Label Feature: WRWTFWW Records
Click here to listen to the Carhartt WIP Radio Show featuring WRWTFWW Records.
WRWTFWW (We Release Whatever the Fuck We Want Records), is a genre-defying Swiss label specializing in reissues and beyond. It’s co-run by friends and founders Olivier Ducret, also the person behind Geneva’s Mental Groove Records, as well as producer and DJ Stéphane Armleder. The idea behind WRWTFWW is less about hoarding rarities, says Ducret, but rather selecting “albums from the past that we love and that are rarely accessible, and making them available to everyone again.”
Since the label’s inception in 2013, WRWTFWW has reissued obscure, original motion picture soundtracks like John Carpenter’s Dark Star and Kenji Kawai’s Ghost In The Shell. It has also released Midori Takada’s sought-after Through the Looking Glass, and Yasuaki Shimizu’s illustrious album Kakashi – both considered to be collector’s items in the world of Japanese ambient electronic music.
Whether it’s the post-punk sounds of Swiss 80s band Grauzone, records from contemporary acts like Para One from France, or new work from former Deee-lite member Towa Tei, WRWTFWW’s output is boundless in genre and style. “It’s being able to go from Midori Takada to the Ghoulies soundtrack with the same amount of respect and love for both original releases, and their places in music history,” says Armleder.
For this episode of Carhartt WIP Radio, Ducret and Armleder showcased their labels’ rich discography with an expansive two hour mix, playing some classics from the vaults as well as a few exclusive, soon-to-be released tracks, spanning downtempo, soul, funk, synth-pop, and traditional Japanese folk. Accompanying the episode is an interview with the founders, in which they detail their mutual love of B-movies which led to the creation of the label, how they ensure the sound quality in their vintage reissues stays so high, and the records that have shaped their lives.
You both have an already impressive track record in music. Stéphane, you release music under the moniker The Genevan Heathen and are a co-founder of the label Villa Magica; Olivier, you’re a producer, DJ and the man behind Mental Groove Records. How did your paths cross?
Stéphane: The first time we truly met was when I went to Olivier’s then record store, Mental Groove in Geneva, to bring him some Villa Magica releases. I say “truly met” because I had been to his record store before as a customer, but back then I was the hip hop guy visiting the house and techno place. We ended up developing a friendship over music, movies – horror, sci-fi, foreign, B-movies – and bonded over our weird sense of humor. It led to us throwing parties together, where both electronic and hip hop artists would play. Then we worked for a music startup and shared an office space, and that’s where WRWTFWW was born. Our individual history is different in some ways and similar in others. It brings a good balance to our work.
Olivier: We also started organizing parties together at a time when I was feeling a bit bored of how the club scene was evolving. It became quite minimal and less fun. Around then, I began finding more hip hop and R&B records with techno elements in them, so it felt very natural to join forces with Stéphane. We threw pretty crazy parties – great energy, smiles everywhere, sometimes with as many people on stage as in the crowd. Stéphane would sometimes drop a slower song, like at a high school prom, playing something like Justin Timberlake's My Love and I’d follow up with an obscure, raw Dutch techno track. It all worked, because people were there to party hard and have the most fun.
What was the impetus behind starting WRWTFWW in 2013?
Olivier: In April 2012, we went to an all-night screening of B-movies and exploitation films and, at some point around 4am, not really sure if we were awake or having a collective dream, a superb Giorgio Moroder-esque track started playing while French actress Brigitte Lahaie rode a horse au naturel on the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel. Epiphany. We had to find the soundtrack of the film this clip came from, an obscure mondo documentary from 1984. This is how the label was born, with the release of the soundtrack to the French film La France Interdite (1984). It all started very organically, we simply fell in love with a track and decided to put it out. We also had no specific plans on doing more than that one release, we certainly had no idea we would be here talking about a label celebrating its ten year anniversary soon, and with years of releases planned ahead.
Does Geneva play a part in the label’s history or could you operate from any place in the world?
Stéphane: It plays a part in the sense that we are both born and raised in Geneva, and have had our share of involvement in local scenes at various points in our lives. That said, I kind of live all around at the moment, and Olivier is somewhere in the woods. Our records are manufactured in and distributed from Germany (shout out to Word & Sound); our main graphic designer Nicolas lives in Zürich; Frank, who helps us with organization and tries to keep us sane, lives in Lausanne; Ken Hidaka, who helps us with Japanese reissues, lives in Tokyo. We don’t have an office anymore. We work from wherever we are, and meet every now and then in the countryside of Neuchâtel to eat local tarts and get down to business.
How would you describe WRWTFWW to someone who is not familiar with the concept of reissuing?
Olivier: We select albums from the past that we love and that are rarely accessible and make them available to everyone again.
