With a musical CV stretching back almost 20 years, Andy Weatherall is about as close as you can get to East Ender electronic music royalty. Lord Sabre indeed. Famous for splicing acid house DNA into baggy Manchester indie pop, Weatherall’s amazing output of narcotic productions and sought-after remixes became a defining aesthetic of 1990s UK music. Later projects like the dubadelic techno wonder of the Sabres of Paradise and the more organic and brooding textures of the Two Lone Swordsmen found an appreciative fanbase, not to mention a worthy home on Warp records.
As well as the extensive back catalogue, Weatherall has built his reputation as a quality DJ. From playing at the Chemical Brothers’ notorious Heavenly Social parties, through to the UK alt-superclub Fabric, Weatherall has always presided over idiosyncratic and cutting edge playlists. Weatherall’s most recent offering comes in the form of the mix CD Sci-Fi Lo-fi (Soma Records). Programmed without the use of DJ tricknology, the compilation is a cleanly sequenced mix of tracks that takes in the swamp rock of The Cramps, The Fall, T Rex and the early rock ‘n’ roll stylings of Gene Vincent. It’s raucous, groovy and eminently listenable.
To begin with, I’d like to ask about the tracks on the Sci-Fi Lo-Fi comp (Soma Records). You’ve dug through 50 years of musical archive, starting with some pretty obscure rockabilly and blues music, through English rock to some more contemporary tracks. So what is it that connects the music together?
“It’s basically a history of the music that I’m into. The first music that ever stirred my loins was vintage rock ‘n’ roll, and by the mid-1970s there was a rock ‘n’ roll revival going on throughout Europe, glam rock was happening as well. A couple of years after that punk rock came along and later post-punk, so the compilation is a potted history of the music I like.
“I guess the link between them is the spooky, ghostly side of rock and roll that attracted me, for instance, from a very young age I remember being very moved by the 1960s John Leyton track ‘Johnny Remember Me’.
“To me rock ‘n’ roll just sounded like it came from another planet, or a slightly parallel universe. That’s the sort of music I like, whether it’s rock ‘n’ roll or techno, its just got to have that sort of Martian, other-worldly quality to it.
Playing incongruous tracks together can often highlight the similarities between them.. for instance you’ve sequenced Marc Bolan next to Mark E. Smith.
“Yeah, I’m not quite as grumpy as Mark E Smith, but I think we are cut from the same cloth. His great loves are rockabilly and glam rock. The Fall’s ‘Big New Prinz’ track on the compilation has got a very glitter-band glam rock stomp to it, so they’re not a million miles away from each other.
What about more dancefloor, electronic music? What do you think about the state of the techno nation today?
“If I was disillusioned with the state of electronic music I would have chucked it in but it still excites me. When I get sent records, or I go to a store it’s still an exciting prospect. I’m not bored or disillusioned with it at all, I still find plenty of exciting records to play.
“If anything there is probably too much music, and not just techno, we are in a sort of an age where it’s a tyranny of choice. That’s the only difficult thing sometimes; we are confronted with so much music you have to be selective. So if I think a record is good I persevere with it, rather than just play a record once – and if it doesn’t get a response put it to the back of the pile. I think for a lot of DJs there is so much music that if something is not working the crowd for them they will just forget it and move onto something else. I try not to do that.”
I read a recent interview where you mentioned the great Danton Eeprom track ‘Confessions of an English Opium Eater’.
“He’s a really talented guy. Luckily for me he lives close by and he regularly turns up with tracks that he has just finished. I live in an area where lots of people are producing good music; you’ll be playing a record in a club and some guy will come up to you and say ‘That’s my record!’ It’s a very fertile scene… where I live you’re never more than 50 feet away from some website designer or a European techno producer.”
I was talking to some friends about this interview, and one of them asked me to ask you when you are going to stop making goth recordsâ€¦.
” (laughs) ha ha yeah well they can get fuckedâ€¦ No but I guess there is a dark side to the music, it’s kind of infused with a dark humour. To me goth takes itself too seriously, whereas my music has a kind of sick humour; maybe like dark overtones but there will be a poppy melody over the top. If you mix the dark and the light it turns out even weirder. Perhaps they are gothic records, but gothic in a subtle way.
“If someone asked me to sum up the vibe of my records I would say it was something like this old 1950s British movie called the Lady Killersâ€¦ or like a friend of mine who a couple of years ago said the music sounds like an Edwardian bathroom. I thought that was a perfect description. It probably is gothic, but not in that kind of po-faced, long-leather coat, eyeliner.. not that kind of teenage goth, I supposed it’s grown-up goth.”
You’re known for your razor sharp dress sense, tattoos and moustache. What’s your favourite tattoo, and why did you get it?
“I have one on my hands which I got about 18 months ago. I’ve always wanted one on my hands. It’s quite a step to take because although tattoos are getting more and more common but they are still slightly frowned upon. To have one on your hand is like saying ‘What shall I do to render myself totally unemployable in the future?’ It’s something I wanted to do, I designed it myself – it’s a kind of heart with three lightening bolts coming out of it.
“I’ve also got an Icelandic penis on my right arm which I am quite fond of. I was in Reykjavik about 10 years ago and I went to the tattoo parlour and wanted some sort of traditional Icelandic magic, because it’s one of the oldest systems of magic in the world. He showed me this image and said it was a fertility symbol – basically it’s a knob with a sperm in the middle. But I’ve got a horrible feeling that as soon as I left the tattoo studio he phoned up the other studios in town and said, ‘I win the bet, I’ve just tattooed a penis on a tourist.’
What about the moustache?
“Right now I actually haven’t got it. I just shaved it off. When you have a moustache like that it’s not just a fashion thing, it’s a total lifestyle choice. I’ve got an interest in looking a certain way and the moustache is part of that look, but it literally meant having confrontation every day of my life.
“The other day these kids saw me, and started calling me Adolf and Nazi and all that stuff, so rather than trying to explain to them that their historical perspective was wrong, I stuck my arm straight out in the air and goose stepped towards them. They stood there with dumb looks on their faces, but as I went past them they snapped out of it and began to hurl rocks at me.
“Also I began to attract very weird women with father issues, chatting me up and saying that the moustache reminded me of their dadâ€¦ so yeah, it had to go.”
So finally; what are you going to be bringing with you when you play?
“It will be the house and electro and techno sort of thing, but as well I’ll be bringing a box of rockabilly business. There might be a couple of other parties or bar shows where the music will be more suited. If I am going to play rock and roll, I like it to be smaller venues or bars, so if you want to hear the rockabilly, try and find out where the after party is.”
Andy Weatherall plays at the Warp Future Music night at the Sydney Festival on Wednesday January 23, 2008.