Darren Page and Gary Dimes have built quite the electronic music roster with their UK-based record label Burning Witches Records. Since late 2016 these two musicians have created and curated a label that has dabbled in everything from dark imagined soundtracks to actual soundtracks to Gothic ambient to 80s hip hop-inspired street grooves to everything in-between. They were established early on as a John Carpenter and 70s/80s horror-inspired sound world, but within a year of the label existing the guys wanted to be free of that very small and confined genre. And thanks to open minds and a desire to expand the label they did indeed do that.
The first two flagship releases were BurningTapes'(Darren Page) Blood Runs Dry and All of Them Witches'(Gary Dimes) The Coven, two very horror-inspired sonic works. Both locked into the heavy synth-meets-techno vibes and essentially opened the door to what has become a staple of electronic and sonic ingenuity in the synth world. Darren Page and Gary Dimes, whether they feel it or not, were true tastemakers in this musical world.
The last album Darren Page released as BurningTapes was 2019s score for the film Black Lake. Two years later and he’s readying the latest BurningTapes opus. Devil x Nine is about as far away sonically and stylistically as you can get from what has come before. Feeling burnt out on horror synth and the musical dread of synth-based music Page turned to two very important things : Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head and music mentor and sonic guru Damon Baxter(aka Deadly Avenger.) The result of these ingredients and sage advice is the gritty, funky, and exploitation-heavy Devil x Nine. This is a drum and bass-heavy collection of tracks slathered in fuzz, buzzing guitars, and B-movie Drive-In double feature vibes. There’s no fat here. Just all lean and mean with a switchblade in its back pocket just in case.
I sat down with Darren and we talked about the new record, the inspirations, and how to keep a record label running during a worldwide lockdown.
J Hubner: So the last album we saw from BurningTapes was the Black Lake S/T from 2019. An amazing and dark synth record that really helped push the film forward. You are now getting ready to release the new BurningTapes LP in a month called ‘Devil x Nine’. Totally different from what you’ve released before, but just as good. What was the drive behind the change in direction?
Darren Page: Before I started work on a new project I knew I wasn’t going to go near any sort of horror synth. 2 albums and an EP of that, plus the flood of “horror synth” type releases out there made me just want to push against it. Just to be different. In my own mind at least haha.
J Hubner: What were some influences on you going into the writing of this album? There’s some heavy drum and bass vibes on this one. Touches of hip hop, desert fuzz rock, and 70s exploitation films. The film clips put me in mind of Madvillian as well.
Darren Page: It took me quite a while to work out what it would be and what “BurningTapes” is. I had a great chat one evening at the start of 2020 with Damon Baxter about finding new influences to draw upon. I was having an existential crisis of being totally bored with the way I sounded and played, and couldn’t find the spark to get writing. Damon just sent me a dozen Youtube videos of all sorts of things. One track by Black Moth Super Rainbow (Windshield Smasher) particularly caught my ear. The drums and bass guitar felt familiar to me but nothing like I had recorded as BurningTapes before. From there I really honed in on the Beastie Boys live sound from the Check Your Head and Ill Communication period. This record is all about trashy drums and fuzz bass.
J Hubner: So this is the first record where you’ve had outside help in the production aspect. You’re working with Damon Baxter, aka Deadly Avenger, this time around. How did this collaboration come about? What was Damon’s role in the writing/production process with ‘Devil x Nine’?
Darren Page: Gary and myself chat to Damon regularly, on an almost daily basis. Mostly chucking release ideas back and forth or talking about films. At some point Damon offered to be an extra set of ears if needed. That slowly evolved into a more structured producer role. Damon has an absolute skill for arrangements and that’s where his influence can be heard the most, and also his work ethic of “stop faffing around and fucking get on with it”. Sage like advice. Basically I would send ideas over and Damon would suggest – try that bit to the start and that bit in the middle etc. He also added some killer EMS Synthi sounds throughout the record.
J Hubner: Where does the title ‘Devil x Nine’ come from? I imagine a Drive-In movie theater in the Midwest in the 70s playing this on a double bill with ‘Boxcar Bertha’ or ‘Death Race 2000’.
