More than a company: we are still a bunch of enthusiasts
“We didn’t begin as a start-up, nor a company that wants to make money. We simply did what we enjoyed, and one thing led to another until we just had to give it a legal framework,” says Ondřej Merta.
This is the way Bastl Instruments still operates, by the way. It’s still two dozen enthusiasts for electronic music. And fortunately enough, they make a living from that. But in 2010 that was light years away. Ondřej Merta and Václav Paloušek were studying at the Faculty of Fine arts of the Brno University of Technology. They knew about each other and their mutual passion for electronic sounds, but the first time they were brought together was on the Standuino project, a tribute to their teacher Standa Filip and the DIY world in electronica.
We are improving the reputation of DIY guys
“We were thrilled by the possibility of making interactive toys, but we soon saw our limits. We all built the same things because we used the same sources on the internet. But gradually we started to discover a local community of DIY men who were able to make functional electronics out of a couple of electrical resistors,” says Merta.
So he started going to local shops with spare parts and talked to the customers there. In this way, he uncovered the history of “golden Czech hands”.
“Before our market was swamped by imported electronics, the only way of getting a good radio or a blender was to make it at home. Our fathers and grandfathers were highly skilled. But for a lot of people they were just guys who made a lot of mess. We wanted to change that,” says the artist, commenting on the message of Standuino.
The company grew on its own, almost inadvertently
He gradually started to organize workshops in Brno. Anyone could build there his own instrument with buttons producing noises and then play on them during a joint concert. These electronics parties became quite popular abroad too, so Merta started offering his synthesiser modules online and send them to the whole world.
One day PayPal reminded him he exceeded the limit and demanded to see his trading licence. And so his company was born.
The whole process of professionalization was quite spontaneous. One day a Japanese businessman got in touch with the DIY men and told them he would like to resell their synthesisers. Artists had no experience with distribution, so their first business partner helped them to make the wholesale price list. And thanks to help from the community itself Bastl Instruments became a company that annually sells 500 synthesisers to people all over the world.
Among others, Martin Gore from Depeche Mode, Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails or composer Hans Zimmer have those boxes in their studios.
Business drive can also come from outside
Even though the company makes a living from the strong worldwide electronic music scene, sometimes it’s necessary to channel this bohemian energy properly. And they succeeded in that in 2016, also thanks to the JIC MASTER programme in which the joint owners enrolled. “I devote a great deal of energy to people who create our local community. But sometimes it’s difficult to find some source of energy for oneself. And I got it in JIC,” says Merta about his cooperation with JIC.
He was also pleased that consultants with insight into working of many companies confirmed he succeeded in building a unique company culture. The employees of Bastl Instruments are usually enthusiasts who came one day and said they would like to work for DIY artists. One thing that unites them is their huge passion for electronic contraptions. And Merta gives them all space for self-fulfilment, be it in development of new synthesisers, composing music or for instance opening a coffee-roasting plant.
“We are all musicians. That’s why we opened club Herna [Playroom] focused on electronic music, where we can jam from time to time and invite interesting people from the scene to Brno. We also have a record label, so we can publish what we record. But we also collaborate with musicians from other continents,” says Merta and adds that he has recently co-opened another space called “Zvuk” [Sound], this time located in Prague and focused on education in electronic music.
It's still possible to come up with something new in Brno
Why is the Czech location still interesting for him, when nearby Berlin is famous for its electronic scene and his company has a showroom not only in Brno but also in Brooklyn? “In the beginning of our business, our Brno location was a crucial advantage. I continued my studies in Vienna, and if I were to settle there and earn enough for a Viennese rent and local salaries for colleagues, I just could not cope,” he explains.
“Moreover, Brno has a huge potential. I love the fact I can have a positive impact on its culture. To found a new scene, tighten the community, draw talented people here. There is still some space for innovation here,” says Merta.
After all, he devoted his university studies to a change of the institution he was studying at. Now he invests his energy in the electronic music scene and nurturing the DIY phenomenon in the 21st century.