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Carsten Jost

Carsten Jost is the production alias of David Lieske, co-founder of Dial Records and owner of Mathew Gallery in Berlin. In this extensive interview David reveals his production quarrels and the intricacies of running both a record label and art gallery. David also discusses Dial’s relationship with the Brooklyn based imprint White Material and the announcement of DJ Richard’s forthcoming solo album expected sometime this fall on Dial.

What have you been up to recently?

I’ve just come back from New York. I was there for the opening of the Whitney Biennial because one of our artists Ken Okiishi, who our gallery ‘Mathew’ represents, was exhibiting at the Biennial.

It sounds like your Mathew gallery is going well.

Yeah I mean building up the gallery takes a lot of time and effort to do, but everything is going in the way that we expected it to somehow, and it’s developing fast and I’m very happy with it. But don’t get me wrong there is a lot of work, stress and travelling involved, which is difficult sometimes but fun of course.

In 2014 we’re starting to do a lot more art fairs, including Liste / Basel, which is a big step for the gallery because they only take a few new galleries every year and we are very happy to be included. I think we are in a great group of new galleries there who we love and respect like Freedman Fitzpatrick from LA or Canal 47 from New York. Over the last two or three years a couple of new galleries opened that we share artists and friendships with and that’s wonderful, I think there is a serious generation shift going on which is so great and exciting.

How would you define your gallery in comparison to others?

It’s hard to say, I think we apply the same principles as we do at Dial which means working with friends and people we care for trying to do our best everyday. We have a classical model of a program gallery, I think that we are almost a bit conservative in our approach; we are looking after artists that we represent and help them wherever we can with their work. Its a long term commitment for us.

Is it harder to run an art gallery and record label?

Yeah for sure, it’s much, much harder! The product is completely different. Records and CDs are mass products, and that means that their whole distribution system is completely different.

For example it’s not as highly personalised as it is in the art market. In a gallery you only need a single customer in most cases, which is really extreme in comparison, and this one person is going to want to talk to you for a longer time and build a relationship and trust until he or she really decides to invest into your artists’ work. It’s a totally different way of working. The people that you are dealing with in the gallery are usually quite different from the usual record shop customer. I guess you have to be willing to deal with that world, that has its own rules and codes.

For me it’s not so hard because I’ve been an artist since my early twenties. I’ve been showing in galleries for the past 10 years, so I’m acquainted with that world so I don’t have to start from zero. You need a certain access and context the art world loves pre approval so having been an artist before of course helps. People in the art world are often fascinated with our record label too, because this is something so foreign to them. I guess the gallery in a way is an extension of the record label because we have always worked with artists in the past and we have worked with them in a very specific way.

For Dial records we’ve often reproduced existing artworks on the cover, in that sense we used the record sleeve almost like a gallery wall.

Talking about the Dial aesthetic, it has a very slick and minimal design. Who’s responsible for designing the record covers?

It’s a collaboration between us and the artist, we always have a discussion of what the artist wants to express and what we think would be right. It is an open and experimental process with sometimes-unexpected turns.

We’ve used the same graphic designer since we started the record label, almost 15 years ago. His name is Till Sperle and he is a genius.

He is highly specialised in the way that he is really seeing himself as a typographist; he’s completely invested in fonts and their arrangement. He’s actually not that interested in images at all, which is really funny, because he is almost snobby about images. I find that hilarious.

Sometimes we clash with the printers and record manufacturers because they are not used to working on this kind of level, so often things come out differently from what we had planned. There is no such thing as a fine art printer for record sleeves I fear.

The gallery has its own record label as well – called Mathew Records. We’ve had one release so far by American artist Nick Mauss, a compilation type collection of recordings of poetry by Florine Stettheimer he collected in New York and Berlin, but this year we are going to hopefully release another record with pieces by New York based artist Sergei Tscherepnin.

Tell me about Sergei’s music, does it have a beat to it at all?

No not at all, it doesn’t have anything to it, I’m still unsure to what the record will sound like because he’s doing many different things like piano pieces and more sculptural arrangements using everyday life objects and sine waves.

When we met a few years ago in his really adventurous apartment in deep Brooklyn, I asked him to help me with an artwork that I was making at the time and asked him to digitalize an old cassette tape for me that had a recording of a yoga exercise by my grandmother on it, so he got his cassette tape player out and we started to listen to a lot of cassette tapes that he had lying around.

He made all of these amazing cassette tape recordings when he was a teenager. Musical experiments are so to say a family tradition in his case so he had a lot of tools available to experiment with.

The tapes were kind of random mixes of synthesizer experiments, piano rehearsals and field recordings – almost diary like. It was fascinating to dive into this and very joyful. So my initial idea was to transfer one of these tapes to a vinyl record. We’ll see what we end up doing but I am very excited about this release and also about his exhibition in our gallery.

