- Tue, 2010-11-02 12:16
UK DJ Andy C has become known as the godfather of Drum and Bass. There from the beginning, he has championed, developed and pushed forward the sound, torn apart dancefloors around the globe, and won countless awards; winning Best DJ year upon year in the Drum & Bass Arena polls, listed amongst the top 10 most influential people in dance music in Mixmag and named the ultimate drum & bass icon by 1 Xtra.
His talent doesn't stop there. Co-founder of Ram Records, Andy C now nurtures new acts in the scene whilst maintaining a packed DJ schedule, with Chase n Status and Subfocus part of the Ram family. As Andy releases Nightlife 5, the fifth installment in his popular compilation series, I Like Music caught up with Andy to chat about drum kits, bass sounds, vocals in dance music, the development of dubstep, how to play a set after The Prodigy, why he loves Drum n Bass, and so, so much more.
Warning. This is one of the longest interviews we've ever published on I Like Music. Andy was one of the most passionate people we've ever chatted to and honestly....we didn't want to cut this down! Enjoy :D
ILM: What can fans expect from Nightlife 5?
Andy C: I wanted to go to two CDs. I play a lot of longer sets now, this one is a reflection of that. If you turn up to a club to hear us, well, that’s what you’re going to get on the CD. I’ve been able to include a hell of a lot of music, touch on all the styles of dnb and put everything into the style of one of my sets.
ILM: You’ve been DJing for a long time, you’ve topped polls for years, won awards and generally become a bit of a legend within music! You were recently nominated for Mixmag’s Greatest DJ of All Time award, how does that feel?
Andy C: I didn’t know anything about it until they started doing all the promo and I saw my name on the list! You know, I’ve been buying music since 1989, when I was a young kid, and a lot of people on that list were making tunes back then, before I was even a DJ. To be among them is great. There’s a fair representation of dnb in there as well, which I really like. All the years and years battling to explain to people what dnb was, what jungle was, and now days it’s such an accepted part of music and we’re included in polls like this. Dnb is an important part of electronic music as a whole, worldwide.
ILM: What do you think makes a great DJ?
Andy C: It’s the ability to read the crowd, the ability to surprise the crowd and keep them on their toes. Not to meander off into a cul-de-sac of noodling. I didn’t start off as a DJ then get into the club scene, I was out partying and enjoying myself first. When you see any DJ that is worth it, you kind of think they’re into it just as much as the crowd. It’s all about getting into the night, getting into the vibe and feeling what the crowd are feeling. Then you can go on a journey together.
ILM: You have a great reputation for sourcing and championing new acts and talent for your label Ram Records, Sub Focus is a good example. I imagine you’re sent a lot of music...
Andy C: Yeah! I get sent soooooooo much music it’s unbelievable. Inevitably, a lot of it slips through and you miss out. But my job is to keep my ears open. To find that golden nugget, that bit of special music. We’ve been lucky enough as a label to pick up on acts like Sub Focus, Chase n Status, Loadstar, Xample, Wilkinson, Delta Heavy...
ILM: Sub Focus and Chase n Status have done very well, they appear in the charts now, in the top 10. What’s your advice for new artists on handling mainstream growth whilst maintaining underground respect?
Andy C: My thing early doors is not to be obvious in trying to appeal to the masses. It’s about doing music that you believe in, good quality music. It’s about organic growth. People aren’t stupid. They can tell when an artist isn’t being true to themselves.
ILM: Have you produced any of your own tunes recently?
Andy C: I haven’t made tunes for ages! I definitely want to get back in the studio. I’ve been saying that forever and a day. Whenever I get ready to get up and get back into the studio, the DJing schedule gets in the way! Maybe next year...
ILM: When you do get down to it, what’s your preferred technical set up?
Andy C: Fundamentally an Apple mac, Logic and Cuebase. Kind of veering toward Logic. It’s about starting with good source material. A lot of people fall into the trap of collecting as many programmes and gadgets as possible and then thinking “right! I can make great music!” It’s not about that. When an artist that we’ve taken on board makes an incredible tune and I’m like “wow man! What did you do, what did you do?” They’re always just like, “It’s just a couple of sounds man, a few plug-ins.” Every tune I’ve been involved in that people have liked, it’s always the most simple tune, it’s always the idea. You’ve always got to bring a unique angle to it.
ILM: You were given a drum kit when you were really small and quickly became obsessed with playing and practicing on it. Has that obsession stayed with you? Do you still feel that same level of excitement when you’re playing around with drum loops or when you hear a new artist?
