Interview with Lindsay Todd

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We had a super fun chat with Lindsay Todd, the man behind legendary Firecracker, Shevchenko, Unthank and The Secred Summits, founder of The Living Mountain record shop in Edinburgh, amazing artist and graphic designer. Lindsay’s also very special for us because of his attention to the artwork, special techniques he uses in it, the passion behind every record sleeve he made.

So how are you man? Where are you at the moment?

I’m good thanks. I’m in Edinburgh, in the studio (as usual!).

Are you recording something there or drawing?

It’s not a recording studio, I leave that side of things here to the musicians. I have a print studio in Edinburgh’s Summerhall venue that also doubles as Firecracker/Unthank HQ and space for The Living Mountain shop … Tonight I’m juggling things, putting finishing touches to the Linkwood LP design, new illustration for a forthcoming Sacred Summits release and planning a road trip this weekend.

Cool! We didn’t hear nothing from you as Linkwood for quite a long time, right?

First thing I need to clear up is that I’m not Linkwood! Ha! A lot of people seem to think that for some reason. I’ve done tracks with Linkwood years ago as Linkwood Family but the entity that is Linkwood is truly a solo one, being my good friend Nick Moore and only Nick Moore! That said, I have been waiting patiently for hmmm maybe 4 years for this album! But, like most great malts the process is a long one, yeilding a fine end product.

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Sorry man! By the way Linkwood Family «Piece Of Mind» is a true masterpiece and you were involved into this. I discovered the whole Firecracker thing after Gilles Peterson Worldwide show with Moodyman where he played that 12″.

I think I remember that … Did he play Miles Away? Those tracks seem like a lifetime ago … Was a lot of fun back then though when there was a certain creative approach to sampling.

No no he played Piece Of Mind in that show after Jill Scott track. it was a perfect show. And maybe he played Miles Away on other one)

Ah, I don’t think I ever heard that!

Check it here :) if we’ll have a look on a discography of Firecracker we’ll realise that you are a perfectionist and you have a patience to wait.

Yes, sometimes. that’s probably a combination of my design pace and also the pace of the musicians! But if you also look closely then you’ll see i’ve speeded up a lot in the last 5 years. i think that was my move to London in 2009!

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And also we can see a difference in your approach to music & design in Firecracker output after Firecracker 5. Why did it change? I mean design was more into comics and music was more sample-based.

Well, I felt like we were caught in a groove with the Marvel artwork thing… Simply having a series of 10″ like the first 5 was never my aim. I also have a short attention span, tending to go off in tangents and could never sustain a similar style as a record label either in design or musical content. Those were the tools we had back then… MPC and rough and ready scans from comic books… Also, when you regularly ‘borrow’ samples or images then eventually someone will knock on your door and stop the party. In 2008 I had access to a screen print studio in Edinburgh and in 2009 in London I built my own studio from scratch… It felt right to experiment with print techniques but to retain some of the design elements from the previous comic book themes.

Really, agree with you) And as artist you have the freedom you need now. And want to admit that it was a brilliant start for the label. Firecracker was special, the artwork and music were bold and saturated. I love that early Firecracker!

Thank you. I have to give big credit to Tim Moore (Nick Linkwood’s brother) though for some of the original designs. I wanted to really make a statement… 2003 was pretty bleak for creative releases… Even the humble 10″ was pretty rare back then and it all came together in one package.

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Were you designer firstly than musician or DJ? And maybe artist is more correct word to describe)

I left art college here in 1999 with a qualification in design (screen printing was also taught on the course) but had no confidence or want for that to be my career as my degree show and portfolio was shot down by my tutors. I was lucky to even pass the course because i did some really stupid work. Talking toilet anyone? I then worked in a record shop and dj’d for years. The confidence took years to build back up as an artist.

So you were bad in screen printing and got «access to a screen print studio in Edinburgh in 2008″ quite accidentally? How did it happen? I see u as a professional in printing now. You are one of the few who are soooo serious about artwork.

I wasn’t neccessarily bad at screen printing. I just had a tendency to take the piss at college… The sort of student who drew thinly disguised cock and balls for a corporate logo… The way that graphic design and so on was taught really turned me off back then. The one place I would enjoy hanging out then was the print room. So, back in 2008 my good friend Fraser Sim had a print setup in the basement of this old 70s disused office block (you can see it in the vimeo Firecracker screenprint movie). He was kind enough to let me just get on with early experiments… The Intrusion Dubs 12″ was done there. It was so cold though! Had to wear 3 jumpers and a jacket in the winter as there was no heating. Same with the London studio actually… Was either freezing in winter or cooking in summer. So I guess I became this ‘professional’ you talk of quite by accident! Did I mention I’m also a stubborn taurus, control freak and perfectionist?

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Ahaha :))) Lindsay, what/who does inspire you as an artist nowadays? How can you describe your style? I think you are more into graphics, more into black/white or light/shadow thing than into colours.

