Adamski is back. And he’s back with something very different and really quite special. ‘Revolt’, his first album for 15 years, casts aside four-to-floor and serves up a whole new way of thinking about dance music. Say hello to future waltz…
Several storeys high, in a hotel bar looking out over the gathering dusk and the twinkling lights, London’s West End is truly glittering. We’re awaiting the company of a man last sighted in the video for his 2012 single, ‘I Like It’. At the time, he was sporting a mohawk, a bush of a beard, wraparound shades and a cane, and he was scoffing cake like there was no tomorrow. He looked, not to put too fine a point on it, dangerous.
To be honest, we’re not quite sure what to expect. But arriving bang on time, there’s no mistaking Adamski. He looks proper trim, swish in a natty double-breasted military-style overcoat and a wide-brimmed Fedora. Pleasantries exchanged, he removes the hat to reveal a freshly-minted shaven head.
“Oh, yeah,” he smiles, folding up his coat and placing the Fedora neatly on top before taking a seat and ordering coffee. “My voodoo viking phase. I’d just moved to the seaside and I got really fat and thought I might as well grow a big fisherman’s beard.”
The new-look Adamski is very much in line with what we are about to receive. We’re here to talk about ‘Revolt’, a 10-disc 10-inch box set of “3-step” or “future waltz” music. But hold that thought for a moment, because ‘Revolt’ will blow the doors off any preconceptions you might have.
“I don’t see this as my album,” he offers. “My album is something else that I’m putting together. What I’m trying to do here is introduce a style of music.”
And while it is indeed Adamski at the controls of ‘Revolt’, his name appears front and centre on less than half the tracks, preferring instead to showcase old friends new stylee alongside a host of fresh 3-step talent. But before we get stuck in, we need to do some housekeeping. He’s been drip-feeding music as his Adam Sky alter ego for a while, but the last full-length Adamski outing was a decade and half ago. What gives?
“There have been long periods where I’ve found myself DJing every weekend and was too knackered to get back into the momentum of making my own music,” he says. “So I made a conscious decision to do more of my own stuff. And then two years ago, I decided to only make music in 3/4 time.”
While the waltz is one of the world’s oldest ballroom dances, dating back to Germany in the mid-18th century, Adamski’s inspiration didn’t come from Europe. It came from Venezuela.
“My daughter’s mum is Venezuelan,” he explains. “They moved over there, so I started going out to spend time with my daughter. Venezuelan folk music is predominantly in 3/4 time and I kept hearing all these great melodies with sexy Latin grooves, but they were played on these annoying little instruments, like a cuatro, which is a sort of ukulele. It’s kind of nice for one or two tunes, but not all the time. So I just thought I’d start making this music electronically.”
The end result is one almighty statement of intent. Produced at Adamski’s Waltz Factory studio in Ramsgate, ‘Revolt’ sounds enormous. There are full-fat beefy basslines, sumptuous synths and gut-busting beats, while the 3/4 twist adds a whole other layer. It sounds like dancefloor fuel, although the intriguing time signature does take a little getting used to. But a couple of listens in and you’re completely hooked.
“The term ‘walzer’ in German means ‘to turn’,” explains Adamski of the seemingly provocative album title. “It’s about revolution, physically on the dancefloor, and it’s also my revolt against the same old, same old 4/4.”
How tricky was it to make the shift from four-to-the-floor to three?
“I had waltz lessons with my friend’s wife, who used to be head of the Norwegian Ballet and just happens to live in Ramsgate. She taught me the fundamental steps, so when I was making a tune I could be sure it was waltz-able. I see it as a parallel universe of music. Whatever the genre – The Damned had a waltz tune, ‘These Hands’, and PJ Harvey has the occasional piece in 3/4 time – there’s something about the feel that’s different. It’s got this cyclical motion that music in 4/4 doesn’t have. Also, I always got stuck in that house and techno tempo with 4/4, but I’m making music at all different tempos since I got into waltz music.”
The waltz started as an 18th century German folk dance called the ländler, which became the walzer and finally the waltz. With a helping hand from Napoleon’s invading forces, it spread across Europe in the early 19th century, causing much outrage as it was the first time that men and women had danced holding each other. It was given a right leg up when two Austrian composers, Lanner and Strauss, created an offshoot, the Viennese waltz.
