When discussing innovative labels of recent years, you'd be amiss to leave out names like Hemlock, Hessle Audio and 50 Weapons. There's only a select few who have released on any of them, let alone all three, and one of them is Cosmin TRG. After his original pursuit of dubstep began in his Romanian home, he was selected for Hessle's first ever single with "Put You Down" back in 2007, and has since dabbled in grime ("Now You Know") and house ("Liebe Suende") before settling on a harder techno sound, and relocating to Berlin.
Building on an already impressive back catalogue of releases, Cosmin TRG has taken the step of forming his own label Fizic; a name taken from one of his track's on his debut album Simulat. It will serve as a platform for his own output, with his own photos providing the artwork and overseen by Mexican designer Mircea Turcan, and kicks off in heady style with a two-track release Fizic01—which you can exclusively stream below.
To mark the occasion, we caught up with Cosmin TRG about how he got into electronic music growing up in 90s Romania, and how a move to Berlin made it all happen for him.
THUMP: What was growing up in Romania like for music?
Cosmin TRG: I wasn't really keen on Romanian music because up until the mid to late 90s, music wasn't so freely available. It was mostly stuff from the UK. When I got into electronic music, I was attracted to stuff like early Orbital; somewhere between techno and breakbeat, where you would have lots of different tempos across the same album.
How were you coming across the likes of Orbital in your formative years?
Cosmin TRG: To be honest, there were record shops around but in the dance music section you'd only find the Chemicals Brothers—if you were lucky. This kind of stuff was circulating in the underground.
What do you mean by underground?
Cosmin TRG: People were passing each other tapes and CDs. My Orbital tape is a sweet story, actually. I think I was 12 or 13, and I was at the seaside. I was given an Orbital album as a present from a girl. I was hooked on it. I listened to it in and out for about three months straight.
So it's thanks to this girl that you are who you are now?
Cosmin TRG: Yeah, pretty much. I was into early electronic music just because my parents and their friends were listening to Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and Vangelis, but I was looking for this dance music that incorporated the stuff like synths and drum machines. It was a bit more psychedelic I guess.
Does this girl know how much of a key component she is in your career?
Cosmin TRG: Yeah I've mentioned it to her. Her brother is a member of one of the first electronic music outfits in Romania. They were making music and playing it around 94-95. You'd see them on the Romanian version of Top of the Pops, but they were playing jungle loops and things like that.
Was that quite forward thinking at the time?
Cosmin TRG: I think it was really forward thinking, but for some reason it didn't feel alien just because around the same time you'd have Aphex Twin videos on rotation on MTV.
Did the underground world in Romania manifest itself in parties and raves there?
Cosmin TRG: Yeah, I popped my rave cherry quite late—I think it was 99 or 00. I went to this rave in a warehouse, appropriately, and there was this French dude playing techno on three turntables. Everyone was just memorized by the spectacle. I thought, "I have to get on that stage, play three turntables to everyone."
Is it because you liked all of the prestige that came with playing music to so many people?
Cosmin TRG: Not really, I was just fascinated by the technical aspect of it; putting two or three records together to create this mix, and the whole hypnotic aspect and vibing with the crowd in a sweaty, dark warehouse. Prestige wasn't really on my radar.
What also fascinates me is that you're the only non-UK person to have released on Hessle Audio. How did you get involved with that dubstep movement when you were in Romania?
Cosmin TRG: I travelled to the UK in around 99, and came back with this Ministry of Sound magazine that had this free CD that they gave out with the magazine. It was a "Locked On" compilation that had like El-B, Zed Bias all that kind of stuff on it. That was at the height of the 2-step era, and I was listening to it and thinking "This is amazing;" it's what I love in jungle and drum 'n' bass, but at a very comfortable bpm with a nice groove. There was nothing really around that I liked, because that was also the era of Artful Dodger.
Were you not a fan of that?
Cosmin TRG: Erm…. it was just a weird time. You'd look for records that resembled what you liked. You'd find three records like that then the rest would be generic R&B kind of stuff, and that wasn't really what I was into. After a few years I was still looking for that kind of stuff on the side, and that's when dubstep really took off.
But garage wasn't something you were ever going to pursue?
Cosmin TRG: I was going to, but there just wasn't enough music around to be interested in between 2001 and 2006. There's plenty of interesting stuff happening in techno at the moment that allows me to focus on this.
What provoked your decision to leave Romania and come to Berlin?
Cosmin TRG: At some point I just wanted to change the scenery a bit. It was getting a little too comfortable for my taste in Bucharest. It was very cheap to live and I was able to travel around, but at one point I was just doing the same things over and over. I wanted a new challenge and boy, did I get that in Berlin.
