Duncan Gray Interview: Labels, Collaborations and Returning to the Dance Floor

Launching his first label, Scatalogical Records, in 1996, Duncan Gray is something of an underground warrior with a storied career that has out-lasted more flavour-of-the-month trends than you could care to remember.

After some early releases on his virgin label, in 1997 Duncan formed Sons Of Slough with Ian Weatherall, gaining a reputation as a fearsome live act that precluded a run of releases between 2001 and 2005.

Starting his current label project, Tici Taci, in 2013, the label began conspicuously, with a few demos sent to Andrew Weatherall for road testing. The music was well received, fitting perfectly into the downtempo “drug chug” milieu that Weatherall had been curating alongside Sean Johnston at their now infamous club night A Love From Outer Space. After hearing the tracks, the Guvnor was insistent that Duncan should start a new label, introducing him to Above Board Distribution who still work with the label to this day.

Duncan Gray heads up Tici Taci records

The past 8 years have seen Duncan champion a sludgy, slow-mo take on dance music that favours chuggy bass guitars and psychedelic sound palettes over software VSTs and drag and drop samples. During the pandemic, Tici Taci has hit a new stride, welcoming a raft of new artists to the roster and finding a healthy new rhythm with its releases.

Working in the industry in for over two decades, Duncan has albums, EPs, remixes and collaborations under his belt, most recently returning to collaborate with Ian Weatherall as IWDG, on a project dedicated to the memory of Ian’s brother, the late Andrew Weatherall.

Covering the New Order track In a Lonely Place, the track is accompanied by three remixes from Andrew’s close friends and collaborators and is a heartfelt tribute to the iconoclastic producer and DJ.

Ahead of his appearance at Werkhuas for the inaugural Jelly Legs event on the 24th of July, we spoke to Duncan about his career, the effect of the Pandemic on UK Club Culture, his work with Ian Weatherall and much more.

Jelly Legs will be your first live DJ set since the start of the Pandemic – how does it feel to be returning to the dance floor?

Well I’m looking forward to it, pandemic notwithstanding. The last time I had a gig was in March last year for the Evil Plans when I played alongside Rich Lane. I’m very excited to be coming back as I was none too sure people would still be interested in a veteran like me once the pandemic subsided. But in fact I have more bookings between now and December than I’d have thought possible – and all in the UK when traditionally most of my gigs have been in continental Europe.

How has the pandemic influenced your music/your DJing?

Musically it’s been a time of collaboration for me – after we lost our dear friend Andrew, Sean Johnston and myself have plunged headlong into collaborative remixing and this has been the most enjoyable aspect of production during lockdown. Starting with Sean’s remix of Coyote’s Sun Culture it has become quite a focal point for both of us – and we’ve done around a dozen remixes together since then. I’ve lost count.

Other than that, I finished off production on my own album (The Malcontent Volume 2) and continued to produce tracks at home whenever time / inspiration allowed. Again, I am hugely indebted to Brother Johnston for road testing so many of these tracks during his EBS broadcasts. Andrew W was so supportive of my stuff and used to road test a huge amount of my tracks, and when we lost him I thought I might as well pack it all in. I really did. But Sean absolutely helped me keep it all alive and boosted my interest in production. On the DJ side of things, I’ve done a few mixes for people over the last year or so, plus one or two just for shits and giggles. These can be found via links on the Tici Taci soundcloud page.

Tici Taci was established in 2013 and your career in music goes all the way back to ’96; as someone who’s been in music for so long, how do you perceive the effect of the pandemic on UK nightlife/club culture?

That’s a difficult question to answer – I really have no idea what the long-term effect will be, but it will be interesting to see how it unfolds. In a broad sense, this is the first break UK Club Culture has had in over three decades. That in itself is astounding – that club culture has sustained and renewed itself so many times during that period. We never think things can change until they do, and I’m not sure how this will pan out.

Let’s not forget how tough this has been for club owners and promoters, agents and other professionals associated with nightclubs. I can understand how they are all keen to get things back to normal but the fact is a nightclub is probably THE worst place for spreading a virus. I hope everybody can stay safe. Never mind the conspiracy bollocks, if you can do something to help keep your fellow clubbers safe (ie, lateral flow testing) then you should.

Tici Taci has maintained a steady run of releases since its conception; how have you curated and retained the character of the label over the years?

I feel fortunate. It’s not a humblebrag to say that I’ve been lucky to have good people around me making decent tunes. I will take credit for curating the sound of the label though. During the 8 years that the label has existed I have run hot and cold with it a number of times. It was especially difficult when streaming took over from download sales – it seemed almost pointless – but thanks to the support of so many great people I kept it going, refined the sound of the label, got a bit more choosy about what was released, asked the label artists to become exclusive to Tici Taci, and helped steer those producers towards something which I could see as the best versions of themselves (as I saw it).

That’s not always easy because it sometimes means getting people to go back over their work dozens of times before it really sounds as good as it can be. In the end I think most of the producers on Tici Taci would agree that it’s worked out for the best.

Duncan Gray with Andrew Weatherall

The label seems to have been particularly busy during 2020 and 2021; how has the pandemic affected your work with the label?

I think we all took a kind of “heads down” approach. The label artists mostly found themselves with a bit more time on their hands and I actively encouraged them to get as much finished as possible. In addition, I started a Bandcamp page to release all those “lost in space” tracks of mine – ones which Andrew and Sean had road tested but had been squeezed out of the main label schedule. Having so many good producers to release meant that I wasn’t able to get enough of my own tracks out there.

