In 2004, Kunal Choksi from Mumbai,India launched Diabolical Conquest a music label and webzine, to promote international metal bands,later it was renamed to ‘Transcending Obscurity’.Now he runs a metal label, a PR company a distro and a webzine.Planet Caravan recently took an interview of him.read it below.
PC – First of all, tell us how were you introduced to metal?
Kunal – When I got kicked out of my engineering college on the very first day for wearing a Playboy T-shirt, the only other guy outside the college (wearing a Mustang car T-shirt), who was also kicked out, Sherwyn Pinto, got me into metal.
Apparently T-shirts weren’t allowed in my overly conservative college back then and just the two of us were cool or ‘metal’ enough to not conform to the rules. I would call the turn of events destiny. (My mentor later on went on to do something related to Marine engineering, and was so metal that when the professor told him to cut his hair, he literally left the college in defiance, lol.) The first metal album I ever heard was ‘Master of Puppets’ by you know who.
Interestingly, the main initiation began with a ritualistic tape that apparently got everyone into metal, including my friend Sherwyn. This legendary ‘initiation tape’ had Death’s ‘Symbolic’ on one side and the cult German death metal band Torchure’s ‘Beyond the Veil’ on the other side. Life got made. I haven’t looked back since. I still have that home-recorded tape till this day (it’s in the drawer below my work PC, always).
I would like to mention the fact that my mentor made sure I heard my music properly i.e. listen to an album carefully. He used to quiz me on it whenever we met next. I had to prepare myself for his ‘metal viva’. Only then would he lend me more of his home-recorded tapes. This ensured that I had a strong base in all respective genres, which enabled me to write on them at an international level.
Now I’m signing bands from all genres, doing PR for bands, writing about them, interviewing them, and that’s all because my roots were made strong. You must understand that back in the day, it was shocking for metal fans to see an Indian writer/editor or even an underground site – we’re talking about circa 2005. The kiddies came much, much later. I used to wake up putting an alarm at literally 4 am so that I could hear the whole tape before leaving for my engineering college at around 5:30 am, which was far away from where I live, in Thane (before it became cool).
PC – From Diabolical Conquest to Transcending Obscurity, how has the journey been so far?
Kunal – It was heartbreaking. All my effort of years, my contacts, even writers, was gone overnight. I literally pressed the delete button on my site. Circumstances forced me to do that. I lost my mom to cancer. I was orphaned when I was in my 20s. Not only did I have to take on the burden of supporting my sister (she also succumbed to cancer later on), I had to rebuild the metal activities from scratch. I was the only writer for Transcending Obscurity.
People in the scene gave me a real hard time. Bands didn’t cooperate and often went back on their word. It was hell and only goes to prove how opportunistic people can be. But perhaps it’s good to see the true colours of people.
After a while, I started organizing shows for ungrateful bands and I’m glad I stopped, after suffering affordable losses. I focused on my PR work and label, and thank god I have found some success there. No matter what, the name Transcending Obscurity has been involved.
I hope it grows important enough to make a difference. It’s sufficient for now, but not enough in the long run. I’m trying to rebuild the webzine like Diabolical Conquest and it takes a lot out of me, but thankfully, I’ve found some worthy people like Shrivatsan and Chris to share that responsibility. I’ll need more. I still have to monitor the content and proofread most of the interview questions that get sent out, but on the whole, it’s been progressing. It’s never easy, never was, never is, and I just wish I had more time to do this.
PC – When did you start collecting CD’s, these days procuring CD’s are a lot easier, how were things back in the day?
Kunal – In the ‘90s. I used my mom’s credit card to order CDs. The first site was Earache, the second was Relapse. The breakthrough was when I got Incantation’s ‘Diabolical Conquest’ in the mail, successfully, and that was when I decided to name my site after that groundbreaking album for its time.
But it was never easy. I was not very social so all I pretty much did was spend my pocket money on music. I didn’t smoke or drink and had no bad habits for the longest time – I saved money there. However, I lost innumerable parcels in the post, had stuff stolen, had packages ripped and had CDs, sometimes even booklets, stolen from it separately, and to take the cake, once I even found CDs that I was supposed to receive in the mail at a pawn shop, literally! My friend said that he bought some CDs for 100 INR at this shop close to the foreign post office and it turned out that they were the CDs that I never got – so these post/customs assholes pawned it off for money! Eventually my friend was kind enough to let me buy my own CDs off him. It was agonizing but nonetheless, I managed a sizeable collection over the years, or almost decades.
PC – How do you handle the pressure of managing so many bands and also running the TO distro along with it?
Kunal – You forgot the PR company and online magazine haha. It’s difficult to plan the releases in advance and sometimes it becomes a bit messy when there are too many releases that are awaiting a launch in the same period. But bands should also understand that there has to be ample time given for proper planning especially with regards to their album’s promotion, and also, when releases are put out too close to each other, it basically cannibalizes the sales.
Working with new bands means you constantly have to expend energy in having them understand how it all works, and it’s more frustrating when they are unable to provide things in the right format.Nonetheless the job gets done and perhaps they aren’t to be blamed simply because of inexperience, and I as I keep saying, all’s well that ends well.
