Jason Szostek is bpmf (buttons pushing mothaf*cka), label head of Schmer Records, an imprint that focuses on saving the raw elements of underground techno.
On 15th September he’s releasing the 4th volume of Abide the Glide, a series of EPs exploring the funkier side of machines. We had a talk with him about his experience with the scene and his thoughts on the evolution of dance music.
1. LSD: Wow! You’ve been playing music & in the electronic music scene for over 30 years! You must have seen so much evolution, which I’m sure you experienced in your own production, performance, and overall perspective on the scene.
bpmf: I’m gonna take that as a question about changes in my music over the decades. When I started no one really knew what “techno” was (and I think many are still confused). So we did what we could with the equipment that we could afford and tried to move people with our music. What started happening in the 90s is everything got broken down into subgenres and people got really precious about the styles they wanted to hear to the exclusion of everything else. I guess that is a natural evolution but then it turned into a marketing thing and really split the scene up into little fiefdoms. I honestly believe that things are improving because there’s a new generation coming that is much less invested in these divisions are approach the music from a much more natural perspective: “does this move me or not?”.
2. LSD: What are the positive changes you see in the techno scene and what do you think is not working?
bpmf: The “democratization” of the scene bringing more people from all ages and backgrounds all over the world has given it a diversity and an energy that was lacking for a long time. I know there are many old timers that bemoan the lack of “filters” in the music industry but to me that sounds like whining that someone has moved their cheese. People have always had the ability to judge good from bad for themselves and actually the internet has only made that process easier for them.
3. LSD: It looks like from the beginning, before the age of computers and technology, you were making music with all of the gear to make super raw electronic sounds. It is quite impressive to be one of the people who initiated the electronic music scene before it was so globally saturated like it is today.
bpmf: I consider myself fortune to have the experience of making electronic music when it was more difficult. It forced me to be creative and I learned a lot of techniques that I can still use today.
4. LSD: How did you learn this & what sparked the inspiration to start in the first place?
bpmf: The early 80 were a great time for pop music and I was teenager. I had picked up the guitar and of course a bunch of effect pedals. Then I heard Thomas Dolby on the radio and I ran out and bought a Yamaha cs01, but I kept my effects. I met Steve Wytas in High School and he had a mixer and a 4 track cassette recorder and we set out to become the next Art of Noise. He also had a Commodore 64 so we started using the computer as soon as midi was available to us in 84. But the gear was still very limited which was great training for how to get the most out of what little you had. Training that has stuck with me to this day because despite all the advances in technology, whether in the studio or live, I still only work with as much gear as I can handle within an arm’s reach. Today, that’s a lot more power than ever but its still a great trick for maintaining focus.
5. LSD: It seems you love collaboration, do you have any tips for how artists and musicians can work together to create something greater than they could alone?
bpmf: Collaborations are about chemistry and are like marriages because in the best ones you complement each other. The best ones are liberating allowing you to focus on your strengths while your partner uses their strengths to cover your weaknesses. But expect them to work differently, there are personalities and egos involved. You have to work to keep things fair and balanced so that everyone feels their putting in and getting out their fair share artistically. Like I said, its like a marriage and they can last a long time if you choose carefully and treat it with respect.
6. LSD: What do you look for in your collaborative partners?
bpmf: Someone who’s better at something I need to improve. Someone with a different style and approach to sound that I can learn from. Someone who seems to need what it is I have to offer.
7. LSD: What do you think of the techno/electronic scene around the world? Would you say some places ‘have it’ more than others? Are there places you are drawn to for the sound?
bpmf: Philadelphia PA is the greatest place on earth! No one is getting rich here and everyone is in it for the love of it. We are filthy rich with talent because its a relatively cheap place to live. I can also be in Brooklyn in two hours when I need to, which is often because of course its still the Mecca of the underground. I have a lot of friends in Berlin, many of them originally from the US. They seem to be having a great time and I have a blast when I visit. With that many producers, there not gonna be an enduing “sound” coming out of a scene that huge. In the states even the largest cities have relatively small scenes compared to Europe, this means Chicago and New York can continue to develop their sound. I haven’t been to Moscow in twenty years and I really look forward to going back because there’s been so much change there and so many amazing producers coming out of Russia.
8. LSD: Where did you find the inspiration for Abide The Glide and particularly the 4th volume?
bpmf: Chicago. I love tracks that have lead synth sound that makes the groove. This is also a challenge for me because I gravitate towards having a lot of percussion in my tracks. “Old Man Raver Pants” is probably the best example of what I’m talking about. Interestingly volume four being the end of the series has me already moving away somewhat from the original idea of the series and into a more dubby sound. I played with Steve O’Sullivan from Mosaic Records here in Philly last year. His live show had an impact on me. I always liked some dub style going back to Adrian Sherwood and On-U Sound or way back to Sly and Robbie. Actually seeing it performed so well live in a techno context made me believe that I had some of it deep inside of me looking to get out so I gave it a shot.
9. LSD: What does a typical working day look like for you?
bpmf: I work in IT at a University here in Philly so a typical work day for me is like a typical work day. In the evening if I had a successful jam session the previous weekend I’ll bring it up in the computer and see if I need to make some edits or do some premastering. If I’m feeling creative I’ll go to the basement and knock out a jam or two. If I have a show coming up I’ll be in non-stop practice mode going over everything. Otherwise I’m working on my internet radio shows on Fnoob or Liquid Sky Berlin and of course I’m always working on my three record labels, Schmer, Serotonin and Losers with Attitude.
10. LSD: What message do you hope listeners can take from your music?
bpmf: Techno should be fun and have joy in it. Life is too short to cover yourselves in black and act so seriously. There’s funk and soul in the grooves and if you’re not getting a house feeling out of a track you’re listing to something that’s not what I call “techno”. Techno is future house and we are in the future so let’s dance!
Interview by Danielle Barnett