Carsten Jost

Uncanny Valley · UV Podcast 097 - Carsten Jost

The first Dial release was a compilation with music of the 3 founding members of the label. In which personal and political situation have you been around the year 2000?

I remember the year 2000 as a sort of quite boring year that felt like a strange appendix to the nineties. Aircrafts had not been steered into the World Trade Center yet and mass riots in cities like Genua seemed not in reach either. The most exciting thing that happened in German politics was the CDU donation affair around Helmut Kohl that led to his complete withdrawal from the political stage. The disappearance of such a prolific character at the helm of the country that had always been there since I could remember in a weird way marked my own transition into adulthood. 

At this moment I had slowly come to terms with the fact that my previous total devotion to radical-left 24-hour activism and the kind of demure and often dogmatic world-views that came along with that had brought me nothing but deep wrinkles under my 21-year-old eyes and I was in desperate need of some deep recovery time to iron those out.

Carsten Jost

Unfortunately, the ultra heteronormative climate of my former political context and it’s high demands on my time and total commitment to the cause didn’t give me much room to develop personally and confront certain desires within myself that exceeded the end of global post-capitalism. 

In other words, I was very much struggling with being gay as I had absolutely no gay friends and a deep discomfort towards anything in the realms of queer culture which didn’t seem to align much with my interests and fantasies. 

Loneliness had me in a tight grip and mixed with deep fatigue and the feeling of failure of what had been gained politically as things seemingly only got worse on a global scale. I was longing for some sort of simple closeness but it took me at least another year to kiss a boy for the very first time. 

Somehow I had landed a job at Ladomat 2000, Hamburg’s eponymous indie-house label that operated under the umbrella of L’arge D’or (the home of a cluster of pop bands that were often described as the “Hamburger Schule”).

The job at Ladomat 2000 was really more like an apprenticeship at first and offered me great insight into all aspects of operating an indie record label (something that I had dreamed of doing since a very young age).

Of course, I also met countless incredible musicians there (some of whom I still work with today in the context of Dial) and many visual artists as well (who had a huge impact on my own later practice as an artist and as an art dealer).

Nonetheless, I got introduced to countless techniques of successful conmanship by my boss, the fabulous Charlotte Goltermann (founder and CEO of Ladomat 2000) who inspired me in so many ways. She most importantly taught me that reality is a very flexible fabric that can be stretched and bent in many ways without changing its fundamental weaving each time over. The year 2000 seemed to mark the tail end of a music industry that once had been glamorous and hilarious, I was fortunate enough to catch some of its afterglow. After all these years of self-imposed revolutionary discipline, I enjoyed being around the particular extravagance of music industry ladies like Charlotte and her friends who worked at major record labels like Universal or Sony. I tried drugs for the first time and didn’t feel guilty about it.

Ladomat 2000 had just signed Paul Kominek under his Turner imprint and as Paul was just one year older than me (which was kind of shocking for most people at the office who were normally ten to twenty years older than us and called us “babies”) Charlotte decided that it would only make sense that I should be in charge of his management. 

What made it necessary to go with a fellowship on this journey?

I don’t know if it was necessary but it just so happened organically. I had been in close musical exchange with Pete (Lawrence) for a while that stemmed from djaying and organizing underground parties together.

We had sort of accompanied and motivated each other into our first steps into the sphere of electronic music production as well. Paul arrived one night from Frankfurt with all of his belongings at the Ladomat 2000 office and so it happened that he became a part of Dial for that first record. 

Paul though quickly drifted out of the operating part of the label again as he got really serious and busy with his Turner project and maybe wasn’t enjoying the label work as much. He remained though on the label as an artist and released several 12’s and an Album with us under the name Pawel plus I worked with him very closely in my day job at Ladomat 2000. 

Pete and I have a very close bond and an almost automatic and oftentimes nonverbal way of working together which surely made it hard for a third person to come along. 

I find it hard to imagine that Dial would be anywhere near to where it is today without that specific dynamic between Pete and I that has already survived more than two decades and numerous tumultuous moves to different countries and other significant life changes. Unfortunately, it is equally hard to describe what that dynamic exactly is to be perfectly honest, maybe it is best described as deep friendship and total unconditional trust. 

A little bit down the road there were also other people that became a part of this Dial fellowship like Phillip Sollmann and Hendrik Weber who had a big impact on the label and us personally nonetheless with their contributions as artists and musicians. 

The Pudel Club in Hamburg gave all of us a platform to develop as DJs. The club probably played the single most significant role in the development of the label.

