An interview with bvdub and his Earth House Hold project - Headphone Commute

 
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This interview was originally held and posted in two parts on Headphone Commute, who kindly allowed us to republish here on ASIP.

Hey Brock, how are you? I heard you moved back to China. Can you talk about that decision?

Hey back at ya. I’m good. You are correct indeed, I have moved back. The decision came about, ironically, by the decision to move somewhere else. I’d had a weird obsession with living in Poland for some time, so after having enough of being crushed under the absurd weight of a mortgage in California for two years, in the first days of 2018 I sold my house and picked up and moved to Warsaw in the dead of winter (I’m not known for my sense of timing), knowing no one, speaking no Polish, having zero idea what it would be like to live there, and, quite frankly, having zero idea what I was actually planning to do. The abstract ideal was to live some romantic life of a musical vagabond, but, as with all ideals, instead of bringing me closer to music and basking in the inspiration and new lease on life I had envisioned, I battled the most isolated, soul-crushing, mentally destructive six months of my life. So yeah, I could say it didn’t go according to plan – but since I apparently never had a plan, maybe it did just that.

Let me be very clear. Poland is an awesome country, and a great place to live. In fact I would say it’s one of the best countries you could have the fortune of living in. But psychologically, to say it’s tough is the understatement of the century, and it held a level of isolation I never imagined in my wildest dreams. Actually I probably did imagine it, but thought it would be way cooler and more romantic than it was. Funny how it always works out that way.

I always thought of myself as someone who didn’t need other people. Prided myself on it. My friends and family are the most important things in the world to me, but I always thought I could also have them “in my life” without needing their physical presence, propped up by my lifelong sense of hubris over being someone who could spend more time alone than anyone else. That’s all fine and dandy when it’s by choice – but when isolation is literally the only option, day after day, week after week, month after month, it becomes a very different story. When you go days, even a week or more without literally ever opening your mouth to communicate with another human being, your mind eats itself alive. As I battled my own self-destruction on a daily basis with varying levels of success (i.e. very little), I began to look back on much of my life in an entirely different light, seeing the value in things I never realized before – and learned that I do, in fact, need people. People who care about me. People I care about. That I need to be loved. And love others. After 44 years of believing the complete opposite, the revelation itself was nearly as hard as the torment that brought it about. It’s never fun to realize you’re human I guess.

I couldn’t be more lucky to have so many amazing friends and family back in America who are, in fact, exactly those people. But besides the fact I’m not a self-made billionaire and thus basically can’t live in California anymore without sleeping in a ditch, years later, after the long-looming black bureaucratic cloud of the past decided to lift, I realized what – and who – I had truly left behind when I left this place the last time. People who had waited for me to come back, even when I said I never would. There’s a power in that I greatly underestimated before – one I finally realized it made more sense to fight for than against.

You could say it’s yet another time I ended up in the place I’d least expect. But with more than a third of my life lived here, I guess it all makes sense it’s a place that, in whatever weird or fucked up way, I can’t help but call home. After all these years, I realized it’s not about whether a place embraces you as its own. Hell, my own “home” never did that. It’s simply whether or not that place holds people who would miss you when you’re gone. Who would fight to have you in their life. And for whom you’d do the same. If you’re fortunate enough to have that, you’re home. Till you’re not (haha).

I want to ask about the name of this project. What does Earth House Hold mean?

It’s actually the name of an old invite-only party from back in the early mid-’90s, a really small event that only played true, raw, underground house – an ideal always in the shadows of the pervasive breaks and acid-heavy sound for which California was known.

The Bay Area, while having its share of massive events that will go down in history, was a scene largely comprised of a vast network of much smaller weeklies, monthlies, and just way more intimate, smaller parties focused on their own particular musical vision. By 1995 or so, when the scene had already gotten so commercialized that even so-called “underground” events were actually funded by sources about as “above ground” as you could get, such smaller gatherings had all but disappeared, either at the hands of people running them giving in to despair under the weight of the changing times, or simply being eaten up or destroyed by its money-hungry tactics, having their ability to throw events crippled by corrupt larger promoters calling the cops on any party within 50 miles they considered “competition,” using crooked government connections to literally shut off or rip locations down, and whatever else was at their disposal to ensure theirs was the only game in town – the latter of which happened to our parties more than once as well. Thanks, human race.

At one such large event, one of the last ones I ever went to, the guy who ran Earth House Hold was there, with his tiny stack of fliers as always, only handing them to the few people he knew were on the level. I saw him, he saw me, we nodded in each other’s direction, and he handed me a flier. And in that moment, I remembered not everyone had lost their way… at a time I needed it most, surrounded by a scene decaying by the day at the shallow hands of those who had no business being in its midst. On its last night it was, as it had always been, a super small party. A few dozen people tops. But it was still one of the best nights of my life. True. Real. How it was. How it was supposed to be. When so much else had become all it professed to rail against. There were a few other such events still fighting the good fight at the time (including ours haha), but for some reason that one always stood as a symbol for me. One I always held on to. I can’t really explain why, but I guess you never really can, right?

Lest someone accuse me of merely appropriating a name someone else created rather than taking it as the form of respect it intends, it’s also a book from 1969 by Gary Snyder (a native of San Francisco, and a lesser-known force in the beat poet movement), which features a collection of poems, anecdotes, and diary entries from a myriad of his travels throughout the world, cataloging the depth of the human experience through tribal life, connection with nature, and dance. This was, in fact, where the name of the party came from originally. Fitting on pretty much every level I’d say.

Is there a different aesthetic behind this project versus your other work?

Though some would argue my contention (and have), for me, yes. 100%. Earth House Hold is reserved purely for (what I define as) deep house. For me, the definition of deep house is very narrow – I won’t really get into that here – and the amount of people over the last near thirty years who mislabeled it has maddened me to distraction. There’s this whole supposed deep house revival lately, and while I couldn’t be happier that so many old-school cats who sacrificed everything to make it what it was are finally getting the worldwide recognition they deserve, half of what people still call “deep house” is anything but, while for the other arm of the “revival,” deep house is just about emulating (or literally just stealing) sounds you heard off a record from 1992. There’s a reason why that sound from 1992 still hits you today – because the person who hit that chord, with that synth, at that time, had a reason for doing so. They had something to say. A story to tell. Hitting the same chord again might sound the same, but it won’t mean the same thing. In fact, if you don’t have a reason for hitting it in the first place, it won’t mean anything.

Before I spiral off into an entire diatribe about that that will bore half who read it and piss off the rest, the reason I bring it up is because Earth House Hold is how I tell my story of those times, all my years in the trenches in California playing pure deep house that basically no one wanted to listen to (haha), and the path it took in changing my life forever. What true deep house meant to me. How much it was there for me. How much it taught me about life, and what it meant to be alive. Ambient (and its related forms) were always there, and as many know, I actually started (and ended) as an ambient DJ. But it was my years in deep house that truly formed who I was, and my place in music.

Though you can hear all my past in my music, Earth House Hold is reserved purely for telling very specific stories from that time through a very specific kind of music. No matter the tale, they are a very literal account of a single event from that finite period of time. It’s almost as much a travelogue through my personal history of those times as it is a way of encapsulating what true deep house was and still is to me, in my own way. I am very strict about the sounds, instruments, and even equipment I use on Earth House Hold tracks – they can only be from the period of time the tracks are describing, a big divergence from my work as bvdub, where anything goes. But rather than attempting to emulate the sounds of those times (I don’t need to, I was there), the goal is to keep that true spirit alive while still making it my own, glancing back while moving forward. So while I think it is clearly referencing those times, telling tales from those years, as that’s the whole point of the project, it’s not trying to sound like it was made then. Because it wasn’t. The point of deep house – of all this music – is and was to constantly move forward. As so much deep house of now purely looks back, I think its creators are forgetting that the music they’re emulating was doing the opposite. Maybe it’s easier to look back than face the future. I know it’s as hard for me as anyone.

When composing a piece, do you already know which project and which album it would fall under? Do you work in a particular mode with a beginning and end for each release with a purposeful theme?

I’ve said before that when working on music under bvdub, I never sit down with any predetermined idea. It might end up beatless, might be 4/4, might fly off into 160bpm breaks at the end. I never know, and I never want to know. Earth House Hold is different. As it’s so literally linked to something specific, it requires a bit of a different head space to create. It’s as much or more about a time than an emotion. If that makes sense, since obviously you can’t really separate the two.

So unlike my other work, yes, when I sit down to make an Earth House Hold track, I sit down to make an Earth House Hold track.

Like with all my work, everything is made from note one to the last, in order, and I already know the story I want to tell. Just like the rest of my work, the album name is written first, then the track names, in order, all before note one. So I already know what I want to say, and how many parts it will take for me to say it. How exactly it gets said, is, quite frankly, as much up to my heart as my other stuff, so I don’t have rigid guidelines of something having to be this tempo, this key, 4/4, broken, etc. What happens happens. In fact for the most recent album, many of those tracks are radically different from what I thought I was sitting down to make. But as always, that’s the beauty of it. And what ends up happening is what was meant to be. Your head may have had one idea, but your heart had another. The latter always beats the former.

