May 13, 2013

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Delving downward into his bag of tricks to piece together the eleventh session in this series is none other than John Osborn, delivering in the calculated, clinical fashion that we have come to so closely associate with the man.

A DJ first, person second, John has been at it for twenty years now. The road has of course been a difficult one, though through his fervent dedication to the art and furthering it and himself, he has landed residencies at some of the world's more notorious locations, whilst also being responsible for moments in time that will forever remain etched into people's memories – whether it be in a club or through a pair of headphones, John has that unique ability to take you there and keep you there, wherever that may be.

His more recent foray into the world of electronic productions has resulted in only a handful of releases, though the content speaks to a considered quality not dissimilar to that of his DJ excursions. And with Eric Cloutier recently joining the fold alongside founding member October, their label, Tanstaafl, appears in no uncertain terms to be striding from strength to strength.

Now without further ado, it is time to let Mr. Osborn flow into your world.

You are one of a dwindling few out that has gained recognition and still are recognised as a DJ first, producer second – has the journey to the position you find yourself in today been a difficult one? Do you envisage yourself shifting towards a more studio-intensive regime in the future or do you think it will remain as it is?

This is something I am very aware of and have been recently discussing with Eric Cloutier, another of the few DJs that have achieved pure ‘dj’ recognition. It has taken me personally over 15 years to get here, I'm 38 now and I bought my 1200s when I was 18 at Art college in London. Many of my friends back then that inspired me so much are now no longer active in the scene. For some reason I never gave up, never lost interest or thought that this is just a hobby taking away too much time from a 'real' career. Around 2005 to 2007 I certainly slowed down a lot, moved my decks to our band's rehearsal studio which meant they were out of sight, out of mind. Then one day I realized, in a very abrupt manner, that they were missing, and techno and house was missing, so I went back to them with all the same vigor as the first day I owned them. When I look back at this pause I now see it was exactly this break that was the game changer for me – at the beginning of 2008 I got my first booking at Panorama Bar and things haven't really slowed down since. That rest enabled me to collaborate all of my experience of record collecting and DJing at various venues with different styles and to use all this to really define my taste and sound. This all happened for me naturally and I was not really aware that this was what was happening at the time. Yes, it was hard, so on one hand when I look back I think that was a long hard journey, that is still not over, but I have enjoyed and I am still enjoying every moment – I chose this path, or maybe this path chose me.

I am working more in the studio, and I'm starting to get my head around Abelton Live 9 after only ever using Logic, so I think it would be fair to say that there will be more productions coming from me in the future but I do not feel like I have to produce music to get gigs, I produce music and learn music production because I want to, I get an intrinsic enjoyment from making music.

The mix you have put together for us here you have told us is the sequel (and final part) to your episode for the modyfier process series, both of which have been recorded to tape.

It's an interesting choice of communication that isn't often heard nowadays. Apart from the warmness, hiss and crackle, is there something else that draws you towards this kind of set up? Aside from the recording format, are there any other factors which in your mind give relation to these two mixes?

I like tape because this was the format I became a DJ with, it gave mixes a feeling similar to vinyl LPs – with an A & B side, or split over several tapes to create a sort of musical triptych. When I was planning the modyfier mix I was searching for something that involved me in a way that had more depth than just recording my mix for 90 mins straight into the computer. When I decided on a musical direction the idea of recording to tape came to me, but not just the tape format alone. I decided to record the room through my Tascam digital recorder and use this room recording to stitch the tapes A & B sides together – so there was still a constant flow without breaking the mix and it also involved me into the mix in a personal way, as you can hear me pouring myself some water or coughing! This tape and room recording allowed me to get the personal feeling into the mix that I wanted so much. Furthermore I really like the way that listening to a recording from tape is so much more forgiving on your ears, it doesn’t tire your ears out so quickly as a super clean loud digital recording can.

There is a very strong relation between the two mixes' musical direction. The first mix, EPAT90, came at a point in my life when I had first opened my mind and heart to a more spiritual, enlightened path and thus also towards having a better understanding of the creative process. I tried to capture that moment in my life with the tracks that I selected, mixed with also trying to capture what I believed to be the essence of a very important person in my life. My spiritual path always continues, and since the first mix I have found myself viewing life from a different vantage point and with a new peaceful light. So it could be said that EPAT90 v2 is a revisited or updated version, but it is not a sequel or a continuation.

Your style of mixing comes across as meticulous, almost scientific to the extent that we get the feeling that you are a DJ who takes pride in, and necessitates even, the envisioning of the journey prior to actually setting sail. Is this process long, arduous and even a hinderance at times or is it very much a labour of love?

First it's the track selection and track order that is the most important to me in creating a complete body of work rather than a compilation of tracks that are just mixed together. I take pride in training my mixing skills. I am very critical of myself in this area and have been for a long time. It can also be said that I really enjoy the mix, riding from one record to the other and getting pleasure from the battle of the transition and finally selecting the right moment to leave one record and allow the next to breathe. As you know it took me almost a year to deliver this mix after you requested it, and you have been very kind and patient. I am not a person that can just plug in my computer, turn on my decks and record a mix. I need to take the time to allow the seed to grow to the point where I literally have to record it, where it becomes something that has to be done and I have to stop everything else to do it. The mix comes organically based around ideas or feelings that need to be, for me, musically illustrated.

