Otherwordly Talent: Introducing Fergus Clark

Ahead of his performance alongside Optimo's JD Twitch for The Rum Shack’s 3rd birthday next month, we catch up with prodigal DJ talent Fergus Clark

Feature by Michael Lawson | 15 Sep 2017

"This is an album by a guy called Larry Chernicoff. He was fusing instruments from all over the world in an avant-garde, Steve Reich-y sort of way: long droning percussion-led pieces with amazing synth lines. This one’s a Dutch 45 that my friend Sidney who works at Red Light Radio gave to me – 80s boogie kinda thing. Then this is from my friend Arne who runs the Themes For Great Cities label. It’s this German new wavey kinda track with fake exotica samples – almost so bad it’s good! This is Creation Rebel, a roots thing on Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound label; and this one’s a Turkish psych rock LP with this slow, strange disco vibe."

It's a Sunday evening in his tenement flat on Glasgow’s Southside, and young DJ Fergus Clark is excitedly sifting through a small fraction of the records he has on rotation at the minute. Touching on countless disparate genres and engulfing much of his living space, it’s a collection that would take most music lovers decades to acquire. The fact that Clark is just 22 makes it all the more remarkable.

Despite his dad working in the reggae and dub section of a local record store (Music Mania on Byres Road), his first real gateway into music came through dubstep. "I got really into it when I was at school and suddenly found myself on dubstep forums, listening to radio, ripping tunes and stuff like that." He was given his first set of turntables for Christmas, and soon had his own show on Subcity Radio alongside friend Gareth Roberts, aged just 15. "I remember sneaking out of my mum’s house to do that. She’d go to bed while I’d stay downstairs watching TV and then head out at midnight to record the show."

As the dubstep scene reached the end of its cycle, Clark would turn to other genres: "ambient, jazz, folk, anything I could find really." This passion was reinforced by friend Fielding Hope (now senior producer of Café OTO in London and co-runner of Counterflows Festival) who was throwing a number of exciting, out-there parties around the city at this time.

"One that sticks out in the memory was a performance by an Sahelian folk band called Group Inerane that Fielding put on at the Kinning Park Complex," he recalls. "These guys were playing these crazy extended live jams that just went on and on. Seeing that as a young guy was an inspiration for sure."

Being exposed to these esoteric musical stylings at such a young age clearly contributed to Clark’s wide-ranging tastes, but it was seeing Norwegian tastemaker DJ Sotofett at La Cheetah in 2011 that convinced him to communicate these flavours in his DJing. "Even though there were like 20 people in the club and it felt like a bar set, it went all over the place – different shit was getting weaved in all the time," he explains. "Sotofett was the first guy I saw that bridged all the gaps. I saw Ben UFO a bunch of times and yeah it was cool, but it was still just dance music. Sotofett was going one further, and that’s something that really resonated."

Clark carried over this mindset into his first residency: a Wednesday night affair in the basement of Nice 'n' Sleazy, entitled So Weit So Gut. "We’d play a Blake Baxter record into an old funk record, trying and failing to do that really linear cross-genre mixing," he laughs. "But I’m generally less concerned about mixing. Don’t get me wrong, there are ways you can have some technical skill and make it work, but the main thing was the freedom we were given. We were given the chance to play whatever the fuck we wanted, and that’s definitely something I’ve carried over." 

As well as his willingness to go across the board and combine multiple styles of music in his sets, Clark’s intellectual approach to musical discovery is something that further cements his position as a unique talent. "I’ve always had that nerdiness of wanting to know every detail about the record. I need to know who’s on it, their story, what inspired it, what was on the same label at the time, what the concept was behind it," he confesses. "I’ve always felt the need to find out the wider meaning of a record, rather than simply viewing it as a DJ tool. So perhaps there is an intellectualism, in that I’m acutely aware of what I’m playing and trying to make connections."

But rather than shunning dance music’s hedonistic traditions in favour of this academic approach, Clark is keen to combine the two. "I love the hedonistic element of dance music and I always want people to have fun and lose themselves," he insists. "But at the same time it’s great to see people educating themselves by listening to new sounds. For instance I absolutely love when someone comes up and asks for the name of a track, and it’ll probably lead to the record running out because I’ve explained every little detail!"

Even in terms of mixes, Clark’s tend to be more considered, with a conscious effort to create a certain mood or tone, as opposed to simply banging one out without a second thought. "From the sounds and themes of the records, I tend to have an idea of how to put things together to create a certain soundscape," he agrees. "Like some kind of sonic story I guess. I find it far harder to record a mix that’s replicating a club angle."

2017 is proving to be his busiest year yet, with a handful of solo and collaborative projects, alongside his role as one quarter of local collective, 12th Isle. "12th Isle is an imagined world, which ties into this concept of otherworldly music that we’re trying to promote. What you can’t comprehend in real life you can try and make sense of in really mysterious music, and we try to provide that kind of escapist outlet in the music we put out."

Also made up of Al White, Ruaidhri McGhee and Stewart Brown, what began as an extension of Clark’s Subcity show (12th Isle Transmissions) soon branched out to incorporate club nights, art exhibitions and a record label.

Their maiden release, an LP from Russian duo Dices + AEM out last July, combined cosmic house and Haruomi Hosono-influenced exotica in what was one of 2016’s most interesting electronic offerings. And the crew hope to have quadrupled their output by the end of 2017, with a string of releases in the pipeline.

Their first, due out at the end of September, is an album by two Glasgow brothers who go by the name of Cru Servers. "These guys are multidisciplinary artists and this project is very much an extension of that," Clark explains. This will precede releases from Russian ambient artist X.Y.R. and Canadian experimentalist Ramzi, with the latter performing at The Art School in November alongside Glasgow-based artist Claudia Vasiliu for an unofficial album launch party.

Aside from helping run the label, Clark also compiled the first mix for Nic Tasker’s new cassette tape label, 88T, back in February. A quick glance at the mixtape’s footnotes suggests musical diversity in the true Fergus Clark sense of the term: the dots are joined between ‘Japanese commune folk’ and ‘electroacoustic purgatory’; ‘Outer-Hebridean introspectives’ and ‘Brazilian new age’, with a flurry of other equally daunting classifications thrown in for good measure.

But perhaps his most impressive achievement to date came with a recent compilation on Optimo Music. With the help of JD Twitch, the compilation explored the concept of Fourth World music, a term introduced by avant-garde composer John Hassell in the mid-80s.

"What we have attempted to gather across this compilation is a body of work which we feel directly resonates with both the literal definition of ‘Fourth World’ music and indeed our own interpretation of this unique sonic vision," read the sleeve notes written by Clark. A more challenging subject matter you’d be hard-pushed to find, but one Clark’s remarkable musical mind is far better equipped to tackle than most. 

He will be reunited with Twitch when the pair share a DJ booth at The Rum Shack next month, performing a special reggae set for the venue’s 3rd birthday. "It’s great because it’s always a really mixed crowd when I play there. If you can get some 50 year-old up dancing to Equiknoxx that’s pretty cool."

Looking to the future, Clark is mulling over a master’s degree in cultural musicology, but nothing is set in stone. Wherever he finds himself, it’s clear his obsession with the deepest, most complex musical realms will ensure his future is bright.

Rum Shack Third Birthday: JD Twitch & Fergus Clark, Fri 6 Oct, 9pm-1am