In the case of Refuse Records, it all started with a fanzine. Since the early '90s, the label has helped spread the good word about hardcore throughout Europe. "The idea to start the label came in the summer of 1994," says Robert Refuse, the dude behind the operation. "By that point, I had already been doing a small record distro, booking shows, and working on my Refuse fanzine. I spent some of my vacation with a bunch of friends and two of them were in this band called Kto Ukradł Ciastka. They were the only band in the local scene playing fast hardcore with a strong animal rights and drug-free message. Since they split up, I came with idea to put out their tape in a limited run of 100 copies. It ended up becoming 500 copies and some more ideas came around that time."
So, what other labels helped inform Robert and his mission? "Of course I was impressed how labels like Dischord and Revelation were operating, and I also liked what Crucial Response and Warehouse Records were doing Europe at the time. But my biggest influence was international tape trading culture and many smaller tape labels that existed in Poland back then. I felt like I could contribute that way."
"In Warsaw, we had this label, QQRYQ Productions, who was the biggest Polish harccore/punk label in that period. They had bands like DOA, Nomeansno, MDC, Dezerter, and Post Regiment on their roster. They were my friends and one of them was even my neighbor. I learned a lot from them and even did mailorder for the label for a while."
When it comes to measuring his label's success, longevity is Robert's currency. "I think the biggest success of the label is that I'm able to keep doing it after 25 years [laughs]. There are many releases I'm proud of, and lots of great people I've met in the process of doing the label and going out on international tours."
With so many killer hardcore bands sprouting up throughout the globe at the moment, Robert is a busy man. "Outside of money, the hardest part of doing the label is definitely the lack of time I have to get the insane amount of work done. Some people expect that it will be done in the cheapest possible way with true underground spirit, but at the same time, in the most professional way, like a big company would be able to do. I wish everyone wouldn't expect DIY labels to operate like Amazon."
Like other labels in the hardcore realm, Robert has had his fair share of times when he champions a band, only to have them throw the towel in just when he's about to pull the trigger on a release. "After having so many experiences like that, I'm trying make sure I release bands who can also do a lot of shows and tours, otherwise my money and time are not worth putting into it. Nowadays, if a band is not active, almost no one cares about buying their records."
If it's already not clear that being a one-man label operation isn't a grind, just listen to Robert tell me about his upcoming Refuse Records-related schedule. "There will be Refuse Records 25-year anniversary events in Berlin (June) and Warsaw (October). I recently released the Domain and Wall Breaker 7"s. Four other records should be out before REF 25 in June: Line of Sight 12", Odd Man Out LP, Heatseeker 12", and The Fog 7". I'll also be releasing records from Wall Breaker (12"), Government Flu (7"), Waste (7"), and reissues from Nations on Fire (LP) and Scraps (LP). Oh, I'll also have the second volume of the Warsaw's Burning 7" comp."
Wait, Robert's not done! "I'm also working on some releases of old '80s European hardcore bands like Skeezicks and Lärm, but I'm not sure when they'll be out. I also have a bunch of shows planned and European tours for bands like Protestor, Line of Sight, Odd Man Out, Fuck It. I Quit., Firewalker, Abuse of Power, and Insist." Damn.
Tagged: record label profile