Costello moved here around a year ago with his wife, and his small upstairs room looking out onto the narrow street is packed with computers, hardware, and even an old wooden piano. This is the current centre of operations for Minimise Records. But over the years the Minimise has had several homes, all over Dublin. Costello started the label in 1999, and over the next year or so released three 12s, two of them his own, and one a contribution from David Donohue. It was then four years before Minimise kicked back into gear with a slew of quickfire releases that placed both Costello and the label firmly on the map. This was called the Color Series.
Over twelve months in 2004, Costello released ten colour coded EPs to huge acclaim. Today, with a CD version of Color Series about to be released for the first time, Costello explains why he set about creating the body of work: "I'd taken a break for a year and a half or two years from doing techno. I was doing different things, playing in bands even. I just wasn't really sure where I was going and a bit jaded with it all. Then I began to make little loops and beats and started really enjoying it. I'd sold a lot of equipment so I bought it back. I guess I kind of fell in love with the process of making techno again. So I decided that I really wanted to make a strong go of that and get a strong return because I'd been away from that scene for a long time. In order to push myself really hard and to have a strong work ethic I said I'd do a record every month. Then that snowballed into a conceptual series".
The conceptual side of the series took its cue from Wolfgang Voigt’s Studio 1 series (1996), giving each release a distinct colour, although this time the names were distinctly for the tastebuds (Olive, Cocoa, Pistachio, Grape etc). The names themselves aren't that significant, just a particularly good example of the strong visual identity that's almost inherent to successful underground techno labels. "Colours, fruits and nuts!" Costello laughs. "Cadburys had a big influence on me! No seriously, in order to keep the process going as fast as possible and to keep everything as streamlined as possible I couldn't be getting a new cover designed from scratch each month. So there had to be something about the cover that changed but also would be instantly recognisable. That's where the idea of having a different colour every month came from. It was just a very fast visual way for people to know if they had a particular 12 in the series or not".
Musically, the Color Series stood out too. Costello's more retro tinged releases were dubbed (no pun intended) "Basic Channel for the 00s" by Kompakt label boss Michael Mayer, and today the series is seen as a landmark. Ryan Elliott of Spectral Sound is one of Costello's most vocal supporters, even going so far as to make a DJ mix consisting only of Color Series tracks. He explains how even three years on, he still is a huge fan of the series: "I remember being totally excited about the analog hypnotic sound that the Color Series has now come to represent. Once I heard ‘Blue’ (the first of the series), I was anxiously awaiting each new color, and I was never disappointed. The songs are just as relevant today as the day they came out. The Minimise Color Series is the perfect mix of concept, art, and dancefloor utility. Timeless is a word that is overused, but this series is the definition of that to me".
1. Green - A
One of the harder cuts. This is a little like what Kompakt used to sound like.
2. Cocoa - B
Costello's ambient side comes out on this melancholy beatless track from the final release in the series.
3. Blue - A
Deep atmospheric and dubby, this is the closest to Basic Channel the Color Series comes.
4. Mustard – B
An overtly pop track with a wistful feeling that has perhaps been overdone since.
5. Grape - B (CD Edit)
One of several Detroit influenced tracks, albeit with a dubbier slant.
6. Opal (Unreleased CD Edit)
The Opal 12 is probably the hardest of the series. This edit from the forthcoming CD version keeps the acid techno vibe.
7. Pistachio – A
A jerky percussive Chicago house track with melodies that have a more British, early Warp feel to them.
8. Rubine Red – A
The penultimate release in the Color series yielded one of the more contemporary sounding house cuts of the lot.
9. Pistachio – B
Hypnotic acid house, but does anyone know what colour pistachio actually is?
10. Olive – B
Cosmic techno in a UR style, with jazzy melodies and a raw beat.
Perhaps one reason for this timeless quality is that Costello is an artist who makes music with quite a solipsistic approach, admitting "I have a tendency to want to do what other people aren't doing. I know what's out and about and I have a feel for it, so therefore I know what not to do, you know? I can tell you what I don't like and I know what I don't like, but I couldn't name you 10 tracks that I do like. The actual sound of the Color Series was a kind of comment on what was going on at the time. Looking back to 2001, 2002, 2003, that was the period where I kind of fell out of love with techno. That was the whole clicks and cuts movement".
He continues: "Everybody was making these really buzzy, clicky tracks, this whole click house thing, but they weren't using instruments really. Like you'd read them saying: 'Oh I sampled a car going past and I slowed that down and chopped it up and then I combined the sound with a sample of a bee buzzing in a jar and then I applied these fifteen plug-ins and then I reversed the whole thing. And that's how I made the bassline'. And I was like 'cool, that's a very interesting process but it sounds horrible'. So I said fuck all this really kind of contrived process and said 'right I'll have a few synthesisers, I'll make a bassline melody, I'll throw some beats on it, and just make it really from machines'. So that's how this machiney conceptual series came about".
Despite this definite focus on machines, the suggestion that no computers were used in the series is perhaps one of the biggest fallacies about it. In fact, this frequently repeated mistruth almost implies that Costello has a partisan attitude towards hardware. It seems in an environment where debates about machines versus software are ceaseless, anyone can be dragged into them.
But Costello is quick to extricate himself: "This is something that I need to address. The computer was part of my production process since about ‘97 or ‘98 or so in the sense that I would record to DAT, and then I would use a computer to chop up material. That was also done in the Color Series. So computers weren't generating the sound but they were definitely involved in the process. I really want to be quite clear about that, there's no sense that I was being anti-computer. When I see that somewhere I think 'not the computer thing again!'. The computer was part of the process, the stuff was recorded onto computer and edited. The programming was done with software and that's part of the process too. The point wasn't to be anti-computer, more to be pro-machine".
Similarly, you might assume the man behind the highly collectable Color Series was rabidly pro-vinyl, but Costello’s view on the issue is actually pretty sensible. "I'm not particularly pro vinyl. I mean, I like vinyl a lot and the majority of our sales still come from vinyl. But the digital is catching up to the vinyl in terms of sales. And if you're running a business, just looking at it from a business side, then it's up to your customer to decide how they want to consume your product. Otherwise it's like you're saying 'oh you like my music, well you're not allowed to have it unless you buy it in this particular way'. I just don't feel that it's that productive".
This determination to give fans his music in whatever format they want it is one reason why the Color Series is now coming out on CD, albeit with some tracks edited down to size. It's perhaps testament to the popularity of the series that Costello reveals how numerous fans contacted him to ask when a CD version would be released. The reason it's taken three years for that is, according to Costello, because it was important he had some closure on the series before coming back to it: “After 2004, I wanted to make a very clear demarcation between the Color Series and then the stuff that came out after that. People were starting to think of me as the retro guy, the guy who makes the old sounding records, and I didn't want that. So I put all the old machines away and I bought some new machines and I made the next records".
He continues: "If I had done the CD immediately after finishing the Color Series, the tracklisting would have been completely different. A year after I thought about doing it and made up a tracklisting and it was completely different, and six months after that I made another tracklist and that was different again. So yeah I think my perspective is always changing on it. But I'm happy with the tracks that I chose now. And for me this kind of closes the book on the Color Series. It's something that I always wanted to do and this release really finishes off the Color Series project for me".
The CD release may finish the series for Costello, but perhaps the door is just opening for new generations of dance fans. The difference today is they won't have to feverishly check the racks every month for 12 inch records with distinctly fruity colour schemes.