Record Label Profile: Byllepest Distro

Negativ (Photo: Michael D. Thorn)

Byllepest is a label dedicated to releasing the most interesting and powerful hardcore punk from the world over. Cranking out total bangers from the likes of Gazm, Primer Regimen, Impulso, The Wankys, and of course his own band Negativ, Daniel is a master of finding some of the filthiest, primitive, and raw hardcore and unleashing it on the masses. Given my obsession with the dirty underside of music, I felt it was long past time to interview him about the origins of Byllepest and what the future holds. 

Byllepest translates to "the plague" or "Black Death," yes? Can you talk about why you chose this as a name? Just because it sounds cool or is there a deeper meaning? 

Um... it actually means "Bubonic Plague," Michael! [Laughs] Although I was never big on black metal, I was always a big fan of Theodor Kittelsen, a Norwegian painter and writer from the late 1800s. He had a collected work on the black plague (Svartedauden or Byllepesten in Norwegian), where he described the Black Death as a old demon hag sweeping the land with a broom and a rake, raising hell and awakening demons, I think he called her Pesta. She was also the first logo of Byllepest. There was some line in there about how it spread rapidly from coast to coast, spreading fear and dismantling the image of god and decency. It really rang well with the 19/20 year old version of me and still does, although it's pubescent as fuck.

Maybe I would've been taken more seriously if I changed the name, but it still represents everything I want the label to manage. Spreading disturbing music for demonic punks, that's also why we called our first label compilation Infection 1. (Which is also a reference to the Germs/Darby Crash's "Circle One" concept!) We want to proceed and make an Infection 2, though [laughs].

Tell me about how you got started doing the label—what were the initial motivations? Has this changed?

I always wanted to do a record distribution, shop or label since I was a kid. Before I was into records, I was into '80s comics and I was always extremely captivated by letter and review sections in fanzines and weekly comic magazines. Distribution of obscure underground culture has always been a passion for me. As a kid, I was so eager to be a part of something international where people exchanged ideas and art through alternative media. In 2011 there were a bunch of us who squatted the empty building that shared walls with what used to be Oslo Central Police Station. It was extremely central and for it's four weeks of existence we were the hottest bar and venue in Oslo. We had shows, cafes, bar nights, and open mic concepts pretty much five days a week for our brief month of existence. 

One month after we were evicted, the neo-nazi mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik set off a bomb under the government district; a stones throw away from our house which not only killed several people in the City Centre; but also caused the entire infra-structure of our house to collapse. In other words, if we had not been evicted the entire squatting group there is a fair chance we would have been killed. After the eviction, we sat with a bunch of money we had made from the project but not really enough to cover our legal fines.

The idea behind Byllepest Distro was that I was gonna take a share of that money to sell records to raise money for legal fines for activists the coming years, which worked great until the squatting movement fell apart a few years later.

I had made a pretty solid foundation with the money I raised, and so; Byllepest Distro released it's first record on it's own; The Ødeleggers - Kjemisk Avfall LP in 2012. I guess in one way you can say that Byllepest used to be a lot more political in some senses while today it's more strictly music oriented. We still like to take part of benefits and help out however we can though. And our main passion have always been and will always be the distribution of great DIY punk and also the ability to sustain some kind of autonomy in the musical projects I’m involved in personally. 

I know that you’ve released a lot of records—do you have favorites? Why?

It depends on for which reasons. Most of the records have been special to me at the time they came out, but some were mere gestures for friends and maybe releases I would never have done later on. The first record that comes to my mind is Muro - Ataque Hardcore Punk, because it's the definite best seller and biggest success on the label as well as being one of the best modern representations of raw hardcore punk that best represents a reincarnation of the bands I enjoy from the hey-day of punk in the early and mid-'80s. Also, getting to work with the people from the Rat Trap collective and helping them establish themselves internationally and bonding deep friendships have been an amazing journey, I hope to be able to release a lot more of Bogota punk in the future and you should all really keep your eyes open!

Muro (Photo: D. Garcerán)

Another favorite must be Gazm - Dirty Beach as it's the perfect mix of old Boston hardcore and the snottiest of black metal. There are a lot more of favorites that come to mind, but I'm afraid of making the list longer, as I also don't want anyone to feel excluded. 

A common complaint is how difficult it is to distribute records these days—when I was younger it was easy to get rid of a 1000 copies of almost anything, but now it feels like people struggle to sell 300 copies of really great records. How does this affect the label? I know that in Europe most labels used to just trade copies and run distros but the States has traditionally been more geared towards getting records in stores—do you find this to still be true?

