music | features | artist interview
Andrew Weatherall2003 Interview
Lone Swordsman and respected rotter Andrew Weatherall talks to Alex Ward about Zen, electro and the upside of guitars and dance music
By Alex Ward
A lot of people see you as a jack-of-all-trades in terms of production and DJing. What do you think of today's trend to align yourself with a certain style or genre?
The thing is with the phrase jack-of-all-trades, you know what comes next – master of none. I think it's a polite way of calling them a dilettante, someone who is doing it as a bit of a hobby, flying around doing this that and the other. I think five years ago and past, then I did fall into that category, but now I think I don't spread myself as thinly as I did before, my horizons have narrowed somewhat. I actually think I am a good house DJ and a good techno/electro/whatever DJ. So yeah I'd say I was a jack of a few trades and reasonably good at the ones I do.
I wouldn't say I'm a jack-of-all-trades because that's probably what I was ten years ago, but that wasn't down to wanting to fit in or jumping on bandwagons, it was a genuine love of every form of music, and people gave me the opportunity to play it. So there would be people who would go 'oh he's not a proper 'whatever' DJ', but I never considered myself to be that. I was always someone with a good record collection that spanned all genres who every now and then people were good enough to say, come and play for me and pay me – admittedly small amounts when I started, £75 wages, £150 on records. I can see the funk in a hip hop record that's 90 beats per minute and in a drum and bass record that's 180 beats per minute, and if someone good enough to let me play, and play long enough to cover all bases then I will cover all bases. I actually think I am reasonably good at it now. Yeah, four or five years ago I was a bit of a jack-of-all-trades master of none but then I think people saw through that and saw the fact that enthusiasm probably over-rode the lack of technical ability.
Okay, some people just thought I was a bit of a chancer, but a few other people could see the love of music coming through, and I think that's how I managed to carry on. If I had been a total chancer trying to jump on everyone's bandwagon, I would have soon bee found out, I wouldn't be here ten years later. But I think the fact that I was enthusiastic though not technically that good, managed to persuade people that I wasn't just jumping on it.
If you do follow one path there is the point to be said that. There are house DJ's that play house better than me because that's all they play, they listen to it 24 hours a day. I'm not listening to house music 24 hours a day, I'm just listening to music 24 hours a day and whether that translates into a house set in the evening...whatever. So there is something to be said for going down the one path, but I just can't physically listen to one sort of music. I'm inquisitive to know what's going on in the outside scene, it's about getting influences. People who make house music listen to shitloads of other kinds of music, they're not just listening to house. Even when I'm listening to house I'm thinking 'what have they listened to get it to sound like that. I like those drums they've come from a Latin track, or they've come from an old funk track...' So even when you are going down one road it's very difficult not to be distracted because the music you're listening to has come from lots of other roads as it were.
Emissions was always very varied in its output...
Yeah, varied in quality as well I might add. But again it was the enthusiasm, it was just wanting to put out... There are some things we shouldn't have put out and there are some things we didn't put out which we should have done, but every record label's going to tell you that – the ones that got away, the ones we shouldn't really have put out. But having a label is just a reflection of the same attitude towards DJing. People were sending all these great demos that were never going to see the light of day anywhere else, so it was like, let's try to do something about it and put them out.
So Emissions stopped because you had to pay out on a lot of bills?
Basically yeah. I did incur a lot of bills and it could have gone tits up, could have put my hands up and gone insolvent, but the good thing is the people who we were working with were very understanding and we said to them 'look if you start a run on us now and demand the money we're going to be fucked, but if you can wait a bit I'll pay everyone that's owed, their money', and that's what happened. We just spent a couple of years putting our house in order rather than let down the people who put records out on the label and people who worked for us. Just thought it was a bit more honorable to redress any financial irregularities or lacking – no, there were never any financial irregularities (laughs).
It’s totally reciprocal, at the moment Two Lone Swordsmen are flavour of the month. In a certain publication that recently said we had the best electronic music album of the year our last review said that I should be driving a cab. I’m kind of used to it so don’t really take that much notice of it – it’s nice to have good reviews, it’s good, but I’m kind of wary that this time next year they could have got bored with me and gone round to someone else. But then I like that cos it means I’m left alone just to get on with it and make tunes.
You do less interviews these days...
