On the day when a ‘weirdo and misfit’ UK government adviser called Andrew made the news for all of the wrong reasons, some thoughts on a man who shared that Christian name, a maverick who awkwardly and rightly sat – and will now for ever sit – somewhere between iconic and iconoclastic:
Along with Theo Parrish and Harvey, he was an uncompromising and ever-challenging DJ who kept playing, kept evolving, but kept you coming and made you get on the floor. There are inevitably only ever going to be few of these future-thinking technicians and they don’t tend to kick around until they’re in their dotage and so can collect a gong or two. Even fewer are the ones who sound like nobody else.
He kept faith in a creed where music was central to living and breathing be it at a blues party, an unfashionable boozer or a sweating club. As we gained a mortgage, kids and bills, we moved away from the fields, the unofficial festivals, the ‘one night only’ warehouses, the dodgy basement parties and the industrial estates with vacant lots. For many, the vinyl was parked in the loft and new discoveries were forbidden. Not him.
As much Augustus Pablo as Paul Simenon, he seemed to be as black as he was white in his musical tastes, which is a rare combination in general but is even more noteworthy given his prominence and success within dance music culture and when one considers his well-known affiliations and team-ups.
Pigeon-holing him never worked. There was still a magical, organic lustre to his name which directly evolved from his sets, remixes and productions (unlike other DJs whose surnames were bandied around pre-party or club night but who fell from our admiring view along with the short-lived musical movements associated with them).
He was a Larry Levan-cum-Malcolm Sargent for those of us who came of age in clubs of the late 80s and early 90s; a vinyl lover and backroom man who was quickly promoted to the main stage who convinced in the flesh and also away from the decks, his pedigree never doubted and his star never dimming.
Was he ‘cool’? Yep. An example would be when I couldn’t muster the courage to do anything other than nod to him one day in London in the mid-Nineties – pre-beard and braces – even after an old friend had remixed one of his tracks on Sabres of Paradise.
Does ‘cool’ matter? Yep. Am I trying to hive off a little of his? Yep.
As dance music emerged in the 1990s as a commercial behemoth in the UK, Europe and further afield, both as an industry and as an alluring, captivating and demanding force within our lives, he kept his good taste and ploughed a productive and occasionally lonely furrow. His reality and myth-puncturing realism was a welcome contrast to the ‘over-hyped and over here’ shiny, happy DJs who still lived off the glory of two decades-old sets in order to milk every last penny from your memories.
With his remixes, he elevated the frequently half-decent and the end result was frequently triumphal and ever-lasting, and usually a realm away from what was expected (and this should have been expected but rarely occurred with others). In an age when ‘remixing’ was short-hand for hasty beat replacement/insertion under one stripped vocal phrase, he re-positioned, re-made and re-invented.
Soon by My Bloody Valentine was a good track anyway, but the addition of Westbam‘s Alarm Clock was a genius move if only for joining the dots between Gang of Four, German music post-DAF, NYC beats and the morphing nature of Creation records.
It frequently took the rest of us a while to catch up on where he was headed, musically, and many of us, including myself, didn’t keep pace.
29 years ago his set at the Event in Brighton with Alex Paterson of The Orb before and after Primal Scream played were the perfect accompaniment to my ‘Bart Simpson’ and one pint of lager, to my lift-off and re-entry from a sticky carpet in the midst of a memorable summer.
Two summers ago he made me dance on my own on an empty dance-floor at the Trades Club in Hebden Bridge as he played support to A Certain Ratio and the middle-aged Factory devotees sat and waited for the main act (who were excellent). Slowly probing but essentially expansive, his CDJ set was the perfect warm-up and a filling ‘meal’ in itself.
In an age of celebrity, it seemed that he resisted it. In an age of blatant bollocks masquerading as truth, he was publicly silent and free of BS. He lived it, he meant it, whatever it was that he was up to. More music, more effort and less PR, few interviews.
As with the recent death of another music lover and DJ, Scott Macnaughton, who also never lost sight of the dance-floor, this is an unexpected loss in so many ways.
He was Andy Weatherall.