One of the greatest pet peeves of which I am the proud owner is asking someone what type of music they enjoy, only to get the response "Oh, I'm into everything." Oh, are you now? So Balinese Gamelan, mid-nineteenth century light opera, and post-Pentangle British folk music are all your jam? Frankly, I've been surprised as I grow older how specific my taste in music has become and just by how organic of a process it has been and continues to become, enfolding the many different non-sonic influences in my life and translating them into sound while also finding sonic reflections of lived experiences (it does take time, folks, sorry. Ain't no algorithm gonna replace individual artistic growth).
When it comes to trying to manifest or actualize the sound I'm into, my record collection has become both a symbol and a tool, each record containing anything from a single idea to an entire concept allowing me, in each its own way, to tell my sonic story to others. But what happens when you apply such a mentality to running a record label? If I could reissue any ten albums I want, would they present a readily identifiable aesthetic or genre? Hell no. Not when considering it would extend from midwestern mathrock to Detroit and Chicago dance gems to modern classical/academic jams and mid-00s southern rap and early 10s club music. And that selection of records would reflect both my own personal history but also the wider context in which I grew up (isolated midwestern college town in the 90s). And in terms of current music? It'd be even more disparate, yet make the utmost sense to me and likely those who know me personally. Nonetheless, it seems far easier and safer to just keep towing a uniting thematic through line when it comes to both reissuing albums and putting out new ones--ranging from conceptually tight and vital labels like Minimal Wave and Dark Entries to more forced approaches taken by the likes of L.I.E.S. and Music From Memory. But ultimately, it's those labels who continually challenge to push not just their listeners, but themselves as well that is the reason why I even do this site. I believe it's our purpose as humans to continually grow, become, and evolve and thus I can't help but seek out others who do the same, albeit in often different and not always obvious ways.
Last fall I found myself joining the Facebook group Now Playing that while it has its issues--namely that it's a fairly rockist group of largely middle-aged white dudes--it has also becomes one of my more trusted sources by which I learn about music new and old with which I was otherwise unfamiliar. Being an electronic music fan in that group is actually a blessing as it is a tiny contingent of a rather large entity (going on 14,000 members). This has allowed me to strike up a number of fruitful digital friendships with music nerds the world round. One of these fine folk has been Troy Wadsworth, a Seattle-based oncologist who also runs one of the more singular record labels around, Medical Records LLC and the budding techno-focused imprint Transfusions.
Outside of its name, Medical's uniting aesthetic might not be exactly obvious when poring over the eighty-plus records Troy and his label partner/longtime friend Tyler Jacobsen have released and reissued. Personally, I was first introduced to the world of Medical back in 2011 when a dear friend excitedly picked up the label's reissue of the Neue Deutche Welle pioneers Der Plan's 1980 debut, the confrontational and compelling Geri Reig. Not being quite in the habit of taking note of labels then as I am now, it's rather telling that I seemed to cross paths with a Medical Records release at least once a year without once connecting the dots. That said, I can't think of any other record label that could boast of releasing platters from outsider Italo figures like Alexander Robotnik and Gay Cat Park, shoe gaze electronica legends Seefeel and their unknown American counterparts Kitty, indie rock outliers Pram and Rollerskate Skinny, Minimal Wavers like Guyer's Connection and Iko, not to mention genre-defying acts like Severed Heads and Laika.
So it was with no small embarrassment that a few months into posting and commenting regularly on Now Playing I managed to make the gaffe of making some daft comment about the 2013 Seefeel reissue, totally oblivious to the fact that Troy co-released that seminal masterpiece Quique alongside Modern Classics Recordings. And while I do know the type of walking butts whose feathers would be ruffled over someone being unaware of "who they are," it was through that humbling moment that I got to fully experience the gracious levity that Troy has in spades. As we bonded over techno and other veterans of the legendary Too Pure label like Mouse on Mars and Moonshake, I began to realize how much the label's output was a direct reflection of Troy's broad-yet-particular "sound" as well as his own changing tastes in types of music and acts. It's the type of discography that at once seems all over the place but, upon closer inspection, begins to reveal certain patterns, such as post-shoegaze electronic-informed romantic psychedelia, dystopian, brutalist industrial techno, and submerged, synthetic headfuckery.