Well, I don’t do that many but you have to do them now and again, it is a necessary evil. There’s so many people making records and the spread of information is so fast that you have to join in a bit more and tell people. If you’ve got something good, fuck it why not tell them, and if that means doing an interview then fair enough, do an interview, just don’t go overboard. I’ve drawn the line. I’ve recently got asked by a leading fashion magazine to model clothes. My mantra for 2001 has become promote or die, but that’s just going a bit far, I think I’ve found the cut off point where it gets a little bit ridiculous. I’m not adverse to doing interviews and I’ll be blatant about it, if interviews are around the time when I’ve got records coming out then I’d be foolish not to do them cos I can tell people that I’ve got what I think are really cool records coming out. I don’t do everything that’s offered and I don’t think you’ll be seeing me in fashion shoots – the Overload fashion Issue [laughs]!
When you started working with Keith Tenniswood was that an major turning point for you?
The whole era, the whole time was a turning point, not just for the whole mechanics of making music, me as a person was beginning to change. It was just good that it coincided with a change in the way I approached making tunes. That was 50% of it and the other 50% was just change as a person because of what you’ve lived through for previous five or ten years or whatever it was. There was a lot of mad shit. It was five or six years of absolute lunacy. I wouldn’t swap it for the world, but around that time when we started Two Lone Swordsman things were beginning to change. The hedonism needed to be kept in check a bit because there was a danger of becoming a bit of a cartoon character, a bit of a sort of self parody and I knew I should really be concentrating on the music. I was going way away from the roots of the music that I was brought up with due to ecstasy and due to other things. So I started listening to music more intently rather than it just being a sound track to hedonism, which was what it was for quite some time.
Your two Lone Swordsmen material is packed with influences stretching back decades. Would you say these influences are diffused well in the music?
Yeah. You can spot the influences, but not in the way that I know what record that’s sampled from, or I know where they’ve nicked that bass line from. I think when you listen to our stuff, especially now, it’s infused with influences, yet it doesn’t pillage the past for our own gain. We do take literal loops sometimes but there’ll only be one track off every album that will have one stray four-bar loop. I think we diffuse our influences well. We take in a lot of music but I think what we spew out the other end is a good electronic take on what we’re listening to before we go in the studio.
You’ve worked with many different people in the past. Are there other people that you would like to work with?
I could make phone calls or drop hints in interviews, it’s happened before – you mention someone and the next thing the record company is on the phone. My musical heroes – I want to listen to records by them, I don’t feel the need to get involved in their world. I like looking at their world from a distance, which is why I’m a bit suspect of this current guest celebrity indie dance music that’s going on. It’s quality by association and it’s not the people making it – the backing track is them so just leave it or sing on it yourself, you’re just instilling your music with someone else’s personality. You’ve got your bit, your personality, then you just stamp this other big personality all over the top of it and I’ve never understood that. So working with famous vocalists, I’d do it if I thought it would still retain my personality but the minute you start bringing onboard well known singers and players you’re kind of taking it somewhere else.You’ve been involved with a lot of club promotion such as the Sabresonic night and then Bloodsugar. What you were saying earlier about things being overloaded with too much music – too much information – do you think that’s true of the club scene as well?
No, I didn’t say there was too much of it. Well, there is a lot of it but that’s a good thing. What I meant was that if you’re involved you have to play the game a little bit more. Can you have too much music? There is a lot but it just means sometimes that quality control is a bit lacking. It’s good that everyone can have a go, it would be hypocritical of me to rant on about punk rock and then say that only certain people should be allowed to make music or run clubs. It’s just that when you open the floodgates some people are going to get drowned, there can be some effluent in the water. I spent too much time worrying about what’s going on in the commercial world of clubbing. It’s like well, don’t listen to it, don’t go to the clubs, why bother about it.
There’s a book about at the moment called Black Vinyl, White Powder, written by Simon Napier Bell. It’s about drugs in the music industry and there’s this great quote where he’s talking about commercial club culture. He says commercial club culture is based for people who are going to be into it for four or five years, it’s a soundtrack to their youth, they’ll get married, get a job blah blah blah. All it is is a five year cheap imitation of underground club culture, be that black, gay, Latino whatever. Club culture that is constant and strong, the commercial side of is just a pale imitation for people who want it for four or five years – so why worry about it.
