Peter Kersten first tried his hand at producing in 2000, releasing his first ever effort on Dial, the label he had just set up with friends Carsten Jost and Paul Kominek (Turner). His melancholic, measured brand of house and techno has been consistent in its quality for more than ten years, thirty singles, five full length albums and around fifty remixes. In the realm of electronic music, maintaining such a consistency of quality is rare; having your first releases sound remarkably undated over this length of time is almost unheard of, yet this rings true for Kersten’s music. With Lawrence as his most well-known moniker — dedicated to his deeper musical expressions — he uses the handle Sten for his dance floor oriented material. Over the years, Dial has seen a remarkable run of releases from kindred artists like Efdemin, John Roberts, Pigon, Pantha Du Prince, Roman Flügel and many more. Its off-shoot label, Laid, has since 2009 done similarly well on a deep house tip, with memorable releases by Rick Wade, Kassem Mosse, Smallpeople and RNDM. In 2006, Kersten, along with a few close friends set up the record store and physical label Smallville Records. The friendly vibes and family feel of the store also extends to the regular parties they throw and of course the music that the label releases. Little White Earbuds got in touch with Kersten to talk about the longevity of Dial, which producers are exciting him right now and the forthcoming projects for his various enterprises.
You’ve been releasing music for over 10 years now. One thing that has always struck me about your productions is that right from the start you’ve had a very polished sound. How do you feel your own productions have changed or evolved over the years?
Writing music for me is a very spontaneous issue. For over a decade I have been digging a lot of styles — house music, techno, ambient, hip-hop — from my very first album to my latest CD, Until Then, Goodbye on Mule Electronic. I don’t see any straight line of changes, but I am still hungry for trying out any sound that fits. The new release on Koze’s Pampa imprint was quite an adventure, as well as my latest project, an experimental jazz band with Christian Naujoks and Richard von der Schulenburg.
Likewise there is a strong aesthetic running through the artwork that accompanies your albums and single releases, which has remained consistent in theme and style. Do you work closely with the people who are responsible for the artwork?
Yes, there is a close relationship to almost all artists who are responsible for the artworks of our labels. One of my very best friends, Stefan Marx, has done all the covers for Smallville and Mule Electronic. He even released his own “record,” a gatefold cover including three gorgeous posters. Our graphic designers Christian Doering for Laid and mainly Till Sperrle for Dial Records are doing an extraordinary, wonderful job, as well as all the artists contributing their amazing pieces. After running Dial Records for more than 10 years, we just started running an art gallery in Berlin called Mathew.
Dial has also remained a by-word for quality in the world of deep techno. What has been your approach to the running of the label in terms of keeping it moving forward yet retaining its consistent high quality?
What holds the Dial family together is the never-ending openness and curiosity for any kind of music. The musicians appearing on our little eccentric label are into so many music styles, whether it is contemporary classic, Norwegian black metal, or sine wave drones. Listening to African mbira music or some old Folkways records at Phillip Sollmann’s place, for example, is part of our influences for making dance music too.
With vinyl becoming more and more rare and less of a tradable commodity, can you tell us the reasons behind setting up the Smallville store?
Exactly when selling vinyl turned out being only a business struggle, including dumping prices on the Internet and discussions about downloads, Julius Steinhoff, Stella Plazonja, Just von Ahlefeld, and myself hardly missed the main points of running a record store: having nice selected music, a great interior setup, lovely people meeting in a cozy atmosphere. Finances are not our thing, but still its working quite well with doing the Smallville parties and printing Stefan Marx t-shirts, et cetera.
And how about the label? What is the mission of the label and how does it differ from Dial and Laid?
Smallville is a straight, deep, club label with focus on friends being part of it. Laid is a house music label too, including contributions by some heroes we love.
Have you had any formal musical training or are you self taught?
I am 98% self taught, I would say. Or let’s say I don’t know much theoretically about production — it still is a very intuitive process.
How long were you experimenting with production before you started making things you were happy enough with to release?
My first try ever was also my first released track, “Shoes,” appearing on Dial-00.
Since you started releasing have there been any major changes to your studio setup that have changed the way you make music?
Oh yes, I started only playing some samples on an E-mu E64 and Kurzweil [K]2000 using Cubase. For quite a while I am using mostly Logic Audio but the really important part of my studio is some selection of vintage acoustic instruments, including a steel drum and an old Deagan vibraphone.
In terms of your album releases, how much planning goes into your albums? Are they thought out with material written around certain themes or ideas, or are they more just a collection of tracks?
There is never any kind of master plan. When I finish a single track or an album I never see an approach regarding the beginning or a straight process. But surely the feeling behind it creates a whole piece of art, not just a collection of tracks. The same goes with my first mix CD, Timeless, on Cocoon — it was quite a long process to collect the tracks and to let them grow together.
Is there non-electronic or non-dance related music that you listen to that influences your own productions?
All the time I am listening to non-electronic or non-dance related music all the time. Schubert, Scelsi, Linda Perhacs, Jeremy Jay, Ariel Pink, Robert Wyatt — a never-ending list of music — that’s my life!
Apart from the remix of the Lawrence track “Never As Always,” it’s been a few years since we’ve heard anything from your Sten alias. Do you have any Sten material you’re working on at the moment, or is your focus on Lawrence?
The focus is on Lawrence at the moment — quite influenced by Sten though.
Your latest release has come out on Pampa. Did you make the tracks specifically for the label, or did you already have them completed? Are you interested in working with the label again in the future?
“Kurama” was intended to be the very first track of my next album. But then at one of the very sweetest festivals ever — the Smallville Open Air in August 2011 — I played back to back with DJ Koze, and he fell in love with that number. He constantly tried to convince me to have it as a Pampa single. If there isn’t any new album by Lawrence this year, it’s because of Koze. But I love him; I would even give him my last pants.
Speaking of labels, what have been some of your favorite labels in the past while apart from your own ones?
Workshop has been a top label for between-the-chairs dance music, I love all the releases here. The Kann guys from Leipzig are my favorites when it comes to cozy house music. Live At Robert Johnson, Underground Quality, Pampa, Aesthetic Audio, It’s, Sistrum — a lot of great stuff is recently coming out. I cannot believe that I am digging electronic dance music for over 20 years now and it never gets boring.
And are there any newer artists you’ve discovered lately who you’re really enjoying?
Richard von der Schulenburg, aka RVDS, is not just my favorite DJ ever — he is an excellent producer playing the keys of deepness all night and day. The Juniper boys from Manchester are the shooting stars of today. Kyle Hall is one of the most exciting newsters — wicked stuff. And Smallpeople, Moomin, Christopher Rau — the Smallville’s magic releases are getting me all the time. And watch out Kassian Troyer!
What can we expect from you over the next year across the board, from Lawrence to Sten and with Dial, Laid, and Smallville?
A Lawrence remix for my friend Superpitcher should be coming out soon. As I am still not deep enough into production for my next album, I’ll be finishing a new Dial 12″ soon. The Smallpeople will be releasing their first vinyl album this year, and I just can’t wait for it — it’s gonna be wonderful! On Dial we will leave the dance floor for some new albums by Christian Naujoks, Phantom Ghost, and a new project by Stephan Abry and Pantha Du Prince called Ursprung. The year will be started by 12″s from Kassian Troyer on Dial and a various artists single on Laid featuring Palisade (aka Redshape), Moomin, and RNDM. What a happy new year!