Just taking a look at the records Medical has released so far this year can make for a somewhat discombobulating listening experience, one that takes in the turbo-charged synth-pop of Monopol, the wave-informed dance music of Martial Canterel, the minimal melodies of Ironing Music and Marker, not to mention the label's continued love for all things Mark Van Hoen in the form of his stunning techno project Mettle. Additionally, Troy has continued to explore his love for dark, ominous techno in the form of twelves from L/F/D/M, Archivist, and The Head Technician himself, Martin Jenkins. And look, I won't pretend to like everything Medical puts out. I just can't do that much wave music, though I do love me Italo. But at the same time, the passion that Troy and Jacobsen clearly have for each release comes through in a way that's definitely gotten me to connect with music I might not have in the first place while also trading in a certain dreamy aesthetic that I can't resist. If anything, simply having "I Am A Vocoder" in my life makes it a richer one.
When I reached out to Troy about doing an interview, I found myself much more interested in what exactly has added up to Medical Records' varied and passionate output. It's just nice to have quality liner notes that accompany many of the releases that enrich the listening experience (especially Dave Segal's ace notes that accompanied the Too Pure reissues). When I learned who Verner Panton was thanks to Troy, a massive fan, something clicked for me about Medical's musical sensibility and the Danish designer's rigid fluidity. Be it the tin-thin funk and robotic punk of the synth, Neue Deutsche, and minimal waves, the weirder fringes of post-Shoegaze British indie, or the dankest, darkest techno, it's a world that's embraces structured chaos, a sense of danger that remains confined at the fringes, but only barely. From Texas to Tacoma and ultimately Seattle, Troy was kind enough to give a guided tour though his musical past, so strap in and get listening.
NZ: Let's start with your early musical experiences and the earliest records you remember connecting with, especially those that resonate with a particular sound you're drawn to. For instance, you've mentioned Mark Van Hoen's music being very special to you. When did that enter your life and how did it change or affect you personally and how you relate to music?
TW: Well, my earliest memories of music are driving around in my parent's backseat (pre-seat belt days) in rural Texas listening to country and western. My dad was really into Hank Williams, Jr. and Dwight Yoakam, etc. When I realized as a very young child (second, third grade maybe) that the radio had MUCH more intereting music, I was hooked. I remember loving the New Wave hits of the early 80s that played on the radio. The Fixx, Human League, OMD (sadly not the good stuff), Visage "Fade To Grey", etc. All that stuff left an impression on me, but probably around 5th grade, I became fascinated with metal. Lots of Motley Crue, etc.
That evolved into heavier and heavier stuff through junior high and up until about ninth grade. In ninth grade, I heard Janes Addiction Nothing's Shocking and felt drawn to the odd crossover it had with metal and weird stuff (at least for me). Granted, I was still living in the middle of nowhere. In tenth grade maybe, my cousin (my age) was dating a guy who was a couple years older. My cousin and I were close, so he introduced both of us to The Cure, Sonic Youth, and stuff like that. From that launching point, I got into Depeche Mode, New Order, The Smiths, etc. I also became very interested in Wax Trax and Skinny Puppy, etc. I heard Coil's "Love's Secret Domain" around this time. Mesmerized.
As high school rolled on, I discovered shoegaze in my senior year. My Bloody Valentine became my favourite artist. It seems like every other week after that I was hearing something in that vein. Slowdive. Medicine. Mercury Rev. Rollerskate Skinny. You get the idea. Shortly thereafter, I heard Seefeel which blew my mind (Note: Van Hoen was a key member of both Seefeel). Here was something that sounded like Cocteau Twins but had electronic beats. It was the gateway that got me and my friends into more dance oriented and experimental stuff even like Flying Saucer Attack, etc. I would say somewhere during my time in medical school (up to like 1996 now), I (re)discovered some of the new wave greats like Gary Numan, Talking Heads, John Foxx, etc. This sent me down a rabbit hole that I'm still exploring today.
