In these days of an increasingly profit-minded music “underground,” with the most well-intentioned labels dropping like flies in the face of corporate pillaging of their artistic bread and butter, a decade of existence for a still-vibrant indie label is cause for celebration indeed. And though Nettwerk has now entered its twelfth year, the company’s marked its first eleven years of existence with the (not-quite-properly titled) Decadence box set, a five-CD, multimedia representation of one of the most innovative, interesting and prosperous indie labels.
Having defined themselves with an image as distinctive as 4AD’s and a “sound” as perpetually inscrutable as Rough Trade’s (how many indie labels do you know of that would be as comfortable with Skinny Puppy as they would with Sarah McLachlan?), it’s somewhat sobering to realize that the label was started with the same goals of many indies: to fill the screaming chasm between the quality of music being made and the quality of music being released by major labels… it’s just that when Nettwerk was formed, the music they found unjustly ignored was that of Moev and the Grapes Of Wrath. However, from those humble beginnings, the Vancouver-based label has managed to somehow remain true to its original vision and maintain its fiscal solvency.
And, though the label is often saddled with a reputation as a haven for blackclad Euro industrialists, Decadence tells quite a different story. These five CDs show off Nettwerk’s best (MC 900 Ft Jesus, Rose Chronicles, Single Gun Theory), worst (Falling Joys, Papa Brittle, Pretty Green, Lava Hay), most successful (Skinny Puppy, McLachlan, Consolidated), most influential (Chris & Cosey, SPK, Severed Heads, Front 242) and most overlooked (Mystery Machine, Bel Canto, Grassy Knoll, Delerium). And, though the set is notably short on music – only 45 songs – for those with multimedia capabilities (as in, you know, a computer), the set’s five-disc size proves quite worthwhile. With discographies, music, videos, photos and all sorts of cool shit (which is the reason you bought that $2000 video machine after all), the multimedia portion is quite entertaining. However, it would have been much better if they would have crammed it all onto one disc, rather than making it the first track on each of the five CDs. What this means is that when you want to listen the music, you’ve gotta remember to skip the first track or you’ll get a quite unhealthy blast of static coming out of your speakers. Additionally, once in the hi-tech fun ‘n’ games, the iconography the designers used, though beautiful, makes navigation a bit difficult: You just have to intuit that the fanged skull means “Skinny Puppy” and that the weird blob means “SPK.” Other than those two minor considerations, however, Decadence is a fine celebration of one of North America’s most iconoclastic indies. With a musical history as diverse as the moody atmospherics of Tear Garden, the fuzzed·out rock power of Mystery Machine, the apocalyptic meltdown of Skinny Puppy or the acoustic melodrama of Tara Maclean, it’s a bet that there’ll be a couple more decades for Nettwerk to celebrate.
First appeared in the June 1, 1996 issue of Alternative Press.