The Viennese Music Scene from the 90's Until Today
Twenty years ago first albums were released on a new label from Vienna. The label was called Mego. Our author Shilla Strelka met the label founder and musician Peter Rehberg to talk about the label's beginning in Vienna.
Shilla Strelka: Originally you’re from the UK, so I was wondering what was the reason for you to come to Vienna and actually stay here?
Peter Rehberg: Well, I grew up around London. I went to school just
outside of London, was involved in going to gigs and listening to music.
At the age of 19 I just thought I didn’t really like living in the UK.
"I was always more interested in German music, from krautrock to Kraftwerk to industrial groups like Einstürzende Neubauten."
and I always thought in Europe everything was more sophisticated and more beautiful and you could go out all night. Of course, this is probably not true really, but that’s the image. So I thought, I like not living in the UK and my options were pretty minimal at the time, and then I decided to go to Vienna because my parents often went to Austria for holidays. Then I just stayed in Vienna, even though I had never been to Vienna or knew anyone here really. I just fell into the local scene and then eventually ended up doing what I do now: essentially that’s Mego.
How was the scene back then? Did you get to know musicians easily?
Yeah, you could easily fall into the scene because it’s a relatively small town. I was going to places like Chelsea, Blue Box, and within a couple of weeks I was DJing in Chelsea cause they didn’t really have DJs there. I said, I wanna DJ, and they said yes. But unfortunately my taste in music wasn’t exactly what they were looking for.
What was your taste in music back then?
Well, kind of what I like now. This noisy stuff and industrial, a bit of electronic, the noisy end of the American rock spectrum, like Sonic Youth or Swans, stuff like that which now is probably normal and sort of relatively mainstream. But in those days you were not supposed to like that kind of music and definitely not play in public. So that didn’t last long in Chelsea, but in the meantime I met people who like slightly extreme music and carried on. With two of them I have a band now – Shampoo Boy, which is with Chra/Christina Nemec and Christian Schachinger.
And after your arrival, how much time passed before you, Ramon Bauer, and Andi Pieper founded Mego?
This is all late 80s. Mego came about in 1995, a few years after this
whole techno thing started. In the early 90s I got to know people like
Ramon and Andi from Mainframe and...
"The French word mego (mégot) means cigarette butt."
I always had the idea of doing a label, but there was never really an opportunity. I often discussed with Ramon about doing a weirder label that wasn’t like Mainframe cause that was more or less straight-ahead techno. And one day Ramon phoned me up and said, you wanna come to Berlin next week and we do some music? And that ended up being the “Fridge Trax”. There was still the idea of doing the label, and in 94/95 the idea of forming a label called Mego came about.
And Mego was embedded in the local scene right from the start?
Yes, cause Ramon was part of the techno scene and I was DJing at Blue Box. We were busy doing things. I had a weekly club called Club Duchamp. On Wednesday evening you could come to Blue Box and I played away with my synth and invited some other DJs, and after that we’d go U4 cause that was the space jungle/techno night. There were two floors – the main floor and the chill-out ambient floor. Sometimes I DJed there. Ramon and Andi had their studio behind the wall, and they said how about drilling a hole? So I would DJ and they would play behind the wall – all those sort of crazy things... Apart from U4 and Blue Box there was Public Netbase, which was run by Konrad Becker, and then there were the events at Jadegasse – Michaela Schwendtner’s apartment.
How did you come up with the name “Mego”?
Well, that’s basically Andi, Ramon, and Peter Meininger, who started it. It’s a name that doesn’t actually have a meaning. I mean, there have been many meanings since. Apparently it’s a hacker term for my-eyes-glaze-over, and I thought that’s quite appropriate. And the French word mego (mégot) means cigarette butt, which is also quite appropriate maybe. So it was around the mid-90s when all of it kicked off.
And now are you still in contact with the local scene here? Or what do you think might have changed? Was there a more communal spirit back then?
I don’t know what changed. The thing is, it’s hard to say cause now I’m
in my mid-forties and back then I was in my mid-twenties, where you tend
to go out more. Going out to an event, club, or bar was much more
important than it is to me now. I guess that’s still there. I don’t
know exactly if it’s a scene. Because now I wouldn’t be in the scene.
The natural progression of doing things like this is that you’re in your local scene and then whatever it is you do – if your label or your group then gets a little bit bigger or a bit more known outside your local scene – you start to be part of the global phenomena, and we ended up being like that. I don’t really know what’s different. I’m sure there is a different way of communicating with people now.
