|As Bunker Records approaches its 20th year of existence, we talk to the label's owner, Guy Tavares, about the history of The Hague's most infamous electronic music imprint.|
The Hague, Netherlands, 1990. This is where the story of Bunker Records begins, the label which was soon to become known as one of the most uncompromising, provocative, and influential techno imprints this side of the Atlantic.
No other European label has been so consistently devoted to releasing innovative electronic music with complete disregard for fashions, trends, and the commercial music business. No other European label has retained such a radical underground spirit and DIY ethos over a period of almost two decades, still releasing a constant stream of highly limited black-labeled vinyl runs each year, containing some of the rawest productions of acid house, electro and industrial techno out there.
It is no accident that Bunker Records happened in The Hague, known to most only as home to Europol, the International Court of Justice, and the Dutch parliament. The economic crisis of the 1970s had left the seaside city battered and scarred, and by the end of the 1980s The Hague had still not recovered.
"Its centre and wide surrounding area had become almost like Detroit itself. Main shopping streets with half the stores closed, miles and miles of empty blocks, burnt, broken down, dilapidated, windows barred or shattered, and many heroin junkies, homeless people, and crazy freaks walking around," recalls Guy Tavares, owner of Bunker Records and founding member of the label's creative nucleus, Unit Moebius, the hugely influential group responsible for much of the label's early output.
In the suburban punk scenes of neighbouring towns Alphen aan den Rijn and Zoetermeer Tavares had met a guy called Jan Duivenvoorden, who owned some basic music equipment and recorded industrial ambient under the name of IMP Electronics For Defence. Tavares and Duivenvoorden moved to The Hague at the start of the 1990s. Together they began to produce music inspired by Chicago acid and Detroit techno, as well as organize parties in some of The Hague's notorious squats.
One of them was 'Iets Vrijers', "an insane illegal club at the heart of a then insane city centre", another 'De Blauwe Aanslag', "an old, big and politically organised squat with a huge basement", recalls Tavares. Everything began to fall into place when Tavares moved into a squat himself, "around the corner of Iets Vrijers, next to the main Dutch Freemason's lodge, opposite a gigantic hole what was later to become the new town hall". One of his squat mates was Menno van Os, a.k.a Duracel, who joined Tavares and Duivenvoorden for their live gigs. Unit Moebius began to take form.
The Hague's 'Iets Vrijers' squat in 1991.
At the same time, Tavares' squat parties were becoming more and more popular. "We expanded the acid parties I had done before in other places with cyberpunk concepts: comics (Ranx by Liberatore), movies (Bladerunner, Akira), and literature (Burroughs, Gibson), resulting into 'Acid Planet'."
Acid Planet became a landmark party series, representing both the 'anything-goes' spirit of warehouse acid parties, as well as the dark and twisted aspect of urban dystopia. Tavares describes Acid Planet as "12 hours nonstop heavy smoke and strobe flashing, no other lights. 300 people on LSD I was selling, punks, junkies, psychiatric patients (freaking out on my f*in' acid!) and a few dodgy white trash hooligan characters in a basement, and no other music but heavy acid house and trax. Upstairs there was a cinema playing non-stop cyberpunk movies and sketchy speedfreak weirdos doing invited and uninvited 'performances'." Soon a 'scene' began to develop around the sound, with other people setting up sound systems and recording raw and analogue 'The Hague techno'.
Van der Sluijs completed Unit Moebius' line-up as a DJ and added some mobility to the collective ("he had a car"). Unit Moebius was getting ready to roll and began releasing a constant stream of music - five EPs and two albums in 1993 alone, among the much sought-after releases such as 1992's 'Bunker 001'.
More artists joined the Bunker camp, among them Ruud Lekx a.k.a. Rude 66, an old school friend of Tavares, as well as Rosenheim's Michael Fakesch and Chris De Luca, who recorded their first six releases for Bunker / Acid Planet under the names of Funkstörung and Musik aus Strom.
Unit Moebius began to export the The Hague sound, gaining recognition as a 'European answer to Underground Resistance', and touring the Netherlands and much of Europe, often playing in semi-legal places with a dubious reputation. Guy Tavares recalls four separate incidents of people dying from drug overdose, accidents, or violence on parties he has played at - "busy days for the DHPD SWAT team", he adds.
By 1997 Bunker Records and Acid Planet had released around 50 catalogue numbers and established a world-wide cult following, but at the same time hit hard times: "Too many distros didn't pay Ferenc, so we both had to stop for a while", Tavares explains the label's temporary closure in 1997. The same year Unit Moebius disbanded for reasons that were never brought out into the open, and their sixth album 'Work' for influential (and long defunct) Belgian industrial label KK Records remained the group's last official release for almost six years.
Unit Moebius in late 1995: Guy Tavares, Menno van Os, Ferenc E. van der Sluijs, Jan Duivenvoorden
Instead of calling it quits however, Tavares resurrected Bunker only a year later as Bunker 3000, demonstrating the label's invigorated spirit with the programmatic two-volume 'The Hague Rocks The Planet' compilation series. The sampler introduced a new generation of Dutch artists: Legowelt, Orgue Electronique and Syncom Data for instance, all of them having their first ever vinyl outings on the compilation.
Over the past decade Bunker 3000 has released over 90 12"s alone, by far surpassing Bunker 'v1.0' in productivity, and making the label's classic packaging of black sleeves, black labels and photocopied info sheets a familiar sight in all well-stocked record stores.
Guy Tavares has further launched a number of sub-labels to Bunker: Atlantik Wall Records, dedicated to reissues of rare Unit Moebius and i-F recordings, Motorwolf, which showcases Tavares' unabated passion for underground punk music, and the latest addition to the label family, Panzerkreuz Records, which was launched with an album of sinister acid house by Sendex this year.
Bunker Records' primary source of inspiration however, the city of The Hague itself, has changed drastically since the label's inception. The city's centre has been completely remodelled, most of the squats evicted and torn down to make room for shopping malls and skyscrapers by architects like Rem Koolhaas, who Guy Tavares calls "our own Albert Speer, but much uglier in style". During the late 1990s many bureaucratic institution of the UN, NATO and EU moved to The Hague, further accelerating the processes of modernization and gentrification. The Dutch government have even passed new laws, effective from October on, which outlaw squatting across The Netherlands.
"I still can't believe how they cleaned up (and spoiled!) my dirty brown and miserable city for the brave new world", remarks Guy Tavares. Yet Bunker Records will continue to represent the dark side of The Hague for the foreseeable future - when asked what keeps him going, Tavares says, "I'm extremely compulsive, I can't help it (but the doctor's medication does!) - there's no art to it, really!".