Michael Kucyk's long-running radio show has made him one of Australia's most influential selectors. Andy Webb hears about some choice cuts from his collection.
In 2013, Kucyk began work as head of A&R at Modular Recordings, and made the unusual move from Melbourne to Sydney (often for creative types it's the other way around). He ended his eight-year run on 3RRR and moved to the highly regarded online station NTS, where he's been broadcasting monthly from ever since. While in Sydney, he also launched the Noise In My Head label, which has so far featured a "contemporary dance score" from Suzanne Kraft, punk-influenced techno from Lucy Cliché and powerful acid workouts from Villa Åbo. Meanwhile, with the help of local diggers András, Instant Peterson and Steele Bonus, he's trawled through forgotten works from the fringes of the Australian scene for a second label called Efficient Space. This resulted in two of 2016's most intriguing compilations, Sky Girl and Midnite Spares, with another, Oz Waves, due to expose more weird and wonderful music from Down Under to the rest of the world.
Kucyk has now left Modular and returned to his hometown to continue exploring and expanding Noise In My Head. We settled into his new apartment in South Yarra to chat about his love of radio, the origins of his tastes and some of his most cherished records.
I guess Noise In My Head has been going for ten years now. I've probably had this one for most of that time and I still find myself coming back to it. There are a few songs that I played when I was on FM radio, and people would call incessantly, and this was one. I don't know what it is about it, but people just gravitated towards it and wanted to know more.
It really feels like a Noise In My Head track to me. A lot of the tracks you play I'm like, "I want know who this person is and what was going on in their head when they were making this music."
Well, I guess that's the difference between digging as a radio DJ versus a club DJ. Like, most of these records don't even get played out in that context, because they're just not made for it. Like this one.
How did you find this?
I actually found it at Licorice Pie, which is probably the best store in Australia. It's run by a guy who works day and night hounding out collections around the country, making house calls all the time. It's one of those stores where you go in, and whether you're looking for reggae or industrial, or independent music, or jazz, there's deep knowledge in every section. This is on Les Disques Du Crépuscule. He pulled it out and said, "If you ever see this label, pick it up."
Do you spend a lot of time trying to build up a relationship with the store?
Man, that's definitely the foundation of most of my knowledge. Whether it's going to Japan and meeting a whole bunch of storeowners there, and getting put onto things... Actually, I remember like ten years ago—do you know Oren Ambarchi? He was managing a store called Metropolis. I would go there and he would introduce me to Flower Travellin' Band and Agitation Free, this German prog group, and that was definitely pointing me in a few directions that I wouldn't have found otherwise. I'm sure that stuff was quite well documented on the internet, but I was such a novice, I wouldn't even know how to find it back then.
Well, the internet is an endless resource. There's going to be stuff that you never come across, even if it's one click away from where you're looking. Whereas if you're in a store and someone knows you, they'll be able to hear a track and think of you.
Yeah true. Also, living out in the suburbs, to go to the city, whether it was these stores—Synesthesia was another really good one—it would actually be so far to travel that I’d spend the whole afternoon there. And if that meant pestering the storeowner for an hour, and getting some recommendations or asking some more questions about what I was buying... It was definitely a fast-track education.
Do you shop online a lot as well?
Yes. I think now, I probably have less time than I ever had. The Melbourne store is a bit more picked over than Sydney, so I'm a little more reluctant to go out every few days like I would do earlier on. I guess I buy a couple of pieces each week.
The next thing on Efficient Space is a compilation that Steele's put together, and it's all '80s, predominantly things that were released on cassette, on DIY labels, and in the vein of, I guess, industrial, dub, some more art rock and post-punk. One of the things that Steele introduced me to was this collective of visual artists and musicians from Brisbane called Zip. They put out three cassettes, and each cassette comes with art books like this. But this was the one 7-inch that they did, the only vinyl record. They had government funding to do it, which explains why they were able to do this 70-page art booklet.
I dunno if you've ever picked up these Fast Forward zines. I may be wrong, but they were the first cassette zines that existed in the world. They were basically taped radio shows that came with these posters with a pretty progressive design. They'd be demos and unreleased tracks from a lot of Australian bands, and they'd interview Kraftwerk or the guy who ran 99 Records. [Picks up tape] This is the dance issue, it has this track called "The Couch," which András and Instant Peterson licensed for Midnite Spares.
Are these pretty collectable now?
You know what, I just don't really see cassettes around much. I'm asking around a lot and yeah, they seem to kind of come and go. I don't know who's harbouring them. But the guy who puts together these compilations used to be on Triple R—and actually still is—he has my old slot now, and I went over to his house, and raided—god, he must've had 36 boxes of cassettes, trying to find anything that were somewhat synth-orientated.
For one of the comps?
