record shops and after a while I could jump behind the counter, going through the shop’s stock. These trips expanded my collection with great UK albums as well as some good lists to finance my studies since I did not get much money from home… so it was a good mixture of keeping albums for myself and selling some. I think other collectors such as Willi Oertel from Bremen, started the same way. I remember meeting him on local flea markets hunting for the same albums.
The German kraut scene is internationally very praised, but you, being German, tend to focus on international releases. All German classics done, or is it just a coincidence?
I must confess that I really never started collecting German bands. I am not sure why, perhaps the fruits on the other side of the fence were just more tasty for me. I had some standard albums such as Amon Düül II, Xhol Caravan and Kraftwerk. The band I loved most was FAUST. So later on, when I started my label Shadoks Music, I focused more on international rarities. Actually I have never released an album by a German band. Only on my QDK-Media label have I released something by a band from Hamburg (Tulip). I just knew more about UK and US bands than local German bands. So I cannot tell you much about the Kraut Rock scene. I have noticed that collectors in US, UK and Japan know more about those bands then my friends and I did. So it is a matter of taste perhaps, and having the curiosity to dig outside your own country.
I know you started early with your vinyl passion. How do you think the music progressed from the time you began to discover music to today’s style?
I always loved to buy and play LPs. The music style did not change that much since I was always after the unusual things. An album by Miles Davis from 1969 or a band such as MC5 can easily compare with albums from Sonic Youth, The Residents or more modern bands. So I measure progress more via a good HiFi and and the really good turntable I have now and did not in the early days. But certainly the performance technique has changed. When I saw a concert of “Muse” last year with my son I felt that I had never experienced anything like it before, from the light show to the sound. It pretty much blew me away. Of course I am missing the old days of huge PA’s at concerts and the stoned atmosphere at festivals. But the few times I have been to the Roskilde festival in Denmark I got the same feelings I had at festivals in the 70s.
It is an ongoing process, learning about music and enjoying it. Very much like reading novels a long time ago and enjoying a good book from the modern days. For me it does not matter when the album was recorded. I have to like it and it has to be good!
Running Shadoks music for more than 10 years has earned you respect. How did you start with the label, and how do you see the future of it in these downloading days?
I started 25 years ago with my QDK-Media label. I was working in a cinema and concert hall in Bremen. Because I was involved a lot in movies and music and had good friends in New Zealand, my first ever release in 1989 was an avant-garde rock band from NZ, Fetus Production. I did a 2 LP+single Box. On a couple of trips to NZ I have met the director Peter Jackson (Lord Of The Rings). So it was obvious that I continued with releasing soundtracks of his early movies such as Bad Taste, Meet The Feebles and Brain Dead. I became partner with the German label Normal Records and released many soundtracks by Russ Meyer and compilations such as Betty Page, Doob Doob O Rama and Love Peace & Poetry. During the period of Love Peace & Poetry I got quite a few albums from US labels such as Rockadelic and DelVal. I showed old vintage US sleeves to my bookbinder and we figured out a way to produce very heavy US style hand made covers. We started with an edition of velvet covers with engraved artwork. That’s where I started with Shadoks Music. I made 10 releases before under the Little Indians name and these reissues became quite popular so I continued with Shadoks Music with over 160 releases so far. I did the LP deals on my own and the CD marketing was done by Normal Records.
I think the LP sales will be stable the next few years. The CD sales are a big problem. In most cases, when I buy a new LP by a modern band I receive a CD or download code for free. This will likely be the wave of the future. You buy a physical record (LP) and receive a digital format on top for free, either as a download or a CD included. That might solve the problem with free downloads.
What sort of music do you mainly focus on?
As a collector I focus on anything good. Blues influenced rock, electronic, avant-garde, indie rock, jazz and classical. As a label I focus on underground, psychedelic and folk. My private taste is much wider. After finding all those great rock albums in the early 70s I explored bands such as The Residents. I remember in 1978/80 when my friends in the commune I was living in were listening to Wishbone Ash and James Taylor in one room, I was playing Third Reich & Roll by The Residents in my room. They really hated that music and soon it was clear that my musical taste was too far out for them. Listening to Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, MC5 and The Residents all day was a nightmare for them. So a few months later I left and got new roommates. Musical taste can sort out relations very quickly, either for friends you are living with, or girlfriends…
If I were to invent the time machine, I would attend a gig with either 2066 & THEN, AMON DUUL II, NECRONOMICON or GILA. What is your own time machine dream?
My personal time machine would take me back to 1969, my favored musical year, first to the “Woodstock festival” and perhaps to an early gig of Captain Beefheart with Zoot Horn Rollo on guitar (1969 Trout Mask Replica and 1970 Lick My Decals Off, Baby era). A good British friend saw them playing early and he said it was the most cool and groovy concert he ever saw in his life.
How do you discover new music?