At times it can prove quite a challenge, as I might start drifting off into something that wouldn’t fall under my own guidelines for the project, and have to rein myself back in. Which kind of negates what I just said about my heart always winning out over my head. So ignore that I guess (haha). But for me, Earth House Hold has to be made a certain way, and sound a certain way, in a sense, to do what it was intended to do. It’s not easy to work in a narrower scope when nowadays the world is basically your oyster, but in a way the restriction is also strangely liberating. Which makes about as much sense as the rest of my assessment.

The titles of Never Forget Us read like a poem. Can you please share some thoughts behind those words?

I tend to not go into meanings behind titles, not because I don’t want to share what it all means – in fact, I’d like nothing more – but because I think trying to use more words to explain a few words you used to label something that’s basically beyond words in the first place is, basically, impossible. At the risk of sounding trite, the story is in the music. For me, that’s why I make music in the first place – to say all the stuff I can’t say with words, which is a hell of a lot.

Until you mentioned it, I never really thought of them reading like a poem. Nothing wrong with that (haha). I guess the reason for that is the fact they were written out at one time, before I made the album, but more importantly because they deal with a very specific couple years or so in my life, in a very chronological order – much like a poem often attempts to sum up its meaning in the same chronological way. Anyone who’s talked to me in person can attest I have to be the least poetic person on the planet unless you consider cursing to be a form of poetry (which it kind of is). How it all comes out so nicely when I write it down is beyond me (haha).

The album notes open up with a quote by Anselm Kiefer: “But I believe above all that I wanted to build the palace of my memory, because my memory is my only homeland.” How do you resonate with these words?

Good or bad, my memories are my home. Anyone who knows me knows of my eternal search for a home – or homeland… not just some piece of dirt you stand on, but where you feel you belong. Where you were somehow meant to be. Which maybe, quite honestly, is nowhere. But only through my memories can I ever feel at home – sadly, always in hindsight.

Last year I was diagnosed with obsessive rumination disorder – the kind in your head, not the one where babies spit up food (haha). I always knew I had problems dealing with the past, or more specifically, letting it go, but it had gotten to the point where it was becoming so overwhelming I was having trouble even performing basic functions in the present. My inability to escape literally being trapped in loops of the past had become as or more overpowering as my previous battles with depression or even OCD, I guess not surprisingly, as all three share the same root problem, at least for me, in that I have serious issues with control. That in itself wasn’t exactly a news flash, but I really hadn’t realized the extent to which they’d taken over everything in my life, forcing me into the corners they had. It was, admittedly, a pretty traumatic process facing a lot of that stuff as head on as I was forced to through the cold mirror of psychiatry and its oh so welcoming offices, but one I learned a lot from. And no matter how horrible, anything that helps you take yet another step toward truly knowing who you are is always worth it. Though I think you rarely feel that way ’till after it’s in your rear-view mirror.

So yeah, pretty much all I resonate with is memory. For better or worse. For me, it’s apparently the latter.

I wish I could look through those pin-hole photos displayed on the cover of the album. What are your thoughts on the relationship of photographs to memories and, most importantly music to memories?

Those photos have a very special meaning to both memory and the album, as they were taken by my very dear friend Mamii in Tokyo, on cameras she made herself, telling the story of her own life, and her own journey through it, both emotional and physical. It was a long process, between her travel to so many different locations that represented so much for her, to making different cameras for numerous different locations to ensure each photo truly represented her own memory, to developing each one by hand. The end result is a collection of images about as drenched in the concept of memory as you could possibly ever hope to get. She, like me, has an incredibly strong relationship to memory and the past, though in an infinitely more healthy manner (haha), and everything about the way she approaches seeing and investigating the world and her life around her has always been a thing of absolute beauty to me. It’s an honour she was willing to share so much of her life for the album, and the idea behind it. She is really one of the most beautiful human beings I will ever have the fortune of knowing.

 Mamii in Tokyo with the Earth House Hold record (taken by Ryan/ASIP)

Mamii in Tokyo with the Earth House Hold record (taken by Ryan/ASIP)

I’m a big fan of everything that Ryan curates for A Strangely Isolated Place. Is there something that you look for in a label when choosing which one will represent your release?

Who isn’t? (haha). In answer to your question, no, not really. Obviously, I have my family of labels and friends I tend to work with and create especially for, but sometimes I’m already working on or have finished something and a label will happen to reach out, and if it fits both of our visions to put it out together, then awesome. If not, so be it. I don’t make anything specifically to try to fit any label (never have), nor will I change anything to fit their ideas – a concept that has gone over like a lead balloon on many occasions, and prevented numerous albums from getting released on this label or that. But for me, if it’s meant to be it’s meant to be. Either our planets align, or they don’t. If so, perfect. If not, plenty of planets out there, both discovered and otherwise.

For me, labels, like everything in life, are about the people behind them. Assholes running labels isn’t relegated purely to big ones. There is a surprisingly massive amount running ones barely anyone’s ever heard of as well. And some of the biggest ones are run by some of the kindest, sweetest, truest people you will ever meet. I would say it’s down to luck who you’ll come across, but surrounding yourself with good people brings more good people your way. And while I’ve had the misfortune of knowing some serious assholes in the world of music and labels, I’ve had much more fortune knowing some of the best people I’ve ever known, and the best friends I’ll ever have. I forget the bad ones a day later. The good ones I remember forever.

With Ryan, we had in fact spoken ahead of time about me doing an album for A Strangely Isolated Place – actually we’d spoken about it many times, but for one reason or another, it didn’t seem to happen, admittedly I think much more on my part than his. When the time was finally right and I sat down to make the album, I originally hadn’t thought of it being Earth House Hold – and I can tell you he expected it even less (haha). But for some reason, it just felt right. I had been wanting to do a second Earth House Hold album for years, but it had just never felt quite like the right time. So when the time finally came, I rolled with it. In fact, I couldn’t have been happier. Whether Ryan would share my joy was another issue (haha). Thankfully he did.

We have a lot of common history in our love of deep house, though at different points in its timeline, which actually makes for an even more interesting relationship on the subject, and more importantly, I know he gets behind what he loves. It doesn’t matter what it is, or how people want to label it. I knew it was a bit out there to say I’d do an album for him, purposely not telling him it was going to be under Earth House Hold, but I had faith he would get it and love it as much as I did. Actually, though he couldn’t help but admit his surprise on receiving what he assumed would be an ambient bvdub album, he also fell in love with it from note one. I couldn’t have been happier, and I knew it had the perfect home. Thankfully, as I did the whole thing just for him (haha).

Looking back at the last past years – what [musical] moment in your career stands out the most?

At the risk of sounding trite once again, I can’t think of any musical moment that hasn’t been important. They’ve all meant a lot to me in different ways. But I think what I would call “full-circle” moments have been the most amazing… playing shows with artists whose music I’ve been buying for decades, being part of labels I used to drive hours to buy releases from 25 years ago, getting to sit down and have dinner or beers with people who back in the day I would never in a million years imagine I would even meet, much less be counted among their ranks, it’s something that never ceases to amaze and humble. To somehow go from being a fan of people’s music to, decades later, being one of their peers, is really something I can never properly put into words. So I guess it’s one, long moment, really… the music I loved and love above all else – literally – for most of my life, I can say I was truly part of. I pledged my life to this music nearly three decades ago… and now, somehow, all these years later, I can say I’m part of its history, no matter how small. Even if I’m just a footnote, I’m there. And even that footnote will be there, long after I’m gone, as proof of my love. Proof that I kept my promise. I literally don’t know what more I could ask for.

What are you working on right now?

Earlier this year I completed two albums, Drowning in Daylight on Apollo (speaking of full-circle moments), and another I had been working on long before I moved that will be out early next year (tba), before music slipped away from me, quite honestly, as my whole life basically slipped out of my grasp in Poland. Depression can be your best friend or your worst enemy… and as anyone with such afflictions will tell you, there is a fine line between such states inspiring you to create, and overtaking you to the point where literally nothing matters.

Now back in China, I’ve completed a new album I will self-release through Bandcamp at some point in the near future for a charity endeavor very near and dear to my heart, and directly related to the album itself, which of course has a complex story behind it (shocker) that I’ll save for then. And no, this time it’s not about cats.

My mental erosion in Poland, while not exactly a barrel of monkeys at the time, gave me a lot to think about – my place in the world, my own life, and this music. There was a definite time I questioned if I had any place left in any of them anymore… anything left to give. It’s not exactly the first time I’ve wondered what it all means and how I can go on, only to remember once again that 28 years after pledging my life to this music, it’s a promise without an escape clause.

So with that realization imbued once again, my life begins yet again in the place it’s begun and ended so many times before, and, not for the first time, my further detachment from the world of music somehow only brings more inspiration… perhaps at the hands of more remembering that which is even farther away, now both in space and time. The same remembering that takes away as much as it gives. If not more.

Earth House Hold / Never Forget Us is now available.

 

Filter Tapes 030 "Out Of Context" by Christian Kleine

 
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The below is a Google Translate (rough) English translation of the article that originally featured on Das Filter in German, hosted by Christian Kleine's long-lost partner in crime, Thaddi Herrmann (Herrmann & Kleine), including an interview by Das Filter's Ji-Hun Kim. 

Christian Kleine's release with ASIP, is available now on double gatefold green vinyl + digital. 

Read Christian's bio + get to know playlist, here. 

