Andrew Weatherall: ‘Never take the Guardian on to a building site’ (Guardian Review)

The dance producer is grilled about wedding DJ sets, how to lift a heavy sofa up the stairs and the secret to a fine moustache


Hi Andrew. Are you sitting comfortably for a 30-minute interview?

Yes, I am. I’m sitting very comfortably actually, I’m on a nice recliner!

You’ve said that you always assumed music would be a six-month thing … yet now you’re releasing your 19th album. What happened?

Having that short-term attitude tends to extend your career by default. You attract certain people around you and you get a weird kind of underground kudos. You’re seen as keeping it real, but it was never really about a political agenda for me. I just wanted to have fun and not fall out of love with music.

19 albums suggests you’re still quite in love with music …

Well, part of me wishes I had the output of Billy Childish and you were saying, “So, this is your 105th album …” But I’m happy with the body of work. Some of it I’m not so into, but I think it’s a reasonable legacy.

The new Asphodells record (1) is called Ruled By Passion Destroyed By Lust. What does that mean?

I was going to say the title was a snappy six-word summation of the tragedy of the human condition. But if I did that, I’d just start laughing so I might as well come clean. It was taken from a 1970s Gladiator-based gay porn film. A lot of trashy pop culture aphorisms say more about the human condition than the latest thinker is saying in three volumes of their work.

Will you be getting it tattooed on yourself as you did the song title, Fail We May, Sail We Must?

No, no, no! I am getting the urge for more ink but I think one crass aphorism tattooed up the inside of your arm is enough! Actually, I’m doing that phrase a huge disservice. It was an Irish fisherman who told me it. He had to skipper a boat in a force 10 gale at the age of 18, which blew me away, and that was how he justified doing it. I thought, if he can do that then surely I can at least get up and make some music each day.

What bad jobs have you done?

Not bad jobs but hard jobs. I got thrown out of home when I was 18 so I had to get a job quickly and I ended up becoming a furniture porter. It was at this old company in Windsor, where I was brought up. Once a week, three articulated lorries full of four-seater leather Chesterfields and 6ft mattresses would arrive. Three of us would unload these vans and you had to learn quickly how to carry a heavy leather Chesterfield on your head up three flights of stairs because they had no lift! That was quite testing …

What was the secret?

It’s all in the balance. Get the balance right and you could turn right around and speak to the person behind you but the sofa would stay still. After that, I did a lot of manual labour on building sites and stuff. Here’s a little tip for anyone who’s thinking of taking up a job as a labourer – don’t take a copy of the fucking Guardian into the tea room! Seriously.Wolfie Smith they were calling me! But I stood my ground.

You also worked in fashion, right?

I used to come to London and buy clothes from Leigh Bowery and his sidekick Trojan(2) off their stall in Kensington market and then try and sell them to people in Windsor, which was a fucking hard task, believe me! Those clothes were outlandish even for London so for the home counties it was a fucking no no, my friend. But we did alright … it was mainly our friends buying them. And our parents – I think my Mum’s got a Leigh Bowery vest!

So there was a pocket of people in Windsor pushing the boundaries of fashion?

Yeah! Berkshire’s Leigh Bowery phase! But I wanted to live in the moment. I wanted to work for six months then spend the next six buying records, fancy trousers and going to nightclubs. You could do things like that back then, in the early 80s … you could get a job then jack it in. Also there was a more slapdash approach to the benefits system. You’d go and sign on and in the queue would be chaps head to toe in brick dust. Or someone with a tool bag and spirit level slung over his shoulder. You could spot a blagger a lot easier back then, which was pretty much what I was.

I heard that, even after Primal Scream’s Loaded came out(3) you were still applying for jobs …

I went to a job interview at London Records with the test pressings under my arm! This guy Eugene Manzi, who was head of A&R at the time, asked what they were. When I told him, he said: “Well, what the fuck are you doing here then?”

Let’s talk about the new record – there’s a cover of John Betjeman’s Late Flowering Lust on there …

Have you heard the original that we right royally ripped our version off from? It sounds like the Bad Seeds! There’s another track on that album [Sir John Betjeman’s Late Flowering Love] called The Licorice Fields At Pontefract that sounds like the Velvet Underground! That record and Banana Blush are the Betjeman albums to get, the music on the rest is a bit sub-Elgar … pastoral cod-classics. But yeah, Late Flowering Lust is quite a sleazy poem and maybe we upped the sleaze content a bit. A lot of people equate Betjeman with cosy suburbia – yes he does that, but he’s picking at the spot on the skin of cosy suburbia. People forget the fruitier side of John …

What would he have made of your version?

Part of me wishes he’d have gone, “what is this frightful noise?” But another part hopes we would bond over it and he would tell me anecdotes in front of a roaring fire.

During the early days of acid house, how aware were you of the moral panic happening in the mainstream media?

I was when I had the Sun phoning me up constantly because we’d apparently held a party on what turned out to be land owned by Her Maj(4) . But usually we were lucky, our 300-people parties were always close to massive raves that drew the attention of the constabulary away from what we were up to. I don’t know if we were ever under surveillance, because they did set up a special thing to investigate the whole phenomenon. They were convinced there was a political element to it – how could there not be when you can get 20,000 18-25-year-olds into a field? So they drove themselves mad trying to find the political overtones. And by doing that, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy because they made it political.

The irony being that one criticism of that whole movement was its lack of a political edge …

Yeah, well mods didn’t have a particularly political edge either but the mere fact that dressing in a certain way will get you attention from the authorities automatically makes it political. I think youth cults become political by default.

