Andrew Weatherall: Ministry of Sound sleevenotes
In April, I had the pleasure of writing the sleevenotes for a compilation by one the country's most respected DJ and producers, Andrew Weatherall. His contribution to the 'Masterpieces' series on Ministry of Sound is out in all good record shops now. You can read the sleevenotes in full after the jump. Hope you enjoy.
“The greatest DJ of all time – he has set the blueprint for what many of us are still trying to do and not bonded himself to one style of music” – Erol Alkan
It’s a Thursday night in mid-December and we’re in one of those dive bars the size of a postage stamp, way up in northeast London. Even though it’s zero degrees outside, steam wafts up the staircase that leads inside and presses stickily against your face. It’s like a rave sauna, and a place that no club tourist would bother going to on a school night. Disco ‘anoraks’ do, however, and they shuffle in front of the decks, some with records tucked under their sleeves, others with arms flailing free like supplicants at the altar. Across the floor, girls with directional haircuts smoulder sexily, a confusion of limbs around them as the soundtrack gathers intensity.
It’s a cult club night, alright: the dancefloor is overheating like an audio armpit yet it’s teeming with a sense of no-nonsense appreciation. People are there for the music alone and the two DJs that spin it into a mesmerising sonic web all night long. Which is no surprise, considering that one of them is maverick DJ and producer Andrew Weatherall.
“Wevvers”, as he is affectionately known, an astute rogue with over 20 years under his DJing belt, has long been revered for his unwillingness to pander to trends. His career is stuffed full with unpredictability and accidental successes: he was once nearly beaten up for the sake of a rockabilly set; his techno mixes were so ferocious that he set a bass bin on fire at a club in Germany; and he mastered the template for the crossover of indie and dance music on one of the most important albums of the ’90s.
Thus his new club night, A Love From Outer Space, was never meant to be for the clubbers at large – it’s just too small for mass consumption. Rather, it’s his own personal laboratory, his and longtime co-conspirator Sean Johnston’s “monthly experiment in interplanetary audio”, as one website put it. Its clubbers are smug in the knowledge that they are privy to something special, for ears that crave an education.
That’s because Weatherall is not only one of the best selectors this country has ever seen, he always puts the music first and within a much broader frame of reference than most ‘dance’ DJs even consider. As he says himself: “It’s pompous to expect a history lesson when you go out, but that’s what it should be.” Better still, he serves it all up with a sartorial swagger and a witty remark or three, not to mention a twiddle of his Romanov-style moustache, a turn-of-the-century working class style he has recently adopted.
Needless to say, cramming exactly why Andrew Weatherall is such a hero into a couple of tiny pages is a daunting task. Few know exactly how far his oeuvre actually extends, but truth be told, he probably barely remembers himself: in one interview, he recalled walking into a record shop and liking what he was hearing over the speakers, only to be told by the shop assistant that it was one of his own tracks.
Here’s a brief stab, though: his CV goes from helping to kickstart Britain's rave-in-a-field dance culture as part of acid house fanzine collective Boys Own to producing Primal Scream’s 1991 seminal album ‘Screamadelica’. Later, he forged a further relationship between his earliest rock ’n’ roll influences and electronic music with his Two Lone Swordsmen project, a collision between fiercely new and dusty-covered old that has come to characterise his work ever since.
And then there’s his vast remix history, which reads like a who’s who of alternative bands, including the Happy Mondays, Björk, Siouxsie Sioux, Manic Street Preachers and My Bloody Valentine. Today, he’s the first choice of beat-mangler for the new generation of electronic acts like Friendly Fires and Fuck Buttons, whose records he produced. It’s no wonder he didn’t find time to produce his own until 2009, when, with the help of current studio engineer Timothy Fairplay, he released his debut solo effort, ‘A Pox on the Pioneers’.
Such multiplicity has worked in his favour. As many of his acid house contemporaries turned into the country’s first ‘superstar DJs’, only to waft away with the spirit of ’88 and return on club bills to play ‘old-school’ sets, Weatherall has consistently remained ahead of the curve. Or rather, he’s that rare breed of DJ-producer who keeps moulding the curve as he goes along.
And so, at a time when modern dance music and the clubs that play it subscribe to a factory line of ‘harder, faster, stronger’ productions, A Love From Outer Space does the opposite and is slamming on the brakes.
