Brief History of SHAME FILE Music: 1990 – 2003

SHAME FILE Music has two main arms of operation: a mailorder catalogue of quality Australian experimental music releases, and a small label producing releases mainly connected with my own musical output, as well as compilation releases.

The label was born in 1990 with the release of the KAOS “We Do Not Have Speech Impediments” cassette. The material on this cassette was culled from several hours of home-recorded jams that ranged from ridiculous noise/grind versions of glam metal favourites, to some quite extreme noise improvisations. Despite the rumours and accusations, I was NOT involved in this project (I swear!). The label name, SHAME FILE, was taken from the Hinch current affairs TV programme of the time, which had a regular segment of that name listing various dodgy tradesmen, conmen, asian queue-jumping paedophiles, etc. KAOS was so shamefully silly and potentially offensive, it seemed appropriate at the time; although I do sometimes regret the negative connotations associated with such a name. Some people do think noise and experimental music is shameful, so it may still be appropriate? Anyway, I’ve got a bit of name-recognition these days, so it is too late for a change now.

As was the case with most of these early cassette releases, “sales” were minimal. Releases were only available by mailorder, which was accessible by paper catalogue and some ads in ‘zines (no web page in those days!). Even back then, shops weren’t interested in stocking cassettes.

(Definition: Sales – includes cash sales, trades and promotional copies. I have always preferred trades of other people’s music above anything else).

Yet, KAOS did gain a handful of fans on the strength of this release (they only played live once, and that was at a party to a handful of people), and even today people still comment positively on this rather ridiculous cassette.

The next release was a bootleg cassette I recorded myself of a Henry Rollins spoken word performance in Melbourne. I have always been a big tapetrader, and all this really was an exercise in tapetrading, adding a cover with a photo and some details of the performance. Once again, only a handful of sales.

In 1993 I got mildly motivated and released the compilation cassette “Gosh, I’m So Punk”. At the time I was doing a ‘zine called M4 which focused mostly on local punk music, as well as playing in a hardcore band, so I had lots of contacts with bands locally and around the world. The idea of this project was to pull them all together. The music was mostly hardcore punk, but some experimental music was included as well. Bo from Clowns Smiling Backwards kindly mastered the cassette at Sublime Studios in Brunswick. Sales were mildly larger than previous releases, but once again it was mostly only available by mailorder, which was limiting.

For a few years I had been playing around with some noise/ambient guitar recordings, and in 1994 I released two cassettes of these under the name of Undecisive God. The second one, “The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge” became the second-best selling SHAME FILE cassette release, going close to selling out of its run of 100 copies before I deleted the cassette from the catalogue in 2002 (when its contents were re-issued on CD as part of the Archive series). The high numbers of sales were also helped when copies were licensed to Smell the Stench Tapes in 2000. That year I also put together the Sonic Youth bootleg cassette “E.V.O.Lution”, which again was a largely tape trading-inspired project. From my rather extensive collection of Sonic Youth live recordings, I picked out some interesting moments and put them together in chronological order on a C100 cassette. There was no promotion and a handful of sales.

In 1995, I released another cassette compilation A Land of Sweeping Sound. This collection focused only on Australian artists, and was again a mix of hardcore punk and experimental, this time leaning more towards the latter. I was wrapped to have some impressive and exclusive tracks to include from New Waver, Clowns Smiling Backwards, The Scroungers and others. Once again, Bo from CSB was kind enough to master the cassette at Sublime Studios, and the cassette was a split release with French label SPOCK (in the deal with SPOCK, two of their cassette releases were licensed to SHAME FILE in Amerikanismus and If We Hung All the Landlords...). This is the best-selling SHAME FILE cassette release thus far, selling over 100 copies of its run of 200, and is still available by mailorder only.

Over the next few years music began to take a back seat in my life, for a number of reasons. I began working full time, got married, bought a house and became a father. The recording equipment I had been using was damaged and deemed irreparable. I was also devoting much of my spare time to my writing. During this period there was only one SHAME FILE release in the split cassette of Punchbag and Undecisive God. Punchbag was the defunct hardcore band I had played in, and their side of the tape was previously unreleased live and demo material of dubious quality. The three Undecisive God tracks were quite good (the centrepiece “The Breaking of Idols” being a favourite of power electronics fans), and were re-issued on volume 3 of the Archive series in 2003. The cover of this cassette says it was a 1996 release, but in reality this was a “non-release” as little if any promotion was done and the mailorder was becoming a non-event due to my deteriorating interest, and thus sales were low. It looked like the end for SHAME FILE.

Then in 1999 I quite accidentally came across some old Undecisive God recordings I had forgotten about and were quite impressed by how they sounded. I decided to put together another Undecisive God cassette made up of these finds on the basis that I thought they were worth hearing (the criteria for everything SHAME FILE does, really). The result was the “Purple Silk, Yellowed Clothes” cassette. I sent it out to some old contacts and received some good feedback as well as complimentary reviews. Around this time I also wrote the first SHAME FILE web site. Sales of this cassette were reasonable if not spectacular, but the positive feedback and some new interest in SHAME FILE generated by the web site inspired me to put some more energy and resources into the project. I purchased a new analogue four-track mixer, and before I had any microphones began remixing some older material which resulted in the Undecisive God “Prodigal” C10 cassette. “Prodigal” was the most well received SHAME FILE cassette yet, receiving some rave reviews. Once again, sales were respectable but not spectacular.

