Veronica Vasicka (Minimal Wave label)
Veronica Vasicka is the founder and manager of the Minimal Wave record label in New-York. She became famous by unearthing lost tapes and forgotten vinyl records from the 70s and 80s and by giving them a second life on vinyl. Her passion goes mainly for obscure European artists and bands who pioneered synth-wave and synth-pop with minimal means, mostly analogue synths, drum machines and tape recorders. Like a true archaeologist, she unveiled pure gems like, Oppenheimer Analysis' ‘The Devil's Dancers’. The name of her label has now become a musical genre, "Minimal Wave", and her influence has been instrumental for the revival of analogue synth music in the last few years. Our editor Phil Blackmarquis caught up with her in Brussels, where she was spinning records at a party organized by Les Ateliers Claus.
Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: Hello, Veronica! What are the news at Minimal Wave? I saw you were doing something with the guy from CABARET VOLTAIRE, Richard H. Kirk?
Veronica Vasicka [VV]: Yeah, it's a four song EP. I'll play some tonight. It's really incredible stuff. Some from '79, from '82 and from '87. The one from '82 is a complete blueprint of CABARET VOLTAIRE, for the way he would set up his equipment, the drum machines and synths. You can hear it in the song: it has the CABARET VOLTAIRE sound.
RoD: And what about your own compositions? When are you going to release something? It's so secret! (laughs)
VV: It's not really. It's just that there's so much material. Before I started the label, I was recording my stuff all the time. So, it's just about organizing things. But there are some recordings from 1999 that will come out later this year on another label, Downwards, from the UK.
RoD: Is it going to be a full LP?
VV: No, just a few songs.
RoD: Do you have a title yet?
RoD: No scoop! (laughs)
VV: It's a little more atmospheric, industrial weirdness, with effected vocals.
RoD: Are you singing on it?
VV: Yes. I was going through my archives and my boyfriend, who runs Downwards (note: Regis aka Karl O’Connor), said: "Hey, what is this?" He thought it was from now and I said "No, it's old stuff from 1999". He said: "That's exactly what we should put out right now". It doesn't make a lot of sense for me right now.
RoD: For you, because it's old. It was another person who did it. (laughs)
VV: Yes, exactly.
RoD: You don't recognize what you did a few years ago. It's the mystery of creation...
VV: Yeah, it's good to have some time away from it. I go back and I can hear what's good and what isn't good.
RoD: And to have somebody who has fresh... ears.
VV: Yeah, it's really important.
RoD: When can we expect the release?
VV: In the fall.
RoD: Great! What would you say were the pioneers of synth music, even before '78? Of course, you have KRAFTWERK, kraut-rock...
VV: I'd say some of the French stuff, like Musique Concrète and there's also some incredible Japanese stuff from '76, which was way ahead of its time.
RoD: What about John Carpenter in '75? Some of his stuff is amazing.
VV: Yes, I love it!
RoD: And then, John Foxx with ULTRAVOX in '76, '77.
VV: Yeah, definitely.
RoD: I had an interview with him and we had a discussion about ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ being the first new-wave synth song ever. In October '77. I can't think of another one before. Maybe ‘Low’ (the Bowie album), which is from the beginning of '77 but it wasn't really new-wave.
VV: Yeah, I think you're right about that.
RoD: Brian Eno and John Foxx were the first to work with Conny Plank.
VV: There's a lot to be spoken for the German scene in the 70s in terms of electronic music because it was much more mainstream, it was played on the radio. It's the last thing you would hear on American radio's.
RoD: Now, electronic music is emerging in the States right now.
VV: Yes, it's changed a lot since the rise of electronic dance music. Now there's more of an acceptance of synthesizers for more than just replacing sounds of guitars...
RoD: In the past, I know that if you were using a drum machine in the US, you had to pay a real drummer in fact to do nothing, because it was an obligation from the unions of musicians.
VV: Yeah, in the past, they weren't considered real instruments. Now, it's much more accepted. A lot of young people are catching on. There's so many synth bands now.
RoD: Yes, we're amazed by all these new bands like LED ER EST, etc...
VV: Precisely, Shaun Devin, from LED ER EST is doing another project called FURTHER REDUCTIONS... His partner, Katy, is doing vocals. Their next release is coming out in three weeks on Cititrax.
RoD: Did you see the SNOWY RED compilation which came out last year?
VV: Yeah, but I don't have it... It's so great that he did that, though... Years ago, I was trying to license that stuff 'coz I was obsessed with SNOWY RED. When I first built the web site for Minimal Wave, in 2005, my user name was "Snowy"... (laughs)
VV: Back then, nobody really knew that music in the US. It was very obscure over there. Now with the Internet, everybody has access to everything, so...
RoD: Yeah, probably the main reason for the revival of minimal wave is the Internet... A lot of niche areas have become very active thanks to the Internet. I also read that you have technical tricks to restore old tapes that are in bad shape, like by baking them?
VV: They're not actual cassette tapes, it's more reel-to-reel tapes, studio tapes, and baking them changes the magnetic particles on the tape. If the tape can't be played because it's falling apart, if you bake it at low temperatures, not at home, they have studio's where they
do it, then it restores the tape, and within three days, you can transfer the tape. That's what we did with Oppenheimer Analysis. You get a great quality, the sound is even better than the original.
RoD: You're here in Brussels. I know that you've been releasing some stuff of Belgian bands, among which Polyphonic Size. Can you tell us a bit more about this?