Tracklist

01. François Bayle - Erosphere
02. Electroshock Presents Electroacoustic Music, Vol. IV - Tears [by Alexander Nemtin]
03. Acreil - Miscellaneous Synth Demos - 21 Casio HT-6000-Digitech RDS 3.6 (Everything Happens Slowly)
04. UR - Electronic Warfare
05. Electroids - Midnight Drive
06. MEC - Musique Expérimentale Castelroussine - 02 Méta
07. Thomas Leer - Private Plane
08. The Beatles - Mellotron Music No. 1
09. Lizzy Mercier Descloux - Torso Corso
10. Cecil Leuter - Crazy Sounds No. 4
11. Dosh - My Favorite Colors Red
12. Bochum Welt - Fortune Green
13. Labradford - And Jonathan Morken
14. Seefeel - Time to Find Me (AFX Fast Mix)
15. Tone Language - Winter's Thrill
16. Kenny Larkin - Maritime
17. Silence and Wisdom - Oakwood Green
18. Haighinsha - Lusefeea

Interview with Christian Kleine, by Ji-Hun Kim (Das Filter)

The musician and producer Christian Kleine was an important part of a youth movement that called itself the early 2000s Indietronica. Christian released as a solo artist on labels such as Morr Music and City Center Offices and operated together with Thaddeus Herrmann and the project Herrmann & Kleine. With the EP "Kickboard Girl" they succeeded in 1999, a veritable international independent hit. But that's almost 20 years ago. Some time ago Christian's "Electronic Music From The Lost World: (1998-2001)" appeared on the American label A Strangely Isolated Place. And he continues to be a diligent producer, who publishes wonderful albums on a regular basis. For the thirtieth run number of our filter tape series, Christian has developed a wondrously independent language. The Beatles next to Labradford and Kenny Larkin: Always a bit out of context, where music is just starting to get exciting. Ji-Hun Kim talked to him about cigarettes in the Spex, many years at Ableton, the Krux to the Internet, and laptops to bandmates.

Thank you for your beautiful filter tape. First tell a little bit about it. 
It covers a wide range. From 60s easy listening to techno, pretty much everything is there. I was never a purist.

Is there a story you wanted to tell? 
It's mainly stuff I just feel like doing. It was about music that does not cling too much to a time context. I always find it interesting to listen to music where you can not tell if it's 30 years old or yesterday. For example, the record "Silence of Wisdom" by Deux Filles, which dates from the early 80s. But that could be just like last week.

I find the context you open up exciting as well. I would never have thought to hear techno such as Bochum Welt or UR in your mix.
I do not even realize that as techno. Even if that of course fits into the club context. However, I often notice that music, even if freed from the genre costume, can still work. I'm from a small town, Lindau am Bodensee. That's where I started in the early 1990s. There could be no puristic evenings, there were not enough people. So I mixed hip hop, house and techno, but also early jungle and guitar music. We just wanted to hear good music.

I grew up in the Ruhr area and even there it was much more eclectic. I think it is retrospective but not that bad either. In Berlin, there were already small-scale techno camps in the 90s. 
Total. But I also thought it was a pity that Berlin was not a little more fluffy. That one did not just say: the main thing is good music. That can be anything.

Although I was amazed at how consistently you have published the past years records. I know your stuff well from the beginning of the 2000s and heard it a lot. 
Since I started with music - that started in 1995 - it was important to me. I never wanted to start a great career. I always wanted to do something, so I can look back to see what I've done in times past. I once won a competition, that was in 1998, and then went to the Winter Music Conference.

Competition? Where, when? 
Marlboro.

I almost got involved in a Marlboro USA road trip at the age of 19. At that time they were allowed to.
There was an ad in the Spex. I participated and actually won. At the time I had started with the production, first pieces and was totally looking forward to the journey. That must be supercool, I thought to myself. Daft Punk was there, all the drum and bass people from London who thought at the time that they would take over the world. A fun time. But at the same time, I was standing in the Hilton hotel, where the conference was taking place, watching the action, I almost as an outsider - because that's not what I really belonged to - and saw how the music industry works. So I asked myself if I really want to play along. Is it something that drives you? Somehow I found that pretty awful.

Do you still trust the industry today? 
At the time I asked myself: is this a life plan? Is music producing a complete life plan? Do I want to be a musician? But then I decided against it. Simply for the reason that the music industry is just strange and I also consider music as a kind of balance to the real life out there.

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It should be mentioned that you have been working at Ableton since the very beginning. 
Yes for about 17 years.

What exactly are you responsible for? 
I started as technical support and then I took care of the Max for Live division and programmed a lot for it. Today, I also do a lot of prototyping for native instruments and effects implemented in Ableton Live. Say everything that has to do with DSP processing. I'm currently working on the basic ideas. Today this is also called UX, User Experience.

That is already nerdy. 
As a matter of fact. I'm quite a nerd, too. I touched almost every synthesizer in the world at least once. But actually I do not like the word nerd.

If you've seen a success story like Ableton backstage for so long, how does that work? 
For me, that feels like I've lived through four or five companies. There have been deep changes over time. Within the industry, within the company, within the society. The perception of how people use computers has changed a lot in the last 15 years. But also the kind of people who use such things.

At the end of the 90s you were in Berlin. It started with people making music on laptops. Labels like Morr Music became known. Indietronica was suddenly a thing. I always notice that today many people have never perceived Berlin as an indie city. Berlin bands like Contriva were totally inspiring for me. Today, most people shrug their shoulders. 
It no longer exists in the perception. It seems to me that this was totally ousted from the canon. The indie and electronica scene was a big pillar of this city. Culturally urban historical, if you can say that, but that does not matter anymore. What a pity, but techno just rolls everything flat. That's fact. For me, the Indietronica thing was a plant that needed to be cared for more carefully.

Even more mainstream acts like Paula have emerged. 
It was perceived throughout the world. Indietronica from Berlin attracted attention in Japan, USA and also Canada. That was relevant and I found that so exciting. It was not just a Berlin-related thing. Often Berlin issues have that to them, that they never come out of Berlin and are only occupied with themselves.

If you travel internationally, is it for music? 
First of all, it was all friends and mates, so the big industry was far away. City Center Offices was not Sony Music or anything right now.

Are you missing the road? 
I miss it already. But it was also very exhausting, because I have always put the tours on my free holidays. If you join this for a few years, there are hardly any free weekends left. That sounds like whining at a high level and probably is. But with a full-time job and the music at the same time - you can get close to burnout. From time to time I still give concerts, but that is not comparable to that time. But I am glad that I had it. That was a lot of fun.

Nevertheless, you have managed to constantly produce your own albums in recent years and publish yourself. 
Everything on Bandcamp. I had the claim of myself to continue to produce music, also because it is simply important to me. I've applied here and there for a few labels. But because I was completely outside the context, nothing came of it. That was maybe three e-mails. Among other things, I asked Mute Records, completely megalomaniac (laughs). "First of all start with the little ones." Of course, nothing happened, but thanks to Bandcamp you can do that pretty well today.

You still have to discipline yourself. 
I agree. That's pretty strange, too. Because there is no feedback, far and wide. You're the maker of everything, from music to cover, and most of all, there's no one who reflects that. There is also no one who reviews this because it does not appear on any well-known label. That's me and the internet. The Internet itself gives you no feedback.

It is said that the Internet brings all countries together. 
Yes and no. Of course, I am happy when someone from Argentina writes to me and is happy about my music. But that's a different process than meeting someone and talking about your music, either because that person has a label. The internet does not give me anything. Since I have no personal reference to. After I was no longer with Morr Music - until then everything fell into my lap - I first had to learn to make everything self-sufficient. That was an important process.

You just recently released your record "Electronic Music from the Lost World" with pieces from the years 1998 to 2001?
I have a bag full of old DAT tapes. 40 to 50 tapes are in there. Four years ago, I started listening and digitizing the old tapes. Then I spoke with Thomas Morr, who also wanted to publish that first. This then drew because things have intervened time and again. Then I started talking to the label A Strangely Isolated Place from Los Angeles. Through Arovane, Uwe, I came to the contact and so it came to the release. After 20 years, I thought, it was time. I am glad it appeared in the form on double vinyl. It represents a completely different time. It was all innocent much. (Link to buy!)

For me, you are musically but still an indie musician and guitarist, who simply got into the wrong circles in Berlin. 
That's right (laughs). I always hated computers. Until I realized that you can make music with it, but until then I did not want to have anything to do with it. Ironically, if you look at my job of today. But yes, actually I come from the guitar corner. The fact that I started using computers to make music was mainly due to the lack of musicians with whom one could have formed a band.

To bring four people in Berlin regularly in a rehearsal room is also an impossibility. 
I totally understand that. But yes, maybe electronic music is just an urban thing. It was like that in New York and London. Electronics was already the basic tenor in Berlin in the 90s. But I never had any connection to Berlin guitar scenes. When I produced Drum and Bass in the late '90s, I only knew Thaddi's radio show. Then I got drunk with my tapes and I tried to turn it to him, so he plays it. It all started.

