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Friday, February 17, 2012

Label Sampler: Dark Entries Records Excavates the Murky, Synth-Driven Past

Posted By on Fri, Feb 17, 2012 at 9:15 AM

Dark Entries founder Josh Cheon - JON RIVERA
  • Jon Rivera
  • Dark Entries founder Josh Cheon

Name: Dark Entries

Headquarters: San Francisco

Owner: Josh Cheon

Founded: 2009

Musical focus: Similar to many local label owners, Josh Cheon is reluctant to pigeonhole the types of music that Dark Entries releases. In the few years since its founding, Dark Entries has focused on reissues of unreleased or long out-of-print material from obscure '80s synthesizer groups. The presence of synths unifies most releases, but from there, Dark Entries splinters into divergent genres such as post-punk, pop, goth, dance, and dark wave. His most specific offering is the description "'80s underground," which isn't even entirely accurate: Dark Entries' second release in 2009 was a new recording from Death Domain, and the group has at least two more records planned for the year that aren't reissues.

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Creation story: Josh harbored an interest in starting a label for years before founding Dark Entries. As an intern at DFA Records and other labels in New York City, he was often discouraged from starting his own label, but his desire persevered. As Josh remembers, "When I got my own label, they were like, 'Don't quit your day job.' They were proud, but weary."

As Cheon continued to DJ and collect synth music in San Francisco, the exorbitant prices of original records within his genres of interest became problematic. "Part of my goal was to release this rare stuff on vinyl so that people could play it in clubs," he says. Interestingly, while Cheon was motivated to make rare synth music accessible to more than rabid collectors, his decision to hand-number releases early contributed to a collecting mania itself.

Hand-numbering debacle: While Dark Entries could be considered a boutique label appealing to a niche market, certain early titles like Dark Day and Neon Judgment sold out their runs of 500 within a month. At that point, Cheon was hand-numbering each record individually, but that seemed to contribute to collectors coveting Dark Entries releases, and even reselling them for more than twice the retail price. "Numbering them fed into this collector's frenzy," Cheon says. "I would see my albums being flipped on eBay for $40, and I didn't think that was fair." The numbering has ceased, but most runs are limited to 500. Cheon could certainly sell more copies of certain titles, but his studio apartment can only store so many records at once.

Primary format: Dark Entries releases have been exclusively on vinyl thus far, although Cheon has recently signed a digital distribution deal that will allow MP3s to be purchased online. As a DJ and avid record collector, Cheon prefers the warmth of vinyl as well as the packaging options provided by the format. Considering most of his reissues were initially released on vinyl, it is also important to him that the originally intended artwork and packaging remain intact.

Origin of label name: "Dark Entries" is the name of the first 45 released by Bauhaus, but more significantly to Cheon, it is the first track on Goth Rock: Vol. 1, a record that significantly impacted him at the impressionable age of 15. Indeed, also featured on the compilation is The Danse Society, whom Cheon was visibly smitten to declare that he reissued during our interview.

First release: The first Dark Entries release was minimal synth group Eleven Pond's debut LP, Bas Relief. Prior to the reissue, the original record was fetching upwards of $500 in collector's circles, and Cheon seized the opportunity to begin his label by arranging the LP's first-ever reissue. Inspired by the warm reception Eleven Pond's reissue received, the group has reunited to perform its first show in 23 years this month.

On reissuing records outside of Dark Entries' focus: Asked about what records he would like to reissue that fall outside the template his label has already established, Cheon immediately replied with, "Classic Detroit techno, Chicago house music, and particular really hard-to-find dance 12" singles."

HARRISON OWEN
  • Harrison Owen

Attitude towards the Internet: Cheon utilizes the Internet as a tool to research groups for potential reissue, but last year he discovered a blog that was posting Dark Entries records to be downloaded for free. Typically, a simple request from a label to remove the downloadable material will suffice, but this particular webmaster engaged Cheon in a heated dialog, defending her decision to post Dark Entries records for free. "She got really upset and told me that I should be happy for the free press and that people downloading the songs were going to buy the records. We had a dialog that went back and forth and got really aggressive. She had stuff on SoundCloud, too, so I contacted them about particular files and they shut down her whole account."

Having Dark Entries titles available on a format besides vinyl is something Cheon never intended, but he has reluctantly signed a deal for digital distribution, allowing consumers to pay for digital files. "It's bittersweet, but if people want MP3s for their iPod that's fine, because you can't cart a record player around. I only hope they will get home and play the vinyl."

Unusual roadblocks: European synth music enjoyed a significant popularity in the '80s, so it's natural that Cheon should encounter language barriers when arranging reissues of foreign bands. Apparently, Google translator clarifies most communication. In other instances, Cheon has relied upon patient, bilingual friends to facilitate Skype discussions.

Reissuing Siekiera, a Polish post-punk group from the '80s, has proven to be particularly difficult. As if the language barrier wasn't problematic enough, Cheon says that "Rumors are that the Polish mafia controls the TonPress [Soviet Poland's state-run record label] archives."

Future plans: Cheon is excited by the prospect of nurturing select new bands as well as continuing the rapid pace of reissues, and this year he will be releasing records by newcomers Inhalt and Spastic Joy. In addition to revamping the website, he plans to repress certain unavailable Dark Entries titles, but the second pressings will be virtually indistinguishable from the first, to deter hoarding and reselling.

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