One stunningly sunny afternoon in 2006 I was in a dark dank room on a slow computer with a dragging internet tempo dribbling my day through pages of myspace music profiles. It was the ultimate resource for musicians to connect globally, plan tours, cut deals, talk crap, and find their kin. A one-stop-shop for the do-it-yaself musician. I came across this man in a tuxedo with his head wrapped up in 35mm film stock. He was from New Zealand. I thought New Zealand only had Flying Nun Records (which I knew, and still know, nothing about). He was The Mysterious Tape Man; A lone half-man/half-tape creature boxing esoteric surf trash on his guitar along to a cassette boombox backing track. All fuzzed up and delicious.
D.Thomas Herkes is the person behind this curious incarnation. He also runs Stink Magnetic Recording Co. which has released dozens of dirty cassettes, inches, cds, and LPs. They recently released a plastic figurine of one of their artists. Cracking into the kids market.
Over time The Mysterious Tape Man would morph and change. He became The Ghost Of Tape Man. Then duplicated himself by three into The Tape Men. Then he grew werewolf ears and became Lightning Tape Wolf. And now, duplicated once more, The Tape Wolves.
Herke’s predominantly analogue aesthetic has always impressed and amazed me. I don’t know of anybody else in this world doing things the way he does. He’s one of those rare prolific individuals who sustains a streamlined yet always surprising behaviour. His shows are chaotic and raw, casual and supernatural, diabolical and refreshing. He is one of the most genuine and thoughtful people I have ever met. My emotions aside…
DEAR MISTER HERKES,
YOU STUDIED JAZZ BASS AT UNIVERSITY. THEN YOU THREW ALL THAT AWAY TO PLAY NOISY LOFI SURF TRASH. WHAT WAS MUSIC SCHOOL LIKE FOR YOU?
It got me out of the sticks which was weird. Mostly it was pretty good but I didn’t have the patience to persevere through translating written music into playing. It just took so much away from my playing that I really didn’t like it. I’m grateful that i can work things out much better and I got a bunch more ideas from discovering some semblance of logic but I went back to my primitive hunch and found it much more reliable for making the kind of sounds I wanted to make.
WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO DECIDE AGAINST BEING THE ACADEMIC, VIRTUOSO MUSICIAN AND INSTEAD OPTING FOR THE KEEP-IT-STUPID-SIMPLE THEORY?
I think it doesn’t matter how good you are at something if it’s a bad idea to begin with so you should probably concentrate on what it is you’re making rather than the virtuosity of the making. I’m a big fan of keeping it simple and, more often than not because of the opposing whiffy influence you suggest here, of also keepin’ it stoopid.
YOU ALSO STUDIED FILM-MAKING, AND INSTEAD OF SUBMITTING ONE COMPLETE FILM AS YOUR FINAL ASSIGNMENT YOU DECIDED TO MAKE THREE TRAILERS FOR FILMS THAT WOULD NEVER BE COMPLETED. I THINK THAT IS BRILLIANT BUT WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO DO THAT?
Ah shucks cheers man. I just had a bunch of different ideas I wanted to make and I couldn’t decide. I also learnt through making other films that I didn’t enjoy making narrative logic and that it worked better for me that I just didn’t even bother! It was slow and cumbersome trying to make sense so I just ditched it. I also discovered that something about having a constructed environment sat really well with what I wanted to make visually. That played a big part in making these films and I shot everything bar one or two exterior car scenes in the one room at Canterbury University. Also all the actors are the same playing different roles in the same room but under three completely separate film ideas. I am a big fan of Ritchie Venus and being that these are shot in Christchurch so I asked Ritchie and he agreed to appear. It was a really fun and also a lot of work. My good friend Nick White and I made pretty much all the creature costumes and props from scratch over 3-4 months. We really made a mess of his flat. I’m very grateful to him for his knowledge and expertise on not just monster suit making but also his general knowledge of science fiction. He helped me hone a lot of the ideas in to something really coherent. It was also made particularly special by my first daughter Honey arriving during the same year.
WHEN DID YOU START STINK MAGNETIC RECORDS AND WHY? WAS IT A REACTION TO THE MUSIC CLIMATE AT THE TIME?
In 1998 when I was 18. Lots of people made their own little cassette tape labels in the mid 90’s and this is our one!
LOTS OF THE STINK MAGNETIC ARTISTS ARE KIND OF SUPERHEROS WITH COSTUMES AND PSEUDONYMS. IS THERE A FEAR OF SHOWING YOUR TRUE COLOURS?