~

Mix artwork by Julian Priess

 

Wearing your heart on your sleeve: an interview with Brock Van Wey (bvdub)

 
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I missed out on a beer recently with long-time friends and label companions, Mike Cadoo and Brock Van Wey, but whilst I sat at home reminiscing about our crate-digging session in Seattle a few years back, Mike was a little more productive and took the opportunity to ask his good friend, Brock a few questions over a pint. We're lucky enough to host the candid and insightful conversation here on ASIP with mentions of Brock's latest album on n5MD, live performances, his biggest fans, beer and (until now) a secret upcoming project...

~

My first interaction with Brock is something he often sites when we meet up and in the company of new people. In my usual protectively blunt style I tested what was possible in the selection of tracks for an album he submitted. We both stood our ground. I wanted to swap out some tracks. He said, “nope, album as is”. At that moment, from that first interaction, we had each other's respect. Fast forward to now. I have been lucky enough to release four of his albums via n5MD wth his latest album Heartless currently hitting the new release bins.  Since his move back to the east bay, where we both grew up and worked unknowingly a mere two blocks from one another, he has become family. I took the opportunity (and liberty) of hijacking one of our meet-ups, this time at 8 Bridges Brewing, to interview him for Ryan @ A Strangely Isolated Place, and of course have a few Reds - Mike Cadoo. 

Mike Cadoo: Let's start with your latest album Heartless. You've chosen to call it Heartless when in fact it might be your most heartfelt album yet. Why on earth did you choose Heartless as a title?

Brock Van Wey: I don't think you're the first person who's wondered that (laughs). In a lot of ways the album is me trying to face the fact that the world has taken away a lot of my heart. It's really beaten it out of me. And no I'm not talking about politics or world events or other things people mistakenly attach to the concept of the album, you know that's not my thing. I'm talking about just life itself, and a lot of shit that's happened to me in recent years. Life's stolen a lot of my heart away, and quite frankly made me a more heartless person. I always thought heartless people had it all wrong, you know? Now I wonder. When the world punishes you enough, you start to wonder if it's you who's been doing it wrong all along.

M: Yeah I don't think I could even classify you as remotely heartless. I've seen you do plenty of nice things and you have told me first hand how certain decisions or interactions have made you feel. But it could simply be the case that you and I were not interacting much or at all during the callous years?

B: Well we were far apart for a lot of years in the physical sense, as I was living on the other side of the world, but even if we were two doors down from each other, you wouldn't really know. It was a really internal struggle, and as good as I am at sharing my feelings, I'm also just as good at hiding them.

So the album takes heartlessness as an overall concept, and tells the story of a specific time in recent years when I really was... heartless. For once I acted with no heart, no regret, and with a total disregard for another person's feelings – basically the way most of the world seems to do just fine. But it didn't do what I thought it would. I didn't feel liberated... I felt like shit. But I wondered – and I still wonder – if it was actually “wrong.” Was I really being heartless, or was I actually letting someone else dictate how my heart was supposed to feel? I think we all give other people way too much power over our own emotions. It becomes hard to separate how you feel from how you're supposed to, you know?

I will say that fucked up or not, there is a real power in being heartless. Having a heart and sharing in the human experience is as profound as it gets – but having no heart, and no regard for that experience, is possibly equally profound in its own fucked up way. To somehow cast off guilt, regret, caring, empathy, and every other solely human emotion and to just “be” in a way that basically only sees you exist in the world – it may be horrible, but it's also very powerful. I don't think I do it well. But in the end, the whole thing taught me to revere – and fear – both.

M: Some of the reviews for Heartless have touched on it being a sign of the times and even somewhat political which you did mention. I think it's an album that is resonating with people due to how jacked-up things are right now.

B: Oh shit is jacked up, I don't think anyone's gonna argue that. I can't sit here and say that nothing influences my thought patterns subconsciously either, so who knows. I can only say I don't consciously try to deal with any of that in music. I don't even talk about it in life either. It seems every time I run into someone they want to talk about something political, how fucked up shit is, or whatever, it's just not my thing.

M: I think you and I are similar on this front. When the time comes for me to take the appropriate action I'll act for change that I believe in but I'm not going to constantly harp about it. I think making the music we do helps with dealing with the day to day for sure...

B: For sure. You're like me in that this is your therapy. It's not only how you deal with your own internal world, but also process the world around you. There seems to be a weird dogma lately that if you don't want to talk about something or don't have some polarizing opinion about it, you're either ignorant, or some terrible person. But being ignorant about something and simply choosing to talk about something else are two wholly disparate concepts, and you're not minimizing the gravity of one by choosing to discuss another. There are a lot of aspects to life. Not everything has to be an all-sum game. Anyway, let's not go down that rabbit hole...

At the end of the day, what matters is that art means something. It doesn't matter if it's a book, painting, song, or anything else – only the creator will ever really know what they meant. But even they forget over time, or it changes over time as their own life changes as well. So it's always changing, always evolving. And once it's released into the world, it takes on a life of its own, and you really have no control over it anymore. But that's the beauty of it. Think about how many albums you've heard, or books you've read, that meant one thing to you at one time, and something totally different down the road. It weaves itself into the fabric of your life, becomes part of who you are. And who you are changes. It will always mean something different to you every time you hear it, and will mean something to you it will never mean to another person... but it will also mean the same thing. If that makes sense.

So yeah I have zero problem with people interpreting it whatever way they do. If it can be a part of their lives in any way, through good or bad, I'm honored. There is no wrong way to interpret anything anyway, just different ways. I guess in a lot of ways, people's resonating with it in that way gives me something to think about myself, and really it kind of applies to the reasoning behind the album in the first place – which never occurred to me until now. So see, even I get to have a new realization about it now, and go back and listen to it with new perspective. That's crazy. But that's what's awesome about music. And really, all art.

M: I know that the making of Heartless originally started out as being inspired by your concept of a live set, to be as large and spacious. When we worked together on writing the album description you added a specific section of text sighting “painful impetus” to live performances. I'd like to know more about that specific line of text...

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B: Yeah continuing with my theme of being a complete mess, live shows are my therapy. Most people go to a therapist to talk things out in private, I decide to talk to a room full of people at an ear-bleeding volume.

M: (Laughs) I can attest to that...

B: Yeah you've been there for the punishment (laughs). It's part of the reason I do so few because they are so emotionally exhausting I'm basically a shell for weeks after. Though I am fortunate to have the most amazing family and friends I could ever dream of, the fact is I rarely leave the house, and have very little contact with the outside world. So the majority of my world is always internalized, building on top of itself into pretty unbearable intensities. Playing a live show is the time I finally get to let that all out, to say all I've wanted to say for weeks, months, even years – not only to the audience but to myself. It's kind of like hearing my own words said back to me. So it's as much a conversation with myself as it is the people there. It's cathartic, but also gutting. I'm not ashamed to say I've cried during most of 'em. So I guess it's no surprise they are usually “big”... and, as anyone who has been there knows, fucking loud. If you're gonna say something, say it.

M: I feel ya on the catharsis. Is this the main reason why don't allow your live sets to be recorded?

B: That's part of it. Would you want to bare your soul to a friend if you knew he was recording it to listen to later? And what good is it later, anyway? It was a conversation between us. Then. And that's where it should stay. It's also a matter of respect, honestly. It's just fucking disrespectful to assume you can record someone's performance for your own personal collection, to put their heart and soul on some shelf for you to show off at a dinner party. And if you don't have respect for an artist or their art, why would you ask them to share it?

That goes for everyone there. I get that you paid money, and I also get that recording things mostly comes from a good place. People just want to remember the evening, because it's important to them. Trust me, it's just as important to me. But put the phone down and be there. What's some crappy thirty-second distorted video going to do? Are you ever going to watch that later? Of course not. You're going to show it to one person to show where you were last night, then it will never see the light of day again. But to get that, you took yourself out of the whole experience. For what? All you accomplished is ruining things for people next to you that are trying to be there, besides the fact it's distracting as shit for the artist.

M: Oh hell yeah. It amazes me going to shows now how many phones are out. You can't experience the show through your phone screen and as you say the quality is horrid. I admit I have taken a pic or two.

B: Et tu, Mike? (laughs).

M: (laughs)

B: You've been there with me at shows. Before the show, after the show, let's take all the pics together you want. Even videos. Whatever. I've stayed at shows for literally hours after they're done to talk with people, take all the photos and videos they want. I actually enjoy it and it's an honor. It's fun. Hell, after the show I take pics too. But during the show, no. We're all there. Be there with us. The whole point is for us to share that night, for us to communicate our deepest thoughts to each other, and for those moments, come as close as we'll ever come to understanding life. You will remember that night for days, weeks, months, maybe years – and every time you do, the memory will change, distort, adapt to your own changing life. But it will still be in there somewhere. And it has truly become a part of your life, through its own evolving form. It happened. Now it's gone. And all you have is the memory. That's how it's supposed to be. It's fucking beautiful. Let it be beautiful. People need to stop their weird obsession with having to have some permanent record of everything. All they're doing is making their entire lives and every event in it all the more temporary.

Here's a good way to gauge it: Next time your friend starts to really open up to you about something in their life, something they probably couldn't tell anyone else in the world, tell them you're recording the conversation – or better yet, pull out your phone and just start recording. See how much longer they want to talk. Or wait until they finish, then tell them you just recorded everything for your own personal use. Why? Doesn't matter. You just wanted to. See how much longer you're friends.

And just so people know, I don't record either. For all the same reasons.

