Kris Needs remembers the DJ/producer Andrew Weatherall
Like countless others, I’m still reeling in a state of dumbfounded shock, finding it hard, even impossible to accept that the man they called the Guv’nor has gone. The torrent of love, grief and memories recalls the aftershock when we lost Bowie, Peel or Strummer – social media uniting a vast communal family of old friends, collaborators, DJ colleagues, stricken fans and those the man touched in some way, all coming together in their grief. Many remember his humble approachability, biting wit and self-deprecating humour, more hail the remarkably idiosyncratic music that pushed all boundaries and, of course, those ever-astonishing DJ sets.
He was the greatest DJ this country has ever seen, hands down, no contest. Nobody kept the dancefloor flow going with such subtle skill, micro-groove precision and soul, second sense telling him when to drop the bomb that would send a crowd through the roof. Andrew has long been considered the godfather of our electronic dance music scene. An uncompromising cultural soothsayer who couldn’t give a flying one about landing a corporate remix or Vegas residency when he had A Love From Outer Space party to take to the cosmos.
This is no place to trot out the history that’s been told a million times, especially recently. I was lucky to spend much of the 90s in Andrew’s close orbit, whether writing about him in publications I worked for, as an artist on his Sabres Of Paradise label, appearing on the same DJ bill, rifling through the bins in record shops or hanging out as a mate.
Andrew was driven by the love of music that had got him into this in the first place. If he heard a record he liked, he’d sit down, looking at the floor with his leg going and sink into every nuance. Then look up and nod. It happened when I played him a remix I’d just done of one of our Secret Knowledge tracks, which is how we became one of the first signings to Sabres. It probably helped that I’d got my old mate Jah Wobble on bass.
I first met Andrew when I’d arrived back from a stint living in New York in 1990 and he was DJing at a Wobble show in Islington. His long hair, tattoos, punk attitude and startling array of sounds instantly indicated the real rebel in the smiley revolution. At that time, Andrew’s radical anthemic overhauls of Primal Scream’s ‘Loaded’ (which worked “because I didn’t have a clue what I was doing”) and ‘Come Together’ were already causing damage. ‘Don’t Fight It, Feel It’ soon followed, with ‘Higher Than The Sun’ and then the era-defining ‘Screamadelica’.
There were remixes of My Bloody Valentine, Happy Mondays, Saint Etienne, The Orb, S’Express and many more in that initial bombardment of audacious dubbed-out genius that binned song and vocals for monstrous breakbeats, canyon-rattling timbales and trippy noises. Apart from The Orb, few ventured this far into the unknown with two fingers aloft and lawless dub reggae as a prime inspiration.
It transpired that Andrew lived in the same Battersea block of flats as Alex Paterson, another old friend. Both worked on ‘Screamadelica’ and DJed on the tour that revolutionised the traditional gig format.
It soon became obvious Andrew was never going to sell his soul to the music industry (or go up the greasy showbiz pole he famously talked about). He brought crucial punk spirit, edgy imagery and humour to club culture and electronic dance music. He was also the funniest man I’ve ever met, blessed with fearsomely intelligent wit and once had an original ‘Carry On At Your Convenience’ poster hanging in his bathroom.
“I’m into every form of music and blending them together,” he told me. “That upsets people sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with purism but it can shut your mind to other stuff.” To this end, he formed Sabres Of Paradise with studio cohorts Jagz Kooner and Gary Burns (releasing three albums on Warp), and started the label of the same name after leaving Boy’s Own Recordings. At a time of banging techno, big room cheese and brash big beats, the Sabres injected a darkly cinematic sophistication that proved before its time (like much of what he did).
Our ‘Ooh Baby’ became the second release on Sabres after Andrew heard a minute of it on a car stereo outside the studio. We brought out ‘Sugar Daddy’ 1993, which he enabled by putting us in the studio with Jagz and Gary, and bringing David Holmes in for the remix. Secret Knowledge toured the world and my remix/DJing career took off, thanks to Andrew, by then hosting his Dante’s Inferno of a club called Sabresonic as the formidable Lord Sabre. There were photos of him in a rabbit head and frock coat, clutching a sabre.
Next, he explored machine-tooled electro in Two Lone Swordsmen with Keith Tenniswood, starting his Rotters Golf Club label in 2001. By then, Weatherall was a maverick who chose the back alleys of the challenging unknown over the golden road to fame and fortune pursued by many of his contemporaries, celebrating primal rockabilly like a retort to his earlier innovations, which are now being recycled by workmanlike copycats.
Always DJing, Andrew enjoyed a lower profile as he continued to plough his own idiosyncratic furrow, appearing under his own name on 2009’s ‘A Pox On The Pioneers’ and forming The Asphodells with Tim Fairplay. The lustrous space-disco of 2013’s ‘Ruled By Passion, Destroyed By Lust’ included ‘A Love From Outer Space’, which shares a name with the amazing nights that will be carried on by co-runner Sean Johnston. There was also the evocative space-electro of The Woodleigh Research Foundation with Nina Walsh and Andrew’s final album, 2017’s ‘Qualia’. As I write, a single called ‘Unknown Plunderer’ has shown up like a dubbed-out moon rock (released with the blessing of his family).
As his old friend Alex Paterson, who did a moving radio show in Andrew’s memory on WNBC.com two days after he’d passed says, “There’s a few people who changed modern music and Andrew was one of them.” Like Bowie or Peel, he leaves a void that can never be filled and it hurts like hell.
Andrew Weatherall 6 April 1963 – 17 February 2020