photo: The Columbine Shoots

Awesome Tapes from Bhutan

by Hannes Liechti

Bhutan is a tiny kingdom in the himalayas and not really known for experimental music. But due to Ed Linton and his net label «Avant-Garbe Records» there is a growing music scene with a love for weird sounds.

[Hannes Liechti]: Could you briefly describe yourself and your musical background?

[Ed Linton]: From my name you can tell I am not of Bhutan descent, my parents come from New Zealand and spent many years traveling. I was born originally in Bhutan but my father got a dairy farming contract in the Middle East and I lived there for three years before returning. Thebong, where I went to school, has no music stores. So we listened to a lot of foreign music we could get when one of us went to the city. I remember some of the inspirational music we heard. Of course we heard popular music like Queen and The Beatles but also older and stranger music, like «20 Jazz Funk Greats» by Throbbing Gristle and «Negrea Love Dub» by Linval Thompson or «Selected Ambient Works 85-92» by Aphex Twin, these are albums that we really enjoyed in school and ended up influencing our music.

[HL]: What is the idea behind your band The Columbine Shoots?

[EL]: The Columbine Shoots is a band that I started with friends after we finished school in 2013. We took the name from an online blog of a stupid foreigner we do not like. The album cover for our first EP «Haha Here We Are», is also from his blog. We are interested in vaporwave and irony. This is why many of our albums have whacky titles and pictures. The band doesn't have just a few members that always play together, instead many people can join or leave the band any time. In total there have been about different 70 people. On some albums there is only myself, on some there are dozens of players.

[HL]: What are your musical influences?

[EL]: We don't want to sound like the traditional music of Bhutan, or the pop music of foreign countries, but more like the unusual albums we found. When we got Internet in Thebong a few years ago we spent a lot of time finding new whacky music online. It is very slow, only dial-up, but if you wait long enough you can listen to music on YouTube. We found music like Merzbow and Hanatarash and it was very inspiring.

[HL]: What is the idea behind your label «Avant-Garbe Records»?

[EL]: It is a label I chose to make because a family friend from New Zealand had made an album and we wanted to present his music. So I made the label and asked an artist from the US to create the title and background image. Since then we have had artists like Exabyte, Sheikh Areesh and Jason Akermanis on our label. Exabyte and Jason Akermanis are friends we have found online. They have also contributed to music in The Columbine Shoots.

[HL]: How is the situation in Bhutan for producing music?

[EL]: Making music in Bhutan is easy if you want to make traditional music. There are people that sell traditional instruments and you can buy them quite cheap. A lot of The Columbine Shoots music is made with computers, I think that if you have a computer you can make electronic music as easy in any country. We use Fruity Loops to arrange our music, although they are old versions as the new ones are too slow on our computers.

[HL]: What are the challenges in releasing music these days?

[EL]: Putting the music online is not so easy because the internet is very slow, if you look on the old The Columbine Shoots website you can see the album «666 the number of the beast». This album we did not put on «Avant-Garbe Records» because there are songs that are over 20 minutes long and they took many many hours to upload. Since we live out in Thebong it is a hassle to put music on CD, but in Thimphu it is possible to get music on CD. But it is expensive and we have not bothered.

[HL]: Do you play live shows?

[EL]: We do casual live shows occasionally in Thebong and nearby towns in Mongar and we once played a live show in the Space 34 nightclub in Thimphu. It was a great time and we got to meet great local musicians.

[HL]: Are there any aspects, where you feel kind of loneliness while producing music?

[EL]: There is a bit of loneliness making music in Bhutan because we are far from the big cities even in the nearby countries. I have been into the big cities in China and it is amazing to see the amount of people and musicians that you can find in China. Although it is hard to move people in and out of Bhutan to make music it is a lot easier to move music through the Internet. This is why we have members contributing content from all across the world. Members of The Columbine Shoots come from places as far as Chile, America, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and Germany.

This interview was conducted via email, 2.5.2015. A short quote from this interview has been published first in the second Norient book Seismographic Sounds.

Published on April 14, 2016

Last updated on April 09, 2020


Hannes Liechti [*1987] lives in Bern, Switzerland, as a musicologist, curator, cultural producer, and music journalist. He is currently working on a doctoral thesis on creative strategies of sampling in experimental electronic popular music at the University of Bern and the Bern University of the Arts. He belongs to the Graduate School of the Arts (GSA) in Bern and is a curator for the Norient Space «The Now in Sound». In 2015, he co-published the second Norient book: «Seismographic Sounds: Visions of a New World», and co-curated the corresponding exhibition on global pop. Since 2016 he’s national representative for Switzerland for the German-speaking branch of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM D-A-CH).


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