PAN has been a leading voice of electronic music and new club sound in the past ten years. With over one hundred releases, cross-disciplinary performances, curated club nights, collaborations with art spaces in Berlin, Milan, New York, and London, and a strong connection with the fashion world, PAN remains a very personal project of its founder Bill Kouligas. Through personal bonds with artists of different ages and backgrounds and their shared passion for music, performative and visual art, philosophy, political and social studies, Bill has created not only a record label and music archive but an ever-evolving platform.
The overwhelming current situation makes many artists and curators slow down and come up with new ideas and strategies. And most importantly, to think over the question: in the fast-changing underground music culture and the oversaturated industry around it, how does one stay solid and devoted to the main thing that started it all — music? Bill Kouligas reflects on these challenges through the prism of his brainchild PAN.
Maya Baklanova: How do you think new approaches to writing and promoting music will be born under the current circumstance?
Bill Kouligas: I think it has already had an impact on the state of things. Basically, all industries have collapsed. The economies have been re-evaluated, and things are heavily in the process of restructuring. Of course, they all say it’s an uncertain time, and indeed it is because no one knows what’s coming up next. I think there is a small optimistic side that allows people to think further of what they had so far and perceive information, as well as engage with culture in different and maybe even more meaningful ways.
I personally struggled a lot with a certain old-fashioned infrastructure of operation models or media or even the way traditional labels work. There is nothing wrong that we did, and I guess there was a kind of successful model. It lasted for so many years — releasing records, distributing them, sending promos — this whole roller coaster, a standardized package of things that you do to promote and release an album. But the state of the world is in a really different place now. The overload of information has drifted the interest apart somehow, and people have way less capacity to engage with things they used to. That’s why we are all being fed by streaming services, playlists, and general moods that capitalism has created to keep us engaged with what we like. So we are all tools of the system, and when it collapses, it’s really interesting to see the reactions and the re-valuation from people. What they actually want, how communities work, what communal work means, what it means to truly support the culture that you care for. I hope that out of all this some new avenues will come up, and new revenues will also be created for musicians, labels, journalists, and all people, at least in the music that we work in. It’s also a good wake up call for us to activate and squeeze our brains, think deeper of what we actually need, how we want to do this, what we want from ourselves. I try to think positively because the change is much needed, so maybe something good happens in the end, who knows.
MB: Over the past 12 years of running a label, you’ve put out a massive amount of records and engaged a lot of different people with PAN. It feels like you provide not just a platform for their artistic expression, but also promote artists in many ways. Do you share a sense of unity with all of them?
BK: During these years, I have managed to get quite close to most of these people just because we have so much personal investment and love and passion that it inevitably brings us much closer. A lot of them are true and real friends outside of music. With a lot of them, our friendship started before, and with others, we ended up becoming good friends because of working together, which is wonderful because it makes the whole trip worth it. It’s a journey. It’s really nice to be with people that you feel compatible with and who are genuine about their contribution and, of course, more than genuine for all their amazing ideas and output they’ve had all these years.
Of course, they are all very different individuals coming from very different sides of the world: different ages, generations, cultures, political and financial backgrounds, which is significant because it’s an ecosystem. When you put, metaphorically speaking, all these microorganisms in that system, it’s really interesting to see how they react to each other. You try to direct everything, so everyone has a fair, equal space to exist, express, and continue.
MB: You’ve mentioned once that you have worked with a wide range of different artists from various generations, so there are no specific criteria besides their ideas. It’s more about what makes a PAN artist than a PAN record. What makes a PAN artist?
BK: It’s tough to articulate this fully, but there are a lot of reasons. I feel connected to certain people and their work. It could be their ethos, the sort of cultural involvement, the general practice, or the singularity that they might be interested in. I guess it heavily relies on intuition and having a strong sense of someone’s potential, personality, artistic vision, and ability to embrace all these things. My role is to understand whether this person would be the right fit within the bigger picture, including all the other people going back into the label’s history. For me, it has always been important to value the potential and always be able to create space for them to occupy and not have people overlap with each other. In that way, they grow with you or within the label.
The main starting point, the main interest, the leading passion, has come from sound and music practices. I guess me and most of the people I work with have a wider range of interests that apply not only to music. Many people are interested in visual art, video work, philosophy or theory, tech, politics — it doesn’t really matter. They are all curious people. Music was always like that in a way. You have all these old composers that would examine painters at that time, and Bach would make a piece because he saw this painting, and it was inspiring. He would be inspired by geology or natural history or things like that. He would go and see a landscape and write a piece. Even if people don’t realize it, say, in terms of club culture, there are strong other components that make them so passionate about it. It’s not just the sound of beats. It’s the overall experience: you go to a club, and it’s a very specific space where a lot of fantastic ideas manifest and occur — that’s why it has such a strong impact on you. And you go back and want to contribute by producing or by organizing an event or a rave. The history of club music is also strongly related to fashion. There was a specific way of dressing up in rave culture or goth culture — people would look a certain way. It was formed by all these fascinating subcultures that no longer exist in the same way, but people still reflect on them.