Jeff Keen was a big discovery for me a few years ago. Weirdly, Jonny Trunk got in touch a few weeks after I had bought the GAZWRX DVD boxset to ask if I wanted to screen print a project for him of unreleased Keen music… Good synchronicity! Totally unique works but coming from a skewed view of popular culture. It’s pop art but on a mad trip. Some of Barney Bubbles’s weirder stuff I’m really into. I try not to focus too much on any artist or designer. The same with the label or direction, I think it’s good to get lost yourself and find inspiration in the ‘undergrowth’. That’s why I like the printing process, because of it’s endurance. So many weird and wonderful mistakes and eureka moments can result at from 14 hrs straight printing and coffee drinking! I haven’t got a clue what my style is… I do prefer to work in black and white but that usually translates to colour in the print process. I also have an unhealthy addiction to metallic inks, which you might have noticed.

Exactly! Do you like to improvise with something or you are starting sketch or project on a clean sheet? I mean for example that I like to start sketch or something from «googling» of something inspirational, picking bits and pieces from it and then mixing it with my own vision. I saw some links in your posters to middle age drawings (time of kings and guillotines) or some esoteric stuff in your record covers.

Yes, it depends on the project. I do spend a lot of time in the fine art library here. scanning taking photos and drawing. I usually build up some sort of collage, and do as much as possible before scanning back into photoshop. I’ll work on it some more there and then print out again, more drawing back into the image and then get the whole thing put on acetate so i can expose to screens in the studio. I work a lot with found images, mixing my own crude style of illustration to make something new that somehow goes with the music.

How many time takes the printing process? Are you doing it all by hand?

It really depends on how big the print run is. Sometimes it’s 200 sleeves which may take a day or two. My print rack holds 500 x 10″ sleeves or 300 x 12″ sleeves so I usually do a rack a day for larger projects. I did a print run for a label once that was 8000 prints, which took about 4 weeks. Yes, it’s all by hand. I’m getting this recurring back and shoulder pain funnily enough!

Tell me about Vakula? He was on the start of his career when he made an EP for you. It feels like you have a special connection with him.

We met during the myspace days. seems like so long ago now. His music has always felt so unique and it made sense to work together as his music was so rich it deserved some sort of visual compliment. it’s great to see him grow the Leleka label and his new LP ‘Journey To Arcturus’ sounds incredible. He’s always experimenting… That’s why we worked together I guess.

From what stuff did you start your record collection and what are you into at the moment? How did your taste change?

I started collecting random techno back in 1992. My friends at school were not really into that sort of stuff so I had to do the walk of shame regularly into the record shops here to get my fix. Would be stuff like Rising High, Warp, R&S and then got more into Strictly Rhythm, Tribal UK and other house stuff. I blame the Tribal Funktion guys when they opened the shop here in 1996. I’m still into all that good stuff but appreciate all weird and wonderful ‘dance’ and esoteric electronics… Jazz has always been a common thread through techno, house, disco, afro, cosmic and back again. The Living Mountain space I opened in the summer kind of reflects where my head is musically now and if customers are feeling that then it’s a bonus. If not, then I’ll have to close the door and concentrate on something else!

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And how it goes? Are there many recordshops in town?

With that kind of stuff there’s Underground Solushn still (it’s the shop I mentioned that opened in 1996). It’s always been the first place to call in for house, techno and other underground dance stuff. I’ve deliberately tried to source smaller labels and exclusive stuff that you might not find there. I work directly with a lot of the labels. i also have no need to compete with them as they’re my friends (it’s hard enough to sell records without going up against each in a small city!) It’s been really amazing… I opened in August and have a small crew of regular customers. Because the space is really small I just stock a limited amount of titles but try to get things that might have sold out elsewhere and that go under the radar with most distributors.

Hope will get there soon ;) Tell me about Sacred Summits. There are many quality reissue labels started last few years like Music From Memory, Into The Light, Dark Entries, Growing Bin, Disco Not Disco. What is the Sacred Summits’ difference, what are you focusing on in this project? What’s special?

Sacred Summits is a joint venture with Stuart Leath of Emotional Response/Rescue. We decided it would be pretty fun to dig through our collections, make new discoveries and release stuff that would not have necessarily been feasible on our own existing labels. We had speaking with Honest Jons for some time about working together so it seemed natural that they should do the exclusive distribution for the label. Again, there’s no special release schedule or agenda… We’ve gone from 80s Mexican synth psychedelia to Colin Potter solo drone stuff already. Our next release is a reissue of a Psychik Warriors Ov Gaia tape which is pretty raw tribal techno so were pretty lost in the direction of this label too haha. Hopefully, looking back in a few years it should all make sense!

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You have so many projects going at the same time, sure you should have a break from time to time) How do you like to spend free time, weekends?

I spend faaaar too much time in the studio (as certain people will confirm)! But I manage to get day release to do some gigs, play some records and meet nice people here and abroad… I never really manage to turn off from the various projects but climbing the odd Munro (Scottish mountain over 3,000 feet) helps to clear my head and give inspiration, as does a spot of field recording. A few of us are heading to some bronze-age burial sites, early dwellings and stone carvings to take some field recordings (and hopefully discover some rare single malts) as part of a joint project with Scotland’s Forestry Commision. The results of which will see a release on Firecracker in March.

Oh man sounds great!!! Thank you found some time for this chat!

Great! Really cool talking man. Thanks for inviting me!

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Check Lindsay’s website
Check Firecracker bandcamp
Check Firecracker on Soundcloud
Find Firacracker on Facebook

Words by Sasha Tessio & Artem Super Ikra
Photos by Lindsay Todd
Cover drawing by Sasha Tessio