Tessier-Ashpool Recordings releases always impress. From the bass-drenched house adventures of 2nd Sun, to the jazzy electro experimentations of Lossy all the way through to the cybernetically enhanced techno of newest signee Cassini (whose “Fermi” EP we highly recommend you grab HERE, Tessier Ashpool releases always strike you as… well very clearly Tessier Ashpool.
We hooked up over email with Bucharest-hailing label boss Liar for a chat about the origins of the label, his infatuation with Gibson’s Neuromancer and why flip flops are apparently prohibited items if you’re to DJ in Bucharest’s Control Club.
KB: Hello and thanks for speaking to us! What tracks would you recommend to our readers while they make their way through the interview?
Liar: Really anything we’ve ever released, anything Tectonic’s released in the past 2 years, or just Kamikaze Space Programme’s remix of Emika’s “Battles” on repeat. Or Young Thug’s “Barter 6”.
KB: You’ve existed as Liar for about 3 years, but you’ve been making music since way back. What were you doing prior to that?
L: I’d love to say something fun like “I was a gay-4-pay prostitute” or something working class like “I was a dock worker”… both seem very romantic to me. I was just making decent Venetian Snares rip-offs (which were still essentially shit on account of being rip-offs), overzealously getting my useless Poli-Sci major, spending a lot of downtime in hospitals on account of some routine shit that went wrong… Before that I was a hunky teen alternative model that fronted a lot of mediocre scene metal bands and got into street fights. Before that I was an autistic-spectrum teacher’s pet that liked to dance a lot. All in all I’ve been making music for 9 years, give or take. I don’t feel like I really existed between 18 and 23. I remember this kid that I loved being up until 18, and this man I’ve loved being ever since 23. In between is just a huge coma.
KB: Tessier Ashpool Recordings is a sister-label of Infinite Machine, who you are also very involved with. Musically, the catalogue is somewhat similar – why did you start an offshoot?
L: “Somewhat” is the key word here. Me and Infinite Machine’s Charlie are friends, who are into a lot of the same music and I also release on his label regularly, so of course there’s a lot of cross-talk there. Plus, three of our first releases were hand-me-downs from IM. TAR would not exist if Charlie hadn’t pushed me to start a label. Initially we were gonna be an IM imprint, just a parallel outlet to take some of the strain off the main release schedule. The second I started actually running the label, however, I was overtaken by megalomania, as I usually am, and set out to make an entire business, brand and institution out of it, financially and legally branching off in the process. Naturally, I’ve never thought of why we both exist independently until you asked me just now. I suppose, if I’m trying to approximate an outside perspective – IM is the more generalist, flexible, of-the-now, always-on-the-cutting-edge label, as it always has been, whereas TAR is this stringently-curated, self-referential, concept-obsessive label that looks as much to the past as it does to the future. To broadly exemplify – my own Genesis Dubs could have only come out on IM, IMAMI’s Contrapposto could have easily come out on either label, whereas Cassini’s “Fermi” is legacy TAR shit.
KB: I was quite surprised to read that Tiga is one your biggest influences. Do you see any similarities between TAR and what he’s been doing with Turbo?
L: I fucking wish. Even when I’m not personally 100% on something they put out, I can still recognize the flawless curation that goes into it. There’s a growing number of labels that are spotless out there, like Hemlock, Hessle Audio, Tectonic, Swamp81, Tresor and Ostgut Ton to name a few. Turbo is akin to any of the aforementioned, but add to that a generous dollop of context and humor, courtesy of Tiga himself, and you get the closest thing to a perfect institution in my book. He’s the foremost entertainer and bringer of joy in an industry that has for the most past got lost up its own ass.
KB: How would you define this element of futurism that you feel that all TAR artists share?
L: Essentially, it all boils down to shared criteria of quality, sophistication, and literal futurism. “Quality”, in this instance, refers to all of the immediate traits of a track – is it good, is it novel, is it well-produced, is it impressive, is it impactful, is it instantly memorable, is it arch-competent? It needs to be all of these things. “Sophistication” concerns itself with the pedigree of the track, and of the artist – do they understand the stylistic descriptors they’re using, are they well-versed and educated in them, are they at home in the scene(s) they operate in, or do they use certain elements as bait, decoration or affectation? I do not like the bandwagon jumpers, clones, pseudo-plagiarists, and naïve artists which clutter up the market nowadays. I make sure my artists are scholars of music – or, at the very least, have done their homework pertaining to the tracks that I signed from them. “Literal futurism” entails feasible syncretism between the music I release with readily-existing futurist branches of other art forms – whether we’re discussing prescient sci-fi of the 60s, 80s or 90s, or turn-of-the-century Italian futurism in the arts, or anything in the ballpark of this.
KB: You handle the mastering for all the releases of the label you’ve mentioned before that you’re superstitious with numbers and apply this to mixing/mastering. This sounds like an out there but puzzling approach – can you explain a bit more?
L: I actually live my whole life on a dubious intersection of hard science and soft mysticism. There’s an almost magical convergence of patterns in technical fields that goes beyond the oft-abused truisms pertaining to the golden ratio. Eventually, I realized that working “blind” (or rather, working deaf), and inputting values which I’d previously empirically established as statistically prevalent, would result in mixes and masters with near-perfect frequency curves, phase alignment and harmonic series interlocking – wherein “near-perfect” means “most pleasing to the ear and subconscious upon double blind tests”. From there, only minimal adjustments need to be made by ear. It turned the only part that often seems like a chore in electronic music production into lovely mathematical spell-crafting. Or, I dunno, I might just be romanticizing acquired expertise. But I prefer to think there are made hidden ciphers to manipulating sound, that I’ve stumbled upon at least one, and that mine has a lot to do with the number “9”.
