In the new Issue of Dazed, the Minimal Wave label head speaks to us about modern music, DIY performances and her biggest synth heroes
Reissuing long-forgotten dusty gems of obscure early 80s synth experimentalism, Veronica Vasicka’s Minimal Wave imprint is one of the most intriguing underground music portals in the world. Characterised by DIY performances, raw electronic sounds and a punk attitude, over the last seven years Vasicka’s compilations, mixes and East Village Radio show have helped expose hitherto unheralded artists such as Das Ding, Turquoise Days, Oppenheimer Analysis, Felix Kubin and Hard Corps to a new generation.
The ultimate success is to incorporate the influences of the past into something and take it beyond, take it one step further
A self-confessed “musical detective” who spends all her spare time tracking down the creators of these rare, usually European, masterpieces, this month Vasicka releases The Minimal Wave Tapes: Volume 2 in collaboration with Stones Throw Records.
Dazed & Confused: Was minimal wave a direct reaction to glossy 80s synth-pop?
Veronica Vasicka: I don’t think it was a direct response to what was happening in pop music, it just had to do with the newfound respectability of using synthesisers. The majority of the artists weren’t expressing frustration, they were just expressing themselves and the period. It was purely an artistic mission. I don’t think people were playing and recording to become pop stars. They were self-expressing.
D&C: Did they regard themselves as punks?
Veronica Vasicka: Some of them, definitely. They were making weird sounds that weren’t acceptable yet. In a way it was completely punk because it was new and it didn’t really reach pop until later on. It was a new form of expression. A lot of these people actually knew each other through zines – people from around the world would connect through zine collections.
D&C: I love how Ohama introduces his song by saying, ‘I am Ohama and I live on a potato farm in western Canada’...
Veronica Vasicka: Yeah! His parents were potato farmers, originally from Japan. The way he discovered synthesisers was on his way to judo class – he saw a synth in the window and just became obsessed with having one. I think at first Ohama was feeling very lonely and felt the need to express himself. In many cases these artists felt some sort of isolation and wanted to reach out and touch other artists. I just love the idea of a cassette taking weeks to get to a destination and then another few weeks to get back.
D&C: Do you think modern music suffers from a lack of expectation?
Veronica Vasicka: Everything is instantaneous, but in that time it was just the mail and I feel that is reflected in the music. It is a slower process, very handmade – the human error is apparent in the music. You can hear that it is not perfect, which I think is a lot of the problem with music today. With computers and the fact that people can create music in a way that is instantaneous and perfect, I think it becomes problematic.
D&C: When you started going through these records did you feel a hint of sadness that these bands didn’t receive the recognition that they deserved?
Veronica Vasicka: I did think, ‘How can all of this been overlooked? There is just so much of it!’ Sometimes they were just doing music as a hobby and they didn’t feel the need to go beyond releasing a few tapes. For others a lot of it had to do with a lack of market for the music. It is difficult music and not always so easy to digest and so, in relation to what was happening to music at the time, mainstream pop was like candy in comparison. Perhaps if the internet had existed at that time they might have had more of a chance.
D&C: Do you find the amateur aspect of the records a big part of their appeal?
Veronica Vasicka: I love that there is often a lack of self-consciousness that occurs with these artists – that they aren’t thinking about the audience, they’re just making this stuff for themselves. It is totally endearing. It definitely charms me. The connection between the listener and the creator is more immediate – you can just imagine
Ohama on his potato farm recording his music, and he is announcing, ‘This is what I do, take it or leave it.’
D&C: Is it possible for musicians these days to create an authentic minimal-wave sound without coming off as a pastiche?
Veronica Vasicka: Oh yeah, for sure. I think the ultimate success is to have those influences and incorporate them in music and make the result go a step further. To go beyond retro, and make something very now and new even if those influences are there. There is a problem when a band sounds exactly like a band from 1983 – that is just boring. The ultimate success is to incorporate the influences of the past into something and take it beyond, take it one step further.
D&C: Do you regard yourself as an archivist or a musical detective?
Veronica Vasicka: A musical detective, for sure. A lot of the music was lost to particular places and locations. There’s a band called Aural Indifference from Melbourne in Australia on The Minimal Wave Tapes: Volume 2. He only made 30 copies of that tape, just 30 copies! I met his girlfriend by accident and it was such a surreal coincidence the way it happened. He went home and found a copy of the original master-tape in his parents’ basement and brought it to my show on East Village Radio. He was shocked anyone knew about it. In some ways it is such a small world as the people that have been collecting this stuff are connected, so in this underground way the connection already exists. Once people know what you are into, then they will make recommendations.
