(by Haavard Holm / Aftermath Music)
 

Arctic Serenades was a more or less promising Norwegian label in the mid-90's. It had some cult releases, but in the end, it all went wrong. During the end of 1997 the door was shut, and Arctic Serenades buried. Here is a interview with the founder of the label, Torodd Fuglesteg, who explains what went wrong, and why.
PS: You who think about starting a label:
Maybe you can learn something?
 


Greetings, Torodd. How's life treating you now?

- Life is good, after the sheer misery Arctic Serenades put me through. It was many wasted years in misery and I am lucky to be alive. I will never do the same mistake again. No more music for me. Not even in the shower.

Arctic Serenades was founded in 1994, and it in the beginning seemed like there was a big fuzz about the label. What made you start such a label?

- Good question. I have frequently asked myself the same question over and over again. During the beginning of this decade; I worked as a music journalist in various 'zines. Most notably Rock Furore, a big glossy Norwegian mainstream music magazine. I took over from Wongraven (SATYRICON) as the metal editor. During these years as a music journalist; I thought I had learnt the tricks of the trade, but I was proven wrong. I set up Arctic Distribution in the beginning of '94 and changed it's name to Arctic Serenades in May the same year after a conflict with a prawn trawler with the same name. When I started up my business, I was hopeless naive and said a lot of things I now regret. It was actually quite hilarious. I really made a fool of myself. I guess people are still wetting themselves in laughter.

I started Arctic Serenades together with PARADIGMA's and SAGITTARIUS ex manager Olav Eira. He was even a bigger fool than I was, which says a lot about that wanker. He got me into a lot of trouble with SATYRICON and THE THIRD AND THE MORTAL with his own agenda. At the end of the day; he ran back to the comfort in his mother's arms and left me to deal with the problems he had created. That include facing some very angry people. I have a lot to "thank" him for. But do not misunderstand me: I am responsible for the whole Arctic Serenades saga. Nobody else.

What ambitions did Arctic Serenades have when they started?

- As stated above, I said a lot of stupid things during 1994 and the first half of 1995. I had sky high ambitions, and none ability whatsoever to fulfill the ambitions. To answer your question; I wanted Arctic Serenades to become the biggest Scandinavian underground label within 3 years. I even said that on national radio and that was a big, big mistake. The following crash-landing with mother earth was very brutal, indeed.

The releases that was done was in a wide range of different metal genres. Did you truly support all these types of music, or did you just sign some bands "for the cash"? (or were there other reasons?).

- At that time; I was listening to all kind of metal and progressive rock. The label reflected that. In hindsight; I should had chosen to do Arctic Serenades a straight doom metal label and release the thrash / death metal releases on a sub label. But that is hindsight for you.

Some of the releases was compromises between my musical views and harsh financial realities. Especially the BUGS B GONE MCD, where Svein Bjorge in MNW pushed me very hard and promised me massive support from MNW if I released it. He broke the promise when the MCD was released, as the false person he is. It says a lot about this person that he and MNW was the only one who earned money on this release. Both me and BUGS B GONE lost a hell of a lot of money on this MCD.

I also did the VADER Live CD with both eyes firmly locked on the bank balance. But I also lost money on that CD so that was also a failure. I was very good when it comes to turning gold into stone back in '95-'96. I deserve credit for that.

What's your favourite album you put out?

- Definitely the FUNERAL album. It is still brilliant in my view. The band has a great future and I hope that the misery I put them through has not harmed them. I also really like the DESECRATION album and THE FLESH MCD. These are two great death metal releases. I also like the SUFFERING album a lot. It has a magic feeling, which I cannot explain.

What albums do you really regret you put out ?

- As I said above; the BUGS B GONE MCD was a big mistake. Not because of the music itself. BUGS B GONE are actually a very good band and the quality of the MCD is very good. I fully support the music side of that release. The reason I regret that release is that I let the band and Svein Bjorge take care of the art-work and the promotion of the album. First of all; the artwork is horrible and out-of-touch with the music on the MCD. The art work reminds me a lot about a New Age release. Mistake number two: Svein Bjorge might be a promotion wizard when it comes to all other music styles than thrash / death metal. But as he has proved time after time; he has no clue about thrash / death metal. He has no knowledge whatsoever about thrash / death metal. He do not understand the mentality of the death / thrash metal scene. His marketing of the BUGS B GONE MCD was, to put it mildly, a swindle. I have got some angry letters from people throughout Scandinavia who bought that MCD. They all say the same; the music on the MCD are very different from the music it was marketed as. I am sure BUGS B GONE has lost out on many potential dedicated fans because of the MNW swindle. That is a shame 'cause BUGS B GONE is a good band with some honest, hardworking guys. They did not deserve the shit they were put through and that will haunt me for the rest of my life. Honestly.

