TANSTAAFL stands for "there aint no such thing as a free lunch". It's also an excellent record label set up by John Osborn and Julian Smith (AKA October) a few years back, later being joined by Eric Cloutier. Since its inception, they've gone on to put out a truly impressive string of releases. They've always been a big favourite of mine and so, with the recent release of "Head Down, Arms Buddah Position" by the excellent Joey Anderson I felt it was a perfect time to catch up with John to pick his brain about the label. We ended up chatting for well over an hour about everything from djing accross the globe, the perils of rice vodka, running a label, living as an artist and plenty more besides.
Joe Europe: So how was your trip to Korea? What’s the scene like over there?
John Osborn: Yeah it was really good. There’s a really small scene in Korea. Most of the clubs that they have there are really horrible EDM things…
E: Yeah yeah.
J: They gave us Gangam Style, you know! (Laughs)
E: Exactly! (Laughs)
J: There’s this one club though, called Club Mystic and it was their third birthday party. I didn’t actually know that until after I’d played there.
E: So you didn’t get to play Happy Birthday?! Oh god!
J: No! But it was phenomenal. I was blown away. Then on the Sunday afterwards the same club organised an open air party with was in a location that I suppose you could compare with being Covent Garden or somewhere like that.
E: Oh wow, nice.
J: There was like 100 people there. It was great. I managed to call the police somehow and they turned up…
E: Get deported or something..
J: It’s really strange, I’ve been joking about being big in Japan and it does actually seem like, at the moment, I’m quite popular and well known in Asia. They had a reservation list, because the open air party was free, and apparently after it was announced that I was playing the whole list of places was full in two hours. I was like, ‘what?!’
E: Wow! You need to get yourself over there more often! I’ve got a friend that’s an English teacher out there, and he’s been out there for quite a while now, and he’s played a few times in bars out there. He plays really really hard techno and I think he’s managed to find a group of like 15 people that love this same kind of music and to really smash it out.
J: The scene that is there is small, but they’re dedicated people. They’re really into it.
J: The club I played at was actually quite small, I suppose 3/500 maximum capacity? But during the course of the evening they had something like 700 paying guests! There was a queue outside with one in one out business the whole night. I’m no spring chicken, and I started playing at 2o’clock, and then I asked if there was a DJ after me and they were just like, ‘No…’ Then I asked how long I was playing for and they just said I could play for however long I wanted to keep the club open for! I ended up doing a nearly 6 hour set, but it was one of those ones where the 6 hours went in a flash.
E: Yeah, I can imagine.
J: It was just fucking fun. The crowd just loved it; they were totally up for it. There was a photographer there and he took a picture of me, I’m not sure if you’ve seen it.
E: I think I have, is it the one with you playing and there’s loads of people just like right up in your face.
J: Yeah! I think it’s probably one of the best club photos I’ve ever seen. The faces and the expression on the people’s faces is just so intense. It’s amazing, and it really did capture the vibe of what the place was like. It was great, but it was one of those ones that’s also really weird as well. I flew out Friday and was back already on Monday.
E: Basically like it never happened.
J: Exactly. That’s the weird thing about DJing anyway, when you get to a certain level you’re really living for that moment. Then the minute it’s over, it’s gone. It’s just you know, a memory.
E: Yeah. You probably spend more time sat in an airport or something than you do actually playing.
J: I was 30 hours in transit, there and back.
J: Yeah, that’s quite intense. The return journey is always good, because you’ve got this serene happy smile on when the gig was good.
E: It shows true dedication as well. The effort they’ve gone too to fly someone all that way!
J: Yeah, for essentially one night and an open air party the next day. Amazing people, really friendly and they have incredible food. Just wow. There are absolutely no drugs at all in this country, so it’s very heavy drinking. Heavy heavy drinking. All around the streets where the club was located, there were people just sat on the street with empties of vodka and beer bottles and everything around them. It was like, fucking hell people come on. Think of your liver! I like a drink as much as the next man does but that was just…
E: How do you think that would affect the crowd? Their reaction to it all I suppose.
