In the past it was often considered wise to leave Austria in order to become a musician. Nowadays, however, things are looking different in the Alpine Republic and much is happening within the music industry. While in the noughties big labels were still painting bootleg devils on walls, the Viennese took matters into their own hands with great success.
A wonderful example of such musical success is Ilias Dahimène, who has managed the music label Seayou since 2006. Besides being considered one of the most important Austrian labels it continues to receive international attention. The bands which surpass all sorts of genre borders not only enjoy the full-service agency music representation, but also the additional perks that include unconditional psychological support. Besides music Ilias has a second passion: skateboarding – something he equally enjoys practicing in different locations often sparking him to take road trips in order to pursue this passion. Not showering for a week is an accepted part of the deal.
If Ilias wasn’t already overwhelmingly busy enough, he also found time recently to establish the publishing company Redelsteiner Dahimène Edition, alongside the owner of Viennese indie-label ‘Problembär Records.’ We visited the label boss of Algerian and Austrian heritage in his office located within the Leopoldstadt district. Talking about records and the future of the music industry, Ilias also discussed his own diverse adventures, such as sleeping at a Milanese refugee camp, and most importantly, where one can find the cheapest beer along the Danube canal.
Has music always played a big role in your life?
Yes, since childhood I have been very interested in music. I think this comes from my parents, as they would always take me along to concerts by Bob Dylan and Rolling Stones. At the age of twelve I became quite interested in punk.
You also play yourself?
Yes, when I was 14 I began to play as a bassist and guitarist in a range of bands. Until my mid-twenties I was on tour with hardcore bands. After that I thought about what I should do with my life. Eventually I was lucky enough to found my very own label. I still can’t really believe it, but I am so grateful that it happened.
Can you remember the first record you ever bought?
I actually bought two CDs with my pocket money: ‘Against the Grain’ by Bad Religion and ‘Use Your Illusion’ by Guns ‘n’ Roses.
What kind of music do you listen to nowadays?
Basically everything, it is a wild mix really. In the past I would often go to raves and listen to a lot of hip-hop. Nowadays for me it is not so much about the music anymore but about the person who stands behind it and what he or she does with the music.
There are some cool skateboard decks laying around the office, can you explain where they came from?
They are the result of a really exciting collaboration with ‘Brutal Beauty‘ which is an art and skateboard label from Graz. Our bands ‘Die Eternias‘ and ‘Dust Covered Carpet’ recorded a split-el and created decks and t-shirts to go along with it.
Skating has also been quite your thing, hasn’t it?
Exactly, skating and music have always been the two mediums through which I could express myself. It is still like that, even though I am concentrating a bit more on music now. I am more the mediator than the executor.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Freistadt, Austria. My father is from Algeria, and my mother is from Austria. We only moved around the first four years of my life. For some time I lived in Algiers, afterwards in Munich, and then most of the time near the Bavarian-Austrian border close to Passau.
How did you come to Vienna?
The classic way really: I had to repeat two years during school and then I moved to Vienna because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. First I studied philosophy, but very soon I started doing more things involving music and I started to organize concerts for touring bands. In some kind of way music has always been the centre of my life.
In 2006 you founded your label Seayou Records.
Exactly, our first record was the debut of ‘Go Die Big City.’
An amazing record: small but mighty! You now even publish massive double-live albums on occasion. Does this progression mirror the development of the label?
Partially. In the beginning we would have never done it like that. However, when I began doing this record I never wanted to establish and work on a label in order to support myself. It was simple, there were many amazing tracks by a very cool artist – one doesn’t need more than that. It is the classic foundation story of a label. And after the great feedback, I taught myself pretty much everything that had to do with music promotion and founded my label.
What genres does the label represent?
Every sort of genre. Since I come from a pretty strong subculture, I didn’t want to be stuck within another firm aesthetic. The main thing that matters is that the artist and the music is exciting.
Do you think it is good to refrain from categorizing yourself as a label?
Well, there is certainly a big risk since we publish things that people don’t really understand. We don’t just do Indie bands that sell well, we also do stuff that is a bit edgier and more experimental.
It must be liberating not to have a single label-sound.
