Since 2004 the Edinburgh based label Firecracker has specialised in oddball house, techno and uncommon electronics. It is managed by Lindsay Todd, who also runs two sub labels called Shevchenko and Unthank. He is also the founder of The Living Mountain record shop in Edinburgh as well as a recording artist, DJ and amazing graphic designer. The roster of Firecracker and its sub divisions consists of such illustrious artists such as Linkwood, Fudge Fingas, Lord Of The Isles, Italian Healing Force Project, Ukrainian house and beyond wunderkind Vakula, Intrusion (who is also known as one half of the Detroit/Chicago-based duo Echospace), Italian producer Panoram or London based producer Holovr and recently added Les Graciés amongst others. Todd is also part of it and releases alone as House of Traps or as part of the duo Linkwood Family. He originally started Firecracker out of boredom and to pay homage to his influences like Detroit techno, disco, psychedelic, Jazz and Chicago house. Today his record company and its sub labels are highly respected in the outernational dance scene. Moving beyond music culture for timeless releases and cover artworks, they point out how special the vinyl format and it’s packaging still is today. For Carhartt WIP Radio the man from Scotland prepared a mix that travels to his label catalogue and features old and soon to be released stuff. He was also so kind to answer us some questions on his work, his hometown, artistic influences, future plans and some other passions.
Hey Lindsay, can you shortly introduce yourself to us?
Lindsay Todd: Hi, I’m Lindsay Todd, sometimes known as ‘House Of Traps’ for musical and artist efforts. I live and work in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Before you launched Firecracker you worked in a record store. How did this work encourage you do launch a label?
Lindsay Todd: I worked in Edinburgh’s Underground Solush’n between 2000 and 2004. I’d pretty much been part of the furniture (whether they wanted me or not) since they opened in 1995 and naturally went from one side of the counter to the other. I managed to pick up contacts in labels and distribution while working there, I saw what people were buying and what I was passionate about selling to people. You have to remember back then there was very few visually creative labels or releases. This served as a catalyst to release our own work with unique packaging.
Firecracker has two sub-labels called Shevchenko and Unthank. Can you tell us a bit about both? Why sub-labels? And what makes them unique?
Lindsay Todd: Shevchenko is now in cold-storage for the time being. In it’s active years, it served as an outlet for Vakula’s vast output (hence the name and associated imagery) and also fitted the mood for a few tracks from Lord Of The Isles and Linkwood. Now simply I have too many other projects on the go and Shevchenko is the cryopreservation guinea pig. ‘Never say never’ though … It might reappear again.
For Unthank, I always had the idea for it to run as a parallel universe with Firecracker. After reading the book Lanark by Alasdair Gray in 2008 I was inspired to name the label Unthank (which is the nightmarish parallel city to Glasgow) in order to open the door to weirder, ‘dance tracks’. The design and packaging has been fun too, gradually evolving from a circular, screen-printed form on 10” to multiple colour ways, zeotropic illustrations and even hand die cut special editions.
Fudge Fingas, Linkwood, Vakula, Panoram, Lnrdcroy: the artists roster of your label is mostly rotating around the same producers. How come? And how do you search for new talents?
I lot of the artists on the labels are close friends, or have become friends over the course of our working together. I’m a firm believer in chance and serendipitous meeting and it has to feel right with an artist in order to enter into a creative exchange of art and music. Lots of different folk get into the ‘business’ or ‘scene’ for different reasons but I prefer to enjoy the slow journey, meeting new and inspirational musicians and artists that come into orbit, sometimes permanently or sometimes for a brief time.
Firecracker release a lot of screen-printed cover art works. How important are the non-musical components of your releases, ie. packaging and album art in your opinion?
