Here’s one we’ve been waiting to share for a while. At the end of last year we met up with Puppy Tapes founder DJ Valentimes while they were in Malmö for a set as Kanal Nula. The label has been at the forefront of underground electronic music for the past few years and has become a huge inspiration for RT for both its sounds and looks.
Along with fellow DIY labels like Spektator, Snake Eyes & Sevens, Magdalena’s Apathy and Ectopic – Puppy Tapes has redefined what is cool and has started to bleed into the mainstream clubbing culture. We’re happy to share the first interview about the label, which has a local connection to Malmö through one the producers on their roster: Rut Fessler.
So you started PUPPY 5 years ago now, did you have a plan for what you wanted to do with it?
I started the label on July 5th 2018, that was the first release. It was pretty spontaneous – I got into techno around then after having been in hardcore and crossover bands growing up. I didn’t really have a connection to electronic music at all before starting Puppy. Through the internet I found a lot of artists in the city where I was living at the time and started to realize the music I was finding existed materially in Chicago.
In the beginning there wasn’t really a plan, I just wanted to put out one release, which was my own music. I didn’t really feel like asking someone else to release it, so I just figured I’d do it on my own.
You were in Chicago when you started the label, right? I think Chicago Research started around the same time, and you’ve worked with them. When did you meet Blake?
Yes I was & yea, I met Blake back in 2020, he put out my first solo 12”. Chicago Research has put out a ton of music from friends that I knew in Chicago. He was also in the punk scene, he’d booked and played with bands that I grew up with in Santa Rosa. We know some of the same people through that, I think that’s the reason why we share similar styles of distribution.
Punk generally caters towards a good understanding of how distribution works. Bands know to hit up record shops in the cities and they don’t have to use social media so much. I think that’s a cool skill that is pretty rare nowadays, in electronic music especially. When kids have connections to a punk scene in their past, I think you can really tell.
You have a very specific aesthetic with the label, do you make all the artwork yourself?
Yeah. I found an archive of images when I was going to school and that kicked off the visual language for PUPPY. Having the history I do with music and art the covers just naturally ended up aesthetically similar to stuff I was influenced by as a teenager.
In every part of the label I’m thinking about processing, whether that be from cycling through different layers of manipulation on my Xerox, sifting through personal image archives, resampling loops and field recordings through FX systems; processing and system building is central.
Almost all of the artwork has been from myself, with the exception of a few releases from Nebuchadnezzar.
All the stickers and everything produced for print is from my Xerox in my home studio. I used to dub my cassettes myself too, which is a big reason why I used to only do 25 copies – other than the fact that I wouldn’t be able to sell any more than that at the time.
These days there are a number of other labels around the world who share a similar aesthetic – I’m thinking of Spiderwrap and DJ Speedsick’s labels. Were there any existing labels that inspired you when you started?
When I started PUPPY it was in the era of birth for a generous amount of internet based labels that were popping up from 2017 onwards, like Live Adult Entertainment, Spektator, Morph, Bodycount etc.. Those were definitely all counterparts that inspired me curatorially with PUPPY. I got really into the process of all of it, making the art, building new friendships and making this music exist physically outside of soundcloud.
Since I got into techno through the internet, most of the labels that inspired me were just people I met online which then snowballed into real friendships. Like my friends in Greece, Live Adult Entertainment – the artwork was super on point for me but also the distribution tactics and conversations in order to even listen to the releases. It made me analyze the way music and other media has been intentionally disseminated. That was what was the most exciting; finding out about other labels who had a similar approach to distributing this kind of music. It can be such an attention-grabbing style of music, it’s nice to see it passively given to the earth, it almost demands that you have a personal relationship with each artist.
There’s a small global community around this DIY, experimental dance music. Locally there are labels like Bodycount, Morph, Megatech Industries…
And Kengu, the new Copenhagen label.
Yeah! And DJ Spiral in Berlin, DJ Loser in Greece, Beverly Hills and DJ Big Guns in Australia. Most of these people maintain an anonymous front – so I’m a bit curious as to how you all stay in touch?
I’ve actually met a lot of those people, who are my good friends now, through 2018-19 soundcloud messages. It was a huge thing in the beginning. It’s a hilarious way to meet people, but I started messaging people like DJ §piral, DJ Loser, Beverly Hills on soundcloud. Which eventually led to me meeting them in real life, and a lot of them crashing at my place in New York, where I live now.