Although I love to update the distro and distribute my favorite releases from abroad; it's difficult to sustain a self-providing economy nowadays and I try to keep the label as autonomous as possible without going bankrupt. Building a network and promoting your own stuff is difficult, as you have to rely on a business model and online marketing a lot more nowadays. It makes it harder to release a lot of records simultaneously and at least to me it feels like you gotta be a lot more picky about what you release. 

Unfortunately, I have to limit my trades to only records I know I can get rid of, which is always a heartbreaker because I want to have a huge selection on the shelves. Sabotage Records, Yu from Skizophrenia and countless others have made it so much easier for me as they've previously helped me a lot with general distribution in Europe and Japan, and when they have not been able to do it they have put me in touch with people who can.

It feels like a rat race at times as vinyl becomes more and more lucrative, and the prices seem to rise and the terms getting stricter every time I gather enough money for a new release. I still love it and won't stop doing it until I'm physically forced. 

In 2018 you did a fairly extensive tour of the USA with your band Negativ, can you talk about the differences you found between the States and Norway/Europe? 

The US tour was one of the craziest experiences I've ever had and I can't wait to tour there again. I feel like one of the biggest differences must be the infrastructures—In Europe the DIY punk scene have a lot longer history with squatted venues. DIY spaces and established collectives that sometimes even get funding that's often also more connected with a general activist movement.

I felt like the punk scene in the USA is more driven forward by private initiatives and based a lot more around "pop-up culture" as spaces come and go and it is a lot harder to maintain a HQ or social center over there. I think it may make it more obvious that there is a lot of work necessary to make punk sustainable, while in Europe I think a lot of punk kids take many things for granted.

Negativ (Photo: Michael D. Thorn)

I feel like both sides have their pros and cons; while it's easier to put up a show in Europe, the North American scene is a lot more supportive and aware of how much time and money it takes to realize a tour or a band in general. I saw a lot more support in terms of people economically supporting bands they enjoyed, buying additional merch and helping us out while I feel though not everyone, a lot of European punks would hesitate before prioritizing records or merch over beers, even if it was a band they enjoyed. This is just my own experience though, and I'm ready to be called out for generalizing if that's the case. I've heard so many horror stories of bands going bankrupt or being left to take care of themselves on tour. I can absolutely not relate to this statement as we were so well taken care of I still can't believe it, being a small DIY punk band from Norway. 

We always had networks of organizers and friends helping us out a great deal and never had to pay for a place to sleep. Pretty much everywhere we went we were fed or given money for food and gas and the venues always went out of their way to make sure we had what we needed. At one point, we were without a sleeping place and our Mama Bear; JonCon from Mirthless Laughter and Odio, called up his childhood friends as well as his father and made sure we were properly taken care of. We ended up partying until late with his childhood mates in their motorbike garage and spent the morning after having breakfast with Jon's father; it was unforgettable tour memories like that would very rarely ever happen in Europe.

I do understand this is because we were lucky with our supporters and network and we don't take it for granted or believe it's any kind of standard. I have to send a huge token of appreciation to Josh from Discos MMM, JonCon from Mirthless Laughter, Amanda, Lili, Arty, Janick Varning and Drew for being the best punk warriors! We are forever grateful for everything you've done and the friendships we have formed! 

What are your thoughts on digital/streaming music? How important is it? Do you find it to be a positive or negative thing in relation to releasing new music?

I love it! Vinyl is so exclusive and expensive nowadays—keep punk available! Most parts of the world don't have easy access to record players; much less pressing plants! No matter how much I love finding obscure hits on recently purchased compilations from the Philippines or whatever, punk is not fancy whiskey. Although, I will admit I do spend stupid money on original pressings. 

Impulso (Photo: Mavi Parra)

What new bands are you most excited about and why? 

Some of my favorites outside the label must be Pobreza Mental from New York, Stockholm's Vidro, Fuga from California and Oslo's own Guff. The list always changes though, as I constantly try to keep up with new bands. I usually stick to dirtier stuff that adds new touches to the rawer sides of punk, weither it's post-punk, D-beat or 77-esque stuff, though.

What are your future plans for the label and upcoming releases?

Next up are Ignorantes from Chile with their cassette; Con La Camiseta Puesta, Crudez – Jungle Jeopardy LP, Conscripts – S/T LP, the Membrane 7”, and Negativ's third record. I'm equally excited for all of them and also have a lot more stuff to come. As this is written we are also on the last preparations of Byllepest Hardcore Weekend 2, which goes off the weekend after K-Town. Last year was an absolute success and we can't wait to gather a whole bunch of international punk nerds to our sleepy valley of Oslo.

Anything else you’d like to comment on? 

Suck Blood!


Check out the Byllepest Distro catalog on Bandcamp.

Tagged: negativ, record label profile