Not for this, just to know. Actually one of the tapes that came out of it was Tim Gruchy’s band CLOUT, which he did after this 7-inch, and it's really good. I've gotta keep following my nose. This comp we're doing with Steele—there are things that I never even knew existed six months ago that I'm now pretending to be an expert on.
It's exciting that there can't be too many people digging that deep into Australian music. You and András seem to do a huge amount.
And Lewis, who's Instant Peterson. I think it's more an obligation that this is stuff you should know. There's almost like a sense of guilt in that. And it's definitely easier digging in your own backyard—even licensing a compilation like Sky Girl, we spent two years trying to find those people. And on Midnite Spares and this compilation with Steele, I'm pretty sure we licensed them in a matter of months. I guess being in the music industry for ten years, whether it's from working in a record store or doing a radio show or working in publishing or a record label, there's kind of an existing network of old heads that are just waiting for a young someone like me, or youngish, to ask them about what they did 20 years ago.
Right, this is a Japanese record, and my Japanese is so poor I can't even tell you who it's by.
I wrote it down: Masumi Hara.
Who I don't know much about, and I'm sure he's kind of a typical Japanese session musician.
Is this something you found in Japan?
I bought it at a store called Revelation Time in Osaka, which is run by this really sweet guy Eiji. I actually think that's the best record store in Japan, if not the world. It's fucking amazing. When I was looking for lover's rock and Yugoslavian records or oddball Japanese stuff, he just has a certain nose for it as well. I'm pretty sure he introduced me to this, whether I bought it in his store or I bought it online from him shortly after.
Have you spent much time in Japan?
There was a while, when I had a job [laughs] and a liveable wage, I was trying to go there every year. Spending most days searching for records and eating at convenience stores, because I didn't have enough money. But yeah, Eiji—and Norio is another really nice guy who runs another store in Osaka called Rare Groove—they're the best people to hang out with, they'll close their shops for a day just to take me digging. The stores are clustered, there'll be 30 stores in one district, and then you go another 500 metres, and all of a sudden there's another 40, it just never ends.
I guess combining that music- and record-loving culture there with the renowned Japanese hospitality, you can end up having adventures you've never had anywhere else in the world.
That's the one special thing about music—meeting people. I'm sure when we go to Japan that we have a very different experience than someone who's looking for fashion, or is going on some eating safari. These people online—people like Zecky, who passed away, and Dubby—who I didn't actually know that well, within five minutes of meeting they'd be taking me out for lunch and drinks. There's definitely some extreme generosity that’s almost the norm there. And I also just like the way of life there. Someone, whatever their craft is, they'll dedicate their entire life to it. You'll go to a bar and the person is a jazz head, and you'll only ever hear jazz in this place, nothing else. It's pretty admirable. I think my tastes waver too much to ever be that way, but I admire it.
Do you listen to a lot of Japanese music?
I do. I guess it was something I was just buying obsessively, and actually my whole collection is chaos, but there's one section—well, there are two sections I have. One is of Australian music, and the other is Japanese music. And actually looking at that, I have more Japanese music than Australian, if that tells you something. All of that stuff is fetching crazy prices at the moment. I'm not really willing to get a job again just to afford it.
Do you know those guys Frak? Swedish techno. Actually, they've kind of done everything, they've been going since the early- to mid-'80s. Actually heavily influenced by Severed Heads. Villa Åbo, who I released on Noise In My Head, ran Börft and is part of Frak.
Such great art.
Misha [Hollenbach] from P.A.M. did the 12” art. I was buying a lot of Frak and Villa Åbo records, and just on a punt I wrote. "Hey, I'm starting a label, would you entertain putting something out with us?" He agreed solely on the basis that I was from Australia, the home of Severed Heads, which influenced him when he was a teenager. If you listen to the music, I kind of expected him to be this really staunch person who's hard to communicate with, but he's quite the opposite.
Anyway, I've kind of picked up as many missing pieces from the label as I can. I mean, they’ve done everything from drum & bass records to noise records, ambient records, dub, techno, house, electro, they just kind of continually shapeshift. But in the '90s and the '80s, they were putting together a lot of compilations that were just documenting their Swedish friends. Or I don't know, maybe they didn't even know the people, they were just aware that this stuff was going on.
It says disco on it—does it have anything to do with disco?
Super Disco is the title. I mean, most of it is pretty out-there, but there's this one really cool minimal wave track from Mike Finnkrieg, which I haven't managed to find out much about since. I transferred the track, got it mastered, and I have been playing it out a lot. I was going to play it on cassette but my eject button doesn't work and I couldn't fix it in time.
It's interesting that cassette culture is making this comeback. The control that people have in making and distributing and doing everything cheaply—I mean, it's so totally impractical on the surface, but from a label perspective you can actually get music out to people who come to your shows or whatever in this intimate way.