Lindsay Todd: In the beginning, it was the ace card and I’m lucky enough (I think) to have kept that up, trying new techniques and methods to package the records. I think people have come to expect a Firecracker release to be fairly out-there and lavish in it’s packaging and appearance. Cautious about being ‘put in a box’ I’m always experimenting with a new way to print or package, mixing with fabrics, wood, plastics and paints. I’ve gradually realised though that through all this experimentation and manual work that I’ve been building myself some sort of weird box (not a good one), working mad hours on multiple projects, not getting enough sleep and stressing about deadlines and money; the usual shit. Near the end of 2014 I was introduced to Al White who is part of Glasgow’s 12th Isle collective. Since last year he has been a big help and integral part of the running of the studio, inspirational in what he also brings to design collaborations and has also allowed the load to be shared and given me the chance to focus on new projects. My back has taken some damage from aix years of screen-printing so Al also handles most of the physical printing these days.
I’m a firm believer in chance and serendipitous meeting and it has to feel right with an artist in order to enter into a creative exchange of art and music.
What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments in your label?
Lindsay Todd: Obviously our first release in 2004. It marked the start of the journey and listening back today I’m very proud to have put out music considered to be timeless and ‘classic’. This, in turn is very humbling and inspiring. The Mac-Talla Na Creag 2xLP which was released in 2015 was a huge fork in the road for the label. Having hinted at more primal, deconstructed pieces in past releases this one really opened the door for future directions. It managed to combine so many areas that we, as a group of musicians, archeologists and artists were interested to explore. In addition, this release was firmly influenced by that expansive, mountainous, highland sound that seems to encapsulate every Firecracker release. It really was a dream project and hopefully will open many more doors to the cosmos.
How do you keep your work fresh and continue to evolve?
Lindsay Todd: Mainly by not paying too much attention to what anyone else is doing. I hope my own experience and learning forms the vast part of the illustration and design process. It’s certainly not possible to be 100% original but by constantly re-digesting and recycling your own work I think it’s possible to work at least on the fringes of todays trends and create something fresh. Also not being tied to being a ‘screen printer’ per sé - I like to think of the screen-printing as a conduit for creativity. I’ve not found another process that will replace it so far but if that did come along I’d have no qualms about changing my practice. That said, I was recently blown away by working with an industrial scale laser cutting machine. The possibilities there and with 3D printing are pretty endless. And in all honesty, I’ll admit to being an amateur in so many fields of design, print and music but I think it’s what keeps my enthusiasm. We also operate in an ever-changing industry. For instance, a pressing plant may suddenly increase prices or change their turn around times. This means I might have to use another plant with different sleeve and label materials resulting in a different looking product at any time. But I’m glad of these changes because it means it forces me to change direction when I might have become lazy. What am I rambling on about??
On what future projects for your labels are you working on now?
Lindsay Todd: 2xLP from Les Graciés, an experimental duo consisting of French artist Gaël Segalen and Afrikan Sciences, who has released music on Aybee's Deepblak and PAN. They've been collaborating and performing together for the last four years and describe the album as a "polyrhythmic and hypnotic groove, experimental beats free of tempo and meter.” If all goes smoothly, we have a live album launch show by them planned in a totally unique, remote space in Scotland at the end of August. Excited to have a new six track EP from Lord Of The Isles due in September. There’s a new Unthank this month from Max D and Morgan Buckley followed by the next Unthank by Mystic Jungle Tribe member Whodamanny plus two new EPs from Linkwood in October/November. We’re soon to be working on another project with The Scottish Forestry Commission and also on a follow-up to the Mac-Talla Nan Creag project for 2017.
Also a pretty big collaboration with a hardware company due to announce this year. Can’t say more than that!
Can you remember where you first started DJing and the kind of music you were playing?
Lindsay Todd: I started DJing at house parties in 1995 when I was 19. Back then I was playing house and techno. I was influenced by DJs like Derrick Carter, Sneak, Mark Farina, Cajmere, Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Plastikman, DJ Skull, Gemini, Ian Pooley; all of whom either played at Edinburgh clubs like Tribal Funktion or Pure. Also local DJs such as George T, Simone, Twitch & Brainstorm & Dribbler, Andy Williams, Gareth Sommerville and Colin Cook were hugely influential to me in the mid to late 90s.
Which of your own productions are you most proud of?
