Spy in the House of Traps

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Lindsay Todd is quite the polymath. Well… he maybe wouldn’t describe himself as such, but it sounds interesting and arcane, so it’s staying in. There’s probably too many things that Mr Todd is involved in to give a full and typical interview-intro rundown (including career asides like appearing as a child extra in The Krankies rendition of Starman), so we’ll stick to the relevant bits: Founder of the Firecracker Recordings, Unthank and Schevchenko labels, not to mention being an overall creative powerhouse under the umbrella name of House of Traps, which covers printing, design, art, music production and DJing. We’ve always known that we would one day have a long, hard chat with Lindsay that didn’t solely consist of both of us fretting over the logistics of record manufacturing. Well, here it is. To boot, the man himself has also graced us with a two-hour long mix of wildly varying styles and diggers knowledge, which we strongly recommended you listen to. 

So, the other day we chatting about being a keen birdwatcher, and also a budding field recordist. And those two can tie in quite nicely eh?

It’s my interest in birds that led me to field recording. Unlike other folks who seem to have arrived at the same juncture via industrial sounds or urban life, I grew up in the country and did all sorts of weird, rural things like fly-tying, fishing and birdwatching. Only in the last 10 years or so did I reignite all these interests and somehow make them work alongside my current practice as something whole. Not so long ago I attended a course being held by Chris Watson on ‘Advance Field Recording’ and it just blew my mind. Not only Chris as a real gent, willing to impart a shedload of useful advice, but also the possibilities in combining some of my multiple interests into a daily way of working. Since then I’ve travelled to several remote locations (including Scottish island St. Kilda) collecting all sorts of weird noises, photographs and other bits and bobs. I’m not sure what’s going to happen with it all yet but I can see several vinyl and exhibition projects on the horizon.

There seems to be more to birdwatching than simply watching birds right? It’s an age-old mystical pastime. But talking of tying all these things together, is that easy for you? A lot of folk seem to struggle with that…

The wisdom of the birds. I was lucky enough to have that stuff on my doorstep when I was a kid. I was always a bit of a loner when I was wee but that was even more the case when my folks moved into the highlands. Things took a turn for the worse in a lot of ways when I was about 8 … getting up early and just sodding off up the hill for the whole day was a total escape. My uncle would teach me the names and calls of birds when he visited and give me a quid if I could remember them. I was pretty well versed back then! I’m not sure how that translates to what’s happening today but it’s all inside my head with all the other nonsense. But yes, tying things together. That never seems to happen when you’re in a rush. If you slow down and take inspiration from what’s inside you it’s a lot easier and authentic than trying to cram all this external stimulus and influence together. I think that’s when the most original work comes out.

Indeed. It’s interesting, because your work on Firecracker and Unthank especially seem to be more influenced by the external stimulus you’re talking about, at least in terms of where you’re actually drawing inspiration from….

In the past indeed that’s been the case. The Marvel thing started me on the road. On our fifth release I really wanted to get into the print detail; the ink of the comics. That’s where I started experimenting and pulling apart the techniques used by the comic book artists in the 70s and 80s. By screen printing I could layer up the details and come up with mistakes to use in subsequent projects. Unthank was solely inspired by Alasdair Gray’s Lanark novel and that was an equally odd starting point but the catalyst was there for experimenting as well. With the last Unthank I worked for a day or two with (Jake) Denaji, cutting up kaleidoscope images and then drawing back into it. There was no external stimulus there at all, just automatic drawing and collaging. Ideally, that’s the way I’d like advance.

Speaking of Denaji, he’s the latest to grace the esteemed Unthank as you’ve just mentioned. Can you tell us a bit more about him and how you came to work together?

He’s an old friend, a really real dude. We go back a long way. We used to go to art college together in the 90s, shared a flat on more than one occasion and both have a love of weirdo kung fu movies. He’s on the same trip, been trying to make sense of it all and coming up with some fresh material in the process. What you hear on the latest Unthank is just the tip of the iceberg. He was the one to teach me the importance of working on an MPC, many moons ago. He also comes from a completely different background musically, you could say he’s Yorkshire’s Kool Keith. Or maybe a Hebden Bridge Rammellzee.

And you’ve roped Sotofett in for remix duties on this 10”. How did the two of you come in contact? 

