We’ve been looking forward to every Grauzone event for the last couple of years. Their amazing, always slightly dark, perfectly curated line-up of bands, art, documentaries and inspiring guest speakers is a world we love to immerse ourselves in over and over again. This time though, was extra special to us. It was the first time Grauzone was held for two days in a row, and we got to participate by more than just visiting. Before the festival started, we brought together Damo Suzuki and Tomo (Kikagaku Moyo), who were gonna play an improvisation set together with other musicians (there’s a short video, written interview and photos over here). During the festival we were present every minute, from running around doing interviews to hugging lots of friends and closing the foyer of Het Paard with our dj set on Saturday. If we weren’t at Paard, Het Magazijn or The Grey Space, we hung at at Marieke’s amazing place. Marieke McKenna, owner of the independent music label Mink Records, was so sweet as to invite us to sleep, interview, drink, eat and dance at her place the whole weekend. In the madness of it all, her house full of books, records, candles and a velvet couch proved to be the perfect sanctuary.

It was Saturday afternoon in Marieke’s candlelit living room, we were all shuffling around on our socks, still waking up from Grauzone’s Friday night a bit, when the doorbell rang. Though we expected him, we were all suddenly a bit more awake, because it was Thurston Moore coming over. But he didn’t do anything but amplify the vibe we already had going on. Within five minutes he had sat down, holding a fresh mug of tea in both hands, and started the conversation like we never did anything else. It felt like home so much we had to cut down the conversation for him to be on time for the next thing on his schedule for Grauzone. Here’s a little excerpt of it. 

The starting topic of our conversation was about the fact that Thurston tries to travel by train instead of flying as much as possible now. The recently opened train line between London and Amsterdam is one of the things making this so much easier.

Talking about London… You just opened a pop-up shop there…

“Yes, we opened a shop called Ecstatic Peace Library. It was predicated upon my relationship with Edwin Pouncey, who’s an illustrator who works under the name savage pencil, or SAVX,” Thurston starts enthusiastically. “I’ve known him since the seventies. He was working at the same art school that Glen Matlock, bass guitarist in the Sex Pistols, was a student at. When Glen was forming the Sex Pistols, Edwin was also part of that group of people, so when they did their very first show at Saint Martins College of Arts he became part of that scene too. He has been doing illustrations for New Musical Express (NME), record covers and other artwork for bands ever since. By the time I came to London for the first time with Sonic Youth, I met him, and I just thought he was a very interesting cat. So I asked him to do work for some of our records. He drew something for Death Valley 69 and he did this drunken butterfly illustration too. And one with me riding a sonic lawn mower. He’s always been very involved in our world, and I’ve always been friends with him. Since I’ve moved to London about eight years ago, I have been hanging out more with him. He showed me around the city. You could say he’s a super collector, one of counterculture and the underground arts. He owns lots of obscure music recordings, cassettes and magazines. And we connected like that, because I like to do that as well. Together we visit loads of stores and he showed me where.

The idea for the store started like this: one day, I went to a record fair in London with my girlfriend Eva, who is a book publisher and a book editor, and it was the same as always. Old man looking at records and finding the cheapest good jazz ones to take home and hoard. She normally never goes with me but that day she did. Edwin was there with us too, and they were talking together about these kind of places, and that they just weren’t that attractive. Then Edwin told her that he wished he had a place where he could sell things, but in a bit of a different way. Oh, Eva said, where we live, in Stoke Newington, there’s a few store fronts that are for rent. She instantly started concocting this whole thing. And since Edwin works closely with this major second hand record dealer, who does fairs around the world but has no steady shop, an idea came together to open up something. Not a commerce place, but a meeting place. Where the door would be open to anybody, like a counter gesture to what had just happened with Brexit. Instead of shutting out people, welcoming them. We said to each other ‘let’s do an anti-Brexit store’. All people are welcome, all poets from all languages. That somewhat became our manifesto for the place. Eva was able to talk to this landlord really quickly after the idea came together, we all met in a pub, and within a couple of hours she came back with keys. Eleven days after the idea, we opened. We just threw in a lot of positive energy and iconography.

Right now it’s collection is mainly from this one record dealer, some things that belonged to me and Eva and some things of Edwin’s. We are just gonna let it define itself. So what becomes most popular. We consider ourselves somewhat curators. We’ll have art shows there, and readings. Also some music. It’s really no bigger than the living room we are sitting in right now, about the same size.”

Ecstatic Peace Library

“I’ve used this name since the eighties. It came from a book by Tom Wolfe called Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. It was his reporting of the 1960 countercultures around San Francisco, and the hippie culture idea of creating an alternated utopia. The end of one of the chapters of the book is talking about what this utopia has, what it is looking for. It said: ‘Ecstatic peace!’ – I liked that a lot. And I remember ripping the page out and xeroxing it. Blowing up those two words. I used it as my logo for making cassettes, for my label in the 80s and 90s.

