One night five years ago Ritchie Hey lingered outside the Millennium Club, waiting for the doors to open for a Front Line Assembly show. A die-hard FLA fan, Hey was one of only two people in line. Behind him was Breye Kyzer; naturally the two struck up a conversation, which led to a brief chat in Kyzer's beat-up Chevy Malibu, where Hey played a copy of his industrial band's demo. Soon the two were swapping horror stories about the music business. After the performance, Hey and Kyzer talked semi-seriously about starting an electronic label of their own. In reality, Hey thought: "I'm never gonna see this guy again."
Months later, when Kyzer's band Underground Netwerk Intelligence, a.k.a. U-N-I, took the stage at Numbers, Hey, in amazement, told Eric Stuessy, his partner in the techno band Sensorium, "That's the dude I saw at the [FLA] concert." From that moment on, Hey and Kyzer were partners, working to set up their label. In June 1996 the duo officially founded Kathodik Musik Rekords.
What started as an idea between two guys who played in industrial bands has expanded into the only Houston label devoted to both technorave and electronica with goth attitude. While Tone Zone Records is the reigning champ of goth round these parts (thanks to the successes of Bozo Porno Circus and Bamboo Crisis), and while no label can pin down the electronica crowd well enough to claim that genre's throne, Kathodik is sitting, umm, pretty. Its mix of two closely related but largely separate forms can be parlayed into success in a burgeoning new format. Call it e-goth.
Now joined by Chris Goswick, who handles publicity and performs in a band on the label, Kathodik is debuting albums this summer from three of the four Houston-based bands on its roster, U-N-I, Volition and the Virus. That's a release schedule comparable to that of Louisiana rap mogul Master P, who issues a new CD from one of his No Limit artists about once every five minutes. The sudden competition doesn't faze Tone Zone's Bobby Joe Rose. To him, the more goth awareness, the better.
Sensorium, Kathodik's first release, in September 1996, reflected Hey's fascination with the techno scene. Sensorium, not to be confused with the London goth band of the same name, merged repetitive beats and ambient dance vibes into club-ready trance. Hey and Stuessy used flashy costumes and stage effects for the live shows. The lasers and lights were a must. Says Hey: "It is so boring to watch two guys not play every sound."
Sensorium, according to longtime scenester Jason Walsh of Population Zero, was one of the area's first live-PA bands. But the outfit was short-lived. Hey, who had never run a label before, was dealing with limited resources, and shelving Sensorium helped keep important projects afloat and day-to-day operations running.
Priority-readjustment in place, Hey and Kyzer began saving up for a recording studio, which was completed just last year. All three upcoming releases will be the products of Red Square Digital, Kathodik's new digital studio.
With that goal reached, Hey and Stuessy recently revived Sensorium. The two started working on tracks for a follow-up album, and Hey says he wants to start performing again.
During Sensorium's hiatus, Hey explored dee-jaying and experimented with jungle and drum 'n' bass. His studio project, the Virus, is in clear contrast to Sensorium and its trippy grooves. Hey, as the Virus, scatters crisp drum sounds over eruptions of random noise patterns. Psychotherapist, the Virus's debut, is scheduled for release in early summer.
Kyzer's band, U-N-I, and Volition plan to start playing live to support their new albums. The former, in the opinion of Population Zero's Walsh, is a curio. "The goth scene, they're some of the most dedicated connoisseurs of music," he says. "[U-N-I] doesn't have any releases, and yet the band has a good following."
U-N-I's debut has been a couple years in the making. Established in 1992, the band was originally signed with the synth-pop label Watermark until both parties split over a contract dispute. By 1996 Kyzer was a member of Tone Zone's Bamboo Crisis, quietly hoping that U-N-I would officially become part of the Tone Zone family. When nothing panned out between Kyzer's band and Tone Zone, U-N-I went ahead and recorded 11 tracks on its own, intending to cut a dance album. In the process of crafting its dance grooves, the group developed a hard edge.
In hindsight, Kyzer is glad U-N-I's first record was never released. The tracks laid down then are not a good reflection of U-N-I these days. The songs on Korruption, U-N-I's debut on Kathodik, should more clearly reflect the political industrial dance the band has become known for via its live shows, opening for such national acts as Covenant, Numb and Kevorkian Death Cycle. Kyzer and U-N-I keyboardists Leslie Hyman and Shannon Johnston favor refined analog sounds. Think industrial with a touch of electro.
Volition, on the other hand, is, in singer Goswick's words, "the closest thing to un-industrial as you can get." Evaporate, due out in late summer, is bound to cause '80s flashbacks with its synth-pop foundation. Volition, created by Seth Symz and Pascal Dementi in 1998, updates the formula using fast electro beats.
"There's no limit to electronic music," says Goswick. "You can always find new ways to take it to another level or to a new sound." "Devotion," the song that convinced Goswick to join the band, is solid electronic dance. It's a gushingly unabashed track, designed for clubs, that tugs at the heartstrings with its lovey-dovey sentiments.
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For now, all three key members of Kathodik are focused on attainable goals only. Kyzer wants to add multimedia capabilities to Red Square Digital so that the label can release enhanced CDs with video and audio playback. A Web site is under construction, and, as always, the label is looking for new electronic acts.
"If you play electronic music and you're really trying and you've been doing it for a while and you really want to do it," says Hey, "then that's what we're looking for." It's obvious that Kyzer and Hey try to keep in mind the raw spirit of their first chance meeting.
Says Kyzer: "We don't expect to make thousands of [dollars]. We expect to release good quality albums and music that people can enjoy. My only dream is to walk into a record store and to see the CDs on the shelves."
MP3s for Underground Netwerk Intelligence/ U-N-I and Sensorium are available at www.mp3.com. Note: The MP3s for Volition on the same site are from a different band with the same name, not Kathodik's.