I've always been fond of the format. My first girlfriends made mix cassettes for me, and I've still got a cassette player in the car. I now buy a lot of DJ mixes that are on cassette only. But the one thing I do like from this era is that there's not such a high degree of perfectionism with a cassette. Because of the urgent nature of the format, people aren't labouring over the music so much and it just kinda happened. Particularly with these industrial cassettes, there's a lot that is absolutely throwaway, and then there are moments of absolute raw genius that happened in a flash. I'm wanting to find more moments like that.
I guess when Noise In My Head was starting, I was playing a lot of Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, Durutti Column. A lot of those early, pioneering independent minds. It's taken me quite some time to actually appreciate that they continued to create through the '90s, and that they were actually more inventive than they were initially.
Is that something that would generally draw you to a lot of music, that it's in some way pioneering?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, if I was following Cabaret Voltaire in real time, and I chanced across those records at the turn of the '80s and someone was gonna tell me that in 16 years' time he was gonna be making almost IDM, you know, you'd be in disbelief. And I was in disbelief to actually find this now. This is one of my favourite records.
What was your favourite music growing up, say, in high school?
Actually, there was this guy called Rob McKenzie who I used to trade music with, and he used to always introduce me to stuff like Sonic Youth and Burnt Friedman and LTJ Bukem, he was actually quite diverse, that was definitely pretty interesting. Fuck, I just can't really pinpoint the time. I mean, I loved garage rock, psychedelia and punk music.
Do you know the Future Sound of Melbourne?
OK, I didn't even know that's what that stood for.
It's actually released on a Belgian label. I think it was like '93. And how it came out on a Belgian record label, you would have to ask them.
Who are they?
David Carbone, Josh Abrahams, who eventually did "Addicted To Bass"—remember that song?—and the third guy is Steve Robbins. All Melbourne guys. I guess they were part of that same circuit that Braden Schlager came out of. Did you ever get that Braden Schlager record? That was the first thing on Efficient Space. It was a reproduction of an EP that is kind of like '90s, dreamy, ambient house, and then the fourth track was actually taken from a university soundtrack from Monash University, produced by Josh Abrahams.
So in this lineup of records, this is the straight club banger.
Yeah. I'd die for opportunities to play this, and they're few and far between. But it's really good.
Now we're going to the next generation of Melbourne house.
Exactly. I was thinking, there's so much attention on Australian music, and there has been for a few years now, and I mean Bell Towers is a part of that, but I feel like this record may have come out a little too early. It was produced in 2009, but I think it came out a year or two after.
For me it was the Melbourne Deepcast label that launched a lot of that Melbourne stuff. That was my introduction to Tornado Wallace, Andy Hart, Fantastic Man. It seemed to be an incubator for that group of artists who went off and did their own thing.
Yeah it's funny, I love all of those people, and they're fucking amazing producers, but I think it took me a few releases to kinda understand what they were doing, so it's kind of believable that I totally missed that. It was in my periphery but I just wasn't really that aware of it. Bell Towers and [Michael] Ozone, that was kind of my crew. And definitely as Bamboo Musik progressed, and Animals Dancing and C:Grade was going at the same time, there was a kind of crossover and we all started hanging out together. That's when I started connecting in that sense, even though the entities are all very separate.
I get the sense that you and Bell Towers see eye-to-eye on a lot.
I dunno if we see eye-to-eye, but I really appreciate that he just does his own thing. I don't think he's ever made a dud record. I'm not a completest by any means, but I've pretty much gone out of my way to acquire every edit, remix and original production he's done, and will continue to do so. I think a lot of records coming out these days, it's really hard to find that point of difference, and he just seems to deliver it effortlessly. I think András falls in that bracket, too. I mean, they're very separate people as well, but yeah. Whether it's an ambient record, or House Of Dad, or even his early deep house stuff. I'll treasure that stuff till the day I die.
What about the next generation of Melbourne people, now that so many people have bailed to Europe?
They just keep turning over, and that's one thing I've noticed. I'm not hanging out with people I used to hang out with, I'm hanging out with people in their early 20s, and they're all DJs, they're all producers, and it's actually fucking amazing. So I don't think having Bell Towers, Fantastic Man, Francis Inferno Orchestra or Tornado Wallace overseas for eight months of the year really has any impact whatsoever. And if anything, it actually gives this younger generation some time to bubble to the surface. Which, again, was part of Domestic Documents.
What was the process for that? A lot of the artists on the compilation hadn't released anything before.
That wasn't a compilation that I instigated myself, but the Sleep D guys, who run Butter Sessions, came to me with this idea that, "Hey, we wanna do a local compilation and we thought you'd be a really good person to partner up with." I'm actually so into those guys, they're real self-made men, they're real DIY. Everything they do, whether it's DJing, producing, running a label, artwork, putting parties on, they're kind of jack-of-all-trades guys. And my reaction was pretty much, if you have a good idea, come to me and you actually don't even have to explain the whole thing, I'm already into it. So that was a very easy conversation to have. The final tracklist for Vol. 1, I think they were responsible for maybe 70% of those artists, and I wasn't aware of a large portion of them before the whole project started. But I guess they're a little younger and more tapped into this kinda crowd that I was talking about before.
