My man Nikolay is a brain and muscle behind Ugly & Proud Recs, a young hardcore label based in Sofia, Bulgaria that has been putting out some quality records in recent years. Roster includes bands like Blade, Lose The Life, Can't Relate, Raw Justice, Die Young and much more. As you can see, 100% legit stuff that everyone into hard and uncompromising hardcore could appreciate. This type of entrepreneurship will always get respect and support on this blog, so I thought it would be cool to ask Nikolay couple of questions about the label - how it got started, how it works, and what is the biggest headache. I hope seing the insights behind what it means to run a DIY hardcore label is something you'll find interesting.
My man Nikolay is a brain and muscle behind Ugly & Proud Recs, a young hardcore label based in Sofia, Bulgaria that has been putting out some quality records in recent years. Roster includes bands like Blade, Lose The Life, Can't Relate, Raw Justice, Die Young and much more. As you can see, 100% legit stuff that everyone into hard and uncompromising hardcore could appreciate. This type of entrepreneurship will always get respect and support on this blog, so I thought it would be cool to ask Nikolay couple of questions about the label - how it got started, how it works, and what is the biggest headache. I hope seing the insights behind what it means to run a DIY hardcore label is something you'll find interesting.Can you give us a short introduction and history of Ugly & Proud Records? What was the main motivation to start releasing records?
Hi, I’m Nikolay (aka ugly Niki) and I run alone Ugly and Proud Records based in Sofia, Bulgaria. A few good friends help me with graphic designs, ads and ideas about marketing etc. I started the label in 2007 when I was living in France. It was supposed to be something run by a group of people but very shortly I understood no one else wants to get really involved. So I continued alone. I started a small distro until I found a band to release. My first two releases were actually co-releases between at least 3 or 4 records. It was easy as I didn’t have any responsibilities beside the promotion of the record/band. The 3rd one was also a CD and it was my first solo release. Erik (who later joined Stay Hungry on guitar) contacted me and offered me to release the debut record of Sweden’s hardcore band Lions Den. This is how my connection with the country started. We chatted a lot on MSN (didn’t have facebook at the time…) and the result of our discussions saw the light of day in October of 2008. I quit France a few weeks later and started to rebuild the distro in Sofia, Bulgaria. Quickly thereafter I started to release vinyl and ever since only the Last Hope DVD + CD is on a different medium than vinyl. I’m pretty happy because I’ve already released the 3 most common vinyl formats: 7”, 10” and LP.
The main motivation to start releasing records was my passion for hardcore! I’ve always felt like I could do something for the scene, be active and participate. As I was no good playing guitar and can’t find people to start a band with, I decided to try running a label/distro. The initial idea was to have a distro at local shows, promote new bands and talk with people. It turned out I was being too idealistic… Now I almost never take the distro to shows as people don’t seem to care that much about records. My passion is still present and I can’t imagine myself getting excited as much as when listening to a good hardcore record!
How frustrating is doing a label? What was the biggest challenge that you ran into when putting your releases out?
It can be very frustrating at times – when you have the impression no one gives a fuck about your work/passion because people seem to care only about the bigger labels/bands. I happen to lose motivation but that usually doesn’t last long as there is always someone who’ll give me positive feedback. And remind me why I love releasing records. The biggest challenge is to find the motivation to start from zero every time and wonder if people will dig the new release and if it’s worth the time/energy spent… And it’s always worth it!!! The other challenge is to find the necessary money to put new records out on the label. I’m doing lots of trades and can’t really sell lots of the records I get from other labels because the kids here are not really into the bands I distribute… I’m not saying I distribute bad bands, on the contrary! For the distro I try to get records I’d like to buy for myself. If I like them – I’ll distribute them!
And how is doing this rewarding? Did you make a pile of money from the label already? Your favorite release thus far?
I’m not making anything from the label. It’s still an expensive hobby for me and it costs me around 500 to 1000 Euros per year, depending on the releases (number of copies, format etc.) I’m doing during the year.
I really love doing the label, answering emails, talking with bands about possible releases and getting excited about it, getting feedback from people who bought records from me, trade with fellow label owners. I’ve met so many amazing people through hardcore and I’m glad some of them are good friends today!!!
