Andrew Weatherall RIP
Andrew Weatherall © Paul Grace
Andrew Weatherall RIP
Andrew Weatherall © Paul Grace

The world of DJing is full of chancers and blaggers but right inside its inner core are some of the most innovative musical minds out there.

Andrew Weatherall is one of the best of the DJ generation, if not the best. A true maverick, when he DJ’s it’s like the true link back to those wonderful John Peel shows when eclectic and groundbreaking was part of the equation.

Whilst a lot of DJs are hipster versions of wedding DJs playing other peoples hits from decades ago with no love of what they are doing, Weatherall is a genuine musical maverick in love with the noise.

His sets can vary from techno to rockabilly to deep dub to acid house- a real musical education and his mixes of other bands pretty well invented indie dance but were far more innovative and cutting edge than that wanky term implies. He created a whole new sonic landscape,  remixing the likes of My Bloody Valentine and especially Primal Scream, whose classic Screamadelica album was as much his input as the bands and a perfect moment in time and soundtracked that wonky time perfectly.

Oh, and he also makes great records of his own as well- from the Sabres Of Paradise to his solo excursions to his new release from The Asphodells, which he has created with Timothy Fairlplay and their great new album, Ruled By Passion, Destroyed By Lust  whish is to be released in February on Rotters Golf Club.

Andrew was part of the original acid house scene and that’s where we met back in the late eighties when he was editing the great Boys Own fanzine with Terry Farley which morphed into the label that released the first records by Underworld and Chemical Brothers. Boys Own was the Sniffing Glue of the acid house scene and he backed up the idealogy, playing perverse sets of mixed up music to E heads- it was a great time, a time when barriers broke down and all sorts of loose cannon craziness was going down and, like the punk movement a decade previously, a time when the freaks were running the show.

Andrew eventually broke with the label to form his own band, Sabres of Paradise with Jagz Kooner and Gary Burns which linked with Warp Records and gave him the impetus to fire up his own record company named after the group. This in turn kick started a whole slew of new relationships.

Fucking with the form is key to the way he works- colliding his first love rockabilly with techno, playing a set of dark dub to a room full of young ravers in the late eighties, singing himself on his records instead of getting showbiz mates in or bored girl singers to sing words off sheets of paper- Weatherall is pure punk rock- bringing a whole depth and dark humour to his musical projects with his high intelligence and fascination with the grit and grime of London’s history infusing his music and lyrics.

The Asphodells sees Andrew working with Timothy J. Fairplay who he has known since Tim’s time with Battant in the latter part of the 2000’s with Andrew helping out on their production. Tim has been responsible for a number of independent tracks variously on Astro Lab Recordings, World Unknown, Bird Scarer, Emotional Response and Magic Feet. He has played live across Europe including at Fabric in London and Robert Johnson in Germany and DJs at regular Glasgow night Crimes of the Future with Scott Fraser.

The Asphodells album is another move, leaving behind the rock and roll leanings of Wrong Meeting and A Pox on the Pioneers to a more electronic feel like those mid period Factory records of bands like the great Section 25 or the other Martin Hannett produced bands of the period with the added shadow of Kraftwerk hanging over it. Sparse electronics and stripped down dark atmosphere pervade the record which sounds great.

It also has some neat eccentric twists with a version of John Betjeman’s Late Flowering Lust harking back to Weatherall’s love of the great British eccentric and a love of words as well as a take on A.R. Kane’s A Love from Outer Space tipping a hat to the post post punk of the late eighties and Weatherall’s experimental roots.

Hello Andrew, another great swerve in musical style that really works, I’m really into the upcoming Asphodells album. Obviously you’re not a band jamming and rehearsing so what was the working process for the record?

Well, a lot of it was lounging around reading and listening to other people’s music as you do (laughs). It’s all part of the process- research and development. Yesterday I had a strange listening experience; I listened to Songs From The Shipyards by the Unthanks, followed by Liege And Lief by Fairport Convention. I had read the Rob Young book Electric Eden and it got me interested. For ages I had it on my shelf and thought do I really want to read a history of British folk rock? But when I started reading it I got really interested, there’s more to the book than just the history of English folk, it’s about the English need for revivalism and revisiting the past in times of industrial strife. It starts with William Morris and the industrial revolution and people yearning for an idyllic England that almost certainly didn’t exist. I really loved the book and it opened me up to a lot of music I thought I wasn’t allowed to like because of certain received punk orthodoxy received at the age of 13 (laughs).

