Tessier Ashpool recordings (TAR) is a force to be reckoned with in the current landscape of electronic music. The young label shows a steady hand on the pulse of electronic music with brutalist club constructions that defy record store categorisation. It’s all neatly tied in with a retro-future aesthetic both in form and function. At the head of label sits Liar. A musical genius in his own right, his focus falls on the subliminal bottom end, making dance-floor-ready tracks for a digital generation. He hit the ground running with 2012’s excellent Strange Love, which began a relationship with Infinite Machine and eventually flourished into his own label, Tessier-Ashpool Recordings. Nine releases in, and the label is at its strongest with an excellent release from French newcomer, Le Dom currently at the top of its discography. The effervescent OAZIZ EP grabs the listener’s attention immediately and then proceeds to whip him/her around in hysteric flair. There also looks to be more around the corner soon with the return of Lossy and 2nd Sun to the label and we at the Formant will be waiting on tender hooks for those. Liar has meanwhile cultivated a legendary status as a DJ, broadening his horizons while at the same time narrowing the focus of his sets to embody the spirit of TAR more completely. Alongside Jesse Somfay, Liar also brings a clear vision to the artwork of TAR and completes the theme and title of the label. We learn more about that and the machine music doctrine in our Q&A with the enigmatic producer and prolific label-boss below…
What’s behind the name “Tessier-Ashpool Recordings”?
To quote myself, “Tessier-Ashpool Recordings is the non-fictional audio R&D arm of fictional dynastic megacorp Tessier-Ashpool S.A. Operating according to a proprietary ‚Machine Music’ doctrine under the scrutiny of subsidiary director Liar, and enforced by a multinational team of sonic augmentation specialists, it aims to provide versatile, effectual solutions for today’s discerning clientele.” It’s no secret that I’ve been re-reading a lot of Gibson lately, as his Sprawl trilogy is the main pool of inspiration for our name, our concept, our artwork and our presentation. Inspiration is all it is, however – we are by no means a throwback or homage to anything. Tessier-Ashpool were the primary antagonists in the first book, and a remained a cautionary tale in the sequels. We prefer to envision a Tessier-Ashpool in its prime as a megacorp, and what they would do if they decided to have a label under their belt as well – of course, in a less boring universe, where huge multinationals release music that conveys their intrinsic aesthetic, instead of pop dirge.
Ah, you mention machine music. The inaugural release from 2ndSun came in September last year, and was presented as the first statement of the label’s ‘machine music doctrine’. Can you elaborate on that?
For the past two years, I’ve only been playing a very specific kind of music. The selection would be quasi-synaesthesic, but after-the-fact I would always be aware of the various genres and subgenres traveled, of how disparate they were, and of how, in spite of that, they would flow together beautifully (at least with me at the reins). When TAR came to be, because we weren’t a genre-fixated label, nor a whereabouts-fixated label, and because I do so love a good tag, I found myself having to quantify, qualify and christen this heretofore quasi-synaesthetic, ineffable criteria. I thought it would be a little conceited, and a bit of a cop-out to just call it our own name. So I went with “Machine Music” (and more recently with “Avant-Club”). I felt it communicated most of the shared qualities of the music I release and sign – technical rigor and precision, synergistic structure, and a sci-fi heritage. Put simply: quality, sophistication, and futurism.
What were the circumstances around the genesis of the label?
TAR was initially supposed to be an imprint on Infinite Machine and a vehicle for their digi-only output, as they’ve decided to venture into wax and the sparser schedule that accompanies that. Back then it had no name and a dubious-at-best tentative roster. I was touring then and not really bothering with anything else. When Charlie from IM finally graciously (and thankfully) kicked me in the ass about it back in the spring of 2014, it got me into an enterprising mindset real quick. Immediately I decided to branch off and remain a little sister to IM, rather than, as an imprint, complicate their affairs with my grand design: I was gonna go out of pocket, and go big, and go fast, improvising along the way.
What is it that you look for in an artist or a release for the label?
That the respective music meets the aforementioned criteria. Recently, there’s also been an added element of “dickriding prevention”. I don’t sign clones, I don’t sign bandwagon jumpers, I don’t sign anything that’s too obvious or too on-the-nose. And if I do (and I have), I try to mold them into self-sufficient and sustainable acts, from within the confines of the TAR family, before publicly affiliating with them.
The bass element is always huge in the label and in your own releases as Liar. Where does your affinity for big low-end stem from?
