Waifs and Strays have found themselves at the forefront of an incredibly vibrant emerging house music scene in Bristol.
Amos Nelson, 33, one half of Bristol house music production duo Waifs And Strays is having a moment. Playing the Phonica Records 8th Birthday celebration alongside luminaries such as the Visionquest boys, Soul Clap, Joy Orbison and Heidi, Amos and his partner in music Rich Beanland, 27, are in with the heavyweights for the evening and holding their own.
Anyone who witnessed their house music ride in South London that night, as well as anyone who has subsequently seen them at other gigs across the country, will have no doubt as to their dance floor potency. Chunky, groovy basslines rub up against addictive hooks and subtle breakdowns to create the perfect trendy house sound of the moment.
Another moment of note in the rise of the duo came earlier this year when Crack was driving to Underhill Festival to host our own tent, in which the duo were appearing. En route, Radio One’s dance music chieftain Pete Tong played their biggest track to date, Yeah Yeah, as his Essential New Tune. The hype surrounding the release had been gathering pace for months, and vindication of the track’s enormous dance floor potential was hammered home in a sweaty outdoor tent in East Knoyle, Dorset when to coin a Tong-esque term, ‘it went off!’
Bringing different talents to the table in terms of personality and ability, Amos’s DJ skill, informed, confident personality and knowledge of the club scene – house music in particular – complements Rich’s learned production skill and calm, considered nature. This trade-off between their respective talents has left them peering into 2012 with a great deal of anticipation. A calendar full of DJ dates and readied productions means they are a strong bet to be leading Bristol’s surge of burgeoning house talent into the New Year.
Waifs And Strays took half an hour on Crack’s famed chaise longue to digest how it all happened.
How did you guys meet?
Rich: I met Amos at a few parties really. People knew I did a bit of production, but not really house, I was mainly doing dubstep and Amos had a few tunes he wanted mastered or mixed down, so we got chatting.
Amos: That was very early on, so I was just learning at that point and I had a couple of tunes I needed help with. A mutual friend said I should speak to Rich, and then we made a track together and it went from there.
R: I didn’t have a studio at that point; my ‘studio’ was at a mate called Gareth’s house, so we’d meet and go round there. It was basically a desk at the bottom of his bed with a computer and a keyboard.
A: Didn’t he have a pub on one side and deaf person on the other?
R: You could make as much noise as you wanted. She would hang out of the window and be like ‘turn it up! Don’t worry!’ She was the ideal neighbour. It was an unusual place to be starting. It was a student house. They had rats. It wasn’t exactly Abbey Road.
So Rich, your musical background was in dubstep. How come the switch?
R: Well I started off listening to hip-hop and drum and bass and then dubstep emerged. I had a few releases five or six years ago, then real life got in the way unfortunately. When Amos got in touch it was a perfect opportunity to get back into it.
And Amos, was your background more in club promotion or in DJing?
A: DJing really. A while ago the best way to get gigs in a club was to work for nothing for the promoter. This was before anyone could make a tune and you really needed specialist gear to do it. The whole soft synth world everyone knows at the moment hadn’t taken off. It was pre-Ableton, so the best way to get gigs in a club was to get gigs in a local club, build up a bit of a following, then someone would hear about you and get you a gig in another city, and it would go from there. The promotion side of things came because I wanted to DJ. The Rock, which is now Bristol Academy. opened up about 11 years ago and I ended up getting on board there, so that was my ‘in’. I ended up helping to run and promote a night called Scream at The Rock.
Scream was easily Bristol’s biggest club night at one point, wasn’t it?
A: Scream was massive. I started playing upstairs and got a residency and a good little following up there. 2000/2001 we had some amazing parties. I’ve always been involved with house music in Bristol because of that.
So with a fair few contacts through Amos’s past and Rich’s production skills, you must have complimented each other nicely?
R: Initially it was almost perfect doing separate things and merging our learning from each other. It was almost like a DJ/producer partnership.
A: That divide has been blurred a lot. My production skills have become a lot better and Rich’s DJ experience has improved as well. Having also been on the scene for longer with Scream and finding Motion with Rag (Sagturu – Bristol club promoter), I could help a lot with getting ourselves out there. It is a good union of skills that complimented each other.
When you produce, how does the process work?
R: Yeah Yeah we pretty much wrote from start to finish together.
We’ve both got our individual studios, so if one of us starts something, one of us can go round and add ideas and do edits or arrangements. It’s fairly collaborative. Nothing gets sent out without two stamps of approval.
A: I don’t think we’ve made a record that hasn’t had influence from both of us in some respect. There isn’t really a set process at the moment.
So has the pace picked up in terms of the work you are attempting to do?
R: It started off pretty slowly, it’s picked up massively of late.
