Things started to change around 2010. "Cosmin" was added to the moniker, and a trio of broken retro-house EPs emerged on Rush Hour's Direct Current sister label. There was also a decidedly un-Tempa 12-inch, Now You Know, an EP that veered between techno, rave and deeper styles of house, and a Hemlock record that was in the weird and moreish style we've come to expect from the label. The same year, he quit his job in advertising and moved to Berlin, where he has continued to traverse ever-purer 4/4 forms.
Two albums have since followed on 50 Weapons, with his latest, Gordian, sounding like his smoothest and most assured effort to date—even if the route was a little bumpy.
How did Gordian come about?
When I got offered to do another album for 50 Weapons I was like, great idea! The timing seemed right and I had these ideas I wanted to explore. I finally had a few bits of gear that I always wanted to have, fresh software, nothing could go wrong. Then I heard people talk about the "difficult second album" and thought, why would it be so difficult?
I started working, and then it dawned on me that this record could go so many ways; too many ways, and that's when I started to worry. It was an emotional ride, to say the least. When you're on the brink of insanity you have to turn to people who are more grounded than you, to tell you that in the end it's just a record. But it's never just a record, is it?
Initially all this started as a film rather than an album, so the music was going to be a soundtrack. But when I started working on it, I began focusing more on the music than the film.
I felt like at some point I was over-intellectualising the whole thing. I felt like it was "dancing about architecture." Talking about it was becoming too difficult and contrived; so now they are just separate things. And even though the album is finished, I think it is a work in progress. Thing is, I am still trying to do it. It is going to be a short film/music video, if it ever happens.
Have you always been interested in film? Does it inspire your music at all?
Do you know Roy Andersson, the Swedish director? There are a couple of films: You, The Living and Songs From The Second Floor. I think they are my favourite, actually, because they have sort of a narrative backbone, but it is just people and things that happen, things that look and sound really absurd—but they kind of make sense. It's just moods, basically. This is what I am interested in: not so much the story, but the feeling and whatever you get from seeing that.
Is there anything of the film's original narrative left in Gordian?
It's more like fragments that make up a whole. I don't even know if they do, but I suppose it's more like moods than pieces of a story. Moods are much more important to me.
A lot of music these days is really self referential, and I try not to be influenced by any kind of music. I try to study some of the issues that interest me, and I feed off that to make music. With my first album I was really interested in this issue of authenticity, which carried over into the second one as well, but in a slightly different form.
I have actually been reading Simon Reynolds' Energy Flash, something I should have done a long time ago. He is writing about '88/'89 through to '92, and when I was reading it, it felt like these past couple of years. I actually forgot that he was talking about 20 years ago. Everything is going in cycles, but it is different now. That is why I was so interested in the whole authenticity issue. There is this feedback loop, where music generates similar music so it's hard to tell the original from the replica. It's when you get Shed clones, or Detroit clones. They might be great, but they become devoid of meaning outside the sound system environment.
Does this resonate through your early TRG work too, as a Romanian producer tapping into a predominantly UK scene? Do you perhaps challenge the authenticity of your own music?
When I was making that type of music I actually considered myself lucky to even be able to get some sound out of my computer—I considered that an achievement in itself. It's also by a stroke of luck that my garage got picked up over my other music, as it was probably better produced or simply more interesting at the time. I don't think it was an issue for me, if anything I had a sense of pride of making some very location-specific music when I was in fact not there.
Why did you begin making dubstep?
Those were my influences at the time. It was either pounding techno, or the El-B and Zed Bias-sort of thing. And I guess what I was trying to do was a happy marriage between the two—I don't know if it was happy. But I tried it. I forced it.
It took me five, six years to actually make music that I enjoyed. I was kind of a late bloomer. Kids start to make music at, like, 12 these days; I was about 23 when I started. It took me a long time to actually make full tracks and send them to people. I was working full-time too, so I would wake up, knock up three tracks, go to work, finish some more in the evening. It was a good exercise and I was pretty enthusiastic.