When was the best period of dance music?

Last week. I’m not a golden age kind of person. If I were I’d probably be doing acid house revival nights now. There were gigs I did in the early 90s that were mindblowing and other ones that I’ve expunged from my memory like hidden child abuse ….

What sort of thing?

No don’t start, don’t bring it back … I might be in a reclining chair but I’m not on a fucking couch!

Talking about the psychologist’s couch, how did you feel when you’d finished working on the Fuck Buttons album Tarot Sport(5)

[Laughs] Oh fucking hell! Yeah, can you imagine? I played it to people and they were like “fucking hell, that’s great but it’s quite intense“, so I said: “Imagine listening to that every day for a month for eight hours!” I mean, I loved it but it was the same physical and mental feeling as being on the building site! You felt like you’d done a proper day’s work.

I bet you could at least bring the Guardian into the tea room, right?

I’ll be honest with you, I do take the Guardian, but I’ll put my hands up and say I balance it with the Telegraph. I enjoy the cryptic crossword. Some rabid rightwing views and a good crossword for £1.20 … what’s not to like?

America has been responsible for so much innovative dance music, yet it’s only really taken off in a mainstream way recently with EDM

If I may make a slightly tortuous analogy, take yourself back to the early 60s and the indigenous black music of America being blues. Nobody in America was interested, then English kids get into it, do their take on it and a couple of years later the Rolling Stones are the biggest band on the planet. It’s just what happens. It took them 20-odd years to get punk rock – they kinda invented it and then Green Day took up the mantle 20 years later. For many years, the east and west coasts got disco and house music but for the masses that was just music for black people and homosexuals.

Do you think the likes of Spotify and YouTube have been a good thing for music?

It would be churlish of me to say no. I recently read Electric Eden by Rob Young(6) and never in the history of music books have I sat there, on literally every page, thinking: “Fuck, I want to hear that now.” I was even watching arcane films of folk traditions in Northumberland and stuff like that. But I do think you can shine too much light on the magic. There’s this Dada-ist performance artist called Arthur Cravan(7) who sailed out to sea in Mexico and was never seen again. He was a boxer and performance artist before it was known as that … he was such a mysterious figure but my devilish fingers got the better of me and I typed his name into Google and there’s fucking four minutes of him boxing and I thought: “Oh fuck, I wish I hadn’t done that.” Because it broke the magic spell.

OK, now much like you, Andrew, I myself am something of a DJ …

[Laughs politely] Right …

My DJing normally involves playing CDs, sometimes at people’s weddings …

I’ve done that, my friend. I have dipped my toe into the wedding DJ arena and enjoyed every minute of it. I have in my studio The Wedding Set, a neat row up against the wall. 30 or 40 records, from Sister Sledge to Ian Dury. Good records, but party records … it’s ready to go should anybody call.

Is it difficult to play a wedding set when you’ve built up all that knowledge of how to work a crowd or drop obscure records at the right time?

Oh, I still employ the working-the-crowd techniques! Even at a wedding you have to work the crowd.

You must be excited about the return of Kraftwerk …

One of my earliest memories of electronic music is being in the car with my dad and Autobahn coming on the radio as we’re going down the motorway on holiday. Now that’s got to have left an indelible scars on a young mind. But my best Kraftwerk story is when I did a gig with them in Japan. I was with Tom Squarepusher and as we came out of our dressing rooms, Kraftwerk got the call to go onstage. They were lined up side by side, looking all iconic, and I looked at Tom and I thought “fuck, you’ve just had a really shit idea that you think’s really funny.” Suddenly, he ran up behind Kraftwerk and grabbed one member by the ears and shouted “Wahey!” while jiggling his ears. There was a moment of surprise. Then I think it dawned on them that it was quite funny.

You made Kraftwerk laugh?

There you go … Tom from Squarepusher actually made Kraftwerk laugh.

You boast a fine moustache … what is the secret?

Erm, you can either grow one or you can’t. It’s got to be luxuriant – wispy don’t cut it. Regular slight trimming as well, you don’t want it straying up to your nasal passages or caught in your teeth.

Would you describe the Edwardian era as your favourite period for style?

I like that era. Probably because I’m 50 and if I wore sporting equipment I would look foolish. Then again, I never really wore sports gear when I was young. I did wear boxing boots, but that was just me emulatingDexys Midnight Runners. I still don the donkey jacket and the black woolen hat now and again.

I bet you never went for the full dungarees, though …

Oh, I did the dungarees my friend! It was a look I was thinking of resurrecting, actually. There’s this American photographer called Disfarmer (8) , who took these great dustbowl photographs … these guys with a distressed leather jacket, dungarees underneath, a trilby at a jaunty angle and a pair of two-tone brogues. It’s quite a look. When the beard comes off, I might well go 1930s dustbowl.



Back to article The Asphodells are Andrew J Weatherall and Timothy J Fairplay

Back to article London club scene fixture who was, at various times, Bowery’s housemate, drug buddy and lover

Back to article For the two people who didn’t already know this, Weatherall produced Primal Scream’s classic Screamadelica album

Back to article A Boys’ Own party attended by Boy George and Paul Rutherford among others

Back to article Weatherall produced Tarot Sport, which can be described as a “challenging” listen (good, though …)

Back to article A definitive history of British folk traditions

Back to article Bonus fact: Cravan’s aunt married Oscar Wilde

Back to article Mike Disfarmer, who documented the lives of rural people in Arkansas


Review source: Guardian Music