|Label of the month: Life and Death
Big hooks, big hits: The Italian imprint isn't as big as Hot Creations, Visionquest or Crosstown Rebels...yet. RA's Todd L. Burns explains.
Tale of Us are late for our meeting. They are also 23 hours early. Earlier this month, I received a panicked phone call about a lunch meeting from Matteo Milleri: "We're on our way! Sorry!" Having just finished my lunch and knowing that we were due to meet the next day, I wasn't sure what to do. "OK! See you in a bit..." It was only after having finished my second lunch of the day that they seemed to figure it out. "Hey...wait a second. Is today Wednesday?!"
You can't blame Milleri or Carmine Conte, the duo who make up one of the hottest house music groups of recent vintage. They've had a meteoric rise over the past 18 months. Their debut EP on Visionquest remains the only original release to their name, but alongside their ubiquitous remix of Thugfucker's "Disco Gnome" it's been enough to earn them a punishing gig schedule. Like many in their position, they haven't turned down many offers in the early going—eager to showcase what they can do so that fans will be even more interested in what happens next. But it comes at a price. Like knowing what day it is when you return home to Berlin. Or finishing up their long-gestating full-length.
"Yeah..." Matteo starts, trailing off. "We're almost there."
"70%. We're going to be taking some time off soon to finish it up."
Time. It's the one thing that Tale of Us and the rest of the crew behind the label that they run, Life and Death, simply don't have these days. Ever since that remix of "Disco Gnome," it's been a bit of a whirlwind. It's only now—nearly two years later—that things seem to be coalescing again, and the next phase will begin.
"We want to be a bit like Warp I guess," explains DJ Tennis, AKA Manfredi Romano, one of the brains behind the imprint. At the end of a long brunch, we've finally gotten to the heart of where he wants to take the label. "Warp" is shorthand for an electronic music label that isn't necessarily tied to the dance floor. Or even electronic music for that matter. As Romano explains it, the label is moving slowly toward a place where electronic and pop are indistinguishable from one another—and the imprint has a few bands on the rosters as well.
Although Warp is a good reference point for Romano's vision for the label, a more accurate one might be Kompakt—an imprint whose approach and sound quite closely resembles Life and Death. (Milleri counts Kompakt as one of his all-time favorites, citing the fact that Tale of Us took their name from a Supermayer song.) All of the six releases on Life and Death so far could have easily appeared on the Cologne imprint's Kompakt Pop sub-label. It's a catalogue full of big, warm synthesizers and—in most cases—even bigger vocal hooks. It comes as no surprise, then, to see that Kompakt not only distributes the label, but also recently tapped DJ Tennis for a single.
Support, however, has come from all sides. And that's no doubt partly down to Romano's day job as a booking agent in Italy for a host of acts. He's a guy who has his hand (and ears) in a lot of different scenes. Growing up, though, he was first attracted to punk and hardcore. Black Flag, DOA and fIREHOSE were some of the bands he was seeing when he first starting going out, and he's always maintained a hugely open-minded outlook when it comes to music in general.
As a result, he's become somewhat of a musical mentor to Tale of Us. "He introduced us to Boards of Canada," remembers Milleri, "and it was like whoaaa..." The wealth of influences that Romano and Thugfucker—Greg Oreck and Holmar Filipsson, also electronic music vets—have clearly informs the music that they're picking out for the imprint. When asked what drew Romano to Tale of Us, he says it's the music (of course) but also the sensibility. "They are really young.... But you can hear in the way that they pick tracks and the way that they produce this US post-hardcore/post-punk stuff to Ninja Tune '90s trip-hop stuff to very psychedelic '70s things. They just have fun playing with sounds."
You'd be forgiven for suspicions about the direct impact of post-hardcore on Tale of Us' sound, but listen again to their RA podcast and you'll hear an unmistakable guitar loop from Fugazi's "Sweet and Low," enhanced with what is credited as live keyboards from "Life and Death." Similarly, you get the sense that when the label goes far afield to commission a remix—Photek and Larry Heard have thus far appeared, with more promised—it's not just "the name" that they're after. It's also a genuine interest in broadening what "Life and Death" can sound like.
This issue is something that both Tale of Us and Romano are keenly aware of. The word hype gets thrown around by Milleri with surprising frequency, and he's eager to prove that they will remain relevant after clubbers stop requesting they play their remix of "Disco Gnome." Something that will go a long way towards establishing their distinct identity will be their imprint's first full-length, an as yet untitled work by Clockwork due later this year. It's wide-ranging in the ways that you'd expect. One of the highlights—"Running Searching"—features a future garage beat underpinning a synth line reminiscent of the Junior Boys, and a majority of the tracks favor breakbeats rather than the 4/4 house that they've released thus far. It's a melancholy affair, but it's one that will no doubt go down well in headphones—something that both Clockwork and Life and Death seem intent on focusing on now and for the foreseeable future.
Tale Of Us are unsure if their eventual album will end up on the imprint. It may come to pass, after all, that a bigger label might want to sign them. (And who could blame them if R&S or Kompakt came calling?) Whether or not it comes out on Life and Death is a bit immaterial to what the label is aiming for it seems, though. Not exactly the "family affair" that many labels tend to build in their early days, they're keen to bring in good music—wherever it comes from. A various artist EP due to be released soon will see Christian Löffler, Ryan Crosson and Roland Appel (among others) make their label debut. So will a lot of others, if all goes according to plan. And, above all, if they can find the time.