Uncompromisingly visceral in its uniquely transcendent vision, Cloister Recordings has quickly cemented itself as a stalwart in the underground, multi-genred musical landscape in the span of 4 short, busy years. Acts as diverse as Trepaneringsritualen, Amalthea, Hell, Korouva, Grok, Den Arkaiska Rösten and now Leila Abdul-Rauf (solo work from the current member of Bay Area death purveyors Vastum) have all graced the label’s deceptively immersive catalogue. Not only are the label’s self-designed niche and aesthetics impressive, but also the man and the story behind the label are remarkable in their own rights. CVLT Nation had a conversation with label head Marcus LaBonte about the label’s history, motives, goals and its singular striving for meaning in a post-meaning world. The conversation has been rendered into narrative form rather than standard interview form. Enjoy and snatch up Cloister’s upcoming batch of releases and limited t-shirt before they’re all gone.
Marcus LaBonte took up the helm of Cloister Recordings in 2014 following the unexpected death of its original founder, Justin Rodriguez, in 2012. The two initially met working at a local record store in Tempe, AZ, and quickly bonded through long conversations at the trade desk. Justin would come to see LaBonte to seek out his advice and musical suggestions in a brotherly capacity. Their relationship blossomed and ultimately led to Rodriguez turning the tables on LaBonte and introducing him to music he had never experienced. In the same period of time, Rodriguez founded Cloister Recordings. After only one release, Rodriguez’s untimely death occurred. LaBonte was understandably decimated by the news. Rodriguez’s passing away and was a catalyst for seismic change in LaBonte’s life and the springboard for the future of the label.
In attempts to keep Rodriguez’s legacy alive, LaBonte committed to carrying on the helm of Cloister Recordings. At the time, LaBonte had been experiencing severe bouts of depression. He was raised in AZ and found himself mired in drugs and alcohol possibly due to the perception that he had accomplished everything he could or wanted to in the stark, suffocating environs of Phoenix, AZ and its sprawling symbiotic suburbs. Known amongst his peers and others raised in the same post-Reagan, red state, and 80’s and 90’s era AZ, Phoenix’s suicide rate and percentage of youth addicts spiked dramatically. With dead ends abound and bridges quickly decaying around him, LaBonte summarily gave up alcohol and drugs in lieu of a sober lifestyle in 2009. Unfortunately, depression and hopelessness took their place.
He states that in 2010 he hit a turning point in the form of the Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words release No Words. The release resonated deeply with him during the most severe wave of depression he had felt up to that point and served as a coping mechanism assisting in weathering the waves of symptomatic grief. Little did he know that this release’s individual importance would come full circle in his life as he was honored to give it its only vinyl release on Valentine’s Day, 2016. With a sober mind and intent to change the patterns in his life, LaBonte began reaching out to others for guidance and possible mentorships.
He credits Thomas Ekelund from Trepaneringsritualen and the label Beläten, Adam Torruella from Pesanta Urfolk (his first release was in conjunction with Pesanta Urfolk), James Livingston from Black Horizons, Mateo Garcia of GreySun Records, Jason Mantis of Malignant Records and James Fella from Gilgongo Records as mentoring him through the tough process of redirecting negative energy and emotions into positive manifestations. He subsequently resurrected the label with Rodriguez’s open-minded and subversive mentality strongly entrenched. LaBonte went on to release Trepaneringsritualen & Sutekh Hexen – One Hundred Year Storm and his relationship with Thomas burgeoned into a full on collaboration between labels. But, it was clear to him that in order to focus on his own self-betterment and create some modicum of productivity, then a physical move needed to be made to facilitate a comprehensive lifestyle change as well. With that said and with those motives in mind, LaBonte released 6 tapes in Rodriguez’s stead while still in AZ while planning to relocate to Denver, CO.
LaBonte made it out to Denver in 2015 and harnessed the momentum of the past year. He began releasing music from artists that Thomas had introduced him to providing them with US exposure hitherto unseen. Resultantly, LaBonte ingratiated himself to a sprawling European electronic, post-industrial, experimental scene unlike anywhere else in the world.
Cloister had found its calling, and had begun the process of etching out its distinctive legacy. According to LaBonte, the label was not conceived with any set goal in mind; rather, it was a conduit for the energy replete in the void and hopelessness he felt. He credits sobriety as the lens through which the world revealed itself to him for what it truly was and shattered any remnant of faith he possessed in humanity. When Rodriguez passed suddenly, LaBonte effectively channeled Rodriguez’s energy and, thus, the malleable void began to lose its voluminous grasp upon him.
Now, in 2018, after 30 releases, Cloister has a batch of 5 new offerings that merit attention, along with a limited edition shirt design that will see all of its proceeds go to benefit the family of recently, and suddenly deceased Caleb Scofield (of Cave-in, Old Man Gloom and Zozobra fame). Cloister is only making as many shirts that are ordered by the official release date of the new batch May 11th, 2018. The new batch consists of 1 LP and 4 cassettes, Leila Abdul-Rauf – Diminution LP, Stromstad – New Devoted Human cassette, Anima Nostra – Atraments cassette, Theologian & The Vomit Arsonist – The Icy Bleakness of Things cassette, and It Only Gets Worse – Fireplace Road cassette.
LaBonte shared the subsequent story regarding the first release back following Rodriguez’s passing that has become something of a legend, in certain circles, in the years since its inception.
Leading up to when Cloister released the aforementioned Trepaneringsritualen & Sutekh Hexen – One Hundred Year Storm in 2014, LaBonte joined the two groups at an outdoor music festival in the high Sierras, in the heart of Tahoe National Forest’s Desolation Wilderness in 2013. As time slots were continually pushed back, both groups ended up performing well past 3 AM. Trepaneringsritualen started the set; Sutekh Hexen joined him for the collaborative pieces and then finished the performance on their own. In his own words, LaBonte indicated that the set was:
The darkest shit I’ve ever witnessed. It brought flashbacks of heroin benders and definitely transcended a live performance and entered the realm of somewhere dark and intangible. Once the band stopped playing, a massive storm hits the fucking mountain. The countryside became a pouring river, flooding the valleys and forcing us to evacuate the mountain entirely. According to locals there hadn’t been a storm of that magnitude since 1916! That’s why we titled the album One Hundred Year Storm.
As rumors go, the band had conjured something in their set that purportedly brought the storm upon the unwitting festivalgoers and inhabitants of the remote mountainside. I asked LaBonte if he thought this was true, to which he responded, “maybe inadvertently, maybe not.” That phrase seems to sum up the inception of this version of Cloister and its indelible cultural significance. The label didn’t start out with that intent, but inadvertently has found itself in that role.
Photo cred for feature image: Alvino Salcedo