Erased Tapes are one of our favourite labels.
Emerging from tiny origins, the Berlin based imprint has been able to build a compact, vital roster who straddle the divide between acoustic songcraft, electronic exploration and classical composition. Favouring collaboration as a means of emphasising a sense of community, Erased Tapes are rare in that they are able to impact their character on each release.
Recently toasting their 5th anniversary with a European tour, Clash asked label founder Robert Raths to look back on its history. Containing exclusive photos and audio, here are his reflections.
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Day 1 – Prague
Hello world. I'm currently travelling as part of our 5th anniversary tour, sitting in our tour bus while everyone else (Nils, Anne, Ólafur, Dustin, Adam and co.) is asleep. I was asked to do a little Erased Tapes takeover and I'd like to start it with where this whole journey began – 5 years ago, when I first got to hear the electronic wizardry of a kid called Ryan Lee West from Leicester who back then went by the name Aparatec and soon renamed the project to Rival Consoles. We somehow came across each others work via the internet and he decided to send me a burned ASDA CD-R with 5 tracks on it – in fact, he sent me two copies in case one of them doesn't work. The track I'd like to play you however is taken from his first EP under the Rival Consoles moniker. It has always been a personal favourite of mine as it so beautifully demonstrates a seamless transition from analogue to digital sound aesthetics in the shape of an organ that turns into a computer and the marriage of soft strings and hard-hitting drums.
Ryan was the first to understand and believe in my kooky ideas and I guess I was the first to understand and believe in his.
The same dialogue of contrasting and yet complimenting elements can be found on Ólafur's recent seven-inch 'Two Songs For Dance'. Today I watched Óli and his violin player Viktor soundcheck the A-side 'Endalaus II' for our label night in Prague. (photo credit: schneideralexander.com / caption: Ólafur Arnalds soundchecking Endalaus II at Palac Akropolis in Prague) When I first came across Óli's music in 2007, I instantly noticed how well he manages to blend classical and contemporary instrumentation. Back then it was a fusion of string arrangements with piano and live drums. Soon he started experimenting with more electronic sounds. Ólafur is a perfectionist – the engineer. This is a wonderful example of how he can reduce a song to its core and yet keep its pulse and energy intact.
Day 2 – Budapest
(photo credit: Danyi Balázs / caption: Ólafur Arnalds, Dustin O’Halloran, Sofia Ilyas and Robert Raths (left to right) at the Trafó merch stand in Budapest)
There is a filmesque quality that people see in Erased Tapes. I guess minimal music encourages people to dream, to reflect, to create, as it’s not so overloaded with predefinitions. Instead, we like to leave enough space for interpretation, try not to let our own definitions get in the way of others. Tonight I am sitting behind the merch desk at Trafó – a concert venue in Budapest. I would have never dreamt that our music can travel this far, but due to its mostly instrumental nature I guess it manages to transcend any linguistic barriers. Dustin’s soft piano notes might not get past these metal doors, but I can feel the vibration of Adam’s guitar drones putting pressure on the walls, as the strings slowly build and A Winged Victory For The Sullen climaxes in one message that anyone can understand: the feeling of being alive.
A Winged Victory For The Sullen – A Symphony Pathetique (photo credit: Trafó / caption: A Winged Victory For The Sullen live at Trafó in Budapest)
Watching Dustin and Adam’s body language on stage brings me back to when I first saw Ciaran, Steve, Rob and the rest of Codes In The Clouds’ early formation performing live in a local pub in Dartford, Southeast London. You wouldn’t expect five people whose musical backgrounds couldn’t be further apart to create such a united language that speaks to everybody in the room. I especially like how at the center of the song it’s silence that gets to play the leading role and especially live challenges the audience the most.
