Tigersushi: Forging Links with the Future

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If electroclash represented the needless, and often desperate, repetition of nearly everything we loathed about the plastic ‘80s, another group of artists and labels–who we’ll call by no clever name, thank you very much–took influence from the synthetic decade’s more experimental inclinations. Enter Tigersushi, stage left.

Not content to devise new styles and/or formulas to co-opt, the Parisian label (and its accompanying website) has found itself playing tastemaker to the tastemakers of the dance underground, offering a sort of guide service for those interested in things fresh–whether old or new, electro, punk, or, um, country. Under the able-bodied tutelage of label owners (and consummate Frenchmen) Charles Hagelsteen and Joakim Bouaziz, our collective musical past, present, and future entwine like so many spiraling strands of newly formed DNA. While the releases are revealing new and telling links between unlikely and obvious sources, they’re also inspiring dancing–albeit, dancing for the intellectually inclined.

Tigersushi started in 2001, after Messieurs Hagelsteen and Bouaziz bonded at university over a late-blooming obsession with electronic music. “We were a bit late getting into it and at first it was over Mo’ Wax and the French Touch stuff,” Hagelsteen confesses somewhat sheepishly. The first incarnation of Tigersushi, formed on the crest of the dot-com wave, was a website made by music obsessives for music obsessives, or at least those with aspirations thereof.

“To me,” explains Hagelsteen, “the label and the website are evidence of connections [Joakim and I] had dreamt of between all music genres, times, and eras–a sort of infinite circle. All music is basically interlinked, if not culturally and objectively, at least subjectively through your hearing sensations.

Creating a fantasy universe where Krautrock rubs shoulders with electro and dub clashes with punk, soundtrack music, and Detroit techno, the site–which features brilliant compartments such as a genre map, an “Unsung Heroes” section and a list of essential “Good Old Stuff”–is a wet dream for those with the desire to dig for rare jams. It’s also a helpful resource to learn where today’s underground stars have borrowed more than a little inspiration.

With the site up and running, the label proper introduced itself to the world in 2002 by way of the near-legendary More GDM 12” series, named after the late ‘70s underground hit “No GDM (Great Dark Man)” by Gina X, punk-disco’s own Marlene Dietrich. The series pairs rare underground classics with new music from a related (or sometimes not) artist. The debut release coupled ambient Krautrockers and Brian Eno collaborators Cluster with the talents of Detroit techno progressive John Tejada. This was followed by the aforementioned Gina X classic packaged with New York Italo-funk couturiers Metro Area; still other installments featured Material with Maurice Fulton and Freddie Mas with ESG. On the idea of pairing old and new, Bouaziz becomes animated. “We like the idea of confronting artists from different backgrounds. It really brings music back to life. It says, ‘Hey, I’m not coming from nowhere, I have roots.’ Or ‘When was this produced?’ You know, discovering music (should be) exciting.” Hagelsteen agrees. “We just react to the music unearthed. It’s that ‘Fuck, this is good!’ cold turkey feeling of ‘I gotta have it!’ I get [when a] friend exposes me to good music. It’s like a heroin seizure, sort of.”

This crate-digging approach has placed Tigersushi in an esteemed class of labels–among them Acute, DFA, Environ, Troubleman Unlimited, and Gomma–who get as excited finding a rare post-punk schoolyard jam or Italo-disco track as Madlib and Timbaland must get when stumbling upon that sought-after jazz or Bollywood record.

Subscribing to the pragmatic “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of thought, the label has continued with this approach for their Kill The DJ mix albums and their So Young But So Cold: Underground French Music 1977-1983 collection. The mix CDs, from the likes of Black Strobe, Ivan Smagghe, and Optimo, leave no hot jam untouched, making the idea of genre-dictated mix-albums appear all the more insular and a hell of a lot less fun. On these audio representations of the kind of sets played at Parisian club Pulp, Loose Joints merges with Akufen, Luciano with Basic Channel, Blondie with Ricardo Villalobos. So Young, meanwhile, dusts off the obscure avant-electro of Nini Raviolette, Mathematiques Modernes, Charles De Goal and others, revealing that France’s tradition of arty pop doesn’t end with Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Fontaine.

“We never think in terms of genre,” asserts Bouaziz, who also records as Joakim, K.I.M., and Poni Hoax. Surprisingly, then, Bouaziz reveals he “hates acid house, electro, and also disco, rock between 1975 and 1976, be-bop, death metal, funk before 1966, male soul singers, the second wave of Detroit techno, and a lot of other things.” But he and Hagelsteen can see the bigger picture, he says. “We love music as a whole. And when we sign a new artist, it’s only because we’ve been moved by his music or impressed by a potential. We recently signed a Chilean tropical garage band, a French rock band coming from a free jazz background, a young crazy girl from IRCAM (Institute of Advanced Musical Research), an IDM duo, and a French folk singer.”

If Hagelsteen and Bouaziz hope to make, as they say, “music for the small majority” (to borrow an idea from Moodymann), they’ve succeeded with aplomb. And with a reissue compilation of the brilliant Belgian label Disques Du Crepuscule (responsible for releasing Arthur Russell, Young Marble Giants, 23 Skidoo, and Cabaret Voltaire) and French new wavers The Hypothetical Prophets to come, we can only wait with bated breath. “The philosophy of Tigersushi,” Bouaziz concludes, “is basically to do the good instead of the bad, or at least something close to that.” A subjective idea, certainly, but Tigersushi has earned our trust.

Tigersushi's five essential tracks, picked by Charles Hagelsteen.

1. Gina X “No More G.D.M”
(from the No More GDM Vol. 2 12”)
The essential compilation-defining track. This is the voice I will eventually get when I’m done smoking Gitanes.

2. Bernard SZajner “Welcome To Deathrow”
(from So Young But So Cold)
Every time I hear this piano chord, I think of Robert Palmer’s “Every Kind of People” and fancy drinking a Heineken.

3. Panico “Transpiralo”
(from the forthcoming Panico CD)
Well, I sweat all the time and am in dodgy situations all the time as well, so this is my number.

4. Digital Tongue “No Way You Can Sleep”
(from How To Kill the DJ (Part One))
This is the perfect electro hit. The Krikor remix is spot on and I like the Matt Johnson (from The The) vibe.

5. Big Ned “Final Steps” (Oscarr)
(from How To Kill The DJ (Part Two))
You were weak when you should have been strong/You were laughing when you should have been talking/Unable to use the powers that lurk with us all.” Well, this one sounds just like me.