It has pros and cons. If the timing is right and if the music fits into the overall theme, one can create a lot of attention as a genre-label. But that can really depend on current trends. In the past many labels that fitted perfectly into a specific time experience problems later on. So there are advantages. But then there is the downside of always needing to create public attention for different audiences because our bands are so diverse.
What does the concept Indie-label mean to you?
In the last ten years alone the indie structures have improved extremely in regards to professionalism. The indies have also doubled their market share while the majors have lost theirs. There are just different models within the music industry.
Does the significant growth of indie labels have to do with streaming?
The growth occurred as the internet broke down that classic ‘gatekeeper’. Print is not as important anymore like it used to be and music television has died out. As a consequence one is able to easily promote an unknown band. In earlier times this was considered impossible and the ‘gatekeepers’ had to be contended with. In some way this has been a democratization process.
So streaming is not a saviour?
Yes, I consider it something very positive and use it very much in my private life as well. Above all, it is a model whereby music can be realized within the future. Nowadays it is much more comfortable than downloading. Many people complain that it doesn’t bring much pro stream, however it functions as a mass medium and works best when it is used by the masses.
What does this mean for the artists?
The artists have to think about what kind of career they want and in what radius they would like to be played. I am definitely not someone who curses the majors since it is not easy to manage a small label.
How do artists come to you?
In the beginning it was just friends and acquaintances. Since I was often on tour I knew a lot of international bands. Sometimes booking agencies wrote to us from America looking for an European label. Nowadays even demos are sent to us. This is how we got the band ‘Fijuka,’ for example.
Can labels function as a guide for bands?
Principally a label should only be responsible for the distribution of records in stores and promotion in the media. We fulfil many extra duties however, even including psychological support! This is why we described ourselves as a full-service agency in the application for the Vienna cultural support of the Vienna Business Agency.
What is the definition of support within the music industry in Austria?
In Austria we have the problem that classical music dominates and basically claims the whole support fund for music. There is not much left for pop music. Besides the support of the Vienna Business Agency there not many other options.
But regardless, what makes Vienna an interesting city for your label?
Vienna is very comfortable. It has the right size, it is very central, it is cheap and offers a high quality of life. And it is cozy! Even though there is not much media in Vienna, it is pretty easy to receive attention in Austria. I have had thoughts about managing the label from somewhere else, but nothing is concrete yet.
Which cities would you consider?
The classic major cities where the media dominates such as London, Berlin, Paris, or Barcelona. Things which partially have to be outsourced by external agencies could be handled from there.
Then why still Vienna?
I have been living here for twelve years and I consider myself a pretty big fan of this city. I have travelled a lot and know most of the European cities. But Vienna offers a very good mix in size, price, and living quality. The only disadvantage is the long winters. Otherwise I can’t complain. And if one is able to get out a lot, one learns to appreciate the city more.
Do you have any favorite memories of ‘getting out?’
Yes. When I would tour with bands so many great things would happen. For instance, when we were in Milan we slept in a refugee camp. We squatted without electricity. Skateboard road trips were also really great. To be among four friends in a car without showering for one week is really something.
Where is your favorite place? Do you have a local?
The dockland pub during the summer is a personal tip. Because it is located in a quiet part along the canal not so many people go here. It even sells the cheapest beer at the canal.
Your most recent project has been moving into publishing, is this correct?
Exactly. Since 2013 I have been running ‘ Redelsteiner Dahimène Edition,’ alongside Stefan Redelsteiner who owns ‘Problembär Records.’
How did this come about?
As my mother used to be an author, I had a lot of experience in the literature world. Despite admittedly never really liking the things she or her friends did I have moved into publishing. I would often argue with her about different topics. For example I never understood why she liked Thomas Bernhard – I thought he was absolutely terrible.
Then, one day I thought: there must be something that is not like that. I talked to Stefan, who had also been wanting to establish a publishing company. We both agreed that we had little time on our hands but thought if we could do it together we could split the work and in the end it would be more achievable.
Did the plan work out?
No, of course not. It is a lot of work but I enjoy it all the same!
Many thanks to Ilias for taking time out for this interview and showing us around Seayou Records. You can find more information about his music label here and his publishing companyt here.
Photos: Lukas Gansterer
Interview & Text: Philipp Daun