Interview with High Climbers

As a band they want to grow organically. They are not in a hurry. They want to build slowly as they feel this keeps their feet firmly on the ground.

Artists want to create music and promote it to as many people as they can, but there is the financial element that has to be embraced. To an extent money gets in the way of what artists enjoy the most, making music. These interviews are aimed at understanding how different artists approach this challenge.

Karim Bouthera and Mike Robertson formed an ambient folk band, High Climbers, in 2012 and are based in Bristol.

Currently unsigned, they have released an EP called ‘High Climbers’ and single ‘All Golden’ via Bandcamp.

We met Karim and Mike to understand more about the band, the challenges they face and what the future holds for them.


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Q: “The band have recently been highlighted as up and coming, I started the interview by asking them if they could provide a potted history of the band to date.”

Karim and Mike started by explaining that they have never seen themselves as a band but more about coming together to make music. Mike came to Bristol in 2011, where he met a French girl, but had to return to Australia. He came back soon after but the relationship fizzled out. However, her sister was in a relationship with Karim who came to the UK in 2012 and through that they formed this partnership. They describe it as a meeting of love and relationships.

Mike came to the partnership with his guitar but he had never written his own music. Karim spoke little English at the time but they were able to make music together. That was the birth of High Climbers.

Karim has been involved with music in France for 10 years and in 2012 released his own EP. High Climbers is about being open-minded in how they approach music and a collaboration between Mike and Karim.

They have played in different places around Bristol including the Golden Lion, Mr Wolfs, Lounge Room Gigs (playing for friends), Phoenix cafe, and more recently Dot to Dot Festival.

For both of them they are happy to focus on their music. At the moment with their own jobs this is all they have time for and they live and play within their means. For them it is about relationships and contacts and these tend to open up opportunities.

In general, they feel that a band’s path is already determined for them. They don’t want to focus on the business side. They don’t feel the money is a tasteful part of music. They feel that if they are good they will get noticed.

They are playing together and they are being noticed (if only slightly) without the funding and they are happy with the slow, organic growth of the band.

Q: “In my next question I asked the Karim and Mike to describe their experience of how the market for promoting music has evolved. In particular I was interested in how important distributors, streaming services and social media are in promoting their music.”

They have found social media is a great way to put their music out into the world. As they produce something they can post it to the online world.

As well as Twitter and Facebook, YouTube is a route where they can do live recordings and Bandcamp is used to showcase their music. People will find good music and they just want to be able to post it out to the market as they produce it.

Q: “I talked to Karim and Mike about how bands have become more creative in the production of records, using crowdfunding to fund the release of music. In particular I was interested in how they had approached the funding of their music and what the best sources of revenue are.”

They hadn’t really considered crowdfunding before, they do want to do a vinyl record and perhaps this is a route but vinyl records are expensive to produce. At the moment they have managed to keep costs very low. Much of the music is done at home and in a studio in Bristol. (The Studio is called Cellar Tapes in ‘The Island’, the story behind Cellar Tapes may be a subject for another interview! It is run by two guys called Ben and Dave, it is self-funded and was built using recycled materials and they hope to see it grow through communal use.)

They did produce a physical EP but the cost was minimal and they were able to hand it out for free at the Dot to Dot Festival in Bristol this year.

Touring is a way they could make money. They also know that they could promote themselves more (almost like a product) but they feel that in doing this they would be giving up what they love, making music. Both Karim and Mike know that they can make money from music but they just don’t like to think about it.

Q: “In this part of the interview I asked Karim and Mike how bands like High Climbers approach the funding and promotion of their music to a wider audience especially where there is not the luxury of a record label to take this on.”

Everything is organic, what they make from gigs covers travel costs and no more. They have had their music played on BCFM and BBC Introducing and they continue to make their music available via this route. Also having it available online for free is important to enable people to access their music.

Q: “More and more artists are only producing their music via downloads. I was interested to know what their view was on downloads vs physical.”

Certainly having songs as downloads is important to enable people to access their music for free, even the EP they produced as a physical copy was produced cheaply and given for free. They don’t necessarily have a view on this as long as they can make music.

Q: “I talked to Karim and Mike about getting music heard and the temptation (pressure) to focus on stand out tracks. I asked Karim and Matt whether they believe this pressure exists. I also asked whether it is becoming harder to create an album and if it is harder to create albums whether there is a danger that there could be a demise in album production.”

They explained that making an album is a long process. You have to dedicate time to it and it costs money. They feel that it is better to get their music out there as they produce it. If they have three or four songs that work together then why not put them out there.

This is an organic process, three or four songs can work together but not ten songs within an album.

We talked about the album vs single. They feel that singles are about discovery. It’s cheaper now to produce singles in your own home and get these out there. This way you can introduce your music into the market in a digestible way and build things over time.

Q: I asked Karim and Mike whether when artists sign to record labels there is a danger that they are pressurised into compromising artistic talent (i.e. artists are sometimes placed into a position where they write for sales / popularity) or can they keep their artistic talent intact.””

Mike and Karim explained that they have never been in this for the money. They feel that where money is involved then perhaps there is a pressure to change the way you do things. As artists you need to be free to do what you want to do without compromising your creativity.

We talked about whether they would consider signing to a label and they might if the right situation came about. They want to focus on making music and if someone came along that could help them with the promotion and funding of gigs then they could possibly be interested.

Q: “High Climbers have a growing (and loyal) fan base. I asked Karim and Mike how they had approached this.”

This isn’t something they worry about. They are putting their music out there and it doesn’t worry them. If the music is good then the fans will come. People in various parts of the world have shown an interest in their music, through online platforms and word of mouth.

 Q: “At the moment both Karim and Mike have full time jobs. I asked whether they would consider making this a full time career and what would be the trigger.”

The idea of seeing music as a business makes them feel uncomfortable. Both feel that money does change everything. As a band they want to grow organically. They are not in a hurry. They want to build slowly as they feel this keeps their feet firmly on the ground.

Q: “For those reading the interview who have not heard their music I asked them to describe their musical style, and which musicians influence them the most.”

There is no specific style. It is very dependent on how they feel but the background is folk / ambient music / dream pop (Beach House). Some of the music is slightly dark but it is also very simple. They know that the songs aren’t necessarily radio songs.

Influences are varied, it depends on what they listen to. Mike is influenced by folk (Nick Drake, Crosby, Stills, Nash etc) and Karim grunge / indie (Nirvana, Sonic Youth) through to Hip Hop and Electronic Music.

They feel this is important as it allows you to go anywhere with your music across boundaries! They want to try different things to reflect different moods.

Q: “In the penultimate question I wanted to understand what motivates them and where they would like to be in five years’ time.”

Organic growth is the key for Mike and Karim. In five years’ time they might be traveling more but the important thing for both of them is that they are still writing music, playing gigs and getting their music out into the market.

Q: “In my last question I asked Karim and Mike to describe their favourite venue and where they would like to play in the future.”

They like the idea of festivals. In Bristol they like the Cube but they would like to play in France. Karim talked about La Maroquinerie in Paris which is a small venue of about 500 people and about Nantes which is a great city for music. Another place they would like to play is the Trans Musicales in Rennes which is a musical festival held in December each year.

Mike talked about going to Australia as well, and both of them would like to play in Iceland where there is a vibrant music scene.

Interviewers comment

Bristol has a rich vein of music coming through. High Climbers are one of those bands. The band are happy with slow organic growth. For them it is about being able to play the music they like, there is no pressure for them to become commercially successful and they seem happy to see where the journey takes them.

We look forward to following them and seeing how they develop over the next few years.

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