Andy C: When I’m making tunes drum loops are a bit of an obsession. That’s probably why I never get anything written! I’ll probably spend a week or two making the drums, then forget that I’ve got to put a tune with it, I just end up getting technical! I think that obsession has spilled over into the decks now. I popped into the studio last night to have a little mix for ten or fifteen minutes just to try a couple of tunes out, and I didn’t come out for three hours! You know, once you get on it, you keep having ideas. I just get over-excited. I’m still like it, even when I’m at home.
ILM: It’s great that it’s still like that for you!
Andy C: It is still like that! I bought decks for a hobby, because I loved it. I never bought them with the intention of being a DJ. You know why I get excited? I just love hearing two tunes go together, I love the mixing process. I love hearing old tunes go with new tunes to see if they’ll work. If I can introduce the generation in clubs today to a tune that was special to me back in the day, then that excites me. It makes me feel like I’ve got to do this. To find things I can mix with this old tune to get the best out of it, so that the crowd can enjoy it hopefully as much as I did when I first heard it.
ILM: You were taken by your sister to your first rave when you were thirteen! What do you remember about that night?
Andy C: I remember it was an illegal party in a barn. It was blagged as someone’s engagement party and you had to pay a fiver to get in. My older sister thought it would be a good idea to take me and my mate along. It was incredible. It blew my mind! It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had! I remember being at school on the Monday morning and just thinking “I know something you guys don’t...” I’d been exposed to this incredible, adult world. I wouldn’t say it’s advisable for everyone at thirteen, but it definitely set me on a path.
ILM: Following that your love for music obviously grew and you landed your first slot on Cyndicate FM. How did you begin to develop drum and bass as a genre?
Andy C: When I started at Cyndicate it was through Scott aka Red One. He was a DJ there and he was putting on parties in London. It was at his party that I knew I had to get a pair of decks and start DJing. What I was playing then would be classed as hardcore, breakbeat...back then it was just a mish mash of everything, there wasn’t a scene.
ILM: You played your first set at Club Dada in Shaftesbury Avenue. How did that come about?
Andy C: Scott acted like my agent, prompting me to put together a mixtape, then he sent it out. The rave organisation that got back to us was a guy called Funky from Elevation, huge, huge rave promoters. We met up with him, started handing out flyers and went all round the country doing promotion for his events. Through that he gave us the Club Dada gig as a sort of gesture. I played before The Ratpack! Then we were given a spot down at a new night called Telepathy in Hackney.
ILM: When did you feel that the drum and bass scene was really exploding around you?
Andy C: The first few Telepathy parties we were doing were like house music, it wasn’t really jungle then. It was emerging out of expressive hardcore and breakbeat. It was ’92 maybe ’93 where it emerged as a scene. I remember playing gigs with Carl Cox in Birmingham...drum and bass didn’t properly emerge as a scene until ’95. It was an exciting time. We were all finding our way and all going round each other’s houses and cutting dub plates and making tunes for a new scene. Each week there’d be new tunes that would come along and inspire the producers to go away and make new tunes that would become this new style, which was jungle. Which is where it all started...
ILM: Recently, we’ve seen a very similar thing happen with the birth, growth and then explosion of dubstep. What are your thoughts on dubstep as a genre and movement? Can you see the parallels?
Andy C: I can definitely see the parallels with how jungle emerged, without a doubt. I have a lot of good friends who work in dubstep. You can hear definite influences in dubstep that have come from jungle and drum and bass and the whole ethos we had back in the day. I think it’s really strong. The songs that Chase n Status and Sub Focus did that were dubstep, I mean, the scenes are very intertwined. Now I do a lot of multi-genre gigs where there will be dubstep DJs and DnB DJs and we sort of all mix and match together.
ILM: What’s next for dubstep?
Andy C: Future wise...who knows? But it’s definitely been an exciting time for them. And it all goes hand in hand. Their scene gets introduced through our scene and vice versa. Then it’s all good for underground music as a whole.
ILM: About a year ago we interviewed Benga about the future of dubstep and he spoke about how he was looking toward the introduction of vocals. What are your feelings toward vocals in dance music, particularly drum and bass? What works?
Andy C: Some tunes really work don’t they? Then other tunes sound a little bit forced. I think that’s the nature of most tunes. The Katy B record that has been out, to me that sounded like an organic record, it sounds like it was always meant to be like that. Tunes that originate like that sound fantastic. Vocals are great you know! If you add a human element to an electronic tune, it could be one word, two words or just a simple line, it can lift a record to a whole other level. It’s that human nature element that touches people. It doesn’t even need to say something profound. Will it work? Yeah. If people do it right. I’m not into forced vocals for the sake of it. You can’t take a tune and say “we’ll add a vocal and get a hit record.” Like I said earlier, people can see through stuff like that. Organic stuff that has grown naturally and was always meant to be like that is always going to be stronger and always going to be more successful.