I guess now the main vein is instagram. But I’ve been pressuring myself to save emails and phone numbers to not rely on that platform so much anymore. Most of us have been releasing on the same labels for the past 5 years so it’s formed a kind of shared language and trust. There are heaps of people all around the world who have found their friends through this community, and more and more people keep joining.
It’s sick because it allows all of us to travel to different countries and become part of each other’s small personal networks all over the world. This past summer was a big transformative point when DJ Beverly Hills and DJ Big Guns came to the US. It felt fucking crazy to have these two come all the way from Australia to play mostly illegal parties. It’s all built on trust. Not knowing someone and just showing up at their house one day. But you’ve talked to them online for years, you somehow know you’re going to be inseparable.
Was it a conscious choice to remain anonymous when you started producing and started PUPPY?
Not really, there was no direct message behind the ‘anonymity’, it was just how it naturally came out. In the beginning I was a bit more open about who I was. Now I don’t really feel like there’s a need for sharing that information. For me it wasn’t an intentional choice, it’s just how it is.
Also when it’s a project, like a label, it doesn’t have to be a personal thing. Otherwise I don’t know if I would even be on instagram, to be honest. I’ve deleted it so many times. But unfortunately there are so many people I only talk to through IG so I’m somewhat dependent on it still. But now at least I know enough people that if I wanted to do something, I could just send an email and do it that way; it’s good to feel some autonomy from social networks.
PUPPY has a few thousand followers now on Soundcloud, do you think there’s a limit to how big the label can get without promoting it?
Yeah definitely. I can’t imagine it getting much bigger than it is now, and I don’t have a problem with that. I think PUPPY has reached a place where everyone who would’ve wanted it to exist knows that it exists: so it won’t unless I intentionally try to. PUPPY exists within a specific network, and slowly new people come in, but it’s a very slow burn.
I prefer that, because when projects blow up they also tend to go away just as quickly as it came. I love that feeling when there’s a small group of people who have all been following something maniacally for a hella long time. If just one or two people become friends through liking the same label and decide to do their own version, that’s a new scene right there.
Now you’ve released some lathe cuts as well as cds. Earlier you also did digital releases, but not anymore. What are your thoughts about keeping the music available only in physical formats?
It’s an experiment of friendship and communication networks. The type of music we’re making is becoming more popular, it’s not so hard to come by anymore. I really enjoy the communication between artists and participants, anyone can hit me up for a release and I’ll just give it to them digitally. Even if it’s just a little email exchange I much prefer that over a fee from Bandcamp. It’s just nice to talk to people.
So for people who want the releases but maybe can’t afford paying for the shipping, I’d rather just give them the music so they can archive it or put it on soulseek. I think a lot our releases are on soulseek – not through me, but through other people. I’m hyped about that. A lot of people who are in the scene, their music is also on there. And those people who archive the music are the most important people in the whole thing honestly, and the people writing about all the music.
I think a lot of us are so bad at doing that (especially in this niche sekt of music), and if it weren’t for archivists a lot of the music would just go unnoticed and forgotten because it’s barely promoted and randomly titled. Now I specifically send releases to people who I know will archive it, on discogs, soulseek or elsewhere. People who take care of it and keep it in their collection.
Do you only release music by people you know, or do you also get requests and demos from other people?
Yeah, mostly it’s just through communications with people that I already know or have been my friends for a long time. I like to know the people a bit before and have a real relationship with them. Often it’s an exchange, if they also have a label or run a party in their city. I’ve found that if it’s done in this way people in their country or small city find out who you are and it builds long lasting friendships that are based on respect and generosity. For this type of music, I think it’s a really important and rare gesture.
So you moved to New York last year – do you have any plans for the future? For Dust Radio, PUPPY or other projects, like Kanal Nula that you just performed as here in Malmö.
Yeah, I moved there last July. I have a broad idea of what I want to do. We finished Dust on Dec 1st. I’m in a book-closing phase now. Kanal Nula is a project I started in 2020 on another label I do, called Mineral Resource, which is a noise-oriented label. I’m planning a big tour in the UK/EU in June where I’ll be doing more dates under that project.
In the last 5 years music has changed so much within this niche. It’s getting played in big clubs now, hard and fast techno is a confusing place to exist in. It’s cool that people who have stuck around are having their moment now. As for Puppy, we’ll see what happens.
Big thanks to PUPPY TAPES for sharing. The image at the top is courtesy of of the label, from the time of the Nausea event in Malmö.