The archaeological eclecticism of Svart Records

From an underground operation to a celebrated label that keeps both music fans and its employees busy, Svart Records’ black circle logo has established a meaning as a seal of “you’re about to find something interesting”.

Finnish independent record company Svart Records is often perceived as an extreme metal label – a view which Svart’s Wikipedia page also endorses. It might’ve played an important part in the late noughties’ doom revival but it would be unfair to call a label as diverse as Svart a metal label. The 250 artists Svart has released or reissued span from the aforementioned to post-punk, free jazz, occult techno, Americana and beyond. In fact metal has faded in the margin for a quite simple reason.

“I’m so tired of heavy metal in general”, says Tomi Pulkki, the founder and A&R of Svart. The label he represents seems to represent his taste in music.

“If we release a metal album it has to have an experimental or otherwise interesting perspective towards the genre. Like for example the Gravetemple album”, says Pulkki referencing to the trio featuring musicians from Sunn O))) and Mayhem

Svart was founded in 2009 by Pulkki and Jarkko Pietarinen. The latter is responsible of the manufacturing side of things. In addition to them Svart employs CEO Jukka Taskinen and two part-time hires for shipping and handling and paperwork. Last year the label put out almost 100 releases. An exhausting quantity by any meter imaginable.

“It’s partly because of publishing rights and their tight schedules of Liisankatu series”, justifies Pulkki referring to the dozens of archeological jazz and prog releases excavated from the vaults of the Finnish broadcasting company Yle. A topic that gets Pulkki so enthusiastic that it’s easy to pin down at least one of the reasons the label was founded. 

“I find it more important to release an obscure piece of Finnish electronic music from the 60’s that will sell 70 copies worldwide rather than a much safer album – economically and music-wise – by a hyped current band. I believe this kind of cultural documentation will pay off in the future.”

“I find it more important to release an obscure piece of Finnish electronic music from the 60’s that will sell 70 copies worldwide rather than a much safer album" – Tomi Pulkki

Even though teaching history through archive finds is a large portion of Svart’s story, their releases from active artists don’t go overlooked. Svart artists Mikko Joensuu and Oranssi Pazuzu were among the nominees for The Phonofile Nordic Music Prize and Teosto Prize this year. The Finnish performance rights organization awarded the latter to Joensuu for his work on the first two parts of his Amen trilogy. 

 “That truly warms my mind knowing how devoted Joensuu was when completing those pieces of art struggling on the poverty line. On the other hand Oranssi Pazuzu is on another successful European tour playing bigger venues and getting more acknowledgements.” 

Svart in 2017 is a company that reissues impossible to find classics of Finnish prog and jazz, releases both critically acclaimed new music and Pulkki’s oddball archaeological digs in a breathtaking pace, employs five persons and makes over 60 % of its sales from outside of Finland. It might seem as a well planned operation and an ambitious organization but more likely the truth is closer to its roots: two friends dreaming about releasing a Reverend Bizarre vinyl. 

When asked for the elevator pitch of Svart Pulkki frowns: “Umm, the what?”