I first came into contact with Norway’s Jan Bruun in the late 1980’s. I may have read about his tapes in a zine somewhere but I exchanged tapes with him and became friends early on. His compilation tapes were special treats, chock full of pop and rock goodies, excellently sequenced and packaged. He also had themes like the Manson comp, “Watching Satan” ( pictured above) and special series like the Walkman Meltdown series ( below). These themed and compilation tapes featured the best in international home taping pop artists and even listening to them now, they have hardly aged. It’s still great stuff with a tremendous variety of talent from around the underground world.
Kevyn Dymond and I visited Jan at his home, then in Bergen, Norway, in 1991. We had a great time talking about music, eating beans and pasta and seeing the Norwegian band, Munch at a small club that was once a bomb shelter. That was the trip where Kevyn and I lost tooth fillings at the same time even though we were not together at the time but separated by a couple of miles.
A couple years later , Jan came to the USA for the first of a couple times and appeared on my radio show with Charles Rice Goff III. They also appeared on dAS’ show I believe on KPFA at the time.
Jan’s compilation tapes and label are some of my very favorite in the entire history of the underground scene.
Much of the art work for Jan Bruun’s Hypertonia label was done by designer and comic book artist SH Kristensen (1966-1997), who also recorded under the name “Anus Presley”, and made experimental videos. Above is the poster that was included in the “Watching Satan” oversize package. Early cover art and design of the cassette labels was done by Anton Balsam of Åreknuteknyterne, still recording at home under the name AudiThor.
Hypertonia’s compilations were packed with a huge amount of international artists. To name only a few: Anton Balsam, John Bartles, Kevyn Dymond, LMNOP, Cleaners From Venus, L’Edarps A Moth, Lord Litter, Sack, Charles Rice Goff II, GG Allin, Anus Presley, Venus Fly Trap, James Hill, Hermanos Guzanos and many, many others. I even appeared on some comps and Jan even released a “greatest hits” tape called “Don’s Hyper Hits” (above).
Above, two compilation tapes on the Hypertonia label. “Hypertonia Sampler” was the 34th tape released on the label and “Pop Collection 1” was the 24th release.
interview with Jan Bruun
What years did Hypertonia operate? What was your original inspiration? And what’s with the name?
Started with tapes in ’84, but the HWE name came in ’87. Hypertonia is a muscular disease. The World Enterprises part is taken from Mykel Board’s Seidboard World Enterprises. It’s grand sounding, suitable for a not corporated label working out of a bedroom. The label was most active between 88-92, but all the stuff is still available.
Many labels base their initial releases from artists living in their own area. Of course you did release Norwegian acts but your compilations were international right from the start I believe. How did you make connections?
I started with tapes by local friends in the band Åreknuteknyterne, and also sent out tapes by them so they could be on comp.‘s in other countries. Back in the day before internet, you had to gather addresses from zines, flyers, tape covers etc. and write to people, trying to get them to send you tapes, or swap tapes with them, and send out flyers trying to solicit more people to send in tapes. Many people first had a glimpse into the tape scene by reading small articles about it in the mainstream music press. Same with me, read about Famlende Forsøk’s great label SHiT Teips, wrote them to get their zines and tapes, and it grew from there. FF is still playing, and I’m still a big fan.
How did you select artists for your compilations?
To my surprise and delight, I got hundreds of tapes in the mail during the most active years. I would just listen to them and pick the tracks I liked. My label had a very “pop” sensibility. Many people made masterful pop music at home. Often lo-fi sounding, but still awesome. I would also tell people that sending in stuff could get them airplay on my radioshow, of which I made hundreds over the years, in Bodø, then in Bergen.
Hypertonia released many tapes by The Cleaners From Venus. How did these come about?
He urged people to copy his tapes so I just did. Later on I was in contact with him and even visited him in Wivenhoe, and he started sending master cassettes to me of all his new stuff. I did pay him a few pounds in royalties but I guess I owe him a few more by now. The Jarmusic label in Germany carried all his stuff for years, but sadly folded. Three of the tapes are now re-released by an american label – on cassette only!!! I wish he would re-release all the old stuff. He’s an insanely talented songwriter, pop music’s best kept secret. I urge people to go to http://www.martinnewell.co.uk/ and buy all the stuff in his webshop, and also get all the CD’s from Cherry Red records. I still listen to and collect his stuff.
Your label reads like a who‘s who of the underground at the time. And when I say underground I am talking mainly songs and pop style music instead of the harsh noise other labels dealt in. Was this just a preference on your part? Did you like noise at all?
I started collecting Boyd Rice’s records in the early 80’s but I steered clear of noise on the label. I like actual songs better. I wanted to put out tapes that people would actually enjoy listening to.
Did you ever commission tapes from artists or did you re-release albums that were already done?
Both. I had a lot of best-of tapes by prominent tape artists like yourself, Kevyn Dymond, Lord Litter, X Ray Pop, LMNOP, John Bartles and many others. These were specially put together for my label, or I would do the editing myself, like on the LMNOP tape. I also put out best-of tapes that presented a cross-section of artists on other labels, just to promote the “scene”, like comp’s from Irre Tapes and Tonspur.
You traveled to the USA at least a couple of times that I know of. Besides me, Kevyn Dymond and Charles Goff who else did you encounter?
Mark Gunderson of the amazing project Evolution Control Committee, in Columbus, Ohio. ECC is still running, out of California. You should have him on your radioshow! ( I did!) He also came to see me in Bergen. Stayed with LMNOP in Atlanta in ’92, before I came to see you, Charles Rice Goff, Geoff X. Alexander and Kevyn Dymond, and I met the duo Neither/Neither World in San Francisco. It was also nice to have you and Kevyn visit me on your European round trip.