It changes every day- the day before I broke out the dub. I think roots music of any description, whether it’s early punk or rockabilly or dub personally helps me to think about the future. I’m not nostalgic. I don’t want to go back there. I don’t hanker for those times. Roots music is going back to the world from where things are spun, it’s a great way of getting fired up. It’s the same as looking at a great painter; there is something about oil on canvas. There is the great Francis Bacon quote that says there is a direct correlation between paint marks on canvas and the human soul and going back to the basic roots of music and expression makes sense even if you then go next door and fire up a computer and make electronic music. It’s a good way of starting the day with roots music of any description!

And now electronic music can be thought of as a roots music as well!

Yeah! It is now. It’s got a history that roots back to the futurists of the twenties and thirties making electronic music so I suppose you’re right. For me, although I use a computer for sequencing I also use loads of old outboard gear that is up to 40 yrs old which in electronic terms is the equivalent of using a lute!

People in music look for authentic sounds and instruments, and so do we. We scour the Internet looking for keyboards and tape delays from the fifties and sixties. It’s the same ethos as trying to find some kind of authenticity as a band. If you are trying to be purely authentic it’s not as interesting as approximating authenticity and adding your own twist which leads to the Cramps, Billy Childish and that’s like us- we are not slavish and we are trying musically to go our way and that’s how we become original.

If you sit down and try and be original it doesn’t work but if you try making music with your non-musicianship and you are hampered by technology you approximate the sound and it’s original by default.

It’s easier for a band playing instruments so how do you get the warmth into your sound, put the pulse into the computer. Do you use analogue as well to sound more authentic

I could make a track purely with a computer and that would probably sound all right. I don’t know if it’s a placebo but unless I take it out of a computer and put the track through analogue equipment it doesn’t really exist for me. It doesn’t have an actuality for me, it’s just a file in the computer but if I take it out and put it through tape saturation or an analogue compressor it feels better. Maybe it’s an analogue placebo and it doesn’t sound any different than if it had been through a computer but to me it feels like I’m doing something to give it life rather than just being a file in the computer.

I like to take the stuff out of the computer and even if its 99 per cent digitally produced in the computer I like to just to give it a little breath of air before sending it out into the world. Maybe it’s psychological. Maybe it’s just the way I think.

Computer software is really good these days and with the tape delay software you have these days you can emulate any fuzz pedal there has ever been and the effects these days are reasonably good but even if the difference is slight I feel better, I feel like I have done something other than computer programming. I feel like I’ve given it some air before it goes back into the sterile digital world.

With your bearded Edwardian gent and sharp old school tailoring you like to play on the Luddite idea…

I’m a bit disingenuous I suppose and I have sort of become a kind of figurehead maybe because of the way I look and the way I dress. And with a certain Mr. Childish and other people I have come to represent a certain Luddite faction where none of us are actually that after all I use computers.

I read recently that William Morris- the arch Victorian medieval revivalist was using most up to date, for the time, methods of printing and manufacture of his books. I feel like I’m living in an Edwardian idyll whilst meanwhile my office has got three people caning my presence on social media (laughs). I can have best of both worlds and I should not be owning up to that but people that know me know that.

Being a cartoon character can be fun as long as it doesn’t spill over and become a bit wearing and sometimes I will play up to that. It’s the same with football and avoids boring conversations with people who don’t know what they are talking about. When football talk come up I go glassy eyed and sound like their granddad! It just avoids boring conversation, which is over in a minute instead of going on all night (laughs).

With music do you take music from different periods to create your own future?

That’s the way the future is created- from the past and from the lessons from the past. In any area of life that’s how it works. It’s the human condition and how we progress or regress depending on our past experiences.

I find nostalgia itself a bit debilitating, I mean I like wistfulness- I found Unthanks a very wistful experience, they sing harsh songs about how hard it was to live in a working class environment at the turn of the last century in the twenties.

They are not hankering to go back there, as they were dark songs about how people were treated terribly. I love history- I love glimpses into other worlds. That’s why I loved pop music initially because it was glimpse into a futuristic universe but as you get older and more aware of your own mortality that parallel universe becomes more about history and the past and trying to work out where you come from. It’s the same concept. It’s an escape into a parallel universe but when you are younger it’s a futuristic parallel universe but personally speaking mine is now about an historical parallel universe, if I may quote Andrew Loog Oldham, a true hustler always lives in the present and the future.’

