Remembering Andrew Weatherall, dance music’s true originator
It’s bewildering to imagine a world without the contributions of Andrew Weatherall. Known for a decades-long career as a pioneering and hugely influential producer, remixer and DJ, his legacy reaches well beyond the boundaries that constrained many in his generation. Where some of his former peers have found themselves placed on pedestals as ‘legends’ – dusted off every few years to remind us of their former glories – or have been confined to relics of the acid house era, Weatherall remained ahead of the beat – whether that beat was disco, half–time or so slow it melted into non-existence.
His work and longevity – often the result of a near-mythological desire for complete independence – is as defined by the roads he chose not to take as the mountains he repeatedly conquered. A DJ of exquisite taste and technical talent, his open-minded, curious nature led to a journey less travelled, one through music, art, literature and everything else that one might turn to when trying to make sense of a loss like this.
Born and raised in Windsor, Weatherall found himself in “the right place at the right time” for Britain’s second summer of love, driven by the arrival of ecstasy and Balearic house in the UK. Already the proprietor of an expansive and eclectic record collection, he was invited to play clubs such as Shoom, where he soon became resident, as well as parties run by Paul Oakenfold and Terry Farley, with whom he’d found Boy’s Own, the legendary acid house era fanzine devoted to football, records and fashion.
“Andrew Weatherall was a household name, albeit in households littered with novels, records and pungent grinders”
Although Weatherall easily matched the taste for hedonism amongst his peers, he remained an esoteric, fringe figure, somewhat unconvinced by the Balearic charms of Ibiza and the bubbling promise of vast commercial success. Nonetheless, he still became something of a household name, albeit in households littered with novels, records and pungent grinders. Until his death, he remained one of life’s great enthusiasts, as yet another generation has discovered via his NTS residency show, Music’s Not For Everyone, or under voluntary hypnosis at his A Love From Outer Space parties, a celebration of patience and pay-off alongside Sean Johnston, at which the tempo was “never knowingly above 122bpm.”
Music’s Not For Everyone is a quintessentially Weatherall title; a little barbed, a little enticing. Although he had scant regard for the banality of much in popular culture, his approach to music and production wasn’t rooted in intellectual superiority but left a door ajar into a psychedelic, sometimes challenging world. Some of his best-known work – his collaboration with Primal Scream on 1991’s Screamadelica, remixes of Saint Etienne, Future Sound Of London and My Bloody Valentine that arguably became the definitive articles, the wistful Smokebelch II (Beatless Mix) as Sabres of Paradise – connected far above the underground he was content in inhabiting.
Waving away their cultural significance, he attributed these early successes to a sense of naivety, one that he would somehow conjure again and again as he boldly expanded his discography to encompass not only a significant dub influence, but rockabilly, folk and on 2013’s excellent collaboration with Timothy J Fairplay as The Asphodells, his own surprisingly gentle singing voice. His sense of humour and generosity informed his approach to everything. Close friends of The Guv’nor have written that he would be able to pick up threads of conversation years, even decades later. He saw and presented culture as a reassuring continuum, a cycle marked by indulgent nights out in which centuries-old traditions of mind-altering took place in grubby clubs, soundtracked without judgement by his sublime taste.
Weatherall’s passion and ability to trace the invisible lines between genres and styles and his talent for recontextualising records is occasionally equalled, yet rarely beaten in contemporary ‘selector’ culture, though I would suspect the term is not one he’d favour. Over the years, he exhibited bafflement towards the notion that he was a sort of figurehead, often undercutting his legendary status with self-aware humour and stories at his own expense. To his converts, these defences were entertaining but useless. Nobody sounded like Weatherall.
Avowedly secular, Weatherall nonetheless sought enlightenment, finding meaning not only in music and collaboration, but in literature and history. Away from the DJ booth, he regularly used his work and words to pay generous tribute to his influences and inspirations, a studied lineage of bold eccentrics, generous raconteurs and those occasional, genuine visionaries. What a tragedy to lose yet another.