Diggers Directory: Fergus Clark

Fergus Clark 600x400

Diggers Directory: a mix series that salutes the diggers, record enthusiasts and music lovers. For more in the series, browse through the archive.

It’s not often we ask a 22 year old, university student about to graduate to be part of our Diggers Directory Series. Yet Glasgow’s Fergus Clark singular ears for excavating novel sounds and a love of music however the exotic, the bizarre or unfashionable belies his youthful years. His talents can be heard in his various radio show and sets, through his role as a quarter of revered Glasgow based label, nightlife institution and occasional radio broadcaster 12th Isle. Like his friends from Music from Memory, he rejects the conventions of quantization typically found in dance music for something far more odd and beguiling. In light of his recent tape release for Tasker’s new 88T imprint and a new compilation with JD Twitch, we spoke to Clark life as a record collector, the colourful characters he has met in various record stores and his recently finished dissertation. He’s also recorded an hour plus mix to accompany.

Miracle Steps (Music From The Fourth World 1983 – 2017) is out 14th April on Optimo Music. 

DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their family’s record collection. Was this the case for you? Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?

Not particularly, I grew up in that time period where the vinyl industry was declining and people were ditching their collections and embracing CD’s. I have memories of bands like The Chameleons, Sarah Records and C86 indie type stuff being played really loud around the house by my dad. Quite a few years back I was shown some old photographs and one of him holding me as a baby whilst wearing an On-U Sound shirt took me by surprise. He used to manage the dub and reggae section of a record shop in Glasgow shortly before I was born, so retrospectively it makes sense but I don’t recall anything that strange permeating my surroundings as a child. In terms of ‘pivotal records’, there aren’t really any that come to mind. The first time I heard long and epic synthesizer stuff like Tangerine Dream perhaps.

People buy records for a multiple of reasons. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?

Probably just the same materialistic desire that so many other people feel to be honest, wanting to ‘own’ music that I really enjoy. From the age of 15 or so I was looking for dance records which had a certain functionality, trying to find things I liked that were as cheap as possible. Then I just tried to get ahold of anything I enjoyed the sound of, regardless of whether or not it could be ‘mixed’ easily. Some kind of record whirlwind must have happened over the years without me properly noticing and it’s now made moving from place to place quite annoying.

Where do you store all your records and how do you file them?

Most of them are at home. There is a loose order but it’d be tricky to explain and I’m not sure many people care.

What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?

Any foreign city. Glasgow is fine but it’s far from the most interesting place in the world when it comes to the kind of stuff that filters through the shops here. Most of the time when I go abroad, or even to other cities in the UK, looking for music I don’t recognise is always a priority. Rome last year totally surpassed my expectations. Although it’s giant and there are so many people on the ball, I still find London to be rewarding every time I visit.

Digging isn’t just about the records you find, but the people who help you find them. Who are some of the colourful characters you’ve met on your travels in record stores round the world? Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?

I think the type of people who really make a point of frequenting record shops are generally pretty odd, ‘colourful characters’ as you say. I’ve talked at length about loads of great music with people in shops before and never found out their name, or even seen them again. Shops which tend to be pretty quiet are my favourite because I like having the time and space to absorb everything. Backbeat Records in Edinburgh is a funny place, and the owner is definitely your typical grumpy record shop guy. There are like 30,000 in that spot and he won’t even let you past the door, instead he barks at you for a list of artists and if you make it clear you just want to browse or whatever then he’ll send you away. ‘All the rare stuff goes on eBay’ and ‘Only I know the system’ are his catch phrases. It’s quite self-defeating really but yeah, if you can get talking with him and get past him then he’ll let you dig around and you can find great music in there as well as rare things that have slipped under his radar. Another funny story that just came to mind was earlier this year in Rotterdam, my friend James Pole took me out the back of the train station telling me how ‘most people wouldn’t go near this kind of place’ and then proceeded to walk up to the door of this building that could have easily featured on some television show about hoarding. There was dust everywhere and the records were stacked up to the ceiling. You couldn’t tell it was actually a shop. A few years back when I was in Manchester me and Michael Holland walked the length of the city and the suburbs checking every charity shop, record shop and antique shop. That was a really fun day, and he’s also the only person I’ve ever known to sell records on the internet that he’s literally dug out the back of a garden.

DJs and producers often talk about a number of records that never leave their bag. Do you have any records like this?

Yeah of course, some pieces of music you discover and then obsess over for months and will always bring with you and try and make work regardless of the type of gig it is. Some things you rediscover and start playing again after neglecting for years.

Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search for strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?

I definitely prefer to go record shopping alone in Glasgow, and probably in Edinburgh too. My friend James Thornington, who helped start Kristina Records, he’s recently moved up here to work at an art gallery and the times I’ve been out with him I’ve really enjoyed it. He’s got quite particular tastes despite knowing about pretty much everything, and we’re usually looking for different things. When I’m in other cities it really depends, normally I’m abroad to see people as well as look for records, and I wouldn’t let some sort of music hunt get in the way of socialising so yeah I will normally be out with other people. I used to be down in London a lot more and I’d always meet up with Jack Rollo (Time Is Away), Brian Not Brian, Danny Bushes, DJ Skimask, Kenny White etc whenever I was in town. This idea of wanting to go record shopping alone because if you go with other people they might find good things first is pretty sad really. Records are cool but I like laughing and swapping stories and hanging out with friends just as much.

Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting process, with some many different genres and formats. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after? Is it about patience, diligence and a bit of luck or are you more methodical when you enter a record shop?

It all depends on how a place is organised really. Experimental is a good place to start if they have it, ‘New Wave’ can be an odd one but also often the first place I’ll check. Digging through reggae sections can be really rewarding too but if a place really specialises in that stuff you can feel a little out of your depth. There is simply so so much that could be amazing but there’s often not enough time to listen to it all.

How big a role does album artwork play in your digging, esp. if you’re not familiar with something you pick up?

Yes artwork can play a huge factor but looking at the back cover for credits and instruments often makes the decision rather than a cool photo on the cover or whatever. I’m not really someone who collects records that I don’t play or use but the occasional crazy cover is good to have around. My friend Alexandru showed me tons of early 90’s Romanian stuff with electronics recently and gave me an LP to keep after we listened through them. He told me it wasn’t so good but the cover was a typical example of this period of music from his home country, and it definitely looks the part. Apparently there was a big dinner party scene for this stuff so a lot of the covers had photos of plates of food and bottles of wine on them, as well as the musicians with their guitars and keyboards, but of course now these photos look super dated. Things like that can serve as quite a nice reminder of certain moments in history I guess.

Thanks for recording this mix for us. Where and how did you record it and what was the idea behind it?

I recorded it at home after borrow a DJM 350 from my friend Tim. A couple of years ago I used to live right beside a radio station I worked at and recorded mixes there quite frequently, but since moving to the other side of the city I’ve hardly recorded anything. Thanks for asking and giving me a deadline. There isn’t such a considered idea behind it, more a loose collection of some records new and old I have been listening to recently (that’s what most mixes are right?). Some forthcoming and unreleased tracks also feature in it.

We asked you to keep the tracklist secret (to get listeners to dig deep for their IDs!) but are there any standouts from the mix you’d like to shout out?

Yeah. There is a track from a very rare cassette tape by the Ukrainian artist Iury Lech. He moved to Spain and in recent years his LP has become quite sought after, but he did this tape a year before and it’s near impossible to hear online. This year a London based label will be issuing the tape on record which I think is great because it’s possibly even deeper than the LP. There are also some other forthcoming pieces of music due this year on 12th Isle, Music From Memory, and Waterpark. Thanks to Tako and Dylan for those. See if you can spot them 🙂

Miracle Steps (Music From The Fourth World 1983 – 2017, compiled by JD Twitch and yours truly is out this month. Can you tell us a little about it and how you became involved?

