Despite the small size of the independent UK-based label Broken Flag records, they have been responsible for several very powerful and influential cassettes since their inception in 1982. Created by arch-anarchist Gary Mundy, Broken Flag has remained fiercely uncommercial and thus disassociated with all distributors. This aside, Broken Flag is still widely recognized throughout the European and American 'undergrounds' as one of the premiere labels for truly extreme music.
How is this possible without major distribution? Basically the Broken Flag reputation stems from Mundy's incredibly diligent work through the mail; he maintains correspondence with listeners, mail-order houses, and creative artists throughout the world - this is to say he has networked his products to the sources that count.
Certainly most Broken Flag releases are far too uncompromising for mass acceptance; therefore in this country one must find them either through Aeon Distribution in Colorado or directly through Broken Flag itself. In a recent conversation Gary Mundy elaborated on his label, on his musical works with the brilliant Ramleh and Toll, and on his personal perspectives regarding art, music, and the world in general...
Q: Discuss the origins of Broken Flag and the label's concept.
A: Well, Broken Flag began in May 1982 when I started it with two friends. It was an overall title for releasing tapes/records/magazines and for promoting shows and any other projects we cared to participate in. With our first cassette release a musical direction was born -- one of violent and passionate electronics, which became our trademark at the time. We decided that violent music and imagery had to go hand in hand. Now however we see greater powers of harrowing through more subtle methods. The whole Broken Flag became the unacceptable face of life, taboo subjects, and deliberate contradictions. We also still believed in the punk ethic that music and production should be in the hands of musicians, not businessmen. The original Broken Flag lasted from May to December 1982, [which is] when the actual record label began.
Q: Has the concept changed through time?
A: At first, Broken Flag was a mail-order company involved in violent imagery and sending hate mail to people who deserved it. It was a time of getting ourselves established and off the ground. At that point we were totally arrogant, and ran a very amateurish set-up. By 1983 we were joined by Jerome Clegg, who had brought in ideas of packaging and presentation, and this began our 'professional period.' I decided it was time for live appearances and we took our music to English audiences, to varying responses. We released two LP's and were slammed for our use of controversial imagery -- a process which we modified on the sleeve of STATEMENT. Jerome left in July 1984 and Broken Flag virtually shut down in September, but only for a couple of months. Operations resumed in December, with a new look.
The new look includes new helpers, new ideas, new packaging. Certainly BF followers of old will probably dislike parts of the new one, which is more music-related. Seemingly less electronic violence characterizes the new music. We are also considering the video market soon, and our main aim now is to widen the potential audience for original music in an even more predictable world.
Q: Many of the graphics and titles are very violent in nature. Why do you use such imagery, and what has public reaction been?
A: As I stated, it did seem that violent music demanded violent imagery to complete the concept, which related to our main interests and fascinations at the time. For the most part public reaction was good, although distributors did not accept the product packaging, and a couple of items were banned.
Q: Generally, Broken Flag seems to be a one-man operation; how many copies of LP's are made per master?
A: All records are usually limited to 500 copies. This is sufficient to regain initial costs. Broken Flag is non-profit making, overall. We are now a two- or three-man operation, although I still carry out the largest part myself.
Q: Do you make a living solely from the label, or do you have other work?
A: As I say, BF makes no profit really, and I have to work for a living. I work for the government as a legal aid officer, which is dull, uninspiring, and frustrating, but it's easy and it pays the bills, which allows BF to survive.
Q: You personally were involved with the group Ramleh. How would you describe that music, and what was the purpose behind the group?
A: The actual sound of Ramleh came about when a friend and I were mucking about in a bedroom with a Casio keyboard, a synth, two microphones, and some effects. Suddenly we hit this amazing sound and taped it, overdubbed more vocal, realized the potential, and proceeded to record more and more. A style developed quickly, and lyrics were altered to suit the tracks better. Ramleh was a sparse-sounding group, but incredibly violent-sounding: initially mesmeric and aggressive. Later it became desperate and manic. We strived for original vocal effects and sounds which are best heard on "A Return to Slavery." Many called this revoltionary vocal sound.
