As a horde of metal heads was about to decend upon the Klein Libertas Theatre, Louis Henn and his gang searched in earnest for some form of anchor to weigh down their gazebo. Wind is typical of the Cape Town summer season; but notwithstanding, everything had to be perfect for the unveiling of South Africa’s newest beacon of metal on the block. For the vast majority of those six hundred-odd to attend, this would be their first encounter with the brand new record label. By the time Burning Tone Records had completed setting up their impressive stall, we still had a few minutes to cram a chat before that gates were opened and Metal4africa’s SummerFest’13 begun.
Although the label is a conglomeration of sorts, which includes a number of relatively prominent people in the local scene, I wanted to get to hear a bit more about the main man behind the project, Louis Henn. At least, it could be said that without his skills and passionate drive for delivering good recordings, there would be no project for those other players to gather around. For those of you who have not yet met Louis or do not know who I’m talking about, this man of thirty years has already accomplished some amazing musical feats. Apart from playing guitar in Megalodon as well as Zombies Ate My Girlfriend, Louis has also been a driving force behind The Broken Result (and self-produced their remarkable album Recursive), toured Europe with Sepultura in his former band Forever Will Burn, and began his service to rock ‘n roll more than a decade ago with his highschool band My Shade. In these respective bands, Louis has played the roles of drummer, guitarist, and frontman, as well as producer, engineer and manager. There are few people in this country better qualified to form the heart and soul of a start-up record label!
I wanted to specifically get to the bottom of his passion for recording, since his band-life is plain for all to see. As it turns out, I’ve learned that the two go pretty much hand in hand and the stories are inseparable.
“I was encouraged with having musical parents, so I started piano when I was ten,” Louis admits, “but my rebellious nature kicked in soon, so I was reluctant to follow lessons.” Louis found that playing sheet music was not very interesting. When he arrived eventually into highschool, his older brother has already begun playing in a band called Grunt who had become popular in the festival circles, and thus he was introduced to heavier stuff. At that time, Louis took up drums, and with his brother on guitar he learned by starting with Metallica‘s “Black”. It was not long before Louis had begun playing in his own band, My Shade, which is where things got interesting.
“My dad had a studio. Because the facility existed, and because we had the need for getting some songs down, I decided to try the D.I.Y route. We definitely didn’t have funds for an engineer anyway.”
In 2005, the band relocated to the UK. With equipment being relatively cheap and more easily accessible there than in the RSA, it was there that Louis got the idea to begin developing his skills and to eventually return home to set up a studio. The name Burning Tone was created in London. By 2006 he was ready to return. Louis had been doing vocal auditions for the South African-based Forever Will Burn by recording his vocals in the UK to tracks which the band had sent him, and was accepted on the merit of his ability to record them; even to the extent that the bands producer, Ken Susi (also guitarist from Unearth) complimented it. “I was very encouraged by that,” Louis said, “it made me realise that I could get good results with the equipment I had already collected. At this point, Louis was already queueing up recording opportunities in the RSA, notably, with the band Betray The Emissary, among others.
Back home, and whilst living at what is now fondly referred to as “the centre of operations at ’75” (which refers to the address at which many members from various bands had lived – and continue to), Louis built up good contacts and began sharing ideas with friends and peers about the eventual formation of a record label; especially after Betray The Emissary‘s release of In Memory Of Me in 2008.
“With The Broken Result’s album Recursive, I took the time and wanted to become The Guy who understands the genre in the Western Cape, or even further afield. I want people to realise that this country is not left in dark; that somebody is working with it.” To date, Louis has recorded the following bands via his Burning Tone studio: Betray The Emissary, Wings Of Aggression, 21st Century Tragedy, Reverse The Sands, The Broken Result, Infanteria and White Collar Kiss, and has mastered for the Hammer The Masses compilations.
“With the record label, we wanted to start with a clean slate,” Louis explained, “with bands who show promise for longivity in the scene now already, and to grow our repertoire from there. That is why we waited until 2013, with Infanteria being ready to release their debut, and the others to follow suit with debuts in this year.” With bands such as Megalodon, Zombies Ate My Girlfriend and Infanteria already onboard, and each consisting largely of Cape Town scene veterans, I have every confidence that Louis & co’s vision stands on a strong foundation. With the crowds gathering for SummerFest’13 it was time to end the conversation and so I asked Louis for one final statement to sum up what this label was aiming to accomplish, and what it could offer the Cape Town or South African music scene.
“I believe that we should not try to duplicate a European or American label here in SA. We live in a unique scenario and need to create a unique label and operations; to build a model which can work here, and to not have the expectations associated with an overseas label. We have a vision to build up slow and strong, and are looking to work with bands who share the same mindset for longivity. We have a lot of exciting ideas in the pipeline. Watch this space!”
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