Label Feature: An Interview with the Punk-Oi!-Hardcore Imprint Mendeku Diskak

Our favorite Basque punk, Oi! & hardcore label is celebrating a five year anniversary.

Hailing from the Basque Country, Mendeku Diskak (Revenge Records in Basque language) is among our favorite labels when it comes to modern-day Oi! bands with a hardcore sound attached to their music. The label has been operating for five years already, so we decided to have a talk with Eduard.

Take a sec and read about Mendeku Diskak’s relationship to skinhead culture, the Basque DIY punk scene, and the international releases on the label, among other things discussed. Happy five year anniversary! Oi! Oi!

mendeku-diskak-logo

Tell us about yourself and your background in punk. How did you get into punk, Oi! & hardcore music? What’s your relationship with skinheads? Are you a skinhead and what does this term mean to you?

My name is Eduard and I’m originally from Valencia, but moved to the Basque Country in 2014 and started Mendeku Diskak in 2017. I got into punk, Oi! & hardcore when I was still a teenager. In my early teens, I started listening to metal but a few years later I got more interested in punk and hardcore because of the rawness, the urgency and the politics.

Through punk and hardcore I discovered Oi! and the skinhead movement in mid/late ‘90s and in my area the skinhead movement was really connected to left-wing politics, squats and alternative collectives. I got really involved with other skinheads that were part of different groups and participated in autonomous activism like antifascism/antiracism, squat houses, etc. and after a while we created a chapter of RASH in my area (La Ribera). We made a fanzine called Força Skinhead, organized a few benefit gigs, participated in demonstrations, campaigns and other actions. In our area (Valencia Country) we had really close ties with other SHARP groups like Valencia-L’Horta, Morvedre, La Safor, La Plana, traveled together to other parts of the Spanish state for meetings, gigs or demonstrations, there was a good network of zines and collectives very active at that time. I got attracted to the movement because of the working class background, the DIY spirit, the aesthetics and the confrontational approach to certain issues, but I don’t consider myself a skinhead nowadays.

How did you get into becoming an independent label owner? The first release of Mendeku Diskak was a split between the Basque band Orreaga 778 and Grebol from Sweden. Do you play in Orreaga 778 as most DIY label owners release their own band’s stuff first?

When I was 18 years old or so I started my first distro, when our group RASH La Ribera was active, distributing our zine and other groups’ materials, like benefit tapes and CDs, badges, shirts, etc, mostly related to the antiracist skinhead scene, the antifa football supporters scene and other similar groups. Then I moved to Holland at 21 years old and lived there for three years, got to discover the DIY punk scene from within and dug deep into other subgenres related to punk and hardcore, my music taste and general views about many topics got wider, and after a while I created a label called Trabuc Records which lasted for about 12 or 13 years.

Before I moved to the Basque Country I was in contact with some members of Orreaga 778 since I met them years before with other bands they played in, so at the beginning in the Basque Country I started hanging out with them kinda often and we began collaborating in some ways (driving them to gigs, taking care of their merch, etc, etc) At some point they proposed me to release their newer recordings at the time but I was burnt out with Trabuc Records and wanted to end it. After hesitating for a while, I decided to start a new project mainly to help them with their releases and that’s how Mendeku Diskak started. I don’t play in Orreaga 778 though.

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Orreaga 778 Basque Skinheads

What is the label’s philosophy when choosing bands to release? Are there certain criteria that you lean towards? Do you gravitate toward bands that are more socio-political than the so-called “apolitical” bands?

My criteria with the bands I release is that they have to do something musically interesting within the boundaries of punk, Oi! and hardcore. I find it more interesting when bands mingle with elements within those three categories rather than replicate any given formula, although if they do something formulaic and sounds good or I feel it has something that attracts me, I don’t say no. I prefer rawness over the overproduced stuff or the super clean sound. I also like some sort of darkness in the music, a good stomping feeling and anger.

For me, music is still a way of letting some steam off your system. Not really a fan of the happy-happy tunes or the sugary stuff. I’m not really putting the focus on politics as I did when I was younger but I wouldn’t release anything that goes against my principles. I realized over the years that having certain types of lyrics or showing off certain political symbols doesn’t mean shit if your attitudes suck or your acts and deeds are way off what you are supposed to sing about. Too much propaganda and virtue signaling bores me to death and I find it very hypocritical.

As you mentioned, Mendeku Diskak’s releases sound raw and you’re more into the hardcore side of Oi! music. What do you think about the ska-influenced and almost pop-sounding Oi! bands nowadays? Are you ever going to release a record like that?

Not interested in pop-sounding or ska bands, at all. And I don’t think I will ever release anything ska. I can appreciate good melodic stuff but it has to have something else, kinda greatly elaborated tunes, an anthemic or melancholic feel. It can be melodic and bleak or dark-ish at the same time, not too much sugar for me please. I like punk, Oi! and hardcore in their most crude and aggressive form and that’s where I think Mendeku should stay, although I like a lot when some old school underground metal influences are thrown into the mix too.

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Ogro, Basque Black Metal Skinheads

You’re living in Euskal Herria now and the punk & skinhead scene there is legendary. Tell us more about the Basque bands on your label, the venues and self-organized spaces, fanzines and everything else. Is Kolpeka the youngest band on your label? What about some other interesting bands?