Lindsay Todd: I’ve never done any solo productions to date as I’ve always worked in collaboration with Linkwood. But, that said Miles Away was really something to work on. Lots of learning and also great times in the summer of 2003 with Nick (Linkwood), Joseph Malik and Colin Steele all in the studio. All of these early EPs are also being re-issued this month.
How are you discovering new music these days?
Lindsay Todd: Through the usual digital rabbit hole - a bottle of wine and the youtube/discogs vortex, multiple online record store mailouts, taking time to visit local record shops (and any on my travels) and very lucky to get sent plenty of new vinyl and digital promos.
Do you think that Edinburgh has had a strong influence on your work, both as a musician and a label manager?
Lindsay Todd: Absolutely. I’ve tried to escape twice (once to Madrid and once to London) but I ultimately end up back in Edinburgh. Although these days it’s relatively safe and unadventurous in comparison to the creative scene and nightlife of Glasgow, it’s where my label colleagues and I had our club experiences many years ago (and still do) that helped shape the label today. Having also lived in two intense cities, I value the cheap rent, clean air and network of pals here above all else. Edinburgh used to be referred to as The Athens Of The North in the 1700s because of it’s sense of achievement during the Scottish Enlightenment and also it’s geographical similarities and we even have our own (unfinished) version of The Acropolis on Calton Hill. Those positive chapters and also the much darker episodes of the Old Town seem to be absorbed into the fabric of the city and make up a very melancholic yet inspiring place to live and work. It’s also really convenient to jump in a car and be in the Scottish Highlands in two hours! Pity that Edinburgh Council are a bunch of bungling crooks though.
It’s certainly not possible to be 100% original but by constantly re-digesting and recycling your own work I think it’s possible to work at least on the fringes of todays trends and create something fresh
How did you select the tracks for your Carhartt WIP Radio show?
Lindsay Todd: I tried to do something chronological but found that was a bit weird. Just went loose with that bottle of wine in the end, trying to match some moods and vibes … there’s loads of unreleased stuff in there as well.
What are three albums that you'll absolutely never get tired of listening to?
Lindsay Todd: Currently …
What was the last track that sent shivers up your spine?
Lindsay Todd: "Beatha" by Lord Of The Isles.
What was your dream job as a child?
Lindsay Todd: I wanted to be a farmer, like my father. Then I wanted to be a truck driver after watching the film Convoy.
Where is heaven on earth for you?
Lindsay Todd: North Fife coast in Scotland. It’s where I grew up as a child and where I plan to return to live within the next ten years.
If you could spend a night partying with any of your icons, who would it be?
Lindsay Todd: Alasdair Gray.
What ethos / motto do you try to live your life by?
Lindsay Todd: I think Tony Soprano says it best when talking to Junior.
Remember the story you told me about the father bull talking to the son. They're up on this hill and looking down on a bunch of cows. And the son goes to the father, "Dad, why don't we run down there and fuck one of these cows?" Now do you remember what the father said? Father says, "Son, why don't we walk down there and fuck them all?"
What book is currently lying on your bedside cabinet?
What are three places in Edinburgh that you recommend visitors not to miss out?
1. Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags. If you’ve only got two hours in Edinburgh then this is what I recommend. Incredible views of the city and it’s free. Serious hike though which will work off the night before!
2. Modern Art Gallery & Dean Gallery. Two galleries for the price of one! They’re situated next to each other and have amongst other things have works by surrealists such as Joan Miró and Dali, contemporary Scottish artists like Charles Avery and Rachel MacLean, a full-scale reproduction of Paolozzi’s studio, landscaping by Charles Jencks and the best cakes in Edinburgh.
3. Forsyth’s Tearoom. Just off the Royal Mile, down a wee ‘wynd’ lies Edinburgh’s best kept cake secret (can you see a theme here?). An experience akin to ‘visiting granny’ that every visitor should have. The old lady who runs it loves a blether, does all her own home baking and can be seen regularly shaking her broom at the ‘junkies that clog up the doorway’.