Every week that went by, I was looking for something more obscure and during this time in the late 90s, I heard all the greats like Chrisma, Fad Gadget, Chris & Cosey, Dalek I, etc. (a lot of these I later reissued). To further evolve this quest, I met a really soon-to-be great-friend in Philly while I was doing training around 2004 who introduced me to Italo disco. He had this enormous collection. It wasn't nearly as hot at that time, and the OG copies were still reasonable. I heard and learned so much from him that it was unreal. After I moved to Seattle (Tacoma first) in 2007, I was ready pretty deep into Italo but still had a firm root in synth/wave/etc. Shortly around 2008 or so, one of my oldest friends came to visit and to attend the Decibel Festival. I went just for the heck of it as I didn't really know much about techno. Needless to say after seeing Rob Hood and Frank Bretschneider live, I was hooked!
NZ: Growing up in a small Texas town (where abouts?), how did you access music?
TW: I lived in Wichita Falls, TX, which is about 100,000 people and is about two hours north of Dallas, almost to the OK border. Music was tough to access. Mostly in high school, my friends and I would scrape whatever lawn mowing money (in my case) and drive to Dallas where there were incredible stores (Bill's, RPM, VVV, etc.)
NZ: OK, record collector nerd question: Being a collector of Neue Deutsche Welle and minimal wave records in the 90s, when they were not in high demand, what were you able to get from digging and knowing where to look that would absolutely blow someone's mind today?
TW: When I first started collecting, it wasn't ridiculous. In the late 90s, eBay was still young and not that popular. I remember buying records like Drinking Electricity for like $30. Somewhere along the line, it got ludicrous. I became frustrated and thought what Vinyl On Demand and Minimal Wave were doing made so much sense. Reissue this stuff and make it accessible again. So, that is what I worked VERY hard to do. It's hard to exactly articulate why I'm so drawn to this material. It's truly just aesthetics. When I hear the good stuff, I am instantly relaxed and immersed into a futuristic utopia/dystopia that no other music can really take me. It's beyond words.
NZ: With the Pram, Laika, and Seefeel records you recently released, they seemed to show a side of your label people might not have expected, or at least I was surprised at first! What drew you to them in the first place? How long have you been a fan of the Too Pure label?
TW: Probably around 93 or 94, I was already obsessed with Seefeel and Stereolab and the Too Pure label. I went into a record store in Dallas (VVV - now defunct) and heard some Too Pure comp CD which had a track off Helium. It was the most interesting [thing] I had ever heard! I drove across town instantly and hemorrhaged cash to get the import CD of Helium at Bill's. Shortly thereafter I heard Laika. I can't remember if I already knew Mouse On Mars, but it all happened pretty quick. I also loved Long Fin Killie and saw them destroy one time opening for Medicine on the "Her Highness" tour. It was all so unique and brave. When I started this label, I obviously had a sound and vision in mind, but later I thought, WTH, I'm going to reissue whatever I love and hopefully people will trust me and dive in.
NZ: For the past six years or so, you say you've been in a techno hole. Having fallen into that hole for a considerable amount of time myself, why do you think you listen to so much techno now? Do you crave it?
TW: Great question. I was never blown away by techno I heard in the 90s though I now know I clearly didn't hear the right material. When I got sucked in at Decibel (see above about Rob Hood, etc), I was very open-minded and was actually interested in the "early" dubstep like 2562 and things like Flying Lotus. Later, I realized, I really liked the post-industrial sound after I experienced Regis and Female. After that revelation, I basically honed down exactly what kind of techno I love. Sadly a lot of the more diverse styles as well as things like house, etc. are too safe for me now. I want to hear 132bpm pummeling beats and dark/synthetic textures. This all culminated in me finally going to Berghain last year to see the Avian showcase (which is one of my favorite labels). It is absolutely indescribable in that club. I plan on going back late this year and at least yearly thereafter for my visit to church.
NZ: Amen. Returning to the musical biography you so kindly put together, I find it interesting that Jane's Addiction had an effect on you, as they did on me as well. What I liked is that you said it was mixture of metal and "weird stuff." Did you always feel a draw to music you couldn't quite put your finger on?
TW: I did always feel a draw to music that escaped common explanation or categorization. What seemed experimental at the time was definitely early Sonic Youth and Butthole Surfers. Though I had listened to some Surfers in junior high mainly because I was a teenage boy, and I thought the lyrics were funny.