Historically, Euskal Herria has been a great place for punk. In the 1980s there was a massive movement of punk bands which makes sense taking into account the historical-political climate and background of this country: highly industrialized cities and towns in the process of reconversion, high unemployment rates especially among the youth, police violence and repression, armed conflict and political unrest, hard drugs introduced by mafias with the help of the police to deactivate young people… All the circumstances seemed favorable in order to have a massive scene, it was sort of easy for kids to start a band and play often. You still can see that tradition here almost everywhere.

There is a big network of self-run spaces that not only do gigs but other activities too called gaztetxes (translated into English is like youth houses), almost every town or village, or neighborhoods in the case of the bigger cities, have a gaztetxe. They are often squatted and self-managed but in some places, gaztetxes are supported or allowed by the local councils, usually when the Basque independentist left political party is in charge of the local government. This helps a lot to create a network where young bands can participate, get involved and rely on. The same goes for free radios and fanzines, although their impact was stronger in the pre-Internet era, there was a huge tradition of alternative media in the ‘80s and ‘90s here.

About particular bands, yeah Kolpeka are from Gernika and are made up of people that started the band when they were 15, 16, and 17 years old, which is rare nowadays. Born around the local skatepark and collectively run venue/practice room space called Iparragirre, they recorded their first demo a couple of years ago.

Bermeo is another hub for great bands, also a skatepark, a venue and practice space were pivotal to see coming out bands like Puro Odio, Sta. Cruz, Revertt, and Aresi. Cuero is from Bilbao and the members come from different backgrounds. Zikin comes from Lekeitio, another small coastal town in Bizkaia. These bands are playing something more aggressive, more in the hardcore direction than other bands like Irmo or Orreaga 778 which have a more traditional approach to the more common Basque Oi! / punk regarding the music or the lyrics. 

kolpeka-by-oier
Kolpeka, 📷 @oierelo

What are some of the usual lyrical themes of the Basque bands released on your label? What kind of lyrics do you like the most when you listen to a punk record? I mean, most of the Oi! music has been historically pretty generic.

The bands singing in Basque normally put more emphasis on the cultural, historical and political themes of the Basque Country, also relating personal issues about youth and life in general. I don’t really have a preference when it comes to lyrics, although I’m not interested in dumb shit or the usual cheap sloganistic stuff.

I like when there’s a certain insight, when a kinda story is being told or a point made with a certain twist, or when it’s simple or nihilistic stuff at least it makes you think about something. I like unprocessed stuff that you have to chew and digest. But that’s just a personal taste and bands of course would sing about what they please, there’s no interference in that as long as there’s no stupid shit or a dumb message in the lyrics.

How did you get into releasing bands from across the ocean like Cinderblock, Repeat Offender, and Mess? Is the Mess Intercity EP the best selling record on your label to date?

My activity as a label never limited itself to the Basque Country, whatever is interesting for me personally or for the label I like to support it, so Cinderblock was one of the first releases from a non-Basque band, I distributed some copies of their LP and found out it was almost sold out when I got them and the label who did the US pressing had no intention of repressing it, so I asked them if they were interested in a European pressing and that’s how it came up. Same with Tachanka (from Brittany) or Tango 14 (from Argentina).

So this focus on bands at an international level has been present since the beginning of the label. I got to know Repeat Offender by listening to their demo on YouTube and I loved them. I contacted them and offered to do their demo on vinyl and they accepted. Some time after that, one of the members sent me the recordings of a new project he started during the Covid lockdown called Castillo and loved it too so I put it out. Same with Mess, I just listened to the Intercity 12” EP on Bandcamp and contacted right away so we agreed to start working together.

Oh yeah, the first pressing of that record (500 copies) sold out in about two months, which was the first time for any of my releases. And then a repress with another 500 copies was pressed and gone in a few months too. Cuero records also sold very well and Roughed Up too, which will be repressing their debut seven-inch in a few months, same as the Brux 7-inch. Repeat Offender demo 7-inch, Castillo LP and the Revertt 7-inch are almost sold out. Most of these records were the first releases of each band, or demos pressed on vinyl. I love these bands, their sound, and I’m really happy people are digging them too.

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Poster for the upcoming Mendeku Diskak 5-year anniversary show.

The Chisel and MESS split EP sounds like a match made in heaven. Are these the best current bands in existence and what other surprises can we expect from the label?

Well, that depends on who you ask but for me yeah they are the best at doing what they do and I’m really excited to release their split 7-inch which should be ready in a few weeks. This is a joint effort with Beach Impediment Records from the US and it’s gonna be a great record, both of the bands’ tunes sound amazing.

Other surprises from the label meaning new releases? Yeah sure, there’s always something being planned. I keep listening to new bands all the time and reaching out for future projects, but I don’t like to talk too much about them until I get them confirmed and the orders processed at the pressing plant. Then I put out a compilation tape (Mendeku Diskak Promo Kasetea, which will be the third one this winter) and after that I do the promo of the upcoming releases and talk about them or post info about them more insistently. But yeah, at the moment I’m working on 10-12 releases for next year. 

Is there anything you would like people to know about the label that we didn’t cover?

Yeah, 7-inch records are a financial ruin with nowadays production costs, all labels should use outer plastic protective sleeves for their releases and I wish bands could record at once more than 9-13 minutes of music, hahaha.

Thanks for your interest in Mendeku Diskak!!

Cheers, Eduard.

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