The Greek Bill Kouligas lives in Berlin where he moved to from London three years ago. From there he runs PAN, one of the most exciting labels for experimental & electronic music of the moment. We met up with him in a café in Cracow’s beautiful old Jewish quarter Kazimierz. PAN and artists like Helm, Ben Vida, NHK’Koyxen, Lee Gamble, Bass Clef, Heatsick and Kouligas himself were a focus of the tenth edition of the city’s Unsound Festival.
Do you make a living with your label? How many copies do your releases sell?
The label is quite young and still entirely independent, so i need to reinvest a large part of it into more projects, events and releases. I play a lot of shows and do a lot of design work on the side. The number of copies varies with each release. Some records sell more and faster than others; some take a bit longer depending on the nature of the music, or on how current the project is.
Quite often reviews of Pan releases focus on the amazing sleeves that you design.
I think the overall package is important when it comes to releasing music. It’s necessary to appreciate the musical content, but I tend to put just as much emphasis on the visual aspect of it. The artwork relates to the context of the record and vice versa. I see all the releases coming together through this.
Is designing a record sleeve for your own label liberating when you compare it to other commercial design work you may do?
I was talking with a friends who runs a label, and he mentioned how he always wanted to start a label from a young age. He designed sleeves for imaginary bands, dreamt up track listings and so on. Being active as a musician I’ve never really felt there was a need for another label. There are all already enough great labels out there representing all kinds of music. At some point though when myself and co-designer Kathryn Politis had some creative ideas and made some artwork, I realized a label would be a good platform to combine both musical and graphic interests. I put a lot of friends together who were all making music that I liked and wanted to document, as well as other musicians and artists whose work I found exciting and relevant to what PAN was on about. That’s basically how the label started and continues.
How did you get into experimental music in the first place? You must have liked Madonna and Pet Shop Boys when you were a kid.
I love Pet Shop Boys, their album »Introspective« was the second album I ever bought. I still think it’s great, amazing songwriting, great production. But in general I grew up with Post-Punk, New Wave and Hardcore music, which my friends from school and I listened to from a very young age. I played drums in numerous bands growing up in Athens, and when you interact with other musicians you get to hear a lot of different music. In the late nineties I started making experimental noise music myself, but also at the time there was a rising scene, very creative and active, which made that kind of music sort of popular around 2004-2005. You had bands like Sunn O))), Wolf Eyes, Black Dice, crossing over into popular music and there was a growing interest in the underground. I started touring extensively, set up tours in Europe, collaborated with loads of other musicians and released tapes, limited vinyl and CD-Rs under the name Family Battle Snake.
Do you still go back to Athens on a regular basis?
Not as often as I would like, maybe once a year to visit family and friends.
What kind of stories do you hear from your family and friends in Greece at the moment?
The situation is quite bleak. Unemployment is rising, people are stressed. It’s hard for me to visit because I can’t really help. It feels like I’m coming from another planet.
Where does the label name come from?
It’s a Greek word and it actually means a lot of things. I would like to keep the reason of its use personal.