I always do interviews and people say to me what do you think of so and so and I’m like well it’s another world, it’s pop culture it’s not my world, I love pop culture. Again it would be wrong of me to say how great Mark Bolan was and T-Rex and glam rock, then slag off commercial club culture cos it’s the same thing, it’s pop culture now, it is the glam of now. Admittedly some of the records are hideous but some of the records like Spiller are classic pop records, so what goes on in the commercial world it doesn’t really bother me. Yeah there’s loads of shit clubs but touch wood I know where most of them are and won’t go.Would you say you’ve had deeper insight than most into the phenomenon of club culture, having been there from the start?
Yeah I’ve been there for a while, but club culture in this country goes back to the ‘50s, the '40s, you know what I mean? I’ve had an insight into it changing from relatively underground to becoming a predominant pop culture. I’ve seen it go from maybe one dance based record in the charts ten years ago to 99% of the chart being commercial dance based – be that two-step, be that ‘techno’, be that house – predominant pop rhythm, dance music based. I’ve seen it go from that, from relatively experimental and house music coming to London and people being shouted at for playing it because they thought it was gay music, to it being the predominant sound of pop music, in the space of ten years – that’s what I’ve seen. I don’t find that annoying.
Okay, a lot of talented people that should have made millions haven’t, and a lot of people who have creamed off the top shouldn’t have been anywhere near the top, but that’s just the way pop culture is. There’s always going to be people that feed off the underground and turn it into mass acceptance and I think you’ve just got to face up to that fact that’s the way culture operates. Something as strong as the underground dance culture like in 1988, so much energy and so much going on, you kind of knew in the back of your mind that it wouldn’t last, it wouldn’t be your thing for very long. At the heyday of Shoom they were turning away hundreds, people had to go somewhere so they started their own club. People couldn’t get in to that club so they started their own club. You just knew looking outside the door at the queue to get into early acid house clubs that it wasn’t going to be your thing for much longer.
With so many people making music these days, would you say the relationship between making music and making money has become an increasingly important point of discussion?
The good thing now is that if you want to make music for the love of it you can spread the word by going and pressing your own CDs, burning them off in your own house or making your own web site for a couple of hundred quid and putting your own tracks up there. There are easier ways now if you’re doing something a bit experimental or a bit against the grain. You don’t have to play the music industry game, you can set your own rules. I know someone who’s got a label and they just do 500 7” singles, they sell them in a weekend. They did a search for their name on the web and found 14 unofficial web sites dedicated to them and they’d had three 7” singles out! So the good thing is that the worlds are so separate, the commercial side and the experimental side, but it doesn’t matter because you don’t have to rely on big record companies. You can press 500 CDs and make some money on it, or a thousand CDs or 50 CDs and get your music out or like I say, put it on a web site.
There must have been a temptation with Sabres of Paradise to push the prosperity a bit further. You seem to be one for stopping things when on a high.
I just saw the way that whole thing was going, I was getting further and further away from what I was about because I was propelled down that path. Everyone was saying you’re the bollocks, you’re going round the world and just living the life. Like I say, very entertaining, but then there comes a point where you’re thinking ‘what got me to this position’. Why I was able to do this was my love of music and I’m not listening to music properly, so that’s why the Sabres ended – because this was turning into cartoon style. I’d love the big house in North London that certain big beat combos have recently purchased (laughs), but I couldn’t continue to sit in the studio and continue making the music that I was making – or take it the way you’d have to to get to that next level. I kind of jumped ship before. A bit of it was fear as well. I just thought hold on a minute – I’m going to be found out soon. Anyone that gets to that position and thinks fuck, I’m gonna be found out any day, but bollocks – so what, and just carries on… well. I was like ‘I’m gonna be found out and I’m scared of the cover being blown’ – the emperor’s new clothes syndrome. It’s like, someone is going to start asking questions, well if the music gets better they aren’t going to start asking questions, but if we carry on down this route you’ll hear a voice form the back saying hey, he’s got no clothes on. But that’s just me, certain people have gone from strength to strength and nobody has stood up at the back and gone, hold on a minute, this is bollocks.
But that’s when the media come into play…
That’s just me, although I had a brash exterior at the time, inside it was quite scary. You have literally just gone from various shit jobs and reading the NME to actually being in the NME. It does do strange things to you. I put on a bit of a brash exterior but internally it was like, fuck – it’s all going to fall apart tomorrow. Someone’s going to jump up and say, he’s just this geezer with a moderately good record collection, but maybe that was just my paranoia at the time, which wasn’t helped by the drug intake.