KB: TAR borrow from Gibson’s “Neuromancer”, the label is named after a family from the book and the cover art is a take on the book’s cover. What makes Neuromancer so important? Are there other elements from its world that you would like to bring to life in some way with the label?
L: Ideally I would like to transplant the entire reality of Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy onto our own, but given that that’s out of the question… Realistically, all I can hope for is providing a gateway for our more erudite listeners to experience these books for themselves – which, if they were to become more widely absorbed into the collective unconscious, would lead to a marked decline in faux-spiritual self-indulgent projection, a marked increase in inescapable awareness of the self, of fear, mortality and entropy, a marked increase in the interest in transcendence and transhumanism, as opposed to hedonism and escapism and a marked increase in R&D pertaining to the former. I really, really need cyberization to become commonplace or at least available to the general public, within my (ideally unnaturally extended) lifetime.
KB: You’ve said that you envision Tessier-Ashpool “in its prime as a megacorp, and what they would do if they decided to have a label under their belt as well – of course in a less boring universe, where huge multinationals release music that conveys their intrinsic aesthetic, instead of pop dirge”. If you could A&R the label of a multinational, which one would it be?
L: Oh man… First off, Sinopec or Aramco (which aren’t multinationals, but they ARE incorporated, and have ungodly revenues) – just imagine, Oriental oil and gas giants releasing music about their technology and practices. Imagine what Vatican Shadow did with Remember Your Black Day, but less political, more corporate-dynamic. Secondly, General Motors – automotive industry leader from Detroit… I mean, come on, the record label subsidiary just founds itself! Although, it should be Gerald Donald of Dopplereffekt who A&R’s it, not me. And finally, Sony. It’s weird because Sony Music exists already… and they were exactly the corp I was thinking of when I wrote that. Imagine Sony Music continuing to profit from Jay-Z and Bey and RiRi and Ultra Records and the rest of their absolutely sprawling web of labels and sublabels and whatnot (which include a big foothold and country music and euro-metal, amongst many other extremely lucrative markets), AND also retain a Sony Music-about-Sony (if you will) imprint, which would be conceptually anchored in everything from their keiretsu origins, through their technology exploits, to their idiosyncratic emergence in the various branches of the entertainment industry.
KB: TAR is currently a digital label, do you have any plans of entering the physical market or are you happy being an internet label?
L: Ooh I hate the term “internet label”. I know you didn’t mean it derogatorily, but when I think “internet label”, I think “Bandcamp-only amateurs who can’t even afford an aggregator to get on iTunes at the very least”. We got worldwide distribution, PR, the works, we just don’t do vinyl, come on! (chuckles) I was born too late to experience vinyl on a consistent basis (the physical media of my early ears were cassette tape and then CD – I miss neither), so I have no nostalgia for it. And I was born too early to be a snot-nose twat who picks up vinyl fetishism as a peer-pressured affectation. And yeah the dusty crackles do sound nice, but not really. And the more subtle way it shapes the audio are audible, yes, but not to the general public… probably me and like another 0.1% of the population have ears naturally predisposed, trained, and protected enough to hear that. I couldn’t give two shits about a DJ being vinyl-only, unless he scratches, but unfortunately, while I do see the skill involved in turntablism, I don’t see any merit in it as an art form (not anymore at least). Otherwise, it usually means just less fluid transitions and a more limited selection, for the sake of some completely Luddite tactile comfort zone, which I can’t even relate to. So yes, we’re VERY happy being a digital-only label. Having said all that, however, our fans and supporters have been increasingly more vocal in their demand for physical releases from our camp – and if market forces dictate as such, we naturally must comply, and supply. I’m not about to go out of pocket though… so as soon as the distributor P&D crash subsides, and distros start doing P&D again (if ever), you can expect us right there with everybody selling overpriced, obsolete physical media collectibles like good like capitalists.
KB: Can you tell us a bit about the latest release, the “Fermi” EP by Cassini?
L: The in-depth description is all there in the release notes, which one can find almost everywhere. Other than that, I can tell you that it’s got my favorite artwork so far, that I signed it literally on first listen (which had only ever happened with Mutual Friend’s shit, a week prior), and that it’s really good music, made by an absolute don, that you should like more than most other music, and slightly less than some tunes we feel are like the best tunes ever made, and you should buy it, and share it everywhere. If you pinky-swear to get your girlfriend into it, even though she’s not an ‘ead, you may pirate it.
KB: You were recently nominated for the Berlin music video awards for Pygmalion, how did that go?
L: I didn’t go, I asked some Berlin acquaintances to go in my stead, and they bailed at the last minute. Did I win anything?
KB: You unfortunately got done by a 90’s UK rave band… And to bring this to a close, why shouldn’t you wear flip-flops to Control Club in Bucharest?
L: You misconstrued my tone – I was being sarky. Everyone should wear anything they like. Especially in clubs. This goes way back to 2010 or 2011 (I forget), before I’d released anything, when I asked a mate to get me on a line-up supporting Lorn, because I adore Lorn. I wore a polo, shorts, and flip-flops, as it was the middle of a heat-wave. The actual event organizer and venue owner didn’t like the idea of me being on the line-up without me going through him, and since he couldn’t fault my music, he decided to hate on my footwear. Years later, after his party series failed and his club got absorbed into a bigger, better, more successful brand, and he was kept on as a sort of figurehead, I still hear about the “utter blasphemy” of my having worn flip-flops in 40 degrees Celsius (while my feet were obscured by the desk anyway). The irony is that, to this day, this guy has abysmal fashion sense, by any account. Some Romanians are very petty, and small like that… I actually dread him reading this. Hopefully the “flip-flop fiasco” will have meant that he’s written me off enough that he doesn’t read my interviews.
Interview by Thomas Romana