J: I was thinking about that as I went into the set, the fact that it was a purely alcohol fuelled crowd. I was thinking that if I was on at 2, it probably wasn’t going to go much past 5am as when you’re drinking people just can’t keep going that long. We ended up taking it through until 7.30am! The picture that was taken, you’d genuinely think everyone was on massive amounts of MDMA by the looks of it. But no, they were all just boozed up! Which in a certain respect gave me more proud a feeling.
E: Totally. That’s the thing. I went out on the weekend and I didn’t want to get too involved, then I ended up drinking 4 cans of Red Bull and a load of beer and then I woke up with the most hideous furry mouth that you could ever imagine.
J: Yeah! I had that on Monday morning in Seoul. After the open air they took me for dinner to a Korean BBQ and then I started getting into the Soju, which is basically a rice vodka. They were telling me that it was notorious for giving you a hellish headache. The next thing I know I’m waking up at 5am and crawling out of the hotel to the 7-11 opposite to get some painkillers.
E: Oh no!
J: It was that bad!
E: Did they have manic grins on their faces when they were telling you this and pushing the bottle towards you?
J: I was just like, ‘Yeah whatever!’ I was 6 beers and a gin & tonic in anyway! It was a really good trip, it was really fun. It was nice to have another trip out to Asia after the whole Japan tour that I’d just done.
E: I hadn’t realized you’d just done that.
J: I was basically out there for the whole of September.
E: Oh wow.
J: The main reason was playing at Labyrinth Festival.
E: Oh yeah, of course. Have you done that before?
J: No, first time. That really was something special. There probably isn’t a language on the planet that has the vocabulary to properly describe what an incredible experience it was. It’s known as a festival, but after I’ve been there to experience it and also play there, calling it a festival feels really pathetic in a way. It’s not a festival; it’s kind of an example of how human consciousness can come together in a collective way with joy and peace through electronic music. It’s almost like a spiritual event. This festival was originally, 12 or 15 years ago, a psytrance festival. Basically only trance crackers could create this kind of thing. What they’ve done now is they’ve distilled everything that’s good in a trance festival, and kept all of them. Then replaced all of the bad things with decent music.
E: I hear the sound system is also incredible.
J: It’s beyond belief. Chris Hobson from mnml ssgs fame, who has a hand in the organization of the festival, I met him 5 years ago in Berghain and it the was first time he’d been there. I asked him what he thought of the sound system and he said, ‘It’s shit! You wait until the day you come to Labyrinth and you’ll know what I mean.’ Maybe it’s a little bit better, but when we’re talking at that kind of level, how can you really tell?
E: Yeah yeah.
J: Then I went to Labyrinth, and I heard it, and now I agree with him. The Berghain sound system, in comparison to Labyrinth, is shit.
E: I hope it hasn’t ruined it for you.
J: On one hadn’t the labyrinth festival has fuelled me with inspiration and desire to continue doing what I’m doing. But for the first couple of gigs afterwards it was really really hard. Because it’s not just Grade A top the game kind of stuff. It’s beyond that. It genuinely is a magical, spiritual experience and of course no club ever really touches that. I had to fly to play in Lyon, France after Japan and I just felt a bit numb going through the motions. I played a good set but it was just kind of like, ‘oh this just another club with loads of drunk people just dancing around and this is just not what it’s about…’ So there was a part of me that was completely ruined by the experience. I almost wanted to just absolutely give up. I just had this total push and pull, ebb and flow of total inspiration and then on the other hand, it can’t get better than that.
E: I was lucky enough to go to Freerotation a couple of years ago, and I grew up in Shropshire and got into this by going into hippy raves in the middle of nowhere and it just feels like the whole Freerotation thing has come out of a free party ethos. It makes you into a bit of a hippy and you take that with you when you go into it.
J: I’m the same. To me, house and techno is kind of a hippy thing anyway.
J: From the mid to early 90’s, that’s what I grew up around. Peace, love, back massages and gurning. So Labyrinth Festival was absolutely perfect for me. Even though you’ve got some really heavy techno there, the people that are playing it modify their sound whilst they’re there and it does become very tribal and trancey and it works there and makes complete sense. It’s an incredible event. And just Japanese people man. They’re fucking incredible people.
