An Introduction To:

Primordial Void

by Liero Plantir

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Primordial Void is a unique label built on the foundations of Greek mythology and esotericism. It continues to navigate through different realms of sound, creating a strong identity for itself in the process. I had an in-depth conversation with the founder, Marcel Sletten, to investigate how the label has evolved over the years covering various topics such as background, sound and vision of the label.

To start at the beginning, Primordial Void was formed in 2018, how did that come about? Did you have plans to start a label for a while? 

The origins can be traced back to 2017, that’s when I had to the idea to start a music label. I was living in Aptos, California, where I ran a music blog at the time called MMJ, which I founded in 2013. Over the years I’d formed a lot of relationships with different artists all over the world through running the blog. I ended up working with a lot of these artists on the label such as emamouse and Lockbox, both through covering their music and commissioning them to do guest mixes for the blog. 

I had the idea to start the label because I felt really burned out from blogging and wanted to do something that was more creatively fulfilling. Starting a label seemed like the logical thing for me to do at the time, and I had the idea to produce a compilation around the same time.

I assume that compilation became the first release on the label, Primordial Chaos?

Yeah, I originally had the idea to compile it for the blog as a sort of benefit compilation to raise money for the site. However, I then thought that it would be better suited to be the debut release on the label, considering a lot of the artists on that release were ones that I wanted to continue to work with.

I began compiling the tracks for that release in 2017, and then in 2018 I ended up moving up north to Lodi, California, officially starting the label.

Initially, when you started Primordial Void did you have a specific vision for the label? Your Blowing Up The Workshop mix from 2018 felt very in tune with the persona and early releases of the label, which made me feel like you had a strong identity from the beginning.

Yeah, I’d say so. I think with that mix in particular I was definitely channelling a certain sound. When I came up with the name Primordial Void, I wasn’t even aware of its ties to Greek mythology, it just sort of came to me. My reasoning at the time was that I was thinking of cool two-word band names like Joy Division and Prefab Sprout. 

When I learned that Primordial Void had these ties to Greek mythology that’s when I started to develop a certain vision for the label. It had half of its influence steeped in mythology and the past, and the other half in the present with references to technology and its effect on society.

The vision has changed over the years but if I had to describe my vision at that time, I was definitely thinking a lot about making music and art with very primordial tendencies. In the description for the BUTW mix I mentioned that I was inspired by primordial transcendentalism. I was very into Walt Whitman at the time who continues to be a big influence on the label. Therefore, I think the identity came from trying to translate these themes into contemporary music. Whether I’m making my own music or co-producing a release with another artist, I’m always channelling these older influences.

Those influences definitely have a vivid presence across label. Additionally, a lot of the artists you have on the label are multidisciplinary, and there always feels as though there’s a wider concept beyond the music.

Yeah, that’s exactly right because emamouse is a painter and so is Lockbox. Then the latest release with Kentaro Minoura who’s actually more well-known as a visual artist than a musician, so a lot of these artists are working with other mediums beyond music. 

How does that then tie into the way you think about releases on the label? What’s your process for deciding what to release?

Stylistically speaking, there’s no specific genre I’d like to stick to because I love all kinds of music, and I think for me if I were to stick to one style of music it would be boring. Musically speaking, it’s anything that I’m interested in and anything that sounds good to me, but in terms of the general process I like to build a friendship with the artist. I have to really like them as a person in order to work with them.

With the artists I put out on Primordial Void it’s really a library of artists whose work I really appreciate but also appreciate as people. I lurk SoundCloud, Bandcamp and social media a lot, so that’s how I end up discovering most of these artists. 2020 especially, I discovered so many great artists that I’d never previously heard. That explains why it was such a prolific year for the label.

Yeah, because you had nine releases this year which makes up a large proportion of the labels output.

That was also down to it being the first year of COVID so naturally I had a lot more time at home. But in 2020 I really just started working on the label a lot more, from discovering and seeking out new artists, to developing its artistic philosophy and vision.

I guess that’s a large part of the process for you then in developing those relationships.

Yeah, that element is definitely important to me because I don’t think I could ever work with an artist on Primordial Void who I didn’t 100% believe in as both a person and an artist. It’s just me putting complete faith in them I suppose.

Especially because I’m not a businessman so when it comes to running a label, I personally feel like more of an artist than a businessman. I don’t really think of it as a business, I sort of see it as a collaborative sort of thing.

Kentaro Minoura

Marcel Sletten
Marcel Sletten
You released your debut EP back in January on the label, how long have you been making music for?

Since 2019, because that’s when I started recording that EP which was recorded between 2019 and 2020. During that year I was getting really inspired by the landscapes here in Northern California, and I felt a sort of need to make music inspired by that. The influence of my surroundings really started to overtake me so I felt I needed to translate what I was seeing around me into music and that’s how the four tracks came about. 

I was also heavily inspired by folk and country music, and I was studying how these artists wrote lyrics that would brilliantly depict where they were living at the time, whether that was California or the Deep South. That element was inspired by artists such as Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark so the idea of Zen Americana came from that as a term to describe my music. 

I’d already come up with Honest Music, which was more of a general tagline for the label, but I also wanted to coin something similar to describe my own music, hence the term Zen Americana. For me it’s about channelling the energy of my surroundings, especially natural landscapes, and translating that into good work. It’s what helps me write the music that I really love and can appreciate. Especially given that Northern California is where I started the label, so it will always be a part of my solo work as well my work with Primordial Void.