“That’s drum and bass tempo,” beams Adamski. “If you hear strict ballroom Viennese waltzes, the bpms are 172, 174, and part of the controversy was that it made people dizzy. My manager is from Vienna – I like to keep to the theme – and the vinyl for ‘Revolt’ was going to be in this boring cardboard box that record pressers provide, but she said, ‘No, the best cakes in Vienna come in beautiful boxes’, so we got a Viennese cake box manufacturer to make us these beautiful beechwood boxes.”
Of course, Adamski doesn’t need to be doing all this. He’d be comfy enough taking big bucks for dropping ‘Killer’ and slaying dancefloors on the old school rave reunion circuit.
“I was doing a lot of the rave reunions two or three years ago and it was absolutely soul destroying,” he says. “It wasn’t leaving me very spiritually sated. As I’ve got older, my tastes have developed and broadened and I haven’t lost any of my enthusiasm, so why would I want to stagnate and be Mr Golden Oldies? It felt a bit like being one of the original members of Showaddywaddy playing end-of-pier shows in Blackpool.”
‘Revolt’ is very much a re-introduction to what Adamski is capable of. Does he feel like it’s a bit of a two-fingered salute?
“No,” he replies, almost affronted. “The last album I did for MCA [‘Naughty’ in 1991] had a bit of this stuff about it. They dropped me after that, though. Straight to the bargain bins. But then I did squander a quarter of a million of their money at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios. I drank the contents of their wine cellar, drank Van Morrison under the table. I was really fucking proud of myself. MCA didn’t even recoup the wine bill from that record. I did make a couple of ‘fuck you’ songs to ex-girlfriends for ‘Revolt’, but I decided I really don’t want to radiate any negative feelings, so there isn’t any of that on there.”
But there is Lee “Scratch” Perry, who guests on two tracks, ‘3Step4ever’ and ‘Boo Pope’.
“Lee Perry is quite upset about The Pope,” says Adamski of ‘Boo Pope’, on which Perry invites his Popeship to “drink up your piss”.
“Lee is a very strange character,” he continues. “He lives in the Swiss Alps, which is surreal in itself. I went over there to record with him. I thought I’d get into the spirit of the whole Alpine waltz idea, so I wore lederhosen, and the first thing he said to me was, ‘Your clothes is ugly, man’. I thought that was rich coming from an 80-year-old Jamaican man in a shell suit with a yellow afro wig and a purple beard.
“Lee doesn’t get up until five in the afternoon, so I spent all day in my hotel stressing. His son came to pick me up and he said, ‘Oh, dad burnt his studio down’. He burnt down the famous Black Ark studio he had in Jamaica too. There was me thinking, ‘He’s one of the world’s most legendary producers, I’ve got to make this sound perfect’, and he’s gone and borrowed some speakers and set them up facing in on each other so the sound was just…”
The finished tracks are equally whup-whup-whup, especially ‘Boo Pope’, which descends into a riot of operatic chanting with Lee Perry in full freestyle howl mode over the most satisfyingly huge synth rumble.
“That’s my 1975 Roland System 100,” says Adamski proudly. “I got it when I was living in Italy. I had a load of obsolete gear, so I went to sell it at a secondhand music shop. They had this System 100 and I ended up swapping all my gear for it. It was like Jack and the Beanstalk. My girlfriend thought I was going to come back with a few thousand Euros and I came back with this dusty old grey box.”
Talking of dusty old grey things…
“I don’t know if Lee Perry has ever heard of them, but it just totally goes into the mood of Suicide,” he digresses. “I had the honour of interviewing Martin Rev when I lived in Italy. He was doing a solo gig and someone had set up an interview in a café. Because I speak Italian, sort of, I was translating his answers. I walked him back to his hotel afterwards and it was amazing. I’m quite often a bit miserable, but then I think, ‘I’ve walked Martin Rev to his hotel, had Lee Perry take the piss out of my lederhosen, and Robert Plant has given me a rewind. I’ve lived!’.”
The really lovely thing about ‘Revolt’ is the thought that’s gone into it. Not only has Adamski fully immersed himself in a history that dates back well over 250 years and renosed it for the 21st century, but he also picks a path through his own musical journey, joining the dots along the way.
