The London based independent record label is focusing on releasing avant-garde music which is widely regarded as very diverse in genres and styles. The record company was established by German-born Robert Raths in early 2007 and is currently managed by Raths and Sofia Ilyas. Its roster of contemporary classical music composers includes Ólafur Arnalds from Iceland, German composer Nils Frahm, Ukrainian continuous music pioneer Lubomyr Melnyk, American multi-instrumentalist Peter Broderick, A Winged Victory For The Sullen - the collaborative project of Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie and Dustin O'Halloran, singer songwriter Douglas Dare, English film composer Michael Price and electronic artist Rival Consoles amongst others. Erased Tapes has become a meeting point and melting pot for innovative and imaginative musicians who knew there had to be somewhere they could call home. As artist Nils Frahm says, the label is a wonderful place for creating music and I couldn't be happier in this family. And it is a family. There’s a great sense of freedom on this label. For Carhartt WIP Radio Sofia Ilyas mixed a show that gains an insight into the labels multidimensional musical approach. To accompany it we talked to her and Robert about the label's history, their visions, and some stuff beyond music.
(Robert Raths and Sofia Ilyas, photo by Dusan Kacan)
Hi Sofia, hi Robert, can you shortly introduce yourself to our readers and tell them where and how did Erased Tapes Records start?
Robert: I founded Erased Tapes in 2007. It was a somehow subconscious decision to start a record label. I guess it all started with a heightened interest in music that doesn’t dictate any meaning and instead celebrates the freedom of leaving blanks, music that allowed the listener to stop time and reflect on things. Sofia joined in 2011 and has been helping me manage the label since.
If you could describe the Erased Tapes sound in one sentence, what would you say?
Robert: Timeless music for decaying souls.
Sofia: Erased Tapes is the sound of all its unique artists, which I can't describe in one sentence.
What is your musical background?
Robert: I’m not too sure if my musical background is any special. My dad played organ in the church, so my mum encouraged me to play the piano. Bach, Mozart, you name it. But it wasn’t my instrument. My true passion was fine art. I’d paint and listen to music for hours and hours. All I needed was a ghetto blaster, paint, and a canvas and I was happy. This lead me to studying architecture and music becoming my best companion.
Erased Tapes has a massive artist roster - how do you keep so many artists/bands on your books at once?
Robert: We seem to have found the right balance, where we can give every project the attention it needs. But every good family also needs a bit of chaos. We try to avoid creating an assembly line for art. It feels unnatural to me to put ourselves and the artists under the pressure of a set release schedule. Some things you cannot plan or predict. You need to let them grow and be ready to capture them in the right moment. We also encourage everyone on the label to share, to collaborate, to step back, and forget about all the silly rules we tend to create for ourselves.
What process do you follow for getting new artists and what qualities do you look for as "curators" of music?
Robert: There’s no process as such. It’s a feeling, an instinct, a sonic language we share and recognise in each other.
Sofia: Our most recent signing, the lovely Douglas Dare, followed us on Twitter which had his SoundCloud page on it, we checked it out and things naturally developed from there.
What do you find most challenging about the work you do?
Robert: Being in two places at the same time.
Sofia: It can stem from various things like an album cover not coming together, to a test pressing of the vinyl record not sounding right. But we always love a challenge.
How important are the non-musical components of your releases, i.e. packaging and album art?
Sofia: Anyone that owns our records can see how important the packaging is to us. The music of course is the core but the way the music is delivered to our fans is really important to us and our artists. We always want our fans to receive something that feels like an artifact, something they'll keep forever or maybe pass on to a friend. Other items such as a canvas bag or a cleaning cloth stems from our own personal experiences with records.
What exciting stuff do you have in the pipeline currently?
Robert: Right now we’re preparing the debut album of Douglas Dare. It’s a powerful first statement, which we can’t wait to share with you. This year will also see the return of A Winged Victory For The Sullen, the long-awaited album from Ólafur Arnalds’ electronic project Kiasmos, and a few other surprises.
The piano plays a main roll in many of your releases: what do you personally like about it as an instrument?
Robert: A piano has a large body and therefore a lot of room for characteristics. Working with so many pianists you quickly start to understand that the piano is a person, a mutual partner in each performance. After a while you even start recognising their unique voice in recordings and remember them from concerts. It’s a little freaky really.
Sofia: Nils' Yamaha CP70 that he used to take on tour is in our main room and it's such a centerpiece. A piano has that command, it’s like a whole orchestra and it sounds so complete even when being played solo. It's had such an impact in musical history and still does today.
Can you describe a bit of what your "office" looks like and what an "average" day at the office might be?
Sofia: We're lucky to have a beautiful and very spacious loft apartment in London. Just like the packaging, we wanted an office space that expressed the label and we couldn't find that in a traditional office setting. It’s comforting when guests say – 'this is so Erased Tapes!' Not so much when they ask 'but where is all your stuff?' – we like it minimal. An average day involves, listening and dancing around to records we love – our form of daily exercise, plus lots of emailing and eating avocados.