The rawness and simplicity is the beauty of this and all good music. Our aim was to open ears and minds to the possibility that normality was only traditional - who decides what is right and what is wrong. We constantly ask people do define morality in the hope that we may get a conclusive answer. So the graphics, music, and images were deliberately ambiguous, so as to say "Here we are. Decide what we are doing for yourself; then decide why you love it or hate it! Think about it and always reserve the right to change your mind."
Q: Why did you break up, and what new projects are in the works?
A: Ramleh broke up for two reasons. We wanted to work in vastly different areas, and thus changed personnel and the band name. Basically we had achieved as much of what we set out to do as we were ever likely to. The attitude towards electronic music in London has turned from anger to trendiness. Live performances were too hard to find, and recording was leading in new directions. It was overplayed, and time for change.
The new group, Toll, is drastically different, mixing harsh soundscapes with musical flavoring. Each track on the debut LP is vastly different from either of its neighbors, and the overall effect is crushing. The variety is the main thing here. Myself and Tim Soar are the nucleus of Toll with various helpers, mainly Matthew Frith, Un-Kommunity, VP231, and Controlled Bleeding. The main reason for Toll is to prove that great LP's are still easy and cheap to make, and that spontaneity is the answer. All tracks were written and recorded in the studio, with no pre-planning at all.
Q: Many people lump Ramleh into the Sutcliffe Jugend/Whitehouse school of noise. How was Ramleh different, and how do you feel about the Whitehouse comparison?
A: Initially, Ramleh played live with Whitehouse, and in fact Broken Flag released material by both bands -- hence the comparisons. Musically however Ramleh was never very similar to the Come Organisation bands, and each Ramleh record is totally removed from [theirs]. And now with Toll, there is absolutely no similarity at all.
Q: Although Broken Flag is a small English label, it is known throughout Europe and many areas of the US. Where is support the greatest?
A: The USA has been the biggest market for BF. It seems as adventurous today as England was until the British bands discovered the cancer of white funk in 1981-82. England is dying musically. Italy seems to have a good market and some very talented artists, like Giancarlo Toniutti; but for the most part Europe is unadventurous.
Q: Do you plan to venture into the US to perform or to promote Broken Flag? Also, what are your perceptions of America?
A: We have no plans to come to America. No live performances or promotion is planned for this year, but this may change if opportunities arise.
I would like to visit and perform in the US, despite finding most Americans I've met impossible to communicate with. Although my correspondance is very good, the actual personal contact seems to fail somewhat, and I think I need to see Americans on their home turf.
Q: Where do you see BF going? Will you try to tap into the commercial marketplace eventually? Has 'difficult music' a future in the marketplace?
A: We will continue to release products whenever we see fit.. If commercial success comes, I will be pleased; but I don't strive for this and will not compromise for it! 'Difficult music' does not really exist: once people accept it, it is no longer difficult but commercial.
Q: There were rumours that Broken Flag was out of business. Can you clarify; set the record straight? Also, please give some details of new Broken Flag artists and releases.
A: BF ceased trading, as I mentioned, only for a few months, from September 1984 to January 1985. We are definitely back. At present we are promoting the Ramleh EP HAND OF GLORY, a twenty-minute seven-inch. Also strong is the STATEMENT LP featuring the last works of Ramleh and music from the now defunct PURE.
The newest BF LP is by Toniutti, called LA MATUZIONE. He is a highly original Italian soundworker who creates layers of music/sounds which builds to almost trancelike climaxes. The Toll LP will appear in April, although details are still sketchy as of now. Broken Flag will also work with New York's Controlled Bleeding. Their DISTRESS SIGNALS cassette was released recently to healthy reception, and with an elaborate package. They are the most violent-sounding band on BF at this point. All Ramleh material is out as a six-tape package, featuring everything we recorded.
Our most immediate project is the Morality tape (BF41), a final word on the [subject]. Everyone is invited to define Morality in sounds of up to six minutes in duration. The most interesting results will be released in April. We also still distribute work by Pacific 231, New Blockaders, Organum, and P16 D4, and hope to expand our services throughout 1985. This will be a very good year if plans become actions!
Questions/Commentary: Paul Lemos.
Originally published in ARTITUDE #5 (ed. Carl Howard/audiofile tapes) - April 1985. (Special thanks to Tommy Carlsson at the PostMortem list for providing this transcript.)