"Everyone says that they’re going somewhere on Facebook without actually going there."
But I guess it’s the same really. I mean the only thing that’s changed in the last 20–30 years in all aspects, even doing a record label or doing a club, you still have to do the same basic things, but you have different tools now. You have the Internet, but what you actually have to do is the same. If you’re running a club, you’re gonna make sure people come to your club, that you get an audience. That’s exactly the same thing now as it was back then. So with a record company you have to find the funds to put the record out, you got to choose the right record. The only difference is that twenty years ago you probably would write a fax to a distributor to tell him you want to sell a record; now you just announce it to someone, and then suddenly it’s slightly easier.
Maybe you can talk a bit about the shift when Mego was turning into Editions Mego. What happened back then?
As the noughties progressed, we kind of fell into difficulties because the business model was slightly different. The Internet changed how records are sold a lot. So the market changed slightly, and the old school of you having a big office and people working for you, that wasn’t really working anymore. There were a few decisions that weren’t exactly the best ones, and the company ran into difficulty. Ramon and Andi then decided they wanted to do something else, which is usual for people who reach their mid-thirties, to look for something better to do, but I decided, well, this is what I do, and I couldn’t see a reason for not carrying on, so I carried on. I rebranded it but kept the name as a way of showing that there is still continuity. Then I did the label really on my own and worked from home basically.
How can you handle that, also timewise? Running the label completely on your own and still being a touring musician?
Get up earlier! But the thing is, I don’t do everything on my own. I don’t make the records, they are made by someone in the factory, and the promotion is done by another company. But yes, it is quite difficult. Editions Mego progressed over the last ten years – you know, at the start we were just making maybe five or six CDs a year. But the last year or maybe two years ago was probably the peak when we were doing like 75 releases on various formats and on the various sublabels. That starts to get a bit stressy. And I stopped doing my own solo concerts five years ago because I realized that I couldn’t do everything, and now I’m just doing theatre work with Giséle Vienne and playing with bands like Shampoo Boy or KTL.
One special thing about Editions Mego is that you started – not wanting to use the term sublabel – the Family of Labels. Maybe you could talk a bit about these?
Well yes, this came about because I’ve always been working with people that I really like working with, meaning I like their music and the rest of it. And these people had their own sort of ideas about what to release, and some of them used to tell me, “Oh, why don’t you put out a record by this person?” or recommend things to me.
"I get a demo request almost every hour"
One example was John Elliott from the US band Emeralds. I asked him to do a label for me, which is now Spectrum Spools. Then I asked Stephen O’Malley, who I work with in KTL: he now does Ideologic Organ. So it spreads it out a bit more; it creates a weirder definition within a bigger thing, and I always liked that. One of my favorite labels when I was growing up was Mute. And Mute are obviously known for their mainstream releases by Depeche Mode, but they also have the more avant-gardish/experimental part of their catalog, and they also expanded into weirder things. All these weird strands coming back to one office – I liked the idea because it’s still an independent label but in a kind of slightly odd corporate structure. And then I was in touch with François Bonnet, as he was doing releases for me as Kassel Jaeger. I actually asked him quite bluntly, “Why is it that there are no GRM recordings on vinyl?” His answer back was: “We’d love to, but we don’t know how to.” And I said, well I do, and then we started the Recollection GRM, which is quite amazingly the most successful of the sublabels in terms of units sold.
Editions Mego has a very diverse back catalog when it comes to genres.
Yes, that’s part of the concept as well. I don’t like genres or labels of music. I listen to lots of different kinds of music.
So you feel more like a curator?
In a way yes. And that’s why it’s always a bit difficult. I get a demo request almost every hour, and it’s like you don’t know what to say to these people because it’s actually my job to find things. I’m the one who does that. I look through things and decide whom I approach.
This is the jubilee year, that’s why there are a lot of showcases around the globe. How does that feel – 20 years Mego?
It’s kind of weird, and also it doesn’t seem that long. I still think 20 years ago was last week, everything moves so quickly. And it’s weird cause when I was a kid in the 80s, listening to music, we used to think that 20 years ago was a hell of a long time ago. And when you think now that I started buying records in the late 70s – that was nearly 40 years ago. If you go back 40 years from when I started buying records, that was the 2nd World War. So it’s kind of strange how time perceives itself