E: Is it the same there that drugs aren’t part of it?
J: Uhhh, certainly not like most European clubs where drugs take centre stage.
E: Fair enough.
J: Japanese ravers tripping is probably one of the most entertaining things I have witnessed. I watched this guy trying to bury his head in the soil for quite some time!
E: Was that a response to a specific record you played?!
J: Haha! Actually after I played there was a live experimental drone set from Surgeon and this woman started screaming, it sounded quite disturbing. It sounded like she was being raped or something. So the security went and found her because it really sounded like she needed help, and basically she was having such an amazing, mind blowing time that it all just came out at once in this huge scream- she was totally fine.
J: She just didn’t know what to do with all these overwhelming emotions of joy. It was a bit weird to witness, very powerful. As well, I think that the Japanese people lead such stressful lives that when they let go there’s a lot of steam to be released. Also the food that they have there isn’t shitty horrible festival food. It’s top of the range amazing Japanese food. You wake up in the morning and all you want to do is actually get up ASAP and go & get food because it’s so fucking nice! And the people that are sleeping there are allowed to take alcohol in as well. I was dancing around and being offered whiskey from people and it wasn’t like your standard red label stuff. They’re drinking 24 year old whiskey. People don’t even drop cigarettes on the floor. They’ve all go their own ashtrays. Grade A games everywhere
J: There’s that amount of care.
E: Have you ever been to Glastonbury and then walked off on the last day when everything is completely covered in shit? I’ve only been once a few years ago but I’m just trying to imagine the complete opposite to that.
J: Exactly. After the festival has finished, it’s only couple of hours after the sound system and everything has been packed up and gone when the place is empty and you wouldn’t even know anything has happened there.
E: So I suppose we should talk about the label then! Tell me how you met Julian (October) and how the label came together?
J: So it was around 2007 I think. I was at this time pretty disinterested in house & techno – the whole minimal sound in Berlin really turned me off. But then one fateful evening I was in London with some very good, old friends and we went out raving, I have no idea where we was or who was playing but the house music was on point, and my love was rekindled. After the party we went back to my mates house and he played me a record he was very enthusiastic about. My jaw hit the floor – I had never heard anything like it. I basically stole this record from my mate, he was a bit shocked that I just took it home to Berlin with me I think! I did leave him money to get a new copy though, I’m not a total arse haha. This record was Caravan Records number one, by October. I then found Julian online via myspace and we became mutual admirers of each others work. I brought him to Berlin to play at one of my parties and it was actually one of the first times he played in Berlin. Our friendship grew from this moment on and then once Caravan Records got burnt TANSTAAFL rose from the ashes so to say. Around two years ago Eric Cloutier of The Bunker, NYC fame moved to Berlin. We had been good friends for a few years before and I was talking to him how frustrated I was at not selling any digital copies of our tracks.
We have never been a vinyl only label out of choice, I find that just stupid in today’s world, but we was a vinyl label because I just did not have the time to figure out this back end server at clone, how to upload the stuff, the meta date and so on. At the time I was running the TANSTAAFL radio show once every two weeks plus the TANSTAAFL NIGHTS parties at Tresor every other month, and the label, and design work and my lovely family of two kids and a wife. The digital side was just one extra bag too many for me to carry. Eric was like – I can do this for you, not a problem. So he came into the fold that way, taking care of all things digital for me. Plus he is a phenomenal DJ and a solid mate
E: You seem to work with lots of friends of yours who are already established artists. Do you listen to many demos?
J: Essentially yes. I am getting demos from some people and I, as of yet, have yet to be blown away by someone where I’m going to say that I’m going to release it. I haven’t come across any tracks yet by someone that I don’t know, or not connected to in some way that I’m willing to release.
Having said that, I have just recently been in contact with a couple of guys from England who have sent me some stuff that I have been very impressed with and I think it could actually be the first people who’s stuff that I would release that would be from outside the circle of friends or the circle of people that I’m associated with. I’m just trying to remember their name now!
E: That’s exciting I suppose.
J: They are Black Hall and Bookless. You heard of them?
E: No no, not heard of them. (On later reflection it turns out I've released on the same label as them - Vitalik - so we're actually label buddies!)
