What is your name?
Jason “BPMF” Szostek.
Where are you currently based?
You started playing live in 86’ with Free World along Steven Wytas, one of your first live projects releasing an LP called Amagi in the same year. How did you get start back in 86?
We started a few years before when I met Steve in High School. I had been a guitarist and collected a lot of effect pedals. After hearing Thomas Dolby on the radio I sold my guitars (kept the pedals) and bought a synth. Steve had gotten a Korg KPR 77 to practice playing bass with and we realized that we could get together and be America’s Buggles. HA! We bought a four track and a small mixer and started making tapes. After college we broke up and he became a successful studio owner and engineer.
How has the scene changed over the years from 1986 – 2017?
When gear was expensive and limited in functionality electronic music production was available to fewer people. This was both bad and good. I think the good side, and I am very grateful to have been fortunate enough to have had that experience, is that our generation was forced to be more resourceful and economic about the way we approach tracks. This is why late 80s early 90s techno and house is so well focused on the groove. You had very little gear and anything that didnt serve the groove distracted from it. The limits provided focus.
The bad side was that there were alot of interesting artists who could have offered the scene some great music who never got involved in electronic music. As equipment got cheaper they’ve come and kept the scene going so that’s great.
You were a member of Prototype 909 in 1993, an electronic band hailing from New York which was signed to Sonic Records making a strong reputation as a unique among live techno bands at the time which used a large amount of equipment. How did Prototype 909 come together?
I had known Taylor Deupree since 1990 when we worked on a project together we called Decameron. We released two tapes on his label Havoc Music and some of our tracks ended up on early Techno compilations. Dietrich was an old friend of his that he worked on music with that I used to go to raves with so we all knew each other.
When after years of searching Taylor found a TB-303 Dietrich went to New York to check it out. The two of them put together all the analog gear they had, the pre-midi Roland stuff that only worked with DIN Sync, triggers and CV. They remembered that the “old man” had a lot of experience in this method of production so they called me up and I came over to finish “Acid Technology”.
Soon we realized that having three pairs of hands we could perform more easily and even improvise more using the Roland gear so we started playing live across America. That certainly made us unique, the only all live three member techno “group” at a time when not many people genuinely played live at all. I’m so happy to see that playing live has become the thing it is today.
What equipment were you using back then?
Roland TR-909, TR-808, TR-606 sometimes a 707. Jupiter 6 or 8, SH-101, MC-202, TB-303. Non Roland we might have Prophet 600, DX-100. There was almost always some kind of sampler, MPC or other…
Do you still have and use any of this equipment?
We still have most of it, I still have the SH-101, MC-202 and Prophet 600. Taylor still has all of his gear and Dietrich still has the 303.
What was your role within Prototype 909?
I was generally responsible for the crazy noises on top of the groove, they were generally resposible for the grooves, then I would come in with some synth sounds and try to mess things up. Often to great affect!
Do you have any links to some Prototype 909 tracks?
“Believe” from our second album “Transistor Rhythm”
“Atma”, the B side of the Karma single that Nina Kraviz put on her K7 Mix CD
“Empty Space”, the first track we did together
“The Kids Don’t Care” from the Schmer EP and our last album
I hear that in 1994 you started feeling that techno was getting a bit too unfunky resulting the birth of Serotonin Records, trying to save the love you and John Selway had for the funkier electronic dance music of the early eighties: electro, electro disco, new wave, funk. Do you feel that launching Serotonin Records did help contribute to saving this particular vibe/sound?
I would love to take credit for that and I’m known for saying things like that after a few too many drinks. The truth is that around 1995 a lot of people felt the same way because of the state of techno and because electro was never forgotten, was still so much fun to mix in but there were just too few producers and too few tracks to have full on electro sets and DJs focused on it. But it was changing already and we caught a wave at that moment I’d like to believe our example encouraged at least some of the people who knew us to try their hand at electro too. In fact I know that’s true as many talented producers we knew only started making awesome electro, often better than ours, because they saw how cool Serotonin records were. Yes, I’m proud of that. You don’t get many opportunities as an artist to help encourage the relaunch of an entire genre.
How was it running a label back in 1994?
In many ways it was easier than it is today. We sold records in the thousands, paid artists managed to get press and reviews for merely the cost of a promo, didn’t have to compete with downloads. Most of all because of the expense of producing a record that was a barrier to entry that meant there was much less competition. I think most of us who are old enough will have to agree that there is also good that has come from the changes the internet has brought, but it really has made running an underground label harder.
In the last few years there has been a resurgence of this particular sound, what’s your impression of the how this sound has been interpreted by this new generation of DJ’s?
I am very encouraged that a whole new generation of DJ’s some of whom weren’t even born when I made my first record are getting into these styles and mixing them into what is current. I think it speaks to the power of Techno to continue to inspire and move people that it is a universal form that translates all over the world as basic as the instinct to move your body.
But I’m not surprised that they have a new interpretation and use the tracks differently then we would have. Its refreshing actually, the way DJs mix things up reminds me of the earliest days of the US rave scene and less of how things were in NY in the 90s. Then all the micro-genres started to appear and styles separated into little cliques and people were really stuck up about it. In many ways things are actually much better today because the young people don’t carry the kinds of scenester baggage we lived with. They are more free and open to listen and say this is good, I like this and I don’t care if someone else calls it “Tech-House” it moves me and I’m playing it!