Maybe, I’m not sure what everyone’s individual reasons are but all of the artists tend to take the idea and make the whole thing about the idea not just limited to song ideas. It’s totally legitimate to encapsulate your ideas however the idea sees best fit. I think you don’t have to wear your own heart on your sleeve to make legitimate art. It depends on your idea. You can still put all your sincerity into a song about esoteric surf trash. I like ideas that are all about the idea and who ever is making it gets lost in there.
IT SEEMS TO ME PART OF THE ETHOS OF STINK MAGNETIC AND YOUR ENTIRE CREATIVE OUTPUT IS TO SIMPLY HAVE A GOOD TIME, KEEP IT SIMPLE, A FOCUS ON DEMENTED PERFORMANCE, WITH NO ATTRACTION TO SUCCESS OR COMMERCIALISATION. YOU SEEM THOROUGHLY ADDICTED TO LOFI AND KEEPING IT OUT OF THE MAINSTREAM. IS THAT A VALID THING TO SAY?
Mostly i think that the idea is really the most important thing – some ideas may not be popular but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a good idea. This record label was a damn good idea and I wouldn’t want it to be determined by the number of people that like it or by how much money it makes. I’m compelled by bringing ideas and thing into existence that didn’t exist in the world before.
THERE’S NOT MUCH OBVIOUS SOCIO-POLITICAL CONTENT WITH THE STINK MAGNETIC CATALOGUE BUT THE OUTSIDER/NON-COMMERCIAL ELEMENT COULD BE SEEN AS A SOCIO-POLITICAL STANCE IN ITSELF. IS IT? OR AM I TRYING TO DIG TOO DEEP INTO IT?
Sort of although every artist from the company has their own point of view of course. But I do think there are shared ideas around Keeping It Real and every artist here would be able to replicate what is recorded in a live way. That is to say we wouldn’t make something that was trying to be something other than it is. Which sounds strange because we have alot of psuedonyms and concept bands but those ideas are articulated in a way that can be presented in real life as well.
DO YOU FEEL A SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY AS AN ARTIST?
I do feel responsible for getting an idea out clearly without too much bullshit. Weirdly, I have some intense patriotism toward my country also – not so much politically as esoterically and symbolically – like the power that you can get from this particular geography.
AUSTRALIA HAS THIS LONG OLD POP-CULTURE OBSESSION WITH OUTLAWS AND BUSHRANGERS WHERE IT SEEMS NEW ZEALAND HAS A MORE EXOTIC THING GOING ON – WEREWOLVES, THE SUPERNATURAL, VOLCANOES. IT’S SORT OF MORE OUTER-SPACE AND FANTASTICAL, MYSTERIOUS, MYSTICAL. WHERE DOES THAT COME FROM?
Unbounded wildness? An uncontrollable compulsion to go where no kiwi has gone before? No I have no idea sorry man! Perhaps its in the water. Or the beer. Australia has some mega wildness going on! You guys have crazy exotic animals, giant stuff and deadly stuff! It’s a goldmine of cosmic supernatural influence!! I was super impressed when I lived in your country for a while.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE MELBOURNE MUSIC SCENE?
Its pretty huge which is overwhelming coming from a country where you are pretty much cousins with all the bands. You guys have a lot of actual musicians. And massive fans with great music knowledge. People that really know their shit like my pal Peter Hall. In New Zealand it’s very DIY and based around friends but you get a feeling in Australia people understand that you can actually make it in music. Like its a really big deal and its possible to be a massive success. We’re pretty unfamiliar with that concept in NZ but its amazing to see the confidence and the knowledge in Australia. The best shows I saw living in Melbourne were ones which I just stumbled across randomly. Some incredible folks there.
WHAT DOES THE REST OF THE FUTURE HOLD FOR STINK MAGNETIC?
“..For that is where we will spend the rest of our lives…!” Since I began the label I always wanted to make my own 12″ record and between my anxiety, money and timing it just never happened.. yet.. so I’m really pushing myself to get my own LP out the door as soon as I can. I also have a number of new releases in mind that will come when they are ready. I’m a believer in timing so I’m not too worried when things don’t line up or take a while. Stink Magnetic turns 20 years old in 2018 so I want to mark that occasion with something really special and I have a few things in mind.
AND LASTLY, HAVE YOU EVER BROKEN ANY BONES DURING A SHOW?
Finger crossed cos not yet but this will be the second trip to play on the back of a moving ute but this time with a full combo on there…
TAPE WOLVES are performing at this years CHOPPED Festival in Newstead, Victoria. Go and watch them tumble off a moving truck whilst playing high speed surf noise. BUY TICKETS HERE.
YOU CAN WATCH ONE OF HERKE’S ASTONISHINGLY SUPERB MOVIE TRAILERS BELOW AND GET YOUR LOAF OVER TO THE STINK MAGNETIC HQ IMMEDIATELY.