J: I guess it does actually have a connection as well. When they sent the demo to me I thought I’d recognized the name. And then they said that they’d released on this label and have got remixes from Fred P and Virginia who we are close to. Then I realized there was a connection there already and I was starting to feel comfortable with it and it started to make more sense. I’d been sent these tracks on promo already before I’d even knew these guys and saw that there was a Fred P and Virginia remix and I’ve actually been playing their tracks without even having a clue who they are.
J: then, out of the blue, they get in contact with me and send me some promos. They were good but they’re not quite there yet. I’m not going to release these ones but I’ve told them to keep sending me stuff. So they’re the first people that I’ve told that I think we’re going to work with at some point. Hopefully they send me something that I know instantly will be going out on Tanstaafl planets.
E: I was going to ask as well, how much do you look at developing the stuff you’ve been sent? Is it just like, mate sent you a tune and you like it and it comes out, or how much do you try and work together to get to something?
J: It’s an interesting question because on the one hand I’d like to work with someone and say that I like it but then work on it and say that the high hat isn’t quite right or the break needs to be slightly longer, but then on the other hand, you’re telling someone how to do his or her art.
E: Yeah absolutely.
J: As an artist myself, I can appreciate and understand that that isn’t something that you particularly want to hear. But, there are people that do release things and I want their opinion and I want them to tell me, and they’re the people that I have a strong relationship with. Lets use Blackhall and Bookless as an example, they seem like cool cats and as the relationship builds and I go back to London to meet them etc. and they’re going to be sending me stuff, I am tentatively going to be saying stuff like, ‘this track here that’s 4 minutes long that you think is the B side, I think you should make it longer and make it the A side and swap you’re a side onto the B side.’ That kind of thing, it’s just about being diplomatic and knowing what’s right and being on the same page as each other.
I think with Tallmen, I’ve released everything as I’ve heard it on the spot. I haven’t suggested any changes or edits to be made. Having said that, when Tallmen sent me the What You Need track, I straight away pointed out that it was an incredible track. Then I suggested that he made a dub disco version of it for the other side.
J: That’s enough; just give me 2 versions of it because the track is strong enough. With someone like John Daly or Bill Youngman who has 20 years worth of productions behind then I’d just put that stuff straight out. I’d feel a bit rude.
E: I suppose that’s the level of people you’re working with. You’re not taking on people that particularly need developing. They’re your peers.
J: Exactly I think also, having said that, everyone that I work with I probably could say something too because I wouldn’t work with someone that couldn’t take criticism. I don’t want to deal with some ego twat. At the end of the day it is dance music and it is a form of art but it’s not as important as space travel or a cure for cancer.
E: How does the long distance thing work for you in terms of running it? Sounds like you’re taking most of the stuff at the moment, or you constantly on Skype?
J: Well, most of the time, Julian comes down to Berlin at least 2 or 3 times a year and then we hang out and chat about it or we just chat over Facetime, whatever. It’s working out perfectly fine for now. For the best part of the matter, I can just get on with most of it myself. We have such a relationship where I don’t need to phone him all of the time to get permission to cross the t’s and dot the I’s.
E: You’ve got to trust each other I suppose.
J: Yeah, exactly. To be honest, it can’t work without that trust because a lot of the time these things have to happen very quickly and I can’t sit around waiting for a reply to an email or for someone to pick up the phone. And obviously, Julian trusts me. And on the other hand I have Eric here in the city as well. If I feel like I really need a question answered or I am unsure I can go to Eric as he’s literally down the road from me. He’s always got an instant opinion!
E: That’s always nice! One thing I wanted to ask you, because you’ve said you do all the design as well. How important is all the stuff that goes around the music? In terms of a visual identity, how important does that rate to you?
J: Oh it plays a major role. I’m actually a trained graphic designer so …
E: Is that what you did when you first moved to Berlin? You’ve been there for a while now haven’t you?
J: I’ve been here for near 16 years. And before that I studied at Central Saint Martins in Graphic Design. My first ever design job was for Computer Active magazine. Not sure if you’ve ever heard of it?