I'm finding in Sydney that a record will come across my radar and it'll lead to discovering a whole new crew that I didn't know existed. It's funny that I used to feel part of that, where it was the people around me doing all the new stuff—
—and then you grow up ten years and all of a sudden you're a tourist again, but you can appreciate it. Yeah. That whole Sydney versus Melbourne age-old argument, I won't really have a bar of it. They're both very good in their own right, but I think the one shortcoming of the whole [Sydney] lockout thing, and the fact that there are fewer venues and fewer parties compared to Melbourne, I feel like the one thing that's lacking in that Sydney community is live performers.
When working on Domestic Documents, we were trying to come up with more artists from Sydney within the parameters of that sound. I'm not saying there are none, because there are so many, but they have a different sound that maybe wasn't entirely compatible with what we were trying to do. It's just a shame that you don't get as many live hardware acts, and then someone like Lucy Cliché comes along and she moves to Melbourne because she realises that maybe she can get a bit more happening for her there. But yeah, I wish I was going out in Sydney the same way I was going out in Melbourne, meeting all these 21-year-olds that are making live electronic music. There's just no vehicle to discover them, because they're stuck in their bedrooms.
More Than You Can Wish
This one's Harlem Gem, "More Than You Can Wish," which is just this UK street soul thing, which I don't have an amazing connection to, other than it's a fucking amazing song that never leaves my bag.
I like the thin layer of cheese here. I don't know if that's a dirty word in your vocabulary.
Not at all, but you might hear cheese and I don't. It all depends on who you talk to. But I mean, there's so much raw emotion in this, I've almost welled up in the club playing it. I got onto this record because Max D played it in Sydney. It was the only party that nobody came to on the tour that we did for him. I've never forgotten it since. But I suspect that Andrew Morgan, who runs PPU, and Earcave—not that I've gone to DC to understand how everything works, but I get the impression that Andrew Morgan is a bit of a godfather figure who is definitely responsible for some discoveries like this. And his webstore is so fucking good. It's one of those webstores that you almost don't wanna tell anyone about, because it's gonna be harder to get the stuff that you want, but at the same time, the selection is so amazing, they're really good people and you wanna tell everyone about it.
That Sunset Was Intense
This is actually another Australian one. You know The Church? They’re a pretty household Australian classic rock group. Steve Kilby was the main songwriter, and this was an album that his two brothers put together in the mid-'90s, a group called Warp Factor 9. It came out on CD only. This track is like kinda blissed-out, baggy, '90s vibes. But it's got that percussion for ya as well.
I love the clarinet in this. I'm assuming it's a clarinet.
I can't identify a clarinet as quickly as you can, but now that you mention it. Man, it's so good.
What's the story behind Warp Factor 9?
You might have to read the liner notes. It's a kind of an end-of-days scenario.
"Five Days in a photon belt." High concept stuff.
End-of-days, but it's still funky.
Yeah, they're going out with feeling. I actually wrote to the brothers to try and get a copy of this. I think they were pretty happy that someone cared about it.
This brings us to the last one.
The circle is complete.
What an emotional rollercoaster. Before you were asking what got me into house and techno, right? I guess a few years ago—do you know Wackie's? It's a New York-based reggae label run by this guy Lloyd Barnes. He put out some really kinda muddy reggae records or some digi-dub kinda stuff, Horace Andy's Dance Hall Style came out, Sugar Minott, he had these volumes called African Roots—anyway, these records were being reissued, and I was trying to collect them all, and through that I realised that they were actually being reissued by Basic Channel and Chain Reaction, and that kinda became the gateway to minimal techno, and techno records.
I was then going to America around that time, and bought Quadrant, "Infinition" and a few others, but that was kinda the catalyst in a roundabout way, from dub reissues. A few years after this, they put out this Prince Jazzbo reissue, and again it's one of those records that I've had for all this time and I'm never selling it.
It's funny that a record like this would be your gateway to house and techno.
Absolutely. And I mean, when you hear the other Wackie's stuff it makes even less sense. Like, I love psychedelic music, and hearing something like Quadrant's "Infinition," the cyclical repetition of it was psychedelic and super textural as well.
When you were getting into that stuff, was that more from buying records or hearing it out?
It was more a case of asking the right questions to the right people, and being pointed in a few directions. If they were popping up in Australia, I wasn't finding them, so I went to America to try and expand the knowledge a little, just an inch further each year.
This is another one that to me just sounds like a Noise In My Head record.
And it is, and it has been for a long time.