ILM: As well as the development of sounds and genres in dance music, the landscape of DJing has changed so much, from two turntables and a mixer to CDJs, laptops and time signature vinyl. What’s your set up these days?
Andy C: I’m fully old school apart from the fact that I use three decks. I like the three deck scenario, it enables me to keep interest levels up and play a lot of tunes. I like to create new tunes out of two tunes... Before I added the third deck there was never enough time to get the next tune and the next tune...I just found the third deck added another level of excitement for me, which hopefully led on to me creating better sets for the crowd.
ILM: How do you prepare for your sets?
Andy C: Well, um...I have a super long set tomorrow night, so I’ll definitely prepare in the sense that I’ll get all my new tunes together. As far as other preparation goes, I kind of turn up and see the crowd. Recently I’ve gone from playing a small, sweaty London club where everyone is totally on the ball and is waiting to hear all the new tunes, to the next night playing after The Prodigy in Bulgaria to 30,000 people.
ILM: Woah. A lot of people. How do you build up to something like that?
Andy C: The preparation is “right. I’m going on after The Prodigy. There’s 30,000 people here. I’ve got to hit them hard.” And then I’ll spend 25 minutes keeping them there, keeping that intensity up. Hopefully, my feeling is once the intensity is there and people are like “ok. I’m having fun. This is good.” Then you can go off and try different things and introduce different elements to it. But sets in front of that many people are about that initial part, intensity and keeping them there.
ILM: Where in the world is your favourite club sound system?
Andy C: Ooooooo! The best sound system....? Er.....I mean, I’d be lying if said anything other than the London clubs. Probably split between The End, Fabric and Matter. Matter just because of its sheer scale, the weight of the bass is just unbelievable. Gobsmacking. The End was our home for ten years, that cauldron of sound and bass somewhere so small and intense. Then there’s Fabric, which is soooo solid and nice. That’s three top notch sound systems there. But then, Womb in Tokyo is pretty incredible, Metro City in Perth, the big clubs of LA. There’s loads of great set-ups. But it’s the triangle of bass in London – Fabric, Matter, The End.
ILM: Out of all the sets you’ve played, which have been some of the most unforgettable?
Andy C: Voodoo Magic in ’95 was one of my first ever real big raves. That was really, really special. There was this great vibe. Everybody in the scene was down. I guess I was young and new and I felt really happy after the set, I felt that I’d done a good job. Then there’s special times at Metro City in Perth. I’ve had some amazing times there, that’s been absolutely incredible. The whole of Australia and New Zealand really. Then LA at the EVC festival. Exit Festival I played after Billy Idol one year, then the next year I played after Korn! But playing after Billy Idol was pretty mind blowing.
ILM: How was your last Ram set at The End?
Andy C: I was going to say that! That was really, really, really special. I’ll never forget that. The whole vibe. Everybody just wanted to have it. The planets aligned and it felt so natural. Sometimes, when you DJ, everybody will be dancing and going nuts but in your head you don’t feel like you’ve clicked yet and it really bugs you. You’re kind of looking for points in your set where you feel like you’re clicking. That night it was all natural. I looked through my record box and it was like I wasn’t looking. Records were jumping into my hand, I didn’t have to think about what tunes, I didn’t have to think about what mixes. It was all happening. Everybody was just so vibing. It was so special.
ILM: What do you think it is that gets everything clicking into place like that? Can you even put your finger on it...
Andy C: I wish I could! Some sets finish and I’m like “oh, that was alright.” And you can’t understand why you couldn’t get it. Some sets just click into place. I did Metalheadz and I just took a bunch of old records out that I hadn’t played for years and years and then it’s just happening, it’s just happening, good mixes are happening and the right song choice and I dunno...if I could do that every set I’d be laughing! That feeling you get when you’re on that roll, it just happens for you...
ILM: What is it about drum and bass that you love?
Andy C: I love the intensity. I love the energy. I love the impact, the suprise of it. I love how you can go from incredible impact tunes to rolling grooves and really let your body be taken by the bass. I love the uniqueness of the tempo. Back in the day people used to think it was too fast, they didn’t understand it. I think producers are able to produce it now where it doesn’t feel too fast. It feels natural. There’s so many reasons. In the way I was just explaining about the sets and how it all just happens, that’s why I love drum and bass because I don’t think that could happen in another set, for me.
ILM: When you get the chance to be a punter for a night, what would be your ideal line-up? Who do you like watching?
Andy C: Ohhhh....I don’t know! I don’t get that much chance to watch anybody! I suppose...I was out in Ibiza this summer and watching Carl Cox, the way he had the crowd was pretty inspiring. I mean, that’s completely different to how I play, completely different music and completely different methods, but no less...I mean, he had the crowd completely in the palm of his hand, he was completely in control of the whole club. That was good to watch. Other than that, I don’t know! I’m travelling around so much! Band wise, I like going to concerts! Radiohead are my favourite band...