A: Initially we made a track called 3AM and gave it to Matt Tolfrey (boss of acclaimed house music label Leftroom). He signed it and was on our case saying ‘come on, I want another track and another track’.
R: It actually got released on the digital offshoot of Leftroom. Once we got that sound, we could do this properly and get stuck in.
A: Because he was hassling us it made us do it. And then we wrote Yeah Yeah. Matt gave it to Heidi (Radio One house and techno specialist DJ) after she heard him play it at the Detroit Music Festival about a year and a bit ago. But the track is probably about two and a half years old. When Heidi jumped on it she was giving us loads of big-ups and mentions and playing it in her sets everywhere.
I think the first time Crack really noticed it was when we were driving to Underhill festival to watch you play and it was Pete Tong’s Essential New Tune.
R: That was a long way down the road. It was probably a year and a half after Matt signed it.
A: But it wasn’t that long after it came out. It was case of Matt holding it for ages and for one reason or another it didn’t come out. We wanted it to come out in the summer because it’s a summer record.
Did that take patience on your part? It must have been pretty tempting to try to get it out.
R: It was forced patience, really.
A: We didn’t really have a huge amount of choice, and it worked out brilliantly. It was a big tune and it made people notice us. Trying to get ahead in dance music, it’s like the age old saying ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. There’s so much good music being made, but if it doesn’t get into the right hands or the right people don’t end up listening to it then it just goes unnoticed. Luckily, once you’ve had a tune that’s had some form of recognition and you then send a record to a record company, they’ll go ‘oh, that’s a Waifs And Strays record.’
R: It means at the very least they’ll listen to it.
There are a couple of examples of this happening in Bristol with Julio Bashmore with Battle For Middle You and Eats Everything with Entrance Song.
A: Well Dan (Eats Everything) is one of my oldest friends, and he’s been making amazing records for ages, but it wasn’t until Entrance Songthat people were like ‘right.’
Do you feel like your success is vindication for your hard work?
R: Considering we haven’t been doing it for that long, we’re actually quite a long way forward. If you look at the start of this year, we were nowhere with no releases. The goal for the year was to get one or two more records signed and a few gigs.
A: Now we’ve got an Essential New Tune, DJing every weekend, loads of overseas gigs for next year and also had the Hot Natured and Futureboogie releases as well as loads of remix offers starting to come in.
In a wider context, it’s been an unbelievable year for the Bristol house music scene as a whole, hasn’t it?
A: Matt (Bashmore) and Dan were talent that needed to be found. Dan has been doing it for ages, and for him it wasn’t a case of if, it was when. The quality of what they’ve both done meant they were going to get that break. I hope the same can be said about us.
Was it easier to get your music released through Futureboogie because they knew you already?
A: I’ve know Dave (Harvey) from Futureboogie for years and I think he quite bluntly said to me at Alfresco Disco (Bristol house music event), ‘look, just because we’re mates doesn’t mean I’m definitely going to release your music.’ And I said to him, ‘if you signed our music because we’re mates I’d be insulted’. If you’re being given opportunities on the back of your friends, it’s not particularly great, is it?
R: I don’t think any artist wants that and then be two years down the line going, ‘all my releases have been through my friends and none of them are actually any good’. It’s lucky for Bristol that Futureboogie haven’t had to look outside yet.
Does it act as a snowball effect in some way?
R: If you’ve got loads of people from one city doing well and you’re an emerging artist from that city, you’re more likely to get noticed.
A: There’s definitely a story there with Bristol. It’s slightly like the whole Boston/Brooklyn, Wolf + Lamb thing a couple of years ago with No Regular Play and Soul Clap to a certain extent, playing a very specific type of music, in their case lots of slowed down house music, lots of edits, lots of disco and R’n’B influenced stuff.
So how would you define what’s happening in Bristol then?
R: It was so big for so long. Everyone looked to Bristol for the drum and bass and bass music scene. You can’t keep it at that level for that long. People don’t want to be looking at Bristol for that any more. They want the next new thing.
A: It’s different now because everyone has a common cause. Things are coming together. The nights have taken on a new dynamic. All the collaborations with the different nights in the city have been brilliant. A good record shop (Idle Hands) opening up is important. People started working together. In the past everyone was doing their own thing and not really getting on and there was no real cohesion. Now everyone has come together. When we did Scream we were fighting against the other clubs and things like taking flyers out of shops were happening. Now everyone is talking to each other and that’s come through in the music and the art and everyone is just bigging each other up the whole time.
What are the plans for the next six months? Are you going to do an album at all?
R: I think that’s probably a bit far in the future for now. We need to get a few more really good singles at the start and the middle of next year. We want to get some more stuff out on Leftroom.
Finally, who is the Waif and who is the Stray?
A: People always ask us this and usually assume I’m the waif as I’m the smaller of the two. But in fact the phrase is a description in its own right – we are both Waifs And Strays!
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Photo: James Koch