Peter Ziegelmeier Interview

Electronic musician Peter Ziegelmeier, who also runs Ceiba Records, has been producing electronic music for over twenty years. He had the first record label in the U.S.A. dedicated specifically to psychedelic trance, and was the first to release a full-length album of music recorded live at the Burning Man Festival. Many know his work with the group Kode IV, which included collaborations with trance luminary Goa Gil. Better Propaganda visited Peter at his Lower Haight retail store and office in San Francisco for an exclusive interview. Customers wander in while we talk, browsing through racks of techno-futurist clothing, CDs, magazines and party flyers. Peter, who is Austrian-born, speaks intellectually in Euro-international English, peppered with bits of club kid street jargon and hippie freak slang.

Better Propaganda Editor Terbo Ted talks to Peter Ziegelmeier

Better Propaganda: So how would you describe Ceiba Records to somebody?

Peter Ziegelmeier: Well, Ceiba Records I would describe as the first psychedelic trance label in the United States of America, founded in 1996. I mean, the modern times of psychedelic trance, the Grateful Dead was also psychedelic trance you know (laughter) but I mean for the Twentieth Century, the Twenty-first Century, kind of, yeah. Ceiba Records, yeah, it was founded out of the need, because nobody was distributing psytrance- like they call it, you know- in the States, and blue-eyed, idiotic like we were, sort of "hey, let's make a label, you know," and then we're in the shits because we have one, what to do with it.

Better Propaganda: An independent record label isn't something you would do to make a lot of money then?

PZ: Well, some people went a ways with it, you know. I think that independent... it's a LONG story. A: is that sense of independence like it says; that you can release music, produce music, produce art and it's independent. You know, it's not in the hands of the majors, and you have more control about it. The downfall is the work that's involved in it. It sounds really nice; it's really hard work to do. Because you still have the same mechanism at the end of the day like the big boys have; yeah, because in a capitalist society, yeah, so it's not about brotherhood and friendship, it's about making the buck, you know. So even if you have a splendid idea: "we do it all different, we're independent," at the end,'s about the sales, and it's about how much money do you have for advertisement, you know the whole nine yards, it's related to that.

Better Propaganda: So a lot of it's a labor of love, I mean, you're pushing your own catalog of work through the label, I mean that's a business thing you've put around your work as an artist. So, I'm trying to think of how... It's just a necessity really, for you to be able to live in our culture then, to have some business sense that's connected to your work.

PZ: Yeah, it's also like when I compare to... If we go back to electronic music in general, you know, like the start of electronic music, that essence of electronic music was a bit the concept of going away from the structure of the big companies, the rock and roll stardom kind of thing, we have one guy, one band we market it, you know, the whole nine yards, like the band is marketed in our system. So it was, the idea was okay the DJs are not important anymore, it's about the dance, this is about the scene, you remember, you know, like the total different approach to the thing, we make it different, we're not staring like idiots on the stage, and there's one guy telling us all the problems with his girlfriends (laughter) and everybody's paying some dollars for it, and you go home you know. It's like okay, we're all in it, we can make a difference, and that was kind of a little bit the idea in those days, I think, to change the paradigm from one superstar, you know and millions of sheeps, to millions of superstars and no sheeps, you know, a concept kind of simple put, yeah.

So that was very brilliant and it was great, and we all had great fun being involved in that, because it felt we can make a difference, yeah. But the years went down, and then the old models you know, of personas still came back, that's not only because of the ego problem, or whatever, it's also the marketing thing, because especially in the United States, the whole rock and roll business is set up on a cult of personality, you know, that's how you can make the most money. And with any nameless band and just music, you don't make so much money, but if you have a guy or a girl, you know, and there's the photoshoots, and you can put her in a movie, and you have like gossip, the whole machinery is built on that thing. So, after some time, we had to... brutally realize, that our nice lovely ideas won't really apply direct to the system we're in, because the system is the total opposite of what we were trying to do. We were trying to do a kind of collective of like-minded, you know like, inspire people to create something, but we were not quite aware of what we were in for, yeah.