I would like to thank Moni for helping me out with the PR activities of late. Meditation has helped me cope with life and its shit in the past. As an initiated disciple of Sri Sri Paramahansa Yogananda, I used to do quite a bit of Kriya Yoga during the nights, sometimes used it do it all night long without sleeping. Unfortunately, my responsibilities nowadays prevent me from doing that, but I hope things will get better for me soon, somehow.
Picture Courtesy – Kunal Choksi
PC – Name some of your personal favourite bands under TO.
Kunal – Since I’m working with so many bands, it won’t be right of me to pick my favourites out of them, so I’ll be diplomatic here and say that I like them all.
PC – Deceased recently stated that they will be reissuing their old classics under TO label, how did it happen?
Kunal – Interestingly, my first release was actually a reissue of sorts – I’m talking about ‘Ritual Executions’ initially put out by The Dead in very small numbers. To bring the band’s good work to prominence, I decided to put it out all over again and promote the shit out of it circa 2010. So it was technically a reissue that was put out by Diabolical Conquest Records (pre-Transcending Obscurity). The reason I decided to start a sub-label called Transcending Obscurity Classics is because I can distinguish my activities and not mix old albums with new ones. It’s something that I started because certain albums weren’t given their due.
I knew Deceased’s King Fowley since the Diabolical Conquest days, back when we’d conducted a very well received interview with him. So I got in touch and told him about my idea. He’s probably the most straightforward band guy I’ve worked with, and after discussing a few ideas with him, which included getting the T-shirt artwork made by Mark Riddick for this reissue, we got it sorted in almost no time. I’m fervently hoping to get a good response for this ambitious reissue. I’ve invested heavily and I hope when the time comes for people to support this legendary band, people won’t hesitate to buy it – be it the CD, digital album or the T-shirt (which is limited to only 75).
PC – People don’t tend to buy CDs these days, piracy is another issue, as a record label owner how much does it affect you?
Kunal – It’s killing my work. Here new bands are asking to be signed, but I tell them, who’s buying? They expect the label to take all the effort, especially in India, when they have little to no fans to begin with. The worst part here is that the band members themselves will never buy anything and expect everyone else to buy their stuff – how is it fair? I’m not their bank, nor am I their servant. I’m a fan of the music and will do all that I can, with my experience, skills, and contacts, to try and spread the music as much as possible. But ultimately it’s all futile if people just want to steal something that’s not theirs. Make no excuse – the fans ARE NOT entitled to illegally download their favourite band’s music. The recording, the artwork, the distribution, the promotion – all of that HAS to be paid for. Heavy investments have to be made. It’s not free when you’ve approached the best studio for recording or the best artist to make an artwork for you. They’re professionals who charge money and can’t be blamed for it because it’s their source of income.
I wish there was a stricter system in place that would crack down on piracy but it may be years till an effective rule is passed that is applicable internationally. Perhaps it’s up to the fans to realize that paying a nominal sum for an album that they truly love, is nothing but enabling them to do more. They ought to be ashamed of calling themselves fans if their activities end up being detrimental to the bands. I can’t believe people are pirating the stuff and feeling better about doing so by deluding themselves into believing that they’re “hooking up” people with music and spreading it – well, it’s not theirs to begin with.
PC – If a band were to send you some stuff for a possible deal, how should they contact you?
Kunal – Preferably with a polite email with links to their music (not as attachments). Unless their band is established, it’s silly for them to talk about the kind of music they’ll create when they’ve probably not even written songs yet (yes, I get many of such requests). Of late I get a lot of such messages on Facebook, and while that’s convenient, it’s hardly professional and doesn’t get treated with as much seriousness.
PC – What do you look for in a band when you sign them?
Kunal – That’s a good question. The answer is simple – the music. It helps if the bands have a good attitude to go with it, because if they think no end of themselves, they’re better off doing it on their own.
PC – Salam Syed recently shared a horrific experience of having his gig cancelled because a lawyer had issues with the LOUD MUSIC, have you ever faced such incidents?
Kunal – Um, well I did get a complaint from my neighbouring building for blasting loud music, but other than that, nothing. Where I come from, there’s no social stigma attached to listening to rock or heavy metal music. It’s simply a form of music, is what I tell them. I’ve studied like a dog, I work harder, I’m self-sufficient and not a horrible human being. I don’t see any reason why people should look down on it from the social angle, but if they do, well it’s their problem. I was never into drugs or wasting my life away. As much as I’m passionate about it, I’m also practical and level-headed. I don’t impose my music on others, and others don’t trouble me too much with their opinions on it.
PC – How hard is it to find good venues for metal shows?
Kunal – In Mumbai, where I come from, it’s horrible. It’s due to the high prices and lack of space mainly. The metalheads here are also too busy working and/or travelling comparatively to attend shows consistently, which is a shame. Only one or two shows in a year are significant, and that too is at the mercy of the lethargic semi-interested ‘metalheads’. When the day comes, most of them flake out or go broke mysteriously.
PC – Are you the hero this country deserves, but not the one it needs right now?
Kunal – I’m no hero, period. I tried to make a difference, and despite overwhelming obstacles, have perhaps done something noticeable. There are bands that have, to an extent, transcended obscurity. That’s good enough for me. Thank you very much for sparing a thought for me and of course taking the time to come up with the questions. Please try to support deserving bands if you can. Here are some links –
Interview By: The Scene Kid