Contrast this to when playing in a club. For your modifyer mix you wrote a beautiful foreword in which you refer to "the flow" as both your master and mistress and speak specifically to your personal response and reaction when the flow is seemingly taking over.

Is falling into this type of headspace something you can rely upon or do you need to do certain things prior to help facilitate this process? It all sounds rather intoxicating, descending back to reality must be no mean feat as you allude to, how do you or how do you attempt to keep it all in perspective?

As long as the sound system is in good and there are no mixing or monitoring problems then falling into this headspace is something I can generally rely upon. It has not always been like this and as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains in his speech ‘Flow, the secret to happiness’, it takes about ten years studying your given art before this starts to happen and naturally the longer you practice your art the deeper you can go. Of course it doesn’t happen instantly and takes me around 30-50 mins of playing to fall into this state, this is one of the reasons why sets of at least 3 hours are so important, the longer the better.

The downside to this is that when I do stop playing it takes me about an hour to reacclimatize to people and the surrounding social environment, as people speak to me I find it very hard to work out how to interact and socialize and I probably come across as a bit strange – I certainly feel like a rabbit stuck in headlights! After about an hour or so I am back in the room, but then I often feel exhausted as the energy that mixing in this type of headspace has taken from me becomes apparent.

In an interview with i-DJ you more or less declared that there is no outside of music for you and that your day job as a designer is just to help make ends meet.

Being so heavily a part of underground dance culture as well as a father and a husband, how do you find juggling family life with what is a late-night and at times, isolating occupation?

I am lucky as my wife has supported what I do from the beginning, and she is very much a part of what I am, but it is still hard. I think the hardest thing for me to deal with is the isolated feelings I get from travelling as I am used to having my family around me, so having weekends away can make me feel lonely and like I am missing out on my families free life time. It's also hard to book things like holidays as there are always important gigs that come up, but as I said before, I chose this path, this is who I am and what I do so no complaints!

Your interests in music spread far and wide. Are you still involved in other music scenes outside of dance music? I understand you were lead singer in post punk electro band, Neon Man, is this something you are still a part of in any shape or form?

Ha-ha! Yes, I have very diverse tastes and have been involved in a variety of musical projects, but the band is now just a part of my past. The band was a great experience and I have some very fond memories of being on tour and living the rock and roll cliché. I have spoken to Bastian (my friend with whom I founded Neon Man) and occasionally thought about doing the odd track as we both miss the song and lyric writing but I don’t think either of us have time for this anymore. Things change, that's the only constant in life anyway, so I guess it's just a natural process to move on. It’s quite possible that I may not, one day, be involved in dance music at all anymore. I’m not a fortune teller, and I try not to resist change.

The imprint, Tanstaafl, you founded with October and are now currently running alongside Eric Cloutier as well has had three very solid outings in as many years. Is it your intention to keep the label's output minimal? Do you have some kind of vision of where you'd like the label to head? Is there anything brewing on the horizon that you would like to share?

Yes, we do intend to keep the output, shall we say, controlled. We think that by releasing every month in an attempt to gain a profile waters down the effort and time put into the releases. Dance music has always moved so quickly and even more so with today's technology, but I really find it frustrating when a release that has only been out for two or three months is considered old and then overlooked. By controlling the output to a slow pace we keep the value of the music for longer periods of time. TANSTAAFL grew organically and will continue to do so, October and I have a good musical understanding and connection so we don’t really have an ultimate goal or game plan. We do what we feel is right at the right time, such as Eric joining the family.

Eric was responsible for bringing October to The Bunker in NYC and creating the connection for October and mnml ssgs, and then later Eric and I became friends. Eric now lives in Berlin and has become involved with the TANSTAAFL parties here and also with finally getting the TANSTAAFL DIGITAL stuff up and running with the Clone Digital web shop. We should be very soon dropping the first releases from our new sub label TANSPLAN (TANSTAAFL PLANETS) and we are sitting on some truly great music for this, from artists like KEL who is one half of Skudge, Tallmen, who has released as 785, Tazz and a few more! Also TANS004 should be dropping very soon, as I spent some time in the studio earlier this year to get that one done, but it will not be a rapid succession of releases, as always with TANSTAAFL – good things will come as time passes.

Thank you very much for inviting me to do this!


1. Steve Moore - Beyond Tyken's Rift // L.I.E.S. (Long Island Electrical Systems)
2. Mark Du Mosch - Indigo Jam // Tabernacle Records
3. Naoki Shinohara - Timeless
4. Black Boxx - Untitled 1 // Ferrispark
5. Ante Perry - Tief Dekoletiert (Locked Groove's Remix) // We Play House Recordings
6. Claudia Anderson - Organic // Singular Records
7. Walt J - Reborn 1 (DJ Qu's Journey Towards Birth Remix) // Petite
8. Fred P. - Project 05 // Ostgut Ton
9. John Daly - Pandora (Box Mix) // One Track Records
10. Professor Inc - A Song For Keith // Speshall Edishon
11. Nyra - M For Mother // Freund Der Familie
12. Marcel Dettmann - Linux // 50Weapons