About Us

NWN Productions LLC Biography

By J. Campbell

Revised March 2016

 I met YK in Richmond, VA during the fall of 1996. I recall he wore a Citizens Arrest t-shirt that day – the catalyst for our first conversation. Back then neither of us would have imagined that, almost 20 years later, YK would be commanding such a prolific and highly revered underground metal label.

 When he was younger, YK, who, during his adolescent years, lived just outside of Washington D.C. in the Northern Virginia area, listened mostly to Hardcore and Punk before graduating to Death and Thrash Metal after attending shows by local metal bands such as Deceased. By the time I met him, he was deeply immersed in underground metal. His obsession with the music exceeded that of anyone I have met before or since. It dominated his life to such an extent that, during a particularly brutal Richmond winter, he willingly chose to forego heating his apartment so that he could redirect his limited resources to buying LPs, CDs, and tapes.

 Given his age and minimal income back then, YK’s metal collection was vast, as was his general knowledge of and insight regarding Black and Death Metal. Having cut his teeth in the Hardcore scene, he was already familiar with the mechanics of underground distribution and a DIY approach to creating and releasing music.  He corresponded with numerous label owners, musicians, and collectors; acquired and avidly read obscure zines from around the world; and routinely placed orders from small distros via the mail. Looking back on it now, it’s obvious that incubating within YK’s fixation and obsession with metal was the urge to create something, to build something. He is, after all, from a highly artistic family going back several generations.

 About a year after I met him, YK moved to the Bay Area. We continued corresponding over the next year or two, first by handwritten letter and then by email. Living in the Bay Area, he had access to far more worldly record stores and every month or two YK would send me dubbed tapes containing new and progressively more obscure music that he discovered as he descended deeper into this world.  I moved to southern California in 1999, making it easier to communicate with and occasionally visit with YK.

 Sometime in 1999 or 2000, I lent YK a copy of Throbbing Gristle’s “Mission of Dead Souls” CD, a recording of the band’s final live performance, which took place in San Francisco in 1981. There is a photo in the booklet in which Genesis P-Orridge is wearing a shirt that reads, NUCLEAR WAR NOW. While I cannot recall what, if anything, YK said about the music, I remember that he called me to tell me that he decided to appropriate the phrase for use as the name of the record label he had been talking about starting for some time.       

 Over the next few years, as the internet became more accessible, YK began to trade more and formed alliances with other likeminded people throughout the international metal underground. One of those connections was Ryan Förster (Conqueror/Blasphemy/Domini Inferi). In 2001, Förster assumed second guitar responsibilities in Blasphemy and the band announced plans for a reunion in October.  Through his acquaintance with Förster, YK worked out arrangements with Blasphemy to permit him to attend and record the show and one of the band’s pre-show rehearsal sessions.

 The recordings YK made while in Vancouver would become the raw material for the “Friday the 13th: Live Ritual” LP – the first significant release for NWN!. At that time, few metal labels routinely released limited vinyl editions. The venerable German label Iron Pegasus became known for releasing colored vinyl versions of its releases with a sticker denoting these colored vinyl versions as “Die Hard” editions. YK, an admirer of Iron Pegasus’ work, co-opted the terminology, but took it one step forward with the inclusion of extra posters, extra music, patches, stickers, zines, etc. Influenced by the DIY aesthetics of the Hardcore scene he grew up immersed in, YK included with the Blasphemy “Live Ritual” Die Hard red vinyl, one of a number of different actual photo prints, limited edition inserts, and a CDR of the rehearsal. To cut down on the costs, YK did much of the copying for the early Die Hard editions (like the extra zine included with the Abigail Die Hard) at his office job early in the morning before any other employees arrived.

 The next few NWN! releases solidified the label’s presence in the underground and established long-standing bonds with some of the most prominent bands in the scene. Recognizing the bestial brilliance of the self-titled Morbosidad album and the woefully insufficient job that Quadrivium did with the original release, YK approached Tomas Stench about a proper vinyl reissue. (At that time, YK had no interest in CD releases even though CDs were still the dominant format. His motto, “Only Analog is Real,” would soon become axiom of the scene at large.) Stench agreed. YK created the layout for the release from scratch. While computer-based/Photoshop layouts featuring drop-shadow and other garish effects were becoming the norm, the layout for Morbosidad’s self-titled LP derived its power from the force of its simplicity and its adherence to tradition. The cover was actually derived from a small piece of border artwork taken from a flyer, enlarged using a copy machine, and touched up using a ballpoint pen and white out. Inspired by Sodom’s “In the Sign of Evil,” the back of the LP jacket demonstrated YK’s taste for sharp and austere design.

 In addition to the self-titled Morbosidad LP, 2002 saw the release of Abigail’s classic debut, “Intercourse and Lust,” Black Witchery’s masterpiece, “Desecration of the Holy Kingdom,” the “Chapel of the Winds of Belial” EP by Goatvomit, and the first official version of Von’s seminal demos, collected under the title “Satanic Blood Angel.” YK got permission to release the Von LP from Joe Trevisano who, since his days in Von, had remained in the metal scene. At the time, Trevisano was playing with Abscess. YK already knew Chris Reifert and Abscess and approached Trevisano about the Von LP who readily agreed.