It was not a smart move to release a MCD with a paedofile. Like I did with Serhat Bektas, who hide his paedofile activities under the name MY GARDEN. I stopped the production and promotion of that record when I found out about his unhealthy interests. I have taken huge losses on this release, but I cannot support or market paedofile activities, so I had to scrap this release. In Serhat Bektas distorted mind, that makes me a rip-off, but I do not care. I have my standards.

The GROMS album was also a big mistake 'cause the band tried to hijack the label and it took me some time to regain full control again. But Arctic Serenades never recovered from the fight with GROMS. In hindsight; I should had closed down the label there and then.

But my biggest mistake was the SERENADE / HARMONY split CD. I find nothing positive to be said about that split CD. In reality; it was not an Arctic Serenades release either. It is an Deviation Records (Scotland) release, where I put my name on a and paid all the bills. Hence the artwork and booklet on this CD. I still wonder how I could be that stupid to give in to Deviation Records's pressure. I had to take huge losses on this shit. It was impossible to sell 'cause of the bad quality of this release. Deviation Records got 100 free CDs to give to the two bands. Which they did not do, so I got some very bad publicity from both SERENADE and HARMONY (now MAZE OF TORMENT), who did not receive the free copies they were promised. It is no surprise that this label has fucked up everybody they have been in touch with. SERENADE, GRIEF OF EMERALD and Harmony / MAZE OF TORMENT has burnt their fingers on this label.

What really went wrong with the label? Was it just the sales and promotion, or were there also other things going on?

To put a long story into one, simple sentence; I do not have the abilities to run a record label. I was the wrong person in Arctic Serenades. I am an anarchistic, extreme creative, sensitive and restless person who are unable to stay focused on one project at a time. I need to have 2-3 different projects going on to really live life in full. To run a underground record label; you need to be extremely focused, single minded, positive and with the skin of an elephant. But most important of all; you need financial support. I had none of the essential things I record label manager need to survive in the hostile environment the music business is. I lived from hand to mouth. I really learnt what the word "hunger" means. I was often without food for 7 -10 days. You cannot run a business or a label like that. It wears you down and you become paranoid. Which then again means conflicts. Lots of conflicts. The sales and promotion side of things are the victims of that process. Not a sane person dared to get anywhere close to Arctic Serenades 'cause I had this "loony" reputation. I fully understand why people stayed away from me during '95 - '97. If I was in the same situation, I would not even touch Torodd Fuglesteg or Arctic Serenades with fire proof gloves in that period. You never know if you are able to do a project like a record label before you are in the middle of the whole damn thing. Then you are so bogged down in bloody hard work and problems that you are not able to get the necessary oversight over the situation. Then it is to late….far to late.

After the label had been around for sometime, rumours started going that it was a christian label, and the founder was a christian etc.. How did you react to these accusations, and why did they even start circulating? (I know it was printed "hate" flyers that someone should kill you etc., and there were rumours about axes through your windows etc.)

- Those rumours about axes through the windows was new to me. Interesting. Any other interesting rumours? To start with; there was no axes through the windows or other kind of violence. But the police in Oslo believed my life was in grave danger and they patrolled the street I lived in during 1995 and until I moved from that address at the end of January 1996. True enough; I had a personal visit from Wongraven and Frost in SATYRICON on that address, but the meeting and exchange of views was very civilized and business like. I wish that they had the guts to meet me face to face more often instead of always talking shit behind my back. I think Moonfog desperate needed me during '95 as a hate figure and sales gimmick. It is certainly true that Moonfog has a lot to thank me for. A discreet £ 5 000 payment to my secret bank account in the Cayman Islands would certainly not be out of order.

I have never been a christian. Those are the rumors the kindergarten rejects in Moonfog spread about me to further the sales of their own records. These rumors are completely unfounded. I am an atheist and that is why I do not like black metal or it's religious views. In my view; there is no difference between white and black metal, christians and satanists. For me; Moonfog is a religious label, on the same line as other christian record labels. They all preach the same lie; the existence of God and Satan. The truth is; there is no God; there is no Satan. They are all products of the mankind's need to rise above the fellow animals from the forest and the open plains. I believe that human beings are a part of the animal kingdom. Yes, we sit on the top of the food-chain and we think we are smarter than other animals, but the basic animal instincts are the same. From the minute we are born 'til we die. Religion is only a denial of these facts. That is one of the many reasons I fight all kinds of religion.

I ignored these christian wanker accusations and that was a big mistake. Far too late; I tried to put my views across in a magazine in '96, but nobody wanted to listen to what I had to say. But this does not matter anymore. It is too late now.

The flyer you refer to, was printed and distributed by the ex EMPEROR drummer Bard G. Eithun (Faust) from his prison cell outside Oslo. But he is a mentally disturbed queen so I never took him or his flyers serious. I know this faggot from the good old days in the record shop Helvete in Oslo and I treated him with the contempt he deserve back in those days. I do not take this arsehole fucker serious at all. If he want to be taken serious; he should come out of the closet and own up to his true identity as a gay.

The worst thing you did as a label owner...Tell the people. Do you think any people really hate you still? Any people you feel sorry for?

