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Friday 5 May 2023

Tici Taci Takeover: A Duncan Gray Interview And Guest Post

Duncan Gray has a story to tell in the musical world that orbits around Andrew Weatherall. As a DJ and producer and as a member of Sons Of Slough (with Andrew's brother Ian- they also released a 12" as IWDG, a cover of New Order's In A Lonely Place), as Jnr. Poon (who released the first 7" on Andrew's Hidden Library label) and as part of The Summerisle Trio with Sean Johnston and Sarah Rebecca. As well as all of that Duncan founded the label tici taci, ten years ago this year, a label that consistently releases superb leftfield dance music- chuggy, slinky, dubby, wonky floor filling dance music. Uz Pa Gaz's Tiranan Balearica Omo Can was featured here in April and various tici taci artists, including Duncan himself, Rude Audio and Dan Wainwright, Boy Division, The Long Champs, Jack Butters, Mystic Thug, Mr BC and Fjordfunk have graced these pages in the past.

Tici Taci is celebrating its tenth birthday with a slew of releases including Tici Taci Decade Volume One. Duncan asked me if he could take over Bagging Area for a day and say a few words about his favourite releases on the label. He was happy to answer a few questions too, about his musical life, his work with Andrew and Tici Taci. 

Bagging Area: Where did it all start for you musically?

Duncan: I'll be 60 this year, so my appreciation of music starts back in the 1970s. The first band I ever saw was Tangerine Dream. It sounds cool to say that now but at the time it kind of went over my head. I was in bands from the age of 16, but what really stimulated me creatively was the advent of home recording and the purchase of a cassette based porta-studio. That's where a lifelong obsession with making music really started. Music has led me into all sorts of scrapes over the years. I've made decisions which were (financially) poor in order to pursue music. My life has been much more interesting as a result, although there have been many times when I had to borrow money to pay the rent. I started tici taci with the final scrapings of redundancy money from my last proper job.

Bagging Area: tici taci is 10 years old. What’s the best thing about running a label?

Duncan: The best thing has to be watching it grow in popularity and gaining its own identity, to the point where like-minded producers naturally want to get their music released on the label. Then it becomes a case of other people making me look good. Also there's been the DJing. I really thought my DJ days were over when I started Tici Taci, but I was  offered my first return gig at Slide in Brixton almost right away, and from there the offers started coming in from all over the place. It's a real shame how Brexit has killed the opportunities to DJ in Europe. I used to get more Euro gigs than UK but now it's the other way around.

Bagging Area: There’s an Albanian connection with Tici Taci, artists from Tirana seem to feature heavily and make some wonderful music (your remix of Pines In The Sun and the recent Uj Pa Gaz release both come to mind). How did that connection come about?

Duncan: Lindi (Uj Pa Gaz) was the original connection. I guess he heard the label through Soundcloud and sent in a couple of tracks for consideration. Almost more than any other producer on Tici Taci Lindi really understood the sound of the label from the word go. From there, Genti Aliaj got in touch to see if I would be interested in DJing in Tirana. Genti is Albanian but has lived in the UK for 25 years, and offered to travel with me and chaperone me on my first visit. Albania has this terrible cartoon reputation of being a dangerous place based  on tired Hollywood cliches in general and the Taken movies in particular. In fact Tirana is one of THE friendliest places I've ever been. I've had so many great weekends there, including the opportunity to play bass for Damo Suzuki in a pick-up band which included both Lindi and Genti and the very talented Bledi Boraku. The last time I spent any significant time with The Guv was when he came to Tirana to DJ at Discobox in January 2020. A truly memorable weekend.

Bagging Area: What’s next for tici taci?

Duncan: We have a ton of stuff to release this year. It being the ten year anniversary, I'm hoping to have releases from all of our regular featured artists, plus a couple of new signings. Our next release (after Decade Vol 1) is the debut from Rule Six which is going down a storm, and at the end of June we have something from another producer who is new to the label. Watch this space. There will be an EP from the Long Champs, one from Mr BC, something from Jack Butters, more from myself, a couple of new tracks from Sons of Slough, and maybe even something from Boy Division. That lot should take us through to the end of the year.