VV: When I first got into the synth tape music world, I'd say a lot of the best music, the pioneers, came from Belgium. The first Belgian bands that I released were on ‘The Lost Tapes’ and it was THE LINEAR MOVEMENT and AUTUMN, which is Peter Bonne from TWILIGHT RITUAL, who later formed A SPLIT SECOND. But these were the first bands that he did before A SPLIT SECOND. And a lot of them were only released on tape. Yeah, I really loved the
Belgian sound at that point. And so, I ended up doing a full album of AUTUMN material, that's the band that he did in 1982, and then another album of THE LINEAR MOVEMENT plus another one that he did with female vocals, really great! Also on ‘The Lost Tapes’, there was Bene Gesserit from Belgium, Alain Neffe. I really liked him for everything he did, with his label,... ‘Coz when I started my label, I was really inspired by his compilations: ‘Insane Music For Insane People’. And THE NEON JUDGEMENT were also on this “heavy Belgian” compilation I was talking about. And then Elisa Waut.
RoD: Yes, of course, I remember!
VV: There was this one track I was so obsessed with: ‘Russia’. Slow, melodic, really minimal. It's not like any of her other stuff.
RoD: Do you know TELEX? They might have some old stuff as well.
VV: Yeah. But maybe I'm more interested in the lesser known bands.
RoD: And you released stuff from POLYPHONIC SIZE last year, I think?
VV: Yes, POLYPHONIC SIZE was the most recent project: it was my favourite tracks. It's called ‘Earlier/Later’. There's some JJ Burnel produced recordings and some stuff they did on their own. I also did Pas De Deux years ago and that was a re-issue of their best songs.
RoD: I saw the list of your ten favourite albums and there was 1000 OHM...
VV: I think it was an old list. But yes, I love that ‘A.G.N.E.S.’ track. I know it was a hit in Belgium.
RoD: Yes, in 1979.
VV: ...but it never got to the US. Yeah, I love that stuff.
RoD: Do you know ABSOLUTE BODY CONTROL?
VV: Yeah! Actually ABSOLUTE BODY CONTROL was also on the first compilation that I did. It's called ‘The Lost Tapes’. I was licensing all these songs and I realized that more than half of it were from Belgium. So, in my mind, I called it "A Collection of Minimal Wave from Europe '81-'86", but I could almost be called "with an emphasis on Belgium". (laughs) And then also a band called SOMNAMBULIST, he also went by the name M-Bryo. The ABC track was ‘Automatic I’, but an older version... From the tape in 1980, with ‘Give Me Your Hands’,… (note: actually,
it's from the tape ‘Figures’ from 1983). I wanted to do an album of their stuff but Dirk (Ivens) has his own label and does his own releases. I didn't push it.
RoD: And he re-released some of his stuff with re-mastering,... Which other bands were there at that time in Belgium? UNDERVIEWER?
RoD: I mean the pre-FRONT 242 stuff, by two of the members...
VV: I think I heard it but I don't have that material.
RoD: They recorded tapes in 1979-ish and I think they're planning to release a new album this year with tracks reworked with a modern sound, which means that the old tapes are still there...
VV: It's great to know!
RoD: It's Jean-Luc de Meyer and Patrick Codenys.
VV: I never got in touch with them. The first album of FRONT 242 is my favourite...
RoD: Yeah, ‘Geography’. The things they did before FRONT 242 were more minimal, more the kind of things that you do with your label, with analogue instruments. I thought you might be interested.
VV: I'm definitely interested.
RoD: I will put you in touch with Jean-Luc and Patrick. Do you have a lot of DJ sets right now?
VV: I played in London last night, so I'm tired. I play Paris on Friday with one of the bands I released from France In Aeternum Vale, and then Philippe Laurent.
RoD: You also released an album from Deux?
VV: Yes! It's too bad one of them passed away (note: Gérard Pelletier).
RoD: The same for Oppenheimer Analysis: it's too bad one of them, Martin Lloyd, passed away.
VV: Yes! It was last year, in April, I think.
RoD: I like Oppenheimer MkII as well, it's different, more OMD-ish...
VV: I think I prefer the older productions. If I hear that it's digital sound, then...
RoD: Then your ears react... (laughs)... In Holland, you did DAS DING, which was a very big discovery.
VV: Yeah, he's started playing live after my release.
RoD: Yes, I saw him in Amsterdam last year in February 2013.
VV: I played with him in Amsterdam: it was his first show, in 2010. There's also the French band, SOMA HOLIDAYS, you know the song ‘Shake Your Molecules’? It's a French guy and an American singer, and we're doing a four songs re-issue of their master tape. It will come out at the same time as Further Reductions, in three weeks, on Minimal Wave.
VV: There was also another great band from Belgium I love: A BLAZE COLOR. I was always trying to get in touch with Ludo Camberlin to reissue his tapes but no contact. It was many years ago.
RoD: And so, how do you see the scene evolve right now?
VV: What I'm doing with the new label, Cititrax, projects that are influenced by the older sound but not retro, not trying to be...
RoD: Yeah, not nostalgic. Like THE KVB, that was a nice Cititrax release.
RoD: Did you do something with MEDINO MUTANTE?
VV: Yes, I did. It was the first new material that we did on Cititrax (note: ‘Inestable’ in 2008). They were a trio from Texas but they're not together anymore.
RoD: Yes, I know. I know Mariana (note: Mariana Saldaña)...
VV: I think she DJ'd here too, didn't she?
RoD: Yeah, she DJ'd at my DARKOTHEQUE party in September last year. Now she's doing a new project: BOAN...
VV: Yes, her with Jose Cota with one other guy. It's nice.
RoD: All right, Veronica, thanks a lot for this interview!
VV: Thank you!
To listen to the interview (audio): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_W0eEYLmKkE