M: I'd like to know a bit more about your fan engagement. Unlike a large percentage of artists who have management and there is a bit of a buffer between fans and the artist you have and do have direct contact with your listeners. Probably hard to pick one but are there any favorite interactions you've had with fans (that you can actually talk about :)?

B: Well I do have management now (laughs) but yeah that doesn't change anything about how I interact with people. Nothing means more to me than communication and interaction with fans, you know that. The whole point of all of this is to share in each others' lives, to be part of each others' lives, and know we're not alone. Anytime someone takes the time to write an email or drop a message, I always answer, every time. And as anyone who has come to my shows knows, I really enjoy spending as much time with everyone as I can. I don't look at a show as some kind of ego-fest where people are there “for me,” to me it's all of us, we're all in it together, god help us (laughs). Every time someone has taken the time to communicate, be it through email or in person at a show, it is pretty much the most amazing and humbling thing that can ever happen to anyone. If it's not, you need to seriously look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself why you're doing this.

I have been super lucky to have some of the most amazing interactions over the years, both through email and in person, it's really beyond words, man. Some of the things people have shared about the deepest parts of their lives, and the lengths they have gone to in order to be at a show so we can share that time in person, it's fucking mind-boggling. I don't think I could ever even say how much I appreciate it, and appreciate them.

There are some, both in email and in person, been some absolutely mind-blowing ones that have literally restored my faith in humanity, which I didn't think possible. I'd love to tell you this one or that, but I think there's two problems with that: one, it's super hard to pick one (laughs), but also, because I think if I highlight one, it somehow makes another seem “less,” if that makes sense. I think everyone shares and loves in their own way. Some people may make bigger moves or have more to say than others – but that doesn't mean those who are less bold or expressive are diminished, they're just different. They do it and say it in their own way, on their own time, you know? Yeah there are some “bigger” ones over the years I will never forget as long as I live. But I remember them all, big or small. Hell, I probably remember a bunch of interactions that fans have already forgotten. They are all amazing in their own way, and I appreciate them all. They all mean something to me. They mean everything to me. For someone who has always been an antisocial misanthrope who is terrible at interacting with people, I am somehow lucky enough to have the most amazing friends and family, and fans, in the world.

M: It is quite funny as you do often speak of yourself as anti-social but I've seen almost the opposite. Even seeing first hand your fan interactions. You are humble, chill and even listen to and interact with what they have to say way beyond standard artist / fan interaction. I still to this day find your physical appearance and your true demeanor to be an interesting juxtaposition. Contrasting. I think your fan engagement, music and even your current black and white promo shot where you are holding your cat points to these contrasts.

B: Yeah I know a lot of artists who just play the show and bounce, but I'm there the whole time, from the sound check, through anyone who plays before or after me, and even after that. I'm there for the whole night – and the whole night isn't just me. I want to be a part of everything as much as possible, and that includes everyone who came. As long as anyone wants to talk or hang out, have a beer, or just shoot the shit, I'm always stoked. Until that moment, the music has been the thing abstractly connecting us. Now we get to meet each other face to face, and literally be a part of each others' lives for that time. For real. What the hell is more awesome than that? It's amazing.

It's kinda crazy because I feel like people I meet already know so much about me through the music. I feel like they already know everything about me, my whole life, but I'm meeting them for the first time. It's a weirdly vulnerable kind of feeling, there's a weird imbalance, it's almost scary sometimes. But in a good way. I don't know, the whole thing is just amazing.

I'm not a fan of people. Anyone who knows me can tell you that. You know that as well as anyone (laughs). But “people” and family are different. And fans are family.

(laughs) Yeah the cat picture. To this day I still laugh at the fact that when that went up on RA, the highest rated comment was someone saying That is not what I expected him to look like. Never judge a book by its cover (laughs). I think by now my obsession with cats far precedes me. But I guess just as a lot of people are surprised I love cats so much, they're also surprised I'm actually a nice guy. I just look really not-nice.

M: So we are now 10 years into bvdub. You gone from that first string of EPs and really never stopped. However, there was a fairly solid stylistic shift in there. What brought on the shift from the more techno style beat work to what has over time manifested into mostly beat-less works with beats as augmentation rather than propulsion?

B: I guess it has been 10 years. Wow, I'm old. Well so are you.

M: Thanks for the reminder (laughs)

B: No problem (laughs). I think the shift was definitely solid but gradual, I just followed what came naturally. The basis of my music has always been ambient (for lack of a better word), so I think it was only natural it would go more heavily in that direction overall. Even when I used to go to parties or DJ, beats weren't the main thing for me. They were a structure, a kind of thing that held tracks together or even caused us to move together, but the music surrounding them was the focal point. Besides the fact I started as an ambient DJ, later I was quite famous as the guy who played tracks with ridiculously long beatless breakdowns, or just veered off into no beats at all in the middle of a house set. Or maybe that's infamous (laughs).

M: Famous. Infamous. same shiz really (laughs)

B: (laughs) Pretty much. As my dad used to say, if no one hates you you're not doing it right.

M: I have to remember that one (laughs)

B: Yeah he knew his shit (laughs). What you say about augmentation is pretty true, but I still work with beats as propulsion in some bvdub stuff, and of course East of Oceans and to some extent Earth House Hold. But for the majority of my work, the beats and rhythm are there as a kind of ghost of the past, like when you remember a track hours or days after you heard it. I think that all comes back to my old obsession with being the last DJ of the night, at like 8 am, the last music you heard when you were walking to the car, that muffled sound after you shut the warehouse door. Not only was that time only for the real heads, but those moments as you were leaving,  the last track you heard as you were leaving and that door shut, that was going to be one of the most lasting impressions of the night, whether you realized it or not. It was always the most beautiful thing to me, and it's carried over into my own music, not surprisingly, I guess. I would say everything comes full circle, but that implies I went away and came back. I think I've always been there.

M: Since you brought up Earth House Hold, I happen to know that you have a forthcoming album on ASIP for the project, That I coincidentally had the honor of mastering @ 37n,122w. Can you fill us in on it a bit?

B: You did. I mean the mastering part, not the honor part (laughs).

M: (laughs)

B: I've been wanting to do a second Earth House Hold album forever, and people have been asking me forever as well, which always kinda surprised me, because when it came out it was so under the radar, but over the years I think it grew into what I originally hoped it would be, and the project too. Everything I do is important – well, to me (laughs) but while my work as bvdub deals with more of an emotional history, Earth House Hold is a more physical one, if that makes any sense, in that it's anchored to a more specific space and time, or spaces and times (wink-wink). But then all my work is in some way. I don't know, I'm explaining it fucking horribly. I guess only I know the difference (laughs). I'm clearly not good at explaining it, but I'm never good at explaining music with words. That's what the music's for, because I'm not good with words.

Ryan actually shares a lot of my history with the music and times that Earth House Hold kind of radiates from, and so although ASIP may seem an odd home for Earth House Hold, actually it's a perfect one. We had been talking about doing something for years, but for this reason or that it never came together, mostly because he was too busy putting stuff out from everyone else in the world and collecting bad pressings for dinner plates (laughs) but also because it had to be right for both of us. One day I emailed him out of the blue and said it was time for us to do something for ASIP, and waited until he already agreed to ambush him with the fact it was an Earth House Hold album. I will say with all certainty that was not what he was expecting, and I think it threw him off, but after it sunk in I think he totally got it. When the album was done, I sent it to him, and he loved it. Ryan is awesome, ASIP is awesome, and Earth House Hold is fuckin' awesome. So there you go (laughs). It will be out early next year on double vinyl, I can't wait, hopefully, everyone will dig it. I won't get into what it all means for now, I'll let people listen and figure it out for themselves.

M: Ryan wants to know what you have against pink beer?

I mean I know he's asking because of that time we went to that bar in Seattle and I lost my mind when he ordered that pink beer – but I think you could ask anyone that question who wasn't even there, and they could answer the question as well as I can. It's pink beer. Beer isn't pink. And pink isn't beer. But that's what you have to love about Ryan. He's the only person I know who would take a shot on a pink beer – in the company of two loudmouthed beer snobs – at ten in the morning. Were we already drinking at ten in the morning? Sounds about right (laughs). Too bad the whole endeavor turned out as badly as one might expect. Plus I'm a supposed “beer snob” who also drinks Coors Light every day. Soooo....

M: (shudders) Coors Light? I guess I'm the beer snob.

B: Yeah yeah I know your Coors Light hate (laughs). Hey, sometimes you want a fancy-schmancy IPA or a nice red, sometimes you want a Coors Light. Well, not you, but me (laughs). I spent half my life in a hick town, gimme a break.

M: I have been known to drink Tecate or Pacifico...so...

B: Yeah, I remember both of us drinking Tecate tall boys out of paper bags on that trip, so not sure how much snobbery you can really flex (laughs). I can't lie though, you are way more hardcore than me. Every time I see you I drink some crazy thing I've never had before. For me, if there's good beer I'll drink that. But any beer is gonna get drank. Or is it drunk? They both sound weird. Great, now everything sounds weird.

M: (Laughs)

B: Anyway, no pink beer.

~

bvdub's new album, Heartless is now available through n5MD.

