“I needed to be naked on top of the mountain.”
London-based DJ Andrew Weatherall is well-known as the producer of Primal Scream’s groundbreaking “Screamadelica” and remixer for music groups such as New Order, The Happy Mondays, Saint Etienne and Bjork, among others. Today, he continues to DJ worldwide and release music with Keith Tenniswood as Two Lone Swordsman and under his own name with the Rotters Golf Club label. The influences of rockabilly, soul and rock are evident in Weatherall’s music, a skillful blend of dance, house and techno. Fans will be treated to a new release early next year under the Rotters Golf Club label.
Le Festival de Radio France et Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon is an annual international music event now in its 25th year. It provides an eclectic mix of classical, jazz, world and electronic music, with over 100 free world-class concerts in open-air theatres, squares, cathedrals and festival halls. This year’s festival (12-30 July) featured exceptional performances by techno pioneers Derrick May and Andrew Weatherall. The electronic strand of the festival “Tohu Bohu” was programmed by Pascal Maurin and Edith Rolland, and I was fortunate to catch up with the programmers and the DJs during the event.
“You’re rocking a good look” was Andrew Weatherall’s reaction to photographer Paul Allen who was nattily dressed in a white straw trilby, silver trousers, a bling designer t-shirt and a green single-breasted linen jacket. “Most photographers dress like shit.” Mr Weatherall was sporting a snappy ‘50s rockabilly look but apparently if I’d interviewed him last month, I would have been treated to a handlebar moustache circa 1905. I met the DJ at one of the festival’s fantastic outdoor venues, the appropriately named “Place Dionysos,” right before his set. As this was clearly a man with a keen sense of style, I decided to start our conversation by asking him how important fashion is to him and if it influences his music.
Joanne Shurvell, Scene 360: You have a distinctive style and seem to have an eye for fashion. Have you always been fashion conscious and why the rockabilly look?
Andrew Weatherall: I’ve been obsessed with style and certain ways of dressing over the years. I was more into fashion as a younger man because you try to find your identity and follow fashions when you’re younger. As you get older you become more interested in style. So for the last 10-15 years, I’ve been more interested in style rather than fashion. I got involved in first wave of rockabilly revival in the late 1970s, so I had that look then. But when acid house came along, we all grew our hair and went a bit hippyfied. For the last 10 or 15 years, I’ve resorted back to ‘50s rockabilly. It depends though, if we’d talked a month ago, I had a huge Kitchener’s (handlebar) moustache. So my wardrobe is separated into two parts: it’s 1905 when I have the moustache and 1945-55 when I shave the moustache off.
How and why did you make the transition from music journalist to DJ?
I wasn’t really a music journalist; I did a bit of writing and when acid house first began to happen around 1988, some friends at New Musical Express asked me to write a club page but it was always edited badly which was frustrating. Obviously at that time they weren’t that interested, but they felt they had to have it in there because it was bubbling up. So all my hilarious jokes were edited out and in the end I decided to give it up. But I met Primal Scream via NME; I was the only man in the world who liked their album at the time. I got asked to do a live review, so I went and met them before their gig at Exeter University. The piece was called “Sex Lies and Gaffer Tape.”
When did you actually start earning a living as a DJ?
I was doing all sorts of jobs. I was working in construction and selling clothes—working in high-end clothing boutiques. I had a keen interest in and still have an interest in fashion. The last job I had before becoming a full-time DJ was constructing film sets. I was doing a bit of DJing and spending more money on records than I was getting paid. It wasn’t the wisest of career options and I was still doing film set construction. The turning point came when I got promised my first film job abroad, but the art director’s brother was on holiday from university so he was given my job. I was of two minds: I enjoyed playing music and I enjoyed constructing film sets but I thought there was more long-term future in building film sets so I was very undecided until then. But when the film job got taken away from me last minute, I thought that DJing can’t be any more precarious than this. So if it hadn’t been for that guy’s brother I probably wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you.
Tell me about your early days as a DJ and what did you like to play?
I never considered myself a DJ when I first started. A lot of the early acid house clubs or what turned into acid house played a wide range of music. There were techno records and house records around but not enough to fill up an evening until 6 o’clock in the morning. I had a good collection of post punk, early electronica and dub, so I got a reputation as an “after-hours” DJ. At 6AM I would play all manner of weird stuff like dub and Throbbing Gristle.
Speaking of Throbbing Gristle, I’m assuming you would have been too young to have seen the legendary “Prostitution” gig they performed at the ICA in 1976?
No, I wasn’t there but I did see them perform on several occasions in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s—a phenomenal group. If you listen to their records now from that time, some of their live stuff sounds like (Detroit DJ) Jeff Mills—it’s kind of “techno before techno.” For a lot of people acid house was an epiphany, especially to people who were into rock ‘n’ roll. But for me I saw it coming. A lot of post punk records were early techno and house records. Acid house was just an extension of the electronic music I was listening to anyway; it wasn’t the eye-opening experience for me like it was for a lot of people
What have been your major musical influences?
The first music that gave me that kind of tingly feeling was in the early ‘70s when I was 10 or 11. At the time there was a ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll revival going on in Europe. That was the initial music that I liked; that and Glam rock. Glam rock is just rockabilly with shiny trousers on—Marc Boland was ripping off Web Pearce, a country swing guy—“We like to Boogie” is just “Teenage Boogie” by Web Pearce, a 1940s country record. I’m getting goose bumps just thinking of that record.
So what music don’t you like?
Because I liked glam and raw rock ‘n’ roll, that’s why I liked punk. That’s why I didn’t like Prog Rock—it was too pretentious and complicated for me. Girls, guitars, cars…. I liked a rawness of punk. I’ve been lucky enough to have lived through four major music and fashion movements: glam rock, punk rock, post punk, and acid house. Everything is so homogenised and information is spread so quickly that I don’t think you’ll ever get those individual scenes again.
Where are your favourite places that you’ve played in; have there been any particular highlights?
I love the experience of a really big gig like Glastonbury. I like the weird feeling of being part of something bigger than yourself. I only do it a few times a year because it’s not something I get off on, but I like it because it’s kind of scary being in front of that many people. It helps you deal with your feelings of self-consciousness. A few years ago I was feeling safe and ghettoized, so I decided I needed to sing again and get up on the stage. Instead of staying in my studio slagging everything else off, I wanted to give people the chance to throw rotten vegetables at me. So I started singing again and fronted a band. On my last few albums, I wrote songs that are quite personal. I’m really bored with this guest celebrity culture that goes on in the music industry these days. The bigger the celebrity your guest artist is, the more it detracts; it’s not your music anymore, especially if a song is personal, I didn’t feel right giving it to them. Partly that and partly because I needed to get out of the comfy underground ghetto I was in. It’s very easy to remain underground and discuss everything and slag everything off. I needed to feel scared. I needed to be naked on top of the mountain.