LABEL PROFILE Medical Records: The Only Synth Reissue Label Helmed by an Oncologist By Kevin L. Jones · November 18, 2020

It took years for Dr. Troy Wadsworth to find his people in Seattle. After moving to the city sometime around 2008, he began searching for people who loved synth music just as much as he did… in a city known for producing guitar heroes and the occasional rapper. He made one friend at a record store, and that was it—until 2011, when he saw on Facebook that a tiny club on Capitol Hill had a new wave night.

“I found this place, The Living Room, and I met two or three people. They were running a cool synth night and they were all snobby about it, which I loved,” Wadsworth says in his heavy Texas drawl. “They’re like, ‘We don’t play anything after 1982.’”

What the DJs didn’t know when they met the Kraftwerk-obsessed young doctor was that he had a hand in bringing back the very kinds of records they were playing that night. Back in 2010, Wadsworth had started Medical Records with the intention of reissuing the Italo disco, minimal synth, and other lost gems he’d discovered over the years. He took his earnings as a doctor and made legendary records from Chrisma, Alexander Robotnick, and Gay Cat Park available again, just as Americans were rediscovering vinyl en masse.

The label was a longtime goal for Wadsworth made possible by the Pacific Northwest—specifically, the city of Tacoma. It was there in the City of Destiny that Wadsworth landed his first job after 15 years of med school. While it didn’t make him rich overnight, his job in oncology provided enough money to squirrel some away for his dream label.

Starting the label took Wadsworth almost as long as finding that synth night in Seattle. For three years, Wadsworth would spend his days helping cancer patients with their medications and his nights staring at a computer screen, trying to get his label going. It wasn’t hard to learn how to press a record—the owners of reissue labels like Vinyl-On-Demand and Minimal Wave were generous with advice. The difficult part was hunting down the artists whose records he wanted to reissue. He found the process harder than the research he did for his work, where he had to keep up with the constant flow of new medications and therapies. Finding obscure European synth artists on the Internet was almost a second job.

“It’s like when you’re in college and you have to do a research project. You really have to dig,” Wadsworth says. “It’s not just handed to you in journals and stuff.”

Helping him along the way was his longtime friend, the graphic artist Tyler Jacobsen. The two became friends as teenagers, both growing up two hours outside of Dallas in Wichita Falls, TX. Wadsworth made a mixtape of ‘90s shoegaze—his original musical obsession—and Jacobsen loved it so much they became friends. No matter where they ended up, whether it was in Austin together, or when Wadsworth was in Philadelphia and Jacobsen in New York, they talked every day, exposing each other to new music and making plans for the label. Jacobsen became an integral part of the label, too; the graphic artist handled all of the cover art for Medical Records.

“I could pull off doing the label because he was helping me,” Wadsworth says. “He didn’t put any money into it, but he got to be my partner, or co-producer.”

The first two reissues on Medical Records—Krautrock project Deutsche Wertarbeit’s self-titled album and Alexander Robotnick’s Ce N’Est Q’Un Début—are flagship releases for the label. They sold out quickly, and the Robotnick record is one Wadsworth continues to keep in print. Finding Dorothea Raukes, the German synth pioneer behind Deutsche Wertarbeit, took Wadsworth ages, despite the fact that her original label mates were Brian Eno and Cluster. He lucked out after a post on a Julian Cope forum drew the attention of Rauke’s son, who connected Wadsworth with his mom.

As for Robotnick—the legendary Italian electronic producer whose real name is Maurizio Dami—Wadsworth just emailed his website. “It still blows my mind that no one had ever done that record. It was so easy,” Wadsworth said.

Medical Records found success immediately. His first nine releases all sold out, and the label’s profile only grew from there. Sales peaked when the 2000 copies of his two releases for Record Store Day 2014, the Electroconvulsive Therapy Vol Two: Fuzz Dance ‎compilation and Robotnick’s Vintage Robotnicks, sold out instantly.

The success of Medical Records allowed Wadsworth to branch out, releasing titles outside his usual clutch of out-of-print Italo records. In 2013, the label released its first album of new music: Illustration Sonore’s Undisciplined Strips Of Emotions. Wadsworth had been wanting to release a new work for some time, but wanted to be sure it fit the “Medical Records aesthetic”—something he has trouble describing. He credits Jacobsen for reaching out to the French darkwave duo and for pushing him to release the LP. “He had been harassing me from the beginning to release new artists,” Wadsworth says.

Since 2018, the label has issued more new material than reissues: 11 of its last 12 titles were all new. Wadsworth even started a subsidiary, TRANSFUSIONS, which he uses for new techno projects from producers he loves, like Mark Van Hoen of Seefeel and the Vancouver-based Derivatives (real name Josh Rose). He kicked off the series with an improvised techno session featuring Robotnick and fellow Italian producer Ludus Pinsky called The Analog Session because it featured all analog synthesizers,

“I basically talked Mark into making me a techno record, which is pretty hysterical actually,”  Wadsworth says. “I have that effect on people.”