What do you mean by that?
Cosmin TRG: Moving to Berlin can be a bit of a bureaucratic hassle. Finding an apartment is increasingly hard there. Everyone's moving there, right? I made the move at the height of that, I guess.
Why not the UK?
Cosmin TRG: I was pretty focused on the UK and London for a while, but I think I just saw something that I really loved in Berlin, which was both something familiar and something really strange for me. I took the decision to move to Berlin sometime in 2010. I visited some friends there and they had this really nice library. There was this book about David Bowie's time in Berlin, and I just went through it in a couple of hours. It was really fascinating.
How long did it take to adjust? People say that the lifestyle there is very laid back and slow-paced. How has that had a bearing on your work?
Cosmin TRG: Around the time I was thinking of moving to Berlin, I got this offer from Modeselektor to release on 50 Weapons. I sent them some tracks, and they came out around the time I moved to Berlin. So when I moved there, they said that they wanted me to make an album (Simulat) for them in two months. So for that time, I was stuck in the studio working on the album. The studio was right next to theirs so I'd pop in and out, smoke cigarettes, drink coffee, borrowing synths off them. It was a really, really creative time, and really challenging for me to try and write an album in this limited time frame.
Did living in a techno hotbed change the way you approached it as a genre?
Cosmin TRG: It's like when an actor moves to New York or LA. In the same way, the move to Berlin is make or break. But when you move here, you realise it's a city with immense cultural heritage. You have to tap into this amazing source of energy, creativity and history.
Are there any other places you'd think of moving to for musical reasons?
Cosmin TRG: I was really impressed with Tokyo. I wouldn't necessarily live there for the rest of my life, but I'd love to spend more time there, just to absorb the energy of the city. San Francisco as well. I loved the people there and New York is really insane.
It's interesting that you said Tokyo. Your new 12" incorporates elements of Japanese futurism.
Cosmin TRG: With Japan, I'm just really attracted to this functional way of doing things, but also respecting a sort of tradition. There's always a mannerism attached to it. If you drive on the highway at night in or out of the city, it's almost cliché but it feels like a scene from Blade Runner. But at the same time, it's really human as well. It makes you question your identity and your thoughts about the future, while still being in the present.
So how did you go about weaving such heavy subject matter into your own productions?
Cosmin TRG: That's a good question. There's a very fine line between trying to turn dance floor music into something really pompous and theoretical. I guess with this first release on my label, I'm trying to create this happy marriage between some sort of hypnotic, repetitive groove that works on a dance floor, and the deeper, more experimental textures that I've always liked. I'm visually inspired by all of these things. The concrete structure that's on the cover of the record is something I go back to visually. That translates into the music. But I don't want to make it sound too intellectual.
Yeah that's always a danger with electronic music—people like to over-intellectualize and be really snobby about it.
Cosmin TRG: Exactly. I'm just being honest about the stuff that inspires me, and I'm trying to show people this parallel between whatever I think of, whatever I see, and the way it translates into the music.
So "Fizic" is the first release from your new label. What was the motivation behind wanting to start a label?
Cosmin TRG: I saw it from an author's point of view—there was so much stuff that I wanted to do, I just needed my own platform to do it. That seemed like the most obvious thing to do.
Why do you think you needed your own platform to do that?
Cosmin TRG: I just thought that would be the most personal thing to do. Other labels obviously have their own aesthetics and their own way of doing things, but I just wanted to do things myself. I wanted to present something more personal - like the cover of the record. I'm also shooting a video next week.
So, is that to say that all of your releases up until this point haven't been a 100% personal reflection?
Cosmin TRG: I wouldn't say so. It was a different type of relationship, a different way of doing things. When I did the release with Gerd Janson on his label Running Back, I had tracks that I'd just made and we played together in Helsinki. The first track I played was one of my own, and he was like "What's this? Can I have it?" A confidence was born from that, I suppose.
When we were talking about the artwork, I had this idea of a very simple cardboard thing with a stamp on it, just because it fitted the overall aesthetic. It's not like I sacrificed my vision to release on other peoples' labels—quite the contrary. It was like meeting somewhere in the middle. I would bring something to the label,and the label would bring something to me. It's a combination of sonic and visual aesthetics.
In what situation, now that you've got your own label, would you go back to a different label?
Cosmin TRG: I just want to keep releasing music. If I were to release on any other labels, it would be because there was something that would attract me to it. There are a couple of labels out there that I'd want to be a part of because I feel like I'd be able to bring something to the table for them. That's how it would work for me.
Cosmin TRG plays Fabric, London, on June 21st. For tickets, go here.