How the alternative scene launched two mega-projects to gather funds to help Ukraine (interview with John Fryer and Bernard Van Isacker)
Two charity releases to help Ukraine have taken the Bandcamp charts by storm in the past few weeks. There is the Side-Line powered “Electronic Resistance” compilation (and book and T-shirt) featuring 55 Ukrainian bands, and there’s the COP International powered 3-track single “Come Together” featuring members of bands including Faith No More, Stabbing Westward, Rammstein, Black Needle Noise and others.
The two releases have three things in common, they come from the indie scene, they have been created and released in record time, and both people behind the release are actually longtime friends. We decided to talk with both initiative takers, our very own chief editor Bernard Van Isacker and producer and musician John Fryer who both invested their time in creating two extremely successful charity projects.
SL: John and Bernard, you were the very first people to launch a charity project in the metal/rock and darkwave scene to help the Ukrainian people and also the ones that made it a huge success. What was the decisive moment when you said, ok, let’s do this?
John: It was late one Sunday evening and I was talking to Christian from COP International records on the phone and as always we were discussing many thing that are happening to us and the world and we got talking about the invasion and all the people suffering the effects it was having on them. So we decided to do a song to raise money. We were like yeah let’s do a song get it recorded and out by Friday of that week.
We were totally nuts to think it could have been done in such a short time. It took as 3 weeks and working around the clock not just on the music side of things but calling, emailing and texting people to get them involved in the project.
Bernard: The moment I saw the first images of the bombing, the dead civilians, I was like, I have to do something, and I have to do it right now. It took roughly 2,5 weeks to get everything done as far as the compilation goes, because I’m still working on the photo book itself which is also going to be released.
I honestly never thought Putin would actually invade Ukraine… who on earth can be so sick? It came as a big blow in my face when I heard the news. I was like, WTF, we are in the year 2022 and some lunatic still thinks it is OK to just invade another country. Looking back, we should have known this was going to happen, all the signals were there for years, especially after he invaded the Crimean with his ‘green’ men. Putin has a track record which is just plain wrong in all its facets and that was just one of the examples that should have made us realize far worse was bound to happen. Add to that that Europe acts like a junkie when it comes to oil and gas…
SL: I know you know each other rather well, it’s like same minds think alike?
John: I have known Bernard for many a moon now and he has a big heart also. Even though we didn’t discuss this with each other we have both come to the same conclusion of what a terrible thing that is happening in Ukraine and want to help in some way.
Bernard: I appreciate John a lot as well and I know he has the heart at the right place. It didn’t surprise me that he ended up with a similar idea. I think we both are very much affected by what is happening so it came as a natural thing to help in the way we know best, John by making music, me by setting up a project and use the Side-Line promo machinery to turn the project into a success.
SL: Can you both describe how you set up your projects?
Bernard: Within 3 days most of the tracks were delivered by the participating bands, some even recorded new material during those 3 days. I then had to literally chase for the necessary paperwork, because the last thing these Ukrainian bands are busy with or need now is bureaucracy, which I totally understand, but it is and was a necessary evil which took me around 2 extra weeks. In the meantime I had contacted Erlend Eilertsen (Lights A.M, Essence Of Mind) in Norway if he could make sure the sound would be ok because some of the sourced material literally was recorded while the bombs were falling like I said. Other bands had nothing left but rough demos, so there was some work needed to get everything polished.
John: Christian and I had done a similar thing before but on a smaller scale. This time we wanted to reach a much bigger audience so we decided to reach for the stars. I’ve known some of the artists for a long time but we also got a lot of help from people we asked like Geno Lenardo, Marija Buljeta, Rod Saez Chavez who also joined in asking people to join our project and we thank them and everyone else who has helped along the way and the people who have donated money to the project.
Side-Line: Bernard, you decided to get to work with Ukrainian bands only. How on earth did you get hold of 55 bands in such a record time?
Bernard: Ah yes, I forgot to tell that. Very simple, I contacted a few bands in direct, but most were actually triggered by a Facebook message I spread in Ukraine. People there reacted very quickly from allover Ukraine, also fans contacted bands after seeing the message. That’s one of the few times when I thought that Facebook did a proper constructive job.
Side-Line: John, you chose to work on a cover of John Lennon’s “Come Together”…
John: John Lennon wrote “Come Together” and we re-imagined it and added Queens [we will rock you] . It is a cover of the Beatles song mixed with a Queen song and we changed the words to [we will stop you] . As in the name, we wanted people to come together to help. This kind of invasion should not be happening. It’s horrifying to think that things like this can still happen in this day and age.
Side-Line: John, you made a supergroup – à la Bruderschaft – but this time from the metal scene featuring members of Faith No More, Stabbing Westward, Rammstein, and a lot more bands. How did this process technically work?
John: I wouldn’t say Metal Scene I would say Alternative Music Scene.
Doing this kind of thing these days is much easier I would say as you have the internet and that’s how we got everyone from around the world on the track. We would email, text or call and if they were willing to be involved we would send them the track and they would record their parts as most people these days have the ability to record at home. I ended up with about 200 tracks of audio and it was like fitting a jigsaw puzzle together and everyone is super happy with the end result.
