Francesco Reffo

FOCUS // SARGENT HOUSE’S MARIKA ZORZI ON AUTHENTICITY, LIVE SHOWS, AND HOW TO SURVIVE 2020

Marika Zorzi is one of the underground’s most prolific journalists, with editing credits at New Noise Magazine, CVLT, Gazette Musicale, and Evil Greed to name a few. But this year, Zorzi added another milestone to her career and took a management position at one of rock music’s most important surviving record labels.

Sargent House is home to some of math rock’s most glorious acts, from TTNG to And So I Watch You From Afar. What might surprise some is that it doubles as the birthplace to a host of objective heavyweights like Deafheaven, Boris, and Emma Ruth Rundle. Although none of those bands share much by way of particular genre, they do share a certain intensity, and Marika’s background in discerning these kinds of things should leave little doubt that she’s the perfect compliment to Sargent House and it’s crew.

In a year that truly challenged music in every way it could, it was an honor and to cap it off with a personal hero to discuss label life, playlists, and the state of humanity in 2020.

FB: In February, it was officially announced that you would be running Sargent House EU, the European branch of a label that helped launch a number of math rock’s biggest acts. When did you first become aware of them?

Marika: Cathy has always been a huge inspiration to me. When she started Sargent House in 2006, there weren’t so many women who were running a record label. She was able to change the history of underground music with her vision. The way she’s not only releasing records but managing, supporting and giving advice to her bands is something unique. Sargent House is a real family where collaboration is not just a word but a fact. Everyone knows each other and share the same love and respect for art and music.

I’ve always been a big fan of the label and when Cathy told me she was interested in giving me the opportunity to collaborate with her and built a strong community around the label here in Berlin she made me feel instantly part of that family. I’m so proud to collaborate with a label that doesn’t see artists and bands as products, but wants to empower them and give them all the tools so they can reach more and more people with their music and live from it.

FB: What are/were some Sargent House bands that stood out to you before you started working with them?

Marika: The first Sargent House record that I bought was Pain is Beauty by Chelsea Wolfe. I remember when I listened to the song “The Waves Have Come” for the first time it brought
me to tears. To me Pain is Beauty is the perfect album. I think this record was the turning point for Chelsea, for Sargent House to enter a new chapter and also for me, because it focused my attention on the label and introduced me to some of what would become my favorite artists and bands.

FB: You’re also an avid writer and journalist with tons of published content in publications
like New Noise, Cvlt Nation, Gazette Musicale and Evil Greed. When you’re getting
ideas or inspiration, do you know right away which publication you’re writing for?

Marika: I’ve always knew I wanted to be a journalist. After my master’s degree I started writing for local newspapers about homicides, car accidents, robberies, it was hard. I was sad and
underpaid so one day I decided I didn’t want to live a miserable life, but do what I really like,
writing about music. I started collaborating with CVLT Nation in 2016 and thanks to Meghan
and Sean I had the chance to meet a lot of bands. CVLT Nation is a magazine without
limitations to creativity that’s why I always choose to write about weird and experimental
music and art projects.

New Noise Magazine is more focused on music and interviews, especially the print issue. I love writing for NNM because I can support bands who deserve more space especially on published publications. Gazette Musicale, on the other hand, is what I like to call “a magazine on the art of underground music”. AF. Cortes and I, as editors, are trying to talk about music in a more artistic and special way with detailed photos and long essays. Evil Greed is completely different because I write for socials, from tiny daily reviews of records to more specific long contents as the series ‘This is Us’. I take care of all the marketing aspects and I also do video interviews, it’s fun.

FB: Earlier this year you put together a fantastic ‘Comfort Music’ playlist for New Noise, a three-hour “virtual hug” to loved ones and important memories. Was the curation for that an emotional process? How did you feel at the end of it?

Marika: Human beings are not meant to be alone. We need to socialize, build relationships, and share our experiences with others. Covid-19 took all of that away from us. I live by my own in Berlin, my family is based in Northeast Italy, where I come from. It usually takes me two hours to visit them with a very cheap flight. When the lockdown started, I was alone in my flat without the chance to see my parents or any friend. During those four months I was dreaming to hug someone, and I thought about other people in the same situation. That ‘Comfort Music’ playlist includes some of my all-time favorite songs. They always give me calm and make me feel good even if they’re extremely sad. When I listen to those songs I feel like home, I know every single word and note. It was something I wanted to share with others because I truly believe music can heal loneliness, and that playlist was my tiny contribution.

FB: When/How did you start working on what would become your first children’s book, ‘Lo Scankranio Portaguai?’ Were there any writers inspiring you at the time?

Marika: Between 2011 and 2015 I used to take a train every morning at 6.30AM to go to work. That train usually took one hour to reach the final destination. I had this concept in mind for a long time about someone very creative who wasn’t able to draw. One morning I opened my laptop and I started writing Bru Pins’ story. I did it every morning for 3 years until ‘Lo Scankranio Portaguai’ was done.

