I met Adam of Katorga Works Records in Brooklyn while he was living at 538 Johnson, helping with shows and being all around good punk. Now he lives in my old room in Bed-Stuy—small punk world! Anyway, he has a pretty stellar music blog too — icoulddietomorrow.blogspot.com …go check it out. He’s released some pretty solid stuff from the WANKYS to AVON LADIES to WARRIOR KIDS. Cool, right? Read on…
How did you start Katorga Works? Is the name a reference to anything?
I started Katorga Works in 2010 with my close friend Colman Durkee with a desire to release, well, music we like from friends of ours. The name “Katorga Works” is a reference to a form of Soviet penal servitude. Both Colman and I are fascinated by Socialist history, but it would be a stretch to say we chose the name due to anything other than we thought it unique and “dark.” I think we both regret choosing a name that is constantly misspelled and mispronounced, seeing as it’s already a (mis)transliteration that neither of us can properly pronounce, as well. Also, neither of us are particularly dark and brooding, ha!
What was the first record you released?
I guess technically, the first record we released was the WANKYS/LOTUS FUCKER split 7″. Dan at SPHC held our hand through the process, as did Chris Donaldson at Drugged Conscience when we split the MERCHANDISE (Strange Songs) In the Dark LP with him. We very much still appreciate their initial help! I can’t speak for Colman, since he has practical skills that I don’t, but I’d have been lost without their guidance.
Fortunately for us, both of those records sold out incredibly fast, as most of our first ten releases. I know we were incredibly lucky in that regard, as it allowed us to release music at a pretty furious pace.
How has being from New York influenced you? Are you from NY?
I am not a New York native, though, lately, many have been confusing me as such. I suppose I should be both insulted and flattered by that, haha. I am from Gaithersburg, MD and split my time between there (the DC area) and the Baltimore area. Divorced parents. Being from the DC area has definitely shaped who I am, but I’ve also lived here (NYC) for seven or eight years, so there’s that. Either way, being from these large east coast cities have made me paranoid and distrustful, as well as a bit too abrasive for my own good, but oh well, I guess that’s part of the “charm” of it all.
How has being based in Brooklyn affected your label?
Being based in Brooklyn has been essential to the development of the label. We started right before everything around here (namely, various punk scenes) began to coalesce into one greater scene. As the label grew, it was very much due to our ties with the local hardcore/punk scene here, not only through releasing records of local bands, but also through extensive show booking/touring, etc.
It has also affected us in more concrete ways, as well. We have become one of the main ways to find out about the local bands here, as we try to distribute local bands widely. In addition, we do the Toxic State mailorder. We used to be based out of the DIY venue/punk dorm of 538 Johnson and are now based out of Heaven Street Records, where I work. We’ve pressed a majority of our records at EKS in East New York and, while some people have horror stories about them, they’ve become good friends of ours and without them, I doubt I’d want to press as many records. What other plant could turnaround records for us in two weeks? They might technically be inactive/closed right now, but Will Soc (the man who put out the first EPMD and Jay-Z records!!!) and co. will be back to press everyone’s records in the sketchiest way possible.
In a way, Brooklyn is intrinsic to the label and I do not believe it could exist in any other city, at least in the capacity it does now. Also, “We Make Money, Not Music” is the NYC punk motto and fits very much in line with the Katorga Works motto of “Profits Before People.”
Any thing specific to Brooklyn punk that makes it special?
At the risk of sounding too masturbatory, I would say there are many things that I think make the Brooklyn punk scene special! I’ll keep it to a few, so as not to bore the readers. Most importantly, the quality of the bands has just been astonishingly good for the last four or five years. Aesthetic is also a huge part of why NYC stands out, which is due in part to so many very talented artists existing within these various bands. John at Toxic State screens all the beautiful covers for his records, Alex Heir at Death/Traitors screens amazing shirts and posters/flyers, plus every band has like two amazing artists in them.
I also believe that the scene itself is very self-sustaining, which is important. It’s the same people (often, native New Yorkers or outsiders, such as myself, who never plan on leaving) starting band after band and has been that way for the last seven plus years. Also, in addition to the large amount of bands, there are many of us lending hands in other ways, through the various labels around here (TOXIC STATE, BURN BOOKS, etc.) and through the almost-dozen folks who book quality shows. Speaking of shows, they can have up to four hundred attendees based much off of the local bands alone. I don’t know how many other American cities can draw that many people. Granted, NYC’s population is drastically higher than other cities, but I digress…
What was the scene like when you were coming up?