Bagging Area: Some questions outside tici taci if I can… 

Your guitar and bass are all over a lot of Andrew Weatherall remixes and releases from a few years ago. What was working with Andrew like? What memories do you have of him? What’s your favourite remix/ production you worked on with Andrew?

Duncan: When Andrew invited me to play on some remixes it came at a very crucial time in my life. I had been made redundant from the work I was doing in TV and film post production, and could not find another job. Andrew really helped me get through that time firstly by encouraging me and then helping me to set up the label, and then by inviting me to play on some remixes. The first one was his rework of Craig Bratley's Obsession where he asked me to add some punk-funk scratchy guitar. It was a lot of fun working with him and Tim Fairplay at the Bunker in Scrutton Street, and my playing seemed to fit well with the Asphodells sound. I ended up playing on maybe half a dozen remixes until the eviction from Scrutton Steet drew a line under that. The cool thing was that Andrew really encouraged me to "play the sound" - it wasn't about being a great guitarist (which is just as well because I am, at best, average), it was about using the guitar and effects as a sound source, and that has influenced my playing ever since. My personal favourites from those remix sessions are Emiliana Torrini's "Speed of Dark" and Rock Section's "Dayglo Maradonna" which, as many of you will know, is Julian Cope. If someone had told my younger self that one day I would end up playing guitar on an Andrew Weatherall remix of Moby I would not have believed it.

[coincidentally, this Andrew remix of Emilia Torrini's Speed Of Dark was spun by Mark from Rude Audio when we were DJing at The Golden Lion last weekend so Duncan picking it to feature here is a nice touch] 

Bagging Area: What else is going on outside tici taci? You seem to have a few projects on the go, the dubtastic Hardway- Monkton remixes and Sons Of Slough are about to return I believe….

Duncan: Since we lost Andrew, Sean Johnston and I have grown a lot closer and after some initial dabblings we really found our collaborative voice with the Hardway meets Monkton remixes. Uptown for Dub, Downtown for Disco. I think we've both learned a lot from each other and I think it's fair to say we've produced some pretty decent remixes and collaborations over the last three years, including last year's "Enjoy the Day" for Phil Kieran and Green Velvet. We keep talking about compiling our best work for release on a limited edition CD but we've not managed to make that a reality yet. Soon come. We've also had the opportunity to DJ together with 4 decks and effects (what we call "the uptown thing") and I'm hoping we get to do a bit more of that. And yes, the Sons of Slough are indeed a working unit once again. After we returned to the studio a couple of years ago (for the mini album "Bring me Sunshine") we did the tribute to Andrew as IWDG ("In A Lonely Place") and then thought we would retire the Sons of Slough brand but continue under a different name, however.... We have been encouraged out of retirement by the offer of some live work. We thought long and hard about it but, I think I the cat is out of the bag on this one, we are going to be playing some live shows together for the first time in 18 years. I can't say too much more at this stage but we've been rehearsing and it is all systems go.

[again, coincidentally, I had a conversation with Ian Weatherall in The Golden Lion on Sunday about Sons Of Slough playing live last weekend- more news when we get it]

That's the interview. Now I'm handing over the rest of this post to Duncan...

Tici Taci Decade Volume One

The ten year anniversary of the label is the first time I'd considered putting out a various artists compilation, so I went back through the archive to choose my personal favourites. It's very Duncan Gray heavy, this release, because initially that's what the label was for - to put out my own tracks. There will be three more compilations coming this year and the artist roster gets way more diverse the further we go. But for now, here are my favourites from the first two and a bit years of Tici Taci's history.

Duncan Gray - Electric Plum (2023 remaster)

Electric Plum was the first release on tici taci - initially it was vinyl only and came with a remix from Kieran Holden. The original vinyl cut wasn't so great so this version has been freshly remastered by Rich Lane in 2023. It's never sounded so good.

Duncan Gray -  Lychee (2023 mixdown and remaster)

The original version of Lychee was the first thing of mine that I heard Andrew play at an ALFOS, back in 2013. Tim Dorney (of Flowered Up and Republica fame) put in an extraordinary effort for his remix which, I think it's fair to say, may have been overlooked by the tici taci faithful. Employing the services of Republica drummer Conor Lawrence, Tim turbocharged the original and has done a fresh mixdown from the original multitrack for this 2023 remaster by Rich Lane.

