This February, London’s Erased Tapes turned ten. Since its inception in 2007 the label has championed the avant-garde with an intimate roster of artists spanning across the globe.
To celebrate, they’ve released a free compilation and opened the Erased Tapes Sound Gallery, a space fitting somewhere between a studio, a cafe, and a record shop yet free from the formalities of all the above. As I catch up with the German-born founder and boss Robert Raths, he’s fine-tuning their new home for its public opening the following day. “It’s a bit of an experiment,” he tells me, “but it’s my way of communicating what we’ve been doing with music in physical form.” Kitted out with a playable Una Corda Piano, wearable slippers, and an omnidirectional speaker system which radiates from the inside out, the comforting, embracing stillness of so much of their output is certainly manifest in the Gallery. “It’s meant to slow people down for a little while in this hectic world – a communal space for people to discover new music and new things.”
Composition and design, those which facilitate space to think, has always been the crux of the label. Raths moved to the capital all those years ago to study architecture, during which time he cultivated the introspective instrumental music which has come to symbolise Erased Tapes ever since. The label expanded and artists naturally diversified, but its atmospheric cohesiveness has all but strengthened. “It’s because we all have this DIY sort of rock and electronic background. Most of us are punks, really.” Ryan Lee West, Ólafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm, Peter Broderick – all names which Raths constantly interweaves as he reminisces on the inspired and collaborative togetherness of all those on the label. Even the most recent signing of the iconic Penguin Cafe fits so effortlessly into its narrative. With the focus of this year “start at the beginning again,” Raths runs us through some of the key albums which have shaped the past decade.
“At the beginning, it was just a website. I had a Myspace where I could just discover all this music and people would find me through it too. Ryan’s Vemeer was exactly that.” Though his only release under the Aparatec moniker, from the root of this glitchy, synth-heavy EP grew the label’s electronic branch of atmospheric and introspective music, spearheaded by his project as Rival Consoles. “When Ryan writes a track it’s got the same potential, it’s just a different talent. Instead of piano or strings he uses predominantly synthesiser sounds. You just need the imagination to hear his music with different instruments to realise he is one of the greatest composers on the label.”
Eulogy for Evolution (2007)Ólafur Arnalds
Yet where Vemeer was rhythmic and synthesised, Arnalds’ debut sparked one of the label’s strongest love affairs: the piano. “The first track I heard was 3055; I loved how in that quiet part you can hear the sustain pedal louder than the notes.” Only seventeen when he wrote it, Eulogy for Evolution is driven by earthily melodic and melancholic keys, over which strings swell and drums crash. “He was very ambitious. The record is meant to resemble the life span from birth to death, so all the track titles are time signatures for points in your life. The ‘dying’ part is so interesting, there’s that really hectic, violent solo which is amazing, and then this detuned radio signal just to make sure people understand this is the end. I love how a young Ólafur would come up with that. I’m still super proud of it.”
Felt (2011)Nils Frahm
As he reflects on Eulogy, Raths suggests that it “subconsciously inspired Nils to find his way back to the piano after years of electronic production.” For an artist at the heart of Erased Tapes, their first release together Felt is a formative record. “Unter,” a two minute track recorded for another small 5”, “was the blueprint”; here, Frahm placed the microphones inside the piano and on its body so mechanics of the instrument could be heard above the notes themselves. “I thought that was so interesting. It was like the difference between a digital camera shot and a beautiful analogue picture; you could hear all the detail and the depths of the sound.” The result is an enthrallingly intimate experience, where the rustling of clothes and pushing of pedals mimic digital clicks and glitches. “I thought that it would be way more of a statement than a beautiful recording in a nice room. And that became Felt.”
Float 2013 (2013)Peter Broderick
Raths first came across Peter Broderick supporting Efterklang in 2007, and began releasing his instrumental works two years later. This was, however, apart from 2008’s Float. “After many years being a big fan of it, I asked Peter if he had any spare copies of the vinyl edition because it was super limited. But he didn’t want me to have one.” It turned out the pressing was delayed and faulty, and there hadn’t been enough resources to redo everything. “I said to Peter it’s never too late to fix something, so why don’t we fix it?” With Frahm brought in to remaster it, Float 2013 became a “family project.” “I think it was a very important release for Peter. It’s a dark horse, [previously] caught in the shadow of Home which was more radio-friendly. But Float is such a timeless release I really thought it needed more attention.”
Corollaries (2013)Lubomyr Melnyk
“I discovered his music on Myspace around 2007. It was impossible to get hold of him, there was just this picture of this wizard-looking guy and these crazy multi piano pieces.” Raths finally tracked Melnyk down at a festival in Cologne where he was booked alongside Frahm and Broderick, and who (to his surprise) approached the pair after their performance. From this encounter came Corollaries, a remarkably intricate and technically complex full length which presented this ‘Continuous Piano Music’ pioneer to a deserved wider audience. “He’s been doing this music for thirty five years,” Raths explains, “and we came in at the tail end. We had presented this finished record and he said ‘where were you guys when I was thirty?’ People need to understand that he was making music to have enough food to survive, academics would not pay him attention. All we could do was show him it doesn’t have to be like that.”
Whelm (2014)Douglas Dare
For a characteristically instrumental label, the signing of singer-songwriter Douglas Dare appears on paper to be something of an anomaly. “People assume that I just don’t like vocals,” Raths says, “which is not the case! It just takes a bit to convince me that something is of value and is sincere.” Similar to Broderick, Raths found these qualities in Dare. Whelm is imbued with deep and aching melodies which shift effortlessly from sparsity to intensity; the control of his voice – his instrument – is akin to Frahm or Arnalds on the piano. “He writes a poem and later he will turn it into a song, much like Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan or the people I grew up with. It’s the centre of his expression. I always felt there wasn’t anyone I could potentially work with that had something to say until him.”
The Kiasmos project between Ólafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen was a slowly blossoming process. What started as a fun techno project around the pair’s solo ventures eventually fabricated into a pulsating, emotive, atmospheric debut. “It started out quite harsh and clubby and then was toned down as they developed an ear for softer and more understated sounds. It’s such a great release, and was a nice way to connect things back to Ryan. A lot of our core audience didn’t expect it, but even the boys themselves didn’t anticipate it to kick off. All of a sudden there were all these offers, they could tour the world without having to take a huge string section.This Kiasmos record was really a landmark.”
Erased Tapes is ten runs this week (12- 13 September) at Colston Hall.