D&C: Are you surprised at how this sound has caught on?
Veronica Vasicka: Yeah, especially because it is kind of like outsider music, and with outsider music you never know how the public will respond. It’s important not to think too hard about it, to just go with my intuition for this kind of band or project, and that is what I have been doing since the beginning: going with what I think needs to be heard.
I don’t feel like I’m living in the past, the music was just made there. The music was fully realised but its existence and purpose in this world was incomplete and so I am completing it
D&C: Has there ever been any rivalry between you and other minimal and cold-wave collectors? Do you ever race to get a rare tape?
Veronica Vasicka: I don’t feel it, I don’t think so. I really feel like this world is limitless. There is always another band and always another amazing tape. If someone else puts it out first that’s fine, there’s a lot more where that comes from. It is a bottomless pit of music.
D&C: How much minimal wave do you actually own – tapes and vinyl?
Veronica Vasicka: I got rid of a lot of records. Now I think I have 2,500 records and like, 450 tapes.
D&C: What do people think when you get in touch and say, ‘I want to put out a record you made 30 years ago’?
Veronica Vasicka: The general reaction is, ‘How the hell do you know about my music?’ or, ‘You really want to release that?! The music that I didn’t take seriously?’ Or, ‘Do what you want with it.’ Sometimes these artists don’t want to take it further and don’t want their music to be out there beyond the format that it’s in because it’s a reminder of a time that was maybe not the best in their lives. It just happens sometimes – they didn’t push it at the time so why would they want to push it now? It happens.
D&C: When this music first appeared there was massive unemployment and financial ruin around the world, and we are seeing the same again these days. Do you think bleak times foster the most radical musical creativity?
Veronica Vasicka: Yes, there is certainly a parallel between what was happening economically during that time, the late 70s and early 80s, and what came out of it in terms of music, what people created during that time of struggle. I also think that’s another reason why people are attracted to this music once again, because we are living in a similar economic climate. I think there is a connection there. Great music and creativity always emerge out of times of struggle.
D&C: Do you ever feel like you are living in the past?
Veronica Vasicka: No, I feel like I get obsessed with the past sometimes but in this case the music wasn’t given a platform in the past – yes, it was made in 1982, but how many people actually heard it? Not many. It just existed in a vacuum. I don’t feel like I’m living in the past, the music was just made there. The music was fully realised but its existence and purpose in this world was incomplete and so I am completing it.
VERONICA VASICKA’S SYNTH HEROES
Delia Derbyshire - When she was only four, Delia said “the radio was my education”, a statement I can completely relate to. She’s best known for her electronic realisation of Ron Grainer’s theme for Doctor Who (1962) and for further pioneering work with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
Conrad Schnitzler - A prolific German experimentalist who approached synthesisers unconventionally, and whose music was in many ways a precursor to industrial music.
Hard Corps - Incredible UK band that I especially admire for their drum sounds, which were all handmade by triggering analogue synths rather than using drum machines.
Claudio Simonetti / Goblin and John Carpenter - Both are huge inspirations for their dark, gritty atmospheric soundtracks that massively influenced electro and the darker side of dance music.
Photography Maurizio Bavutti
This interview is taken from the April issue of Dazed & Confused
The latest Minimal Waves Vol. 2 Compilation is out now
Unknown Artist - Orgelns Fodelse - V/A Orgelvärk - Minimal Wave
Felix Kubin - Agitabo - Teenage Tapes - Minimal Wave
Antonym - Return To Normal - Time Passes In Dynamic Culture - Downwards
Streetwalker - Untitled - Future Fusion - Cititrax
Vex Ruffin - Ano Bang Gusto Mo - TBA - Stones Throw
I.M.S. - Nonline - I.M.S. - I.M.S.
Hard Corps - Dirty - The Minimal Wave Tapes: Vol 2 - Stones Throw
Innergaze - Moon In My Room - Mutual Dreaming - Cititrax
The KVB - Leaning - Always Then - Clan Destine
Sandra Electronics - It Slipped Her Mind - Untitled 10" - Downwards