Since 1999 owners Mathias Modica and Jonas Imbery have been surprising their audiences with every release – with sounds and beats that simply deny membership to any peer group and, on top of all, always shine through with memorable moments. Over the course of the last ten years the label has been occupying a fresh and airy spot in the vicinity of Cosmic Disco, Funk, Electro, Postpunk, Rock, Techno, New Wave, and Folk.
The label’s catalogue of artists includes the splendid Danish Indierock trio WhoMadeWho, Box Codax (a spin-off project by Franz Ferdinand guitarist Nick McCarthy), and The Phenomenal Handclap Band, a brand new formation under singer and guitarist Jon Spencer, the label’s latest signing. On top of it all, Modica and Imbery release their own musical creations on their label too, presenting sexy dance grooves beyond the mainstream under artist names like Telonius and Munk.
After all, the two gentlemen from Munich (who on top of being music producers, DJs, and managers of their own record company also run a t-shirt label and publish the graphic poster magazine Amore) simply have an eye for versatile beat structures that ignore any trend or zeitgeist – a capacity that is also apparent in their Carhartt Radio show. To get in on the skinny about the label and the way it works we met Jonas Imbery, man of action and Gomma Records co-owner, for a little chit-chat.
(Jonas Imbery – photo by Manuel Derra)
Jonas , what were your personal reasons for starting a label in 1999?
Jonas Imbery: Well, at the time Mathias and I had already produced a few tracks but nobody wanted to release them, so we decided to do it ourselves. The ironic thing about it is that our first EP, Leroy Hanghofer: Pin, turned out as a bit of a hit in the UK and Japan. In the end, it was just the logical consequence of what we had been doing so far. We were already making music and used to organise illegal parties. So, we were certain that we wanted to devote our lives completely to music.
Do you think of Gomma as just a record label?
Jonas Imbery: Our core business is music, of course. But we have always been interested in more than just music. We try to include as many facets of pop culture as possible. So, graphic designs and visuals are always an important factor for us. Once a year, we publish Amore magazine together with Mirko Borsche and Thomas Kartsolis aka Smalpaze. We also make t–shirts and organise exhibitions to present all of this. In addition to this, I’m a music producer for film scores. Right now, I’m working on the soundtrack for the new Klaus Lemke film Schmutziger Süden (Dirty South). So, as this goes to show, the label business is an integral part, but it’s certainly not the end of the line!
And do you think of yourselves more as typical label managers or as artists?
Jonas Imbery: Sometimes it’s the one and sometimes the other.
Already early on you re-released musical styles like No-Wave, Cosmic, Disco, and Krautrock on samplers like Anti NY or Teutonik Disaster – do you regard yourselves as pioneers of the still current Cosmic Disco wave?
Jonas Imbery: When we went to release these compilations, we felt the sound was very exciting, but we had already been meddling with it for a while. We realised that there was nothing similar out there yet and thought that maybe other people would like it too. That it would cause such a wave, one that’s still going on today, was only partially predictable.
What’s the story behind your numerous pseudonyms Munk, Leroy Hanghofer, and Telonius?
Jonas Imbery: This large number of pseudonyms is just as an expression of our musical diversity. In order to make things easier we use certain pseudonyms for certain genres. Telonius, for example, is a pure club project of mine.
(The Phenomenal Handclap Band – photo by Alex Solmssen)
Would you say Gomma is a dance label? I’m thinking of bands like Who Made Who and The Phenomenal Handclap Band – bands that sound danceable but seem to be more at home in Indierock.
Jonas Imbery: Gomma is everything but a pure dance label! On the contrary, on the label you’ll find everything we like and that’s based on a good idea – the work of artists with a certain attitude and a specific idea for their music. Apart from The Phenomenal Handclap Band, WhoMadeWho, and Munk there have been and still are lot of releases on Gomma that aren’t easy to pigeonhole; for example Rammellzee, Box Codax, the solo project Nick McCarthy by Franz Ferdinand, Mocky, and Kamerakino. All of these are super albums, which are different from each other and difficult to cover with just one genuine genre.
What motivates you to run a label at a time when music is loosing more and more of its value?
Jonas Imbery: That’s not quite the way it is. It’s not the music that’s loosing it’s value but the recording medium. To release good music and, as a label, to represent a quality product for your listeners, to function as a sort of pre-selector for them, these things are still every bit as important as they used to be. With all the bad music coming out, it’s more important than ever to provide a certain orientation for audiences. We’ve always been working with an eye on the future to the best of our abilities. Therefore the current development doesn’t have such a big impact on us. The absolute contrary is the case – we make good use of this time to develop and try out new strategies.
The British magazine i-D once described you with the following attributes: ”Cosmopolitan chic, bohemian aesthetic, off-killer creativity, superlative out-there urban funk.” Is there anything you would like to add?
Jonas Imbery: Add sexy… apart from this I think journalists are far better at attaching labels, I’m just pleased to hear them!
Gomma music was featured at fashion shows by Givenchy, Murkudis, and Colette. You guys are producing t-shirts. What is your opinion about the fusion of music and fashion and what are your future plans in this regard?
Jonas Imbery: Fashion is a very fleeting business. We thought it might be interesting to take a little dip in it, but in the end we’re not about fashion but about an attitude, and you can’t buy an attitude. What we’re personally going to promote further are our t-shirt collections. Maybe that’s developing into more – but we’re not planning on it right now.
Rumour has it that both of you used to be big breakdance fans in your teens. Who is the best breaker of all times in your opinion?
Jonas Imbery: Mathias Modica is the best, he’s a misjudged genius.
In an interview with Streetwear Today you said that you’d rather hang out with skaters than with top designers. Is this still true and why?
Jonas Imbery: I don’t recall having said that but I imagine that we said it simply because many of our friends are already skaters in the first place.
And what’s going to be new from Gomma in the near future? What are the highlights for this fall and winter going to be?
Jonas Imbery: The highlight this fall on Gomma is definitively The Phenomenal Handclap Band from New York, a new band of eleven around Jon Spencer, with band members of TV on the Radio and of Amy Winehouse. There will also be a nice WhoMadeWho single release from the current album The Plot and a number of interesting releases on Gomma Dance Tracks, like The KDMS, a new project with Kathy Diamond and Max Skiba with a Remix by NY house legend Nicky Siano .
Your Carhartt Radio mix has an uptempo tendency. Does this compare to the sound one has to expect from Gomma party?
Jonas Imbery: The mix is around 120 to 125 bpm, so it’s far from being gabber. When I spin the tables I naturally play a lot of Gomma Dance Tracks but not exclusively so. Sometimes it can be more pushing forward or take the opposite direction entirely. I take my inspiration from the people. Over time you get a feeling for the way an audience is inclined. Luckily, the range of good club music is very wide, so you can fit a lot of stuff into a set without it sounding slapdash.
What is your current top 10?
Fake Blood – Fix Your Accent
Bottin – Disco for the Devil (Telonius rmx)
Phcb – 15 to 20 (Glimmers rmx)
Telonius – Disco Tec
Kdms: Never stop believing (Nicky Siano rmx)
WhoMadewho – Keep me in my Plane (Reverso 68 rmx)
Munk – Backdown (Lucca rmx)
Claude van Stroke feat. Bootsy Collins – The Greasy Beat
Bucketheads – The Bomb
Luc Miles – Phonkytrain
And what’s the most successful Gomma release to date?
Jonas Imbery: All of them are successful.
(WhoMadeWho – photo by Sacha Maric)