Robert Refuse Records by Daniel Marcinkowski

Living & Breathing Hardcore: Refuse Records – 25th Anniversary Interview

8 mins read

As Refuse Records reaches it’s well deserved 25th Anniversary milestone this month, we bring you a very special interview with the label’s founder and chief executive Robert, who sat down with us to discuss his prolific work, impressive catalogue, the evolution of DIY punk, and what the future holds.

Since its launch in 1993, Refuse Records has put out quality DIY releases by numerous essential hardcore punk bands from all over the globe, with focus on European and Polish greats, whose records that have influenced hundreds of bands and multiple generations. Robert has been organizing shows and promoting relentless touring from numerous acts that have surely enriched the European hardcore punk culture with their ideas, message and creative, thought-provoking perspective on music and every day life.

Refuse Records will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a 2-day festival, set for June 8th and 9th at Cassiopeia in Berlin. The packed lineup features Baltimore’s ANGEL DU$T, Washington D.C.’s PROTESTER, LINE OF SIGHT, Olympia, WA’s ODD MAN OUT, Portland’s MACHO BOYS, NJ’s FUCK IT I QUIT, Warsaw’s GOVERNMENT FLU, EMBITTER and HEATSEEKER, Holy City’s VICIOUSxREALITY, Oslo’s MODERN LOVE, Faro’s CLEAN BREAK, and Gothenburg’s WASTE, Berlin’s SCHWACH, THE FOG and PRIMITIVE LIFE, Amsterdam’s OPEN WOUNDS, and Leipzig’s SAVAGE

A bunch of these performances are a part of bigger European tours, so be sure to check out the full itineraries: HEATSEEKER / EMBITTERODD MAN OUT with ANGEL DU$T, TURNSTILE, and FURY, FUCK IT I QUITPROTESTER and LINE OF SIGHT.

Refuse logo

Hey Robert! It’s a pleasure having you here again. How are you? How has 2018 been treating you so far?

Hi! Thanks for having me again! I’m all right, so busy with tons of stuff right now. 2018 is one of the most busy year in my history haha…

This year marked another edition of your legendary anti-sexist and anti-homophobic festival Noc Walpurgii. Please tell us about how it turned out.

It went very good! 800 people on Monday is great amount, right? Atmosphere was nice and friendly. It proved that even in Berlin its possible to do event with such a mixed crowd and everyone is fine with each other. We had some foreign bands like KOHTI TUHOA from Finland, SIKSA from Poland, HAG from Sweden and German bands/artists like FINISTERRE [go here to read our interview conducted back in 2013], HYENAZ, EAT MY FEAR, CUNTROACHES and SUBVERSE. Also talks and discussions about pro-choice movements and anti-abortions laws in Poland and Ireland, recent repressions against anarchists and antifascists in Russia and presentation of “Our piece of punk” book. I think it was one of the best editions!

Noc Walpurgii

Compared to the Polish era of the fest, how has it evolved?

It’s definitely more people and collectives are involved but Berlin scene is bigger than Warsaw scene so it’s bit easier to do things like that here. Many things remained similar or the same, even name of the fest is in Polish language, exactly how when we started doing it with Jenni from Emancypunx Records in 1996.

To celebrate this year’s 25th anniversary of the label, you are putting together a great 2-day festival in Berlin. Please give us your thoughts on this celebration and what can we expect from it?

Expect a lot! Expect great current international HC bands, mostly related with Refuse Records. We have six guests from US like ANGEL DU$T, PROTESTER, ODD MAN OUT, LINE OF SIGHT, MACHO BOYS and FUCK IT I QUIT; we have some European bands MODERN LOVE (Norway), CLEAN BREAK (Portugal), WASTE (Sweden), OPEN WOUNDS (Holland)… of course PLHC scene will be represented with GOVERNMENT FLU, HEATSEEKER, VICIOUSxREALITY and EMBITTER, and also we’ll have local bands like SCHWACH, PRIMITIVE LIFE and THE FOG and also new band from Leipzig – SAVAGE. Two days of fun! I’m looking forward to meet so many friends at the fest! I wish to have more time to talk and hang out with everyone!

