Dark, down, euphoric and glamorous: the San Francisco based label Dark Entries has many different stylistic faces and releases out of print underground electronic, New wave and Post-punk music from the late 1970s to the 1990s, as well as contemporary acts with a similar style. Founder Josh Cheon was collecting vinyl from the age of 14, attending New York's Goth club "The Bank" at age 16, and then worked during his time as a student for such labels as Metropolis, DFA, Matador and Beggars Group. In 2006 he relocated to San Francisco, where he joined the four piece DJ crew Honey Soundsystem, started his own radio show at West Add Radio and organized local Synthwave parties for those who like to dance the cold grooves. In 2009 he subsequently launched his label Dark Entries and named it after first 7inch single by the UK Goth Post-punk band Bauhaus. Since then Cheon releases hard to find and out of print Industrial music, Synthpop, EBM, Dark and Minimal wave records by artists such as Zwischenfall, Jeff And Jane Hudson, Algebra Suicide, Dark Day, Lena Platonos, Severed Heads, Die Form or Shoc Corridor every month. Beside rare dark sounds he also shed a light on the darker side of Italo disco or never been released gay porn soundtracks of the legendary disco and Hi-NRG producer Patrick Cowley. But Dark Entries isn’t only a reissue label. Also contemporary acts like Red Axes, Bill Converse or Miss Kittin & The Hacker already released music on the imprint. For Carhartt WIP Radio Josh Cheon has now mixed a show that he describes as "An introduction to the sound of Dark Entries from release 1 to 141.“ To enter his life story and label deeper, we talked to him too.
Hey Josh, can you introduce yourself shortly to our readers and tell us what you do?
Josh Cheon: I double majored in Neuroscience and Psychology in hopes to be a behavioural neuroscientist like Clarice Starling. The psychology classes have certainly helped me dealing with egos and esteem issues when talking with bands. At times I’ve had to mediate between band members who have not talked to each other in many years, remaining neutral and nurturing both sides.
What were your experience and interests in music culture and business, before you launched Dark Entries in 2009?
Josh Cheon: I was an intern at Metropolis Records in Philadelphia during the summers of 1999 and 2000. I would shrink-wrap returned CDs and get bloody noses. I learned about the early demos of Leaether Strip and Die Form that they reissued on CD. I was into Post-punk and Synthpop during these years, and would bring in new discoveries and the office and the other guys at Metropolis would share stories about seeing Bunnydrums and Executive Slacks in Philadelphia in the 80s. Also, Metropolis distributed thousands of titles through their mail order, I would get lost scanning all the import titles and that carries over to the hundreds of titles I distribute through Dark Entries mail-order. Then in 2003 I interned at Beggars Banquet in New York City. I was helping with Radio Promotions and promotional mail outs and swag packages for on-air giveaways. I would weigh then and use the postage meter to generate a label then cart them over to the post office for shipping. All these years later, I pack every order that comes through the Dark Entries web shop as well as all the wholesale orders and take them to the post office. Then I became an intern at DFA who had me stamp all their white labels and promos. I would pick up new stamps each month for the new titles. When I started Dark Entries I stamped my logo on the back of the first two titles, a carry-over from my DFA days.
What is your musical background in general?
Josh Cheon: Before I had my drivers license, I would take a bus into New York City in the mid-90s when I was 14 and 15 and wander around the East and West Village by myself. As soon as I got my car I would drive in to see shows and dig for records. As soon as I turned 16, I went to my first concert at CBGB after winning tickets off the “Industrial Nation” radio show on WSOU. When I got to college at Rutgers University I became music director. I was in charge of reviewing dozens of albums each week, scanning through for offensive language and updating the library. I also had to report to CMJ Magazine and build relationships with many of the music reps that I still am friends with today. We would turn each other on to current weekly favourites and were intensely passionate about independent bands from all over the world. I guess I still have that passion today when I discover a new or old band that I want to release.
Did you have any role models or inspirational benchmarks when Dark Entries was launched?
Josh Cheon: I used to collect everything from all the west coast indie labels like Deathbomb Arc, Hand Held Heart, 31G, Gravity, etc. I think how they packaged their vinyl informed my silkscreened, stamped, ephemera laden releases. Musically I was inspired by all the Creation, Factory and Mute releases I was buying when I was a teenager.
How do you search for the music you re-release?
