Label Spotlight: Caligari Records

Some labels are great because you know what to expect. But others are worth following for the opposite reason, like with Caligari Records, you’re never exactly sure what you’re in for. The label has played host to a menagerie of heavy sounds, from black and death metal heresies, to thrashy and punky gutter anthems. But as the label is decidedly underground and low-key, I didn’t know much about it. So I reached out to label head Ignacio Brown to learn more.

I particularly liked what he had to say about running a label in 2023, as he gets down to a lot of the hard details that make it such a challenge from a pricing, distribution, and production perspective. You get a lot of people mouthing off about labels on social media, but most of them really don’t know what they’re talking about.

Check out our discussion below, along with a sampling of some of my favorites from Caligari Records!

Thank you for agreeing to talk with us, for those who don’t know much about the label, could you tell us how Caligari Records got started?

Caligari Records is an independent label focused on supporting new bands that fester on the lower levels of the underground. Initially, I worked exclusively with the cassette format because I thought that was the moneymaker but I was wrong. Now the label occasionally exhumes recordings on CD and vinyl. There is also the distro side to the label, which focuses on distributing demos and independent recordings from all over the world and to North America via trades and wholesale.

The label features an eclectic range of styles, but the thread of raw energy and darkness runs throughout the catalog. What would you say is the vision for the label?

The focus is not in the style nor in the subgenre, but as you mention, in the “raw energy and darkness that runs through it.” Definitions within those blurry boundaries don’t matter. The name of the label for instance is just evocative of certain energy and darkness. There is no defined adherence to any specific metal aesthetic, it’s vague and undefined by design.

I really enjoyed that Skumstrike album from last year, Deadly Intrusions. How did you come across them?

Glad you dig it. Killer Canadian rage. Skumstrike, like 90% of the bands we’ve worked with, reached out directly to the label either via email or social media. All submissions are listened to and all our releases are say, “underground gentlemen agreements” between artist and label. No contracts, just a short pact of trust. Occasionally, we reach out to new bands that are either recommended by trusted sources or that we miraculously stumbled upon, but that is rare.

It’s not easy running an independent record label in 2023. And I can imagine it’s doubly challenging for one that specializes in extreme metal. What would you say have been your primary challenges and what strategies have you used to overcome them?

We’ve released two vinyl records in 2023, the process has taken so long and it’s been so cumbersome, it’s certainly felt like a challenge. Also, everything has become more expensive and shipping prices and packaging material keep going up. When the label started, the average wholesale price I paid for demos and cassettes was $2.50, by now that’s up to about $7 or higher, which means that just to break even I have to adjust accordingly. Selling cassettes for $10 was not what I had in mind when I started this, but it reflects reality in this day and age.

Another challenge is time availability. Life seasons and obligations don’t take into account your love for music. An additional challenge and comment would be the current panorama; there are so many labels around, I don’t know if that is a sign of strength, or just an indication that this thing is getting bloated. The same with bands and music, it’s great to see so much creativity — but with platforms like Bandcamp around, it looks like there is hardly any quality control and the sheer volume of releases is ridiculous.*

What are some records you’re planning for the end of the year or the start of 2024 that fans should look forward to?

At this point, there are no plans to release anything else on the label. There are longer term plans but nothing within the next couple of months. That may change any minute but for the past few weeks the focus has been on promoting our latest releases; Hallucinate, Grotesqueries, Eyemaster, and Blood Oath. Submissions are always welcome, but nothing has piqued my interest lately. The overarching plan for 2024 is to slow down with the releases, mainly because real life demands it. And hopefully that will help us elevate the quality of the existing releases even more.

It’s easy to get jaded and burned out when music becomes your everyday working life. Finally, what keeps you excited about this music?

Caligari Records is a labor of love, not a full-time gig. Music is part of my everyday life as a fan but there are no daily obligations as a label. That fact will help the label stay around and be true for longer. As long as this is not a full-time job, there is no pressure to always churn out records to ensure there is enough coming in. If this was full-time, no doubt I would have been burned out by now. All the work that goes into Caligari Records happens in the midnight hours and on weekends. “Burning the midnight oil for metal,” so to speak.

What keeps me excited about music is the idea of supporting hungry and talented underground musicians from all over. To this day, I get extremely excited every time I receive a new record in the mail; the fact that other people may be feeling the same upon receiving our releases is a huge source of energy.

(*As the weekly “new releases” person, I feel this so hard.)