The Molehill Report

The Molehill Report #10 – December 2022

December 2022: 30 years ago this month the two first releases on Praxis appeared on vinyl. Christoph Fringeli is presenting a short stripped down history of one of the longest running hardcore labels.


Welcome to episode 10 of the Molehill Report.

Music playing: Scaremonger: Soon We All Will Have Special Names (from Scaremonger EP, Praxis 1)

Music playing: Bourbonese Qualk: Take Control (from Knee-Jerk-Reaction, Praxis 2)

It’s New Year’s Eve and this is the last episode of the report in 2022, and this month it’s 30 years ago that I started Praxis Records in London and I wrote a little condensed history of the label, which I’m going to read to you in a second. I can’t wait to open the champagne and party!

Music playing: Disciples of Belial: Sell Your Soul to the Devil (from Songs of Praise, Praxis 7)

And here’s a brief history of Praxis Records: On December 18, 1991, I landed in London equipped with very little except some records, a bag of belongings and enough money to survive for a few months. I spent a couple of weeks cleaning out a squat in North Peckham, South London, just off the Old Kent Road, making it habitable. This was going to be my home for the next couple of years.

Two or three streets down was the entirely squatted Malt Street, where at some point in 1992, the first Praxis office was set up. This consisted mainly of a fax machine and a desk. Upstairs was the Bourbonese Qualk rehearsal space and studio. This was where Praxis Records began and would take shape over the next couple of years.

Playing: Metatron: Seduction Pt. 5 (from Seduction EP, Praxis 8)

But first, there was a prelude to Praxis. Growing up in Basel, Switzerland, I had created the label project Vision in 1986, publishing magazines and tapes and starting in 1988, vinyl records. Mainly working with local bands and artists, these productions featured material in an eclectic context of post-punk, industrial, experimental music and noise. But the inspiration was not only musical, but came from politics and literature as much as from records and bands. The movements for autonomous social centres in the 80s were closely related to challenges against the bourgeois high culture.

Literary influences came from the artistic avant-garde, most importantly surrealism, and later from the situationists. As Vision mutated into a record label, it soon enough was confronted with problems arising from somehow having to compete on the marketplace. By the end of the 80s, much of the so-called independent music scene had mutated into a mirror image of the commercial world, replicating its mechanisms on a smaller scale, discouraging my beliefs in a truly independent and autonomous underground culture.

I saw this especially when I was working for an independent distribution company, first as an export manager, then setting up a dance department. During this time, I gained more and more inside knowledge of how this market worked. It was a strange set of converging factors that finally propelled me to that squat in North Peckham. Travelling to Paris and New York, Acid House and Pirate Radio in London, Underground Resistance in the Tresor Club in Berlin, the wider trajectory of Vision from post-punk to dance music and its emphasis on facelessness and collective cultural creation.

I arrived in London with only a few contacts and it took me a while to get things going. I teamed up with Bourbonese Qualk and we worked on tracks, producing the first Praxis records in the summer of 1992. One consisted of four tracks that I had done under the name Scaremonger, the second release was by Bourbonese Qualk and represented a significant departure for them from what had been going on before. It took a while to get these pressed and distributed, but finally, by December 1992, both records were out.

Over the following years, the network was expanding to France and Germany, Italy and the US. Teknivals were spreading across the European continent, new distribution networks and media appeared. Records almost became a sort of currency in some circles, trading records among producers was commonplace. Parallel and connected to all these developments was the political situation in the UK. Looking back, it may seem strange that of all the options I theoretically had, I chose London as the place to go, when Thatcherism appeared to be the most extreme form of counter-revolution. But that was precisely that. When Trafalgar Square went up in flames in protest against the Poll Tax in 1990, it seemed to be a sign that this was going to be the place where a revolution in Europe was possibly going to start. And I definitely wanted to be a part of that.

Self-organization in the form of squatting and cultural events became the reasonable thing to do. Older countercultures became mixed with disaffected urban youth, underground publishing, self-released records, parties in squatted venues and fields were spreading rapidly. So was the repression. By 1994, a new Criminal Justice Act came in which was designed to hit squatters, travelers and ravers and led to further politicization.

New forms of protests evolved, often including sound systems and dancing in the streets. As far as Praxis was concerned, all these influences and more were combined to create a running commentary in the form of records, scenes and events. I teamed up with TechNet and Nomex to create a Dead by Dawn events in the Anarchist 121 Center in Brixton from 1994 to 1996, combining talks and discussions with experimental noise and all-night hardcore techno.

Praxis also published a newsletter to accompany and publicize these events. Then the magazine Alien Underground, which in 1997 mutated into Datacide, the magazine for noise and politics. Musical developments were speeding up and the records on Praxis reflected that. Rapidly mutating, incorporating influences and generating dissident versions and radical commentary on these currents. This ranged from techno to hardcore, from noise to breakcore and speedcore, always experimenting, always in flux.

Towards the end of the decade and the beginning of the following one, we managed to unleash another wave of releases. Praxis was extended with the creation of its sister label for hard drum’n’bass and epic breakcore, Sub/Version, and a whole family of labels was grouped around it, connected to a strong self-managed distribution subnet with many international nodes.

In the early 2000s, I moved from London to Berlin and back to Basel before settling in Berlin again in 2007. In this period, the market changed with the development of the internet. For Praxis, we took advantage of the new technologies, mainly via the website, which was the home of many associated labels and busy mailing lists and forums, and where we also gave away much of the label catalog as free mp3 downloads, seeing mp3s as a handy promotional tool but certainly not as a replacement for the superior quality of vinyl.

We also used the site to set up a proper online shop in 2005. At the same time, we were facing challenges that we were unable to effectively counter. Sinking record sales, the sneaking back in of hierarchical star systems even in the independent sector, the arbitrariness of the social media paradigm favoring bigger egos on a manic mission over substantial and critical work, and last but not least, the change in the role that labels were playing, moving away from visionary curation to digital rights management.

Much of the effort put into Praxis in the last years has been put into the running of the online and Berlin shops. We’ve organized parties and events and continue the extension into more theoretical realms via Datacide, the magazine for noise and politics, as well as more recently, among other things, this very YouTube channel.

Praxis is a personal but also a collective project. Nothing would have been possible without the collaboration of dozens of amazing artists, musicians, writers, and designers. And it stays on course as part of a wider drive to create and critique, still flying the flag of antagonism in the shoals of the culture industry and its negation on a mission that is not accomplished yet.

So that was obviously a very condensed kind of summing up of a short history of the label and of its contexts and I’m thinking of doing a few other videos about particular aspects going more into depth and I’d love to hear from you which aspects would be interesting so please leave a comment and let me know. And subscribe to the channel, there will be a lot more interesting stuff coming up in 2023. Happy New Year!

The Molehill Report #10 was produced in December 2022 in Berlin by CF and Lynxy at the Psychic Defence studio.

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