 

City Centre Offices: The final transmission

 

Countless hours have been spent exploring and collecting the music to be found on the infamous City Centre Offices label. Should you have missed it, even the ASIP name is a rip of an album by one of CCO's most successful artists. The label's impact and inspiration on the music here at ASIP, is second to none. 

CCO pushed a style of music that was relatively new at the time and the label went on to host many of the names that have graced the blog pages and even the releases here on ASIP including, Ulrich Schnauss, Arovane, Herrmann & Kleine, Christian Kleine, Bitstream, Miwon, Casino Versus Japan, Xela, Marsen Jules, The Gentlemen Losers... I could keep going.

These names were brought together by a group of friends between two thriving music cities of the late '90s; Berlin and Manchester, in what was perhaps the worlds first truly international, independent (DIY) electronica label. But at the time, they didn't know of the impact they would eventually have on the music world.

Unfortunately, the end of CCO is here. You may have already thought that CCO was long gone, and it was, until label co-founder, Thaddeus Herrmann decided to release just one more record under its mighty guise this year. That record, a sublime slice of electronica by Boy Robot titled Final Transmission, echoes CCO in its purest, and arrives March 24th 2017.

Now felt like a good time to look back on the label and celebrate its success and last hurrah, with label co-founder Thaddeus Herrmann.  From his home in Berlin, in between many emails and his work on DasFilter, the CCO mastermind took the time to respond in depth to a few questions we sent his way, looking back on the might of electronica's finest, City Centre Offices

As one of CCO's biggest fans, I pulled together some of my favorite tracks from (& associated with) the label in this Spotify playlist, to accompany your read and remind us all how brilliant, timeless and pioneering their catalog truly is.  

Did you know at the time that the sound of CCO was so unique and forward-thinking? 

Thaddi: First and foremost: It’s great to hear that what we did or tried to achieve over the years left such a positive impression with people. Musically, there was no master plan. We had a clear idea though which got the label started: We wanted to try to marry the 7" format with electronic pop music.

If you think back to the late 1990s, electronica was very popular, “PowerBook” music as I call it, I’m aware this may be oversimplifying, but you get the idea. At the same time, there was a renaissance of the 7" format. Many new labels and imprints were curating this exact type of electronica I was describing.

The 7" fascinated both Shlom Sviri, my label partner, and myself. We’d grown up with that format when we were kids. You’d hear a song on the radio, go to the shop and pick up the 7". It was both cheap and a cheap thrill, so to speak. Two tracks, hardly ever taking more than ten minutes of your time. A moment of excitement, a little something, a treat, a way to escape from whatever it was you were doing. This was exactly what we wanted to resurrect - the excitement.

We both felt this was somehow missing in the electronica and 7" scene at the time. We thought that maybe we could contribute something to the mix. It was not supposed to be a serious operation, let alone a business. We just wanted to put out 7"s and not lose money.

I hardly ever go back to the CCO catalogue these days, but I do hope that at least some of the releases stand the test of time and don’t sound dated. If that’s the case, I guess we’ve achieved something - something which might have been triggered by our original approach: pop music on the 7" format.

From what I know, CCO was conceived between a few friends in Berlin who simply wanted to release music. In your own words, how did the label come about?

Thaddi: This is gonna be a long story, but I'll share it anyways, because it has a recurring theme to it which has always been very important to us since we started the label: friendship.

A very good friend of mine, who I’d known since the 80s here in Berlin (and who I was also in a band with), went to Manchester in the mid-90s to study for a year.  There, he met another German guy, Oliver, who was also at University. As far as I remember, Oliver knew Shlom Sviri (CCO co-founder) somehow, probably through a room mate. A couple of years later, my mate was back in Berlin and had a garden party – a yearly tradition. Shlom and Oliver came over, and this is how I met them. Shlom had just finished Uni and was about to open Pelicanneck (a record shop in Manchester). He had the insane idea of booking my band to play the opening party of the shop. Of course we went, and stayed with him for a couple of days. We were talking about music all the time and the idea of the label came up. It was one of those "what if"-moments, one which is usually followed by something like: fuck it, let’s give it a try. So we did.

Oliver was the third guy, taking care of the design. Being a student of architecture, he had a brilliant approach, making the 7"s look and feel very precise, technical and bleak, yet personal at the same time. We couldn’t have done that individually. It was a team approach, again, it was all about friendship. Every 7" was assembled by hand, which was quite common in those days, yet I believe we went the extra mile; sourcing the black sleeves from one company, the large stickers from another, the small stickers from yet another. Even my mom chipped in, putting stickers on black sleeves in front of the TV.

Did you have a goal for the label when setting out?

Thaddi: It was clear from day one that it could be anything. We just needed to like the tracks. What sounded like a big promise in the early days, really transpired later on, I guess, when we were working with bands like the Florida-based hip hop group Cyne (a story for another interview), or Italy’s best indie band Giardini Di Miro. We moved on soon enough, while other labels were still stuck with that electronica sound. I don’t mean this in a disrespectful way, we just felt the urge to move on. Or maybe we were just always interested in other things musically as well.

How did the label name originate?

Thaddi: It took us some time to come up with the name City Centre Offices, and I don’t remember who’s idea it was in the end, but it fitted quite well. It was an international label from day one, run from two countries, UK and Germany, from two cities, Manchester and Berlin. We had this crazy idea that if the label lived on for more than one release, each artist would open up a new city centre office in his or her home town, creating a network of like-minded people. Years later, we did a website based on this idea and also had t-shirts made with an abstract map of the world, our CCO world.

Until the very end, we never had offices, btw.

As it turned out, the label did live on for more than one release. Not just that, people really seemed to like it. We started to receive demos and quite early on, we decided to give up our 7"-only policy and look into other, more established formats. 12"s and albums. This was when things started to get more serious.

Suddenly, we needed of think of designs on a whole different level, about promotion, royalty statements and serious distribution. Basically, we needed to put much more money into a release, deciding how to spend it in the most efficient way. We hardly knew anything about how these things were done, let alone how to do them properly. We didn’t care, we just wanted to release the great music which was piling up on our desks. And, yet again because of friendship – we were able to cope with the initially overwhelming tasks. Until the very end, we never had offices, btw.

Did you have to balance CCO duties with other jobs? 

Thaddi: I’m a journalist by trade. During University, I was already working for the radio and later on, I joined De:Bug, a monthly print magazine for electronic music and culture, as an editor. This was my main job. CCO took up more and more time, but I never wanted to do it full-time. It just didn't feel right, and I still think that was the best decision.

What was Berlin like back then for starting a label? Was it hard?

Thaddi: It was surprisingly easy, mainly because I was lucky enough to have a lot of contacts and friends who were happy to help. If you decide to start a label, you need basically three things sorted: mastering, pressing and distribution. Distro was the easiest, since Shlom had his record shop and took care of the UK side of things. But what about other countries? What about Berlin? I was friendly with the guys at Hardwax over here and as well as being a regular customer, I had interviewed some of them about their own music whilst working for a music well respected music magazine based in Berlin at the time, and somehow this opened a door.

Reviewing early Arovane records on DIN, a label operated by two guys working at Hardwax, helped, too. They were up to distribute our 7"s, which really helped. Their reputation pushed the label from day one. If you ask me about who to trust in this industry, they are among the very few people who I’d mention. A couple of years ago, I started working with them again for the label I run on my own these days, and they're still the best. So trustworthy, so on point. Without the support of Hardwax in the early days and Thomas Morr of Morr Music coming in a little bit later, CCO probably would not have survived that long.

In order to get heard, you need to be everywhere, first and foremost: online. If vinyl is right for you, look into your options. Make it special somehow. And try to offer it as cheap as possible. Make it accessible.

Thaddi: But how to press up a record? And fucking where? I remember calling a pressing plant in Germany, asking for a quote. The agent on the phone literally hang up on me. We emailed a pressing plant in the Czech Republic, infamous for everything. Their vinyl was poor quality and it was a somewhat dodgy business in general. They'd press up anything if you paid in advance. And they didn’t care about collecting societies, mechanicals to be paid etc. Bootlegs? Check. Nazi scum shit? Why not. Electronica 7"s? Of course! Stefan Betke aka Pole was kind enough to master the first three 7"s before we sent off the masters to the Czech Republic. We hoped for the best and were disappointed rather quickly. Things needed to change...

I had a friend who had just started a label and in the process stumbled across a woman who’d just started a manufacturing broker service called "Handle With Care". A company which is blossoming today, taking care of big productions for both major and indie labels. Back in the day, she was just starting up on a very small scale. I was her third or fourth customer. She took care of our records from then on, putting them through proper pressing plants, giving us more options and quality control. The pressing plant in the Czech Republic is still there. Universal Music is one of their biggest clients. I wonder if they know their history, but mainly I wonder how they survived.  

Running a label myself, I’m interested in how the vinyl process happened back then and how you come to work with Loop-O?

Thaddi: As I mentioned before, the first three releases had been manufactured in the Czech Republic – a quick and dirty job, but at least we had records. With the fourth release, we were facing a problem. It was a 7" by .snd. Shlom was very friendly with them, great guys who somehow felt a similar vibe between the early 12"s on their own label and CCO. They had this idea for a 7" consisting of a regular track on one side and some loops on the other. Loops need to be perfect. Endless. So, obviously the plant in the Czech Republic was no option.