And the infamous NME article – is that brought up a lot?
The famous ‘I’ve given up coke’ then going to the toilet and having a nose up…? Looking back on it, the next day, when it was published my mates phoned up going ‘what are you doing?’, but then again other people would be going, fair play, and I think it’s kind of part of the purging process. You could tell that bloke that interviewed me was a bit disappointed, he just thought I was a twat, and it was like ‘oh good, cos now you’ll leave me alone’. I think it was an unconscious self-destruct button being pushed a little bit. I mean, I wasn’t that bad. I did use the whole thing like a psychiatrist’s couch but I think it was good. I think that’s what lead that publication to say that I should be driving cabs, which left me alone to develop music that they now think is the best (laughs) electronic album of the year, that’s how fucking bizarre it is. But yeah, if you put that interview in front of me now then I wouldn’t want to look at it. It was part of the process that kind of meant that people left me alone a little bit. Y’know, everyone’s ashamed of their pasts, just don’t ever mention it again, alright! [laughs]
Coming back to ‘finishing things on a high note’, does that in any way relate to your current trend of keeping your tracks short?
Yeah. Again, that’s just something I learnt as well. Because I’d been thrown into the limelight I thought every time I appeared I had to make this massive grand gesture. And to me grand gestures were 15 minute tracks, all guns blazing, ‘where’s the kitchen sink? We’ll have that in’, then suddenly realised that loads of the records I love are two and a half minutes, three chords. And I’d started listening to a lot more lively music, Italian and German music, and they were doing minute and a half tracks and they said more in the minute and a half than a lot of my tracks said in 15 minutes. It’s almost like when you’re at home really stoned and you’re bored, someone coming up to you and whacking you on the head and waking you up. I just learnt that you can say so much more by saying so much less. And then I read a definition of Zen, which is ‘the maximum amount of beauty and the minimum amount of ingredients’. It was there in black and white.
Again it was all part of the process, it wasn’t just a musical thing – it was a piece of literature that triggered off. There was another piece about the same time, a William Burroughs quote, if you’re in a hurry to show people your art, screw it up and throw it away, it’d be rubbish – good art can always wait. That helped me get a bit more laid back and less rushy about things.
Flow and programming when mixing – these both seem very important to you...
It’s an obsession, an absolute obsession! It just is, I don’t know where that’s come from. I think that’s because part of me is trying to atone for past sins. Before when I was a DJ I was just hired because I had a good record collection, I used to play a mixture of stuff like weird shit and didn’t mix, but then got hired more and more to play my own spot and had to learn how to mix. Before I think I was bluffing because I couldn’t mix. I was like, ‘oh yeah it’s the tunes, it doesn’t matter about mixing’, and when I started to learn to mix it was like, ‘I’ve got these good tunes, if I can put them together better by mixing them…’ It was like ‘I see’. I was just bluff and blunder. I don’t need to know how to mix although probably deep down I knew I did, and I learnt how to, and the more I got into it, it was like I can take these really good records and make it even better by actually thinking about the way they’re put together – not just playing load of weird records for weirdness sake, which is kind of what I did sometimes.
So the more I got into mixing the more obsessed I became with it, it was almost like I’d proved myself right, that nagging voice at the back of my mind saying that you should learn to mix. The answer is like, yes, you do need to learn to mix. So I kind of got obsessed with it to make up for the fact that I didn’t really think about it before. So I’d have this really seamlessly mixed four hours... that’s what it comes from, that realization, that’s just my character.
If I’m forced into doing something, if I’m kicked up the arse then I’ll probably do it. I had to learn how to mix. Had I been left to my own devices I probably would never have bothered, but because someone gave me a kick up the arse by booking me in bigger rooms and main slots I had to learn how to mix. I think that’s where the obsession probably comes from. It doesn’t have to be all the same music, it can be all over the place music, but it’s got to make some sort of sense. Otherwise you’re just showing off your record collection ‘well if you thought that was weird then listen to this’. I’m a bit wary of hearing ‘playing the eclectic mix of music’ cos it usually means slapping one record on after another to just show off your alternative record collection.