This absolutely unique indentation of visual arts (through the presence of a gallery and large groups of artists in the club) and the devotion to music in the broadest sense of the word provided an ideal atmosphere for us to develop personally and in our cultural practices.

The Hamburger Schule was a big music movement for pop music in Germany. In which way are you connected to it and how did it influence you as a working artist and label founder?

Through my job at Ladomat 2000 which operated as a subdivision of L’arge D’or which was working with many of those bands that were formative for the so-called “Hamburger Schule” I felt extremely close to it. 

Dirk von Lowtzow (Tocotronic) whom I met there became a very important mentor to me as he was extremely generous with his knowledge in the fields of contemporary art, film and literature. As I didn’t have the privilege of studying at a University I was extremely grateful to have wise professors like Dirk close to me.

I remember the first time I saw his band Tocotronic performing live was in front of a prison in which people arrested under 129a accusations in connection to the underground Newspaper “Radikal” were held. The concert was extremely improvised and designed to send a signal of solidarity to those people persecuted under counter-terrorism laws for operating a Magazine. I was a huge fan of Radikal and had collected every issue since the age of 14 and thought Tocotronic playing there was absolutely great.

Hamburger Schule

From your experience, which is better and how did it work out for you? Founding a record label without a plan and learning all the relevant stuff along the way? Or to start well prepared?

To be honest I find it hard to assess how it would feel to stumble into operating a record label completely unprepared, untrained whatever you want to call it. I really had an education in this field from the ground up. I started working at the age of 15 for the distribution company EFA (it was an extremely hard nineties job changing broken CD trays from returned shipments but for me it was great) later I worked for a small promotion company which was a nightmare (besides Pete and I randomly meeting there which was fate) then Ladomat 2000 which was where I really learned the craft. Pete was working at Universal (Jazz) at the same time which Ladomat also occasionally collaborated with.

Not all things we learned or were required to do in these music industry contexts were necessarily helpful for starting Dial though. 

At the end of the day, Dial was also almost a reaction to Pete’s and my experiences in our industry day-jobs. An important part of finding a way to run our own label was unlearning things from these jobs or consciously breaking away from the logic these places had imposed on us.

Above all what fundamentally distinguished our approach of dealing with the idea of releasing music was, instead of creating artificial desires through advertising and promotion we wanted to offer something that people had to discover and in best case fall in love with themselves. Not to be overly secretive either but we weren’t interested in these cohesive narratives and styles that particularly sit well with pop media and distributors. We wanted to work freely and as experimental as possible and almost disregard as much as what seemed advisable to run an in classic terms successful record company.

It was never a goal of ours to sell as many records as we possibly could as we weren’t really interested in money (we had jobs and also started making a good living as Djs). In my fantasy, I always dreamed of Dial as a platform driven by solidarity in which the records that sell a bit more are financing the ones that aren’t met with a lot of commercial interest but are equally as important culturally. 

Carsten Jost and Lawrence

Which role does a conceptual identity play for a label nowadays? Compared to a musical identity?

To be honest I have a hard time to completely distinguish the two. What I am often experiencing nowadays is that people are very concerned with their “brand” and creating a super clear profile for whatever they are doing. 

That is something that we as Dial have obviously actively worked against since our very first releases. We never thought it was interesting to develop anything like a unifying sound or aesthetic. Strangely even in our first interviews journalists talked about the “Dial Sound” which is something we have laughed about ever since. However close friendships rooted in mutual interests may lead to a certain approximation that naturally creates a collective aesthetic but I can assure you we have never actively planned or regulated our output in order to adopt a certain identity. On the contrary, we believe in maximum freedom and ultimately trust our artists to do the right thing and of course, leave room for failure on our side and theirs (which we enjoy and find important as well). 

You started out in Hamburg, you run a gallery in New York and now you are back in Berlin. What influences did those 3 cities had on your personal life? In which way are these years echoing in/on your label?

I also lived in Tel Aviv, Israel for two years in between. To be honest, I really don’t believe in the huge influence of towns, cities or even countries for that matter. Dial always had a close exchange with artists from New York even before I physically moved there (John Roberts, Dj Richard, Queens, James K.). The differences between Hamburg and Berlin aren’t really that significant to me. Today, Pete lives half in Brussels half in Berlin and still had a flat in Hamburg until two years ago. My professional and personal life is mostly influenced by shifting interests rather than where I am located. At the moment I am for example mostly interested in Tennis and working on my body in order to get stronger and win more matches on the court. I play for a team in the Verbandsliga and I tremendously enjoy the Vereinsleben. Working with my body is something that I have never done before but it proved to be the only way to redirect my energy and ambition in this current climate of stillstand in order not to go insane.

Thank you for your answers.