Interview

An oral history of Erased Tapes – a genre-defining independent record label

Founder Robert Raths and label artists Peter Broderick, Ólafur Arnalds and Rival Consoles look back on 10 years of a delicate DIY family

Robert Raths meets me at the front door of the Sound Gallery smiling like a proud homeowner. After a flurry of handshakes he shows me around Erased Tapes’ new East London home, eagerly pointing out where he’s moved a beam, remodelled a wall or altered a floor. An ex-children’s bookshop on Victoria Park Road, the gallery is yet another way his label is reshaping what it is to be a modern record company. A remote label until now (with something of a base in an industrial unit in Fulham), their new premises will provide valuable offices and a custom-made space for events, performances and workshops. “In a way, it’s an extension of the label’s principles,” Raths tells me as our tour reaches the newly renovated open-plan boardroom. “For the first time, we can show people what we’re about spiritually and politically as well as musically.”

There aren’t many record labels that can claim to have defined a whole genre, but, founded by the German-born Raths in 2007, Erased Tapes has been nurturing and shaping avant-garde music for a decade now. Home to the likes of Douglas Dare, Nils Frahm and Masayoshi Fujita, among others, the label’s artists might explore the worlds of post rock, ambient electronica and modern classical composition, but they all orbit around a shared love of hypnotic melodies and sonic innovation. It’s this, combined with the sheer level of care and attention that they pour into every release, that has won Erased Tapes a cult-like following among a certain section of music fans. From Berlin to Los Angeles, there’s an army of people readily hoovering up any LP, film or artwork that is stamped with the label’s understated mountain peak logo.

2017 marks Erased Tapes’ tenth anniversary, and, unsurprisingly, it’s shaping up to be a banner year. In addition to their new home, there are also two celebratory shows at the Royal Festival Hall and Village Underground this September. The largest shows the team have ever done, these will see almost all of the label’s current roster performing in one way or another. So, on the eve of this massive milestone, think of this oral history as a whistle-stop tour of the last ten years, from Erased Tapes’ first EP with Rival Consoles, through the construction of a genre-defining roster of ambient and avant-garde musicians, to their recent move to East London. Over the past month, I’ve spoken with Raths, and label artists Peter Broderick, Ólafur Arnalds and Ryan West aka Rival Consoles.

Part 1. 2007; a beginning

Robert Raths: You could say that the roots of Erased Tapes lie in Myspace. As cheesy as it sounds, that website really brought a generation of people together.

Peter Broderick: Erased Tapes started at a time when music was shifting a lot in the digital age. Rather than stick with the old model of how record labels should operate, Robert has been able to carve his own path.

Robert Raths: I moved to London in 2004 from Germany to study architecture, particularly the design of acoustic spaces. I’m drawn to the idea of creating buildings that bring people together.

Ólafur Arnalds: One thing that has always struck me about Erased Tapes is that they don’t sign an artist unless they’re friends with them. They’ve always liked to keep things close to their hearts in that way.

Robert Raths: I just love the idea of exploring sound. Before starting the label, I used to share my own music on Myspace but I was never really all that happy with the results. One day it just dawned on me that maybe I’m better at figuring out what people need to do and maybe I should help other artists to blossom. That’s how I sort of ended up working with Ryan.

Ryan West aka Rival Consoles: I’d been making music for a while and I was looking for a label to release it. God knows why; I wasn’t ready at all…

Robert Raths: It was a little bit out of the blue. Ryan just sent me a message on Myspace. It said something like, “hey, I came across your page and it looks really interesting. Even though I have no idea what you are all about, here’s some of my stuff – it’ll sell like hotcakes.” The four tracks he sent me became the ‘Vermeer EP’, the first record we ever did.

Robert Raths in 2016. Photography by Alex Kozobolis.

Ryan West: I remember being drawn to the name and decided to message them, asking them to check out my music. From that simple exchange, I very quickly became part of the label.

Robert Raths: He sent me these two CDs in the post. One had this really sketchy writing on it – safety copy in case the other one fucks up. I downloaded it to my iPod and spent the next few weeks riding around on night buses thinking, ‘wow, this is amazing.’

Ryan West: Those early days were very, very DIY. We were doing everything for the first time.

Peter Broderick: One of the best things Robert did in those early days was to set down a look for the label. It’s given this real sense of continuity to Erased Tapes. Even though the music on the label is quite diverse, there is still a really strong sense of style somehow.

Robert Raths: I’ve always believed that the artwork is as important as the music. It’s like the starter to a meal; when it’s done well you can almost hear the music even before you put the record on.

Ryan West: Straight away I realised that Robert just has this eye for bringing everything together. When you make music on a daily basis you become obsessed with the functionality of this part or that part, so having someone who can see the big picture helps a lot when it comes to the decision-making.

Part 2. Starting a family

Robert Raths: I came across Ólafur a few months after Ryan’s record came out. Justin from [Erased Tapes trio] The British Expeditionary Force introduced me to some tracks born out of instrumentals he’d done for the metalcore band Heaven Shall Burn.

Ólafur Arnalds: It happened pretty fast. I remember Robert messaging me on Myspace back in 2007 and offered to do a UK release of the music I had on there.

Robert Raths: The more I talked to him, the more I realised that he didn’t really have a team to help him reach other people. That’s how the release of his first album, ‘Eulogy for Evolution’, came about.

Ólafur Arnalds: I’d been working on it for a few years before the release. I guess the oldest songs are from when I was 17 or 18 years old. I’d done some stuff with a small German label before, but Erased Tapes definitely pushed my music out to a larger audience.