E: Computer Active? No I can’t say I have…
J: It’s on the magazine stand in England… it sucks hard. I worked on that and it was really fucking boring and shit so that’s one of the reasons why I left London and came to Berlin. I had visions that I was going to come to Berlin and start work at Hardwax straight away. That never happened! Hah.
But yeah, the whole visual identity and look of the label is very important. The whole ethos of the label at the start was very science fiction orientated, as Julian and I are both massive sci-fi heads. I like to mix my love of science fiction and science and spirituality into one big thing. Especially things like the Theory of Singularity and all of that along with Buddhism are all things I put into one big pot and melt together. So all the graphics and the whole look and feel of everything is all related around that. We spent a long time on the Tanstaafl typography and that was influenced by Ray Kurzweil. Do you know him?
J: Yeah, and if you know of him you’ll know that he invented Optical Character Recognition and the Tanstaafl typeface is based on one of the first Optical Character Recognition typefaces. I tweaked it a lot to make it look pretty, poetic license, but the initial inspiration was coming from that. Also, the robot used on the sleeve of the Tanstaafl #1, which was my release, was an Isaac Asimov robot. So everything all the way through is science & spirituality based and serves as a purpose to underline the concept and the ideology of the music that we’re releasing. The Joey Anderson graphics are actually a photo that I took whilst I was at the emperor’s temple in Tokyo.
E: Right okay. That obviously links in with the name of the record…
J: Yeah and spirituality and being in Tokyo being heads down arms Buddha. I just thought it made sense.
E: Did that picture influence the title? Or did he send you it and say that that was what it’s called?
J: Yeah yeah. At the time I was in Japan the tracks had just been sent off for mastering and in my mind I knew that I had to… I can’t force things, that just doesn’t work for me. I can’t sit down at a computer and think, ‘right lets make a track ’ Things have to come naturally to me. The same with design. It’s the shower scenario. All your best ideas come in the shower. But obviously I can’t be in the shower all the time so I go for walks and bike rides and stuff like that. That’s when my ideas and things happen. It’s a bit like mediation. Clear your mind and allow it to become completely clear of thought and then suddenly you’ll realise that you’ve got this source or well of creative ideas that do just appear to come from no-where sometimes.
But yeah, I was walking around the Emperors Temple in Tokyo and I was actually doing field recordings of these fucking insane bugs and this weird dystopian tannoy announcement telling people what they should and shouldn’t do. It was done in a friendly Japanese way, but at the same time it was definitely telling you what to do. So I was doing all these field recordings and then one of these bugs was making this noise that reminded me of the Heads Down Arms Folded Buddha Position. Then I turned round and saw all these Japanese trees and saw this Japanese Temple gateway and started taking a bunch of photos, starting to think that it could possibly become the artwork. When I got back to Berlin and started to play around with the pictures I realized that it fitted and it made sense.
E: Going back to the sci-fi thing. It seems like the early techno that I grew up listening to has such a strong element of science fiction running through it. But I don’t get that so much any more today. And it’s interesting because I didn’t realise you guys were so into that and it’s interesting to see it coming out.
J: Yeah, you’ve hit the nail on the head that.
E: Techno seems to refer back on itself rather than to be about anything anymore.
J: Techno from the beginning was all about technological advancements. I can say this extremely categorically, if there’s one thing that I cannot stand right now is this absurd obsession with vinyl only. You know?
J: It drives me insane. I’ve only made the switch recently, about a year and half ago. I’m still buying vinyl, but I record my vinyl.
E: Yeah I think I read about this in an interview – you put a lot of effort into ripping your records right?
J: Yeah. I have an absurdly high end ripping station. It takes me about half an hour to record one record. It’s not saving me any time at all. It’s not saving me money either! In fact, it’s costing me the same amount plus time on top of it! But, then it allows me to have a superior vinyl sound than if I was playing vinyl and it also allows me to utilize all this fucking amazing modern technology that turntables don’t have. It allows me to do things that just simply aren’t possible to do on vinyl. Maybe Kid Koala could do it… But then I think even he’d be pretty hard pushed to do some of the things. For me, that’s what techno is about. It’s about the touching the boarders of the future. Most often a utopian vision of the future. Unfortunately that seems to have been lost in a mess of club land, drugs being quick famous scene etc. That kind of thing. It’s all kind of destroyed this pure art from and the vision of sci-fi.