So, out of that, a lot of people went bankrupt, and went back to the work, because they know they couldn't feed the family with it, (laughter), you know, it's just a real job with everybody else. Some were lucky, or not lucky enough to get into a bigger system, you know, like maybe bought off by a bigger company, or get a job at a bigger company. And other ones just have it like kind of like a side project, you know, they love their art, they love the music they do, they love their friends with it, they release it, but they're not based their economy on it, they're not basing their income on that, it's more like almost like they SPEND money on it, you know, because the average independent release is like two or three thousand copies, now make the math, you know. Like if you add the covers there, to the, to the ...there's not much left at the end of the day, you know. Then distribution is the biggest- how you call it- consignment business on the planet. You know, they can do anything. They get the CDs, if they you don't sell them, boom, back you have them back again.

Anyway, to make the story short, we're really getting a bit too out there, I think, back to the like beautiful beginning of "we can make a difference," you know, and make it different...till now, years later to see that A: you have to LEARN the system, you know even if you want to fight it, you have to learn it, because otherwise you don't know even what you're fighting against it, if you want to fight it, you know. But you have to understand that, you know, if you want to be a part of it, or want to be not part of it, but first you have to understand it I think. A that's key, and that's what I personally went through over the years, to be like totally idealistic and totally "yeah yeah yeah, we can make it, and the power of love and labor of love will make it" (laughter) you know. Fuck, you know, who pays the bloody rent, you know. But, still, I'm not bitter, you know, I'm still doing what I like to do, you know. I just have to do many things.

I learned that it's not enough with just making a song or making a track today on whatever- Logic or Cubase- and then think you're the next big shot, you know what I mean. This is a nice little beginning, you know, but there's a LONG way to get to those places you want to go. And then it's also individual, you know, everybody has different goals and different things they can work with.

Better Propaganda: It is strange that you could look at electronic music as just a big block, and... For example, at Better Propaganda, we have three main categories of music we present to our audience, we present them rock and roll, hip hop and electronic music, and it's so strange that you know, as one of the most identifiable and vital forms of music going on right now, as just this broad genre, there's not any sort of major business model that's been a success, that is kind of strange. You'd think with the vitality and eagerness people are putting into the music, you know, that that would result in some sort of business pattern somehow. I mean, you explained it...

PZ: What I tried to touch earlier, I think the main problem, especially with America with what I like to call "rock and roll business," I would also say hip hop is also part of the rock and roll business, you know of course it's hip hop and not rock, but I'm talking the structure. When you look at just the business structure of it, yeah, and it's an established structure that has been around for a good old fifty more years, yeah, and it's based on early on marketing of personality, a band, a face, yeah. And, by not being part of that, what electronic music was not really... people who do electronic music, sure, they'd love to be successful, and they'd love to have their bloody face on every magazine, but, the kind of moral behind it is a little bit of "we do it different." It's just a different idea. It's almost like a building stopper- you know what I'm saying- because it's kind of uncool to be the super "aw, man, let's see if I can do the haircut, I've got to get a cool haircut" (laughter) you know it's not so cool, it's more what's the new gear you have, you know, and how many megabytes is your fucking thing, (laughter) you know...

Better Propaganda: The upgrade card...

PZ: ...It's kind of like that NERDY culture, let's put it that way. NERD-intellectual, you know, brain culture. Because it's also, you need a lot of brain to fucking work the thing. You can get away with the rock and roll band with three chords and every idiot can learn three chords eventually (laughter), it's duh, duh, duh, you know, you can get that somehow down, or boom, boom, boom. But electronic needs a bit of brain power, you know...

Better Propaganda: But don't you think the new electronic music tools are so powerful, anyone can just come in here and turn the thing on and hit one key and it sounds like a hit song?

PZ: That's NOW, but I mean, that happened now. But five or six years ago, or even ten years ago, it was not that easy, and let's face it, you really had to be devotional to it to get something going. It was not so easy like it is today. So what happened like, okay, I'm almost like- how you call it- I'm talking bullshit here- but what I'm trying to say is A: the intellectual concept of electronic music was a bit based on the DANCER, the dancefloor is the star... and not the DJ is the star. This is like where we kind of started off in the conversation. It does manifest that we did at parties where we didn't have a big stage, you know, it was just the DJs on the same level, like the dancers, yeah. That was the concept, and I think that was the biggest change mentally, you know, how to take the thing on. Then build a huge stage and have one guy up there, you know, and everybody's just, you know, looking at the messiah kind of thing. (laughter) Of course- like I said- this didn't work either, you know, we are just humans. Everybody wants to show themselves on his best side, and everyone wants to get laid, so he wants to be on stage... (laughter) it's still the same story at the end of the day.

