WHO WE ARE
It all began with Steely Dan. To be more precise, it was the accusation that the band had ripped the piano bass line of their 1974 hit Rikki Don’t Lose That Number from Horace Silver’s Song for My Father. On a warm spring day in the mid-80s, a Hamburg university law professor tried to engage his students with a copyright infringement debate about these two songs, using his idea of what represented the latest in popular music. Enthralled by the sounds of their own voices, some eager students spewed empty words into the stifling lecture hall air. Two faces in the crowd, still strangers at the time, had none of it. Seated opposite each another at a massive horseshoe table, Carsten Hess and Guido Randzio exchanged bored looks that soon turned into unabashed eye rolling. The professor’s dated, patronizing attempt to appeal to the young folks insulted their intelligence. After class, the newly-found kindred spirits went to a beer garden and bemoaned the dullness of it all. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
In many ways, the two friends were polar opposites. Carsten had grown up in an elegant Hamburg suburb and acquired an encyclopedic knowledge of fine arts, jazz and literature. Guido, full of ideas and energy, had left home early and was a fixture in Hamburg’s punk music scene. Still, they found plenty of common ground. One of Carsten’s early gifts to Guido was Boris Vian’s I Spit on Your Graves, a groundbreaking 1946 crime novel that featured elements of US pulp fiction and French sado-eroticism and covered topics ranging from racial injustice to the power of music. Suffice to say that this masterpiece was not on your average law student’s reading list.
Their friendship became a lively exchange of ideas as Carsten and Guido opened new and fascinating worlds for each other. Neither of them wanted to settle for a conventional legal career or quiet lives of comfort. They hungered for more, eager to take a deep dive into the wide world behind Hamburg University’s walls and clipped hedges. Both were driven by a deep sense of social justice and a profound dislike for stifling conventions. They also wanted to have fun, and do so in style. Being boring was best left to others. They soon daydreamed about starting their own record label and the name would be a word play on their full names, Guido Randzio and Carsten Hess: GRAND CHESS.
Over the next decade, Carsten completed his law degree and moved to Brussels. He built a career that followed his passion for European politics and used his considerable diplomatic and political skills to improve transparency within the European Union. After heading executive public policy positions for Banco Santander, MCI and GE, Carsten became partner at the global consultancy firm Avisa Partners. He also became an accomplished art collector, a passion that began with his first purchase, a triptych by photographer Christiane Richter, on layaway while still a student.
Guido channeled his creative energy and people skills into becoming an early Internet entrepreneur, digital marketing expert, and acclaimed figure in the music scene. His career took off with managing several departments at the legendary, Hamburg-based independent record label EFA, followed by marketing positions for the Airbus Division of Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm. He was the strategic brains behind punk and hardcore label Bitzcore starting in the early 90s, where he established then-revolutionary e-commerce and e-marketing tactics. Guido was among the earliest voices to predict dangers to artists’ copyright protection laws posed by the introduction of digital formats and the eventual “Napsterization” of the music industry. Long before the rest of the world woke up to those threats, he fought back to protect his artists by releasing vinyl LPs in premium-quality packaging and other formats that couldn’t be digitally replicated.
Never losing his lust for music, he also ran the label Hit Thing with multi-instrumentalist Toby Dammit, known for his work with Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Swans, The Residents, as well as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Along the way, Guido started his own two companies: multimedia software company 4=1 and Euro Ralph Records, an independent label in a joint venture with The Residents’ management firm the Cryptic Corporation in San Francisco. Guido’s decades of experience in innovative digital marketing and business development earned him an independent director position on the board of Playframe, a leading Design Thinking Process consulting firm.
In 2013, Carsten took a six-year detour via Hong Kong as Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe, Middle East & Africa division head of corporate public policy for Deutsche Post DHL Group before he returned to Brussels. Guido, on the other hand, remained a proud Hamburg citizen throughout. Life brought the usual ups and downs but the two friends stayed in touch across continents and time zones, continuing their exchanges on the latest trends in music and arts. They never forgot their dream of starting a record label together. In 2019, more than three decades after their first meeting in that Hamburg lecture hall, the time was finally right to join forces; Carsten and Guido officially launched GRAND CHESS Records.