Independence and a good work ethic. These are the principles that have defined former journalist Martin Kvam’s career heading up Karisma Records, one of Norway’s most strident and forward-thinking record labels.
These are ideologies that he asks not only from himself, but also from the bands he works with. “I like to work with musicians who know what they want and have a clear vision of their art,” he tells Prog down the line from his Bergen base. “We never get into the production side of things – the bands do that. We never interfere with the songwriting or anything like that.” It’s a doctrine that has served him well. Since he joined Karisma with his other, more extreme record label Dark Essence in 2004, Kvam has worked tirelessly to give eclectic music a platform in Norway for the benefit of fans around the world. Having worked as a metal journalist, the jump to working for a label was not a big one. “I was always frustrated with some of the great bands that I discovered never got a deal and didn’t get any albums out. So I thought, maybe I can do something about that.” Karisma and Dark Essence have rosters that are brimming with dramatically left-field artists, from the proggy jazz fusion of Norway’s Seven Impale to black metal stalwarts Shining and Taake. Kvam’s own musical taste is broad, as can be expected from the nature of bands he signs, and his “all-time favourite” is King Crimson: “Somebody played me 21st Century Schizoid Man and I was sold.” As well as the labels, Kvam also works with a Bergen-based music organisation that helps managers and artists on the west coast of Norway, in addition to having an integral role with Beyond The Gates festival. Kvam chuckles at the concept of downtime, which is split between constantly searching for new music and looking after his three children. It’s clear that exciting and strange music is a full-time concern for Kvam, but not one without its benefits:“A lot of the bands are good friends of ours. We can hang out and have a beer in the pub.” Check out karismarecords.no for more info.