"Tapes move; they are real," says Always Human Tapes label artist Ian Lehman. "When I bought my first car, I had a high-end tape deck installed. I made mix tapes for the car all the time instead of always shuffling through CD's looking to hear a couple of songs." Indeed, it's hard to deny the nostalgic value and cultural relevance of the mix tape.
Still in its infancy, the Minneapolis-based Always Human Tapes label will be hosting its first label showcase at First Avenue this Thursday. Its creator Ryan Wurst is thrilled for the opportunity to bring the label's artistry to life in the form of live analog electronic performances accompanied by visual and video elements. "I feel so lucky that these people have put their trust in me," he says.
In today's digitally drenched music terrain, much of what we consume can easily be found on the internet for free. Keeping this in mind, Always Human Tapes offers its releases for free download online, and places its primary focus on the tangible real-world object used to convey the music itself. In seeking the cheapest, most effective way to create this physical object, Wurst settled on cassette tapes and VHS.
"For me, music is not just in the digital world, it also goes into real space," Wurst says. "I think a lot about the permeability of those spaces, and I spend so much time in my artistic practice on the computer and then in real space, and going in between, and I don't really see that much of a difference. Having a physical object, it becomes a lot about the object." While Wurst concurs that sound quality is compromised by releasing in cassette format, he compares the way that cassettes "fuck up sometimes" to the notion that in regards to music performance, "if you're in a real space, things get fucked up."
Wurst began learning about music at an early age, from parents who are both elementary school music teachers. In high school, he wanted to be a jazz drummer. He began to write his own music, and entered an undergraduate program with the intent of becoming a composer. After forming a friendship with one of his professors, Michael Theodore, Wurst began developing an interest in electronic music.)
"People get really into one specific thing that they do in order to make things. I do that, but then I put a pseudonym on that way of making things and then move on," Wurst says. "In my undergrad there was so much talk of what your voice is as a composer. The academic composition world got really frustrating, and by the end I was just making noise in really nice concert halls." Eventually, frustrated by trying to find someone to release his work, he purchased a high-speed duplicator and a deck and began releasing music on his own -- and thus, Always Human Tapes was born.
In recruiting other artists to join the label, Wurst recalled playing a house party with Ian Lehman and Josh 'Heckadecimal,' two locally-based electronic music artists. At the party they had only spoken briefly, but he e-mailed the two of them that summer asking them to consider releasing their future work on his label. The crew has strikingly similar views on the importance of analog instrumentation.[page]
"People love to talk about analog vs digital," says Heckadecimal. "I think they're both great. I feel it's more important how you use an instrument to get to an interesting sound, and a big part of that is interface. How you have to navigate an instrument is going to have a big effect on what you end up with. It's a collaboration with the machines, so you have to find something that works with you." Heckadecimal has played a consistent role in the Minneapolis electronic music landscape, standing our especially for his live performance work. His releases on the Always Human Tapes label, On Location at Premises and 94E/94W, are recordings of his recent shows.
Lehman's first release on the label was an experimental hip-hop album, inspired by late 90's instrumental music by the likes of DJ Shadow. His most recent release, Doubt vs Eecee, is a fake conceptual versus record between his two aliases: Doubt is the name is uses to release techno under Minneapolis/Berlin-based techno mastermind DVS1's Mistress label, and Eecee is his handle for "anything else." Lehman also releases on the Disposable Commodities label, based out of Milwaukee.
"I approached the music as if these two personalities of mine were affecting each other in some virtual studio space in my head," Lehman says. "I also recorded pretty much everything live in a take or two. That was a new way of making this type of thing for me." His performance on Thursday will be accompanied by live art by Alexis L. Stiteler from the White Page Gallery. "I'm going to break down the more dance-y stuff from the album into its individual sounds and rebuild them live over 8 channels," Lehman says. "The album is just as much dance music as it is not dance music, but I'm playing just after 12 and I'm not gonna make people stand around listening to ambient.")
Peter Lansky also joins the Always Human Tapes roster with his first solo release under the name TML. He makes his relationship with analog very clear: "I buy analog formats because I fucking hate paying for digital," he says. "I hate putting money towards something so ephemeral. Tapes are cool because they're analog; it's actual physically recorded sound, but its portable and packaged tightly."
Thursday will be Lansky's first live performance ever as a solo electronic music artist. He will be doing live sequencing of tracks from his tape as well as performing some unreleased work. Lanksy's first tape debuted recently on the Always Human Tapes label. "The tape is inspired by existential dread, before, during and after personally catastrophic events," he says. He describes the tape as sounding "like really fucked loop techno."
Wurst will be performing under the name Pleasurlife with a set up of a sampler, drum synthesizer, a vintage 80's synthesizer, midi controllers, and software that he wrote specifically for the show. "With my jazz background, the live interaction, reaction and constant listening is what's important about performing live," he says. "You get mistakes and things change, and I've never played two sets the same. It's always forming and it's always moving."
The showcase will also feature live video and art performed by Josh McGarvey, Jamie Kinroy, The Sacred Trust, Matthew MB and Lauren Skager,
"I'm doing this because I love it," Wurst says. "The goal constantly changes. Right now the goal has been this showcase, which is the first major opportunity for the label to have a large audience. Now that the show is approaching, I'm thinking about what comes next. The next push that I want to make is expanding the VHS catalog."
Regardless of what's in store for Always Human Tapes, Wurst intends to stay true to the concept of the label's name. "I think about digital and analog: it's made by people, and I'm interested in the human aspect of all of that. Making things on computers is still unbelievably human. It's a name that can expand into letting people put their own stuff into it."
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