E: I think with the vinyl only thing, there’s a fine line between people really caring about something but also using that to try and say, ‘I’m better than you.’
J: Exactly. Yeah. To say that you’re vinyl only has become a way of trying to be more credible. The amount of labels that have sprung up that are white label hand stamped 300-edition limited no repress is crazy. Ultimately, this is all fucking pointless because all of this has come from a digital source, a computer, and then pressed into wax. If people were really true about it you’d record straight from an analogue machine to reel-to-reel tape and then it’s go to vinyl like the Analogue Cops. That’s purism and I admire that. It’s purism for a technical skill and that I like. But all the rest of it is just bullshit. It’s just fashion. It’s like walking around with a Comme des Garcons t-shirt and that just irritates me. And I’ve had ridiculous situations where people have come up to me, I had this guy come up to me when I was playing in France once, and he genuinely said ‘I really liked your set and I’d like to book you for my party, but we book vinyl only DJ’s and you don’t’ pay with vinyl…’ and then I just said, ‘Look mate, I’m not having this discussion with you, but let me say one thing. Everything I just played was vinyl, now go home and think about how it is possible if I was just playing on CDJ’s.’
E: Yeah yeah. You also make an interesting point with the white label 300 press hand stamped thing. I run a label myself, and we don’t do digital for the same reason you said earlier; not being able to figure it out! There’s an element of A it’s expensive, and I’d love to be pressing 2000 records, but there is no way we could afford that, but a lot of people try to turn that into an exclusive thing. What about economies of scale for you guys?
J: That brings it nice and neatly round to it. We started off as a vinyl only label, by default not by choice. Lets take the Joey Anderson release for example. If I sell out of all of my units of the Joey Anderson release, I still stand to loose money. I am literally paying out my own pocket to put this out. I am not going to make a penny out of this. My children would be angry if they knew how much. That could have been a new fucking PlayStation 4!
E: Do they read The Ransom Note? We’ll edit that one out!
J: (Laughs) So this is why digital is now also so important to me. Because then hopefully, and this is literally praying to the gods that there may be, the digital sales that will then recuperate the money that I lose. So that’s really how the economics come down on something like this. I love the physical object of vinyl with artwork, I think it’s a wonderful format to have and to hold in your hands. It actually lasts longer than digital stuff. I can show you here (holds up at least 3 hard drives), I have countless amounts of back-ups of all my digital music. And they’re all the same on there, because hard drives break. They break easily. If my laptop got stolen and I thought I was okay because I had a back-up, then only to find that I’ve got a hard drive failure, I’m fucked. I’m super paranoid. But vinyl is probably one of the best ways of storing information. It’s been around for ages! I’ve still got records from god knows when and they still sound as good as they did when they were first pressed. And then thank god that digital exists because the digital sales make this love of vinyl viable. I don’t hate on digital, I fucking love digital. Digital is wonderful; it allows people to buy my music within 5 seconds. They can then download it and make my niche hobby a viable option.
E: So is the entire back catalogue up in digital form now?
J: Yeah, Eric has got it all up online now. We still give our priority to vinyl; we don’t release digital on the same day as the vinyl. We appreciate and respect people that want to buy the vinyl and respect the exclusiveness of having the vinyl version before the digital people but only by a few weeks. We’re not going to be complete idiots. Plus I don’t want people to loose interest in the release because I need to recuperate the money through the digital sales. I need to buy my children a Christmas present!
E: Especially once they’ve read this and realise you’re chucking money away! How far do you plan ahead with this? What do you want to achieve? Sometimes I ask people where they see the label in 5 years time and they freak out as they don’t plan that far ahead. Do you do that?
J: Well, there’s a bit of both. I do have a release schedule and a rough plan for next year. I’ve got at least 3 artists that are in the bag that will be releasing with us, which are quite exciting artists. One of them being XDB and then another one of them will be the Italian Irishman Larosa.
E: Yeah, i‘ve heard his stuff.