Every new release is my favorite! Right now it is the Youth Crew comp 7”, when Die Young is ready it will be their EP, if U&P 016 happens it will be my favorite release! I still stand behind all my releases and am happy I’ve done because at the time of the release they seemed like a good idea. And one should try, fall, get up and continue so I try to learn from my mistakes (I’ve done a few of course).
How do you choose what bands to release? Is it more about the musical style, message, or just clicking with dudes in the band?
There are two different ways:
The band contacts me and provides a link to their music. Ex. Golden Violence, Lions Den, Blade if I’m not mistaken…
I find a band that blows my mind and contact them immediately. Ex. Truth Inside, Lose The Life…
Then it’s the same story: we talk/exchange about the record that will be released, about the artwork etc. I also like to click with the dudes or at least with the one(s) who handle(s) the communication with me. I’ve also worked with friends (Allocation, Last Hope, Spiknykter…) and that’s also cool with me. The message is more important than the music style. If you check my releases you’ll see there are bands ranging from youth crew to clevo hardcore to edge metal. I’d even work with a punk band if one blows my mind. I don’t want to confine myself in some imaginary borders.
Being from Bulgaria, is it hard to work with bands from places like Australia or Sweden?
Hardcore without borders! I’ve never had any troubles working with bands from distant countries. I’ve worked with only one local band and it was not that different than working with bands from Sweden or Belgium. I don’t know the Can’t Relate guys, I did a trade with Toni from Positive & Focused Records and told him I’d be interested to collaborate with him in the future. Then he proposed me to co-release the Can’t Relate demo on 7” and I accepted. He talked with the band, he pressed the records, he’s a really cool dude! I love Sweden, man, and I’d really love to visit my friends there rather sooner than later!!! It all started with Lions Den and continued with Lose The Life and Spiknykter (who share members). It was very easy, internet helps a lot! The second I heard that Lose The Life demo I knew I wanted to release something from them so I contacted them and we started talking and exchanging ideas. The result is a beautiful LP that helped me pass through some very hard times in my life. I don’t have trouble working with bands from faraway countries, I love it!
How do you feel DIY spirit influenced the way you run the label?
I run the label by myself. I always try to be as kind and fast as possible in replying to emails and keeping people informed about their orders. I’m doing whatever feels right to me and the way I feel it should be done. A few friends of mine help me with the graphic side of things (logos, ads, stickers, covers and inserts for the releases) because I’m really not good with Photoshop. Otherwise it’s a one man operation – I assemble the records, I pack the orders, I go to the post office, I communicate with bands and regular folks writing me. I’m really happy when I receive feedback from people who’ve ordered a record from me or I’ve traded records with. So feel free to write me every time you feel like it!
Tell us something about the upcoming Die Young record.
Die Young, man! They are one of my favorite bands and I was really excited when I saw the news about their coming back. One evening I was home in front of my laptop when I saw one more post from them about recording new songs and decided to try my luck and send them a message. I emailed them and offered to release the new record in Europe. It was the right moment for both parties as they were thinking about a Euro release and were glad I had contacted them. So Daniel was kind enough to accept my offer and we started working together. He’s coordinating most of the work and the labels are taking care of their different versions/pressings.
I was supposed to make an alternative cover for the U&P version but at the end we decided to have the same cover for all versions. I’m really happy about the lyric sheet (printed on the inside of the cover) as I’m the person you can see on it! I’m releasing one of my favorite bands and on top of that I’m on the cover of the EP! Can’t get any better!!!
What are your plans for the rest of 2014?
Right now I’d like to sell the remaining records in the distro and if I ever feel the need to do this again I’ll start from scratch in the future. I’ll do my best to promote and advertise the new Die Young EP. My other releases are almost sold out so don’t wait too long before you order one if you like the bands. I’m also waiting for an answer from one of my favorite bands and if they are ok with my proposal I’ll have another release this year. If not, I’ll just focus on the Die Young EP and the distro sale + I’d love to go to Fluff fest in July and spend 3 days with good friends from all over Europe/the world! I’d love to travel some more, maybe go to a club show or two abroad and of course do as much mountain treks as possible!
You can find Ugly and Proud Recs at: