|Playing favourites: Andy Votel
Hip-hop, film scores, disco, Kollywood: The Finders Keepers boss plays us some records.
Andy Shallcross is a music fanatic and has been since school. Hailing from Stockport, Manchester's largely unsung sibling, Andy began collecting records aged 14. It was the mechanics of hip-hop production that spurred his search for original samples on vinyl, with his father teaching him how to make his first "wrong-sounding" demos using cassette tapes. Finding a "kindred spirit" in Mark Rathbone, AKA Boney, he entered the realm of performance as a member of the Violators of the English Language crew, adopting the acronym V.O.T.E.L. that he still uses today.
Andy has gone a long way since then, though, like the music he champions through Finders Keepers together with Doug Shipton, his actions have remained distinctly niche, preferring to operate deep below the strata of fashion and consumable tastes. Even the music he makes now, be it solo or with long-time collaborator Sean Canty (of Demdike Stare), rarely bears his name. Indeed, each new record seems to throw up another moniker—Applehead, Slant Azymuth, Anworth Kirk—making his musical whereabouts difficult to trace at any given time.
Reissues aside, Andy has brought lost or forgotten music to new audiences through concerts and re-contextualised performances, such as 2006's show at the Barbican that paid tribute to Jean Claude Vannier and Serge Gainsbourg, or his latest Kleksploitation series that debuted at Unsound last October—a re-interpretation of Polish composer Andrzej Korzynski's Pan Kleks film trilogy. He has also masterminded numerous conceptual mixes and scholarly-themed compilations, from archiving rare folk and psychedelic pop from Wales (Welsh Rare Beat, Welsh Rare Beat 2 and Galwad Y Mynydd) to charting surf rock from Thailand (Thai! Dai! - The Heavier Side of the Lukthung Underground).
His music knowledge is dauntingly encyclopaedic and yet wonderfully endearing. Talking to Andy about records—or rather hearing Andy talk about records—is like some fantastic history lesson, delivered with all the humbleness of a genuine enthusiast, as I found out first hand .
This Is A Visit
I wanted to start with this because I read somewhere that everything for you began with hip-hop.
When I first got into music, my friends were into The Smiths, The Cure and The Housemartins. For me, hip-hop was alternative. But I was obsessed with the mechanics of music, really. Almost immediately I wanted to know how hip-hop music was made, and when I realised it was made out of other people's records and stolen sounds, that was when it became really interesting. I wanted to find the records that were sampled. Within two years I was buying original records and hip-hop.
Why this record in particular?
To me, Downtown Science sounded like the hip-hop version of John Carpenter because it was ultra-modern, very scientific-sounding, pretty much like nothing else. I must mention that at the time I was really into A Tribe Called Quest and what Q-Tip was doing, really into Main Source—amazing records for me—but Downtown Science broke all the rules in a really uncool way. And it was because they were sampling Pink Floyd and The Who, really obvious '80s or late '70s records. Sampling the worst records I had been taught to hate. It was a total Dada move.
And the rapper, Bosco Money, is not exactly my favourite rapper although he does have his own style. Anyone who hears that record would know that. It was all to do with Sam Sever, who was the original DJ. No one would dare to sample The Who—for legal reasons as well as street credibility—and for me it was like "wow, the rules need to be broken." At every turn I've held that with me. You've just got to break the rules every single day if you want to keep learning by music.
You can look at what we do now, and everything I've ever done in the last ten to 15 years, and think "well, that's not necessarily hip-hop" stylistically, but it is a straight influence in that I've re-contextualised stuff and taken things from one place and put them in the wrong place, or a place that shouldn't normally work. And to me, being a hip-hop DJ is someone who takes old music, or other records, and makes them into something new—not someone who plays rap records.
In that sense, would you class yourself as a hip-hop DJ?
I suppose that I am really, yeah. Sean [Canty, from Demdike Stare] and I, we spend a hell of a lot of time working on new age and ambient music, and music that hasn't got a formal structure. So there are probably hardly any hip-hop elements, but just that thing of taking something out of context and replacing it in a totally different world, I suppose that is still what remains.
You work closely with Sean. How did you two first meet, and what forms the basis of your working partnership?
I've known Sean for 20 years really. He was a friend of quite a famous scratch DJ called DJ Woody. Woody was also a typographer—and I'm a typographer as well. We were on the same course at Stockport College.
Sean is just an obsessive archivist and VHS collector, so it's not just records. He's like a merchandise magnet. Absolutely lives it, more so than many people out there really. Demdike Stare formed a good framework for him to finally do what he does.
What is significant about Zdenek Liska, to you?
I really love the idea of these working musicians and he was just a workingman, in a suit, who made 3,000 film scores, and is probably the best film composer in the world.
Liska could take a boring film about butterflies and turn it into a horror movie, or he'll take a film about a murder and turn it into a love story just through his use of music. And people trusted him so much that he would even get in there and re-cut people's films. He wasn't a cameraman or a director or screenwriter, but just through his composition he was probably one of the best filmmakers in Eastern Europe.
He had huge philharmonic orchestras at his disposal in Czech. There was this one famous session where he had the full orchestra come in. He asked each player to play a scale and then leave one by one until there was no one left in the studio. Then he made the score to Ikarie XB1 by stripping it all together on tape using Musique Concrete to resample every note that had been played. It was like, for want of a better example, Squarepusher—but from the late '60s.
This record is from the label Pre-Cert that you and Sean run together. What is the main premise for the label?
The idea of Pre-Cert obviously comes from Pre-Certificate Video Cassette, but it is also harking back to when we first met—pre any success we've had with other labels. But when Sam delivered that record it was like game over. He delivered the best record that any of us could do in that sort of plane, so we might as well just fold the label. To me, that's as important as a Bruno Nicolai record.
What is Flock Toxicant about?
That was about the wool industry, which is hundreds of years old, and based on a story about sheep getting their own back. If you can imagine: a whole load of frightened sheep, then they have this weird illness—which is kind of plausible. And then the wool becomes poisonous. Not Giallo films, or slasher movies, or satanic things, it's actually about history, history of the North of England, and it was a very grim place.
I mean, to me this sounds like it could be a film score—only without the film?
It's a concept record. "Concept" has been a dirty word for a long time but, to be honest, I have never really understood why. If a record doesn't have a concept then what the hell is it? I think everything should be conceptual. People might argue that a concept is contrived, but everything needs a concept surely?
You have also released a number of records through this label, but with such eclectic and extensive musical knowledge, do you find it off-putting to produce new works, especially as you've made it your mission to rescue all this long-lost music already in existence?
Absolutely, you sound like a psychiatrist. It is true. I stopped making music entirely, and then started Finders Keepers; I didn't want to make another record again. It was actually Sean who encouraged me. The idea of Pre-Cert, for me, is really important because it is taking ourselves right back. And everything we've done on Pre-Cert is under different names.
Is the Dead-Cert label a related sibling to Pre-Cert at all?
Dead-Cert is an avant-garde label bringing out records that shouldn't really be on record—unfinished records or theatre or sculpture records. Like field studies or field recordings, anti-pop records or noise records. In a way it is essentially more of a jazz record label. The first two releases were art records: one by Suzanne Ciani, who was like the American Delia Derbyshire for the Atari generation, and the other by Bruno Spoerri.
Electronic Music, Tar And Sehtar
This one's a Folkways record, and one of the rarest. It is very hard to describe. It is a sort of a Concrete record and an electro-acoustic record with tape-manipulation from a Persian guy living in America, using traditional instruments. It's got drone qualities to it and this atonal thing going on, and is sort of misplaced.
How did you find it?
Folkways records I've been buying forever, just because of the design, really. I was always arguing folk music in its genuine state is supposed to communicate loudly and clearly a story, and convey it in the most ferocious and widest possible way. By today's standards, the loudest machine would be electronic or electric, so that's why Folkways and the Smithsonian Foundation, they were true to that. In the '70s and late '60s they were releasing a lot of electronic folk records.
Then I found one of Iranian descent, and that, for me, I've just ticked nine boxes: the packaging's brilliant, it tells a story, it's a folk thing and an electronic thing, and it's not a pop record, this is serious composition.
How much does packaging and design sway your search for records?
I will buy a record because it looks great and really not care what the music is like. But if a record looks absolutely terrible, it doesn't stop me from buying it. But then I am totally using a different head. This is how I got into Polish records, through going to Poland with art school. I was a record collector and I'd heard there was a lot of good jazz in Poland. So I thought I would go there and be able to buy a lot of good American jazz, for some reason. But there was no American music over there obviously, because of communism.
Collectors had just started buying Polish posters in 1992 , but you could buy a 12-inch version of a great piece of design for next to nothing. So I bought tons of Polish records, and luckily on about half of them the music was brilliant. It opened me up to a whole different world.
Godley & Creme
I'm from Stockport, and in Stockport you have the history of making hats, the Stockport viaducts and 10cc. You know about 10cc, right?
Ah… I know this is the band Godley and Creme came from.
"I'm Not in Love" was 10cc's big hit, especially on its production values. It's got like 60 tracks of vocals on it, and was a top five single for what felt like years. But Godley and Creme were inventers and art students. They invented this instrument called the Gizmotron, or Gizmo, a synth thing that turned your guitar into an orchestra. They thought it was the future of music, but it split the band up. Godley and Creme went one way, super conceptual, and 10cc ended up making songs like "Dreadlock Holiday."
And this is off their first album together, after 10cc?
It was a two-hour concept record, three times as expensive [to make] as any record in the world. They'd gone from being really famous number one artists to producing this huge concept album that was a massive commercial flop, called Consequences.
What attracts you to this record in particular?
It is a lot like a Downtown Science record to me, but it is also like Jean Claude Vannier or Francois de Roubaix, with huge orchestral elements all made on this Gizmotron. It was the most outlandish British concept album, and biggest rock folly of all time. If it hadn't been distributed properly, and was by some obscure Spanish band, people would be paying 500 pounds for original copies. It's up there with all the best, and it's from Stockport.
On the subject of rock follies, this is from an album paying homage to Pink Floyd—with disco? Who are Rosebud?
They are like the French version of 10cc. They were Jean-Claude Vannier's constant backing band for everything, and he did thousands of pop records. But they also pretty much single-handedly invented French cosmic disco. Now, this idea to do a pop record based on Pink Floyd is a great idea on paper, but doesn't really sound anything like Pink Floyd. Trying to put prog through a '70s disco machine is alright, but trying to put late '60s punky rock & roll through a disco machine is not going to be a good idea. I don't know what the hell this is; it's just its own problem.
When you talk about all these musical genres it just becomes embarrassing, and farcical. Every week there's a new genre. There should only be about five genres, and one of those should be overambitious music. I would love to walk into a record shop and see a section saying overambitious music, and this definitely comes into that category. Trying to do a cheap record, that's going to make people dance in a nightclub, which is based on the entire career of Pink Floyd in one record is just so misguided. Pink Floyd were bloody overambitious in the first place. But every musician who appears on that record is a hero of mine.
I tried searching for "Living Dead," but couldn't find it anywhere.
X-Ray Pop are an easy band to unearth, but are really hard to get to the bottom of. They did quite a few moderately well-selling things that you can pick up quite easily, but then they also had this other side to them where they would release a new cassette every single week, throughout the entire '80s and even early '90s. There are hundreds of X-Ray Pop albums and thousands of songs you won't know about, like this one.
Did you have this originally on cassette?
Well I was looking for it for a long time because I try and collect these cassettes. This year I have probably bought more cassettes than I have vinyl for the first time in my life.
Have you been trading tapes as long as you've been collecting vinyl?
Only in the last three years, really. But that is how I started making music—with cassettes. I do love tapes. They were full of disappointment early on. When I first got into music, my dad was really supportive of the idea that I was doing something semi-creative—or it seemed that way. He taught me how hip-hop was made. I understood it was made out of old records, and he showed me how. But it was the wrong advice. He taught me how to make a tape loop with a cassette by unscrewing the cassette and sellotaping it back together.
I've always been unscrewing cassettes and putting them back together. And I did the same with videos. I really like that tangibility and the physical side of cassettes and analogue stuff that you just don't get with digital mediums. I never thought VHS would have its own charm, but now having not watched a VHS for five years and going back to it, I realise they really have their own quality and sound that you don't realise at the time.
Do you follow the same hands-on approach when you perform?
That's the only way I do it. It is strictly a non-laptop zone. Me and Sean do a lot of gigs under the name Neotantrik now, which is a little bit like Demdike Stare [but] without drums and more anti-horror, new age, alternative religion; something coming close to euphoric scientology. It's got its sinister side potentially, but is more about organised religion. We play cassettes as part of the gig, and tape loops, and stuff like that.
From a pretty beguiling list of records, this for me was the most unexpected. I couldn't find much information about it, and when I heard it I was really taken by surprise to discover this is actually a pop record.
It's like the most joyous music ever. I'm a huge horror collector, and while that's become a bit of a ball-and-chain for a lot of people, it's really important to respect people making joyous music. Then put that into the context of the country we're talking about, which is India.
Bollywood's from Bombay, the Lahore film industry was called Lollywood, and Kollywood is from Chennai in India. They're all poorer sisters of each other. Bollywood's huge and one of the most well-endowed film industries in the world. Lollywood is like a cheap imitation. Where all these huge orchestras used to be, they'd do it with synths and just a few different people overdubbed, and ending up being quite creative. So instead of a 60-piece choir, you'll have a five-piece band.
Now Kollywood is even more niche, where you pretty much have a one-man band—which is this guy, Ilaiyaraaja—with hundreds of weird techniques and influences. He basically de-contextualised and re-contextualised, reinvented and resampled everything. For example, if you wanted a standard choir, he would sample a choir from a '50s record and get a DX7 bassline off a Roland synth from the 80s, and put that over the top with loads of hand clapping and re-triggering, and all these weird approximations.
Is the re-contextualisation of music the linchpin to your practice—as both an artist and archaeologist with Finders Keepers?
With everything, really. I just think the music industry and the film industry and Western society has deviously re-contextualised stuff for years and years for financial gain, and got it wrong. So what's wrong with re-contextualising everything again and getting it right?
With Finders Keepers I have to accept that what we release is failed pop music. And I am celebrating that fact. The pop music failed for a reason: either it was ahead of its time or because of politics or whatever. It needs a new context to breathe, which is what we try and do. Just the smallest thing can happen to change the context of music and how music as we know it has worked.
I truly am a fan. Basically I just want to meet people, meet all my heroes. And when you've met them, where do you go from there? It's "let's do something with this record, let's reissue it, let's see what you've got in the attic, let's see what didn't come out." But the first and most important thing is meeting that person and thanking them for doing something so great, and then saying to them "this needs to be put into a new and wider context." That's the main driving force for me.
It's a big social exercise. It's not about the actual record coming out. We try and put ourselves in a position where there is no competition. I am not competitive and I don't process competition very well, so I try and do stuff that no one else is doing.
Published / Monday, 11 February 2013