“I like to reference my past in my music,” he says. “There are certain things that have fired my imagination throughout my life and they still do. I didn’t sit around thinking, ‘What can I do that’s different to make people take notice?’. ‘Revolt’ has just naturally evolved from people I’ve crossed paths with, or places I’ve visited, or things I’ve seen or heard.”
We won’t spoil all the nods for you, but there is an excellent electronic reworking of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Dazed And Confused’, which explains the Robert Plant rewind.
“I love Led Zeppelin,” he reveals. “One of my favourite things to do is get into my pyjamas and watch old Led Zeppelin gigs on my big plasma TV. I’d never want to go and see them live, all knocky-kneed and without John Bonham drumming. It’s good enough for me in my living room. I met Robert Plant when I was 17 or 18 and I was the cleaner at a rehearsal studio where he was rehearsing. I’d just started a band called Diskord Datkord with my brother and I played him a track called ‘Wartz’. He was going, ‘That’s fucking brilliant, let me listen to it again’. He was really encouraging and I thought, ‘He’s like a golden god’. I used to have this white dog, she was on the cover of ‘Killer’, and Robert Plant wanted one of her puppies… but she never had sex because she hated men dogs. I don’t know if she was perhaps a lesbian.”
The most touching doff is to his old friend, the late, great Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex. Going back to Diskord Datkord again, they did a version of the 1978 X-Ray Spex single ‘Identity’, complete with a sample of Poly shouting the track title, as was her wont. On ‘Revolt’, we get ‘Artificial Waltz’, a re-rub of ‘Art-I-Ficial’, the opening track from X-Ray Spex’s ‘Germfree Adolescents’ album. And, yes, there’s a sample of Poly shouting the title.
With so many guests popping in from Adamski’s past, we know what you’re thinking. Perhaps there’s been a teeny-weeny omission?
“I got back in the studio with Seal last year,” he admits. “He wanted to do an electronic album and asked me to do it with him. It was really nice because we were best mates, but then it just fizzled out and we hardly saw each other for 20 years. Seal’s ‘Kiss From A Rose’ is a waltz, you know. He loves 3/4. I was playing him some of the stuff I’d already finished for ‘Revolt’ and he said, ‘Oh yeah, I like this one’, and started singing over the track. I was like, ‘No Seal, there’s already someone singing on it!’. Anyway, we had a couple of days in the studio and it was all going well, but then he went off to be a judge on the Australian version of ‘The Voice’ and just sort of disappeared…”
‘Revolt’ is by no means all old school, though. Adamski has gathered around him quite a collection of new faces too. Take Sirena Reynolds, who guests on the electro-tinged pop belter, ‘My Daddy Was A Rockstar’.
“She’s involved with a female hip hop collective called the Lyrically Challenged Crew,” he says. “They do this monthly night in Dalston that starts with spoken word performances, then everyone goes downstairs and there are MCs and DJs. It’s her lyric, her story. It’s a harrowing story, but she’s made it funny.”
The track is real standout. Sirena’s flow is a joy, as is her wordy wrangling: “Growing up, my daddy was a big rock star / The type with no songs and no guitar / He played a white rock at the end of the pipe / Till it played him, then out went the light”. Another highlight is ‘Pump Up The Waltz’. With a title like that, you can imagine, can’t you? It’s credited as “Adamski Presents Buck Dexter”. Buck Dexter?
“Errr,” he says, shifting awkwardly. “Buck Dexter is, erm, sort of me. He’s from ‘The Third Man’, the famous Orson Welles film set in Vienna.”
Sooooo, is there more than one Adamski alias across the tracks?
“Could be,” he twinkles. “I use pseudonyms when it’s me in different frames of mind. Before I started doing music, I used to like making up names for bands and artists, so I’ve got lists and lists of them. They’ll just go to waste if I don’t use them.”
Where next for future waltz, then?
“As well as only making music in 3/4, I also only DJ in 3/4 now,” he says. “I get less bookings as a result, but I’d rather eat my own nuts than endlessly play ‘Killer’. The set is 95 per cent my stuff and re-edits. I got the parts from Seal to make ‘Kiss From A Rose’ into a techno future waltz track and people really love it when I play that. I’ve also been mentoring a couple of people to make 3/4 tracks so I can have them for my DJ set.
