DANIEL MILLER INTERVIEW
15 April 1980
This interview, for my article in ROCK MAGAZINE (Japan), took place at the old Rough Trade office above their shop in Kensington Park Road - which used to be a real Indies Central: a smallish room (only Geoff Travis had a seperate office on the landing between the main office and the shop), with the label staff going about their work, members of Rough Trade bands popping in to use the typewriter for their flyers or whatever, or interviews like this one conducted with all that going on in the background. The place had a vibrant, happening feel, and the shop staff downstairs were really friendly too.
[N.B. By the time we did the Chris Watson interview the following year, Rough Trade had moved their office to much larger premises in Elgin Crescent, and the shop to Talbot Road, both around the corner. And, of course, Mute Records itself, which was run by Daniel Miller from his home at the time of this interview, later became a much larger operation: by the time I worked on the Ohi Ho Bang Bang project - which was released by Mute as a CDV single & 12" in 1989 - the label was housed in its own building on Harrow Road, with an in-house recording studio!]
When did you start Mute?
The first record on Mute came out in May 1978.
The reason for starting your own label, and its aim?
The aim has changed since I started it. Originally it was just for one record, which was by me, the Normal. T.V.O.D. and Warm Leatherette, and in fact there was no other release for about 14 months after that. And then things changed and I decided I really wanted to release other records too. The idea... there was no idea, just release records by people I like, and to avoid the constrictions of major label influence.
And the records are distributed by Rough Trade?
What's the organisation like? Is it all done by you?
Yeah, just me.
That's why you're so busy.
Why don't you sign up more artists and produce more records? Are you so selective?
Why don't I? Yes, I'm extremely selective, and I also dont want to get big. At the moment I have just four artists: the Normal, Silicon Teens, D.A.F. and Fad Gadget, and the future release is going to be Non and Smegma, a one-off single of two American bands on it. That's it. I just want to keep it that size, I don't want it to get out of hand.
Is it true that you don't exchange proper contracts?
That's right. I'm stupid.
How about the financial side? How is it financed?
Self-financing. I mean, the Normal single sold very well, so I suppose a lot of it comes from that. But it's not making profits, just breaks even at the moment. We're making enough to keep releasing singles and to pay the artists their royalty and to keep everything running.
Do you get many musicians sending you tapes?
Quite a lot, but not all that many. A few demo tapes, yes.
MUTE 1 The Normal T.V.O.D. / Warm Leatherette
MUTE 2 Fad Gadget Back to Nature / The Box(in fact it came out after MUTE 3)
MUTE 3 Silicon Teens Memphis Tennessee
MUTE 4 Silicon Teens Judy in Disguise
MUTE 5 D.A.F. Kebabträume
MUTE 6 Fad Gadget Ricky's Hand
MUTE 7 Non / Smegma
Upcoming: a DAF album, a Silicon Teens album, "maybe a single somewhere between all that, another single from somebody."
What are the catalogue numbers for the LPs going to be?
A good question. I haven't decided. I've go to decide very quickly. It might just be MUTE LP 1 or something, as boring as that. I mean, people think of funny catalogue numbers, but it gets very unfunny after the first LP, so I might just have a straight number like that.
If you were to sign up more acts, what kind of groups would you be looking for?
Can't say really. I mean, it could be any sort of group as long as I like them a lot. There seems to be a tendency on Mute Records towards electronic, electronic-orientated music, so I suppose it might well be in that direction. But I haven't heard many good electronic bands. There are a lot of electronic bands but a lot of them are...
No, I wouldn't say rubbish but they're very derivative, they're not original.
Yes, I know. All similar and boring.
Maybe the Plastics.
The Plastics? Have you heard their album?
I've heard one track.
I can't remember. I heard it on the radio.
On the radio?
No, on television. It was on the Old Grey Whistle Test.
Oh, I see. Was it the single?
No, it was from the album. Have you got the album?
I've got a tape of 3 or 4 tracks.
Is it good?
Yes. They sing half in English and half in Japanese, and they're quite funny.