TW: I think Sonic Youth and Surfers both were my transition to get out of metal and explore other types of music including the Cure, Smiths, etc. What kept me so deep in the wave world was the seemingly neverending hole that I kept digging. The discovery phase was very LONG and is still ongoing today. My awareness of techno in the 90s was terribly limited. I was introduced basically by the Cool World soundtrack and hearing the first Moby album. I also loved the first two Prodigy records and dabbled in Chemical Brothers, but I definitely had zero exposure to rave culture or the amazing stuff going on in the 90s. My perception was honestly that it was a bunch of cheesy parties with trance music and neon everywhere....
NZ: OK, let's talk a bit about the sounds and textures and dynamics of synths...at what point did your curiosity tip over into the more technical? Or did it? What relationship have you had with making music in addition to dj'ing it, putting it out, and being a fan?
TW: Somewhere around 1998, I bought my first synthesizer. It was a beat-up Realistic Moog that I found in a Lubbock, TX pawn shop for $69. It really fascinated me, and I started collecting cheap (at the time) gear and playing around with it. I acquired a Roland Juno 6, Arp Axxe, and a Korg Polysix. Around 1999/2000, I recorded some music using primitive recording software at the time. I was pretty heavily into Coil and synth pop, so the influences come through, though it all sounds so amateur to me at this point. I went through phases of buying gear, selling all of it, buying more, etc. Currently, I have a nice setup and am trying to find the time to focus on producing some techno based on ideas loosely floating in my head for some time.
NZ: It seems like your musical sweet spot is stuff that, as you put it, that takes you to a futurist utopia/dystopia. Why do you think it is? Like, I feel you on this but what works of literature or movies or comic books did you watch or read that helped to create this sweet spot?
TW: Growing up in the 80s, I was into all the typical stuff. Star Wars, Blade Runner, sci-fi, horror, etc. I'm sure that all played a role. I wasn't really into comics actually.
NZ: What industrial techno labels and artists are you particularly excited about, seeing the resurgence it's seen in the post-Sandwell years?
TW: After I started getting into techno seriously, it didn't take long before I saw Regis live at a Movement fest. I fell in love and starting exploring all the Downwards stuff, Sandwell, etc. That all led to appreciation of the more modern labels that I love now including Avian, Our Circula Sound, Token, etc. I love dj'ing all that stuff as it creates this ominous atmosphere. Dark and brooding is what it's all about.
NZ: What DJ sets have you seen that have really cemented your love for that strain of techno
TW: Well, I had heard sets by Regis, Orphx, etc. at Movement long before I went to Berghain. Honestly house music is more of a happy-go-lucky relaxed vibe, which isn't what I'm seeking in music. I can enjoy that vibe with Italo disco and synth pop and don't need to dance for hours to house music which I see as more light party music. When I go to dance, I'm looking for a techno DJ or producer to blow me away and leave me speechless. Sets that really do the trick have been Rebekah, Adam X and Perc, Sleeparchive lately.
NZ: Alright then, so...should we talk about Medical Records LLC and its 12"-focused sister label Transfusions a bit? How was Medical a continuation of your own personal sonic story? How do you see yourself fitting alongside somewhat similar-yet-different labels like Dark Entries and Minimal Wave? What are your goals for the label?
TW: Medical is basically a two person operation. One of my oldest friends, Tyler Jacobsen (also responsible for the Roladex records) does all the artwork layouts, promotion, and other odd jobs. I do the rest essentially, which is basically all the coordination, background licensings, etc. I physically mail every item that has ever been sold from my house. My wife Heidi also helps with taxes, etc. Generally, I go directly to the artists who usually own the rights and obtain a license from them. If the release is owned by a major label, then I license it from them which is of course much more tedious, but we usually get there.
When I started the label, I definitely looked up to Vinyl On Demand and Frank [Maier] was and always has been a good friend and trusted source for advice and other tidbits of information along our journey. Certainly Minimal Wave was an inspiration at the time as well as Euro labels such as Anna Logue and Mannequin. Dark Entries started about a year before me, and I have certainly enjoyed corresponding with Josh [Cheon] on a wide range of topics and issues. As far as future goals, I definitely want to spend more time working on Transfusions and maybe a little less on reissues overall. That being said, I would also be interested in working on techno reissues that would fit on the Transfusions sub label. I'm also always looking for new artists for Medical.