Future Bones - What U Want

I couldn't believe it when Leo and Stephen of Future Bones agreed to let me put out their first EP on tici taci. All three tracks are absolute gems, and this low-slung groover is probably the most sparkling of all. Signing Future Bones to the label really cemented my belief in what I was doing and if they made any more tracks together I would put them out in a heartbeat.

Will Piecey - Jolt

Will's Jolt was the first outside signing to tici taci, although it was released after the Future Bones EP, I am eternally grateful to Will for putting his faith in my fledgling label. This track was championed by Ewan Pearson which was another much appreciated show of support.

Future Bones - Pain Killer (Duncan Gray remix)

Future Bones' second remix and probably the first of my own remixes that I was truly proud of. Initially it was released as a "tici taci remix" before I realised that was pointlessly modest.

Mr Cogs - Wizard Prang

Mr Cogs was my nom de plume for stuff which was a bit more techno sounding. Again, the whole alias thing didn't last long and I hardly listened to this since release, but when exploring the back catalogue for lost gems I was delighted to find out just how chunky this one sounded.

Future Bones - Dirty Profit (Mr Cogs remix)

Another tough sounding remix under the Mr Cogs moniker. Easy to get a decent remix when the source material is so strong.

Duncan Gray - Chugboat (Rich Lane remix)

The first of the bona fide ALFOS classics. Rich Lane set the standard with this one. It still sounds great, I played it at AW60 in Glasgow and it still rocks the boat.

Duncan Gray - Slidden (Club Bizarre remix)

A remix of a track which never got released, but this magnificent rework from Philippe and Sam became another ALFOS winner upon release. There's some great video of Andrew and Sean playing it in Leeds with some amazing projected visuals.

Tronik Youth - Suicide Doors (Inaigo Vontier remix)

Nein and tici taci were both founded in 2013 and Neil and I exchanged tracks for each other's labels. An easy decision when Neil's original came with this head fizzing remix from Iniago Vontier.

Future Bones - Gone Again (Rich Lane remix)

The killer combination of the Bones and Rich Lane. This is so down and dirty. It just bubbles away with a huge sense of menace until it it finally kicks the doors in.

A Best Man Dead - Follow The Shoe

This acid nugget is as close as we'll ever get to a tici taci version of Winx' Higher State. Play it in a set now. It will not disappoint. A stone tici taci classic.

Kieran Holden - Parakeet

I love Kieran's work. I just wish he'd make more tunes! This is such an oddball mix of bleep and ambience, there's really nothing like it.

Iko & Gibb - Praying Mantis (Peza remix)

The first of three releases by Maxime Iko and Markus Gibb - they're all great cuts, but this one is particularly notable for being the first time I manged to persuade Peza to get on the remix roster for tici taci. Needless to say all the Peza hallmarks are there from all the way back in 2014.

Gemini Brothers - Eridu Eridu (Duncan Gray remix)

These two Romanian brothers were all over everything back in 2014 and 2015 and boy were they keen to get a track out on tici taci. When we finally found something everybody was happy with, it came out with (I think) 5 remixes. And rather immodestly I have selected my own version as a favourite because (a) I was dead pleased with how it came out (it changes direction in an unexpected manner) and (b) because it was another one that the Guv really liked.

Thank you Duncan- it's been a pleasure. 
There's a sampler mix at Soundcloud you can listen to here, an hour of premium grade machine funk and quality chug, and this is the very latest Hardway- Monkton release, an eight minute disco- dub remix of Hardway Bros Here's To The Wild


Brian said...

Nice to hear from Duncan. Thanks, Adam.

Khayem said...

A belated but very appreciative comment on a brilliant post. A big thanks to Adam, who switched me on to Duncan and tici taci in the first place. I've been back on a regular basis to pick up the latest releases.

And an equally big thanks to Duncan, not just for the top notch releases and remixes but also for the fascinating sleeve notes for tici taci Decade Volume 1...which I'd included in my Bandcamp Friday shopping haul prior to this post. It's worth every penny.

C said...

Only just caught up with this and want to say how great the Emiliana Torrini remix is, I was unaware of it and loving the original for some time it's great to hear this, thanks.

Swiss Adam said...

It's a lovely remix isn't it