The problem was that back in the day, they could only handle DMM – Direct Metal Mastering. They could not process regular master discs, cut on dubplates. Therefore, they took care of the cuts themselves and I couldn't trust them with the loops, let alone anything else. I was aware of D&M, the cutting room established by Mark Ernestus and Moritz von Oswald – both of Basic Channel fame – here in Berlin and the engineers working there: Mark & Moritz themselves, Monolake, Pole and Rashad. It was legendary, because up to this point, people had been raving about cutting rooms and engineers far, far away, in the UK or the USA. However, Germany was not on this list.

Ernestus and von Oswald, based on their Basic Channel fame, created a safe haven for electronic music, located conveniently on the same floor as the Hardwax record shop. At the music magazine I was working at the time, there was a guy in charge of marketing who'd just moved in with a guy called Andreas Lubich who’d just started working at D&M. He introduced me to him. “Can you cut loops? I really need some loops to be cut“, I asked him. “Of course I can“, he said. This is how I met Loop-O, someone who shaped the CCO sound tremendously from that moment in time onwards.

Every single release since that infamous .snd 7" has been cut and mastered by him. I consider this to be very important. To have a go-to guy, someone you can trust, someone you know understands the musical output of a label, its history, its vision. I attended every session. It’s very time-consuming, but it’s time well-spent. It’s that moment when you get to know the music you’re about to release in a completely new way, you’re living with it. You witness how it changes, how it is being processed and then cut to vinyl. Also – bonus! – Loop-O has the best handwriting ever, which has always been crucial for CCO releases. Ever since the first-ever 7", we always included messages in the run-out grooves and those need to look good.

Talking about looking good – we also switched to a pressing plant over here in Germany at the same time. It’s the best. I love the way their vinyl feels. Those edges are special. Comfy. And the metal works and actual pressings are special, too. They are real experts. They’ve been around for ever. I still have stuff pressed up there to this very day. Over the course of years, Loop-O has become a dear friend of mine. I trust his work and judgement way more than anything else. He left D&M years ago, yet I still put every release I work on through him and his new home, Calyx. I still attend those mastering sessions too!

So CCO really was a family operation? I feel like it’s this human, manual, delicate process that makes pressing vinyl so rewarding. What piece of advice would you give to anyone looking to follow in the footsteps of CCO as a label?

Thaddi: First of all, to just give it a go on a small scale. You can burn a couple of hundred $ and might end up with 300 records in your bedroom, but that’s not the end of the world. I guess the most important question today would be, if vinyl is actually the right and best format for whatever you want to release. Pressing vinyl just for the sake of it, is definitely the wrong approach. In order to get heard, you need to be everywhere, first and foremost: online. If vinyl is right for you, look into your options. Make it special somehow. And try to offer it as cheap as possible. Make it accessible. That’s a tough thing to do, I know, because you want quality mastering, the best cut and great vinyl. 

The moment Coca-Cola calls you to license a track for a TV commercial, you realize that you’ve accomplished … well, something.

What would change if you started CCO today?

Thaddi: Actually, nothing at all. Some years ago, I might have said starting a label is the worst idea ever, but today, I would probably do everything as we’ve done it almost 20 years ago.

What’s the story behind the infamous CCO stickers?

Thaddi: Yeah, the stickers. Being based out of two cities, we wanted to represent that somehow and the stickers were an obvious solution. With each 7", there is a set of two, one from Manchester, one from Berlin, based on whatever theme we could come up with: kebab shops, mini cab services (that’s before Uber, kids!), record shops, general sights, obscurities, hidden gems. Come to think of it, it was quite a European idea, long before Brexit, the refugee "crisis", or even Trump. Raising interest in weirdness or simply weird company names, trying to get people to dig a little deeper. It’s something which has never been more important than today.

Was it important for you to add this new dimension to releases?

Thaddi: We didn’t do it consciously. Adding small things to the actual vinyl, like sticker or inserts was a very common thing, stressing the DIY style of both the releases and the way labels were run in these days. That was all. One could argue that both Berlin, with its techno culture and love for anonymity, and Manchester with labels like Skam had an air of mystery around them and we were to break this bullshit with little stickers displaying names of local supermarkets, but that would just add more BS to the mix.

How was the first release with Arovane formed?

Thaddi: I’d first met Uwe before his first releases on DIN. For a couple of years, I was co-hosting a drum and bass radio show on KISS FM Berlin. He was really into that sound and also producing tracks, so he sent over a tape for us to play on the show. We did, and at some point I went to his house to meet him. He’d just moved to Berlin and did not really know many people yet. He played me all these amazing tracks in all sorts of styles and I picked some to give them to Sascha and Torsten who were running DIN. They called him straight away, as far as I remember. Uwe and I really got to know each other very well, so when CCO was about to become something real, I asked him if he’d want to do the first release.

 Xela (back) and Ulrich Schnauss Birmingham 2005, and Ulrich in Manchester 2005. 

Xela (back) and Ulrich Schnauss Birmingham 2005, and Ulrich in Manchester 2005. 

How many were pressed and was it a big risk for you at the time?

Thaddi: We started with 500 copies. I honestly do not remember how much the production was, it somehow must have been ok. The tricky thing back then was that with the pressing plant being located in the Czech Republic, had all kind of import duties, because the country had not yet joined the EU. Whoever calculated these, was high and drunk all the time. But we did ok. We soon repressed the 7” as well, something I’m sure we would not have done if we’d been in the red already.

For some time, the 7”s did really well for both the label and the artists. I guess we were just there with the right product at the right moment in time. Deciding on how many copies to press up for a release is always risky business. You either hit the sweet spot, or you under/over-press. Back in the early 2000’s it was much easier though to repress quickly. Pressing plants had a lot of free time on their hands. Making this decision in 2017 is a completely different story. If you have to wait for 3 months to get another 200 copies, you do not actually know if you’ll be able to sell those, because people might look for something completely different 90 days ahead.

Did you ever expect Arovane’s final release on CCO to be as defining and classic as it’s become?

Thaddi: Of course I did! Kidding. Putting out music, you always hope for the best. It’s as easy as that. We were pretty sure that it would do well, that people would like it, especially because it once again showed “the other side” of his work, not too technical but more free-flowing. Nobody can compare any track off Lilies with Autechre, for example. I think what makes his two albums for CCO so special is the fact that those were real special projects for him as well. Both albums were done in a really short period of time, there was an urge in him to get it finished, you could really feel that by just talking to him. Working with the Japanese singer Kazumi on the vocals was something very close to his heart. She was his biggest fan, and probably still is. Listening back to Lilies today, I feel that it is one of the records in the CCO catalogue still sounding fresh and valid today. If people consider it to be a classic: I’m all for it, but could not possibly comment.

It’s pop music in the best sense of the word. And CCO always was about pop music. So … there it was, the perfect album.

Tell us about Ulrich Schnauss and how his classic albums came about on CCO. At what point did you realize these albums would be as popular as they are today?

Thaddi: Ulrich is another one of our artists who I’d met through the radio show on KISS FM. He would also send in tracks for us to play. At the time, he was already an established producer, very versatile. At some point he played some tracks which would end up on his first album for CCO, “Far away trains passing by”. I was blown away instantly, so was Shlom. It took some time to put the album together though. Ulrich might very well disagree with me on this, but as far as I remember, he needed some convincing that it was a good idea to actually release these tracks. The album did do very well, something we all had hoped for, but still came as a surprise. People started talking about Ulrich Schnauss. Who is this guy? What’s with this music?

I consider his first album to be the absolute peak of electronica. Not just because it’s produced so beautifully, but mainly because the album opened so many doors. It is a defining album, bridging a lot of gaps, bringing things together. It appealed to all sorts of people, humble and bold at the same time, accessible yet complex. It’s pop music in the best sense of the word. And CCO always was about pop music. So … there it was, the perfect album.

You mentioned that you never really had any expectations of the label, but what do you think was the defining point of the label? The point at which you realized it was making an impact?

Thaddi: I think the label received a lot more attention as soon as we started to do albums. Back then it was still the format people were actually paying attention to. Releasing albums also changes your infrastructure by design. You need to hire PR to promote the releases, you need to manufacture promo CDs for press and radio, you need to sort bigger-scale distribution. All kinds of things change. Do we need barcodes? How do we get barcodes? What’s this little 5-digit number on the back of albums. What does it do? How do we get one? You realize that things just got a lot more serious. Suddenly many things become very bureaucratic. Applying for a US tax-ID, so that Apple could pay your royalties in full. Our accountant learned a lot, so did we.

After the first couple of albums, people got in touch. Other labels wanting tracks from our artists, or to sign them straight away. At some point, there were so many 7” labels out there, just swapping artists back and forth. It nearly killed the scene. You need to talk to your artists, advising them that maybe it is not a good idea to do a release with label x. Not because you want to keep them exclusively, but because it is doing an artist harm if they release ten tracks on eight labels within two months.

After having released Ulrich’s first album, followed by Static’s debut, things really changed. We realized that we were probably in it for the long-run. You start to think about certain things in a new way. Artists come back to you with their follow-ups. You realize that you might actually work with some of them for longer, which was great fun. Put simply: The moment Coca-Cola calls you to license a track for a TV commercial, you realize that you’ve accomplished … well, something.

