30 years of record collecting have informed one of the most distinguished careers in music production and DJing
Pinning Andrew Weatherall down in such a meagre introduction is utterly futile. You can grapple all you like with the boundless musical exploits the man has traversed across a remarkable cross-section of work and a career spanning 25 years, but to try to peg him with any kind of reductive definition is more or less moot.
A glance at the clock during our time with Weatherall delivers a sinking feeling; one that can only come from the knowledge that time constraints are about to sever a conversation you know was just a surface glimpse of what this man has to offer. Weatherall’s delivery is rapid and verbose, his London drawl adding to the deep-rooted authenticity which informs his every opinion, a breadth of knowledge and a musical history that very few can rival.
Electronic, but only to an extent, Andrew Weatherall’s output stretches across around 20 different aliases and production monikers, including his own. Initially, the twisted dub of Sabres Of Paradise was a stamp of quality bathed in early 90s hedonism. However, it was with long term collaborator Keith Tenniswood as Two Lone Swordsmen that real acclaim followed. Their output over seven albums made them a Warp records staple and combined a fluid understanding of post-punk, downtempo and house and electro influences.
Resisting the lure of DJ superstardom in the 90s in favour of a path that was more musically led, his album production credits include two classics from two different eras: Tarot Sport by Fuck Buttons and, most notoriously, Primal Scream’s Screamadelica. Recently, his collaborative album with cohort Timothy Fairplay as The Asphodells, entitled Ruled By Passion, Destroyed By Lust, saw him straddling a slower bpm and a more considered interpretation of dub, krautrock and disco, but never fully relying on any of them for a distinct watermark. It heralded a return towards his electronic tendencies after his last record, the more song- based solo effort A Pox On The Pioneers.
But it’s as a selector where Weatherall is perhaps most commonly appreciated. An avid collector of boogie and rockabilly records from the 50s and 60s, his love of this bygone era is tempered by a renowned affinity for acid house, techno, electro and disco punk. And anyone who has seen Andrew Weatherall educate a young crowd at a Bugged Out! night, tear the second room of Fabric a new one with his balls-out acid tinged techno or been lost in a fit of psychedelic disco otherworldliness fuelled by his recent Love From Outer Space project with Sean Johnston will testify, you don’t ride these numerous genres with such masterful dexterity without soaking up a lot of music.
Therein lies the addiction with Weatherall: music in all its guises. Maintaining an ear quite that well honed as you enter your 50s makes him an almost complete anomaly, as well as an absolutely essential DJ to witness on any bill. Oh, and he dresses like the coolest motherfucker in town. Sold? If you aren’t then you’re reading the wrong magazine.
So, what was the process in selecting the producers for the Asphodells remix album?
It was easy, really. It was people we liked and people we could do a swap with, so we’d do a remix for them and they’d do one for us in return, which is how a lot of remixing works these days. When it’s other people’s work I enjoy, I like dissecting it to hear the elements that go together to make up the finished thing. Sometimes I think ‘I can’t believe you’ve made such a good track with all these hideous ingredients’. That happened recently with a band who are good friends of mine. It was a really horrible collection of harshly recorded bits and they’d made this beautiful track out of it. I still to this day wonder how they did it.
When you put together the Asphodells album there was no intention to make a record of this kind?
When we aren’t remixing other people we just keep making music, y’know. Every few months you start tracks you abandon, but we don’t erase them, we still keep them in the computer and after a few months you go back to them and you think ‘ah, that wasn’t so bad’. So after five or six months of recording, perfectly speaking, that’s usually when I think I’ve got an album. We don’t just rock up on the Monday and be like ‘come on boys, we need a new album’. That’s too daunting, too blank a canvas. We never start anything because we never stop anything, if that makes sense. We just continue recording, and it’s only after a few months that you start thinking, ‘oh, we’ll make an album’, but it’s quite good because you’re already three-quarters of the way through.
So when is the actual stopping point?