There’s a lot about me and my life in that book. Every character, place, name has a specific reference. For example, in the story there’s a tiny pig that I called Napoleon like the main antagonist of George Orwell’s 1945 novel Animal Farm. It’s my tribute to my favorite writer. Orwell has always been a huge inspiration. I’ve an old copy of 1984 and it’s the most ruined book I own. I read it once a year and every time I finish it, I’m so pissed that I throw it away. Orwell always manages to make me feel strong emotions, whether they are bad or good. I hope I can do the same with my readers.

FB: Whether it’s music or storytelling, it helps to identify personally with the things we write about. Do you find that you and the book’s main character Bru Pins have much in common?

Marika: When I write a story, I always identify myself with the main character. They are the representation of my principles, hopes and how I felt when I wrote their story. Bru Pins is all of that. She’s determined, smart, but also insecure. Through her decisions and her story, I wanted to say to everyone to believe in themselves. We live in a world where social pressure and the determination of our worth as individuals crush our dreams. Bru Pins teaches us that believing in ourselves can make everything possible.

FB: Some bands are so technical or progressive they can’t help but end up generalized as math rock regardless of their intent. Are there any bands on Sargent House you were surprised to find filed under math rock?

Marika: The Armed. Their sound is so extreme and experimental that is difficult to label them under any genre. Every song is like they’re about to burst or implode, but they never lose their course. They play raw-voiced music that mixes hardcore dynamics, experimental electronics, and a unique sense of melody. Amazing band. I listen to Only Love once a week. It’s hard to find a group with the same energy as The Armed.

FB: In the early months of COVID-19, you released a helpful Instagram video on how to convert long-sleeved band shirts into sleek and stylish face shields. I still use it to this day – did you ever predict we would be wearing our masks so long?

Marika: When I did that video, masks were sold-out everywhere and I needed one. When I was younger, I always went to demonstrations against all kinds of inequality, and they taught us to cover our faces with hoodies and long sleeves against tear gas. I thought it was helpful to give people a different option to protect themselves and others with something we all have in our closet. I made that video in March and seven months later COVID-19 is not over, I was aware it was going to be a long process, even if masks are now available everywhere. Please, wear one.

FB: You obviously have a healthy love for music but also one for travel; would you rather
book a festival of all your favorite bands or a tour of all your favorite countries?

Marika: What about all my favorite bands touring together in all of my favorite countries? That would be amazing! When I hike in the mountains, I always image some bands playing in front of these breathtaking landscapes. I was working on a new project to give the chance to people to experience music in nature for free without ruining the surrounding environment. It’s an idea that combine two things that I love, music and hiking. Hope to make it real when it’s safe to gather together again.

FB: The ‘Anarcho-Punk’ playlist you made with Branca Studio touches on a host of relevant social issues like racism, fascism, animal rights, and gender-equality. When you listen to music do you tune into the lyrics more, or the feel of the instrumentation? Does it depend on the genre? Are there any bands (from any time or place) that you think do a good job of both?

Marika: I’ve always been focused on the meaning behind a song or an album, to me music has to say something. Lyrics are extremely important but sometimes instrumental bands have the same power to communicate strong messages. Music has to be honest; you can feel it even if there’re no lyrics in it.

The Anarcho-punk bands in that playlist I made for my friends of Branca Studio are upfront, very political but there’re so many other bands and artists who are able to channel different concepts and emotions. I’ve a simple rule to understand if a song is authentic or not: Every time I listen to it, it needs to give me goosebumps, it needs to stop me from what I’m doing just for a fraction of second, it needs to wake me up.

FB: Have you been able to attend any of the socially distanced concerts happening in your area? Would you want to?

Marika: In Berlin there’re no shows, not even small ones. It’s crazy because I moved to this city because of that. I used to go to shows two, three days a week and now there’s this big, sad, empty hole in my life. I work with music and I what I love the most about my job is meeting people, listening to the new albums played live and talking with bands and artists. The underground music scene is my family, I know so many great people and it hurts me not to be able to spend time with them. I really hope people can understand what we’re missing and continue to wear masks and be respectful to others. Fighting this virus is our moral responsibility.

FB: I had a dream we were at a a Slow Crush concert, but moshing in anti-gravity boots while flying all around the place. While that situation sounds a little extreme, do you think technology could improve the concert going experience in the future?

Marika: I can’t image shows in a different way than I’ve always experienced them. What makes every show magical is the energy that only the people together in the same room can create. It’s sharing the same love and passion, it’s hugging each other, singing, sweating, jumping and moshing together, it’s showing the band our appreciation. It’s hard to me to image a show without the warm feeling of being all together as part of something unique and there’s no technology able to replace that.

FB: In a year full of surprises, what would you say has been the biggest challenge of 2020?

Marika: The biggest challenge of 2020 has been not to forget to be human. In a year where the world is at a serious turning point, where a deadly virus is killing millions of people, where hate and selfishness are everyday around us, we need to fight against all this darkness and the only way is to be respectful, supportive and to give love to others in our own way. Being a human is the hardest thing to be in 2020. We can’t ignore the responsibilities we have to others, to ourselves and to our planet that’s dying everyday because of us.