It’s been a while since you released any music, why is that?

I’m having a really hard time making music. First of all I’m really bad at all of the technical stuff, I haven’t evolved as an artist in that way much at all. I’m still using a really old computer running Cubase and that’s all I have and all I can control to a certain extend. I can’t deal with any new software such as Ableton Live or Logic. People try to show me but I don’t understand it. It seems to be impossible to break out of the tight grids these programs suggest.

Also making music really depresses me. That might sound weird and whiny to you, but it’s actually true, whenever I make music it really puts me down somehow. The music that I’ve been making is quite dark and definitely melancholic, and this is what’s happening to me when I’m making the music, it really affects me! I don’t know why this is happening but it’s really intense and I can’t do it too much.

I’m almost avoiding making new music, as it’s not a nice experience for me. I always try to do something different, like make a big happy club track, but it just doesn’t happen for me. Then I smoke a million cigarettes and get really depressed and confused. So maybe making music is not the right thing for me.

However working with DJ Richard on the remix of Lawrence’s ‘Marlen’ was a great experience. It is beautiful to connect over music and making music with friends.  We were just hanging out a lot and Pete asked me to do this remix and I was already afraid about how I was going to do it, so I asked Alex if he would do it with me, as that was really easy because we’d just hangout and he would arrange all the technical stuff, whilst I’d just say ‘can we try this’ and ‘do that’ or whatever – it felt very natural and fun, we had a few beers and I like his room.

I brought a hard drive of my sounds to use and combine with his stuff so I hope he keeps on using it.

The last time we met up to make music; I think I slept on his couch for three hours after I had a tough day at the gallery whilst he made a track. That’s what happens to me sometimes; I think I’m getting a bit narcoleptic when it comes to making music.

I’ve slept on the floor of Dubplates & Mastering’s so many times because it’s just so boring when they are doing the mastering stuff. I don’t know why but for me it’s like I’m sitting in school or something, I just get so bored and I always fall asleep.

What would you say is your happiest track?

I don’t know, I don’t think any of them are happy to be perfectly honest.

What about ‘Love’?

I think that’s a very, very unhappy track. I also made that in a very unhappy time. When I was really confused about love or what it might, could or should be. I made it in Efdemin’s studio on top of an illegal restaurant he was running for a summer. He also really helped me with that track, like things that I could not figure out, like technical stuff and also the string crescendo in the big break in the middle he programmed for me!

He still helps me with my music when he has time. The last track I made for the Carsten Jost / Lawrence Split 12″ I made on my laptop in bed and then I brought it to Phillip’s studio and then we put all of these effects on it and made it much better. He mixed it a bit, it was wonderful and he is very generous with his ideas and equipment.

I also made a remix for Pantha du Prince at Phillip’s studio using his machines, which was really fun. It’s the first time I’ve made a track with machines as opposed to software. I just have fun with the 808 and all the other drum machines, I programmed them and he helped me record it and put it all together. We had a bottle of wine and laughed a lot, especially about this specific sort of language you develop when you make music together inventing weird names for things that don’t make any sense like “bratzz-snare” or whatever.

How does each of the Dial artist’s studios differ?

They are all completely different. I don’t have a studio at all, I don’t have anything, not even a keyboard for my computer so my studio is usually in my bed. The first Carsten Jost album ‘You Don’t Need A Weatherman To Know Which Way The Wind Blows was made entirely on my roommate’s computer using a weird program called ‘Acid’, which was an early audio editor that I loved. It didn’t have any sample banks or software synthesizers in it, so I had to record all of my own sounds and then cut them up and try to arrange them. It’s a very visual program – I love it! I’m thinking about going back to it.

I’d say that Phillip (Efdemin) has the most elaborate and luxurious studio, he puts a lot of work, money and effort into his studio, he really does have everything, it’s a dream studio with Japanese golden cables and every possible instrument you always wanted to play with.

I hate talking about equipment so maybe I can appreciate a certain atmosphere more. When I meet other producers and DJ’s who want to talk about tech stuff I immediately fall asleep – I hate that.

Pete (Lawrence) has a really funny studio, I mean his studio is hilarious! It’s like a homeless person’s storage; it’s how I’d imagine Moondog’s studio in New York maybe looked like. There’s so much random stuff in there, super weird shit, he has these huge metal marimbas, which are massive and they only make this one sound. He also has half a drum kit, which is completely stripped bare and looks insane. So his studio is totally weird, but so is Pete!

He also has this band with Christian Naujoks and Richard von der Schulenburg and they are constantly rehearsing there as well. I haven’t heard their music yet but I can only imagine how good it will be. Better then Three Chairs perhaps?

Tell me about Queens, who released his album ‘End Times’ on Dial in 2013.

