Incendiary talk to Robert Raths and Ryan West from Erased Tapes

I’m trying to protect the artists on the label, and the listeners for Erased Tapes from that, from that mono-world.

 

OK we should have published this a long time ago. We forgot. We forgot because stuff gets recorded or filed away and forgotten about; only to come back into your life with a sense of impending unease. Have I put the bins out? Do my armpits need another wash? Where the fuck is that interview with Erased Tapes’ Robert Raths? It’s human, to worry about, or try to forget stuff. And stuff is now permanently en vogue. Especially the creation and processing of stuff; whether new stuff just created or old stuff (from us) that (to you) will appear as new stuff. All "needing" to be published, in public. All the time. And the sense that this stuff is whispering away, reappearing from some oubliette that had opened and then shut in the back of your brain, or reconnecting some nodal points of memory to instigate a sense of panic. If we briefly envisage "stuff" as a coin, a nice old fashioned one penny piece, say, the ones that had Monarch or President’s head on the obverse, and some other national symbol on the reverse, then we could say that our "stuff’ coin would have a human representation of "Catharsis" (suitably adorned with laurel garland) on the obverse. The flip side would be "Control" (which would look like some castle keep gate or a burning torch). You can see that this sort of stuff’s been playing on my mind.

Why this stuff? Well Robbie from Erased Tapes is an interesting and entertaining bloke, and he was probably wondering about this interview too, because we all had a laugh doing it. In fact he talked about it. And as I write new records from Douglas Dare and Peter Broderick are about to woo us. So let’s go back to a field, in western Germany, with Robert and Ryan West, aka Rival Consoles. Think of it as an unexpected present from a long lost relative that has somehow appeared under your Christmas tree.

IN: Sat on a label market, at Haldern festival, on the Erased Tapes stall. Your empire grows steadily and ever greater Robert!

RR: Empire? I wouldn’t describe it as an empire! It sounds quite vicious describing it as that.

IN: You have a singular and determined vision Robert! (Laughs) But, also a label that houses some of the most unassuming musicians I’ve met. All these people on Erased Tapes are lovely people making beautiful, thoughtful and quiet music.

RR: Well, Ryan not so much! Wait! Wait!

(People start buying things, one chap buying a splendid box set, and Robert springs dutifully into action. I turn to Ryan….)

RW: That’s what it sounds like; I’m the exception to the niceness.

IN: (Surveying the transactions) all part of Raths’ vicious plan to take over the world.

RR: You make me sound like some evil guy like Mr Burns, or some shit! (Robert immediately turns back and encourages people to take stickers, post cards, and all sorts of Erased Tapes stuff). And yeah! Here is proof, on your tape, that actually we do have people who want to buy into our ethos and want to buy the Erased Tapes box sets!

IN: Well your label has such a strong vision and such a strong image that people who like the sort of sounds you put out really want to buy into it.

RW: I would say, Robert, (if I may say), I think it’s more the things that you choose not to do that define the label more than the things you do. There are so many things that you choose not to do which adds a lot of focus to your catalogue.

RR: That’s right because often the real work is to do nothing. To be able to make that conscious decision of erm… leaving things the way they are, to leave a bit of silence and to have confidence in things that you don’t plan! And sometimes those unplanned things turn out to be way more "giving" than the things that you wanted to do.

IN: Do you think there is too much pressure on people to do things? It seems to me to be a very brave thing to say as a record label owner.

RR: Well, we live in a world where… Ach, you know, the concept of running a record label is nothing new. But the concept of globalisation and monoculture and just focussing on the one thing that sells best is a very young concept; and it’s not one that I believe in and I’m trying to protect the artists on the label, and the listeners for Erased Tapes from that, from that mono-world. If you take a garden as a picture, then I would say like … OK I might start to sound a bit druggy now, (giggles) but the weeds are just an important to a garden as the biggest potatoes or tomatoes that you grow.

IN: The biggest potatoes benefit from the weeds in the Erased Tapes garden. You know about the apocryphal story of Frederick the Great and potatoes don’t you?

RR: Erm maybe, remind me.

IN: Well, he saw them as an important foodstuff and wanted Prussian peasantry to start eating spuds, but no-one wanted to eat the fuckers. So he started to grow them in the royal gardens and put guards round his potato beds, and that made people want to steal them. He created a demand.

RR: Woah heavy! Maybe it’s like other labels trying to nick our artists (Laughs)

IN: Do you get any of that?