J: And then the big Berlin techno head, Mr Henning Bear. He heard the Joey Anderson at an early stage and got so inspired and wanted to make music in that kind of direction, so I asked do one for us!. Joey Anderson is generally known for making house, but if you listen to that last release it’s techno, not house, just slower.
E: Absolutely, yeah. His album is just mental.
J: That’s not strictly rhythm house. Henning Bear runs the Grounded Theory party and booking agency so he’s used to making 135bpm techno and he heard those Anderson tracks and just thought it was really inspiring and wanted to make music like it. Then I just said that I’d love to hear music like that from him and that we should do something for Tanstaafl next year and so that gave him more inspiration.
E: Is this music in place or is it an on going thing? The stuff that’s lined up for next year, have you got the music already?
J: No. I have some stuff from Lerosa that we’re in discussion with. XDB is one of those artists that we’ve pencilled in for April next year and I understand he is making the music as we talk now. Making music, it’s a real battle to find the time to make the music between DJing all the time. It’s a real pain in the arse because nobody makes any money from making music. This is a discussion that’s been well document over all our online music hubs. The fact that people don’t earn anything from making music, does that mean the quality of music is suffering? I think so yes, a fucking lot. The only way you can make decent music is to get really deep into it and get lost in it through the creative pain and process. But with that, you cannot be playing 2 gigs every weekend, so you have to take time out. And by taking time out that means you’re not making any money.
E: For someone that works 9 to 5 and does this stuff for The Ransom Note and makes music and all this. I can completely concur with what you’re saying. It just takes the piss.
J: Yeah, absolutely. You get frustrated as well. There have been times where I’ve almost broken down on my knees crying because I’ve been hit with a tax bill and I can’t fucking pay it. I’m pretty much broke all of the time! All I seem to do is work my arse off, fly round the world DJing, spend time in the studio making music that’s going to sound decent and then also doing the odd design job on the side to top things up and pay the rent and put food on the table! And then the fucking government wants to send me to jail if I don’t pay this bill! And I’m just there wondering what the fucking point is. I might as well become a drug dealer or a bank robber.
E: People would thank you more for either of them. I suppose historically that’s been the pull of places like Berlin. The whole thing that it boils down to is that it’s cheap to live.
J: That’s right. That’s why I ended up staying here. I moved here in ’99 and I had absolutely no fucking clue about Berlin back then if I’m honest. All I knew was that it was a crazy German city where they do this weird Love Parade thing and they all wear funny clothes and get their tits out. I knew literally nothing about it. Then I got to the city and realized I could breath, there was empty property everywhere and just the physical emptiness of these properties gives you the sense of opportunities and that things can happen. I was in this gorgeous flat and back then I was paying 300deutche mark a month which I think is €150 a month? And it was a huge flat. Obviously things have got phenomenally more expensive now but still in comparison to other cities it’s cheap to live here. If you’re a prepared to go a little bit further out to the less trendy areas then you can still get good deals. It’s a bit comparable to what London was like in the 90’s. You could grab a decent house in Lewisham with 2 of your mates but now you can’t.
E:I live in Lewisham and I’m afraid to even say what I pay for my rent.
J: I used to live in Honour Oak Park.
E: I’m in Forest Hill just so just round the corner! £1200 for a 2 bed flat with my wife. But we only have to pay that because I’ve got one of them kitted out as a studio.
J: Imagine if you weren’t married and you were just a single guy.
E: Absolutely yeah.
J: You’d only have your own salary. Where the fuck are you going to live?! You’d be living in a flat share with a bunch of strangers like you was once at college. You could walk into Berlin on your own and you’d be able to find yourself an affordable flat that you could live in and have your studio in the back room. And you could also go out to one of the best clubs every weekend.
E: Well yeah. I might just have to inform my wife that we’re moving. Sorry love, I’m off! Just don’t throw my bike out! So you’ve done the release schedule, what about beyond?