- Hate..well, all hate is based on fear. I guess Serhat Bektas from MY GARDEN still hate me, but he hates everybody who are not paedofiles like himself. I have received tons of letters from him in the last three years and they all contains the same distorted shit. He is still very active in his semi- official anti Torodd Fuglesteg campaign. I have not been involved in the music industry since the end of '97 and his campaign is therefore a waste of time and space. I am not aware of other persons who hate me, but it is not often I receive any news or letters from the metal scene. I do not care.

There is some people in the scene who say I am a rip -off. The truth can be found in my answer to your question number 7. I would like to challenge those who call me a rip-off: Start up your own label and find out how "easy" it is. Then you can come back to me. In general; too many people brand underground labels as rip-off labels. These labels are ran with no or little money and by one person with none or little business experience. These labels do not have the same resources as for example Sony Music. They are all fighting with their backs up against the wall. If these small, but vital, labels did not exists, the scene would never exist. So to all rumor mongers; your time-wasting destroy the scene. Instead of complaining; get a life, try to understand these labels and support them. For a start; by their releases.

Those bands who expect to get paid a lot of money in royalities from small underground labels are on the wrong planet. If you get paid at all; regard yourself extremely lucky. It is only when you sign on medium size / big underground labels you should expect to be paid some royalities. Regard your stay at a small label as a learning experience. A small step in your way to get total world domination. If the small record label did not sign you in the first place; your career would had been dead in the water even before it started. So shut up and get on with your career.

I never paid my bands royalites. The costs of running Arctic Serenades was far higher than the income. The production and the administration costs was massive and I spent a fortune of my own savings on this label. I lost everything I had on Arctic Serenades. To make matters worse; I also had to deal with the Nuclear Blast distribution deal I signed in '95. The terms in that deal was so bad that I sold the MCDs and CDs with no profit at all. Slave contracts is the only correct word for the distribution deals Nuclear Blast offer small record labels. No wonder that Nuclear Blast has become a money machine. You cannot expect to pay royalities when you sell your releases with no profit or loss. Yes, I know royalities was promised in the record contracts I did, but money do not grow on trees. Not in Norway or Scotland, anyway. The climate is to harsh, I guess.

I feel sorry for the bands I signed on Arctic Serenades. They put their trust in me and I let them down. I will never forgive myself for that. I never had what it takes to become a good label manager.

In the end things were shut down in the end of '97, but was there really any activity going on in the end for saving the label?

- Oh yes... Day and night. Sun or rain. I tried everything to save the label during 1996-'97, but at the end; I lost the battle. In hindsight; not even a million pound would had saved the label. The quests for funds brought me in serious conflict with the long arm of the law here in Scotland. I had three days in court at the end of '97. An experience I would be happy to be without. But it certainly brought home the realities of life to me. I was forced to close down the record label the same day as I got the damning verdict...and that probably saved my life. I still have some serious health problems, but my health are slowly recovering.

What are you doing now, after shutting down the whole damn thing?

- I am alive and slowly starting to enjoy life again. I have a wonderful girlfriend and we live a normal life in a normal house in a normal village in Scotland. I am employed in a successful computer & software company as it's managing director. The job is bloody hard, but it gives me enough money to cover my modest monthly living costs and enjoy life. I also have time off to do hobbies and pursue new interests. Which I never had in Arctic Serenades.

When you now have gotten things out of sight for sometime, how do you see the music business? Are other labels doing the same as you, are they "feeling" the same?

- I guess "hindsight" is the word you were looking for... When you go through life, the word "hindsight" means a lot when it comes to understanding the existence of life. In hindsight; I should never started Arctic Serenades. I still believe Norway need a label like Arctic Serenades, but I was the wrong person at the right time.

I have not been involved in the music industry since the end of '97 and it would therefore be wrong to call me an expert on the music industry. But the main advice I would give aspiring label managers, is to set up a business plan together with your local business advisor. He / she might also be able to give you substantial financial support, free office & office equipment and other support. The start up costs are massive so you need all support you can get. At the end of the day; a record label is a business. You are in the same business as Coca Cola, Warner Bros and other successful companies. You are competing directly with their products for the private consumer's hard earned money. The products you offer, must therefore be damn good or you are in the same position as I was and you get the same reputation as I have got.

Well, I guess that was just about it. Thanx a lot for this interview, and have a nice life! Any comments in the end?

- Yes, let me clear up in a couple of general misunderstandings regarding Effigy Records: This label was never my label. It was an independent label, run by fellow countryman John Erik. We had a cooperation, but totally independent finances. As it's main creditor; I took over as caretaker in the beginning of '96 when John Erik gave up. I have heard that bands like ALGOL and JUDGMENT DAY call me a rip-off. The truth is that they are barking up the wrong tree. They should address their anger towards John Erik, the ex owner of Effigy Records. Not towards me. The same goes for all other Effigy Records related things.

Finally; I want to wish Aftermath Music and your web magazine good luck in the future. I do not envy you.