But, A: you had to adapt to the new technology, which a lot of people didn't do, because they got the guitar/band system and just kind of stuck with that, and said 'fuck that electronic thing', that it's good enough, you know, and it works and we don't need that. So there was a different character of that. And then, also like a sense of maybe, what we see today, we're in a totally different situation, because of the softwares, and the whole thing became so accessible, yeah, that what used to be a rarity, like when I did start electronic music in, let's say '83-'84, there were like a handful of bands who did electronic music, yeah. Because the gear was A: too expensive at those times; B: it was not so hip; 3: whatever, you know. Rock and roll dominated the whole thing. And now, you have like thousands and thousands of producers. When on one hand, it's brilliant, it democratizes the whole thing, yeah, everybody can create and be creative; what's the essence of the whole thing, yeah. But, now we have the problem that all those ten thousands of creative people out there also want to get rich on it, too. You know, they want to make money with it too. And there we have a big conflict. Because it's beautiful to do your song and play to your girlfriend, and to your friends, and to a small circle, it's wonderful. But, to think that then you're going to have to charge, you know, where you're like next to Britney Spears and those... I think it doesn't really work so well together, and I think that's a bit of a conflict we're in, because everybody can have a song that's on a huge system that sounds brilliant, it's clean, it's so brilliantly sounding, yeah, POWERFUL. But, you know, there are a lot of them doing it, so it won't be paying everybody's rent. (laughter)

Better Propaganda: exactly.

PZ: And that's where the conflict I see, what we have, especially in electronic music, you know. And to top of it, to top it off now, is the whole digital downloads and the burning of CDs, you know. So we release CDs for a niche culture, yeah, a small group of people. Unfortunately, as a small group of people, ...we are also catering to the poorest people at the same time so to speak (laughter), they want to go party, they want to have new gear. So there's not so much money. Of course it's a real catch. You have already, small issues of releases, and then you sell it, or try to sell it, to the smallest niche market who has less money, I mean, how are you going to work that? So that's what we see right now; that like distributors and labels just drop left and right, because they cannot even sell their three thousand, five thousand copies they could sell five years ago, where people still bought CDs. And the value of the CD, as you remember, like ten years ago, a cd was like, you know, it was almost built to put it on an altar, it was something PRECIOUS, you wanted to touch it. Today a CD you know, you put your garbage on it, you throw it away, it has no value, you know. And the whole concept became valueless, it's also the ART behind it became so valueless, because it's just a fucking bloody CD, you know, like next next next. And so we have to deal with a lot of issues here. But then, on the other hand we can also say the digital download world will one day be economic, ecological, more sound than the CDs, because we don't have to waste all this material: you don't have to waste the plastic, the shrink rap, duh duh duh duh duh duh duh. The idea is finished on the computer, yeah, and the consumer- that ugly word, you know- like content, consumer, one-on-one, no problem, done. Deal done. Everybody gets a couple of cents, nobody has a cent and perfect, perfect system. And that's what we're working on, basically, on all sides. The download portals, the artist, the whole thing, that would be kind of a good thing. But also keep in mind, I think, you know, what I would say- especially to younger producers- you know, keep the day job kind of thing. (laughter) Kinda, at first, you know. Do it- give it all- but don't think you're going to feed a family with it tomorrow. It can happen, but the chances are rather slim, yeah. And you've really got to love it to do it. Anyhow, I was going a bit on a tangent, but like, I think that's a bit like roughly how I see the situation when it comes to electronic music distribution business...

Better Propaganda: It's funny, because I see like the motivation for it's pretty much spiritual, you know - people get this great turn on from it- and then, as that progresses over time, you know, everyone's forced to sort of see if they can put enough order and structure on it to sustain that over time. And then over the last ten or fifteen years, when this has all been happening, technology and economics have changed so much it's continually adapting itself all the way back down to the root level. So you've got people you know, able to distribute their music for free right now- which is great for music, and it's great for the audience, it's great for musicians- but then it makes the problem of how to survive off of it even worse. I mean, there's going to be an answer somewhere you think?