I understand Rough Trade has a distribution operation in the US. Are they distributing Mute stuff over there?
The Normal single was released on Sire, the Silicon Teens are coming out on Sire as well, and on Phonogram in Europe.
What about Japan?
It's a good question. There's nothing in Japan.
I'd like to get the Silicon Teens out on a label in Japan. I don't know if they're interested in that sort of thing over there.
Well, once people get to hear it, I'm sure they'll be interested in it.
I'm sure things go through Rough Trade to be exported to Japan, I don't know.
Not that many though.
I mean, small quantities but... I'd like to go to Japan to sort out, try and find some impression of what's happening.
The editor of this magazine also does his own label, but it's a really small operation.
What's the distribution situation in Japan? Is it just all the majors?
Is it Sony distribution?
CBS Sony, EMI, Victor...
I'm interested in Japan. I'd like to go there.
Hardly any new music from England has been released there.
Maybe I'll go and sort it out there.
THE NORMAL / ELECTRONIC MUSIC
Are you thinking of doing more records as the Normal?
Yes, at some point. I mean, it's only been 2 years since the single, so there's still a lot of time. No rush, you know. I don't want to exploit the success of the first single buy rush releasing a second one.
Why did you decide to work solo?
Why? It's the logical way to work with synthesizers. I used to play in a group a long time ago, and I got very frustrated trying to communicate my ideas to other musicians. And when I got a synthesizer, it was an ideal way of doing things alone. That was around two and a half years ago, and the single came out about 2 years ago. That was actually recorded in January-February 1978, and it came out in May.
Did you start your own label because you didn't want to sign with/work with big labels?
Yes, certainly to start with. I mean, I didn't think any big labels would be interested in it anyway.
What about Rough Trade?
I didn't really know about Rough Trade when I first did it, but I came to Rough Trade with the test press, and they were very helpful. They helped releasing it, and told me how to do it. But I'd always wanted to do my own label, there's no question about that. I didn't want to sign with other labels, like EMI or something. Like the Barracudas, selling out. Sorry, you can delete that (laughs).
Have you ever done live gigs?
Yes, I played with Robert Rental, we did a tour with Stiff Little Fingers. Just two of us playing synthesizers on stage. That was last year. Normally we only played a couple of our gigs, but that was 35 gigs, and we played in Paris for a week, and a few other odd gigs. In fact Rough Trade is thinking of releasing a live album from one of those gigs, which will be, I don't know, really up to us.
You also played with Fad Gadget, didn't you?
At the beginning of this year.
It's not a satisfactory situation, because I don't have time to rehearse. It was good, I mean it works on the odd gigs, but they will never work as a full time thing, because I never have time. So he's got two musicians now, and he's getting another one.
Are you more interested in recording or playing live?
I really enjoy recording. I love working in the studio, and there are a lot of problems with electronic music live. I'm making a certain move towards sorting them out, I mean, if I could really play as I wanted to play live electronic music, then I'd love to do that. Yellow Magic Orchestra manage to do it, I don't really like their music very much, but they have the technology to do it. That's beyond me, or Mute Records, to get that sort of technology, but I'm hoping to do so soon.
I don't think electronic music should remain an intellectual thing.
No. No Mute Records have any sort of intellectual... I mean they're not unintelligent but at the same time there's never been any desire to be elitist or intellectual or...
I know, but many people tend to think electronic music is intellectual.
Yes, I know, the music press tend to put forward electronic music in that way, but the people who buy it, I don't think there's any kind of snobbery. The letters that I get and people that I meet don't reflect that at all anyway. That feeling that it's elitist, intellectual art school type of music is just a myth put forward by the press. Most people I know who play synthesizers have never been to art school.
John Foxx has.
John Foxx, yeah, but I don't know him, so that doesn't count. But I mean this anti-art school thing, there's nothing to going to art school, I can't see what the fuss is about. Even Gary Numan hasn't been to art school.
I don't know.
Neither do I.
