Max Dax: The label “raster-noton. archiv für ton und nichtton” has existed for exactly 20 years now. When you started in 1996, why did you emphasize the term “archive”?
Carsten Nicolai: First of all, it was a high-brow statement not to call a newly founded label a “label”, but an “archive” instead. We expected raster-noton to be around for a while, so eventually there would also be an archive.
Olaf Bender: It was a positive statement of intent.
Carsten Nicolai: And at the same time, it was about “ton”, meaning “sound”. So in the broadest sense, it was about sounds; it wasn’t just about music. We wanted to generate an open field. And if you look at the label’s catalog numbers today, you’ll find many entries that aren’t music at all, but posters, books, objects, t-shirts or photo documents.
Max Dax: That’s reminiscent of Factory Records in Manchester, where everything received its own catalog number – even the label’s office cat.
Carsten Nicolai: I didn’t know about the cat.
Max Dax: The cat was given the catalog number #191.
Carsten Nicolai: Factory, of course, was a point of reference. And once raster-noton had already been around for some years, we watched the film “24 Hour Party People” together. There’s this famous scene where Peter Saville finally shows up with the finished tickets the morning before the big opening of the Haçienda – and everybody is looking at him, and someone says, “Well, we’ve actually been selling these tickets for two months already”. When Olaf and I saw that scene, we had to grin.
Olaf Bender: And what I also liked, of course, was the story of the first big New Order hit, “Blue Monday”. The cover was so expensive that it ate up all the label’s profits. That was exactly our “business concept” – between the intention and the calculation.
Carsten Nicolai: Because that has constantly been our experience.
Olaf Bender: There are indeed some amazing similarities. Not forgetting Peter Saville himself: the design for Factory was simply and consistently good. It was simultaneously classic and modern in equal measure.
Carsten Nicolai: Peter Saville had the same references as we had, people like Jan Tschichold or the Russian constructivists. And you also mustn’t forget the extent to which we, coming from the East, were frozen in time. In the daily life of the GDR, Tschichold was something like the last true update of typographic aesthetics. David Carson didn’t interest us. Our environment and our Eastern makeshift packaging were much more fascinating. We grew up with that stuff. Many things at raster-noton refer typographically to the aesthetics of the GDR. You only needed to dig out one of our old school exercise books – and we had a perfect cover. Unlike us, Peter Saville had the choice between Tschichold, Malewitsch and all the others. Our everyday existence was the Bauhaus. There was a Wagenfeld teapot in every household. We didn’t even recognize it as special design; for us it was simply everyday life in East Germany. We sampled all that for a long time without even being aware of it; it was more like in our DNA. Obviously, we connect a part of our identity with that design. The three of us, Frank, Olaf and I, once had a band called Signal. For the titles of our tracks, we only chose old brand names from the East: Ermafa, Naplafa, Datasette, Malimo – Robotron was the most best known among them. What all those names had in common was that they felt anonymous and sterile; they were like artificial words. Yet by looking at those names, people could draw conclusions about our origins.
Interview excerpt taken from “raster-noton Sourcebook”, due to be released in Spring 2017 on raster-noton.