PZ: Uh, I don't know, I mean, I don't have it right now. I think, if you're really like... let's say if you take all angles on it, yeah: you produce, you play, you DJ, you have a label- like in my case- I also have like a store, if you do all these things together, yeah, I think then you can still be large enough to generate some income, yeah. But I think one niche by itself is going to be a tough one. But then there's a huge "I don't really know." I think, basically, with the downloads, I mean, it's also going to be... like first, we have the mess where there are too many, and now we have to categorize it, yeah. And there will be, like let's call it PORTALS still, like identities, yeah, where people say, I'm not going to go on the web for the next week and find one track, yeah. So I want to go, "okay this website will lead me to this, this will give..." You will still have the same system, like it is, like BRANDING, you know, it's also the big business, it's about branding, Levi's, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, it's all about the brand name. So there will be still the same conception, branding will be very important, you know. So anybody who wants a good downtempo CD for example: Ceiba Records, you know, that's that style, I will find it and I will not get disappointed. I don't have to go 10,000 clicks, you know, I go there and have that kind of style. So we're still not too far off from the old models. But what, how it will develop, I don't know, you know, I don't have the answers for it I think. It's just we have to get busy. I think evolutionary, I think A: now we've got the downloads, that definitely is already in the making, that's already a reality.

And I personally think that- I could be totally wrong- I think also there will be the next step will be that the visuals will become more important again. I think it will almost be like MTV revisited, because people are already prepped doing an iMovie, duh duh duh, you know that kind? Everybody has a digital camera, everybody has a digital little thing at home. So the creativity now that's all on the audio, I think will emphasize more on the visual down the line in the next couple of years. And that could be very exciting at the same time. So we have not only the 150 billion dollar or whatever MTV video, but we have a relatively high-class, homemade, alternative, independent video. And I think that's great- you know- because a lot of music was always... you know, there was a big revolution when the music was not enough. But then you get back to the persona again... time kind of catches up with you basically. (laughter)

But one interesting thing, what I wanted to say to that scene, that I always find very interesting, is what you mentioned earlier, the more spiritual aspect of things, yeah. But that's a totally different ballgame again, this has nothing to do with technology. It's just like people, who at one point, usually drug-induced, you know, or deep situations in their life: death, or something, radical accidents, you know, they have an insight and they have spiritual kind of- let's say- revelation, yeah. For some it's acid, for some it's pot- whatever it is, hiking in the mountains, whatever it is for you, where you get there. Okay. So you've got the revelation, and you are interested in a spiritual kind of lifestyle and all that. So in the initial moment of it, there's an incredible purity in it, because it's just one person having that- you know- that super high-blowing experience in his head. But as soon as you start communicating this experience with other people, and as soon as the patterns of communication become more complex, the truth usually deteriorates. Because the same... like the old thing, I can never explain [to] you the apple, you have to eat the apple, you have to taste the apple, it's an individual experience. So, that's also the downfall of religion in my books, you know. I think early Christians are probably like early hippies, or early thing, they were rocking having a good time, you know, dancing, yeah (laughter) ... yeah, kick those Romans' ass, and we have the spirit, we have the change, we can do it different. I think that was the essence of Christianity, you know, early Christians, they were almost party people, you know, like, "we can do it different!" early electronic or early rock and roll. And, when the structure comes in, what you said earlier, as soon as the structure comes in, there is a loss of this essence. And look at world history, world religions: great beginnings, terrible endings (laughter). Because, that's just the nature of it. Because it's a personal, individual experience, and it shouldn't be multiplied, and shouldn't be a money making machine, like the Pope in Rome you know or whatever, because it's contradictionary [sic] to the idea, you know. But that's a BIG thing we see, at right now that's a topic that's way beyond a little electronic label in music. I mean, this is something that's basically from the mantle of life and experience as human beings. You know, and that's something we all encounter, in whatever we do, if you're whatever: a plumber or if you're a professor or if you're a little electronic guy, it doesn't matter, it's the same, you know. And that's something each individual gets the choice- of each one of us- to work his way through that problem, you know. That's how you're gonna make a take on it, you know. And that's your work, and nobody can do it for you, and that's so individual. And I, for me personally, I respect that the most, you know, in human beings, that part of their work, you know, wherever they come from, you know, but that goes way beyond now, you know, just pop music I think. Anyways, ...ideas on the spirituality aspect of the whole thing.

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