As part of LWE’s mid-year roundup, I reminisced about the finest live dance music experiences I’ve had this year, and first and foremost on my mind was the marathon set at Watergate from Bristol’s Julian October B2B Berlin’s John Osborn. Well, I wasn’t kidding when I said that night was all kinds of great, and here’s some proof for you. October, head honcho of the long-running Caravan label and Bristol behind-the-scenes mad genius, has a strong resume as both producer of house-inflected music of all sorts and a fine DJ; and John Osborn is one of Berlin’s finest house DJs, the rare sort who hasn’t needed to produce to earn a living off his name. The two have had a partnership of some sort or another for a number of years, but their collaboration has finally been made official with the launch of their TANSTAAFL platform. Centered around an eponymous label (just recently debuting with Osborn’s long-awaited debut as a producer, the sensually throbbing “Epoch4″ ), the TANSTAAFL SIGNAL radio show on Berlin’s TwenFM , and a soon-to-come series of clubnights, LWE’s 102nd exclusive podcast is the tangible solidification of the duo’s inspiring perspective on house music.
[Part 1: DJ October]
01. Fred P, “On This Vibe” (P. Scott Sistrum Remix) [Esperanza]
02. Vakula, “Dub As Always” [Shevchenko]
03. October & Borai, “Left Out” [BRSTL#001]
04. Gerd, “Palm Leaves (Serge & Tyrell Dub) [Royal Oak]
05. John Heckle, “The 4th Dimension” [Mathematics Recordings]
06. Chicago Skyway, “Bad Driver” (Aroy Dee Edit) [M>O>S Deep]
07. Specter, “Pipe Bomb” [Sound Signature]
08. Kassem Mosse, “Untitled” [Workshop]
09. DJ Qu, “Mixing Room” [Strength Music]
10. Afrikan Sciences, “NanoRock Skank” (Aybee’s Sunrise Reprise) [Deepblak]
[Part 2: John Osborn]
11. Christopher Rau, “Untilteld” [Jack Off Records*]
12. Redshape, “In Trust We Space” [Present]
13. Christopher Rau, “Gamble” [Jack Off Records*]
14. Kassem Mosse, “We Speak To Those” [Nonplus+ Records]
15. G-Man, “El Jem” [Swim ~]
16. Levon Vincent, “Games Dub” [Underground Quality]
17. Larse, “The More I Want” [Lany Recordings]
18. Matthew Burton & Nick Lawson, “Take Me Away” (Schatrax Remix)
[Fear Of Flying]
19. Jonas Kopp, “Ruda” [Curle Recordings]
20. Gesloten Cirkel, “Yamagic” [Moustache Techno]
21. Christopher Rau, “Untilteld” [Jack Off Records*]
* denotes tracks which, as of the time of publishing, are unreleased
How did you two meet and decide to start working together?
John Osborn: I stalked him online after hearing Caravan 001. I then brought October to Berlin for his first ever gig and we became very good friends. We never really decided to start working together as such, it just evolved very organically as these things generally do between people that have a parallel understanding of each other.
October: As John said, he booked me to play in Berlin for the first time, I arrived in Berlin slightly apprehensive but John welcomed me with open arms. We have been deeply close friends ever since.
In what capacity have you worked with each other in the past before the formation of TANSTAAFL? Is this a long-standing partnership?
Osborn: We’ve played at each others parties, gave each other advice and yes, this became a long-standing partnership.
October: Yeah, I guess it is a long-standing partnership. We always kind of worked closely, helping each other out and all that, so it just seemed natural to work together.
Is it hard maintaining a partnership when you’re based in two cities that aren’t exactly close to each other? (Berlin, Bristol)
Osborn: Yes and no. It is hard with the energy that comes from the birth of an idea, I wish that we could be physically together to implement quickly. Having the studio in Bristol also slows me down somewhat, but actually the communication tools the internet offers serve us quite well; it’s not perfect, but it’s OK. Also, the flights from Berlin to Bristol are short and cheap, and we always spend a large chunk of time together to get the things we need to do done. Quality over quantity, you could say.
October: It’s not really a problem for me. As John said, the internet gives us a lot of communication tools, and the flights are cheap and easy. By necessity, it makes us more efficient and professional; if we were to spend the whole time together we would probably just dick around and get nothing finished. Plus, I have the benefit of being near the studio so it’s easy for me to follow my ideas through. I can imagine that being annoying for John.
What exactly between you two did you find so compatible?
Osborn: We compliment and strengthen each others energy rather than cancel it out — which is quite rare for us both I think. Neither of us are really team players, so actually we shouldn’t work well together at all, but somehow our leadership qualities come together as one rather than causing friction. We also have a lot of respect for each other as artists and humans: Julian always blows me away and inspires me to carry on doing what I do, and hopefully I do the same for him!
October: It was like finding a long lost brother. We have a similar ethos and outlook on life, we both like the DIY punk way of doing things and are close enough to be brutally honest with each other.