In 1995 you started Schmer Records, simply to have an outlet for the kind of stuff you were making far outside the mainstream of modern techno being supported by Nina Kraviz on her Fabric CD. It seems as though you enjoy going against the grain and sticking true to what your feeling, what are the challenges and benefits of staying true to yourself and your sound?
Its an amazing feeling for a producer to hear their track spun by a world class DJ on a big system for thousands to dance to. Its what you can only dream about when your making music that comes from the heart when you’ve trained yourself to follow your instincts. But it can be a long and lonely road doing your own thing all the time and for most of it going against the current making things that just don’t fit in.
It can be very tempting to say, “I can do THAT, I’ll give that a shot, so it will get played”. I have a lot of friends who did that and the truth is I would have done it too, if I could. I’m just not that versatile as a producer. I only know how to make what I make and how to work the way I do.
My music is what comes out of my process and I just consider myself extremely lucky that we now live in a world that has DJ’s like Nina who dig through the stacks and look for things outside the mainstream and who can introduce this generation to what we did back then. That’s a miracle that I could never have predicted would happen in a million years really.
Despite making techno for a decade as BPMF and with P-909 playing over 70 times, it wasn’t till 2015 that you decided to start a solo live project. What prompted this decision to start a solo live project?
Here in Philadelphia we are blessed with a large group of talented young people making live techno. After going to a few parties and seeing the warm reception they got and how good they were I remembered how much I missed playing live. The new gear that Korg and Roland have recently made since I stopped playing has kept live performance in mind. Its cheaper, smaller, lighter and more powerful than what I had then. Making playing live a lot easier. I simply ran out of excuses; that, and I was a challenge in the back of my mind, to do it without the help of the others.
Its exciting to be nearly 50 years old and be doing something so comfortable and familiar but at the same time feel totally new. I literally feel like a kid again and everywhere I look there are young people. Its a great place to be!
How do you prepare for each show?
I gather some samples for the Korg samplers. I program patterns in my EM-1, Korg Sampler and TT-303. Then I practice with them coming up with patterns on the TR-8 on the fly, and sequences on my BeatStep Pro for the MC-202,JP-08 and JX-03 or Preen FM. Then I practice, a lot. I go through the patterns and figure out which are working for me and which aren’t, I try to weed out the ones that don’t work and organize about times as much as I actually need. Then I practice some more to make sure I know which patterns are which; and then I practice some more to make sure I can create flow and dynamics smoothly in the set.
After all this programming and practicing the actual live set is still completely improvised. I will not decide how it starts until I start and where it goes will be spontaneously decided upon or accidentally stumbled upon. I make a lot of mistakes but I’m an expert at making them sound cool.
What influences your sound?
I am still trying to get the feeling that early Chicago house gives me when I dance and put it in a Detroit inspired modern sounding techno that works. This is a tall challenge and I doubt that I will ever be perfectly happy with the results but this motivation keeps me going. I want my tracks to Jack and Rock and even hypnotize at the same time.
I pick up little sounds when I go to the club, I am never really inspired by a track as much as I am by some of the tricks I hear that I think I should try. My sounds main influence is my own body. I know its working when I’m dancing to it, if I’m just sitting there thinking about it than I’d be better off making ambient.
Who are you listening to at the moment?
I go through phases and at the moment I’m catching up with all the amazing women who are making music recently. They are making music from a fresh perspective and its all wildly different and unique from each other and doesnt fit into a single genre but still has a common feeling that’s fresh to me that I just can’t put my finger on what it is and I find that incredibly intriguing. At the risk of leaving anyone out I’d say I’ve been really impressed with Isabella Koen, Antenes, Umfang, Bergsonist, Uchi, Ciarra Black, Ciel, Machine Woman, Via App, Vinilette, Galcid, Anastasia Kristensen, Bastet, Experimental Housewife, CMD, DJ Shiva aka Non-compliant, Hiroko Yamamura and Datadrift to name a few. Notice how many Americans there are, that also inspires me…
Abide The Glide Vol. 4 is the final part of your third album after you released two ambient ones, Porusia Fallacy in 2007 and Telepathic Bubblebath in 2016. This 4th volume is the only one to be put out on vinyl, all other three are on band camp. I hear the theme behind this production is Portamento and the influences come from Chicago in the 90s. Why the release on vinyl?
So I pulled the other 3 volumes from bandcamp and will be releasing the remastered versions slowly. I think the three tracks on number 4 are the ones that gave me the old school dance feel the most and thanks to Jamie Morris’s remix will be the best for the dance floor, thus the vinyl.
How is vinyl selling now as compared to a decade ago?
One tenth basically! But I still do it because it sounds and feels great to spin and I’m an old man set in my ways.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
I have a few gigs in the US, Prototype 909 has another reunion show and the labels, Schmer, Serotoin and Losers with Attitude are keeping me very busy. I’m even DJing a little bit again even though that was never really my thing I’m finding it fun and inspirational. Somehow I’m gonna find the time to make new tracks as I’m starting to have some other labels interested in my again. I’m hoping I can get together with John Selway and put together a live show for Synapse again. We had a lot of fun back in the 90s together and live electro funk in the club is like a whole other thing that I’m looking forward to feeling again.
When and where are you playing next?
Sunday 10th for Rizumu here in Philly at Sangria Sunday.
Favorite food and place to hangout?
I eat Chinese food like a native and love it spicy ( I speak Mandarin also ) so Chili Szechuan II on Chestnut St. Come over and have the 夫妻肺片 its awesome!