“I did have these grandiose visions of warehouses full of people wearing mental wigs and waltzing around, but the truth is I’ve got no expectations. I might end up with 300 cake boxes full of vinyl in the middle of my living room blocking the telly when I’m trying to watch Led Zeppelin. Or they might sell like hot cakes – like hot Viennese cakes! – and then I might get approached by loads of people wanting to make future waltz music. We’ll see.”
“I met him very briefly through mutual friends and I said, ‘I’ll send you some music’. I’d been using the name Adam Sky for about 10 years by this point. So I sent him some music through Facebook and he said, ‘I’d love to sing on this, come and meet me for lunch at the Groucho Club’. We sat there for half an hour talking about music and he was going, ‘But what do you actually do?’. I was like, ‘You know, DJing, stuff like that’, and then he went, ‘Wait a minute…’, and he lifted up his glasses and was like, ‘Are you Adamski!?!’. I love things like that because then I know it’s about the music on its own merit.”
“There are loads of really interesting people living in Ramsgate. My neighbour is Adrian Sherwood, the dub producer, which is how I came to work with Lee “Scratch” Perry. I had David McAlmont down to record a vocal and I thought, ‘I can’t bring him to my dusty, damp basement studio, because he’s a proper singer’, so I took him round to Adrian’s On-U studio, which is a slightly less dusty, damp basement.”
Lee “Scratch” Perry
“A few months after we made the tracks, he came over to London to do a show and he granted me 15 minutes to do a photo session with him. Half of the 15 minutes was Lee going, ‘Yeah, you can take my picture, but why do you have to be in it?’. So I said, ‘Because we made a record together Lee’. He was like, ‘What record?’. I said, ‘I came to your house and we made two tunes’. He’d just completely forgotten.”
“Minty was Leigh Bowery’s group in the 1990s and I got given all their outtakes by Richard Torry, who was their musical director. He’s the only other DJ I know who can play a whole set in 3/4. He wanted to make a posthumous Minty record and gave me everything they’d ever recorded. ‘Useless Man’ was a track that they released, but I got these extra outtakes and bits that hadn’t been heard before, so I made a 3-step version.”
“My version of The Stranglers’ ‘Golden Brown’ takes me back to my youth club disco days. The verses in the original are in 3/4, but there’s this really clever muso part in the middle where it gets a bit complicated. My old friend Guy Sigsworth sorted that for me. I first met Guy when I met Seal. He was Seal’s producer and he co-wrote ‘Crazy’. He went on to work with Madonna, Björk, Britney Spears. He’s really into Norwegian death metal and he also happens to be a professor of 16th century harpsichord music, so he played that bit.”
“Yeah, he was Rebel MC. He lives in Ramsgate too. We both played the M25 circuit a lot and we’d often be at the same raves. We both came from the underground and then we were Smash Hits poster boys, we were probably on ‘Top Of The Pops’ together at some point too, and then we both went back underground. I hadn’t seen him for 20 years and one day there was a knock at my door and there he was, this big rastaman with a giant hat and a dreadlocked beard. He was like, ‘Hey Adam!’.”
“Skip did the backing vocals on ‘Pump Up The Waltz’. He lives in Ramsgate too. I know, I know… Skip was the guitarist in the house band for Sugarhill Records. When hip hop first started, they couldn’t make records using samples, so they got musicians to replay what the DJs were looping on their decks. He’s worked on loads of Adrian Sherwood’s projects, played with James Brown, he’s played with everybody, and what do I get him to do? Shout ‘Pump up the waltz’!”
“She’s a superstar actress in Italy and France. We have the same agent in Russia, which sounds really James Bond. She’s the daughter of Dario Argento, the horror film director. Turns out she was at a rave I played in Italy in 1991. It was her techno epiphany and she was like, ‘Techno maestro, I want to do a track with you’. When I said I only make waltzes now, she told me her great-grandfather [Alfredo Casella] was a Futurist composer in Italy in the 1930s and he’d made a whole series of waltzes. The track ‘Um Dada’ is based on a melody from Asia’s great-grandfather’s music and my 16th-century-music-professor- death-metal-brutal-noise-Britney-Spears-songwriting friend played the harpsichord on it.”
‘Revolt’ is released by Future Waltz Records