Queens is just one guy from New York. His name is Scott Mou and he is a true street celebrity in New York. Everybody knows Scott from being a DJ or Other music where he works. He was the first guy to invite me to New York eleven years ago. I was there with Pete and we had just played in Detroit. I was so exhausted when we arrived – the tour was strange and Detroit was just weird with kind of the wrong people there and I was slightly sick.

We arrived in New York and I was already really down and grumpy, I think Scott thought I was a total bitch and whenever this happens it’s usually just because I’m hungry, so Scott took me to a diner and got me a big burger, I ended up changing my flight and staying at his place for three weeks, even though I was meant to be there for a single night, so I basically moved in. We became close friends, listened to a lot of Norwegian Black Metal together and of course Sunn O))), he’d already made a record with this Panda Bear guy that was called Jane and that record was so weird and lovely so I invited him right then to produce for Dial. It took him almost ten years to finish but the record is amazing and I am so proud and happy to release it.

What’s you relationship like with DJ Richard, do you see the two of you working together again? Dial x White Material?

White Material is somehow so similar to Dial in the way that it is based on the friendships of the people who do it together; DJ Richard will be releasing his first solo album on Dial sometime this fall. Which is so exciting for me to work with him as I love his music and love him as a person.

What about other artists on White Material?

I think they’re all really great producers and lovely people, I think it’s a fantastic record label, I’m a huge fan, I’d do anything to support and help them. There’s just something there, some mutual understanding I don’t know, I can’t put it in to words, I just feel connected who knows.

A lot of people say that White Material are over hyped, how do you feel about that?

I love hype! I’m interested in these desires, anxieties and myths that materialise when people do something public and other people try to figure out what it is who don’t know them. White Material’s hermetic image, of course makes them even more mysterious but ultimately they are just a group of friends like Dial. People from the outside have so many projections but that’s what pop is really all about. I couldn’t be happier about what’s happening around this label.

Alex doesn’t do anything but listen to music all day I feel, he works in a record store here in Berlin which is called ‘The Record Loft’ where they sell second hand house and techno records. He’s so devoted to the music: he’s working in the store listening to music all day, then probably making music at home himself, then going out at night listening to more music. It’s crazy!

What do you think about people charging loads of money for a record on Discogs?

Honestly I don’t care about that, or illegal downloads or anything like that. I just make music…not even; I just release it and whatever happens after that I really don’t care. I love to give the records we make after their arrival as gifts to my friends or nice people that I meet I think that’s the best thing to do with these objects.

It’s 2014 get over it, I mean music has been on the Internet since 15 years; it’s so lame to complain about stuff like that. Depresses me.

Pete and I DJ’d our asses off for years to pay for the record label but it was really fun. Come on, we never had to work horrible jobs and we had a lot of fun. After all of these years maybe it is self-sufficient, but to this day it’s still tough to run it or make any money of it, but I like doing this. I thought I’d have to find other ways to make money, but then I also don’t think we need so much money because we don’t have cars or houses or whatever, just some nice cloths and food – that’s really all I want.

When you started up Dial, did you envision that the label would be running in 2014?

Absolutely, I really wanted to have a record label when I was 15 years old already. I dropped out of school because it sucked and I couldn’t go and I started working my first job for this German distribution company called EFA. They distributed interesting records at the time, but working there was hard.

I was working in the storage place where all the records from record shops would be returned and I had to open up the packages and exchange a jewel case or something – such a nineties job really. The only people who worked there were street punks, who were constantly drunk and shouting at each other and me, they were much older and scary when I was only 16 years old and I was far from a punk. I lived in a squat and was really into extreme music but I always dressed the same as today – I maybe just looked like a guy from the suburbs that liked button down shirts, I don’t know.

Where did the name Dial come from?

When Pete and I met we started to do a couple of parties. The first one was a drum ‘n’ bass night. I was really into noise stuff as well, so we had this night called ‘US NAVY 666’.

I really wanted to be the graphic designer because I fetishized Paul Snowden who was a famous graphic designer in Hamburg. He had this record label called Crossfade Enter Tainment together with Christoph de Babalon and he really made super, super good posters. Everything was kind of like Designers Republic, but I didn’t even know what that was back then. He made posters that would say things like “If you’re going to go out…go out like a mother fucker” and I admired his work and the attitude so much.

He also made this record cover for Christoph de Babalon’s debut Record ‘If You’re Into It, I’m Out Of It’. I couldn’t believe this record cover, it was the coolest thing I had ever seen until that day. I think it is still one of the best record covers ever made.

I started to do all of these posters for our party night and I wanted to sign them with a name that wasn’t my own; so then my graphic designer name was ‘Dial 666’. I really don’t know how and why but I think the Dial name somewhat came from that.

What about the Dial logo, did you design that?

Yeah I made that with a very early version of Photoshop. It’s just ‘dial’ written in Helvetica font, I then erased one line and pixelated it, so that’s it. As a graphic designer I could never get into the really technical stuff just like as a musician.