I just approached him because I was feeling his vibe and ethos in running a label(s) and remixing, keeping the field open with styles, minimum exposure, allowing himself freedom by staying in the shadows and letting the DJing and records do the speaking. But there weren’t many Sotofett remixes around then, we’re talking late 2012 we first got in contact. The whole thing took ages due to various manufacture complications. But there were a couple of kindred spirits and channels involved and we also traded a few records in the process. As it happens, Stefan turned out one of the freshest and timeless joints I’ve heard and was so happy for that to feature on the EP. Also, I’d like to give a shout to Brian Not Brian for being an important catalyst in that project.

You’ve worked a great deal with people you’ve known for quite a long time it seems. Is it easier than fresh faces, or does the “too honest” thing kick in with old friends often?

Ha, I’m not sure to be honest. The only thing I can say in my defence is that I’m still working with all of them so I can’t be too bad to work with. Who am I kidding, I’m a total nightmare! That’s why I run the label and do all the artwork. If I could press the records and sell them myself then I’d do that too. I’m a stubborn control freak!

Where would you possibly find the time to do all of that anyway? We’ve already touched upon quite a few rather time-consuming interests, but something tells me there are more pies to finger, yes? 

To quote the great Alan Partridge “I evolve, but I don’t …….revolve. Or vice-versa.” Hmmm … Picasso said it better actually “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”

Something that seems to loosely tie all of these interests we’ve talked about is Sacred Summits, a new label you’re involved in. There seems to be a good middle ground between things like cultural studies and field recording, and the colourful spark of Firecracker & Unthank. Care to tell us more?

That started because myself and Stuart Leath (Emotional Rescue/Response) had been talking about doing something label-wise for a while. We just realised we had a shared interest in music on the fringes such as odd jazz, ambient, field recordings, drone, ethnography, new age etc. Again, there’s no real rules or agenda with the label; there might be some re-issues alongside some new material. Just trying to keep it fresh and to enjoy the ride. I’d like to think that some of the Sacred Summit projects will influence and inspire some interesting turns in the other labels and vice versa. Watch this space, basically.

Do you have the next release lined-up already?

We’ve got a few actually. But the next one is by Colin Potter (Nurse With Wound) and is pretty out there synth/drone stuff so it’s a bit different to the Luis Perez record! Don’t want to give too much away but there’s definitely no real theme, just curveballs. Oh, and there’s an ultra nice Record Store Day release coming!

I had a sneaking suspicion they wouldn’t be too similar. That aside, I’d like to ask you about the ol’ day-to-day. You must get thrown some pretty interesting gigs, and your studio sounds interesting in itself….

The day usually starts with me getting up and trying to get as far away from the bed as possible. I then spend the remainder of the morning removing my head from my arse and by lunchtime I’m just about ready to start work.I’ll try and do all the boring stuff first like emails and label business and get down to at least 8 hours of ‘creative’ work after that. I’m quite partial to the odd all-nighter in the studio as well. Ideas tend to flow best at 3-5am. About a year ago I moved premises to a much larger space so I now have three rooms. One with all my records, books and drawing space, one for printing and another for screen preparation, drying and wash down. Looking back, I don’t know how I managed in the tiny spaces I had previously; paint all over my books and laptop and water spraying everywhere from the washout booth … total chancer!

If I remember correctly, Crowley said something about magic working best when you’ve completely panned yerself in.

Well, I’m maybe not entirely ready to go down the Crowley route just yet! There’s truth in that indeed but from experience that just burns you out. It’s more about finding a balance. ‘Panning yerself in’ might yield results but it’s often just like that massive stoner session where everything looks and sounds great at the time but in the cold realisation of the morning you’ve just wasted an evening creating self indulgent bobbins. Maybe I’m getting old but find it much better to go for a run, swim or do some meditation to get in that zone. And walking! You can’t underestimate the importance of a mega-ramble – flaneury gets you everywhere!

I think most people utterly underestimate the importance of a good walk. One thing I like to touch upon is your own music. You’re out there in the world too in that respect, but not to a massive extent… as far as I know. Do you plan to be a tad more prolific in the coming year?

I’ve just been keeping my head above water with all the artwork/label side of things with very little time to concentrate on music. But that particular fire is still burning and 2014 will indeed see a multitude of mixes, collabs and finished audio pieces. That I can promise!