You also release new music, for example by legendary Japanese artists like Midori Takada and Towa Tei, and by European artists like Gareth Quinn Redmond. You could argue that WRWTFWW is not a reissue label, per se.
Stéphane: I would say WRWTFWW is a reissue label with no definite rules, and that includes releasing new music too. Sometimes it’s current artists doing music we feel fits with our catalog, like the latest Para One album with its Kenji Kawai and Midori Takada influences, or Gareth Quinn Redmond’s work inspired by Satoshi Ashikawa. Sometimes it’s artists whose older releases we have reissued that have new projects, like Midori Takada, and then you have Towa Tei from Deee-Lite! That’s just too good to pass on. We have more from Gareth in the works, and quite a few other new music releases in the pipeline, too.
How did you come up with the label’s name?
Olivier: I wish I remembered exactly! We came up with a million names, all very weird. I think the original name was “1000 Gremlins In Your House Records” but at some point we were just like, “fuck it, let’s just release whatever the fuck we want,” and there was the name. The whole idea is: do what you love.
What process do you follow for getting titles to reissue?
Stéphane: We find albums we love and want to re-release, then search for the rights owners and hope they’ll agree with the project. And if we get the green light we start art directing, working as closely as possible with the artist and rights owners so that everyone is happy.
Olivier: I also use my own record collection which, to this day, I still find gems in from the past that I’ve forgotten about. That might lead to a reissue or serve as inspiration for another one. It's all so simple, it's almost frightening.
What do you find most challenging about the work you do?
Stéphane: The current vinyl production delays mean we have to be very organized which, historically, is not our forte! Also, increasing production costs have been quite problematic these past few years.
Does the market influence your judgment on what to reissue?
Olivier: Not so much. We do try to adapt the amount of copies we press depending on what we feel will be highly demanded or restricted to a very small niche. But other than that, we just go with what we love.
What about the quantity of copies you release? Are you doing re-presses, or watching a platform like Discogs to see what the demand is?
Stéphane: It depends on each release. We’ll often start with 1000 copies and re-press if we feel people are asking for more. Sometimes we do a limited 500 copy edition, which works well for super obscure releases like the Evil Dead Trap soundtrack. And for bigger releases like Midori Takada, Grauzone, or Ryo Fukui, we sometimes start with a pressing of 2000 or 3000 and see where it goes.
You find rare, sometimes long forgotten music and reissue it with the best sound quality. Can it be hard to maintain this quality, especially now that vinyl is booming again?
Stéphane: We try to get the best source and mastering possible for the music – that’s the foundation to ensure the sound quality is optimal. Then vinyl pressing is always a bit of a roll of the dice, but we work closely with the pressing plant and try all we can to have the best quality possible.
When remastering old music, do you work with a go-to person or do you choose the mastering based on the record being released?
Stéphane: Depending on the release, we either work with Sidney Claire Meyer at Emil Berliner Studios, or Clovis Jean XV at Château de Cranves-Sales, who was already working with Olivier for Mental Groove releases back in the day. In relation to the music is definitely how we proceed.
How important are the non-musical components of your releases, like the packaging and album art?
Stéphane: Very! Both Olivier and I are very attached to objects, and due to our age, have grown up in the era of VHS tapes, cassettes, records, and even LaserDiscs. We try to make records that are nice to listen to and beautiful to look at.
What distinguishes WRWTFWW from other reissue labels?
Stéphane: There are tons of amazing reissue labels out there, all with their little thing that makes them special. For us, maybe it’s being able to go from Midori Takada to the Ghoulies soundtrack with the same amount of respect and love for both original releases, and their places in music history.
What do you want to accomplish with the music you reissue?
Stéphane: Share the love!
What other projects is the label working on right now?
Stéphane: Two new Midori Takada albums are out in stores in July; two new Gareth Quinn Redmond albums; Tarzanland by Daisuke Hinata of Interior (shout out Samuel Reinhard); the Ghoulies II soundtrack with a special artwork by Pierre Thyss; amazing old video game music from a Swiss composer; a very cool project with Soichi Terada; unreleased tracks by Yutaka Hirose; possibly some more Grauzone-related projects in the near to distant future… and much more!
WRWTFWW runs sublabels like We Release Jazz and Mitsuko & Svetlana Records. Can you tell us what distinguishes them from the main label, and what releases both have in store for 2022?
Stéphane: We Release Jazz was born because we signed a few jazz records simultaneously and felt we wanted them to have a different visual identity as our WRWTFWW releases. Nicolas Eigenheer designed the “JAZZ” logo and the rest is history. There are a few releases in the works for it, but nothing solid enough to mention at the moment. We recently released Hiroshi Suzuki’s Cat which was a big one, plus plenty of “JAZZ” merch! Mistuko & Svetlana is a friend’s label we helped curate and produce, but unfortunately it’s no more. Great releases though. I recommend checking Sora’s re.sort album. It’s very underrated.