ILM: Mine too!
Andy C: Hey! Haha! Well...there you go! I’ve seen them so many times! Every time they go on tour I try and catch them. They are a massive inspiration.
ILM: Have you met them?
Andy C: No! No I haven’t! I’d love to, although I’d probably be really, really geeky and start asking stupid questions because I just think they’re incredible. A friend of mine is actually doing some work at the moment with their engineer, I’m trying to persuade him to take a camera in...
ILM: Haha! For some secret filming! I’m the same though, I’m not sure what I’d say if I ever had the chance to interview them...
Andy C: Haha! I’d be sitting there chatting away but I’d want to just say “how did you get the vibe for that tune! Tell me about what happened with that one...”
ILM: Tell me what happened when you were making Idioteque!
Andy C: Yeah! I mean, I just think they create the most amazing feeling. They’re pretty incredible to see in concert as well. Especially when they’ve got tens of thousands of people and they seem to get everybody on just the same vibe. It’s amazing. I love them!
ILM: What have you been listening to recently?
Andy C: Well, you know what, its going to sound so boring, but over the last few months with getting Nightlife 5 ready, I’ve been listening to wall to wall drum and bass. Before that, if I’m on tour I chill with Radiohead, I have all their albums and just end up shuffling them on my iPod. I’m also a massive fan of Stevie Wonder. We had a Stevie Wonder day at home the other week, my daughter was running around! But yeah, a bit of everything. I tend to have these periods in my life. This summer everything had to be dnb. And it has to be like that sometimes. You have to re-connect with the music on every level so you understand every part of it. But then when I have the chance I like to reach out into other scenes.
ILM: What next for dnb?
Andy C: I think in a club sense, it’s in a massively healthy place. I went out last weekend, the first few dates of the autumn season, and I played to 11,000 people over three events in the UK. It was amazing, a fantastic weekend. I think in a club sense it’s really, really strong. Obviously the emergence of dubstep has taken some of the spotlight and this year, that’s what it has all been about. I think that drum and bass learns from other music very, very well and takes influence from other music very, very well.
ILM: What type of tunes can we expect?
Andy C: I wouldn’t be surprised to see next year, maybe a new dawn of people trying out tunes with interesting tempo changes, a more pared back sound, a bit more bass driven. It goes through stages. I’m kind of sensing a re-emergence of that core element, that core guttural bass, that underground vibe in dnb coming back. But I don’t know! Who am I to predict! It only takes a couple of big tunes from people and the whole scene veers off in one direction. It’s exciting.
ILM: What can we expect from Ram Records?
Andy C: With the artists that we’ve signed, they’re all vibing and excited to do new stuff. Sub Focus is going back in the studio to do new stuff and Chase n Status are working on their album. Within dnb itself, everybody is kind of like ‘right. Let’s start the new chapter. Let’s get the next batch ready!’ There’s so many people out there that want to go and dance to drum and bass, I think musically we’re going to see some exciting stuff.
ILM: What advice do you give to your Ram Records artists?
Andy C: Don’t look at tunes and say ‘that was a big tune. I’m going to do a tune like that.’ Cos that’s not going to propel you into greater things. That’s not going to make them stand out. It’s about trying to create the next big sound. What would you want to hear in a club that’s going to surprise you? Imagine you’re on the dance floor, what would be the craziest thing you could expect to hear? Well...think of that and try and make it.
ILM: You sound like a good mentor!
Andy C: I hope so! I’m probably a nightmare cos I’m quite hard to please. But then I think you’ve got to have quality over quantity. It’s about trying to create big sounds. I’ve had a couple of meetings with the new guys this week and I know they’re really vibing. It’s all about getting them to make a mark for themselves. That’s what we’re on.
ILM: What are your future plans?
Andy C: I’m touring Nightlife til the end of the year. Hopefully getting a project together for 2011 which will come to life as time progresses! I’m hoping to get into the production again, and I’m also looking to take the DJing to the next level as well. And as a label, I want to sign new artists. It’s all about pushing forward. It shouldn’t seem daunting. The effort that we put in will show over the next year. It’s about getting these artists to push themselves as much as possible.
ILM: Taking the DJing to the next level? What does that involve?
Andy C: I don’t know...I’m just always looking for something new! We’ll see. It could involve anything! I’m really enjoying it right now. I’m vibing for the autumn. I bought fourteen new dubs in the last ten days and I have a whole load of other new tunes! That’s how it is. Let’s hope everyone likes em.