1987 - 1992
NUCLEAR BLAST’s story actually begins well before 1987. Markus Staiger, born and brought up in Donzdorf, received his first cassette player when he was eight and it was while he was recording hits from MIKE OLDFIELD, DAVID DUNDAS and the BAY CITY ROLLERS from the radio that he discovered the fascination of music. His interest in music gradually intensified and finally when he was eleven he used his pocket money to buy his very first single I Was Made For Loving You by KISS, rapidly followed by a GARY NUMAN and a BEATLES record.
It wasn’t long after the 13 year-old Markus attended his first live concert, the SCORPIONS in Göppingen, that his taste became more specific. Markus Staiger’s interest for punk and hardcore was awakened, finally moving him to set up his own small fanzine which he named »Graffiti«. It had a print run of 500 copies and existed for five full editions. At the end, Markus had gained considerable know-how about the US punk and hardcore scene and had intensified his dream of one day being able to travel to America and make closer contact with his favorite music into a burning ambition.
In the historic year of 1987 the young man, who was then serving alternative military service, fulfils his dream, flies to the United States and returns to Donzdorf determined to set up his own record label. “Prior to this, I had run a small mail order company called ‘Misthaufen Distribution’ at first and later ‘Core ‘,” says Markus, looking back to when it all began. “Once I got back from the States, I created the label to go with it.” In tune with BLAST, his favorite band at that time which he had even been able to see live in the USA, Markus decides to christen his newly born company BLAST, but because the name seemed to be a bit too plain, he simply put a NUCLEAR in front, giving it the name NUCLEAR BLAST, which has become a well-known label all over the world!
In its first year, the first records with the catalogue numbers of NB001, NB002 and NB003 were released “NB001 was a US compilation entitled Senseless Death on which bands such as ATTITUDE and DEHUMANIZERS were represented,“ Markus remembers clearly. “NB002 was the CONDEMNED album Humanoid or Biomechanoid, and hiding behind the number NB003 was a real hit, the debut album from IMPULSE MANSLAUGHTER from Chicago. I met the guys during my trips to the US and they had told me that they were looking for a label in Europe. They made pretty heavy hardcore complete with screaming.“
But setting up NUCLEAR BLAST wasn’t a pure adventure for Markus. From the very beginning he had wondered how he would proceed with the label and what his short-term plans for the future were. “It was my aim to build up the whole thing during my time doing alternative military service so that at the end I would be able to risk carrying on the label full-time,“ is how the founder of the record company puts it. Naturally, there was no real guarantee of success. “All the money that came in during my service was immediately spent on buying new records and mail order. Nor was there much to be earned on the first releases. About 1000 of each release were sold and the profit made went towards finding new bands and paying their advances. OK, so it was only in the region of 300 to 500 Mark (DM), [which was Germany’s currency at the time], but because the sales weren’t particularly high at that time there was nothing left. It was the pure desire to bring out and distribute the music that I so loved.“
While most of Markus`s friends used their first paychecks on enjoyment and buying themselves things like designer trainer shoes, the new NUCLEAR BLAST founder ploughed all his money back into his firm. Markus tried to use every remaining cent for the purchase of new records for the mail order. It was his aim to offer as rich a selection as possible and to have and know all the discs on the market. “Even though there were considerably fewer releases than there are today, it was unbelievably difficult to keep up and not miss any good bands,“ Markus stated. It never occurred to him that his well-targeted and enthusiastic behavior would little by little build up a small empire. Nor that he would one day make his record label the biggest indie company in Europe, not even in his wildest dreams. “I have always just worked and given my best,“ he says, almost as though it were the easiest and most natural thing in the world. “I never noticed how it looked to those people standing on the outside.“
Markus Staiger worked hard for his dream. He always did everything entirely by himself, often sitting late nights at his desk, showing up late to gatherings with friends or even missing them altogether. “Working procedures were much more complicated then than they are now,“ he grins. “I had to write invoices by hand, pack records, write lists on the typewriter and correct my mistakes with Tipp-Ex. I was forced to write letters ‘cause I didn’t even have a fax in the beginning!“
Markus Staiger had always been meticulous and cared for details if something was important to him. Since that famous Christmas where he received his first cassette player from his parents, music had been much more than just a pleasant background noise. Even then, he regularly wrote the current Top 10 into his diary without being aware that he was, in a playful way, preparing for his later profession. “Only recently, I leafed through an old diary and discovered that I always listened to “Pop nach 8,“ Markus laughs today.
Following the release of several records in the hardcore and punk sector, Markus finally, at the end of the 80’s, comes across a grindcore band from Las Vegas with the promising name of RIGHTEOUS PIGS. The current distributor shrugs his shoulders when it comes to advance bookings, he thinks the subject is a tad too exotic.
But Markus makes the right decision: with the releases of ATROCITY, MASTER and INCUBUS, each of them selling more than 30,000 copies, NUCLEAR BLAST manages the breakthrough in 1990. With these releases, the company name strides through the global press for the first time and customer interest in products from the Death Metal sector gradually increases. Further releases such as PUNGENT STENCH, DISHARMONIC ORCHESTRA and BENEDICTION represented the spirit of the times.
The mail-order also starts running better. Markus Staiger no longer manages the whole thing single-handedly but has two full-time employees as well as a few temporary workers. “The trouble was, this all took place in my parents’ house and my mother wasn’t one bit amused,“ is how the Donzdorfer describes the situation at that time. “There were awesome-looking bands always coming and going in the house and there were cartons stacked all over the place. Upstairs, you couldn’t even go to the toilet without having to climb over some parcel or another.“
As amusing as it sounds now, it wasn’t so funny for Markus at the time. The bank didn’t want to loan him any money as a young entrepreneur, certainly not when he was concentrating on Heavy Metal, and because NUCLEAR BLAST at the beginning hardly threw off a profit. Markus had to manage on a very tight budget. “Often the account was so empty that I had to work day and night through the weekend, too. NUCLEAR BLAST was simply my one and all, even if I didn’t earn anything at the beginning. Of course, there were moments when I felt desperate.“
In Donzdorf itself, Markus Staiger was considered a true eccentric. There was not one person in the small village at the foot of the Swabial plateau who imagined that he would achieve anything with the weird plans he had. Even today , according to Markus, there are one or two who wonder how the firm, which has in the meantime more than 70 employees, can do so well.
The road there was a long and rocky one. “I couldn’t tell you how many times during the first five years I told my mother that a new record from [XY] was coming soon and then things would definitely take off. But it was quite a long time ‘til we got that far…“
In the year 1991, Nuclear Blast America was set up by Nuclear Blast president Markus Staiger, Relapse Records founder Matthew Jacobson and Relapse collaborator Bill Yurkiewicz. During the next months Relapse arranged a distribution deal for Relapse Records and Nuclear Blast America with Relativity Entertainment Distribution.
Nuclear Blast still owned the Nuclear Blast America sub-label, but at the time, it was marketed in the US by Relapse Records which was the result of Relapse's efforts to release and promote domestic versions of Nuclear Blast artists like Pungent Stench, Disharmonic Orchestra, Benediction and Dismember.
In May 1991 Relapse / Nuclear Blast America relocated from Denver, Colorado to Millersville, Pennsylvania.