I didn’t really start going to shows until I was about seventeen years old. I spent much of my youth in the suburbs consuming media, namely music and film, but especially plenty of video games with my best friend Greg. I was never too interested in live music until, admittedly, I began to desire connections with people based on the music I was falling in love with: hardcore. The DC scene was pretty welcoming. Pretty PC compared to the NYC scene, also more straight edge and vegan, both of which I still am. I’m one of the few straight edge people going to punk shows in NYC, but I was but one of many in DC. I’m not sure I actively listen to many of the DC bands I heard a decade ago outside of, say 86 MENTALITY, but I appreciate that they were formative for me. I feel like I’m also much more PC in the way in which I speak than many of my peers in NYC, due to my upbringing in NYC, but I’d like to think it’s more out of respect than just fear of using words not appropriate for fest workshops/cupcake raffles.
What local distros and record labels do you first remember?
I don’t really remember much outside of bigger labels around the time, especially since I wasn’t really big on vinyl yet. It just wasn’t something I paid close attention to until later. I do remember a friend of mine at the time starting a label to release our other close friends’ band’s (a pre-HOUNDS OF HATE band, haha) 7″ and, as terribly cheesy as it sounds, it had a pretty big impact on me in that it was a very direct and personal example of friends helping each other out and “doing it themselves.” Now, all I want to do is put out records for my friends and make them happy.
Did you model your label after a specific label/distro?
I wouldn’t say we modeled ourselves off of anything specific. We were certainly influenced by most of the active hardcore/punk labels out there, but we also wanted to put out other styles of music, as well. No matter what style of music we release, we’ll at least retain the punk ethics of the labels we’ve been indirectly influenced by. In terms of our distro, we carry whatever records we like in the distro and not too much that we don’t. Usually, the stuff we don’t like is from friends we can’t say no to haha.
I’d say the only thing we can name as a specific influence is Toxic State. We both developed around the same time and have split records together, etc. John is one of my best friends too. It’s almost like we’re influenced by each other in that we don’t try and do what the other is doing haha. We’re sort of viewed as the most professional of the two labels, particularly with art, since their covers are beautifully hand-made. I guess by “professional,” people mean not as good haha, since we have nothing on Toxic State’s packaging.
What’s your advice to punx who want to get in the game?
Don’t think about it, just do it. Nothing comes from over-thinking things. I know all too well, I’m a lazy bastard who loves to over-analyze. Also, make a point to try your best to only work with people you know, at least at first. Working with friends and loved ones is one of the greatest rewards to doing a label, at least for me, and is often infinitely easier than working with strangers, specifically strangers who might not have the same ethics as you.
How is doing this rewarding?
Well, aside from the monetary rewards (which makes it easier for me to release records, order delivery online), I just really enjoy being a part of records that I love, as well as helping friends get their music out there. People seem to pay attention to what we’re doing, so I will exploit that ill-placed trust in our taste to help our friends succeed and be able to tour painlessly, etc. As I stated above, helping friends and loved ones is the best part. I hate to admit that, but it’s true.
How is it frustrating? Besides the ever-rising postal costs…
I would say the only thing that gets frustrating is the actual mailorder itself. Dealing with customers can be a real hassle sometimes. Granted, we’ve had a few big batches of orders that took 6–8 weeks to ship for various, stupid reasons that were entirely our fault, but people were actually pretty understanding and accepting of the circumstances. However, it’s the random shit (like how I just got a PayPal claim for a $7 order placed six days ago that I sent out) that really kills it for me. I guess mailorder is just frustrating because it makes me hate myself more than I already do haha. I should consider myself lucky that I’m doing mailorder through an online store/distro to patient folks and not Discogs, because I deal with that at work and MAN those people comprise of the most entitled assortment of herbs and punishers I’ve ever had to deal with. *Shudders*
I guess watching certain records I love sell poorly compared to other, more hyped releases of ours is pretty frustrating. I think RATIONAL ANIMALS is one of the best bands of our time (I must be the only one), but man, are they a difficult sell, while I could have sold 5,000 HOAX 7″s if I really pushed it. Fortunately for all parties involved, we stopped at 2,000 — haha. I think that’s a common label complaint, though haha.
What was your last release?
Our last release was the debut WARTHOG 7″, Exterminate Me. That was in on January 14th. We only released three records in 2013, which is depressing, but 2014 will be about five times more productive and this 7″ really kicked things off to a great start for us.
Any upcoming releases?
We have so many releases coming up, actually. Our next release is will be the GOOSEBUMPS 2nd 7″, Scared to See a Doctor. After that, the debut DARK BLUE 7″, the DEFORMITY 2nd 7″ (a split with Toxic State), the CASANOVAS IN HEAT Belvidere 7″, as well as records from VANITY, BLOTTER, GLUE, FACE THE RAIL, WEED HOUNDS, plus a bunch more I can’t let slip right now!
How can we stay up to date on Katorga Works?
I’m not sure there’s a best way. I guess keep refreshing our webstore, haha. We deleted our website because we realized we didn’t need it. Sorry if we’re difficult. We have a discogs page with an updated catalog!
Any last words, punk?
Peace to the East New York, perverted monks, and Mike Tyson.