Josh Cheon: I like melody and rhythms and have been listening to music with my ear tuned in since I was a kid. If I hear something I like and you can’t find an affordable copy or it was never released on vinyl I guess that’s where I come in.
How much lead time do you need for a proper re-release including the search for right holders, art works, original tapes and so far?
Josh Cheon: This depends on so many factors. Sometimes the artist agrees within hours of me contacting them and then we draw up an agreement and start the process, which usually takes about three months from the day the tracks are remastered.
Where do you master your releases and how important is this process for you?
Josh Cheon: I’ve used George Horn at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California since day one to master every release. He is one of a kind, a true professional and after working with him for the past seven years, a close friend. In the 60s and 70s George was the head-mastering engineer at CBS Studios in San Francisco and worked out of the Automatt cutting records for Janis Joplin and Simon and Garfunkel. I love when an artist I am releasing is able to join us in at his studio for the mastering session. George spends some time dispelling myths about recording and acoustics and cuts through the industry bullshit right away.
Is it hard to license old music?
Josh Cheon: Some are easier than others, depends if the band members are still talking and agree on the details of the reissue. Often artists have a stage name that renders them unsearchable.
What’s the most surreal moment you’ve ever had during the search for old music?
Josh Cheon: It took over five years to get a response from Jordi Guber of (Velodrome, Metropakt, Lineas Aereas). I was in Barcelona for a week between DJ gigs and renting an apartment on the same street as his business office. I walked five minutes down the block, introduced myself and we had a coffee. I was in total disbelief I was finally talking to him.
How important are the non-musical components of your releases, ie. packaging and album art?
Josh Cheon: My designer Eloise Leigh is my barometer for everything when it comes to aesthetics. She carefully balances retro ideas with clean or messy art direction creating the most beautiful designs that get a rise out of me each time.
How, would you say, could non-mainstream forms of music reach wider audiences?
Josh Cheon: Today I think TV and movie soundtracks can be a way to reach a wider audience.
How do you keep your work fresh and continue to evolve?
Josh Cheon: I love talking with the bands and the research side of things. I guess I have always wanted to dig deeper for knowledge and connections. I think it’s fascinating to learn about the environments and time period the songs were recorded in and under. Also I love to hear about the meaning behind the songs and the artists were drawing inspiration from.
What’s your favourite Dark Entries rumour?
Josh Cheon: People constantly assume we only do reissues but since the very beginning we’ve sporadically released contemporary bands that fit the aesthetic of the label.
On what future projects is the label working on now?
Josh Cheon: We have so many projects going right now, but special one is the upcoming Patrick Cowley and Candida Royalle collaboration album that features over 30 minutes of experimental electronic music recorded between 1973 and 1975.
Do you have a "wish list" of old artists you'd like to see on Dark Entries?
Josh Cheon: Yes, I am constantly making lists of dream releases.
What do you want to accomplish with the music you re-release?
Josh Cheon: Trying not to limit the pressings, that drive the inflated re-sale market, once the title is out of print.
What do you find most challenging about the work you do?
Josh Cheon: Often when I ask a band for unreleased material or demos they say there is none. Then a few months go by, or sometimes years, and they contact me saying they found tapes of demos. I think there is so much undiscovered music waiting for labels to release it
If you could describe Dark Entries in one sentence, what would it be?
Josh Cheon: Find an engineer not a magician, there are too people out there trying to pump out records without understanding the physics and science behind sound and audio and cutting a record.
Do you think that San Francisco has had a strong influence on your work?
Josh Cheon: San Francisco was a fresh start and helped me come out of my shell. I would attend parties almost every night of the week, from disco to house to Goth There was so much going on and I made friends quickly with the local DJs and music dorks. San Francisco provided the perfect combination of friends and resources for the label to start after my initial dreams of starting a record label when I lived in New Jersey. Most of the contemporary bands on the label are local and I signed them after seeing them perform live in San Francisco.
What was your musical intake when you were younger?
Josh Cheon: I loved handling my dad’s vinyl as a kid. He had an extensive collection of 45s since he was a teenage DJ at school dances. I remember dancing around my parent’s house to the Seekers’Georgie Girl when I was a kid. I think the upbeat rhythms and dramatic vocals hooked me immediately. My cousin Kara was a huge Synthpop and New wave music collector who turned me on to many obscure 1980s bands.
How did you select the tracks for your Carhartt Radio show?
Josh Cheon: An introduction to the sound of Dark Entries from release 1 to 141.
What old albums have you rediscovered lately and what makes them special?