Turbo at 20: Tiga Interview

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“What we’ve proven is that you can have fun and/or turn a profit.”

In celebration of Turbo Recordings’ 20th anniversary, label owner and founder Tiga graciously sat down for an in-depth e-mail interview with Turbo HQ, offering insight into the blood, sweat and ideas that shaped this dance music institution.

How does it feel to reach two decades in the label game?

Terrific. Like I’m on heroin all the time. Next question.

Hey, I’m just playin’ witcha.

It feels great. Next question.

What was the fundamental, underlying purpose of the label when you first started? Has that changed since its inception?

This is not a farm team designed to serve the Godhead DJ at the top of the pyramid. This is the Godhead DJ making everyone look good while they spend their lives building that pyramid. And what that pyramid is built on is finding the best music in town.

There have been times where I’ve had to decide between what’s best for me and what’s best for finding the best music. And the choice is always easy. When it comes down to it, you could put me on a raft in the middle of the ocean with a team of my guys, and I’d still find a way to deliver massive bangers to a discerning and appreciative dance music audience.

Pawel Karwowski, our main designer since 2002, with a trademark “color series” and prototype box set. Turbo 053-067.

What were some of the struggles you faced in the early days, be they financial, technological, or philosophical?

Make no mistake: stakes were higher than fuck. Tell me something: you ever lay it all on the line for a big box of mix CDs? You ever stare down the reality of small business and learn that growth and success can destroy you? Well, I did. And I know you haven’t. You haven’t seen what I’ve seen.

Everything keeps getting easier and easier. We’re talkin’ 123 Easy Street U.S.A., 24/7/365. You used to have to spend all night making a poster: not so easy. Now you can do it in 15 minutes and spend the rest of the night “doing the nasty.” But some of the thrill is lost, so “doing the nasty” has to make up for more and more of it. You have to strike a balance.

The hellscape that was pre-digital. Rare archival footage of Turbo stockroom and CDs awaiting eventual incineration.

How did you get the word out there that the label even existed – let alone make connections – when the internet was just getting started?

In the early days, it was all word of mouth. Those were our information technology tools: mouths. I used to own a nightclub, and it was the perfect setting to corner people and get them excited about networking with me. I was sweatin’ up a goddamned storm on the dance floor every night of the week, and Turbo’s initial group of artists and collaborators emerged from that pool of sweat.

Turbo OGs. John Hatz, Tiga, Mark Dillon. 1998.

Turbo has pulled off some crazy projects over the years…

That’s for sure.

Giant Condom. There’s a 12″ vinyl in there. For real. c/o David Rudnick.

Is there anything you guys have done that no other label in their right mind would ever do? And why did you, seeing as it’s so crazy?

Am I crazy? Maybe I am crazy. Who’s to say who’s crazy? It’s a crazy world out there. Fuck you, I’m not crazy.

Over the years, we put the ZZT Mercedes in a trash compactor, blew all our money making white-hot policeman erotica, and basically whipped up an entire universe based on the human capacity for wonder.

The purpose of the label has always been rooted in embracing fake corporate trappings until they become real. I’ve read hundreds of books about running techno labels over the years. And what they don’t tell you is you gotta be a bottom-line taskmaster with the heart of a scamp. What we’ve proven is that you can have fun and/or turn a profit.

Which releases do you believe were ahead of the curve at the time they came out?

Nine times out of 10: that’s a stupid question. But there’s actually a great answer.

Here’s a hint:


You guessed it:

Proxy was making high-impact stadium techno before you could even open for a Major League Soccer team. A lot of the guys who went on to quit business school and become big EDM stars have told me he was a huge influence.

Another thing: our promotional one sheets were light years ahead of the curve by injecting comedy in places where it was neither helpful nor asked for. You might say we paved the way for every corporate Twitter account chiming in with fantastic branded alt-comedy content every second of the day. If that’s our legacy, I’m fine with that.

Are there projects you’re particularly proud of?

“Proud” isn’t the word you’re looking for. No, it’s “grateful.” If I had to list everything I was grateful for in real time, we’d be here for another 20 years. So let’s get this over with rapid fire:

Chromeo: they were kind of like our Nirvana. ’Nuff said. Here are some early deleted shots of P-Thug and Dave One I keep in my wall safe:

Gesaffelstein: until Bruno Mars came along, this was the coolest guy in music. Maybe our best signing: he is everything Turbo ever aspired to be in human form.

From 1997-2004, no single producer had a bigger impact on Turbo or my career than the brilliant and enigmatic Jesper Dahlback.

Jori Hulkkonen: core Turbo member and genius.

Clouds: central to the New Jack Techno years (2012-2013) and the new generation of Turbo artists.

Azari & III: These guys were such a sure thing that I bet my house on their success. Long story short: they made it big, and I got to keep my house.

Duke Dumont’s “The Giver” was a straight-up pop-dance sensation. The message was universal: “You’re the special son who makes me want to e-mail.” Classic.

Finally, we don’t owe any of our artists any money. If anyone feels differently, we can have it out like men in the street. And once you feel the full force of my training, my ferocity, you’ll know where the money went.

Like family.

What has been the guiding philosophy behind signing new music to the label over the last 20 years?

Make no mistake: if you’re an artist, I’m not interested in anything less than your very best work. If you deliver, you will be showered with more kudos that you ever dreamed possible. If you don’t, I will reimburse you for the cost of the MP3 and we will never speak again. That is the deal. That is the compact you enter…into.

What role has your brother Thomas Von Party played in the label?

Thomas was a guiding force during what was arguably our most successful period. He forged personal relationships with artists in a way that I would never want to.

Here’s what you gotta understand: HE’s the cool one.

Thomas Von Party. Best A&R Man on earth.

Listen: I don’t hire smart people to tell them what to do. I hire smart people so they can tell me what to do. Then I make an example of them. In front of the dumb ones.

Some of the smarter people who’ve helped make Turbo what it is: Mark Dillon, Benno Russell, Pawel Karwowski, John Hatz, Qarim Brown, Mike Mind, Marek Vogel, Francis Di Stasio, Anthony “Bordello” Galati, Michael Lesliejack, and Matthew Hiscock. The list would have no value if I named everyone, so let’s cut it off there.

The TURBO20 tour takes off across North America this month. What can the superfans expect?

It’s pretty much a dry run for Turbo 25. So get ready.

That’s the poster for the tour. You can buy tickets here.

Tell the story of Turbo in five words.

“Trust me: THIS is music.”

Making physical things was always important at Turbo. Rubber Stamps, 2011.

How do you see Turbo changing over the next 20 years? What about the 20 after that?

I can’t tell you what the future will bring, but I do know that the spirit of Turbo will endure. If two people are e-mailing each other stems and I’m aware of it – that’s Turbo. If someone somewhere is dancing to a track I sort of like – that’s Turbo. It’s bigger than all of us.

If you could go back in time to the label’s beginning with the benefit of the wisdom you’ve gained over the past two decades, what would you tell yourself?