This Will Cure You
Medical Records Is an Actual Doctor's Synth-Music Label
Dr. Troy Wadsworth is on the phone with Patrick Mimran, the French multimedia artist/businessman who headed the Lamborghini automobile company in the '70s and '80s.
He's calling because he wants to reissue Mimran's album of sinister synthesizer music, Novels for the Moons—originally cut in 1983 under the name Axxess—on the Medical Records label (www.medical-records.org).
"Why do you want to do this?" Mimran asks. "I sell it digitally and no one buys it."
"You're not understanding the current state of affairs and the huge demand," Wadsworth counters. "What's the harm? Here's the money; mail me a CD. Send me the source material. Let's do it. You're gonna get paid, regardless." Finally, Mimran relents, and Novels for the Moons will likely be coming out on the Seattle-based Medical imprint in late 2011.
The exchange captures the unusual pastime of this 37-year-old doctor from Wichita Falls, Texas, who works by day for MultiCare at Tacoma General Hospital as a hematologist and oncologist. Besides analyzing blood samples and treating malignant tumors, Wadsworth runs one of the world's preeminent record companies specializing in reissues of long-lost obscure gems in the shadowy realm of synthesizer music mostly created in the late '70s and early '80s. A cherubic dude who doesn't look like your typical synth-music nerd, Wadsworth radiates the cheerfulness of a man who spends most of his time doing exactly what he wants, absorbed in the fascinating worlds of circuit boards and cancer treatment.
Medical's official slogan is "Purveyors of classic synth, cosmic disco, wave (cold/new), and future music." Wadsworth and his scattered network of golden-eared allies—including Philadelphia's Thom Fischer and New York's Tyler Jacobsen (Medical's art director)—scan the blogosphere, record-store bins, and their own cherished memories for potential rereleases of works that occupy a quirkily decadent niche in music history.
It's rare for a medical doctor to helm such an idiosyncratic endeavor, but Wadsworth is no mere dilettante: He's had to dig extremely deep to uncover the artists and records that thus far have come out under his imprint—Deutsche Wertarbeit (Dorothea Raukes), Alexander Robotnick, Chrisma, Der Plan, and Guyer's Connection. Given his demanding profession, Wadsworth has to be viewed as more than a hobbyist; he's something of an evangelist on a mission.
"I think 'evangelical mission' is a good description," he says in the lavishly appointed stereo room (VPI turntable, Vandersteen speakers, VTL Pure Tube pre-amp, etc.) of his large Madison Valley house, which he shares with his wife, Heidi, who handles Medical's finances. "A lot of my friends are like this: We're sort of music pushers. I'm the type of person who goes to someone's house and brings music and says, 'Listen to this.' I'm not gonna give you a chance to play your own music. I have a bad habit of doing that.
"As I've met people who are into this kind of music," continues Wadsworth, who's wearing a covetable black-and-red NEU! T-shirt, "I'm always amazed how they don't know a lot of the stuff that I've just spent months unearthing. There's a big community of people who do follow this music. But I feel like there's a lot of people who don't know about it and who would love it—and often do—when they hear it.
"A lot of these records are so important to me on an emotional level, or they just have a lot of nostalgia and life experiences associated with them. Now it seems like there are a lot of labels doing this, but I've wanted to do this for about six, seven years. I've been formulating a plan. At that time there weren't that many labels doing it, so it seemed like it was really important then. Every year that I'm into this, I learn how many more amazing gems there are that nobody knows about."
Wadsworth started Medical in 2010 after two arduous, frustrating years of trying to contact artists and receiving numerous rejections. The label debuted with Deutsche Wertarbeit's self-titled LP, which originally came out in 1981 on Germany's revered Sky label. Medical immediately established itself as a major force in the underground electronic-music scene with this beautifully packaged (it's pressed on 180-gram red wax; all Medical reissues come out in vinyl-only editions of 500 to 650) version of Raukes's compositions, which rival Tangerine Dream and Cluster for expansive, emotive power and grace.
Soon after came Alexander Robotnick's Ce N'est Q'un Début, which contains the best-known track to appear on a Medical release—the international club hit and proto-electro-house classic "Problèmes d'Amour." Subsequent releases have elevated Medical to the ranks of synth-music reissue heavies like Vinyl on Demand, Minimal Wave, and Dark Entries. The element of surprise remains key to Medical's ethos, and despite the roster's relative obscurity, its output has sold well.
Wadsworth augments his Medical brand with Pop Surgery, a monthly DJ night held upstairs at the Rendezvous every first Thursday, with aid from Jason Polastri (aka Nary Guman). The duo have spread the cold- and new-wave gospel with deep, danceable cuts that transport you to a decadent European disco circa 1981, where Yello are about the most mainstream artist you'll hear all night.
Local producer/DJ Ian Scot Price, who recently spun at Pop Surgery, observes, "A generation or so back, for at least a decade, it seemed that electronic music was the new folk music of the future... Medical Records [is] keeping up the battle against the programmers, marketers, and graphic designers who are doing their damnedest to keep out the sort of wild soul and humanity that was so integral to that time in electronic-music history. All those people who complain about electronic music being soulless and nonemotive have been blindsided by the modern, ultra-polished turds thrown at them from all angles. I really believe that Troy is part of a small army attempting to keep electronic music from becoming the monster that modern forces have tried to create."
It must be odd to immerse oneself so profoundly in old music that strived to be futuristic. How much does nostalgia factor into Medical?
"There is some nostalgia linked to being a little kid and listening to the radio and hearing Human League and stuff like that," admits Wadsworth, who credits hearing Kraftwerk's Autobahn in college with setting him on a relentless quest for synth-music holy grails. "I loved that music then. There's some element of that. Once I discovered synth-based music, I just became obsessed with it. Every year it gets more obsessive. Luckily, this is the outlet.
"I'm not a musician, but it's really fun playing around with synthesizers. I have a modular synthesizer, but I don't see myself as ever having the time to develop that. So this is my way of contributing. To me, it's just as good. I don't want to be famous, but I do want to be part of this music scene."