J: Oh the future! Well, I just hope to keep on doing it for as long as I can. I would love to reach the 50th or even the 100th release. I’d love it to become a super established label of quality over time. I’d love to be able to put on parties with the artists that are involved anywhere around the world. I actually used to have a Tanstaafl radio show out here in Berlin. We had the Tanstaafl Extravaganza Radio, Tanstaafl nights and Tanstaafl Records. All of those three things I was running as well but it all just got a bit too much. So I stopped the radio show and I had to stop doing the parties in Berlin due to the political landscape of clubs in Berlin.
E: Politics within the clubs you mean?
J: Yeah. If you’re signed to one then other people won’t book you. That kind of thing.
E: Oh right yeah.
J: But you don’t want to be playing too much in your own city because of exclusiveness. That was something I didn’t think about as a DJ or an artist. I just thought you could play your tunes out and have fun. My wife is starting to help me out as well with the label management and stuff and coming up with ideas. She’s also a booker so she was saying to me the other day that something we want to do is do Tanstaafl parties again. That’ll probably come about in the later part 2015 and that will only involve artists that have released on the label. I often find it strange that when you see label parties and there’s only like one guy that’s actually on the label playing.
In terms of short-term projects, I want to get some merchandise going. Somewhere inside me there is a designer that lives on and so I want to get some t-shirts out and for some reason I want to do Tanstaafl slippers.
E: Pure techno.
J: There is nothing better than coming home with a bad of records getting a cup of tea, putting your slippers on, smoking a spliff and listening to your tunes that you’ve just brought!
E: Fair play! I think that’s a massive gap in the market to be honest!
J: I’ve found this guy that makes these really nice, camel brown, moleskin leather slippers with a leather sole and wool inside and he said he’d do them for me for a cost price. And I basically just want them with the Tanstaafl logo on them.
E: That’s beautiful.
J: I can’t think of anyone else that’s done slippers as merchandise.
E: But after this they all bloody will! Get on it quick, as soon as they read this it’s out the bag!
J: An 8th of weed, a cup of tea, a bag of records and some slippers. Doesn’t get better than that. I think the main goal is probably going back to one of the things we’d talked about earlier. I want to release music from people that people have never heard of and break out their careers. I would really love to be in that position, to release someone’s record and watch him or her fly and to be able to have a career and make a living out of it. As a label owner I think that’s the best position anyone could ever be in. There’s probably nothing more satisfying than that. To put something out that no one’s ever heard of and because of the respect that people have for the label they actually listen to the music and take it on board and then someone’s career can actually be launched from that.
E: I suppose you can’t just start of and do that. You need to be in a place where people can get something out of the name that they’re being associated with.
J: Exactly. If you look at a label like Hotflush or OstGutTon, for example; you release on these labels and you’re pretty much dead certain to be breaking through, of course the quality has to be there. If you have 2 or 3 releases on these labels, you’re there. I suppose, ultimately, that is my goal; to be able to keep on sharing the love and enabling other artists to have a platform to have a career, to make music.
E: Is there anything else we haven’t covered that you want to mention, or anything like that?
J: Can’t think so, no. We’ve been pretty comprehensive there!
E: We have been pretty comprehensive haven’t we? Well I thoroughly enjoyed that!
J: Yeah it was fun mate!
E: Are you playing in London any time soon?
J: Oh yeah, that’s something I could say! I suppose it’s not really label related but you know…
E: Fire away
J: I literally play all around the world. This year I have done New York, San Francisco, Beijing, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Austria, Copenhagen, Switzerland. God know where else. But I don’t get booked in England.
E: Do you not?
J: Nope. I have only ever been booked once in England this year and I played in this place called OSLO.
E: Yeah, I’ve eaten there as there’s a restaurant.
J: The only reason I played there was because the party was being put on by a good friend of mine, Andy Blake, so he invited me over. For some reason, my hometown eludes me. So you can write that in there!
E: London, sort ya shit out!
J: Sort your fucking shit out and bring me home!
E: Ok - one last thing before we go. Please can you describe the label in 5 words and 5 pictures (you can see the lovely pictures throughout the interview)
J: Mechanised, Analytical, Fluid, Potent, Composed
Find out more about Tanstaafl Planets through their official Facebook page.
Enjoy this article? Want more?
You can support Ransom Note and independent journalism through our Patreon campaign now.
Become a friend of Ransom Note