 YK continued pouring all of his time, energy, and resources into the label, primarily focusing on putting out definitive versions of albums never before released on vinyl or reissuing records that, although influential, were too obscure to be acquired by any but the most dedicated of record collectors. As NWN!’s reputation grew, it began to also issue more new releases – many of which are new regarded as classics.  With releases by Procreation, Witches Hammer, Sarcofago, Impurity, Rites of Thy Degringolade, Toxic Holocaust, Sabbat, Doom Snake Cult, Asunder, Bone Awl, Ares Kingdom, Inquisition, and Revenge, the shadow cast by NWN! continued to expand through the mid 2000s.     

 Looking over the NWN! catalog, a few important traits become apparent. Visually, NWN! releases were striking in their simplicity, contrasting with the increasingly cluttered look of many releases of that time. YK also took pains to commission new artwork from various artists.  Most notably, YK sought out Chris Moyen who, although he was among the most stalwart metal illustrators of the 1990s, had largely retreated into obscurity by the time NWN! was beginning to take shape. YK initially contacted Moyen via written letter seeking permission to use some of his imagery. This initial contact evolved into a lasting relationship between Moyen and NWN! that reinforced each of their legacies. In addition to Moyen, YK commissioned artwork from Timo Ketola, Jef Whitehead, Paolo Girardi, and many other notable visual artists.  

 Another facet of NWN! that stands out is the fact that YK’s insistence upon maintaining the underground ethos of the label even as it has expanded. Central to the ethical foundation of the label has always been the act of trading. In the mid to late 2000s, as vinyl became more popular and postage more expensive, many labels began reducing the quantities they pressed, increasing their prices, and refusing to trade. This led to releases that overpriced and under-distributed. NWN! continued trading. Trading, according to YK, is the engine that drives the underground because it allows small labels and unknown bands to get their releases into bigger distros.

 Perhaps most importantly, YK has endeavored through the years to maintain a high degree of integrity in his relationships with the bands on the roster. Anyone who knows YK recognizes his indefatigable nature, his staunch work ethic, and the depth of dedication to his work. It should come as no surprise that, as a general rule, the most successful labels are run by individuals who are methodical, sober, pragmatic, and driven. The most interesting artists and bands, by contrast, are often guided by their reckless tendencies, operating at the precipice of destruction, inviting catastrophe. Although the relationship is fundamentally symbiotic, these conflicting impulses have historically produced tension between label owners and musicians. Through the years, YK has tried to avoid this by recognizing and respecting the destructive and creative impulses that give rise to the music made by the bands on the label. The bands, in turn, generally appreciate the dedication that YK exhibits toward the label and the music he releases.

 Recognizing the increased prominence of festivals due to the reduced economic feasibility of small tours, NWN! established a fest to showcase bands related to the label. The location of the fest, Berlin, was chosen for several reasons. First, the fest has always been run as a partnership between NWN! and Iron Bonehead Productions.  Second, metal has always been and still remains more popular in Europe than in the United States. Finally, Berlin’s centralized location made it easier for bands and fans to attend the festival with fewer complications. Through the years the fest continued to grow. Among the bands that have taken the stage there are NWN! veterans like Morbosidad, Abigail, Bone Awl, Ares Kingdom, Revenge, and Black Witchery as well as such luminaries as Blasphemy, Varathron, Nocturnus, Dead Congregation, Order From Chaos, Mystifier, and even the one and only performance ever by Conqueror. The decision to organize a fest around a particular label was bold and, at the time, risky; however, by establishing this fest, NWN! set a precedent that other labels have begun to adopt thereby paving the way for more label-oriented fests. 

 Fifteen years after the founding of NWN!, the label has grown beyond all expectations. Back in 2009, at the first NWN! fest, I recall becoming aware for the first time exactly how significant NWN! had become. Seeing hordes of maniacal fans from all over the world gathering at the altar of NWN! clarified the scope of the label’s influence. And yet, despite the massive increase in NWN!’s exposure, I also recognized that much about NWN! and YK remained unchanged. The fest was run with the same meticulous attention to detail as the label and, perhaps most importantly, YK was present for every band, not simply as a label owner and fest producer, but as a genuine fan of the music and the culture surrounding it. It is YK’s organic, deeply rooted obsession with metal that continues to propel the label forward while maintaining the integrity that has long defined NWN! Few labels, if any, have managed to attain and adhere to a precise balance between the business mechanics of label operation and retaining a high degree of quality control related to the music.

Never content with stasis, YK has set the sights for his label higher. Last year, he began a public campaign to gather the funds necessary to move the label into a warehouse, as opposed to his residence—the locus of the label since it began. Through a series of special releases, shows, massive record sales, and supportive public donations, YK obtained the resources he needed for this next phase in the label’s history.