You can play across the board shit but if you program it well and it can make people dance. I’m a bit of a mix fascist now when I go out and want to loose myself in the music, loose myself in the groove I don’t want to be kicked out of it by a lumpy mix — that sounds terrible doesn’t it? A lumpy mix can ruin my whole evening. You don’t want to spend an hour and a half really getting into something then have some jarring track. It can be a jarring track that comes in as long as its in the groove, it’s only if it comes in on the offbeat and it’s out of key or it’s not thought about then I’m back to square one. I’m like that when I’m DJing. If I fuck up then I feel terrible, it’s like ‘shit I’m back to square one’, I get that sort of head on. But sometimes that infuses other things. When I’m compiling albums, I tend to think a bit like a DJ and don’t think about working any other way, which is why the last album was a bit different. First I programmed it all gently rising to the crescendo and it was like ‘this doesn’t really work, lets have some ups and downs’, so I programmed it a bit different, coming pretty much straight in and then having a lull rather than building things up. So I do have to watch my obsession with flow when it comes to other areas, cos what works in a club over four hours doesn’t necessarily work over an hour on an album or on a track or something.
You work quite differently from many producers in that you seem to deconstruct a lot of your tracks, taking elements out once they’re in.
Oh yeah, that’s the way we do it. The whole thing will start with an idea, whether it be a sample, a drum pattern, a melody line or something, and it builds up from there. Sometimes you just end up twisting the whole thing so inside out that it’s completely unrecognisable from the start, but to me that’s the way you do things, that’s how you ‘jam’ for want of a much better phrase, with machines. We haven’t got a room full of musicians doing their thing, bouncing ideas off each other. We’re bouncing ideas off each other with our instruments – it’s just that our instruments are keyboards. With a band when they first start a song it’s like, ‘I’ve got an idea for this melody line’, and right in comes the bass player and says ‘what if we change that note?’ It’s like anyone making music if they’re doing anything worth listening to, I think they are doing that process. We’re doing it with machines and bands are doing it with ‘conventional instruments’ such as guitars – it’s the same process it’s just that building up, whittling down, fine-tuning. Even if you’re on your own you’re still going to do it, whittle away at stuff. If there were say three of us it would go in a different direction, because there’s two of us it only goes a certain way. It’s still basically jamming but we’ve got machines as opposed to guitars.
What you said about less is more, would you agree many people tend to work the other way, building up and up and up until the music becomes very closed off?
There’s got to be space, there’s got to be something in between, you’ve got to fill up every layer or you can’t immerse yourself in it. It’s just like a solid brick wall, but if you build some holes to stick your head through to see what’s on the other side. So that comes back to listening to music properly and listening to musical structures rather than music for effect, that’s a bit where I was going, music for mere effect – dance floor effect. I just learnt that you can have dancefloor effect by not trying to have any effect, by making a track that people can actually walk inside.
I think that comes from years of listening. I’ve been listening to dub since I was thirteen or fourteen, it took along time – 15 to 20 years for it to actually come out through my fingers, but I think that’s what was happening. 10 to 15 years of dub rattling round in my head and all of a sudden it connected with the bit that goes from the head to the fingers to the mixing desk or to the drum machine. I’m getting that now with Latin music. Looking back on it my parents used to listen to Ashley Gilberto and other Latin stuff and that’s my only cultural reference, but over the last couple of years I’ve got more and more into Latin stuff and I think that’s beginning to work it’s way to the fingers. We’re not going to start trying to make Latin tunes, but the drum patterns, the rhythms they’re playing, the dynamic of it.
I’m beginning to understand on a different level than just dancefloor effect. I’m thinking about it musically, I think that’s what happens when you get older – it does begin to channel itself a bit more. You begin to get to actually understand the mechanics. You understand why you’ve liked the music you have for the last 15 years – you’ve not been able to put your finger on it, it touches something in your soul, but after a while you begin to know what part of the soul it is that that music is touching. You kind of understand where it’s coming from, it’s a process you develop with the more music you listen to and the older you get really.
You’re not into your trance then?
You see that’s not trance to me, music stopping every thirty seconds with a 64 bar drum roll. Trance to me would be four hours of Derrick Carter or four hours of Richie Hawtin, seamless locked in groove music. Trance, yeah, I can see the attraction; it’s fast bit of ‘whizz and Es’ and let’s go. But then all of a sudden it stops and it’s like ‘no that’s not trance’, that’s trance for a minute then you snap out of it. I couldn’t understand why it was labeled as trance music to be honest with you.