Let’s talk about your mix that you’ve recorded for Inverted Audio. How did you make it?

Well I really wanted to try out Logic, so I Googled around for a bit and found a version online, which is probably highly illegal and I’ll get sued soon, but I really wanted it…and it wasn’t even a torrent, it just said download here, so I thought…thanks! I might delete it actually!

Yesterday I had a problem with my computer so I had to take it to the Apple Store to get it looked at, and actually it was a terrible experience, because it’s like somebody looking into your soul, they just started it and all then all of these dick-pics popped up hahaha. Anyways it was fixed.

So I made the mix with Logic, which was fun because it was like music making a bit. I called the mix ‘Narcotics Anonymous’ because I don’t really listen to music at all, I don’t have a record player at home. The only time when I do like to listen to music is a day or two after taking too many drugs on a night out and then it’s usually soundcloud or YouTube things.

Narcotics Anonymous’ describes that special moment when you’re so empty after taking so many drugs and you’re just so empty from inside and all of your emotions are laid bare – I like that moment a lot even if its painful or like a hangover, well maybe it’s more before the actual hangover pain really starts. Then I can get into music deeply. This mix represents that state and the music that I would probably like to listen to at that specific music moment.

Besides music I love watching YouTube clips – usually drug documentaries because I want to feel like a real junky. I can go through many episodes of intervention and imagine myself having a serious drug problem.

Have you watched Vice’s video called ‘Krokodil: Russia’s Deadliest Drug’?

Yeah I’ve watched all of their videos, I’m really embarrassed of course, because Vice is so lame, but I think the better one is about the junkies harvesting heroin in these fields in eastern Europe called ‘Heroin Holiday’.

I’ve never taken heroin, or any other opiate; I mean I’d really love to but I don’t think I got the time for it now.  If I allowed myself just do that, I’m just really into the idea for sure, but I just don’t have time to do it now. I have a gallery, a record label and all of these plans; I just can’t be a junkie right now. Maybe some other day, I hope so.

You can be a junkie when you’re older I guess?

Yeah definitely when I’m older, maybe when I’m 50 or something. I mean I really love drugs so much but I don’t have time, that’s the only issue. I’m also really sensitive to them because I don’t do them often enough, so I need so much time to recover. I need a week at least. I really think of myself as having a super non-addictive character, I don’t even smoke regularly don’t drink often etc.

Why did you call yourself Carsten Jost, rather than David Lieske?

I don’t know, obviously I regret it; I mean what a stupid name!

Why is it so stupid?

I don’t know, somehow I knew that I’d work as a visual artist and I was thinking that I’d go under my real name for that. I wanted to have a cool German name, because the guys that I thought were cool were Wolfgang Voigt and Christoph de Babalon at the time.

There was also this guy at junior high-school who was really cool and his name was Carsten and he was a real winner, he was good at everything. I looked up to him but he really didn’t like me and he never talked to me. Still, I fear I wanted to be him somehow still when I was eighteen which was when I decided to be Carsten. I am sorry it’s a lame story.

What about Jost?

I don’t remember where that came from? It’s just so random I decided that in like 5 seconds.

Pete and I were so undecided with our names. Pete was actually going to be ‘Gilbert’ and not Lawrence at first…hahaha. He called me in the night, whilst I was staying with my grandparents in Austria and said full of panic “Oh my god I really cannot be Gilbert…this is not happening we have to change the labels …ha ha ha …

Apart from DJ Richard, are there any other new artists joining Dial?

Well DJ Richard is our only new artist since the addition of John Roberts, which was maybe 8 years ago So that’s our kind of pace. So don’t expect too much news.

What about Galcher Lustwerk?

I really like his music as well; I think it’s amazing. But we haven’t really spent much time together yet so I hope we can in the future. I feel most of the time I have to meet the people who make the music in order to really understand what they are doing.

What other record labels are you interested in?

I’m always listening to the same stuff, there are these two Kelela tracks in the mix that I love at the moment and I love Fade To Mind, it’s just so homogenic, they have this look and the sound. Everything I do for Dial is different, there’s so much different music happening and everything looks different. I am often sad about that and I wish I would be more decisive but that’s just my character and that’s maybe okay because Dial is just a bit timeless in that way – but also it will never be like the coolest thing ever I fear.

I could also listen to A$AP Ferg all day because I love his music and he’s so hot.

What’s your favorite song?

Of A$AP Ferg?

No, of all time!

I don’t know, it’s just so difficult to pin point, there’s a lot of tracks I admire tracks like Moodymann’s ‘The Setup’, which is in the mix. It’s actually weird that there are no Theo Parrish tracks in the mix as they’re super important for me. “Paradise Architects” by him is one of my favorites of all times for sure.

Discover more about Carsten Jost and Dial on Inverted Audio.