Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

Magical Cuts: Anthony ‘Surgeon’ Child’s Favourite Music

With the new Surgeon album one of the highlights of 2023 so far, Anthony Child guides Luke Turner through a psychedelic journey that takes in The Cure, King Tubby, Sylvester and Alice Coltrane, and John Taverner’s quest for the sonic divine

Photo by Cathrin Queins

Not long ago, Anthony Child thought he might never make another techno record. Much as he still loved DJing and playing live as Surgeon, the alias under which he’s operated since he emerged in UK techno’s tough and smutty Midlands wing in the early 90s, he wasn’t convinced he’d be able put together another ‘conventional’ techno album. Had Child’s hammer run out of steam? “If I’m not feeling it, I’m not going to force it,” he reflects now. “I’d feel terrible about putting it out.” He was surprised, then, when eight tracks “popped out of nowhere” after he sat down to tinker with the parts he’d made for Surgeon live sets, and suddenly coalesced into the album Crash Recoil, out now via Berlin’s Tresor label. This is far from just a collection of steely 4/4 dancefloor pumpers, however. “On a certain level it’s a techno album, but I think I’ve shown a lot of other influences in a much more honest way,” he says. “There’s early 90s trance bits, and I haven’t shied away from those, because there’s a lot of that where normally I would have been like, ‘that’s not really cool’. It’s all in there and I haven’t been so self-conscious about it. It’s become more important to me to just put stuff out there, even when it doesn’t make sense to me, let alone anyone else. I’m not worried about confusing people – get used to it.”

This confidence is heard all over Crash Recoil, a record loaded with a swagger and swing, not to mention a sense of experimentalism that can often feel missing in contemporary techno’s BPM arms race. Perhaps this comes in the feeling that the album is haunted by Child’s influences away from the dancefloor – nods to these, and the choices in his Baker’s Dozen, pop up in track titles like ‘Oak Bank’ (the final home of Coil’s John Balance and Peter Christopherson in Weston-Super-Mare) and ‘Second Magnitude Stars’ (an Ivor Cutler lyric).

The increasingly porous nature of his work doesn’t just sit within the boundaries of Crash Recoil either. This album is a tougher, more bolshy and outgoing cousin to the cosmic meanderings of his Transcendence Orchestra collaboration with Daniel Bean. Both projects arguably have an unconventional take on psychedelia at their core, a belief in mischief and the power of warping minds with sound. “Even when I don’t really understand what a project is, or how it makes sense, I always end up realising, ‘oh, actually, there is a connection between Transcendence Orchestra gigs and techno’,” says Child. That connection perhaps comes in full commitment to the cause of music that can both soundtrack hedonism and be a source of, without being too woo woo, a source of enlightenment, both deadly serious and a hoot at the same time.

As Child says of Transcendence Orchestra’s live sets, for which the duo don robes and light candles and incense, “When we perform we really embody something – it is really serious and magical and ritualistic. Yet at the same time, there’s a parallel level where we’re taking the piss, it’s totally absurd and we’re having a laugh. I love these paradoxes and things running simultaneously.” That reflects his worldview outside of music, he adds: “There are contradictory things running at the same time, and I really enjoy embracing that. So much is polarised and you’re one far end of an opinion spectrum or the other. But that’s just not how I see the world, and maybe I’m pulling against that in my own way.”

A similar openness shapes Child’s Baker’s Dozen choices. Growing up in rural Northamptonshire, the music in his family home was mostly Perry Como, box sets of easy listening “with a soft focus lady on the cover”, and light classical albums. Hidden among this MOR feast were records that’d start to fire the young Child’s musical curiosity: Japanese electronic artist Tomita’s versions of classical music and the Star Wars theme on a huge Moog synth, Laurie Anderson’s ‘Oh Superman’, and a collage of dialogue and sound effects from The Empire Strikes Back, all led to a fascination with records that “would really make my imagination bloom and create a universe. I still relate to that now and it’s how I define the music I love the most: it’s not the style or the genre, it’s something that creates a universe I can believe in, no matter how bizarre or fantastical it is.” World creation, then, or making black holes in the simple hedonism or communality of the dancefloor and riding the wormhole to blissed out psychedelic ritual music, shapes much of this Baker’s Dozen, 13 records (or rather 12 records and one short film) selected, Child tells us, at random. “ I purposely didn’t spend too long thinking about them and I didn’t want to be too cool about what I chose,” he says, “I wanted to be honest.”

Surgeon’s new album Crash Recoil is out now via Tresor. To begin reading his Baker’s Dozen, click the image of him below.

First Record

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