Ever tempted to turn your hand at a bit of remixing yourself? Do you get many offers?

I’m a complete amateur … which I quite like the idea of. There’s actually a pending Unthank release which I’m required to do some tinkering with. Depending on the results I may (or not!) put my name to it!

Speaking of amateurs, it’s can be quite refreshing to hear someone simply admit they are one. It can be a good way to work I guess, not being bogged down by the weight of your own professionalism.  I’m sure there’s a few grand amateurs and chancers that have inspired you down the line, aye?

We were talking about hobbies and interests and how it’s important to want to learn new things all the time. There’s a bit in that film ‘Adaptation’ where the character John Laroche is talking about when he was into tropical fish then one day decided ‘fuck tropical fish!’ and moved onto orchids. As you say, it’s important not to get bogged down by being too serious about it all … it’s only dance music after all … weren’t we supposed to just have fun and be creative? When you admit to being amateur it takes the pressure off, allowing you to try things out and make mistakes. That same childlike energy is what made ‘dance music’ so exciting and experimental 25 years ago. I feel like we’ve lost a lot of that through our familiarity with it and the constant need to appropriate styles and genres that have been done to death already. Speaking of chancers, here’s one: Bill Drummond. The KLF and K Foundation have been and still are a HUGE inspiration for me. He just jumped feet first into it all and is still going ‘following a wild and wounded, glum and glorious, shit but shining path’.

On the subject of fun, we were also talking about clubbing, and Pure in particular. I mean, age obviously has a tainting effect on how you look at this, but what are your views on clubbing now, and do you think it’s still changing young peoples lives to the extent it once had?

I don’t know. I thought I had a clear opinion on this a few years ago; that all clubs these days were crap, full of twats on phones and bad soundsystems. But, the more I ventured out or when I’m asked to spin these days I’m being pleasantly surprised. The young team are really taking the time to sort a night out, good sound, good vibes and all done in small venues. It’s really inspiring and makes me really optimistic about the future of it all. Pure, Sativa and Tribal Funktion in particular were my church from 92-99 and it’s easy to remember them with rose-tinted glasses but it seems to have come full circle now, folks getting really creative with flyers and dressing a club …. and that’s what a ‘club’ should be … where you go and get creative and learn from others!

The Hisham Mayet/Sublime Frequencies tour we both attended in our respective cities, seeing those rituals in Benin hit home the fact that we’ve essentially been clubbing for hundreds – nay thousands of years. Those rituals are primarily about worship and faith obviously, but I couldn’t help thinking there was the strong sense of a bloody good ‘ol knees up too, eh?

Haha yeah, seeing that Vice article ‘10 ways to make clubbing less shit in 2014’ with the tagline ‘Dancing in a dark room with strangers is too important to suck’ it struck a chord. It’s written all jokey but it’s so on the money. Religion, dancing, meditation, art … it’s all the same thing; trying to get in touch with the part of the soul we’ve lost and it all leads back to ‘ritual’. Ritual can be whatever thing you chose that’s just essentially ‘bigger than yourself’, and bigger than all the bullshit popular culture that’s hosed into our homes, faces and earholes on a daily basis.

Ok, let’s wrap this up before anyone has a spiritual awakening. This is Rubadub remember. We’re hard men with rough hands who take no quarter. Sleeping is a privilege for us, let alone recreational activities like living full and spiritually-nourished lives. What are the future plans for You, Firecracker, Unthank…. and are we seeing a return of Shevchenko anytime soon?

Ha, speak for yourself. It’s all yoga, John Lewis and wooly mittens through the East. Things seem to moving with alarming speed right now so there’s that Unthank just out, next one right behind, Panoram LP on Firecracker in production and yes, a Shevchenko re-animation in some shape or form. It’s simply slowed down because it’s like spinning plates with only me to catch them. I can release as fast as I can draw and print each record. On top of that, I’m just like everyone else, hustling other jobs to pay the rent. Some of them impact on the pace, some don’t. I’m pretty excited to be releasing this Panoram album if I’m honest. Again, something that’s been a while in the making and it’s led to a cool friendship with the artist; a really talented, humble and aspiring soul. It seems he’s on the same level, exploring ideas, experimenting and playing with genres to come up with something unique and progressive. And talking of returns, I can guarantee a pretty serious one from Linkwood in the next few months. The album is almost a reality and truly worth the wait!

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