It all started with a road trip. “Me and Sean would stick on music in the car on the long drive to gigs, playing each other new stuff that we’d just picked up,” says Weatherall. “We started to notice that everything we were buying, certainly the stuff that we liked the most, was sometimes even as slow as 105bpm. These records were sexier and more interesting than the latest techno releases, many of which were cold and sterile, but I wasn’t getting the outlet to play them as the main attraction at some club nights. So we started to imagine a playlist that covered the whole night at a club, starting slowly and peaking at no higher than 120bpm. Don’t get me wrong, I like a techno smash-up, but I find playing slower music more enjoyable these days.”
Eventually, A Love From Outer Space was born, named after the dream-pop ditty by A.R. Kane, with its tongue-in-cheek manifesto of “never knowingly exceeding 122bpm”. The spacey treats and slo-mo, ‘drug-chug’ beats you’ll hear are mined from Weatherall and Johnston’s enormo-crates of post-punk, proto-house, industrial, kosmische, rare dubs and disco noir, as well as their own never-before-heard remixes and crisp new edits by their contemporaries. So it’s not unusual at ALFOS to see mobile phones bobbing in the air like spaceships as people attempt to capture each tune and decode them with their Shazam apps.
It has, however, acquired a catchall term that has flabbergasted the Wevhead. “I don’t know when someone woke up and decided to call it ‘cosmic disco’. I missed that meeting,” he jokes. Moreover, this particular strand of machine music stems from his early love of post-punk. “When I was a kid, I’d I got into glam and punk records but I was also into soul and disco. People from either of the side would question my motives and ask how I could like both types of music. A lot of the people that were making post-punk had that same dilemma, especially when all of that “disco sucks” stuff was happening in the late ’70s. It’s not a very popular theory to espouse, though, because people want punk to be a lot more political and a lot more anarchistic.” But it’s one Weatherall tested brilliantly by wearing an Anthrax T-shirt to a seaside soul weekender in 1987.
“When a lot of those early post-punk bands came along, it was a dream come true,” he continues. “A Certain Ration, 23 Skiddoo, Throbbing Gristle, Liquid Liquid and bands like that… My confusion had ended!” Later, acid house was the happy and huggy release from that post-industrial gloom, but he has since returned there for inspiration.
Weatherall’s vast eclecticism has, nonetheless, had its consequences. As a genre polymath, whose sets and mixes can vary from boshing techno to reggae and krautrock, it has become increasingly necessary to state the name of the sound after his name on club flyers. “People like to know what they're getting,” he admits. “It can lead to great excitement when they learn of a new facet to you, but it can lead to people wanting to kill you, as happened in Cork a few years ago. I turned up to an arts festival there to play rockabilly and a load of people had travelled for miles to hear me play techno. I played three records and a girl came up to me and did that fingers-across-the-throat motion right in my face. I had to sneak out the back door while the bouncer stopping people from getting at me.”
Still, his A Love From Outer Space sound is gently taking off. In its two short years, the night has built up a cult fanbase and their first birthday party, in May 2011, was a roadblock. “It’s the off-duty DJs’ night out,” says Johnston of a typical crowd. “When I look out on the dancefloor, it’s a ‘Who’s Who’ of underground London disco DJs from the last 20 years. Everyone from the Idjut Boys to Richard Sen has been down.” And it’s not just their cronies who are onboard either: the new school of cutting-edge London DJs, like Dan Avery (aka Kill Em All resident Stopmakingme) and Friendly Fires’ drummer and lead selector Jack Savidge, have been spotted on the A Love From Outer Space frontline.
Now London isn’t the only stop on Weatherall and Johnston’s interplanetary mission. They are journeying further afield – slowly, of course – and they’ve spun sets under the ALFOS banner from Brighton to Berlin and from Manchester to Milan. As this mix heads to the pressing room, so ends their residency at The Drop too, nearly two years after their first night there in May 2010. Instead, the pair are focusing on larger events and filling them with talented new DJs and live bands – perhaps, at some point, even Wevvers’ brand new project with Fairplay, The Aspho Dells, who feature on this mix.
Going larger is one thing, but A Love From Outer Space is never going to be a multiplex-style ‘superclub’ event. It’s too leftfield for that, and too much about Weatherall and Johnston following their own path, whether you like it or not. But let’s be honest: you knew that already, and that’s why you picked up this CD. “Trends go whizzing past me,” Weatherall says with a chuckle. “People will say, ‘Ah, dya see that?’. And I’ll go: ‘What was that?’ And they’ll say: ‘That was a trend!’ And I’ll say: ‘Ah, fuck it, not another one.’ If you’re never in fashion it’s difficult to be out of fashion. It’s the difference between fashion and style: why try and cram yourself into the latest pair of tight ironic trousers when another pair looks and fits you better?”
Kate Hutchinson, April 2012