It’s bass man. It’s good. It’s good for you. All the best music, electronic or not – all of it rests in the low-end. On a good soundsystem, bass adds priceless physicality and a visceral quality to an artform that is otherwise impalpable. Furthermore, while rhythmic and melodic/harmonic content are decoded by the human brain at a neocortical level (not exclusively, but primarily), sub frequencies bypass this and more readily affect the limbic system and the reptilian complex – leading to the relative amount and movement of bass at different moments within the confines of a track to create a sub-narrative that is somatically experienced in the body of the listener, rather than in his or her conscious mind. Low frequencies affect heart-rate, blood pressure, brain function, they are correctly perceived by organisms as simple as invertebrates and plants, they match the material resonance of most objects that comprise our surroundings – wood, metal, brick. Commanding these frequencies well is tantamount to magic.
You’re an accomplished artist in your own right, with a very distinct voice in the current landscape of electronic music. How have your own experiences as Liar affected the label?
Early on, I knew that TAR’s catalogue would mirror my own: a strong, consistent core aesthetic, subsequently realized through whatever stylistic means appropriate to the subject matter of each track – as opposed to music consciously or subconsciously written to appeal to any tested market (niche or otherwise), which I find distasteful. That is not to be confused with any sort of contrarian mindset, however – we’re cyberpunk, but not punk in the slightest. We want to appeal, and we welcome commercial success, as long as that comes without us having to resort to cheap shots. We all make this music because it is us. We hope people like us, idiosyncrasies and all, first and foremost. Afterwards, they can like whatever unifying term they think applies to any of our music.
Also, having had most my own music released by labels that aren’t my own, I’ve been on the other side of the equation many times, and have experienced some of the typical vagaries inherent to that. I try to protect my roster from that.
Do your experiences with the label filter back into your music and DJ sets?
Definitely. In the most direct sense, at any point in time I’m guaranteed to have a wealth of secret weapons at my disposal, given the large amount of forthcoming material and demos being sent in. In a more artful sense, curating TAR has refined my selection to a razor-thin standard. Not that I’d ever “played to the crowd” before – I find the practice loathsome. I was always about educating, and cluing the public into new forms and functions. But I was more of generalist. Now, the lecture is definitely more focused.
In regards to my music – obviously, the internal label dialogue has informed the current and future output of most of my roster. You put this much talent together (and we all communicate a lot, I make sure of that), you’re bound to have everybody playing off each other and improving faster than they would in isolation. And I’m no different.
Liar’s DJ sets and music transcend any simple genre classification, a parallel that runs synchronous to Tessier-Ashpool’s releases. You’ve mentioned categories in one of your previous answers, but can you expound on your personal opinion on sorting music into categories?
Categorizing is, essentially, alright. It helps likeminded artists find one another, it has more than likely helped a considerable number of listeners find me or TAR, and it generally helps with making sense of this great mess of music that expands exponentially in this day and age. My beef with categories is when they’re considered before-the-fact – when people make music to fit in with a rigid category, when labels purposely stunt their breadth to capitalize on a rigid category, when listeners obsessively latch on to a rigid category for social/communal reasons.
Even though the releases go from house to grime arrangements there’s something that ties all the releases together. What is the underlining thread that runs through all of Tessier-Ashpool’s releases?
Quality, sophistication, futurism.
The artwork also ties the releases together. Can you tell us a little more about the ideas behind the artwork.
The idea is very simple, and the consequent template is infinitely mutable (as to reflect our nature as a label – a few core tenets as consolidating factor to an endless array of sounds). We (me and our resident designer, Jesse Somfay/Borealis) essentially lifted the design from the cover of “Neuromancer”’s first edition, reconstructed it from scratch, and have been “remixing” it to suit each release since.
Le Dom is the next installment in the label’s catalogue. Where did you find this artist, and why did you want him for label?
My partner, Andronis (https://www.facebook.com/andr0nis), found both him and IMAMI on the same day, digging through the lesser-traveled avenues of SoundCloud. She went “check this out”, played their stuff, and I was floored. IMAMI’s stuff was somewhat more visible, and had already been touted by some of my affiliates, but Le Dom’s stuff was just a playlist unceremoniously titled “New Stuff” on a criminally obscure profile, that contained some of the most fire tracks I’d ever heard. I signed them both on the spot.
As to the “why” of it… I mean, come on. It’s more than self-evident.
You’re back with Lossy’s TAR debut, and 2nd Sun’s sophomore release after this one – but what do you see in the distant future for Tessier-Ashpool?
This used to be a very uncertain topic, and a source of some considerable anxiety, less than six months ago. I had no idea if I could keep this up, at the same standard. However, our rate of growth since, the volley of new signees, our existing roster’s expressed commitment to TAR and their mounting ambition thereof, our accruement of some small measure of industry clout – all of this has amounted to a wonderful momentum. I don’t exactly know what the future holds, but I can confidently say we’re more than prepared for it.