Artoffact Records, a Toronto-based operation with a global reach, features a compellingly expansive array of styles on its roster, from the ambitious grindcore of Michigan’s Cloud Rat to the shimmering post-punk from groups like Russia’s Ploho and Canada’s Spectres. The musical selection that Artoffact present seems united by passionate exploration. No matter where in the catalog one might land, something fresh seems bound to emerge.
“I think it’s very much what piques my interest,” the label’s Jacek Kozlowski says, discussing the roster. “But, I mean, the label is as varied stylistically and genre-wise as our fanbase, and [as] I think music fans in general have been since the advent of the internet, but more so since the last five to seven years, or maybe 10 years. There’s just not cliques in the way that there used to be back in the ’80s and ’90s, where you listened to heavy metal and that was it, or you listened to punk rock and that was it, and everyone else was your enemy for some reason. And I think that there are a lot of labels that do that kind of thing these days, and a lot of fans are more open to it.”
The stylistically varied roster at Artoffact has developed amid a partly internet-induced intermingling of various musical communities, Kozlowski observes. These days, connecting with far-flung sonic niches requires less searching. Sites like Bandcamp provide a user-friendly and artist-focused catalog of an impressive— and essentially never-ending— array of sonic creations, from wherever the musicians behind the work might be.
Overall, the current “era” has been formative for Artoffact, Kozlowski shares.
“People are really interested in that type of modality now, where it’s like: Yeah, I’m totally interested in fuzz rock and also hip-hop from Brazil, you know? I wouldn’t say we’re that varied. We tend to live in this sort of industrial, goth, post-punk, bit-of-metal, and bit-of-punk space, but it’s still varied enough that I think we’re very much a product of the era, more so than necessarily a product of my own tastes, I would say.”
Artoffact originally took shape in the 1990s, when Kozlowski sought to release a CD compilation.
“I sometimes like to joke that I started it accidentally, and it kind of is that way,” he says. “It was never meant to be a full label, never mind a full-time job that employs a bunch of people, and works with international artists, and all that.”
Kozlowski has built his own experience alongside that of the label.
“Sometime in the late ’90s, I got the idea of putting together a CD compilation, and being very inexperienced at the time— and also actually being a teenager at the time— it just took me forever to do it,” he explains. “It was just the kind of thing I did here and there in my spare time, connecting with bands over email. I mean, the web was in its infancy then too, so it was kind of difficult to find bands, actually. But I eventually did, and by around, I want to say 1999, everything came together, and I had, say 10, 12 tracks that I wanted to put on this compilation. And then that in itself took forever, because I didn’t know what I was doing.”
After releasing the compilation, he says that “some of those bands asked me to release their records,” and Artoffact began rolling into the future.
The label has established long-term relationships with artists like Cloud Rat, who have over half a dozen releases out through the label. On a similar note, Ploho have a full dozen releases available via Artoffact, including a new full-length album that dropped this February.
“We’re always looking for new artists, but I would say that it is the case that once we develop a relationship with an artist, it tends to be a long-term relationship,” Kozlowski observes. “That’s always been the way. I mean if you go back far enough, to 1999 and after, maybe that’s not as true, because it was still very much a hobby for probably its first decade, and so we kind of did things here and there. We weren’t working with established artists or career-minded artists, and we weren’t established or career-minded ourselves.”
Yet, the circumstances of the label’s operation gradually shifted.
“Over the last 10 years I would say it’s been a very strong attempt to work with artists for the long-term,” Kozlowski shares. “I think that’s good for business, but it’s also good to work with people with whom you have strong relationships, and that you can build friendships out of as well.”
On the note of strong relationships, Kozlowski shares that it’s been “heartbreaking to see” the impact from the pandemic on the “behind-the-scenes” music industry workers, who he describes as “unsung heroes.”
“Obviously things have changed a lot with the pandemic,” Kozlowski observes. “So, I guess first and foremost, once we get back to some kind of level of normalcy, it’ll be interesting to see the way that the industry responds to any number of hybrid approaches that have been proposed in terms of live-streaming events and live concerts, and how that’s all going to look. And also, what the balance is going to be between the two, because there’s obviously a lot of opportunity on the tech side for live-streaming, but in a way, it leaves out a lot of crew personnel, like anyone who does tour management, or hauls rigs for bigger bands, or does merch sales on tours. All those kinds of jobs that I guess people outside of the industry don’t really think about too much, where I think if the balance isn’t at least 80 percent live touring and events, and 20 percent live-streaming, there are going to be a lot of people who are more or less going to have to find new careers.”
Overall, the trek forward could be precarious.
“If the circumstances on the ground over the next five years, with flare-ups, and variants and scares, and tours being cancelled at the last moment, and festivals being cancelled at the last moment— if that’s going to continue a lot, then the balance between livestreaming, and festivals, and in-person concerts is going to be such that I think the tech is going to benefit, but it’s going to be at the expense of those behind-the-scenes workers,” he observes.
“A lot of those people are like contractors, or self-employed people that don’t necessarily jump into a number of benefits if they’re suddenly out of work, like from their governments,” Kozlowski adds. “And that’s been a bit heartbreaking to see, where I’ll talk to colleagues in the industry that are in that part of the industry, and they just have nothing, you know?”
Although tour announcements have begun to trickle back in, what about the venues that have permanently closed? What about the substantial stretches of lost revenue?
On a brighter note, artistic feats like those delivered at Artoffact remain exhilarating, as vigorous creativity fuels the journey. While the near future takes shape, the bustling community where Artoffact is embedded provides the path ahead for the label.
“In terms of genre, I’m really into the Russian language post-punk that’s happening now,” he shares. “There’s an artist on the roster called Ploho who are really fantastic. There’s another artist whom I can’t name yet who we’re talking to. I also love a lot of the stuff that the Roadburn Festival puts on. And there’s a lot of other festivals that have kind of taken the Roadburn model in Europe that do similar things. That’s sort of very heavy metal-focused, but the application of that term is used in its broadest sense, so you’ll have everything from synthwave to post-punk to grindcore at that festival.”
In 2021, Roadburn held a special edition of their festival billed as Roadburn Redux, which consisted of days of special virtual presentations.
Kauan, who are presently based in Estonia, released an album of atmospheric doom via Artoffact in April, and Kozlowski cites them when considering the future. As he puts it:
“If it’s dark and heavy or even not that heavy— like a band like Kauan that we just released. It’s not particularly heavy, but it’s poetic and dark and hopeful and wonderful to listen to and epic. Anything that crosses any of those boxes is something that we’re looking for, for sure.”
Check out the recent release from Artoffact Records, DAWN OF ASHES’ “Blood of the Titans (Inva//id Remix)” below:
For more from Artoffact Records, find them at their official website.
Photo courtesy of Artoffact Records.