I’m not a Luddite. I’m more of a voice of cynicism as people get too caught up with technology. Technology is a slave to me but most people are slaves to technology and that’s the line I’m trying to trip. I found out a way of doings and found this disingenuous stance to things. So, I’m not a slave to technology. I use it and buy it as I see it and if I need it. People think they must have the new version of what’s out there, I don’t need an iphone at the moment. I don’t need to send emails or whatever an iphone does- in the future I will get one maybe. I didn’t even have a computer for years but suddenly I realised that instead of getting a bus to Camden to approve artwork in my office or get a computer they could send them to me and I could approve it in my front room. It’s easier making toast with a toaster than sticking it under the grill so that’s why I got a toaster! They are machines to make my life a bit easier. And I will buy technology when I need them. That’s probably why I got a 5-year-old computer that doesn’t send email very well! I’m lucky enough to have an agent and a manager and they do that for me- that’s what you pay your twenty per cent for. (laughs). I didn’t get into rock n roll to do typing and paperwork and I’m sure you’re the same.

How does the Asphodells album fit into all of this?

I don’t know, I suppose the album title, ‘RULED BY PASSION DESTROYED BY LUST’,  is a pretty fixed word summation of what I have just said of the human condition. It’s from the person I made the album with who is a big fan of B movies and horror movies. He’s got a poster of a 1970s gay gladiator film and the strap line at the bottom is ‘RULED BY PASSION DESTROYED BY LUST’ and I thought I’m having that and depending on who I’m talking to I can give them the pretentious answer or the real answer where the album title is from but your lucky today as you got both of them!  Wack that title into youtube and see it affect your user profile badly!

We don’t ever start a project because don’t ever stop a project. We are continuingly making music, whether it’s our own music or mixing other peoples 5 days a week just making music. After a couple of months I start listening to what I’ve done and you can see a body of work and all of a sudden we appear to have made an album.

I had the idea for a project called Asphodells for a couple of years. I just liked idea, it’s a symbolic flower in language- a portent of doom in Victorian times- a symbol of regret and I added the two ll’s at the end so it looked a bit more like a 60’s surf band. There has never has been any great thinking behind what I have done. It’s a continuous production line and has been for twenty years. I go in the studio and make music and someone will say it’s about time you put a record out and that’s about the extent of how it works. It’s like Fords of Dagenham here (laughs), we bolt the parts together, mark them up and sell them on (laughs).

It’s been an interesting musical journey- a typical fractured route from anyone who was awake in punk and post punk onwards…

Again it’s a part of that going back to when you start listening to music as a teenager. You start at a certain point and get sent off in all directions, up B roads and blind alleys and over the years you come across something. As you get older, personally speaking, I go back to where I started from. The records I made in the past 5 or 6 years are reminiscent of when I first started DJ’ing. I would not even call myself a DJ, I’m more of a record payer. When I started I was playing post punk records, disco records, acid house, dub, rockabilly – I think I was going back to that and I think that’s how a lot of people go on a hectic journey but usually end up back home again.

I just started a vinyl only no downloads label called Bird Scarrer and that’s another outlet for tracks and there is oceans and oceans of stuff to release and as useful as Soundcloud is I’d rather produce a totemic object like a 12 inch single. There is no point in trying to bring down the world of hideously compressed music files, it’s there for ever and it’s getting worse, it’s almost like a folk art now putting out a 12 inch single. I am like William Morris- I am producing folk art with modern technology.

 

Except the folk art this time is like early Factory electronic post punk folk art.

Rock n roll has always been about fetishism. The whole of pop culture is about fetishising objects, people or items of clothing- that’s what pop music and rock n roll does.

The first music that moved me was glam rock- it was totemic and fetishistic and iconic, that’s in my bones. A 15-year-old kid brought up on the ipod and compressed files is different- that is not fetishistic to us but they are desiring the machine that gives them the music and the ipod is the ultimate expression of pop culture. To a certain generation it doesn’t seem as totemic as a rare Sun 7 inch single but to  15 year old kid it’s the same thing. The technology changes but the basic human needs don’t change.

Glam rock was futuristic in its own way.

Sort of cartoon futuristic, yeah, it was cartoon futuristic rather than what was really going to go on in the future. That is the kind of vision of the future that I like. I don’t like the sterile visions of the future, I like the film, Brazil more than the TX- 118 or whatever it’s called.  I like a ramshackle, steam powered vision of the future rather than sterile one we appear to be hurtling towards. I dunno, I still think that there’s little pockets of gas powered, futurism knocking about. I don’t mean steam punk; I don’t even know what that is. I’ve seen the people involved and they look quite frightful.