When Eva and I started working together, publishing, we created an imprint of Ecstatic Peace Library and did some books under that name. A book on mixtapes for example. Then we became a couple and relocated to London, doing books there under the same name as well. We kept it on for this project. And together with Eva I have a record label called The Daydream Library. It all fit together so well.” 

Owning a record label

“Owning a record label is a lot of work and costs lots of money, so that isn’t our main thing at all. It’s really hard, especially when you are also gone a lot and doing loads of other stuff. So we learned to have it exist kind of spherious, as a co-humanitarian project, that is mainly the sharing of information whenever the time is right.

A bit over a year ago, we went to see The Ex, some good friends of ours, playing. And the support band was this band called ‘Big Joanie’. They are three black girls from London who are, I would describe it as, afro-punk-feminist. They started playing and Eva was entranced by their music, dancing at the front of the stage. Afterwards we went to the merch table and asked to buy their music, but they told us they didn’t have anything like that. They said they recorded it but nobody wanted to put it out. Eva immediately said that she would do it. I couldn’t stop her. Those are the moments you want to search for. We didn’t have a lot of funds so we brought out 500 at first. But those seemed to disappear, that is how quickly they sold. So we did a couple of represses.

But that isn’t always how publishing works most of the times. It actually happens rarely… You just keep it alive with whatever funding that you have, whatever it’s your personal money or gifted, without any expectations of making money. That is not what it is about, it’s about creating work. That is also what I tell my students when I teach: if you are getting into music to make money, you should probably be a studio musician or a really good technician, not a record label owner. Usually, if you make any money, it will go back into making some kind of physical item, like a pressed record or cd. If you are making a profit you are doing really good.

At his The Ex show, where we saw Big Joanie for the first time, I was also talking to Kat, drummer of The Ex. I asked her why she had never put out any record of her own, since the rest of her band all had put out something on their own too. And she said that she did, but it was something completely different than we were all used to – it was a sound healing record. Surprised, I asked: ‘sound healing, what does that sound like..?” Thurston laughs about his own pun. “She put it on and when I listened to it, it was the most calming thing I had ever heard. It was great.”

At this point, Marieke smiles acknowledging, this time a bit louder than at the part where Thurston talked about owning a label. If there’s anybody in the room that knows about these kinds of things, it’s her, having put out some pretty interesting and diverse music since she started Mink Records three years ago.

Marieke: “I recently put out a sound healing record too with my label, this whole story sounds very similar. It was sort of as a favor for the mom of a friend of mine, she is a very respected flautist in the Philharmonic Orchestra here.”

Thurston, enthusiastically: That sounds amazing, we should swap sound healings.”

Marieke: “When I tried it for the first time I was really impressed, I put it on before taking a nap, and came out completely relaxed. It really works. Should I put it on?”

She walks over to the record player, and the room, decorated full of plants and burning candles, fills itself up with a vibrational, relaxing sound. Everybody is silent for a bit, Thurston closes his eyes for a second to listen. “This is so cool, if you fall asleep, it’s a good one.”

Thurston: “It’s amazing how much you can do putting out things like these for friends. There’s so much good work to be shared. If I had all the means in the world I would love to have a big space to have everything together. Something like the one we have in London now too, but for now we’ve only got this one for six weeks.”

Old library dreams

“I’ve always dreamed of having this active space that can be a gallery, a meeting space, a space for people to meet inspiring strangers. Sometimes I look online for libraries for sale. They are kind of going out of business because of the internet. I like the energy of places like that, like libraries, with the architecture of the shelving and the peacefulness that surrounds those kind of buildings. To actually own a modest library, to me, that would be the utter dream. A place where you can have events but also relax and get inspired. The location isn’t the most important thing, though I look up quite a lot in Catalonia, Northern Spain and in Italy. I like the north of Italy, but I’ve also been wanting to explore Puglia, in the south, for a while now. Essentially the place could be anywhere, as long as it is not in a too close proximity to any demogorgory. These days, being high up might be smart, since the world is gonna flood at one point. Especially when you are dealing with books and records, you don’t want them to get wet. The collection, apart from records, will be a lot of post war (underground) poetry. It’s something that I used to collect a lot from when I lived in New York. They are more documents than books, stapled pieces of paper, very hard to preserve, but with amazing text. I know a few other people as well with collections that would fit right in. To maintain and love it all, that is something I would wanna do. In one big place full of amazing, inspiring works, to share. Maybe with two different spaces, one more gallery like, for shows and showcasing art forms, the other more peaceful. Some of the collection will be quite precious, so they will need to stay inside, not like a real library to take, but in there, it will be open to explore for everybody. That is the dream.”