When you play techno you’ve always tended to opt for deeper, more minimal styles. Is this still the case?
Having said that our last gig was an absolute sonic assault, grown men seen leaving in tears! We played for four hours, the first hour and a half was pretty deep sort of electro but on a Saturday night on St Patrick’s night in Belfast, subtlety kind of goes out the window. It depends on the club. Sometimes if it’s a big venue, a thousand people upwards, to a certain extent you have got to blast it a bit and you can’t go too minimal, but in a small club with a really good sound system you don’t have to play those jarring, full on record. You can still sound full-on by playing a kick drum, a bass and a little hi-hat, when you’re crammed into a 250 people club with a good system that is full on.
‘The more rules you know, the more rules you know how to break’ is a comment you once made in Magic Feet magazine...
Again, it’s like when I first went in to the studio. I think I was covering up for my lack of knowledge with a bit of mouth, going ‘I don’t need to know about technology’. But then I realized I had this sound in my head and I knew that unless I learnt a bit more technically, all I’m doing is making a rough approximation of the sound in my head and using someone else a bit too much to get to it. So again, that was part of the process of growing up where you realise that you’re fooling yourself – you’re telling everyone you don’t need to know this, that and the other, but you know at the back of your mind that in order to get the sound you’re looking for you need to know a little bit more. That was all part of the process why Sabres ended, rather than going out all the time on the razzle, what if I spent a bit more time in the studio learning my trade a bit? It was like ‘this is all really good’ but in order to maintain what I’m doing I’ve got to raise my standards – so that means learning how to mix, that means learning more about how a studio works, and that’s where that quote comes from.
That realisation that I know all this stuff now and I can turn it on its head, again... It’s calling your own bluff, kicking yourself up the arse. To maintain what you’re doing you’re going to have to do some work – you can’t rest on your laurels and live on good reviews from the NME cos there’s not going to be good reviews all the time and then what happens? You’re left with five years of great memories, but I want to be left with 20 years of great memories, and to do that I’m going to have to learn how that machine works. Not a great price to pay is it? Its still not having to get up and work on a building site, it’s getting up and having to learn how a compressor works or learn how a drum machine works – fair enough I’m willing to do that. It’s like, do you want to go to this party or do you want to actually sit in the studio and make music? I think I want to sit in the studio and make music.
Yeah, I think so. I think it’ll run and run. But the good thing is we’re not stuck with that, we don’t have to be Two Lone Swordsmen 24 hours a day. What we do is spend twelve hours a day recording tracks, and Warp – we’re allowed to release stuff on other labels as long as it’s not Two Lone Swordsmen. Basically what we do is record all the time then divide it up saying that’s Lone Swordsmen and that’s something else, so there’s never that stress of having to concentrate on one thing all the time, we can divide it up. We’re not having to do megatours around the world and do the same tunes all the time. Everyday the live set expands. When we write a new track we write it with the MPC [Akai MPC 2000] which means we can go out and do it live. Every time we get a live gig, two days before we’ll write a new track to play at the gig to test it out. That’s what we did this weekend. So, Two Lone Swordsmen pays the bills and pays for other less obvious musical excursions, so I don’t think it’s something that I’ll stop. I think it’s the exception that proves the rule of me stopping things when they get really successful.
Have Warp signed you up for a certain quota of releases?
They signed us as Two Lone Swordsmen and the provisor is that we don’t use that name for other labels. We’re not allowed to release stuff on major labels obviously, and I wouldn’t particularly want to. But it gives us the freedom to release tracks on other labels. We’ve just done a track for Force Inc., we’re doing one for Kanzleramt in Germany. It gives us the opportunity to do that and other projects.Where does your passion for electro come from?
That’s always been there. My early club experiences were electro tinged, my all-time favourite single was Joyce Simms All And All which was a Mantronik production. Its one of those musical influences that has always been in the brain but, over the last four or five years it’s finally worked its way to the fingertips. I’ve liked it because to me it’s kind of the rawest form of machine music – when done properly and you can hear the machines humming.