Does the new album reflects this vision of the future?

All the music I make is unconscious reflection of what I listen to. I don’t come in to the studio in the morning and listen to an old Martin Hannett production or an old Stockholm Monsters record and go we’re going to copy that and that’s what we are going to make. I just listen to that and think of something else, I spend an hour listening to music of all different forms so when I go into the studio I’m not consciously trying to recreate what I just heard. It’s sub consciously coming out of my fingers when I adopt a certain reverb on the snare drum.

We are not sat there in the studio saying how did he get that sound on the snare drum! We will be listening to music and think ‘great snare sound, great bass line’ but not consciously thinking about it and just going next door and firing up some machines and seeing what happens. Whatever music you’re making is a product of what you have heard since music first moved you in some way. Some people want to slavishly copy it but I consider myself an enthusiastic amateur and I always have done and I would rather do an approximation of the things I like than slavishly copy them.

I would rather be authentic and use the same machines and tape delays but I’m not slavishly trying to copy it. I’m trying to do something that sounds reasonably authentic at the same time it’s an approximation. You make a stamp and you make something not necessarily original but individual and when people hear a track  they can say that’s Martin Hannet or that is Adrian Sherwood and hopefully the same with me.

As an enthusiastic amateur do you actually play instruments.

We start all  the songs like all rock n roll with the bass line and the drums first and then we pick a tempo depending on how we feel and we set the tempo on an 808 drum machine. There’s certain keyboards I like the bass on and I start fucking around with bass line whist Tim will play along on guitar or keyboards and it will just build up from the drum and snare or the bass line which I write.

We are very lucky in that in the studio next to mine there is a vintage outlet full of some of the most outrageous bass guitars known to mankind so basically I’ll write a bass line and sometimes it will stay on keyboards but if we fancy it, we knock onto Andy Baxter ‘s door and he brings in an early sixties bass and we play the bass line through a Fender Jazz amp.

So it comes from the drums or bass which is much of the history of most pop music. When I did my solo record, I got really hung up on song structures, I mean I like that record but it was hard to do, because instead of thinking about the track, I was thinking about songs and songs structures and middle eights and choruses and stuff like that. Two years ago when we started out on the tracks that became this record I still had that mindset and for a couple of months we were going round in circles and I said to Tim, lets just make tracks for the clubs to start with and make some down tempo, cosmic, weird disco records and if we can fit vocals or a song in there we will do it but lets stop trying to write songs and just write tracks and then graft songs on.

I put the vocal parts around the tracks as it was arranged rather than chopping and changing the arrangement, if there a middle eight we had done then fair enough we would use that. It was a lot easier to do it that way as I was driving myself mad trying to use classic song structures. We are not classic songwriters so let’s do what we do and not get bogged down. It was slightly more enjoyable and easy record.

Pop is not always the middle eight, it can be about capturing the atmosphere.

I got into songs because I’m quite obsessed with songs because I like country and folk and classic pop songs and classic sixties pop. I can’t help myself, it’s part of my musical DNA- the song structure and how songs work. It’s something in my bones and always nags at the back of mind but in the last year or so it’s been locked behind a door .

There is a John Betjeman poem on the album – an  interesting twist.

I always liked John Betjeman and the sound of his voice, it goes back to when I was a kid I heard people like Viv Stanshall, Ivor Cutler, Stanley Unwin. I loved their fruitiness and use of the English language and playing with words and when I heard john Betjeman it was at the same time. I didn’t really know what he was talking about then but it was the scratching of the surface of what is initially an idealist British middle class and picking up on the dark undertones. I liked the sound of his voice and the rhythm of the words.

I had always liked the album he did, Banana Blush where he reads his poems accompanied by music and we loved this bass line on the record and despite the fact that I said to you nine times out ten we don’t listen to stuff and copy it but this time I thought we should do this because a lot of people won’t know it and it’s a great bass line. It was the bass line that led us to it and using the poem.

Fr me Betjeman was part of a group of English and Scottish eccentrics that I liked when I was a kid because of their voices and the way they put the English language together. Viv Stanshall was the main one for me, more than John Betjeman. I’ve never done an acid house cover version of one of his songs, I wonder how that would pan out- who knows?  Mmm, You got me thinking now

Do you feel work in same tradition as these people- a modern version with an equally eccentric view of England

Yeah possibly, I think we have created a version of England that’s nowhere near the truth but to some extent is more interesting than the real England- the myth is always better than the truth!