(Robert and Sofia at the Erased Tapes office, photo by Dusan Kacan)
Some of your releases are very loud, others are very quite. Some are linked to electronic or even dance music, others are made for concert halls – how come and how do you manage balance between these two poles?
Sofia: It's funny how many times we are asked this. A solo violin record can sound just as frantic as a dance record. There's always elements that mirror each other across different types of music. We don't view it as something we have to balance but something to enjoy, as our own personal musical taste varies, too. Last year we had an electronic night to showcase the other side to the label and our artists. It was great to see the fans having a boogie and enjoying the show as much as seated concerts.
Can you give some advice to someone who is interested in starting his or her own label?
Robert: If you are able to see something special in the ordinary, a pattern in a random scribble, then you’ve already formed one.
What are your biggest musical influences as label makers and musicians?
Sofia: We all have access to so much music that it feels like every day I come across something I think sounds cool. Sometimes I really have to switch off as it can be depressing to hear so much new music and always think – gosh, how did I miss this? Having said that, nothing beats coming across an artist who expresses something really honest with no gimmicks. I'm obsessed with artists like Yehudi Menuhin who use their instrument in such a heartfelt way. I really see that in our artists, too: such as Peter Broderick on the violin and Nils Frahm when he plays the piano.
Are you cautious about being put into a box and do you see yourself as part of any scene?
Robert: No. They call us the children of Arvo Pärt. As much as I think that’s a compliment, I’d like to know what Lubomyr Melnyk has to say about that, haha.
Reaching audiences usually involves reaching out to the press and possibly working with a PR company. What's your perspective on the promo system? In which way do music journalism and PR companies change the way music is perceived by the public?
Sofia: I do some of the press in-house and also work with some amazing individuals who all do a great job in getting the music out there so I don't have much experience with PR companies. The promo system should always be a discussion with the artist and should go in line with the type of release it is. The journalists that we know are very passionate about getting unknown artists out to more fans and without them we wouldn’t have as many listeners as we do. I think the public are smart enough to make their own decisions on music that they hear and the role of promo should always be to get the record out to as many receptive people as possible.
Why do you think is Erased Tapes so in demand?
Robert: You tell me. I have no idea. I guess with so much noise out there, we all appreciate a bit of silence.
Do you think that London has had a strong influence on your work as label people?
Sofia: Yes for sure. There's always something happening, a great gig or event such as the Independent Label Market or the V&A x Boiler Room session, where our artist Rival Consoles performed lately. We also find it so inspiring to see other young London labels such as Houndstooth or Civil Music doing so well.
There seems to be two fundamental tendencies in music today: On the one hand, a move towards complete virtualisation, where tracks and albums are merely released as digital files. And, on the other, an even closer union between music, artwork, packaging and physical presentation. Where do you stand between these poles?
Robert: Anything is possible since the world wide web. But it’s the content that counts. Real craftsmanship will always endure.
How did you select the tracks for your Carhartt WIP Radio show?
Sofia: I narrowed it down to one track per artist that I think showcases them well to a newer audience, and then re-organised them in a flow I hope is enjoyable for you.
What makes a track/song/composition exceptional to you? Tell us a classic that you feel is really outstanding and describe what it is about it that moves you so much.
Robert: To me, what makes a great work exceptional is its atmosphere, the human touch, little imperfections in the performance. It can be the smallest things that make such a difference. That aerosol can being used as a percussion in Joy Division’s She’s Lost Control for example gets me every time.
What was your musical intake when you were younger?
Sofia: Music was banned in my youth, which made me grow to be very attached to it. I had a secret tape recorder/radio player so my musical intake was heavily via the radio. That's how I discovered what I'd call my high school bands - Alice In Chains, Radiohead etc.
What old albums you rediscovered lately and what makes them special?
Robert: Seefeel’s Quique and Harold Budd’s Pavilion Of Dreams. Although very different in style, both records are all about atmosphere.
Please recommend two artists to our readers which you feel deserve their attention.
Sofia: I'm going to cheat and list two older artists and two current - Thelonious Monk, Yehudi Menuhin, Marisa Anderson, and James Holden.
What are you most looking forward to in 2014?
Robert: Recording with Lubomyr again.
You are located in London. What are your favorite spots and secrets in your hometown that you would recommend to somebody that comes around for a visit?
Sofia: I can recommend visiting The Vinyl Pimp in Hackney Wick. Hon the owner has a great collection of second hand records - over 40,000 in fact! There's a great cafe in that area, too - Counter Cafe.
What are 5 words that would describe your personal fashion style?
Sofia: Dress, tights, boots – all black.
Robert: All German. Socks and sandals.
Erased Tapes Records discography