It’s when you’ve got an album that you think works well as a collection of tracks. Sometimes you think of format, say if it’s a CD you’ve got have 70 or 80 minutes. If we were back in the days when it was just vinyl you’d be thinking 15-20 minutes per side tops. You should never be thinking you should fill up the format, but unfortunately you sometimes do. You see, I’m always thinking value for money dear boy! Maybe next time if I’ve got 40 minutes and it makes a good album I’ll do that. It’s just in this case I had 70 minutes of good stuff. It’s still nice to give people a reasonable amount music to choose from, even if they only end up downloading three or four tracks. I like that, cause at least it makes it appear like I’ve done some work!
Your output is far too weighty for anyone to accuse you of not doing work.
It’s quite prolific, isn’t it? I was tidying out my room the other day and I found bags of DATS dating back to 1992 with stuff on there I have no idea or even any recollection of doing.
Having been a part of almost every subculture since punk, is there any nostalgia attached to what you do these days?
Nostalgia is very, very debilitating. I love my heritage and I watch old footage of bands and get shivers up the spine, but I very rarely sit there and go ‘it’s not like it used to be’. I’m 50 years old, there are 18-year-olds getting the same joy of discovery that I got when I was their age and the same transcendence through music that I got. The means of delivery and style may have changed, but the human condition hasn’t changed in thousands of years. I still love that there is pop culture going on around me even though sometimes I hate it and shout at the TV, like I did it this morning to some new, scrubbed, fresh-faced boy band who are an annoying bunch of irksome tits, but it’s still all good. There is great new music being made. Also, it’s not a good look when you get to 50 to be sat there going ‘oh, young people today…’ What’s the point in being grumpy?
With things like your current Love From Outer Space work, you’ve never really needed a new lease of life as such?
I think people like A Love From Outer Space because it contains elements of post-punk, Balearic, house, techno, dub, and it’s going back to the mélange I used to play when I first started DJing, but with a nod to the future. ALFOS gets a mad mixture of young 25-year-olds and then the 35 to 50s, as it has an energy that the younger crowd are into and then a nod to records from the past the older crowd also enjoys. I love the heritage and I love the fact I’ve been through these pop culture trends, but there is no point in hankering – it’s a waste of energy. My spectacles aren’t rose-tinted, they’re nicotine-stained
Have you ever thought of writing a book?
Yeah, yeah, I will do. Just what the world needs, an autobiography of a DJ! Have you ever read a good one? I’m actually the artist in residence at Faber & Faber the publishers, there’s a book coming out called Unreal City by Michael Smith and I’ve just done the foreword and an annotated version of the novel. I will eventually do a book, but it’ll be all these short anecdotes. I’ve got so many great little stories, and a great story is a great story, it doesn’t have to be set within an autobiography. In fact, if it isn’t in an autobiography you can twist it and almost make it better. It would be boring to put them into a narrative arc. I’d like to illustrate it myself and put it out as some kind of box set. Lee my contact at F&F said: “If you think the music industry works slowly, welcome to the world of publishing.” I’m in no great hurry though. I’m 50 and the clock is ticking, but I’m maybe less hurried. I’ve had 50 years of doing things off the cuff and a bit hurriedly. Sometimes that works, but sometimes artistically it’s better to wait.
Right. Who the fuck is your tailor and can we have his phone number?
[laughs] It’s a guy called Mark Powell who has been making stuff for 30 years. He’s based in Soho and I’ve known him personally for years and liked his stuff. That’s the only tailor I go to. But I’m always on the look out for good books, always on the look out for good music, and always on the look out for good trousers! I live in one of the best cities in the world and walking to work I can hear great music, be influenced and pop into bookshops. The rents are high, the rewards are many and the museums are free.
Did you always have this rich appreciation for your environment, even in your 20s?
I was just fascinated by pop culture in all its forms and that leads you to literature and art and fashion and then, when you get older, style, because you realise following fashion is pointless because you look like a fool. My dad was a mod, pre-modernist type, before it got commercial, when it was all about jazz and dressing up. Maybe I got it from him, but also because I was brought up in the suburbs, it was all a bit monochrome. I had a very nice upbringing, but pop culture offered a parallel universe that was in colour.