RR: Well yeah to be honest, lots of people are looking right now, but you know they are a bit late! When Nils (Frahm) has a concert and you know some major is coming and the same with Peter (Broderick)… but the thing is these majors weren’t there when they were just starting out and because of that they can’t really identify with the core concept of the music. That’s what I said it’s like Erased Tapes I like to be able to have three, four, five months where I don’t release anything. If I feel it needs that time to be able to make a decision, then I’ll take it. I don’t wanna be stuck where some greater voice tells me I have to keep producing every month, like a machine you know. Because that’s when it dies. And the garden becomes out of balance and you think you can just grow that one big potato and you think you can just get rid of all the other stuff; the carrots and the little things. But they keep it in balance! The little ones are the dark horses, sometimes you give them a bit of time and they start outselling the big potatoes.

(Ryan is now bent double)

RR: I have to stop talking about vegetables. (Laughs) But you know, I take that as a symbol because running a label is not that different from being a baker, or a gardener you know. Something you realise you’re good at, and you just do it, and don’t worry about plans. Just like you; I bet you never woke up one day and said "Oh I wanna be a journalist".

IN: I wanted to do something and I had to start doing it! I think that’s a Tony Wilson quote. Have you ever seen the Tony Wilson interview with him naked in the bath, bubbles in the bath, glass of champagne in hand, with Gillian from New Order? On Channel 4’s Play at Home series? From about 1985. You should see it. ANYWAY… you keep unearthing these potatoes or carrots or dark horses. Douglas Dare is a big new talent, and your last record was a cracker Ryan. You don’t make dud records do you?

RR: No we are not very good at that (Laughs)

IN: Put it another way, and to give you your gardener metaphor. If this label was run in any other way it would be incredibly dull. And worthy. Tasteful neo-classical porridge. But it’s quite magical

RR: Yeah, well as I said you kind of manoeuvre yourself into a corner if you focus on just one thing. It’s not healthy. I mean, just eating healthy food is also unhealthy. Erm… let’s not talk about fucking food anymore. Okay… staying out in the sun is not too clever; you can’t just focus on one thing it makes you sick. And you might have a good run for a year or two but then it becomes really dull. You know you then encourage all that bollocks about the label’s music being a trend or a fashion or easily categorised or something. To me it never was.

IN: You are a romantic label aren’t you?

RW: Yeah.

RR: Overly romanticised people! (Laughs) I’m glad you enjoyed Douglas’s gig because he’s a new thing on the label. But he fits. When we started out we had Ryan, and now he’s the oldest in terms of being on the label, and someone very young like Douglas and when people like Douglas and Lubomir and Ryan met everything was so natural, despite their differing music; and they started talking about pianos and musical tradition and that makes me really happy, and I’d be happy to just shut up and sit in a corner and listen in to the three of them.

IN: And Haldern is one of the last great romantic festivals.

RR: Absolutely! Free expression! I mean if Stefan (Stefan Reichmann, Haldern’s main light) was another kind of guy he could really market the shit out of this festival and make something else out of it. And because he doesn’t, and just tries to keep the ethos the same but look to improve that ethos, is one of the reasons I have so much respect for him. And every year people come back, because they trust him now. He’s one of the role models I have, if I have any now. Because he also runs a brilliant record label. For thirty years! He books stuff I’ve never heard of and I see it and it makes sense. And a year later you’ll see these unknown bands everywhere. And people remember.

(At this point business calls, with Robert bounding up to attend to his customers)

IN: Turning to you Ryan, I liked the last LP (Kid Velo) a lot!

RW: Why thank you! I’m actually about to release a new EP, Odyssey, should be great, very tasteful, thoughtful intelligent electronic music! (Laughs)

IN: Thoughtful? The last record was tough!

RW: Yeah… well like to make thoughtful music, but like I said before in previous interviews there is so much music out there that means to me at least that if it isn’t thoughtful, you know well thought through, and extremely meaningful to me, there’s no point in releasing anything. No point. I mean that should always be the point, but I mean what is they point otherwise? When I first started making music I never used to think like that, back then it was all about having fun, but now its got to the point that there’s a lot more weight on everything.

…The new work is much more understated. The last record was very masculine and this isn’t. But it’s got a presence. But I never want to make background music. Now, this sounds really weird but music I make has to have an idea. Maybe it’s just me but a lot of music sound to me like it’s got no idea behind it!

…So you want to contribute something worthwhile to other people’s time. Because everyone’s doing a hundred things on their phone, they go to loads of places, everyone’s busy…. So if you seek to take up their spare time by making more music it’s got to have something that’s substantial.

IN: People get very worried about the nature of time now; it’s the elephant in the room…

RW: Yeah everyone’s worried. I think it’s because everyone documents stuff now, and if you don’t upload files on certain social media sites (laughs) you start to feel worried that you haven’t contributed anything in a day. You can just have a beer!

IN: Time spent doing nothing is NOT time wasted! So said Hergé, creator of Tintin. And even though he got boils drawing Tintin, (and drawing Tintin in Nazi uniform) he also took a lot of time out.

R: It makes for better art though!