That's not important, it's just one of those stupid snobbery things. I think it would be nice if the music press acknowledged music as something rather than an art college, pseudo intellectual thing, but the English music press is not interested enough to make any sort of effort. It's so hypocritical...
I could talk about the de-mystification of electronic music and demystification of independent labels, but that's all been said so often, so it hardly seems worth it (laughs). The synthesizer is the most universal and best instrument because it doesn't need techical playing ability, it's direct from the brain to the music without a need to going through your hands, so it is more human than other sort of music. People always think it's very un-human music, but in fact it's almost more human music, straight from you.
Have you heard the term Techno Pop?
Yes, I believe I have.
I think the term comes from Japan, and indeed this magazine was the first to use it.
That's a black mark against the magazine for a start (laughs). I hate those kinds of things, there's only new music. I mean, a synthesizer is no more a technological device than a piano really, or a guitar. Piano is an incredible piece of technology, an ordinary piano, in relation to the time it was invented. Synthesizer is in fact quite a backward instrument in relation to the time it's being used. So it's no more technologial than a piano or a violin or a flute or a guitar. For me, it's a meaningless statement.
FAD GADGET / D.A.F.
Do you feel Fad Gadget is similar to the Normal?
Not at all, no.
I mean, "Ricky's Hand"? It sounds...
Sounds similar to the Normal?
Yes. The first single too. Time Out said that Fad Gadget *is* the Normal, which I believed, because...
It was just misinformation. No, I think the music is totally different. Fad Gadget does more songs.
Yes, but do you think you've influenced him?
Difficult to say, isn't it? I co-produced the single, so obviously, there must be something, but I really don't think it's the same at all. He writes much more song-type songs, you know.
Is Fad Gadget doing an album this year?
Yes, he's going to start fairly soon.
What about the other groups?
D.A.F. have finished an album, it's coming out at the end of May, hopefully. Silicon Teens have finished an album, it's coming out in June, and Fad Gadget's album will come out when it's finished. I mean, he's got a lot of work to do, a lot of live gigs. I don't know exactly how he's going to approach it, I think he'll probably do a little bit at a time rather than all in one go. The D.A.F. album will be the first album on Mute, at the end of May.
How did you come to sign a German band? How did you get to know them?
They had an album out on a German label called Warning Records, which was sent to me. I don't know exactly when that was, it must have been late last summer, and that was when I first heard them. And I met them here at Rough Trade. They had a demo tape which they'd recorded at Cargo Studios in Rochdale, which they hoped to release. Rough Trade didn't like it very much, and I really liked it a lot. But unfortunately I was broke at the time, so I couldn't do anything. Then I came across them again, they since had a track on Earcom 3, and this time I was pleased to [be able to] release their single. They're one of the best live bands I've seen, absolutely phenomenal. Have you seen them live?
No, I haven't.
They're coming back to England, April 30 at Rock Garden.
Really? I heard they were coming back in May.
They're coming back right at the end of April, you must come to that.
Have you got the dates for the Monochrome Set / Fad Gadget?
No, in fact the guy's coming in at about 4 o'clock today and I hope to get some dates from them.
I asked the Monochrome Set but they didn't know yet...
No, it's being fixed up right now.
Fad's playing with 2 guys, Belgian guys. He told you about that, I suppose?
And that's going very well.
When D.A.F. came to England last time, was it to record the album?
Last time they came was January, and everything was very unsure then because they wanted a different management. They were just changing the management and they were just about to come on to Mute, so it was a very confused time. They didn't really come for any specific purpose, they wanted to do gigs here and they did do a few gigs, but this time it's going to be a bit more organised when they come back.
A UK tour?
A UK tour, yes, there will be dates around May.
Fad Gadget did a gig in January too, didn't he? Which I missed...
Yes, he's done a few. He's done a couple with the Monochrome Set.
Last year, yes. I saw the one at Notre Dame.
And Moonlight Club. He wants to stay off the road and everything, but he'll be working soon when he comes back [from the German tour]. He'll be starting to work.
