Label Love #71: The Astral Plane
It’s getting on for 2:30 am when I sit down to talk to Gabe Meier, the man behind The Astral Plane – a label that, in its short time being active, has established itself as a go-to destination for experimental electronic music. It’s not quite the same time of day for Gabe though, he’s based in Los Angeles and has just returned home from his day job at a Vinyl Distribution company, I snap my brain into gear and settle down for the most intriguing of conversations.
The label, like many others nowadays, started out as a blog run by Gabe alongside a couple of other friends. It takes its name (as some of you may have already guessed) from a 2010 Flying Lotus track, 'Do The Astral Plane', which is also the URL of the site. He chuckles as he recounts stories of people asking him if he’s “into astral projection or metaphysical pagan religious stuff” but really he was just a young guy starting a blog and liked the way it sounded as a title. It’s a name that works for the particular brand of dance music that they operate within though, there is a “mystical element” to the music that they release.
The blog began in early 2012, when Gabe and his collaborators were still in school. Living in the suburbs of LA they would regularly make the half hour trip into the city to attend parties such as Low End Theory and Fade To Mind. Originally from Seattle, Gabe says that this was a “really exciting period to be exploring the city for the first time.” These excursions were the impetus for TAP (The Astral Plane). Meier tells me it was initially about “getting into nights for free” but it soon progressed into much more than that.
A year and a half later Gabe took over the entire operation, his initial collaborators either too busy or not as invested in the project as he was. They had recently launched a mix series through the blog, with contributions from the likes of Neana and other Gang Fatale members, and “this became the conduit for the blog for a good while.” It allowed TAP to have direct interaction with the artists they were featuring, and over time they collected enough material for their first release, Heterotopia, which featured contributions from the likes of Air Max ’97, Iglooghost and Kid Antoine.
This was followed up the following year by another compilation entitled Psychotropia, with artists such as Soda Plains, Mechatok and SHALT releasing tracks on the LP. Gabe plans to release another ‘tropia’ compilation at some point, though no concrete plans are yet in place. Soon after that the first “proper” TAP release was announced, in the form of SHALT’s Acheron EP. The record sits somewhere in between noise and club music, it’s crafted with taste and precision, and truly sets the tone for what follows.
“We wouldn’t exist without the connections offered by the Internet."
TAP is a label borne of cyberspace, in fact Gabe informs me that he’s never met any of the artists in person, but maintains a deep relationship with each through Skype and other methods of communication. Operating in this way has enabled Gabe to curate a roster that reaches far and wide, with artists hailing from different corners of Europe as well as being dotted around the states. It has enabled him to grow an audience from all over the world, with interest from Japan, South America and other such far flung destinations.
He harbours a deep respect for labels such as Hessle Audio, the way that they were able to “start out as parties” and grow from there. However it’s not something that he feels was really an option to him – his tastes and the music that he wanted to push dictated his approach. Gabe is now trying to “reverse engineer” this, and bring more LA natives into the fold. He’s throwing parties in the city, as well as having a regular show on NTS’ local offshoot.
Radio is a medium that has been a part of TAP for quite a while now, having held down a slot on Radar for around a year and half. “They reached out to me before the label had even properly begun." Gabe credits this as a key point in the label’s development, having a tangible outlet for the aesthetic that he wanted to push helped to raise his profile and gained him valuable credibility.
Last summer, upon hearing that NTS was to be opening a new station in LA, Gabe jumped at the opportunity to get involved, after a meeting with the founder and station manager he agreed to a monthly show on the station, which is one that he’s been “obsessive” about for years. It’s clear from talking to him that radio forms a large part of his involvement in music, he reels off various internet stations from around the globe that he’s constantly listening to, it’s all part of his “insatiable desire to find new music”.
“The label didn’t come from anything concrete, it came from this bizarre period of hybridisation of music we found on weird download sites, forums or Soundcloud."
Gabe’s connections to the music that he releases and the artists that create it are completely down to the internet, he feels that they are almost part of a virtual “scene”, collaborating internationally and sharing their tastes and ideas. It’s this method of working that has perhaps driven the lack of vinyl releases so far by the label, the nature of their content means that their audience is far more global than other labels might have.
They are venturing into physical for the first time this summer, with a white label from LOFT, featuring a track from his Turbulent Dynamics EP from 2016. Gabe sees it as a test almost, he wants to gauge his potential audience before committing to bigger pressings. There’s a slight trepidation within Gabe on this subject, he’s keen to have the music available to as many people as possible. “I have no issue with people who have resources buying vinyl, but if it’s going to exclude people, especially younger fans, then what’s the point?”
Gabe wants to grow TAP gradually, he relishes the thought of being able to develop the current roster’s profiles, and wants to maintain a family ethos throughout. “The flip-side of the internet based label is these faceless, characterless operations that have artists from all over the place, I feel kind of repulsed by how weak the bonds between artists and label are sometimes.”
One of the most overwhelming sentiments of our conversation is that Gabe “rejects sonic definitions, and the idea of being described as a club label.” He wants TAP to continue to push musical boundaries, both within the releases on the label as well as venturing into live A/V performances and other ways of presenting electronic music. He wants to maintain a musical diversity, and is massively keen not to be pigeonholed.
Photo courtesy of Taylor Rainbolt