Label Spotlight – Medical Records (Seattle, WA)

This week we’re shining our spotlight on fellow Emerald City sonic archaeologists Medical Records. Officially launched in 2008 by Dr. Troy Wadsworth (yup, he’s really a doctor!), Medical’s bread and butter is minimal is all manner of synthezied music: Minimal Synth, Synth Pop, Cosmic Disco, Italo, Prog Synth, and Cold/New Wave. Sporting high quality 180-gram vinyl (usually colored, too), excellent sound and packaging, Medical Records is a label after our own heart. This week we sat down with Troy to talk about his process, Medical’s backstory and what’s coming up on the horizon for the label.

LITA: Tell us about Medical Records. What inspired you to start the label?

MR: The story of Medical Records probably begins somewhere around 2004-2005. I had been an avid collector and fan of early new wave, krautrock, and other synthesized genres of music for years. Early on, it seemed like this niche of music was really just appreciated by a small number of people, and it wasn’t impossible to find (or even stumble upon) rare records from that time period (late 70s/early 80s). As years went by, the fan base seemed to grow exponentially. All of the sudden, finding these lost gems became nearly impossible unless you were willing to spend unnatural amounts of cash to obtain them. Around 2005-2006, it seemed like a great time to get involved and possibly start a record label to help make some of my favorite records available again. Unfortunately, at the time, I essentially had no funds for this type of things as I was mired in debt from being in medical school. A few years went by and other labels were luckily reissuing this type of music (Minimal Wave, Vinyl On Demand, Anna Logue, and others). I was further inspired by these great pioneer labels, and once I had the funding, I actively began working on the label around 2008 or so.

LITA: Your releases range from Italo disco classics like Alexander Robotnick’s Ce N’est Qu’un Début to minimal synth pop of Guyer’s Connection. Besides the obvious use of electronics, what would you say is the common thread of the albums you’re reissued.

MR: I like to imagine the underlying theme of the label is based in deep, analog synthesizer-based music. Whether it be the passionate prog-tendencies of Chrisma, the kosmiche space odyssey leanings of Deutsche Wertarbeit, or the synth-punk of Lou Champagne System, the overall aesthetic is rooted in interesting, colorful, and unique synthetic textures all created by the instrument of instruments. Also, I like to mix it up a bit by presenting a cosmic disco burner followed by a synth drone LP possibly followed by a sweet and sensual synth pop hit. I don’t want to be thought of as being restricted to one sub-genre. I think the catalog illustrates this point well so far.

LITA: Tell us about your reissue process? How do you find these records and the people that made them? I’ve read that the first few records took years to obtain the proper licences etc.

MR: Most of the releases so far have been records that I own in my collection and have been enjoying for years. When I started the label, I had about 10 records in mind to possibly reissue. 5 of those were so important to me that I elevated them to “must reissue” status. 3 on that “must reissue” list have already been released (OGI, Chrisma, and Dalek I). The last 2 are Drinking Electricity Overload and Mathematiques Modernes Les Visiteurs Du Soir. Those last 2 are in the works and will be released soon. Getting back to the process, I optimally attempt to contact the artist/composer first. I do that by a number of means. I have contacted people through Facebook (and before that, Myspace). I have contacted people through a string of other artists I have talked to. Tyler, my artist who designs/retouches the covers also has been helpful tracking people down in the buried internet. If I contact the artist, and they do not own the copyrights, then I have to contact the copyright holder to obtain a license. This situation can definitely take months if not years. OGI was licensed this way as it took me. It all works out in the end as long as folks are receptive and willing to answer emails, etc.

LITA: Audio quality is something we care a lot about at LITA, and it’s clear that from your releases you go for original tape transfers for your sources and press on 180-gram wax. Any stories of the struggle to find long, lost master tapes? What’s the remastering process?

MR: As much as I would like the contrary, it has not been feasible to transfer from the original tapes on every release. When the original tapes are available (and able to be salvaged), I of course proceed in that direction. In some cases, the tapes are simply lost forever, and we have to work with what is available. Sometimes this is a high-quality digital transfer from the original tapes that the artist (luckily) has access to. Worse case scenario is there are no tapes or high quality transfers, and the LPs would have to be mastered from vinyl. This can still have a very desirable outcome if done well (in the right studio with the right talented engineer which I have access to). I have not been a huge proponent of remastering, per se. With Lou Champagne System, the original tapes were transfered and EQ’ed, however. The final product is superior to the original pressing. OGI is a simple, clean transfer from the analog tapes that sounds fantastic with the “remastering” treatment. So, as you can see, it is release-dependent completely.

LITA: Was just listening to the Lou Champagne System No Visible Means LP this weekend. Incredible. What’s the story behind that record? Some seriously whacked out and demented sounds on that record.

MR: Lou Champagne was a member of the Ontario music scene in the early 80′s. Being an electronic whiz, he was able to sync up his guitar, synth, and drum machines so he could perform and record as a one-man band. The record was originally self-released on Lou’s own Pterodactyl Records in 1984. Though very obscure, this record has quite a cult following. For years, you could buy original copies direct from Lou, but the demand overpowered the supply. I was proud to resurrect this synth-punk gem. We were able to spruce it up (as stated above) by transferring the tape, EQ’ing the sound, restoring the original artwork (and insert), and releasing it on high-quality 180gram white vinyl.

LITA: If you had to pick one dream reissue, what would it be? Doesn’t have to fit in with your usual oeuvre.

MR: Honestly, I was on a personal mission to reissue the seminal IKO ’83 LP. The record seems to demand outrageous prices (over 100 dollars usually), and it would have been a blast to reissue. Unfortunately, it was bootlegged recently which always changes the dynamics of the market related to a release. I had been in contact with the artist, but things seemed to have dissipated. I also know they were in negotiations with other labels too. I wish them and whoever is lucky enough to licence the record the best of luck!

LITA: OK this is going back a bit, but what do you remember to be the first record you ever bought?

MR: Haha, ok, well, that is easy. Micheal Jackson Thriller. I don’t remember how young I was, but I was definitely in Elementary School. The first cassette I bought was Weird Al Yankovic In 3-D. Weird, huh?

LITA: Any upcoming projects you can share?

MR: I would be thrilled to discuss them. The next release is the underground classic Axxess Novels For The Moons LP (MR-011). It is an painfully rare LP that was released in 1983. Axxess is Patrick Mimran who is a well-respected French multimedia artist and active today. At the time, he was the owner of Lamborghini car company. Patrick has a custom built complex synthesizer and recorded this instrumental album on that very interesting machine. This will appeal to lovers of proggy-style synth records, disco motifs, and complex sequencing patterns. Following Axxess is a first for Medical Records. MR-012 will be a full-length LP by Italy’s Gay Cat Park. In 1982, they had one hit entitled “I’m a Vocoder”. We contacted them and were delighted to discover that they had other unreleased music from the same time period on cassettes. They restored these tracks, and Medical Records will present these lost tunes for the first time. Very endearing, upbeat synth pop with heavy Italo disco overtones. We are really looking forward to that record (expect it around end of May or so). Other releases confirmed with future release dates include a Christof Glowalla 10″ (famous for the ultra-rare “Erde 80″ 7″), a Tony Carey double LP (ex-drummer of Rainbow who recorded the stellar disco-infused Explorer and Yellow Power LPs which will be featured on the release), and the holy grail Overload by Drinking Electricity which will also be a double LP with the LP and singles/B-sided included! 2012 is gearing up for another exciting year here at Medical headquarters…

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More info about Medical Records can be found here and you may order their releases from us here. Be sure to check out more audio samples on their Soundcloud page and like them on Facebook.