For anyone who might not know, JD Twitch is one half of the Optimo duo and started DJing house, techno and industrial music back in the 1980s. He has been behind a number of record labels over the years and the Optimo and Pure parties are quite integral to the whole history of Scotland’s dance music scene. Both parties were before my time and I have only actually seen him DJ a handful of times, but because of the size of Glasgow we inevitably met through mutual friends. Apparently Twitch had the idea to do a compilation of this kind of music quite a while ago but, after meeting me, thought it would be good to have a second opinion in order put together a more well-rounded collection of tracks. Especially as the phrase ‘Fourth World’ can hold quite a loose meaning. I guess it depends on who is trying to define what actually falls under this odd sort of umbrella term. The first track on the compilation is by a Mexican musician called Jorge Reyes, and I think it’s worth mentioning that Twitch actually licensed one of his tracks for a double LP he curated (‘In There – Mutant Pop Hybrids’) back in 1996. I was born a year prior to this record coming out, so he obviously has a long-standing relationship with experimental music as well as with more rigid club type stuff. I think maybe he heard some music through me that he didn’t previously know and it gave him the idea of doing this project as a collaborative thing. The artwork was another collaborative venture, and I’m really happy that my friends Al White and Jamie Johnson were able to explore the visual side of it all through the gatefold sleeve. It looks amazing and I think they work together really well. Al does 12th Isle with me and Jamie’s installation work is a frequent staple at our parties.

You are 1/4 of Glasgow based label, nightlife institution and occasional radio broadcaster 12th Isle. How did you get involved with the project and can you tell us a little about it?

12th Isle is an outlet for me and three friends to explore our individual tastes in a collaborative environment, whether that is DJing at parties or exhibitions or festivals or working together to figure out the best possible structure for a release on the label that we started last year. I think that because there are four of us involved there isn’t such a strict definition of the project yet, but for the moment we are focusing on bimonthly parties at the Art School as well as the record label. The label has already led to some interesting gigs outside of the city which is great, especially when all four of us can play together. The first release happened very naturally but was also a direct result of some nerdy internet relationships, and although they are great I’m also feeling quite happy that with almost all of our upcoming releases we are working with people that we have managed to spend time getting to know in person. Cru Servers are based here in Glasgow and they’ve played a couple of our parties over the years. Ramzi is based in Montreal, Palta & Ti are based in Aarhus and our friend Kevin is based in Portland but we’ve managed to meet up with them all a couple of times in different cities now which is great.

The problems with gentrification, overinflated fees and governmental initiatives on London’s underground culture is sadly well documented. .Are these problem above as prevalent in Glasgow and if they are, how do you combat them?

Yes, I think that these problems do exist in the city as well, but they are on such a smaller scale. I think what is important to understand is that Glasgow has so many deprived areas and that organised crime and gangsters have quite the influence over our political infrastructure, especially when it effects underground culture and nightlife. There are some initiatives like the Glasgow Autonomous Space and the African Arts Centre which throw events from time to time and seem to have a good grassroots DIY thing going on, and like any city there are a whole host of after-hours places which differ from the traditional nightclub model and seem to be slightly segregated from governmental influence. I’m not exactly sure how to answer the question regarding methods of resistance though.

Over the last few years, Glasgow has produced some truly outstanding music, from Post-Punk heroes Golden Teacher to Auntie Flo. Which Glaswegian artists are you particularly excited about this year?

I think there are lots of diverse musical communities in the city, but to be honest I’m not an expert on what’s happening locally. My friend Gareth is running a tape (and soon to be vinyl) label called Domestic Exile and their upcoming release schedule seems to be dealing exclusively with music coming out of Glasgow. Optimo have been releasing lots of local music for years too, and there are smaller DIY labels that play host to punk, indie and bedroom electronics. I’m really excited to release the debut LP from Rickie and Jamie McNeill under their Cru Servers alias this year. There is a track from the album included in this mix. I first saw them play live back in 2012 thanks to our friend Lewis (one half of Happy Meals) and I’ve enjoyed them every time I’ve seen them since. They released a two track 7″ on Bomb Shop and did a self-released tape as part of an event organised by local book shop Good Press, but ISLE002 will be their first album.

Finally. what are your plans for 2017 and beyond?

I just submitted my undergraduate thesis, which was basically a case study of Red Light Radio and an attempt to investigate and analyse the lineage of independent music radio from the pirate days through to the current internet landscape (big thanks to Orpheu, Radna, DJ Dribbler and Will TTT for helping me out with that!). In a couple months I’ll graduate so I guess the plan is to figure what happens next. At the moment I’m working a couple times a week at Otherside, which is a great small record/antique/book shop in Glasgow, so perhaps I’ll get more involved with helping source stock. As for the label, we should have two LP’s and one 12″ out before the end of the year. We just had a great party with Milan and Natal (Central & DJ Sports / Palta & Ti) and for our next one in May our friend Best Available Technology is coming over to play live.

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