What fascinates you about rare, obscure records from the past?
Stéphane: I think there’s something magical about giving a second life to timeless music that wasn’t recognized as such back when it came out, or to timeless music that was recognized, but whose recognition somehow faded over the years. It's also a way to dig through all the crates we didn't know existed.
Olivier: It is also an endless quest. When you think you’ve dug through it all, you find that little door that leads to something else.
Are there any records that you keep for yourselves that you don’t want to release?
Stéphane: No, I think everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy everything.
How did you select the tracks for your Carhartt WIP Radio show?
Stéphane: Simply put, we wanted to present an eclectic selection of past and future releases from our catalog.
What's your view on the value of music today? In what way does the abundance of music change the way we listen to it?
Stéphane: I suppose people put a little less effort into the listening experience of one particular album or song so, in that sense, music might have become a little less precious than it used to be. That said, music has never been so present in daily life. Habits change but music remains a very central aspect to human life and, whichever form it takes, it will never disappear. I do not understand NFTs though.
What are three albums that you'll never get tired of listening to?
Spacemen 3 – The Perfect Prescription
Babyfather – BBF hosted by DJ Escrow
The KLF – The White Room
Devin the Dude – The Dude
Justin Timberlake – FutureSex/LoveSounds
Ryo Fukui – Scenery
What is the most obscure record you have in your collection?
Olivier: I invited Hackney duo Ragga Twins (Shut Up And Dance Records) to play at our party. At that time, they were pioneering a fusion of reggae, dub and rave, which would later become jungle. They had an MC with them who offered me a white label of his forthcoming 12". And still today, this is the baddest, roughest, rawest, nastiest and most infectious underground dance record I own. It just captures the energy of a pivotal era like no other: dub, hip hop, techno, breakbeat, hardcore and soul.
What records have shaped your lives?
Olivier: I was initially getting records from the supermarket. Then imports, especially Japanese imports, became available. There were special mail orders and fanzines, things like MTV, NME and De:Bug, that were all valuable pre-internet sources that kept me in tune with emerging new music. Through them I discovered Cat Stevens, Underground Resistance, Kid Creole & The Coconuts, Moritz von Oswald, Public Enemy, The Future Sound of London, James Stinson, Gerald Donald, Laibach, Lee Perry, Jack Dangers, Beastie Boys, Bérurier Noir, Meat Beat Manifesto, Fugazi, Einstürzende Neubauten, The Orb and so on. Andrew Weatherall was the best teacher I ever had.
Dr. Dre – The Chronic
Charles Bernstein – A Nightmare on Elm Street OST
Various artists – Rocky IV OST
What is your music listening format of choice, and why?
Olivier: I just love radio. From day one, it was always the best source for discovering music. Like the early Radio Libre back in the 80s, and London pirate radio stations back in the 90s, as I was living there for a while.
Stéphane: Vinyl and old MP3s.
Are there other forms of art that influence you in the same way music does?
Stéphane: Absolutely. Cinema for sure, which is also closely linked to WRWTFWW. Literature, and contemporary art. Also just for me, skateboard culture.
Olivier: And t-shirt culture, if it exists.
How do you spend your time outside of work, without the music?
Stéphane: Outdoor with the dog for me, or with the cats for Olivier. Going to restaurants or the movies with friends, or dans les rues magiques with a special someone. At a café with newspapers, or in the bathtub with a backgammon or meditation app.
Olivier: I work with or without music, depending on the mood, but I really do need tranquility sometimes to refresh my ears, as they are my main tools. I listen to loads of records, demos and test pressings. Luckily I live in the countryside, so no matter the weather, it is easy to go out and enjoy the silence or sound of nature. I also like to stream field recordings at low volume in the whole house, it's quite relaxing, but is it music?
What are your favorite secret spots in your hometown of Geneva?
Stéphane: Shibata, a northern Japanese food restaurant, is mine and Olivier’s go-to. Simply delicious. I really love to walk alongside the Arve river in Vessy with my dog Ottavio. Poppy is a great flower shop and has Bombar right on the other side of the street, which is a super high quality, trendy food spot with a nice vibe. Lipp is the always reliable old school chic but welcoming brasserie. Most of the countryside is minutes away and absolutely amazing.
Olivier: Walking alongside the Rhône or Arve rivers is indeed great. I still love the veteran, king-of-all-burgers restaurant Road Runner. I used to go there ages ago, and still do. One place I love to visit and support is Parc Challandes in Bellevue, now Bioparc, which is committed to saving animals in need, or endangered species. It’s a great place to learn, discover and recharge the batteries.
We Release Whatever The Fuck We Want discography