Can you tell me something about the Silicon Teens? I don't know anything about them.
What would you like to know?
Is there any information sheets or a press release?
How many people are in the band?
There are four. Two girls and two guys.
And where do they come from?
They're from Hornchurch, Essex. They're very young, still at school. Anyway, they've just finished their album, so that should be good.
Do you have the artists' bios and stuff like that?
You don't do any promotion?
Oh, yes I do, but if anyone is interested enough, they'll ask anyway. Just sending out a few stupid leaflets seems quite pointless. Maybe for getting gigs and things, but otherwise... I mean, I could tell you anything you want to know.
Well, about the Silicon Teens, I know nothing about them.
Two girls and two guys, teenagers, they've never played live, ever. I don't know if they will play live. They fomed around this time last year. They had the idea of doing it for quite a long time before that, but they never had enough money to get equipment and things like that. It was about this time last year that they started getting their equipment and started working things out.
BITS & PIECES
Who are your favourite groups at the moment?
Barracudas (laughs). If only the Barracudas played electronic instruments, they could be really good, they could be almost as good as the Silicon Teens (laughs). My favourite groups...?... (long silence).... what, new groups?
Throbbing Gristle. A long-time favourite. Kraftwerk. German groups, Neu, Can.
What about Cluster?
Their very first LP was a very good, I find the other stuff a bit soft. I like hard music. I like the Monochrome Set.
So do I (laugh).
Obviously, everybody on Mute, it goes without saying. A few new German bands are very good. Der Plan.
Can you get German independent records in England?
At Rough Trade?
Yes. They're worth checking out. They're good.
Yes. I think DAF are really, really interesting.
Yes. I don't really have favourite groups, because most groups are so inconsistent. Maybe one good LP, then one bad LP. [There are] not that many new groups I like. Cabaret Voltaire are good, and the Young Marble Giants. The best group that Rough Trade have signed for ages, better than that usual Pop Group, pseudo political rubbish they have on their label.
(Laughing) What's the Pop Group album like?
It's kind of Johnny Johnson and the Bandwagon mixed with... er, sort of Bob Dylan aged 3. That's my opinion but I'm sure you don't want my opinion. It's a good funk album, I suppose. It's just that, that sort of explicit political stance is not something I find very positive, very useful or constructive.
Is there anything else about Mute that I should know?
The very important thing about how Mute Records works is a sense of humour. Not everything is serious, very, deadly serious. Nobody takes anything... well, we do, but we do it with a sense of humour. It's implicit in everything. DAF stuff, although it's in German - I don't know if you speak German?
A little bit.
In fact their lyrics are very humourous.
Have you got the lyric sheet?
No, but there's going to be a lyric sheet [with the album], with translations into English. In fact, you might be able to help, because they want to translate the lyrics from the album to English and Japanese.
Yes I could, from English to Japanese.
Yeah, maybe you could help.
It would be great, because they want to translate into different languages... [I don't know what happened to this idea - I suppose not enough space on the sleeve?] Their music is a kind of political observation, with everything going on in Germany, Germany's past, that's their political thing, but it's not like the Pop Group, it's more intelligent. It says a lot more than the Pop Group do.
Can you get me cheap synthesizer in Japan?
(Laughing) Do you think they're cheaper there? I guess they must be.
Yes, Japanese synthesizers. When you go back, I'll give you a shopping list (laughs).
Shall I get you a catalogue?
I don't know, maybe they're cheaper in Hong Kong or somewhere like that, duty free. Do you go back to Japan?
In May, and coming back in June or July.
I would be interested if you can get any useful information or new equipment like catalogue or something like that.
Yes, I will.
I'm sure most of them are printed in English as well. One thing I wanted to ask about your magazine: why do you print the names of bands in Roman lettering and everything else in Japanese?
I don't know. All the magazines in Japan do that.
Yes, I'm not saying there's anything wrong, I'm just interested.
The readers would think it looks more modern, or something like that? Looks better. I don't know.
(c) Akiko Hada 1980/2019