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Q&A: Erased Tapes Owner Robert Raths Talks Curiosity and Headspace Ahead of the Independent Labels Market

Ahead of the Independent Labels Market, Run Riot went to meet with Erased Tapes to discuss their ten year anniversary and hear about some upcoming album releases by Kiasmos, Dawn of Midi and Nils Frahm. Ben Romberg spoke with label owner Robert Raths in their newly designed Sound Gallery in Victoria Park Village.


Ben: Thanks for taking the time to talk. I understand you’ve just come back from Japan? What were you doing there?

Robert: We had a 10th anniversary showcase in Tokyo as part of Mutek Festival and a couple of other things, the birth child of Boiler Room is actually a Japanese platform called Dommune and they did a label feature broadcast with us. It was an unusual set up where I had a translator who was also doing the interview and we had an hour long talk with music videos breaking things up. Then we had two of our artists perform there; Rival Consoles (Ryan was my first signing and my best friend) and also our latest signing who also happens to be my wife! It was our first and most recent signing performing together.

Ben: Ten years is a long time going, how did you first start out?

Robert: It wasn’t a conscious decision to start a label. My background is not in music, it’s in the visual arts and started before I came to London, when I was studying architecture. Music was more of a passion and a source of inspiration, in many ways my best companion while I was studying. It was important to me to listen to music that allowed space to think up concepts. I subconsciously developed an ear for a certain type of music, not about genre, but a type that doesn’t bombard you with a message.

Ben: What were you listening to when you were studying?

Robert: Jazz like Keith Jarrett, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis as well as plenty of rock + pop. I was massively into stuff like Fugazi as well as Stockhausen, Steve Reich, Phillip Glass and of course techno. I grew up in Germany. This is why the label is quite diverse but the thread is a minimalistic approach where you form your own images in your head. I quite like the idea that even when you have a vocalist perform, you don’t necessarily have to understand the language to get into the music. My favourite track by Olafur Arnalds is actually in Icelandic and I have no idea what he is singing about, I mean, I know now but it didn’t necessarily matter before. At the end of the day I think we all come from the same place, whether it is techno or jazz or R&B it is all an expression of a rhythmic pulse that we carry inside; emotions, melody. Everything else is instrumentation.


Ben: After signing Rival Consoles, what happened then?

Robert: Everyone connected on MySpace back in 2005 – 2008, it was the place you went to discover new sounds from all around the world that wasn’t pre-filtered. It was all DIY. It naturally became this place where you connect with people and it didn’t matter if you were in a small town in the middle of nowhere or in a big capital city. Somehow you would just stumble into each other because you had 8 friends in common so my curiosity for music took a new form thanks to that, because I was able to hear stuff before it was relevant to the media or even before friends would tell me about it.

I was asked recently if I could have done this anywhere in the world. I would like to believe I could but I’m not sure if that’s true. Firstly, you have to work harder in London because there is so much going on, you have to go the extra mile for people to take note. Here everything is on your doorstep, which it makes it possible. If you lived in rural France or Germany, those countries look at what is happening in the US or England, so London will always be the centre of this crazy circus. As much as you might hate it, you actually love it as well as it gives you so much to fight for. The whole reason why the Sound Gallery in Victoria Park exists is to materialise the vision of the label and give people more head space to slow down and have an opportunity to step out of the circus and experience the music.


Ben: Is that a core part of the labels aesthetic, to give people headspace?

Robert: This is interesting because if I say yes, people say – what about Kiasmos or Rival Consoles? Because that is danceable electronic music, but there is something about techno that gives you a certain amount of calm because it is so repetitive. A lot of people mix that up, some people pin us down as an ambient label or modern classical. Classical is dead. As Miles Davis said, ‘if something ain’t moving it’s dead’ and we are very much in motion. Classical music to me has always been this heavy tombstone that is beautiful to look at and use as a reference point but it is an irrelevant thing next to what we do.


Ben: Yet the music in many of your label releases makes heavy use of classical instruments, particularly the piano.

Robert: Just because you use classical instruments, doesn’t make it classical. I don’t judge people for using these tags because it helps communicate a sound or a feeling. I personally feel the music I work with gives me something other than what is already out there. I feel that this is our contribution and that is what excites me and instrumentation doesn’t matter to me that much, a lot of people feel differently.


Ben: Tell me about the logo – what’s the inspiration for the mountain tops?

Robert: The mountain came about via MySpace (again) which was a profile image of a drawn mountain top in oil on a round disc. I just saw that when I was thinking about the visual and in the beginning there was no logo, just the typeface. I quickly decided it can be anything but a tape or a cassette as it is too limiting. When I saw the image, it was gut instinct and this image created by Chris Hernandez, he’s American now living in Poland. I just left a comment saying “this is the one!” and he had no idea what I was talking about. I got in touch with him the next day and when it came to licensing the trademark I didn’t hear back from him for weeks. Then one day, the doorbell rang and there was the postman standing there with this parcel and it contained the original painting. It was amazing, that even in the early days someone like that would believe in what you are about to do, it was incredible.

It was only then that I realised that the round painting was not paper, it was actually a seismograph disc for measuring earthquakes and when I looked at it in detail it was exactly the size of a 10” vinyl and has day to night (24 hours on it, time measurement) and pressure points where the needle will draw the line similarly to a pulse detector. That pressure is not different from frequency so there you had, time, frequency = sound. I was blown away by the detail. We have since reduced the painting to a clean vector image but I like to reinterpret the original. I love nothing more than little things that inspire you to do something.


Ben: Can you name any spaces that are particularly suited to the music on your label?

Robert: Here in London we work a lot with the Barbican and also Village Underground. Those two are the places to go but I love little places like the Old Church in St Pancras. St. Johns in Hackney is also great, there are a lot of spaces that excite me but they don’t work for all types of music. After 14 years here in London and having experienced so much live music those are the most flexible places. You can turn the Barbican into a rave without it being strange and you can turn Village Underground into a seated chamber music venue without it being strange. This is amazing and not many places can do that.


Ben: What upcoming releases would you like to give a special mention to?

Robert: New Peter Broderick album is coming out which I’m very excited about. He is one of the best people I know walking this planet, through him I met Nils Frahm. If there is one person I cannot believe is still so undiscovered for so many people, it’s Peter. He is so gifted, anything he touches turns to gold. His record is called All Together Again.

We are reissuing the Penguin Café Orchestra album “Penguin Café” simply because it was never available on vinyl. iPods might come and go, but nothing beats sitting down and getting into a record.


Just announced the new Nils Frahm album that is coming out end of January, called “All Melody”. As the title suggests it is ... all about melody. It’s an ambitious record as for the first time he has embraced getting session musicians involved and he has been building a studio especially for two years. In the past his releases had a side story to them, like he would break his thumb and then record a song using only nine fingers. There was always an agenda or a theme for his records. For this record was important to him in that it was just about the music and he wanted to see what comes out of his new studio and all these instruments he has gathered over the years. I think it’s a fantastic record and I can’t wait for the world to hear it.


Erased Tapes is an independent music label based in London.

'One of the most important record labels of the last few years' — Gilles Peterson

Independent Label Market brings together the founders of over 250 of the world's greatest independent record labels on both sides of the Atlantic to sell their fresh vinyl produce directly to the public at that traditional goods exchange - a market stall. The next market is on the 25th of November at Old Spitalfields Market.

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