You mentioned the Honest Music Company, which is associated with your Cosmic Trattoria project. What is the concept behind that and how does it tie into the label?

The Honest Music Company was a little thing that I created because I wanted to attribute a copyright to the website, both on my own and Cosmic Trattoria. I got that from the term Honest Music because I’m really drawn to artists whose work is very raw and straight from the heart. The concept behind Honest Music is that it rejects any sense of careerism or image associated with the music, because none of that is as important as the work itself. That’s why I name Walt Whitman as an influence, because he was incredible at channelling that kind of energy, such as in his poem ‘Song of the Redwood-Tree’, which is a great example of what I’m trying to get at. 

If there’s one criterion in my process for reaching out to artists to release music on the label, there’s no one genre or style, it just has to be honest I’d say. 

How has the vision for the label changed over the last few years for you and the way you approach it?

More recently, there’s been a greater emphasis on the Zen Americana element and moving away from the mythology side of it. Early on I was intending on incorporating all these elements of mythology by writing these big long manifestos and creating fictional characters who release on the label. 

I sort of abandoned those ideas early on and what I ended up gravitating towards were the ideas of Honest Music and Zen Americana. A lot of that was probably due to the move here to Lodi as I started listening to a lot more folk and country music. This is a very rural area in Northern California and is very much an agricultural city. The influence of folk and country has not only influenced my own work, but also the general direction of the label, such as artistic and musical direction. One of the next releases on the label is actually from an L.A. country rock band. 

Maybe a difficult question but do you have any favourite releases or artists you’re particularly proud of having on the label?

I don’t have any one favourite artist or release. I’m so proud of every single one, I couldn’t really choose a favourite. I’m so thankful to have been able to work with everyone on the label. The artists that I reach out to I have the utmost respect for because when I finally find an artist that I love and respect as a person I feel so blessed. I feel that I use Primordial Void as a creative outlet and I’m all about commissioning works from brilliant artists, doing the best I can to spread the word about them, and try to share with as many people as I can.

That’s what I was trying to do with the blog so I think that idea transferred across into the label. It’s similar sort of thing, but I have more creative involvement now with both artistic and musical direction. 

What are some of the biggest things you’ve learned over the past few years from running the label?

It’s certainly taught me a lot about music and art in general. Every day I listen to more and more and keep discovering new works. One thing is that it’s taught me the importance of your own personal artistic/creative philosophy. Running a label definitely got me in the right mind set to be able to make my own music and I felt like that was important and a sort of precursor. 

My own music and the label very much co-exists together and influences each other, and of course a lot of the artists I work with are a big influence on me. 

You also have producer credits on a few records on the label, such as Lockbox’s Neo Druid. How is that process for you working directly with artists?

Most of the time I try not to intervene with the creative side of a release unless the artist wants me to. With Lockbox, however, I collaborate with him the most. I was involved with Neo Druid quite heavily. Lockbox is insanely prolific; he’ll send me folders every few days of 15-30 tracks and when I’m done listening to an entire folder, he’ll present me with an entire new folder. He just has so much material and with the Neodruid release I helped him whittle it down to the best of the best. I sequenced it and came up with the idea for the cover which I commissioned the artist Finn Hansen to do.

With Lockbox, he’s definitely an exception, however, with the shiwashiwa album I’m Here, I did sequence that as well and helped to choose the cover art. I discovered shiwashiwa through SoundCloud and I approached her about doing an album. All the tracks were SoundCloud uploads and she had never thought about doing an album before or putting her music out on any label. She was just making that music for herself. She liked the idea of compiling it into an album and all that material was recorded over the course of 4 years or so. 

I feel like the art direction is so important to me and I have to be involved in that no matter what, because the visual element of the label is important and I want it to be consistent.

Are there any artists that you’d like to have on the label or any artists that have been on your radar?

Well, I’m pretty much working on projects with most of the artists I want to be working with right now for future releases. There are a few artists I’m yet to approach that I want on the label but if I could name my absolute dream artist to work with it would be Van Dyke Parks. I’ve never approached him about doing anything because I can’t think of anything. He’s such a legendary figure and I feel like if I were to force myself to approach him for the sake of it, it wouldn’t be genuine, and so I'd rather wait for the right moment.  

To come back to vision, what do you want the future of Primordial Void to look like? What direction do you see the label going in the next few years?

It’s hard for me to tell where any of it could be going because when it comes to the label I tend to go with the natural flow of it. I feel much more grounded in that state of mind but I do feel as though I’m just going to continue working in the realm of folk and country inspired music.

Since I started the label, I’ve always kind of been in the moment and I never would’ve guessed I’d be working with some of the artists that are on the label. There are some artists that I’d wanted on the label for a long time and some of them I would’ve never guessed they’d be down to do a release. I also never would have thought Primordial Void’s music would be distributed by Boomkat or get played on BBC Radio.

Post COVID do you plan on doing live events or anything to showcase the work on the label or do you want it to be a strictly internet-based label?

I’d love to do live shows when the time is right and it’s safe to do so. Before COVID hit I was already starting to do that as I’d organised a concert for Lockbox in New York that had Matthew Arkell from Gatekeeper on the bill as well as Gobby. I guess that was the first Primordial Void event. Right around the time COVID hit I was starting the get the idea that I wanted to do an art show/exhibition showcasing the work of both Primordial Void artists and visual artists that I like who don’t necessarily make music. So that’s definitely something I’d like to do in the future. 

Susu Laroche

The next release on Primordial Void is called Once More with Feeling by Dividers and is out on March 12th 2021.