Today marks the 50th release on the Tici Taci music label. It’s a track called ‘Opsimath and Eremite’ by the Wales-based outfit, The Long Champs (otherwise known as Lloyd Jones, half of Quantal, who previously did a remix for me). The track is unusual fare for the label, certainly, with a punkier and faster vibe than the downtempo electronic music for which Tici Taci is known. Excitingly, though, I have a remix on the EP featuring my talented friend Warren Young playing a totally excessive, but great (I think!), bass solo over the top of my synths.
I first discovered Tici Taci about five years ago. It was ‘Pain Killer’, ‘Crush’, and ‘Gone Again’ that first drew me to the label. By the time we got to ‘The Weak Nuclear Force’ and ‘Tracy’, I had a regular calendar entry for the last Friday of every month for the new releases on the label.
I’ve never really felt an affinity for labels before. Certainly, Logical, Cotton Bud, Magic Feet, Nein, Dogs & Vultures, Sub:Sonic, La Dame Noir, Playground, Play Pal Records, Nuff, Her Majesty’s Ship, and loads of others regularly put out great releases that form the core of my listening (undoubtedly, I’ll have missed some out here). I also really like to support independent artists by buying music on Bandcamp. But the vibe on Tici Taci is immense. From ‘Y Llwynog’, through ‘Rotten Road’, ‘The Science of Plants’, ‘Sleeping Acid’, and ‘Good Girls & Bad Boys’, there’s gold in these hills. Duncan Gray, the head honcho of the label, as well as being a musical legend in his own right, having played on many many Andrew Weatherall releases, has an ear for this stuff. Rich Lane, who does the mastering (and I reckon might be a sonic wizard), but is also a regular remixer on the label, definitely contributes a great deal to the sound. Tici Taci consistently releases great material.
As anyone reading this blog on any regular basis will already know, in 2016 I had a cascade of health problems that went from having a stroke, to contracting serious pneumonia and sepsis, to neurological speech-reception loss. Recently there’s been more with acute bowel dysmotility due to vasculitis. After the stroke, Helen, my wife, insisted that I get a hobby that wasn’t academic work. I plucked up the courage to send Rich Lane a message on Facebook asking: if I wanted to get into making electronic music, where should I start with hardware synths? It’s always risky giving advice, so I’m really grateful to Rich for not baulking – you can end up being the target of a grudge if someone forks out hundreds of quid and doesn’t get on with it – so thanks, Rich!
In reality, though, it wasn’t just electronic music that I wanted to make. I wanted to make funky, downtempo, electronic music at about 100-110bpm that uses real instruments: guitars, vocals, analogue hardware synths. I wanted to make music of the kind that comes out on Tici Taci. And so, since 2016, I’ve taught myself how to use a DAW, to play some guitar (bass + standard), got my head around LFOs, ADSR envelopes, various filters, drum sequencing, and worked with a variety of synths (the Waldorf Rocket is my absolute favourite, but I also love my Streichfett, Novation Bass Station 2, Roland TB-3, and JU-06). Although I have previously played clarinet and saxophone (the former quite well, the latter not quite so well) and have my Grade Five Music Theory™ etc., this has been a learning experience. I have definitely sunk many many hours and days into this as a project. I have many more yet to sink.
Without wanting to sound like some kind of creepy ‘record label stalker’, such is my enthusiasm for this label that I can often remember where I was/what was happening when a particular release came out. In October 2017, after the catastrophic sepsis episode, I was given antibiotics that seriously – but oddly – damaged my hearing. One of the things I remember most about that time was that I had been looking forward to Future Bones’s ‘Straight UP’ coming out. And when it did, it all sounded out of tune to me. This was incredibly distressing but I now understand that it is because my right ear cannot hear pitch in the bass spectrum; I can only discern this now in my left ear. Fortunately, ‘Straight UP’ now sounds back in tune as I have learned to compensate, although I still have a lot of trouble understanding speech when there is any background noise. I also remember a particularly pleasant pub-lunch stroll in the Lee Valley with ‘Tracy’ rolling around my head. Planet Jumper’s dead funky ‘Planet Jumper EP’ reminds me of a hotel in Kansas, where I was staying for a work conference talk. Lloyd’s ‘The Tone Test EP’ with the brilliant ‘A Postcard’ came out on the day when I had a meeting in Norway at the Ministry of Education to talk about my ongoing work on open access. These are musical releases by which you can mark your life (or, at least, I seem to).
And so, Tici Taci reaches its 50th release. Congratulations to Duncan on the fine, fine work. As for me, I think I’m still pinching myself at going from ‘I am ill and need a hobby that isn’t work: I would like to make music like that’ to actually having something on the label. It feels deeply entwined with a difficult personal period in my life, in setting myself a challenge, and then in getting further with it than I had even hoped. More to the point, though: I hope the label continues to thrive, that more people hear its great music, and that there are many more releases to come. Viva Tici Taci!