If you mean new bands, I buy many many independent records from bands in US, UK or other countries. I love bands such as Sigur Ros, Trentemøller, Shearwater, electronic artists such as Squarepusher, Boards of Canada, Jon Hopkins and Cornelius from Japan. I love Blues, Underground, Electronic, Indie Rock , Jazz and Classical music. So I hunt in many musical fields. I always look at what is going on with labels such as WARP, Domino and many others. Reading reviews and looking at what my friends are into helps to sort out the good stuff from the boring.
Regarding old underground albums I find my objects of desire mostly through sales lists I am reading and through collector friends. Hunting season started over 40 years ago and it still goes on…
Many old 60s and 70s re-issues are far from as professional as your Shadoks releases are. How do you manage to locate all those obscure and forgotten bands you managed to put out?
I discover my music as a label either through albums I buy from dealers for my collection, but mostly through collectors from all over the world who are helping me on projects such as Clark Faville, Hans Pokora, Enrique Rivas, Tomi Kuoppamaa , Claus Rasmussen, Pekka Nurminen, Knut Tore Breivik, Ercan Demirel, Walter Geersten, Willi Oertel just to name a few. Without these guys I would not explore new vintage rare albums and it also helps to correspond with the bands since in many cases I have to write in Spanish, Finnish, Portuguese, Turkish and other languages. It also helps to find collectors who have good contacts to bands I am searching for. So a worldwide link among collectors helps a lot. Many years ago I had to phone all the time or to travel to find bands. Now with Facebook, YouTube and many blogs I can make contact with band members more easily.
I remember a call I did to find the band Tony Caro & John. I was searching the UK phone directory and found a few guys with the name Tony Doré. On my first try somebody picked up the phone and I could tell immediately from his unique voice on the other end of the line that it was him, bingo! We made a great release together and on top he did manage to find me quite a few original albums. Over the years they all went to collectors either in trades or sales. I think from the UK band Candida Pax I had about 15 originals. In recent years it’s become more difficult to locate bands before other collectors find them. Captain Marryat was found by many guys and originals instantly became very expensive, which was good for the band. I set up my release deal and bought 1 original copy. So I was very happy.
Please let us know more about the German vinyl collecting situation. Many people who collect?
I know quite a few German collectors. But I am surprised by how many younger people have started collecting vinyl. Of those who are buying my Shadoks reissues many of them are between 20 and 30 years old. I know 3 sisters in Berlin (daughters of a friend of ours) and they collect vinyl only and they’re doing DJ shows with Shadoks releases. So I think the situation in Germany is still pretty strong regarding collections. Many rare albums never make it to the European market these days as Russian collectors have started paying crazy prices for nice old original copies. But this is not a German problem, it is a problem for many collectors around the world.
One thing that strikes me is that many German singles from the 70s are far cheaper than the LPs are. Is there a bigger market for LPs, or were singles simply pressed in bigger quantities in your opinion?
I do not know so much about German singles but I can tell you for sure that singles were much more common than LPs back in the day. LPs were too expensive to buy. Singles were easy to get. So in many cases I think singles were more common and pushed by the music industry and LPs were for real collectors with money.
Where do you prefer to buy your records?
I buy old original records from dealers I know and from some collectors. Not anymore from eBay as I was often upset about the condition of the albums. If I feel I have found a good new dealer I prefer to buy from him. New modern albums I buy from mail orders, direct from labels and sometimes I use Amazon. I love modern collectors editions so if I want to have limited releases from bands such as Sigur Ros, I buy direct from their website. I used to do the same with limited editions from bands such as The Residents. I bought them in USA from their fan club or Ralph Records auctions they did. When I started to collect 1980s US albums I bought from the early days of Forced Exposure or New Music Distribution Service in New York. I traveled a lot so I knew all the good record shops in London, Liverpool, New York and San Francisco. I found many many great albums on my trips… I have traded many great records with the musician John Zorn who was working in the 80s in a record shop in NY. Also my friend Peter Principle from Tuxedomoon found many great records for me.
Name three records that are special to you, and will be buried with you. Please tell us the story of how you got hold of them.
First of all I would name “Then Play On” by Fleetwood Mac. Second album would be “Tommy” by The Who and third album perhaps “Kick Out The Jams” by MC5. I bought them when they came out in Germany and stayed fresh for the past 40 years. I always loved them and still play them. Must have heard them many many times…
And finally: what do you see in the future of record collecting?
I think collecting albums will continue for a long time. I never felt cool about collecting post stamps, magazines or other things. I love to collect music and guitars simply because this makes my life richer. I am spending most of my days with LPs and guitars. And I think this will not change. Collecting music fills my private world with spirit and with influences from all over the world. I have learned more things from music than from books or at school. So collecting music is my spiritual thing and my desire….
I would say that might suit many young people as well. My son (15) started collecting music, not LPs, not CDs, more like playlists he is doing from Spotify, iTunes and other non-physical formats. But he is collecting music. So no matter what format you choose, it is all about collecting music and this will have a future. He might switch later on to LPs (a father can hope!).