John, are you originally from Berlin? If not, why did you move there? What about Berlin is so appealing to you?
Osborn: No, I am not from Berlin, but I have lived here for over 12 years. Originally I am from Essex, Goodmayes, and after moving around various parts of London for 10 years I moved to Berlin in the spring of 1999. At the time I knew little about the city other than there was once a wall and it is gray and cold. I just did the move as it was an opportunity to escape the rat race in London and I truly believe that Berlin chose me, rather than that I chose Berlin. In 1999 Berlin was not considered a cool or trendy place to live like it is today. When I first got to Berlin, being English was actually quite exotic, which was a lot of fun. After living here for so long I identify more with German culture than my English roots. My wife is from the former East Berlin and our children were born here, so I don’t see myself returning to England.
Julian, do you think being based in Bristol has any disadvantages? Are you trying to help bring house music back to life in the city? Any chance you’ll be relocating to Berlin?
October: There is a long history of creativity in the city, from the early days of the Pop Group to the current crop of producers like Kowton and Peverelist; there has been some excellent music and it’s not stopping. The house and techno scene is very international, so a lot of my time is spent looking out of Bristol. Saying that, the scene is growing stronger every day and it’s really nice to be able to go out and see acts that I am interested in in my hometown, and be able to support the local scene. I mean, just last night John Heckle smashed it to a full house while in the other room a bunch of Bristol heads played some of the most weird and wonderful records I’ve heard in a club anywhere — so something is going right. I don’t conscientiously think I’m bringing house to Bristol — there are other heads like Chris Farrell and everyone at Idle Hands who do far more than me for the scene. The Kelly Twins, the Headrush boys, Adam KidKut, Oli “Schmorgasbord” Warwick, Kowton, Al Tourettes, Peverelist, Futureboogie, Appleblim… We all do our thang for house music! I try and do my best to contribute and be involved with the scene we’ve shaped today. As for a move to Berlin, not at the moment, but who knows.
What exactly is TANSTAAFL and what does the name stand for?
October: “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.” It’s a quote from sci-fi author Robert A Heinlein, and simply means If you want something, you have to work for it.
Osborn: Table Dance.
Is the radio show (TANSTAAFL Signal on TwenFM) an integral part of TANSTAAFL? Do you think radio is still important/useful in a world where everyone has all the music they could ever want at their fingertips and there are way too many podcasts for anyone to possibly process?
Osborn: Yes, yes, yes. I actually started working with TwenFM about ten years ago. They where the first and only real pirate radio station in Berlin. As the authorities here are just way too on it to make it possible for a healthy pirate radio station scene to exist, like there is in London. In those days TwenFM had to move locations, had shitty equipment, and I used to walk to the location from where we were broadcasting with my records in one bag, an amp in the other and two JBL Control 1 speakers so that I could mix with decent monitors. I looked like a Mexican gun-slinger with all this kit on me! Ten years later the Signal is a vital and integral part of the TANSTAAFL make-up. There are now three elements to TANSTAAFL, 1. Records, 2. Signal, and now from December on in Berlin 3. Nights. Each area of TANSTAAFL feeds another, and they’re intricately linked together. The radio show allows us to present guests that inspire us and to get them to present they’re music in a different way. We also get to play music that we would not always play out. This in turn influences what happens in the studio and this work then gets played in the clubs, and we see how these productions work in the club so they can be adjusted, fine-tuned and then released on the label and so forth. It is one machine with the three parts pushing, pulling and working with each other. It keeps us on our toes, nothing gets stagnant with a constant pressure to push things forward all the time. It allows us to evolve very quickly.
Radio itself is still such an important medium for me. I love the idea of people listening live to the Sunday night show via the FM signal in Berlin. In my heart the show is not done for the hundreds that download the show via Soundcloud — although I’m happy to provide that service — but it is done for the few that hear it live in Berlin. For me that relationship between the radio host and the live listener is far stronger than that of a downloaded mix or podcast. Also I am very aware of how important radio has been for people living in the former east of Berlin in the times of the GDR. So that always touches me, having the knowledge of how historically important radio was as a source of new and modern music for people back then.
Sure, I agree that the amount of music that can be downloaded today removes some of the magic, but on the other hand this is dance music and that has always moved at a fast pace, and I believe it is not that important how much is available as quality always floats to the top, like cream. Another thing I enjoy about the radio is that I can present artists such as Innen + Aussen who are not really house or techno in any traditional sense, but I know the Signal listeners will respond well to this kind of sound. The TANSTAAFL Signal listener is an educated music lover!
October: Yes, I feel that radio has a little more value than just online mixes, the situation you get when it’s live can be more dynamic. It’s kind of like playing a gig rather than preparing and polishing something to be put up online — I like the spontaneity. It also makes me feel more in touch with the audience, as I get to chat a little and introduce them to music/artists that they might not otherwise have heard.
Going on from the first single, what are you looking to release in the future?
