Cuneiform Records is an independent record label releasing adventurous, boundary-bursting music by artists from around the world.
CUNEIFORM RECORDS was founded in the prophetic year of 1984 by Steven Feigenbaum with, as neatly summarised by Wikipedia, a “Rock in Opposition aesthetic, including progressive jazz, jazz fusion, the Canterbury scene and electronic music.” My apologies if I have missed anybody, but amongst the ‘top 10’ artists in terms of number of releases are Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Djam Karet, Heldon, Miridor, The Muffins (their ‘Bakers’ Dozen, released individually inflates their figure), Richard Pinhas,, Soft Machine, Thumbscrew, Univers Zero and, for jazz buffs, Wadada Leo Smith.
Steve kindly agreed to answer a few questions:
DISS: The last time I spoke to Joyce Nakewajk of Cuneiform (It was in 2015!!) she said that you had just got back from the Rock in Opposition festival in France where you witnessed the likes of Present and Mats/ Morgan up close. Joyce said then that she blessed to be able to work with the musicians recording for Cuneiform? Do you still feel much the same, and what changes have there been during that period?
Steve: Everything has changed completely. The market for recorded music is literally 15% of what it was 15 years previously. Somehow we have managed to survive and even find a better situation for ourselves, but it means giving up certain things we used to try to accomplish and taking pride in other accomplishments.
DISS: What gave you the idea to found Cuneiform Records in the first place?
Steve: My original inspiration came from my years with the Random Radar collective (see the booklet in The Muffins box set for a larger explanation) which had ceased by 1981 and from my interest in trying to have the most interesting record label it was possible to have, while still supporting myself financially. I felt that since I already had Wayside Music up and running and running modestly successfully, I had a small audience I could reach directly. I was inspired most (at that time) by the first 100 releases on Virgin and the 70s era of ECM. Also, I saw an opportunity to work with the kind of rock music I liked that had mostly been left behind by the ‘punk era’ at that time
DISS: I remember the first time I started reviewing for the label you would send out press packages including photographs along with the CDs. Now the most reviewers can hope for is a download of an album - I think we all know the reasons for this. Do you think this has had a detrimental effect on the promotion of artists?
Steve: It has absolutely had a detrimental effect, but it was not something that was feasible any longer. Additionally, and it give me no pleasure to say this, but we are a record label and our job is to promote the releases, not to promote the artists. We don’t get anything if an artist gets a good paying festival show. We don’t get anything if the artist wins a grant or an award. The artist however can leave and go someplace else while having gotten the benefits of our work at our expense on behalf of their career. This not only COULD happen, but DID happen, more than once, and it very much soured me on that aspect of the music business and of my feeling that I needed to be concerned about ‘artist promotion’.
DISS: At that time you said your aim was to release about fifteen new albums annually. Has this output slowed any?
Steve: We do about 8-10 physical releases per year and 8-12 digital only releases per year currently.
DISS: What has given you the most pleasure in running Cuneiform over the years? Also, what have been the biggest challenges?
Steve: Succeeding and helping others to succeed; lack of honesty from various people on various levels.
DISS: With the predominance of Spotify/ downloading / reductionist radio stations only playing the 'hits' what do you envision for the future of the kind of challenging, thought provoking music that your label specializes in? (I often wonder if some of my favourite bands like Van Der Graaf Generator would ever have got if the ground if they had been from a different era!)
Steve: Well, there’s much less chance of reaching a wider audience most of the time now, than there was in the mid/late 60s to the mid/late 70s, but it still can be done. The thing to remember - and the things that I feel that I must always remember - is that the Van der Graaf Generator or Henry Cow of 2023 is not going to sound like the Van der Graaf Generator or Henry Cow of 1973, and we shouldn’t expect them to.
DISS: Yes, I agree. We should be thankful though that the spirit of these bands lives on and provides inspiration for others to be more risk-taking in their music. Finally, what can we expect in the near future?
Steve: I am going to continue to try to have the label be as interesting in as many areas as I feel able to comfortably and knowledgably work in. So far, I think that it’s working! I assume that digital only releases will take up more and more of the release schedule as time goes on and people become less and less interested in physical objects. People who want to know what we are doing should join our mailing list
DISS: Thank you very much for the candid answers to our questions.
Most recent CUNEIFORM releases include:
RASCAL REPORTERS: THE STRAINGE CASE OF STEVE – release date 28th July, 2023: 16 tracks of eclectic, inventive and adventurous music inspired by the likes of Henry Cow, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, Frank Zappa and Canterbury.
PICCHIO DEL POZZO: IN CAMPORELLA – release date 25th July – live 2004 improvisational rock
MILLER TWINS – EARLY COMPOSITIONS 1973-1976 – release date 28th July – horn-based band formed in 1972
LIGHT SLEEPER – EQUAEVERPOISE - release date 28th July – “not quite rock, not quite jazz” Chicago sax/ viola/guitar/keys/drums line-up.
Also already out: A LIGHT SLEEPER – DAMAGED GOODS, SOFT MACHINE – THE DUTCH LESSON live 1973 and a 147 track MUFFINS 12 CD, DVD/ Book set.