REFUSE 25th Anniversary!!

Apart from the strictly musical offerings, will there be some additional events, workshops or other activities with the fest?

I wish to have more non-musical activities but there’s no time and space to do it. It would be too much too handle for just one person.

How is Berlin’s punk scene by the way? How do you see its evolution over the years?

It’s hard for me to talk about evolution of the scene in Berlin as I live here only for 9 years haha… Well, people come and go, probably more than anywhere else in Europe as people moving here, doing stuff, moving out. It’s also good thing as new people starting their bands so there’s something new and fresh going on. For such big scene it would be good to have more venues for the shows, also more connections between scenes. There’s tons of bands and my favourite right now are MULLTUTE, THE FOG, PRIMITIVE LIFE, LEVITATIONS, SCHWACH, CUNTROACHES, LIFE FUCKER, GULAG BEACH, BLADES, SUBVERSE, EAT MY FEAR, WIPE OUT, TOTENWALD, INDIAN NIGHTMARE, HATEHUG, DERBE LEBOWSKI, HENRY FONDA, NUCLEAR CULT – check all this bands! There’s many people booking shows, there’s some festivals, many labels, some record stores. Most of touring bands will play in town. Many collectives and individuals doing their own things.

Robert - Chris Bavaria photo exhibition by Simon Veithclub87
Robert at Chris Bavaria’s photo exhibition, by Simon Veithclub87

The last couple of months have been really prolific with some great releases coming out, both on your and other labels. Looking back at your back catalogue is more interesting than ever. What are some of the newest additions that you’re most proud of?

Thanks for this words. I had some few months break last year but it was good to gain more energy to work hard on new releases! Latest releases are DOMAIN 7″ (finally debut vinyl from this Straight Edge HC band from Mannheim, Germany)

WALL BREAKER 7″ (also debut here, my good friends from New Jersey and their new rad band, fast 80’s SEHC, on tour in Europe in October!)

HEATSEEKER 12″ just came out few days ago.

…and THE FOG 7″ is just out since two days – expect something raw and brutal on this one from this new great band from Berlin (with members of Highscore, Mind Trap, The Tangled Lines…).

Two new releases should be out very soon – ODD MAN OUT LP (Seattle Straight Edge, both 7″s, tapes an new songs on one LP) and LINE OF SIGHT 12″ (Washington DC Straight Edge, contain songs from 7″ on Youngblood and their demo on one limited 12″). Both bands will start their Euro tours on 8-9 June! So proud from all this new releases! I’m happy to work with some of this guys for a first time and with some to work again with their new bands!

How do you approach the transferral of ideas, reflections or important topics into the bands, records and their message that people can sense while communing with it?

First of all, this is band’s records, their output and their choice what will appear on this releases. In general I’m on the same page with the bands. From time to time it can happen that I discuss some issues but most of the time no discussions are needed. Bands usually are infomed well what ethics and ideas are behind Refuse Records.

How has digital changed both your practice and your promotional tactics? How can a DIY label like this expand in the fast moving digital times like the one we live in?

I was always slow with following new technologies and new possibilities of social media and digital era. I still feel like best times where before digital times when people appreciated music more even if it was more dificult to get music or information. I liked when it was more underground and done completely outside of corporate world. Now it’s so much easier to spread information about new releases, shows etc to the point that I can’t even imagine to go back to pre-internet times, no matter of my nostalgia, haha… This is absolutely loss/gain situation. There’s lots of compromise involved too. Still, I’m don’t really think much about promotional tactics and physical format is always first before digital download. Usually I’m against puting all the songs on bandcamp before physical format is out. Refuse Records digital is only available on bandcamp and not any other platforms (or at least I don’t work with them, they might end up there somehow). Usually no download codes with releases. Putting out records it’s not just about music, it’s also lyrics, message and artwork. Download might be useful to check bands real quick but it’s only part of the whole experience getting something on physical format.