Did you also travel throughout continental Europe and meet home tapers that had released tapes on Hypertonia?
Several times. In Europe, I met Martin Newell, stayed with Costes and Lisa Suckdog in Paris, stayed with Lord Litter in Berlin several times, went to see Das Freie Orchester practice in East Berlin before the wall came down, visited Alain Neffe and Nadine Bal of Insane Music in Belgium. I also participated in some sort of tape festival in Holland at some point, where I met Harald ‘Sack’ Ziegler, a great musician. SHiT Teips would also have festivals and parties in their hometown in Norway, where bands on the label would play.
Were there many other tape labels operating out of Norway at the time that you were aware of?
Dozens, and I was in touch with most of them. It was quite a thriving scene in the 80’s.
How did you duplicate your tapes? from one cassette deck to another? Or on an internal dubbing deck?
Just two cassette decks. Or even one double tape deck in the beginning.
Did you ever advertise in Option, Sound Choice or any music magazine of the time?
Rarely. No money. But a few times. It didn’t generate much action, though. Sometimes smaller zines would print my ads/flyers for free.
Many of your releases, ( Walkman Meltdown series, Watching Satan and others) had color covers and oversized packages. Were they intended as limited edition releases?
The WS tapes are numbered. The Magnetic Monster comp. was supposed to be 50 copies but I just kept selling it as long as people wanted it. So no releases were ever ltd. ed. and they are all still available. All the color covers were laid out and printed by myself while going to school to learn typography. That’s why your track didn’t make it onto the Manson comp. I had to get the cover printed before leaving school.
What was the tape you sent out the most?
The Watching Satan comp. Several hundred copies sold, which is BIG in the tape world, where one typically has a catalogue of a 100 titles, where quite a few would never move at all.
You have a fascination for various sociological sub cultures as well. Murder, crime, sideshows, freak shows, human oddities, people like Charles Manson seem to interest you. Is the dark side just inherently more interesting?
Well, the so-called dark side reflects different sides of the human condition, and is fascinating to most everyone, or the freak shows could’ve never sold a single ticket. I’m still into all those things, and have been to the Sideshow Convention in Wilkes-Barre, PA twice. The Manson case is like a microcosm of american society in the late 60’s. I’m endlessly interested in american politics from the point where JFK got shot and throughout the Watergate scandal and the end of the Vietnam war, seeing some of the same people and patterns pop up again in the following years. The late sixties and early seventies was a very fertile period, with a lot of political upheaval, many new cults and religions, and a lot of great music.
Talk about the Charles Manson tribute,” Watching Satan“ for a moment. Did anyone object to the release or claim you were somehow glorifying him? Did you send one to Manson himself?
No one objected to it. The artists were free to criticize Manson in their songs and a few of them did. It wasn’t my plan to either glorify nor condemn. The tape is just an outgrowth of the influence Manson has had and still has on society, culture and music. Some artists covered his songs, some wrote new songs about him and some twisted various Beatles songs to fit their purposes. I’ve never been in touch with Manson. I’ve been in touch with Beausoleil’s people, and also Tex Watson’s family. Watson’s wife, Kristin Svege, is the aunt of a neighbor of mine in Bergen who played in the band Radiofantomene. The cover art on WS by the late, great SH Kristensen (1966-1997) is based on an anecdote from the strictly christian Watson household.
Although not necessarily a musician yourself I remember you creating some electronic music many years ago. Did you consider moving forward with more musical expression?
I was just messing around with a mini-Moog I borrowed. My label is one of the very few tape labels dedicated to other people’s music. Almost every label is founded by people who wants to put out their own stuff, then they sometimes branch out into other people’s stuff or compilations.
How do you feel about Facebook or MySpace?
I use fb every day, it’s great to stay in touch with people. MySpace is great for checking out new artists, and I also use it to grab promo pics to use in the weekly newspaper magazine where I work, doing layout and editing of the pages.
Why do think there were so few women tape traders and home tapers back in the old days?
Dunno, I guess obsessively collecting and trading music is more of a guy thing. Also making music in your bedroom was a very geeky thing back then, but now it’s considered kinda cool. I think more girls are going to weirder gigs nowadays, and they’re not always just tagging along with their boyfriends. There are also more female artists, and not just of the traditional singer/songwriter category.
What are your current interests and projects?
I write a few articles for various zines and magazines, blog a little about new music/books/movies, post a lot of crap on facebook. I collect books on sideshows and freakshows of the past and present. I sometimes DJ at a small bar/art gallery. My blog gives a good cross-section of what I’m into:
Do you think there is any lasting legacy of cassette culture?
Yes. Now that the mainstream music biz is dying off, desperately trying to flog their back catalogue to the last old people with money to spend on physical objects (Rolling Stones release a $4000 box set on May 20th, of ONE album), real people making real music can go on doing what they do on a low budget. Record music cheaply and distribute it for free or very cheap over the net. There is more music than ever, it’s never been easier or cheaper to record or distribute it. The internet has made what was a very obscure underground movement into the most common way of dealing with new music. Make it at home or in a very cheap studio and network the hell out of it. You won’t get rich, but whereas before a few dozen or a few hundred would hear the stuff, it’s now easy to reach thousands, even for very obscure artists. Look at AudiThor, formerly of Åreknuteknyterne. No releases available, but he gets thousands of plays on myspace. (His acoustic viking rock concept album, “Einheri”, about the financial crisis is just about done after years of hard labour, and may challenge the theories of supply and demand when you least expect it.)
Thanks Jan. Good luck with all.