The Berlin based independent music label, Morr Music, known for its quality electronic and dreamy indiepop releases is highly influential in the international music world. Having previously released artists such as The Notwist, Lali Puna, Styrofoam, B. Fleischmann, Phonem, Ms. John Soda; they have now turned their attention to Icelandic bands Benni Hemm Hemm and Seabear.
The man behind the label is Thomas Morr, a Hamelin native who in his late twenties resettled in Berlin to realise a long awaited dream and established his own record label. In 1999 the first Morr album was released, Poploops For Breakfast by Austrian electro musician B. Fleischmann. Today the label boasts 75 releases from at least 24 artists plus some 25 more releases on their sister labels Shake and Anost.
When looking for new artists and musical talents, Thomas Morr says that for the most part he’s searching for something he likes and doesn’t want to be caught up in following trends: “I guess I know very well who I do not need and that’s a good point to start” he explains.
Asked how he would characterize the Morr artists, Thomas says that the label has been changing ever since the beginning, so the artists that they have added to their roster differ as well: “Just as the person behind the music, you’re working in your microcosms and even all small changes seem to be relevant. I guess we never made a secret about where we come from and I guess some common roots won’t harm. Usually I need to feel that, beside all the problems that are in front of us, the artists are going to be partners who are willing to work through that challenge too. As that’s what it is these days when you run a label, you don’t have all the answers in place anymore and you have to question everything permanently. Some deep certainty about people helps a lot.”
I ask Morr whether he expected this kind of success when he founded the label:
“When we started we had tried to create some kind of a label profile which was immediately communicated via artwork and a specific electronic sound. We were lucky that the genre names electronica and indietronic did not exist by that time. When these names became common, quite some people said that the label genre was defining and the label name was easily promoted alongside that genre. I think we’ve benefited from the timing. […] When I started I was lucky to work with artists that had found their own sound already. Just think about B. Fleischmann, Lali Puna and Isan. But when looking back it’s been hard work and the success could not have been expected.”
Today, you must have a stack of demos from artists eager to grab your attention. Do you have time to listen to them all?
“I do, sometimes just not more than 10 seconds, but as I’ve said, I know what I do not need.”
The Morr artwork is an important part of the label and has made its album releases easily recognizable in the record shops. Designer Jan Kruse has managed to create a unique look that stands out and sort of defines the label. Was this the intention from the beginning and how important is it to you to have such a strong look for the label?
“Musically I felt mostly inspired by Wurlitzer Jukebox in the beginning. I liked the idea of “somehow” doing a 7” label in an album format, where this whole genre was already existing for some years. […] Within a couple of months I realised that it’s more challenging to work with artists on a regular basis and the concept was adjusted with the second B. Fleischmann release. Our artwork’s aesthetics remained the same and labels such as 4AD, Touch and Mego, influenced us. Jan and I liked the idea of having a strong visual identity that was changed very often over the past year. Jan just lectured about that at the typo fair in Berlin. Honestly I think that some of the artists might underestimate how many records have been sold because Jan did the cover. We even usually get negative feedback from our distributors whenever he doesn’t. Hopefully he’s not taking over the label,” Morr adds.
Morr Label Nights in Iceland Morr Music has been connected with the Icelandic music scene for quite some time. The label re-released múm’s album Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today is OK in 2005 after the album had been unavailable for far too many years. Since then, the label has signed two Icelandic bands, first Benni Hemm Hemm and most recently the group Seabear which released its debut, The Ghost That Carried Us Away, at Morr Music. Thomas explains that the friendship between Morr and Iceland began immediately after he had listened to the aforementioned first múm album, after which he contacted the group and praised their music.
“They moved to Berlin and we met on a regular basis and I just liked them even more. That’s the short version. Örvar introduced me to Benni Hemm Hemm and Borko and Seabear I ‘discovered’ via a mutual French and very nice friend,” he adds.
I ask what it was that fascinated him about these musicians:
“Of course I like their music as to me there’s some originality in it. I also seem to like the people involved,” he says.
Thomas and his Morr friends are planning two concerts in Iceland this coming week, one at Græni Hatturinn in Akureyri on June 1 and one taking place at Iðnó Theatre in Reykjavík on June 5. The two shows in Iceland are though far from being the first Morr Music Night organized by the label and the bands signed often tour together.
“We try to make it as comfortable as possible and I definitely prefer to work with nice people that are not on ego trips. I think it’s important to keep an eye on that factor, as a label is after all a fragile structure with interests that needs to be balanced, like a city football team,” Thomas adds.
The concerts are supposed to give the audience a good overview as to where the label stands today, but the show features local acts Benni Hemm Hemm and Seabear as well as Berlin based electro post-rock duo Tarwater, Belgian dance-pop group The Go Find and the electro duo Isan from the UK. Thomas Morr along with DJ Apfelblut will keep the crowd entertained between sets.
It’s worth mentioning that a limited addition CD, Music for Hairy Scary Monsters, was released as part of the event and features 10 tracks by the artists performing so concert goers can warm up for the grand scale event. The CD is available at the 12 Tónar record shop.
Tickets for the show at the Akureyri Intarnational Music Festival are available at www.midi.is. Tickets for the concerts at Iðnó are sold at the 12 Tónar record shop on Skólavörðustígur 15.