Darren Page: Yeah it’s all that stuff. Just that cop thriller / exploitation feel, without being too on the nose. Gritty but NOT horror. I made a list of words to avoid in all the titles, so as to not get drawn back into a previous mindset.
J Hubner: From opener “Nut Job” and its heavy hip hop vibes to the QOTSA-ish “Atom Punk” and the fuzzed-out groove of “Everybody Gets Hit In The Mouth Sometimes”, bass plays a big role on this album.
Here’s my question, is there anything better than playing a bass thru a fuzz pedal?
Darren Page: There is no better sound than fuzz! 100%. I used to get real ASMR type head explosions from it on certain tracks in my youth. A couple Smashing Pumpkins songs would send my head into the ceiling when some extra fuzzed out guitar layer would kick in. This album is all about Fender bass VI and fuzz pedals like big muff pi, Swollen pickle and Fig Fumb. Pure filth!
J Hubner: One track that links back to ‘Blood Runs Dry’ and ‘Black Lake’, sonically somewhat, is “Sonatine”. Could you walk me through that track a bit? How did it come together? Or just walk me through the process of one of your favorite tracks on the album.
Darren Page: “Sonatine” was interesting as it was originally intended and a synth piece with no drums. It was beginning to sound a bit too “Burningtapes” though. Damon suggested an old beat up organ sound, Money mark style. So the synth line became organ and then it made sense to add in some drums. The synth noises and FX were put on very early. You can actually hear me dropping my Moog Grandmother a few times to get the reverb tank slapping. The low bass guitar was the last thing to be added. It’s the complete opposite to all the other tracks, where the bass was first almost every time.
J Hubner: So what’s the physical release plan for ‘Devil x Nine’? Will there be a vinyl release? Covid seems to dictate these sorts of things nowadays.
Darren Page: Vinyl and a special edition vinyl version will be available as well as digital. Cut at Abbey Road at 45rpm and sounding great. spot uv sleeve and some bonus extras with the special edition. I had originally planned a release on 19th Feb to coincide with my 40th birthday, but production delays have sent it back a month. I will however mark the 19th of Feb with a new standalone track digitally.
J Hubner: I wanted to ask you about Burning Witches Records and how you guys fared last year. It was a trying, and for some devastating year for musicians and independent labels alike. You and Gary seemed to have gotten through it, having a steady release schedule and introducing new artists on the label. You also continued to release soundtracks as well. Was there a takeaway from 2020 for you guys? As someone outside looking in it makes running an independent record label seem that much more fragile than it already was.
Darren Page: Despite releasing half the amount of records we intended, we actually had a really strong year for sales and it’s been really positive for us to carry on in 2021. We are very fortunate that we have everything manufactured in the UK. We spent a lot of time and energy getting to that way of working almost 2 years ago now. It was important for us to have everything close and in our control. We also got through 2020 quite well as we avoid pre-orders like an unmasked shopper in a crowd. We like to have stock in hand before the sales date. It’s an important part of our promo too, to have actual product shots and not digital mock ups. Of course that can’t always be the case everytime, occasionally you have to work on set timelines (especially with film releases) so I think we had 1 pre-order situation, but that was kept to only 2 weeks, thankfully.
J Hubner: You have ‘Devil x Nine’ dropping hopefully in February. How does 2021 look for Burning Witches Records? As long as the world doesn’t fall into complete chaos.
Darren Page: We are still under limited capacity conditions for manufacture. Brexit will be another matter too going forward, but we have a killer line up! We already have 4 releases in production at the pressing plant and so many more in the queue. It’s a really strong mix of new stuff, previous artists and soundtracks. It will also mark our 5th anniversary as a label, so we will definitely be planning something special for October this year. Honestly I can’t wait to share some of these releases. Hopefully it won’t be too long…
BurningTapes’ Devil x Nine will be out later this spring. There will be a single release on February 19th. Follow Burning Witches Records here for more info.