2000 also saw the final two cassette releases for the label in volume 1 and 2 of the Greatest Non-Hits series. The idea of this series was to document bands who had issued no major releases before dying out. NeTe was an industrial/gothic band I had played in, and Kill was another of my projects playing very noisy rock/punk. Both releases had low sales, with cassettes being avoided by most music buyers at all costs.

That year SHAME FILE moved out of the dark ages with the label’s first CD release. Behind Closed Doors: Australian Home-Recorded Experiments was the biggest project SHAME FILE had every embarked upon. With the advent of the web site, I was hooking up with many like-minded experimental musicians around the country. The mailorder catalogue was expanding with their releases, and I wanted SHAME FILE to represent the best of Australian Experimental music and make these recordings more available to interested people. However, there is little if any money to be made in experimental music, and the stocking of the catalogue works by artists trading bulk copies of their releases with me for copies of items currently on the catalogue. I see it as working as a big trading post. Of course, not everyone is interested in trading, and there is not much I can do for them at this time. Following the same aim of documenting this music, I wanted to do a compilation of the Australian home-recorded experimental music I was coming into contact with. I paid for the CDs to be burnt and due to the said lack of money designed a black and white cover (which I almost instantly regretted). The CDs were released and I finally had a SHAME FILE release in the shops! I embarked on a strenuous if haphazard promotional campaign targeting radio stations and the press, which resulted in a reasonable amount of airplay for such an obscure release. All this culminated in a unique launch held in a basement theatre where several of the compilation’s contributors collaborated in a noise orchestra to a blacked out room with blindfolded audience. Unfortunately, money was lost on the event due to having to pay for the hire of the theatre (we wanted to avoid pubs), but otherwise it was a worthwhile event (which I swore I would never do again!). It was a co-operative effort, with Andrew McIntosh from Scroungers, Screwtape, etc financially supporting the event as well. A short-lived band came out of this performance entitled Behind Closed Doors Ensemble (made up of Alex and Frank from Fenetik, Andrew and myself) that played a couple of gigs and did some raw recordings that have some real potential, before petering out.

The “Behind Closed Doors” CD sold around 150 copies, topping the list of SHAME FILE sellers. If only I had’ve done a decent cover, I bet we would’ve sold a lot more. Extracts from the live recording of the launch were released in 2002 as the Sound in the Absence of Light: Behind Closed Doors Live CD, which sold reasonably.

During that time I did a collaborative recording with Brisbane sound artist Andrew Kettle, arranged by email. This was co-released by his label and SHAME FILE on the “Digilogue” mini CD, which once again sold reasonably.

Meanwhile, having finally acquired decent microphones, I had been recording extensively, and the self-titled Undecisive God CD was put out in 2001, co-released with Smell the Stench. As this was Undecisive God’s first full length CD release, I wanted to represent the best of my recordings over the previous decade, so some older tracks were included along with the cream of my more recent recordings. A belated, low key launch was held and some airplay was had as well. I’ve sold over 100 copies, and it is the second biggest selling SHAME FILE release, following “Behind Closed Doors”, and is still selling quite well.

Since acquiring a CD burner, I set about re-issuing the old Undecisive God cassette material on CD in a series of “Archive” releases. Volumes 1, 2 & 3 were released from 2002 to early 2003 (“Archive One: 1991-4” was co-released with Smell the Stench, “Archive Three: 1995” was a double CD set). These releases contained material previously available on cassette, compilation tracks and some previously unreleased tracks. With the release of each Archive, the cassette releases contained therein were deleted from the catalogue (although “The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge” cassette may still be available from Smell the Stench). Liner notes detailing each track are also included in the Archives. Sales have been small, as I’ve only done minimal promotion and they are not available in shops.

2002 also saw the release of The Unnameable’s “But of That, I Will Not Speak...” CD. The Unnameable is a collaboration between myself and Andrew McIntosh intended to create an aural tribute or soundtrack to the writings of seminal early twentieth century horror writer, H.P. Lovecraft. Sales have been reasonable if not spectacular, but we've had a lot of fun writing Lovecraftian song titles and promotional material!

The latest SHAME FILE release is a business card CD featuring Undecisive God and W.I.T. doing a short remix of each other’s work, called “Modern Discourse”. This will probably have a limited run of 50 copies, largely depending on sales and availability of these little CDs.

Upcoming SHAME FILE releases include Undecisive God’s “Archive Four” in the second half of 2003 (probably will be another double CD), and an as yet unnamed compilation CD of Australian experimental music in early 2004. Somewhere along the way there is also likely to be a collaboration between myself and Scott Sinclair from Brisbane, and more from The Unnameable. No doubt there will be another Undecisive God release on SHAME FILE one day, but the next one is due out soon on Brisbane label mdb (a split with AGIT8). Those raw recordings from Behind Closed Doors Ensemble also beckon me.

I sometimes have dreams of being able to pay artists either for their own releases for the mailorder catalogue, or for a SHAME FILE release of their recordings. I am mainly thinking of artists who’s work I really admire but who are unheard of by many, due to the artist’s lack of a supporting record label or their own resources to self –release their material on a substantial scale. I’ve come up with various formulas by which this may be achieved, mostly involving restricting the amount of music trades I do (which I am loathe to give up). There is also the hard fact there is little if any money to be made in this “business”, which some artists find hard to accept.

- Clinton Green, April 2003