What was it like for you as a dubstep DJ in Romania?
I felt a bit isolated when I was in Bucharest. Just because it felt like everyone else had an agenda, and I wasn't part of it. I was just my own thing. The scene is weird because it is insular, it's Eastern European, and there's a lot of drama. And I didn't really want to be a part of that.
Did you ever play out in Bucharest when you were still living there?
I wasn't into networking or sucking up to people just to get booked. It was funny because I had to get a visa for the US three years ago. I had to go to the embassy in Bucharest and I had this folder with flyers and stuff from playing around Europe, the UK. And the girl at the embassy was like, "Why aren't you playing here in Bucharest?" The whole thing was about looking grounded into your scene, so you have something to come back to.
And you weren't, you had nothing?
No, not really. I still got a visa on the spot, but I felt a bit vulnerable. That's when I realised: shit, I don't really play Bucharest, at all. When I stopped playing drum & bass, and I was only playing dubstep, there wasn't really a club for it. Everybody was like, "That's too aggressive, that's shit, that's never going to take off." And when I started playing house and techno, everybody was like, "But you're the drum & bass guy." So it took a while for things to kick in, but by then I had moved to Berlin.
Was it a bit like a constant struggle?
It felt claustrophobic. Romania can be good, and Bucharest can be nice, but it felt like I was living in a bubble. It felt like listening to music with ear covers, everything was muffled. I used to go back home and… everybody was the same. There were just too many layers of some other bullshit that wasn't music related. And so when I put that behind me, I just felt liberated.
I was seduced by the different energies of the city. It's easy to have a comfortable life in Bucharest, and easy to get used to it—and that's when I decided to move. At the same time, scenes can get clique-y and tiresome, I just didn't have the spare energy for that kind of thing. Also, when you operate from the centre of something—be it Berlin, London or New York—you don't really have an excuse to suck, everything is in place for you, and I wanted that challenge.
Do you regard this dubstep background as leverage to your 4/4 music standing out, or sounding different from the rest?
To be honest I just do what I can do. The music that comes out is just the music that I am able to make. It is not that I am actively making "something different," it is whatever comes out of the computer and that is it.
Are you self-taught? Do ever feel disadvantaged by not having any formal musical training?
No. I think I wouldn't be so enthusiastic about music if I had formal training. I remember the first time I hit a chord by mistake and I was like [gasp], you can actually make different sounds. I didn't even know this was a chord.
There's definitely an experimental quality to your sound, which listening back seems more like a continuation than a genre switch. However, the 2010 Hemlock EP feels like a bit of a turning point.
I'm a different person every year, and that's probably why I don't take so kindly to my earlier records. I think the Hemlock 12-inch was my first out-spoken concept record, where I was trying to translate Brutalist architecture into music. And once the record was done, I could move on to other things.
Your first 4/4 gig was, I think, at a Dub Police party in Fabric in 2010. Had you been collecting house and techno much before then?
Not for very long, but I was tuned into the scene. So it wasn't like: I have to build a house and techno set. I had those lying around; I just had much more fun playing them than my actual dubstep/bass set.
To be honest I just felt a bit old for the bass music. Everything at some point started to feel ironic. I guess because the most interesting music at the time was being made by—I don't want to say kids, but young people, and it had this different energy that I wasn't really tapping into. I was thinking: this is a great record, but I don't think I can really play this. I don't really feel like I can stand behind the decks and really play this.
Has age always been a bit of an issue for you as a "late bloomer?"
Age starts playing a factor when you try to EQ a bass drum for days and at some point you feel like it's going nowhere and everything sucks and your life is basically fucked. It's got nothing to do with peer pressure, more like your own pressure, as you anticipate the moment when you have nothing more to say, or the patience to say it.
Whenever I find out some big name in the game is a lot older I secretly go like, "yes!" still got some mileage left. Sometimes I say it out loud, which can be awkward.