Refuse Records distro by Among Scratches
Refuse Records distro by Among Scratches,

What has been more creatively challenging for you Robert? Putting out records or organizing shows? Which part of running Refuse Records is more demanding and engaging, and what gives you the most fulfillment?

I think putting out records is definitely more creative and I like it more than organizing shows. It’s not much space for creativity but again it’s direct connection with the people. Doing both is exhausting but it gives me good balance and connection with friend is very important to me. In other way I’d be just stuck in my room and going to post office and back.

After all there years, what is your motivation for doing this?

Mostly the same when it started! There’s still new bands that makes me motivated to do things. Of course scene grows up, there’s many bands that’s easy to check and many people around who can do some scene work. When I started there was no one into booking shows in my local scene in Warsaw. There was a need to support DIY underground structure and be involved, there was a need to spread important message as available information about topics like animal rights, antifascism, antisexism, anarchism etc were limited. It was like a call to do something, create something, build structure, get active as if no one will do it our destiny will be being stucked in a boring consumerist popculture pulp or even right wing nationalist crap. This is still important even when so much going on around us. People should not forget about importance of the space they’re creating and they’re part of it. Just imagine it doeesn’t  exist so what you would do then?

Robert with Daniel Kozon
Robert with Daniel Kozon / Robert a.d. 1994

After the anniversary is said and done, what’s next? Please give us some teasers and hints on what to expects from the label and its associated acts from the coming months.

When it’s done then I’m going on tour with Protester and Line Of Sight right after haha! Then small break in Warsaw and I’ll join Firewalker on their European tour. In August I’ll go with Polish legendary band Moskwa to Belgium and Holland. I’ll be still busy with booking some tours (FIREWALKER, ABUSE OF POWER/INSIST, GOVERNMENT FLU/JAD) and shows for bands like FORESEEN, RED DEATH, FIREWALKER, GAZM, CELL, ABUSE OF POWER and INSIST in Berlin and also FIREWALKER, ODD MAN OUT, HEATSEEKER, GLAMOUR and INFUSE in Warsaw. On October 12-13th part two of Refuse 25 anniversary, but this time in Warsaw!

As for the label stuff – until end of the year some PLHC releases should be out: GOVERNMENT FLU 7″ flexi, REGRES 7″, PROTEIN 7″ and “Warsaw’s Burning 2″ comp. 7” (w/ GOVERNMENT FLU, HEATSEEKER, BREAINEATER, NEGATIVE VIBES, GLAMOUR, JAD and INFUSE). How great local HC scene in Warsaw is right now with all this bands!

Speaking about Polish bands there will be vinyl reissue of ID “Twoja twarz”, originally released only on tape in 1993.
WALL BREAKER just recorded songs for LP so this should be out before their European tour in October. Also, I work on some special releases or reissues for old European bands like NATIONS ON FIRE, SCRAPS, SKEEZICKS and LÄRM. I’m so excited having chance to work an all this releases!

Wow, this sounds like a huge amount of work!

Ok Robert, so what will the next two decades of Refuse potentially look like? What does the future hold for you and the label?

Haha, it’s not gonna take that long, for sure not! I already have specific plan in my head when to stop. 25 years is a very long time. I putting out releases, booking shows or tours most of my life. It’s crazy to think about it. It was never plan to have Refuse Records exist for 50 years haha!

ROBERT Refuse Records with PRAISE live in Barcelona - Minor Threat cover - photo by Mauricio Melo
ROBERT Refuse Recors with PRAISE live in Barcelona – Minor Threat cover – photo by Mauricio Melo

Alright buddy, I guess that’s it for this year’s interrogation. Thanks so much for doing this, keeping the spirit alive and being who you are. Please share your last words and take care buddy!

Thanks so much for having me again and being such a good informative source for HC music. I’m looking forward for next weeks, absolutely living and breathing hardcore 24h/day!

Previous Story

LA ARMADA discuss DIY scenes of Chicago, their native Dominican Republic

Next Story

The rewards of DIY touring: Gab De La Vega