It goes back to a love of early drum machines on records in the 60’s and 70’s, just that rudimentary, almost 808 sounding preset rhythm boxes that people started to use. One of my abiding memories is hearing at the age of about 11, 1974, sitting in the car driving down the motorway when Autobahn comes on the radio and thinking ‘what is this?’ and hearing Donna Summer I Feel Love and thinking ‘Jesus, this is made with machines’. That’s just something that’s been locked in my brain for 20-25 years so at some point its bound to come out eventually in a studio environment. Love of electro-pop, I first started going out to clubs in the New Romantic era, it was Soft Cell, Depeche Mode, The Normal, Visage, records like that which were all a soundtrack to me falling in love, taking drugs. So they’re all indelibly marked in your head and at a later stage they’re going to encroach into the music you’re making yourself.
Any good music is timeless and so much electro is absolutely timeless, you can put a date on it because you know who it’s by. A lot of it still sounds futuristic to me which is why I love it so much. It makes a change from, I’ve never been one to use the phrase, ‘floor to floor tyranny’, as some people do. But especially with electro now it means that you can keep the pace going but change the rhythm, which is what I like to do when I’m playing. I didn’t like 100% thud thud thud, I like a bit of thud, snare, thud, snare every now and again.
I’m one of a few people who should be in the dock for that – it’s not just me. Never apologise, never explain, springs to mind, I seem to spend my life in interviews doing both. It doesn’t float my boat, I’m not a big fan of that Gorillas record, I really don’t think that that’s the antidote to what’s going on in the world of pop as people seem to think it is. I hate to use that word but it is indie dance. To me it just conjures up absolute horrors, and it’s not a musical avenue I go down. I think it’s more because I hear certain records that are out now that I don’t like. I think it’s not the records I don’t like it’s more me ten years ago that I don’t like. You listen to it and it reminds you of something in the past, I think sometimes it triggers off a load of bad memories.
If I criticise indie dance and big beat it’s probably not a criticism of the music, it’s more an in-depth dislike of myself in 1990, or parts of what I was doing in those times. The good thing about it is, is that if you listened to indie 10 or 15 years ago you wouldn’t get to hear about great funk records or great Latin records or great Jazz records, but at least now if you’re an Indie kid or you listen to Big Beat, and they’re sampling old funk records, you’ll think ‘what’s that, where’s that from?’ At least with indie dance there’s a gateway to somewhere else, where as with Indie music ten or even five years ago that gateway didn’t exist. So it would be foolish to totally decry big beat or indie dance because I think it does serve a valuable purpose in leading people to other areas like reggae, and funk, and soul and jazz.
Would you agree that much music of that style is primarily lazy in its construction?
Yeah, totally. I think that with some of that stuff I get the feeling that it’s engineers that have had DJ’s in making records, and they’re going ‘oh, look – he’s getting all this money, I can do that’ and getting the relevant breakbeats. A lot of it just sounds more like an exercise in sampling – there’s no thought of dynamics or actual sonics. The actual sound of it, it’s one dimensional. It’s like ‘I’m guaranteed if I put three breakbeats in and the noise which goes WOOOOOOOOOOP and a big snare roll’. There’s no thought as to the space between what’s going on, that’s what I don’t like about it. I don’t mind functional music but that seems a bit too functional sometimes, which is why it’s used as background music for sports programs – it’s tailor made for it.
Isn’t a version of Smokebelch currently being used on an ad for Vodaphone or something?
Don’t get me started on that one. Basically, I’ve had the piss taken out of me by a very large multi-national who know that I can’t afford to sue them. To be honest with you I got a couple of grand out of it that’s it, for a fucking advert that’s out everywhere. But the good thing was I channeled all the anger into making music and made some really great tunes, because it was like ‘I’m going to make a tune that no bastard can put in an advert’ and I turned it to its advantage. The most annoying thing about it is people coming up to you and saying ‘get the drinks in, you must have a million in the bank’. Well I had two grand and I probably spent that on rent for the studio.
Say no more… Have Warp been a favorite label over the years, then?
Absolutely, it’s still bizarre to me that I put out records on Warp, that I am part of and what appears to be a reasonably important part of their set up. It’s always a bit weird I am still basically a music fan so when I see myself associated with stuff that I am a fan of, I find the whole thing bizarre. It’s like someone phoned me up yesterday, they’re doing a book on punk rock and they’ve interviewed all these leading lights of punk rock, Glen Matlock, everyone involved, and he wants to interview me. If someone had told me in 1977 when I was first listening to punk that in 25 years time you would be part of a book about what you’re enjoying now, and it’s the same with acid house, in 1988, if someone came up to me on the dancefloor at Shoom when I was off my tits dancing to Mandy Smith records and said that ‘do you know, in 10 years time you’re going to be interviewed or you’re going to be working with these people?’, or your records are going to be played at clubs like this, I would have just laughed them out of the door.