In a few cases, Wadsworth widened the Medical Records aesthetic to include whatever he felt like releasing. That was the case when he reissued the anthology of SoCal psych rockers The Summer Hits. The Spacemen 3-worshipping indie rockers from the mid ‘90s have nothing in common sonically with the European electronic artists that make up most of the lineup on Medical Records, but he had loved that record for years. “I literally just did it because I wanted to. I didn’t care if it was going to be popular or not,” Wadsworth says. “It fits the aesthetic of my brain.”

What Wadsworth didn’t know was that the band had a cult following. The reissue not only sold out, it renewed recognition of the band’s work in the media, netting press in NPR and Dangerous Minds. Sadly, the band’s bass playing singer Rex Thompson died before the record’s release.

“He was such a trip. We’d had the funniest interactions because he was at odds with the other members and he was hilarious,” Wadsworth says. “I saved those texts. I still read them and laugh to myself sometimes.”

This past June, Medical Records celebrated its first decade, and next month, Wadsworth will be releasing the label’s 87th record—a two-disc collection of “oddball selections” from Severed Heads. Counting the 16 releases on Transfusions, he’s produced 103 releases in total. Yet, over the phone, he sounded unfazed about both the label’s anniversary and his achievements: “It just seems like everybody has a reissue label now.”

Wadsworth plans to continue the label, albeit at a much slower pace. Finding artists has become easier thanks to Facebook, but sales have been sluggish, and Wadsworth doesn’t have the capital to produce as much as he’d like. Medical Records also has to carry on without Jacobsen, who died in June of 2019. The unexpected death of his oldest friend had a massive effect on the label, and Wadsworth says he’s been trying to bounce back ever since.

“He was a real part of the identity of the label,” Wadsworth says. “We had this kind of shared vision the whole time. He unfortunately struggled with some personal issues and succumbed to them, which was a real tragedy.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has also made the situation worse for Wadsworth. It’s contributing both to a slump in record sales, as well as putting Seattle’s growing DJ synth scene on hold. Wadsworth has no intentions of stopping entirely, though. It’s just a part of who he is. It even creeps into his work life, as his patients sometimes discover his “double life.” Wadsworth says the interactions are always “weird.” “They never know the artists,” Wadsworth says. “And people will just look at you like deer in the headlights when you try to explain to them what Italo disco is.”

Here are five releases on Medical Records worth checking out:

Geneva Jacuzzi

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

Wadsworth says he felt like he lucked out when the L.A.-based performance artist agreed to release her newest album on Medical Records. He was already a fan of her lo-fi ‘80s synth pop, and the darker, more industrial sound of Technophelia fit the Medical aesthetic perfectly. The album is clear evidence of Jacuzzi’s immeasurable talent for manipulating synth tones, and her love for philosophical and sci-fi themes. It’s also one of Medical Records’ best sellers.

Lou Champagne System
No Visible Means

One of the earliest Medical Records reissues, the 1984 synth-punk album from Lou Champagne is a lost gem of new wave genius. Remarkably, Champagne reproduced these songs live as a solo act, figuring out how to sequence and trigger all the instruments with primitive technology. This is for those who like their synthwave to contain some grit and anger.

Jake Schrock

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

The newest album from Dallas-based solo artist Jake Schrock was supposed to be released much earlier this year, but the pandemic threw a wrench in the works. But the album almost sold out anyway, something Wadsworth credits to the quality of the music and the fact that Schrock runs in the same circles as S U R V I V E. (Schrock’s previous releases came out on that group’s Holodeck Records imprint.) Don’t throw this on expecting the theme for Stranger Things, though; Schrock’s tunes are less ‘80s horror soundtrack and more in the vein of early synth pioneers like Cluster and Tangerine Dream.

Severed Heads
Clifford 2000

Merch for this release:
2 x Vinyl LP

Medical Records has long championed the work of Australian electronic trailblazers Severed Heads, having reissued three of the band’s albums from the ‘80s. While Wadsworth loves that era of the band, he thought the group’s later work was criminally ignored. Heads mastermind Tom Ellard compiled this collection of work from the ‘00s from a variety of sources, from limited, hand-cut discs to video game soundtrack, and then wove snippets from those pieces into a two-hour stream of electronic consciousness. Four sides, four songs, all Severed Heads.

Cloudland Canyon
An Arabesque

Thanks to an introduction set up by a local music writer after a Cloudland Canyon show in Seattle, Wadsworth met the mastermind behind the group, Kip Uhlhorn. During their talk, Wadsworth mentioned possibly working with Uhlhorn, without knowing that another Cloudland Canyon album was already in the can. Co-produced by one of Wadsworth’s heroes, Spacemen 3’s Sonic Boom, the album features more of the electronic Krautrock soundscapes Cloudland Canyon has practically perfected, with added contributions from Memphis rock royalty like Jody Stephens of Big Star. Also worth noting: Grammy-nominated graphic artist Brian Roettinger designed the reverse-embossed cover art.

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