The current, somewhat unlikely renaissance being enjoyed by the humble cassette tape has attracted its share of naysayers. However, to hear Glasgow DJ Fergus Clark talk about Ode To Pescadoria, a new mixtape he has put together to inaugurate 88T, the tape-label offshoot of Nic Tasker's London-based Whities imprint, is to have any prejudice about re-engaging with the format annihilated in a hail of gentle logic. The trend, like any other, might have some shallow adherents, but in this case it makes perfect sense, and has allowed one of the city's foremost musical brains to express itself in a way other formats wouldn't have.
“When Nic asked me to do this a few ideas for how to approach it went back and forth in my mind,” Clark, a member of the Glasgow collective 12th Isle, tells me. “I finally settled on trying to create two different atmospheres with the two different sides. I wanted them to be two interconnected narratives but also two sonic documents that would make sense if listened to alone. I like to take loose, sprawling, varied sorts of sounds and weave them together to create something that makes sense, even if only to me. Both sides of the tape were my interpretation of some faraway place each track could take me to individually, and I wanted to expand on that by putting these things together. I guess every mix I do, providing there has been no rush, tries to achieve this”
“I was talking to a friend about a mix he recorded for the blog Lullabies For Insomniacs and how strongly it resonated with me, and he spoke of the exact same thing. He recorded it as a collection of sounds he'd recently been connecting with, without any purpose in mind other than his own enjoyment, and I really think that translated when I heard it. To me those are the best sonic documents, as opposed to something which serves a function or already has an audience before the record button has been pressed. Initially my idea was to prepare two sides of dub records, interspersed with electroacoustic sounds and musique concrete, but something about knowing the purpose the recordings were going to serve made them not feel quite right. Over a period of six months or so I ended up recording multiple short thirty minute mixes for my own listening pleasure and the two I was most happy with ended up going on the tape.”
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An attempt to firmly define the music on Ode To Pescadoria would be every bit as doomed as an attempt to firmly define a music policy for 12th Isle's label and club night activities. The tape's entry on Discogs conjures images of the site's classifications robot flailing its metal arms and screaming “DOES NOT COMPUTE” in increasingly distressed Dalek-ish tones: under the “genre” heading, the site alights on “Electronic, Non-Music, Folk, World, Country”, while the “style” category descends further into the rabbit hole with “Abstract, Tribal, Dub, Ambient, Field Recording, New Age, Sea Shanties”. Clark himself sums up the overarching moods on the tape well, but the details are rightly left to the listener to discover.
“The functionality of club music is something I have always over-analysed,” he begins, “and the types of music I end up listening to most frequently, and basing my mixes on, tend to be pieces without such obvious motives. Of course there are so many interesting DJ's pushing crazy music in a club context, and on a good day that is what I would like to think I can do, but in terms of listening habits or the act of recording some kind of document of where my tastes are at, the idea of showcasing 'dance music' has always been a bit difficult.
“Ode To Pescadoria is a good example of the distance I generally like to keep from traditional dance music in a mix if I'm able to. The first side of the tape is a little darker, and is driven somewhat by rhythmical elements and a sense of tension. This was my attempt to begin the journey that I wanted my mind to take whenever I listened to it. Something that starts off with relative ease, but slowly and surely grows until something a little more ”human“ is released at the end of the recording. The last track on that side is the only piece which features traditional human vocals, at least in a uniform musical context. With side two, I wanted to create something a little more abstract, where there was no real build-up as such. This side is more calming and meditative I suppose, and each piece of music has an underlying sense of reflection and nostalgia attached to it, at least to my ears. I like to think these totally disparate sounds, from different eras, scenes and continents, can share some similar bond that transcends surface level analysis or comparison."
This level of thought, and possession of the knowledge to skillfully execute such complex aims, would be remarkable at any age, but the fact that Clark is still in his early 20s makes it all the more so. A fixture in Glasgow since his late teens, he started DJing alongside his longtime friend Gareth Roberts, of the label Domestic Exile. The pair were soon given a monthly spot behind the decks at Nice'n'Sleazy by the much-respected Fielding Hope, now of the fêted London venue Cafe OTO. That gave Clark, plus his collaborators Al White, Ruaidhri McGhee and Stewart Brown, the platform to gradually turn 12th Isle from a hobbyists' radio show into the multi-faceted parties, art and music collective it now is.
The group's parties currently take place on a bi-monthly basis at the Glasgow School of Art, with the next one happening on March 31, and the collective's Soundcloud page is an ever-expanding treasure trove of mixes by various friends and collaborators. The 12th Isle label has only charted one release so far (last summer's excellent Thoughtstream LP by Dices and AEM Rhythm Cascade), but more is imminent in the shape of an LP from Cru Servers ("a pair of Glaswegian brothers who always captivate me with their live performances"); a six-track album from a Russian artist named X.Y.R., and a three-track EP by Palta & Ti, two brothers from Aarhus in Denmark who make "lo-fi bedroom electronics with incredible emotional depth" and who are 12th Isle's guests at the Art School on March 31.
“Although the vast majority of music I find myself engaging with is not contemporary, for the moment it seems like 12th Isle will serve as an outlet for new music,” Clark says. “All of us involved with the label are confident in the fact that there are more than enough artists currently making interesting music, and we would like to help by giving them a platform to hopefully reach new audiences.”
Aside from 12th Isle, Clark also runs the night Loosen Up at Glasgow’s Rum Shack alongside two fellow floating brains in David Barbarossa and Charlie McCann. The next edition is this Saturday, and features one of the Glasgow’s most exciting electronic acts in Happy Meals. Clark has also collaborated with Optimo’s JD Twitch to put together a compilation of ambient, experimental and new-age music featuring the likes of John Hassell, X.Y.R. and Mexican synth wizard Jorge Reyes. Called Miracle Steps – Music From The Fourth World (1983-2017), it’s due in mid-April on Optimo Music and looks likely to be one of the most out-there records released anywhere in 2017.
Humility dictates that Clark politely but forcefully baulks at the suggestion that the level of his musical knowledge is anything out of the ordinary. JD Twitch, however – an undisputed world authority on these matters – has a different take. “Fergus is a force of nature,” he tells me when I ask him about the process of putting together Miracle Steps. “Collaborating with him resulted in a more rounded compilation with more light, shade and contrasts than had I put it all together myself. I know countless people with a deep and passionate love for, and knowledge of, music. But I’ve met very few who at such a tender age have dug so deep for forgotten musical treasures and new, beautiful sounds.”
Ode To Pescadoria is out now on 88T. Loosen Up is at The Rum Shack in Glasgow this Saturday, March 11. The next 12th Isle party is at Glasgow School of Art on March 31.
Tape photograph: Tony Poland