I remember mix CD’s by Sasha and Nick Warren (to name a few) that included CCO tracks and undoubtedly helped spread word on the label. Which was your favorite mix inclusion?

Thaddi: I couldn’t really name my favorite one, simply because there were a lot. We always let the artists decide whether they were ok with it. If they weren’t, we would need to turn the offer down. I remember Nick Warren being a big deal at the time and I’m sure it had a positive effect in the end, but frankly, we did not care too much. Because Sasha and Nick Warren weren’t “our people”. Whenever someone we liked and respected – like Andrew Weatherall – wanted to include a CCO track for a project, we were really proud, though. It’s funny you ask about these compilations, because I still get licensing requests for Ulrich’s “Knuddelmaus” on a regular basis.

How did your relationship with Christian Kleine come about? And why did it end?!

Thaddi: Christian was another one of the people I met through the radio show on KISS FM. Only difference was that he did not send a tape, he just knocked on the studio door. Thank God we heard him. He lived down the road from the radio station, so quite often, I would hang out before the show at his place. I was looking for musical direction with my own music at the time. I had done some releases, but I wanted a fresh start. I couldn’t really get it off the ground. So we developed this habit of meeting on Sundays in Christian’s studio to just jam. It was difficult in the beginning, because he was working in a different setup, but maybe this was key. We found our roles quite easily.

The first e.p. was done in just a couple of weeks, people liked it. When Thomas Morr approached us to release a record on his label, I was really happy. Not just because I really liked him and his label - he was helping with distribution for CCO as well, but mainly because I was not comfortable with the idea of releasing my own music on my label. I did not want to waste resources we could have used for other artists.

I really enjoyed working with Christian, he had in parts a very different musical background. He knew all about hip hop, I did not. He had an MPC, I had not. He was into US indie stuff, I liked UK indie stuff. But things got complicated, purely because of me. I had personal issues at the time, which I tried to channel through the music. It worked quite well, but everything else didn't. It was difficult for me to be around other people. Having released the e.p. On Morr Music and the album afterwards seems like a miracle to me now. We – I – drifted apart.  We got to see the world though, played many great shows.

One of my favorite tracks of yours is with Christian, “Leaving You Behind”. Why didn't this make its own release? And how did the Japanese train station samples come about?

Thaddi: This might very well be our last ever track released. I still like it a lot. When we were touring Japan, I was fascinated by the fact that everything just talks to you all the time. So much noise! I had found the recordings earlier though – we’d used some of them in our live shows. I remember opening our gig in Osaka with one of the samples from Osaka main station – people loved it. It would have been great to have this track on a 12”, giving it a bit more dynamics and loudness. Ah well, there is another project.

Most people thought CCO had gone into permanent hibernation. Was your plan to always release one more? And why is the Boy Robot record the last one?

Thaddi: I never intended to release another CCO record. CCO is no more. I still handle digital for some of our former artists, but whenever one of them wants to exploit his back catalogue himself, I hand over all rights in a heartbeat. The new Boy Robot just happened.

Michael Zorn and myself started to work on some tracks years ago. The original plan had been to do an album, but that never really happened. I was never a member of Boy Robot either, I still do not know who put my name up on Discogs! Michael and Hans Möller met originally at work. Some years later, Hans went back to Sweden, so I was supposed to replace him in a way. It seemed like a nice idea, because Michael and me had done music together before for another label. Anyways, we had the tracks ready and we decided to do it. CCO seemed appropriate, so we went with it.

This e.p. is definitely the last ever record on the label. The music industry is such a different place these days and I don’t want any part of it. I have been running a small label for a couple of years now with 13 releases as of today, but I kind of went full-circle, back to the beginning of CCO. Vinyl only, small editions, putting them through Hardwax. That I can handle. Everything else? No, thanks.

So what’s next for Thaddi?

Thaddi: You never know, right? These days, I still mainly work as a journalist. For my own online magazine (dasfilter.com) which I co-founded with some dear friends of mine in 2014. We do a lot of work for external clients as well, some are music-related, some not. I like that my relationship to music has gotten more and more abstract over the last couple of years, since I’m not running the label anymore and also left the music magazine. I don’t have to listen to everything anymore. I do miss the radio though. For the last 7 years, I was lucky enough to have a bi-weekly show on a great radio station here in Berlin. That job just ended. And I miss it already. What’s next? Maybe even less music and more books? I don’t know.  

~

Final Transmission, by Boy Robot will be available on 12", March 24th, on City Centre Offices.

Thank you to Thaddi for taking the time  to entertain us, both here, and over the many years behind the wheel of CCO. 

 

Ulrich Schnauss & Jonas Munk - Passage (video premiere)

 

A duo of versatility and uncompromising musical output, Ulrich Schnauss and Jonas Munk are no strangers to our ears. In the past fifteen years, the pair have gifted us with some of our most admired albums and collaborations, and neither seem to be letting up anytime soon.

Ulrich, whilst in the midst of releasing his latest opus, No Further Ahead Than Today, is also now a part of the legendary electronic outfit, Tangerine Dream. And whilst Jonas hasn't been as relentless with his output in the midst of his family time, he has still found the time to re-ignite the spark that saw their revered skills combine on 2010's self-titled production. It was an output that came together almost naturally, with both artists possessing that ethereal, melodic take on shoegaze inspired electronic music; one, a master of the synthesizer and the other, the guitar.

When asked what pulled them back into the studio, Jonas makes it clear they were destined to continue what they started."We've been working together for quite a long time now and I can't remember ever getting stuck with a piece or feeling uninspired during a session. There has always been a really good work flow, with things rolling naturally. So when we both had some available time in early 2014 we figured it might be a lot of fun to start something new". Ulrich continues, "I think we always had some kind of silent agreement that we'd eventually continue - sometimes it's really just a question of fitting it into the schedule somehow."

The new album, Passage came to life through a variety of sketches, originally ideated by Jonas in Odense, (listen to Jonas' isolatedmix dedicated to the sounds of his hometown), bringing them over to Ulrich's London studio, with the pair then obsessing until completion. This revisited dynamic seemed to be a welcome change for Jonas, who enjoyed Ulrich applying his magic to his original sketches amongst the wonderful cave of equipment and synthesizers adorning the studio; "Once there's a fundamental idea going Ulrich will be adding most of the synths and be in charge of effects processing and so on, and I'll add guitar parts and perhaps come up with suggestions sound or structure-wise", Jonas says. going on to elaborate how much he enjoyed those days in London with Ulrich: "I always find it very inspiring doing these daily 14 hour sessions, totally immersed, with nothing else on my mind. It's quite different from my work flow at home – I've got a family now, so I usually head to my studio after dropping off my kid in nursery, work for 6 hours, before rushing back to get on with daily life. In London it's all music, except for the occasional coffee or Indian food break".

With Jonas' signature guitar work and Ulrich's synchronization, chord manipulation and warming analog sounds, it's easy to point to a variety of influences on the sound emitted when their powers combine.  This mutual respect for each others strengths made it easy to point towards specific ideas, with Jonas asking Ulrich"could you try a really creamy early 1990s synth-pad in the intro" or "could we make this more new-agey in a vintage kinda way" or "This needs more Simple Minds". The response from Ulrich heard bouncing across his north east London studio: "Jonas: bring some Fleetwood Mac to this part, goddamnit!"

If you recall their earlier album, these inspirations would definitely ring true as a general theme throughout. With Passage however, it's a little harder to tell. The album is much more varied in approach, a purposeful result, as Ulrich mentions: "the 'method' actually, is to avoid developing one, and to capture the joy of recording without being tied to the framework of a certain concept instead - we keep surprising ourselves by what we end up writing. from my perspective we've managed to create a varied album that's not stuck in a particular genre - a piece that's inspired by 80s Californian New-age maybe followed by a slowed down tech-house groove, coupled with folky guitars". 

Album opener Amaris (see the exclusive video by London based photographer and film maker Nat Urazmetova below) forms the bridge between the last album and Passage - featuring a recognizable Schnauss structure punctuated with Jonas' guitars. However the album quickly introduces other signature moments and structures. The more euphoric reverb of Intervention : Sol; the Klaus Schulze or Tangerine Dream influences on Intervention : Stjerner; the sparse drum-beats reminiscent of Joy Division (obviously not as gloomy) form the back-bone of MST,  and the classic chord-step progressions we've come to enjoy from Ulrich transcend moments within Spellbreaker.  

It's not all accidental euphoria though, as Ulrich describes,"the rather narcotic, somnambulist vibe of the song 'Anywhere But Here' is at least, to a degree, the result of my excessive aspirin consumption during the recordings. Now it's actually one of my favourites".

As Jonas goes on to describe the main differences between this album and the last, it's clear both he and Ulrich had fun building on an already perfected relationship, likely bringing in new ideas and energy from recent projects to form another unmissable piece of work. "Even though we deliberately stayed away from any overall concept, to my ears this album ended up with more of a laid-back vibe in general – compared to the more euphoric vibe of the self-titled album. Which is something I didn't really think about until very recently. It's like there's a mild breeze blowing through all of these tracks". 

Simplified and unrestricted intentions undoubtedly bring out the best in these two. 

Passage will be available through Jonas Munk's newly created Azure Vista Records, with pre-orders available on Bandcamp now.