I would honoured to be thought of in those same terms as those people. Hopefully in 20/30 years time I would be thought of as a Cutler-esque eccentric figure, a bit like the Edwardian entering his shed! People say I don’t have any ambition but that would be my ambition – to be thought of in the terms of those people who were amateurs and created that odd moment of clarity.

Is it important to maintain this outsider amateur spirit?

It depends do I want to be living in rented accommodation as I approach 50 which I am…! When I first started I was going from job to job, when I started in music you could work for six months, jack your job in and, go around doing music and then get another job. I thought being a DJ was just another job for six months- not a career. There was no point in trying to impress the boss, as I don’t want to go up the career ladder because this will end in a year. I kind of fucked around and then the career commences and your maintaining an amateur approach to things and people think you are a crusader or that you represent the underground and it’s not that, it’s just that you just won’t commit.

I don’t want a career, it’s a job I love. If you are in the arts and you call it a job people think your art is diminished because somehow you are equating it to a job. It’s not some great idealistic, underground statement it’s me having a good time. It’s political not to accept big amounts of money from multi nationals or big products for your music. Is it political to turn down quite high sums of money because it would make you unhappy? It’s partly global political and partly personal political as well.  Thinking about what those companies do to the world but to you personally as well but it’s a tricky one.

I went through the dilemma recently because I put out a triple CD on Ministry Of Sound records and I made the political decision to put music on there that people who buy Ministry Of Sound CDs would never normally hear. They might like what I had put on there and might buy it from the small record companies that normally release it and they could keep going because of a renewed interest but then again I had the words of Cosey Fanni Tutti ringing in my ears. When I interviewed her I asked her what happens if you take money from a corporate enterprise and plough it back into the underground, she said no it doesn’t work and that the money and the art will be forever tainted.

Every now and then I take the big money but then l put it back in and it pays for studio and the 300 vinyl only singles.  If you are in the Cosey camp, fair enough, I admire you for it. I got one foot in that camp and one foot in the paying the gas bill camp- it’s sad but true. I’ve had bailiffs knocking at my door and its no good telling them that I’ve got a critically acclaimed electronic music back catalogue and that I’m well respected throughout the world (laughs). They want my money, not my CV!

There have been times when making political decisions like these is very difficult- when you are younger you can make these decisions and it doesn’t matter, then it was a case of, I won’t eat for a couple of days but when you get older and more people rely on you it can be selfish to make those ‘I’m not eating for couple of days decisions’ because people around you get affected. If I don’t pay bills other people suffer.

Are there plans to take the Asphodells out live?

It will work live and it’s reasonably easy and I was up for doing it but as the words came out of my mouth I remembered all the drawbacks from touring! Now it’ everyone else trying to persuade me to play live. The live band last time was affecting me mentally and physically- there is nothing glamorous about loading backline in at 6 in the morning! It’s ok when you are 19. Me and nobby, my minder and road manager and backline man would be shifting all the gear because the rest of the band would want to stay at Glastonbury and get fucked up. We would be unloading the whole back line back into the basement and I was paying for this! There was no record label support. When people say it’s great doing it live I think of that. Don’t get me wrong though- it was great playing live and extremely cathartic and I’ve got a million great after dinner anecdotes for when I give up DJing…

It’s like an exercise in psychotherapy and psychology being in a band and playing people off each other. The rest of them nicknamed me Johnny Ramone because of the way I bossed them around! Saying that there may be a way of taking this new project on the road, maybe add a few new tracks and versions to the set.

Do you like singing live?

I like singing, I’m continually writing songs and verses and poems. I was getting bored of the star vocalist thing. I didn’t want to put out calls to my numerous showbiz friends to come in and do a vocal (laughs). I had already been a singer when I was a teenager and when I started singing again I was not in a good place and I wanted to something cathartic like singing songs on the album and doing it live.

I like to scare myself out of my complacency and there is nothing scarier than standing in front of 2000 techno fans who have just listened to a 140 BPM techno set and play a gig and watch the audience shake their heads and walk to the bar but it’s great when people want to kill you and then they applaud you- that was good for my soul at that point in time now I’m not arsed about proving something to myself or other people.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Mr Midas is at it again. Not heard a song from this forthcoming album and yet I know it’s right up my alley. Best DJ AND/OR producer of my generation. Can’t wait, want it now.

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