Codes In The Clouds – You Are Not What You Think You Are (photo credit: Danyi Balázs / caption: audience at Trafó in Budapest)
Day 3 – Berlin
For most of our artists Berlin has become their homecoming show these days. On the look for the perfect venue to stage our music, I completely fell in love with Radialsystem. I would always prefer a residency in an ideal place like this over renting a bigger venue that can’t keep up with the level of atmosphere and sound quality. Just like our music, the building is a merge of traditional and contemporary elements, which makes it just perfect. The other benefit of a residency in everyone’s hub is that it gives more room for collaborations and special appearances… With the help of a fan who kindly donated his Korg synthesiser via Facebook, Ôli spontaneously decided to do a Kiasmos “aftershow techno party” in the foyer, as he announced it. It was a lot of fun. After a quick line-check his violinist Viktor decided to join in and highlight the acoustic elements in the tracks. People really got into it and we completely ran out of the box of freshly pressed 12”s that night…
Kiasmos – Thrown (photo credit: Silvie Launay / caption: Viktor and Ólafur’s impromptu Kiasmos live set in the foyer of Radialsystem V in Berlin)
Anne Müller is the most special guest we could have hoped for – the best travelling companion you can have. That’s why we kidnapped her for the whole tour! Whilst most people who know Nils and Anne’s collaborative effort 7fingers probably expected them two to go on an electronic excursion on this tour, they actually decided to do the opposite: to strip it down to just one piano & cello piece from their upcoming new album they’re working on. And what beauty it is... most certainly one of the highlights for many people on this tour. Sadly I can’t play it to you as it hasn’t been recorded properly yet. But here is the title track from their wonderful “cellotronica” debut, 7fingers.
Nils Frahm & Anne Müller – 7fingers (photo credit: Silvie Launay / caption: Anne and Nils saying hello to their family and friends at Radialsystem V in Berlin) to be continued…
Day 4 – Berlin
It’s the second day at this wonderful place and the audience tonight was in for a surprise: right in the middle of Nils’s set, our dear Peter Broderick made a very special appearance. First he joined Nils and Óli on his violin – adding layer after layer to his loop pedal. Then he played a solo number on the piano and captivated every single soul in the concert hall with his gentle voice and genuine words. It was a true highlight for me to see him goof around with Nils, playing some sort of improv hip hop track and then later on him completing the all-star encore with his vocal and violin sounds. Luckily this was the only one time I somehow ended up sitting in the front row and this was all happening right there in front of my eyes. I was so moved. Peter once invited me over for dinner at his place and to my surprise he put a raspberry in the salad. Peter literally is just that – the raspberry in our lives.
Peter Broderick – I’ve Tried (photo credit: Silvie Launay / caption: Peter performing at Radialsystem V in Berlin)
There isn’t many voices I instantly trust. Long before Peter joined the label in 2009, Aid of The B.E.F. was the first vocalist on Erased Tapes. From the moment I heard the very first demo track, I believed every single word that came out of his mouth. Aid has this gift of making sense of everything, making the listener feel understood. His words speak to everybody. He is a working class hero, a suburban prophet from the North really.
Day 5 – London
10 sold out shows in as many days… including the label’s birthplace? This is too good to be true. I couldn’t be any happier. Waaaa – hello, Hackney Empire! Having Nils finish every night was the best decision really. Apart from practical reasons – neither Dustin nor Óli would want to play on the grand after Nils “tortured” it for 45 minutes, as it would be completely detuned – the only thing able to top a full chamber orchestra is to see just one man performing on just one instrument, creating as many sounds as 18 musicians. Having witnessed probably over 100 live concerts of Nils since I signed him 3 years ago, I still don’t get tired of it – not even a bit. Every night is a new opportunity for him to start a conversation with an age-old instrument in front of hundreds of ears – tonight around 1400 ears to be exact. There is sweat involved, often tears, sometimes both – it’s gross really. But in the end we are all stuck in our seats, desperately waiting for a tiny little human error to burst the bubble that Nils has in fact turned into a man-machine. It’s not going to happen…
The moment when all 17 musicians come back on stage and unite for one big finale in the form of a continuous build of sound is the perfect ending to it all. It sends a clear message that music transcends any boundaries. We’ve become a family over the last 5 years and we love sharing what we’ve built with everyone around us, because this wouldn’t have been possible without you. So thank you all for sharing this moment, for coming to the shows, for all your continuous support throughout these years.
love Robert + the entire Erased Tapes family (photo credit: Liam Duffy / caption: Erased Tapes family taking a bow at Hackney Empire in London)
p.s. there is only one possible climax after all of this: World’s End Girlfriend – Helter Skelter Cha-Cha-Cha