Robert Raths: It was the first time I’d worked on a full-length album and I really wanted everyone to hear it. I mean, I remember playing it to my parents and them not hating it. I realised that if I really wanted to do him justice, then I needed to take this record around the world.

Peter Broderick: I first met Robert in 2007 just after he’d signed Ólafur. I’d moved to Denmark to play with Efterklang and every time I’d come to London I’d see him outside our shows handing out promo CDs and flyers. I was like ‘who is this guy?’.

Robert Raths: Peter came on board around 2009. I was starting to think that this digital thing wasn’t going to last forever, so I started to look for people who complimented each other – that’s how I came across people like Peter, Nils Frahm and A Winged Victory.

Peter Broderick: I ended up working with Erased Tapes in a very organic way. ‘Music for Falling From Trees’ was a collaboration I’d done with Adrienne Hart, a London-based choreographer who also became friends with the label at the time. So, when it came time to put out the score, it made sense to release it with Robert.

Robert Raths: That’s turned out to be a crucial part in the label’s history. Through people working on each other’s tracks, I realised that we had artists that really complimented each other. Since then, I’ve encouraged everyone to collaborate and make records together as much as they can.

Dustin O’Halloran, Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds setting up on Erased Tapes 5th Anniversary Tour. Photo by Alexander Schneider. 2012.

Peter Broderick: That’s one of the best things about Robert: he loves to get involved creatively. You hear these stories all the time about a band fighting with their label over who gets creative control, but with Erased Tapes it’s never been like that. We’ve worked together from the start.

Ryan West: When I was first on the label I was still developing my own processes and aesthetic. As I got to know my equipment and ways of working better, collaborations become a lot less stressful.

Peter Broderick: It’s also how the label has found some of their most successful artists. For example, Nils Frahm was a friend of mine and met Robert when he came on tour with me. Their relationship has really blossomed since and Nils has done some incredible things on Erased Tapes. It’s a bit of a family in that way.

Part 3. Escaping the ‘neoclassical’ pigeon hole

Ryan West: Having Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds kind of cemented a defining style, I guess. Towards the end of the first five years, the label had become known for being ‘neoclassical’ for the want of a better term.

Robert Raths: It bugs me when people describe Erased Tapes as a ‘contemporary classical’ or ‘neoclassical’ label. The whole phrase is a massive contradiction.

Ryan West: I get the term and I agree that it’s probably one of the better shorthand descriptions available, but I’ve never heard anyone at the label use it. The fact that I’m on the label negates the idea that Erased Tapes is only a classical label.

Peter Broderick: It’s one of those lazy, catch-all phrases. I mean, yeah, some of Erased Tapes’ most successful artists can be described as neoclassical, but if you listened to the whole catalogue you’d find loads of stuff that doesn’t fit that at all…

Ólafur Arnalds: Who cares what people call it? It’s all just music to me…

Robert Raths: It has been one of the reasons I started doing the free giveaway compilations; to allow people to see how it all works together. A piece of piano music from, say Nils, takes on a whole different character when you put it side by side with a glitch track from World’s End Girlfriend.

Part 4. Ten years and counting

Peter Broderick: It’s crazy to think how far Erased Tapes has come. If I could tell myself when I first signed about what the label would eventually evolve into, I’d be amazed.

Robert Raths: It’s been a rocky path at times, but I wouldn’t change a thing as it was all meant to be. It’s good to be able to sit down for a moment, breathe in and realise what we’ve done together. After all, before this year the only physical thing we had in common was the records we put out. Now we have a space like the Sound Gallery and are about to take over the Southbank Centre. It’s crazy.

Ryan West: Having the Sound Gallery will be a massive change again. It’ll bring a brand-new dimension to the label. It’ll be a way of being spontaneous again.

Robert Raths: Building the Sound Gallery was a natural reaction to what’s happening in London right now. We were sick of hearing about venues dying out or artists struggling for a place to practise and to exhibit their work. So we thought why not open our own space and allow people to do just that. We wanted to create somewhere for everyone, not just for the label.

Penguin Cafe performing at the grand opening of the Erased Tapes Sound Gallery in 2017. Photography by Alex Kozobolis.

Peter Broderick: I think it’s going to bring a new openness to the way we do things. Record labels are mostly a ‘behind the scenes’ thing, so it’s cool to have a place where the listener can go down and meet the people who make it all happen. It’s a way for Erased Tapes to show people what they’re all about.

Robert Raths: Then we’ve also got these big ten-year anniversary shows at the Southbank and at Colston Hall in Bristol coming up. Big shows like that are completing the cycle in a way.

Peter Broderick: The ten-year anniversary shows are particularly exciting. We haven’t done anything of this size before. We’ve had a few of us gather for things like Piano Day, but the two days at the Royal Festival Hall will be a big coming together of everyone who’s worked on the label.

Robert Raths: It’s amazing that we’ve grown to the size to be able to take over such a historic venue. When you think of everyone who works on these things and all the time everyone’s put in, you realise that we’ve done something extraordinary.

Ryan West: I guess the secret to Erased Tapes’ success has been equal amounts of luck and good taste. Robert has signed acts that have become successful and has exposed the label to more and more people. The whole thing is like a positive feedback loop.

Peter Broderick: For me, there’s no great mystery as to why Erased Tapes is such a well-loved label. It’s just a bunch of very dedicated people sharing what they love.

Robert Raths: I think a lot of people tend to think that music is a gamble, but it’s not. There are no winners or losers, it’s more like an energy that you share with people. Right now, after ten years, it’s time to give even more back, and who knows? Perhaps we can inspire the next group of artists who are starting from zero, just like we did.

Visit the Erased Tapes Sound Gallery at 174 Victoria Park Road, London E9

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