Osborn: We’re sitting on a bunch of stuff right now that is really great, but don’t expect a release every month. At best we will bring out four a year. This is all about well-aimed, precise, high quality tracks, rather than scattershots, if you follow me. We are individually very critical people and together we might even be too critical, so things will take time. And we are very secretive!
October: We’re not gonna be in any rush to get more stuff out. But when it comes, you can bet your last cent it will be of a high standard!
Do you feel like you’re adding to an overcrowded market by starting yet another new label? What exactly is your mission with the label, what separates from any other house label popping up recently?
Osborn: Sure, we have our doubts about what we are doing. I mean starting a new record label in today’s market seems like madness. But since we’re doing things on our own terms it feels right. There is no promo, for instance, and no rush to release stuff, as said before. There is more than just a “style of sound” at TANSTAAFL, but also a coherent red path that will be heard in every release we do. We have a family (or pool) of artists that we will work with but that’s it. We don’t want any demos from around the world, and will not release outside of this family or at least not in the immediate future. That may sound really arrogant but the TANSTAAFL Records sound is bigger than even the family of artists we currently work with. We want that, when you play a TANSTAAFL record, you will know straightaway that it is this label first, and second the artist.
October: Honestly it’s a big fear, does the world really need another new label? But, when I look for records to buy, I feel there isn’t enough new stuff I like, so I think there is space to fill. TANSTAAFL is my way of doing that. The main thought behind the label is to push what happens in my studio (“Behind the Red Door”) and those artists involved. As far as what separates us from others, I don’t give too much thought to it, that’s for vinyl junkies to decide.
John, you’re not exactly known for being a producer. What it’s like to finally put out tracks on a somewhat prominent platform after building such a renowned reputation purely as a DJ?
Osborn: Very exciting! I am blown away by the response that the first release has had so far, the records came from the pressing plant a few days ago and they look stunning. Now I want to move on more with the label and also on the production side. I am very excited about tackling my first remix. I guess because I am predominately a DJ the remix format really excites me and I really wanna get my teeth into that. I have something lined up which has some serious potential!
Both of you are DJs who are known for often incorporating some “bass music” into their sets; will/does this tendency bleed through to the TANSTAAFL aesthetic?
Osborn: Bass, for me, is the lungs of electronic dance music, so yes, bass is important to us and also both being British, I guess that the heavy bass vibes are programmed into our genetic makeup.
October: I can only speak for myself, but I used to be a junglist and I’ve always loved dub so this inevitably comes out in everything I do. However, these days, I don’t think I really play what I would consider to be true “bass music” in my sets. I’ve always thought of it as house and techno, but I do probably approach things from a dub angle, especially in the studio.
Will October’s Caravan project/label still be ongoing or is TANSTAAFL taking over that?
October: They are two separate entities. Caravan is just asleep at the moment. TANSTAAFL is the focus, but who’s to say what will happen in the future.
Your mailout said the label “showcases each city’s musical heritage.” What are these heritages, in your mind, and how are you going about reflecting them with the label?
Osborn: Obviously the techno scene in Berlin is well documented: E-Werk, Tresor and the strong connection to Detroit during the 90′s. Berlin has a history of trying, and not just musically, to always push things forward and to be innovative within these genres, so for me it is this history and way of thinking that is being fused with the smoked-out heavy dub soundsystem culture of Bristol.
October: As is often talked about, Bristol has a strong Caribbean community and culture, and this has undeniably seeped into the music. From the post-punk scene, to being considered dubstep’s second city, and via trip-hop and jungle, the influence of dub and soundsystem culture on music here is huge. Further than that, the city can be pretty friendly and laid-back (maybe too much sometimes!) and I think this shows in the amount of collaborations and general good vibes you see between artists in Bristol. Saying that, I feel in some ways that the city itself inspires me even more so than the music.
Can you talk a little bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
Osborn: We’ve put together a mix that shows how our current and individual sounds compliment each other — Julian started it off and I finished it off. I’m often a little darker and dubber than Julian. We did our mixes without hearing what each other had done, but we don’t actually need to do this as we know what to expect from each other. In fact it was clear from the start that Julian would open up and would finish it, I don’t think we even discussed this. As with everything we do, some things are clear before they happen. My mix was all done in one take, mistakes included, on vinyl, apart from the unreleased stuff, then I sent it over to Julian and he stitched the two mixes together in the red temple.
October: For my half of the mix I wanted it to be a showcase of the TANSTAAFL aesthetic, with music by artists that inspire me and that I feel represent the sound I’m currently interested in. I’m always definitely more about the drums and rawness than the pure musicality. Equipment-wise, the absolute basics. Two turntables and a mixer, with a drum machine interlude to combine mine and John’s segments.
What’s the thing you’re most looking forward to here on out now that the label is finally started up and going?
Osborn: Watching our baby grow, seeing what dots get joined, and what shape those dots form.
October: First and foremost, it’s getting responses back from those listening to and playing the records. In the bigger scheme, it’s about releasing more music, and watching the label grow. And hopefully, a free lunch or two along the way!