Bernard: Now that you mention Bruderschaft, I worked on that charity project when it was released on Alfa Matrix back in 2003. You know, working on projects like these makes you realize that you can indeed help people, you just have to use your talents and network. And if everyone would do this, the world would be a much better place anyhow.
Side-Line: If I’m not wrong, this is the first time that 2 band scene players, COP International and Side-Line took the number 2 and 3 spot at the same time on Bandcamp. Kinda huge. What is your feedback on this?
John:In fact “Come Together [we will stop you] reached number 1 on Bandcamp and we have raised around 10,000$ and the artists that are involved with us in this have donated 100% from the money raised but unfortunately Bandcamp have taken their % from the donated sales and we are probably going to have to pay the publishers too even though it’s a god damn charity record to raise money for those who are suffering from this horrific and despicable war.
Bernard: Bandcamp and Paypal indeed take a big chunk. Luckily Bandcamp Friday helped a lot to recoup some of the costs that were involved.
As of this morning, Side-Line has already donated over 8000 EURO (8674,96 US$) to Ukrainian aid. Our compilation is still doing very well and I foresee to be sending hundreds of parcels with merchandise by mid-May as well.
As far as Bandcamp goes, it does make sense that we both stormed the charts there. You don’t find an artist like Rihanna on Bandcamp do you, I think she doesn’t even know it exists. Bandcamp mainly is a platform for the indie crowd, whether it is darkwave, metal, folk, jazz, blues or any other alternative (sub)style that often is not captured by the mainstream charts. So, we charted right in the indie scene, and that’s a very good thing.
Side-Line: Bernard, Side-Line is not a label, but a magazine, why was this project not released via a label?
Bernard: Good question but very easy to answer as well. These kind of projects need a very short roadmap from idea to execution, and since I worked with 55 bands things needed to be done quickly. In short you can not wait for months to get the ball rolling with these kind of projects, you need to act fast and thus instead of having this project go through various hands with different views and ideas, I decided to do it myself and handle everything from A until Z. Luckily Benoit Blanchart (Alfa Matrix, Aiboforcen) quickly volunteered to work on the book layout when I told him about the idea late February this year. Lots of work, which basically happened during long nights after my daytime job and all other work I have. But since I’m also responsible for the ‘Face The Beat’ compilation series, compiling it was not really different as far as the approach goes, just a lot faster when it came to releasing it.
The major difference however was the multitude of charities that had to be funded this time. I usually donate towards 2 or 3 charities per release. But here I spent a whole morning wiring money to all kind of Ukrainian organizations and also to bands who then did local charity. Lots of work, but I guess it’s more than worth it.
Side-Line: How do you both see things evolve in Ukraine?
John: We are hoping this ends now and the killing must stop and Ukraine can be re-built and bring back the misplaced people to their land and rebuild their lives. It’s amazing to see the resolve of these people through this tragedy.
Bernard: I’m personally not really optimistic as far as the length of this full blown war goes. If I see the increasing aggressive tone from all parts in the Russian society – just look how they have set up this huge Z-propaganda – I don’t think this will be over pretty soon. Hence why we need to support the population right now and continue to do so. The country is under heavy shelling in the east since a few days now and there is more happening. Putin started to roll a snowball downhill that is increasing in velocity and size.
I would not be surprised they’ll do sabotage acts inside Finland and Sweden to disrupt the society there since those countries clearly will choose to adhere to the NATO. Railway sabotage, massive hacking of public service networks, etc., they have done it in the past in the Baltic states so I see them returning to that modus operandi with Finland and Sweden especially. This is just the beginning. And we haven’t talked about how China is behaving in all of this.
But, one thing is quite clear, Putin seriously miscalculated what a courageous people the Ukrainians are. And especially because of that we have to start thinking of how to help Ukrainians to rebuild their country after this mad war is over and done.
Side-Line: Bernard, you are still in contact with all the band’s on a weekly basis, how are they?
Bernard: At least once a week they receive an update on the compilation, and I usually get a lot of messages back from the bands telling me how they are, where they are, where they have fled to this week, etc.. I wouldn’t say it is depressing, but it’s not really uplifting either. Having said that, I’m here, safe in my attic, they are there, unsure what will come next. So who am I to complain? I’m proud of every single one of those bands.
Side-Line: Is this the final word or do you plan to continue with this?
Bernard: I don’t know for you John, but I will most probably work on another project in the near future to help and collect funds for Ukraine. The first plans are on the table as we speak. Honestly, I am very positively surprised how our scene has been showing that they really care for the idea and purpose behind these 2 releases. A BIG thank you to all those who donated and who made these projects big successes.
John: We hope the song will continue to keep raising money. So if you have read this and want a way to help please head over to Bandcamp and buy the songs as every little bit will help in the long run. A big thank you again for everyone involved and those who have donated and to those who be donating in the future.
Below are the two charity releases.
Since you’re here … … we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading Side-Line Magazine than ever but advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. And unlike many news organisations, we haven’t put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as open as we can. So you can see why we need to ask for your help. Side-Line’s independent journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we want to push the artists we like and who are equally fighting to survive. If everyone who reads our reporting, who likes it, helps fund it, our future would be much more secure. For as little as 5 US$, you can support Side-Line Magazine – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. The donations are safely powered by Paypal.