So being such a music fan I still find the whole thing really bizarre when I’m associated with stuff that I’m actually a fan of. It’s a nice feeling and it’s good because it means you have to really think about your quality control because you have to think about other people that are on the label and how great their records are. I’m basically releasing on a label that has Autechre, Aphex Twin, the whole Warp back catalogue. So it does mean you put an extreme amount of thought into your musical output.
Just to carry on recording tracks. We’ve got DATs full of very strong tracks ranging from really down tempo stuff up to hammering electro tracks. We’re resurrecting the name Rude Solo. On that we’ve done a track on Clicks and Cuts Vol. 2 on Mille Plateau which is the Force Inc. offshoot. We do a couple of live tracks that have not been put onto vinyl, they’ll probably be a Rude Solo EP on RGC (Rotters Golf Club). We put out a Rude Solo track on Emissions and we only did 500 which were quite sort after, so we might resurrect that and do a remix of it and put it on the EP. We’re just back to recording tracks all the time. In six month’s time we’re setting up a 7” label called The Hidden Library, so we’ve done 5 or 6 7” singles that we’ve got ready to go on that. Hopefully the future will mean the just the same as it is now, having the opportunity to make music during the week and play music out at the weekend. We do a lot of our programming on the MPC which means every time we do a track there’s a possibility to do it live the next day when you’ve finished it, if all the bits are in the machine. And that’s what we’re doing, we’re just writing tracks and testing them out literally the next day – and that can only help your musical output.
I’m really pleased what’s going on. It’s like doing interviews, fuck it – if you’re happy with what you’re doing, if you’re enjoying what you’re doing and there’s millions of other people out there doing good stuff and enjoying what they’re doing, you’ve got to jump up from the crowd really and say ‘look, here I am and this is what we’re doing’. Otherwise you might get a bit lost. I think that the underground can be a bit of a cosy place to hide. It can get a bit ghettoised. Okay moan about the ‘overground’, moan about ‘commerciality’, but a lot of people can seem to be a bit too happy moaning about it because they don’t actually have to prove themselves, go above ground and do any fighting. It’s like the generals at the back, ‘off to the front with you’. It’s like ‘come on lads lets get up out the manhole cover and walk about amongst these people’, because you can have fun with it as well. The pop world and the commercial world are very funny. It can be annoying that there is a lot of very silly people making a large amount of money, but if you’re doing something experimental or vaguely different I think you’ve got to resign yourself to the fact that it’s not going to make you a millionaire. You’re not doing it for that anyway – you moan about commerciality, but then you tell everyone you’re doing it for the love of it? Well stop moaning about not having any money then.
It’s pop culture for fuck’s sake - it’s a weird one. I have been like that myself in the past and I still get a bit like that now. Then it’s like hold on a minute, you listen to Marc Bolan records and Slade and I still like those records and there was shit pop music out at that time and you just didn’t listen to it. Spiller and Moloko will stand the test of time, they’re good pop records. All the people who decry the mass media or decry pop culture will gladly go into ironic mode when the 80’s gets mentioned. If they’d had been students at the time of the Human League then they would have gone, ‘this is shit’. All the people now who are slagging off pop music, their younger brothers in ten years time will be looking back at these records as classic pop records and will be dancing about to it in an ironic way in with mullet hairdos. Why not enjoy the pop culture now rather than just ironically in 10 years time. Isn’t it good that certain radio one DJ’s are just Smashy and Nicey with Prada shirts, it’s funny! A lot of the popular dance press is beyond self-parody, you don’t need to set up a fanzine to take the piss out of it, just go and buy it! It’s equally as funny - why not get off on it? And if you do get angry about it, tell someone about it or do a tune - that’s personally what we do. If something fucks us off then it’s like, let’s get in there and do something about it.
That’s what’s lacking a bit - people using that negative energy for their own good. There’s nothing wrong with being cynical as long as you use the energy of that cynicism to do something about the situation. I’m very guilty of not doing stuff in the past, the first 25 years of my life was just spent moaning!
I think we’ll end that on a high then.
Well, that would be in character [laughs]!