The other big change for Tici Taci was that we’ve started to release limited edition CDs. I have to give Chris Massey credit for nudging me into doing this, following a conversation I had with him at Beatherder in 2019. So we started with Lloyd Jones’ debut album as The Long Champs. Lloyd had released 4 Eps with the label and I knew he had a lot of tracks that were almost finished,

so we hatched a plot to do a full length album. None of us were sure how the CD format would go, but it turns out it’s still a viable format – especially for use in the car. Plus it’s lossless, so nobody complains about it being data compressed.

Since then we’ve done whole albums for my Albanian friend Lindi Hoxha (Uj Pa Gaz), Bob Salmond (Mr BC) who I was delighted to finally persuade to become a permanent fixture on the label, the “2020” remix CD compilation, the double-pack of my Malcontent albums, and Jack Butters’ album with his Dad Terry. On top of that there was a very limited CD single of Jann Dahle’s Fjordfunk project – “It’s all Black”.

Lockdown also saw the release of Martin Eve’s terrific “Night Train” EP with Jon Fugler on vocals, the two tracker from Rude Audio and Dan Wainright, my collaboration with Peza (as Mystic Thug), and the latest Boy Division track which is due out in a week or two. There were also 10 (yes, 10) extra Bandcamp singles from me released during that time. So yes, a busy period. All of this can be found and tracked down via the very natty Tici Taci website which Martin Eve built. That’s www.ticitaci.com

What’s in store for Tici Taci in the near future?

Between now and the end of the year the release schedule includes Boy Division’s “Chronicles of the Cosmic Disco parts VII and VIII”, an EP from Sons of Slough (see below), a limited edition CD with all the Hardway Brothers meets Monkton Uptown remixes, and if I have the energy to get everything finished there will also be another album from me. Couple of other potential releases lurking in the background, but I can’t tell you too much about them until they are totally in the bag, so to speak.

We are also putting on our first ever Tici Taci event – the Tici Taci Uptown Thing – at the Old Court in Windsor, Berkshire. This is on 4th September, and will feature Sean and myself Djing together for the first time, with able support from Scott and Miles Hutchinson (Feed Your Head) and Neil Barker who will be entertaining folks in the bar from start to finish.

In A Lonely Place is a tribute to the late Andrew Weatherall, who you collaborated with on a number of projects including releasing on his Bird Scarer imprint and remixing his original music – how did the idea for the release come about?

This was Ian Weatherall’s idea from start to finish. I would have been delighted to have just engineered and produced it for Ian but he was insistent that we shared the credit. Not long after he lost his brother Ian proposed the idea – he knew what he wanted from this track right away. My initial contribution was do give it the dub feel, playing the low bass part, but as things progressed Ian asked me to replicate Hooky’s bass part and I added some of my trademark “Pink Wray” guitar. Ian asked the members of New Order for their blessing and they were all very supportive – especially Hooky who said he would have played the bass himself if we’d asked!

As for the other mixes, Ian wanted to include versions from some of the other people Andrew had worked closely with, and the end results are magnificent. Sean really put the ALFOS [A Love From Outer Space] sound on his version, Keith’s epic Low-era synth version is spine tingling, and David Holmes went the whole way and recorded vocals for his rework which utterly captures the chill of the original track. For the record let me say what an absolute gentleman David is – he’s gone above and beyond with his support for this release and many other things surrounding the loss of our dear friend, including those brilliant mixes he did for NTS (Songs that Andrew Weatherall Taught Us).

In a Lonely Place is originally a cover of a New Order track; what was the significance of the original piece?

Ian and Andrew were massive fans of both Joy Division and New Order, and this track spans the transition between the two bands as they lost Ian Curtis. The brothers used to follow New Order around on tour and the band was very special to both of them. It’s a dark and foreboding track without a doubt, yet somehow these versions put a positive spin on the original tune – becoming more uplifting than I’d have thought possible. The vinyl was released on RSD2 (17th July) and I think it’s already sold out in most places.

Some notes on Duncan from his late friend Andrew Weatherall

The track has an incredibly lush sonic palette – what was the writing and recording process like?

I did a little pre-production (programming any midi sequences that we might use, melodies from the original track), then Ian joined me in the studio for two days. It came together fairly quickly as Ian had a clear vision of what he wanted to do with it, and the sounds he felt were appropriate. We raided the Sons of Slough vault for some of our unique textures and atmospheres, added the small amount of vocal, then the melodica.

The Hooky bass part was one of the last things we added – in a rather serendipitous fashion, the bass guitar itself (A Rickenbacker 4001 replica) was something I’d been waiting for to be delivered for two months and it arrived at the studio literally 5 minutes before it was needed for the Hooky part.

You’ve previously worked with Ian as Sons of Slough and recently as IWDG; are there any plans for you to collaborate further in the future?

Yes…definitely. Prior to everything going off the rails in 2020, Ian and I had spent a few sessions together creating some new tracks. Having done a remix or two in the previous year (one for Shunt Voltage and one for Meat Katie) we found the whole experience enjoyable so we put some time aside to see what we could come up with.

I think we ended up with 6 or 8 tracks from these sessions and were intending to release them on tici taci in 2020, but as we all know things went a bit sideways. Anyway, the upshot is that we’re going to be releasing a 3 track EP on Tici Taci before the end of the year, one of which will have a remix. After that we may draw a line under the name “Sons of Slough” but continue to collaborate under the IWDG tag. Working together isn’t quite as easy as it used to be as Ian has moved away to Norfolk now, and I still live in lovely Slough.

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