As with House music supremo Frankie Knuckles in 2014, the unexpected death of Andrew Weatherall, apart from being a huge shock to all within the club / music community, represents a sudden juncture where a now older generation, once so vital with ideas and innovation, ponders its own mortality, the passage of time underlined with the passing of one of its heroes – a true UK great whose place, as both DJ and pioneering remixer, is assured in the history books, key to the understanding of dance culture and its evolution. So, this was especially sobering news to hear on Monday, social media awash with a genuine outpouring of loss.
He was aged just 56, the cause of his death a pulmonary embolism. Born in Windsor to a working class family in 1963 and attending the Grammar school there, he was well read and erudite with a firm Punk ethos, and apart from his DJ and production work he was a freelance music journalist, sometimes using the pseudonym ‘Audrey Witherspoon’. Widely referred to by his surname alone, within the club scene Weatherall was a symbol of integrity, admired for his quest to always push at the musical barriers and possessing an aura that few other DJs acquire.
To understand the full weight of Weatherall’s significance we need to rewind to the late-‘80s / early-‘90s, with the Rave scene at its height and British dance music, and its DJs, then beginning to acquire a whole new level of respect, and often adulation. There were 2 names that would stand out, then synonymous with each other, exemplifying this newly gained status – Oakenfold and Weatherall, these names becoming part of the UK club iconography.
Paul Oakenfold was, of course, one of the DJs who experienced an Ibiza epiphany in 1987 on taking ecstasy for the first time, bringing the Balearic vibes back to the UK and, in the process, igniting the Acid-House scene and its accompanying drug culture. Oakenfold, a Chelsea supporter, knew Weatherall from the Chelsea affiliated Boys Own fanzine, which dated back to ’86, initially inspired by Liverpool football fanzine, The End (edited by Peter Hooton of the band The Farm), but soon finding itself in the right place at the right time to become a crucial chronical of London’s Acid House movement in its development – the former Soul boy crew behind the fanzine, not least Weatherall and Terry Farley, immersing ever-deeper into DJ culture.
Danny Rampling, another of the Ibiza evangelists, who, on his return to London had started the seminal club night Shoom (Oakenfold had weighed in with Spectrum and Future whilst Nicky Holloway launched The Trip), added Farley and Weatherall to their DJ line-up, and the explosion of Acid-House, aided greatly by the media, from the style magazines to the tabloids, saw this underground grouping of DJs in the eye of the hurricane as Rave culture went mainstream with MDMA its sacrament.
Paul Oakenfold had found modest success producing his Electra project (not to be confused with the early-‘80s Italo-Disco act of the same name), just missing the top 50 with ‘Jibaro’ in ’88, as well as ‘It’s Your Destiny’ / ‘Autumn Love’ the following year, when he also founded his Perfecto label. In between these releases he would announce himself as a compelling remixer with his brilliant ‘Think About The Future’ version of ‘W.F.L.’ for Manchester’s Happy Mondays in 1989, which he worked on with Terry Farley and programmer / engineer Steve Osborne. Then, just a couple of months later the Mondays issued their ‘Madchester Rave On’ EP, with Oakenfold and Farley remixing ‘Rave On’, whilst the brilliantly brooding lead track, ‘Hallelujah’, had Oakenfold again remixing, this time with Andy Wetherall (mis-spelt on artwork) – his first studio session. The EP reached the top 20 of the UK singles chart, providing the band with its commercial breakthrough. Following this the 2 DJs would go on to each work on albums that define the era.
Oakenfold would produce the chart-topping Happy Mondays LP ‘Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches’, released in November 1990 and preceded by the top 5 singles ‘Step On’ and ‘Kinky Afro’, whilst his sublime mix of The Cure’s ‘Close To You’ provided a further top 20 feather in his cap (as would his 12” mix of Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ in early ’91).
Weatherall was not to be outdone, the Glasgow band Primal Scream, signed to Alan McGee’s Creation label, had been struggling to make an impact and their publicist, Jeff Barrett, was fighting against the tide in his efforts to help further their career, but positive feedback from Weatherall for the track ‘I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have’, set in motion a chain reaction that culminated in Weatherall’s radical re-construction, issued as ‘Loaded’, which saw him credited (for the first time as Andrew Weatherall) as producer. It was released in February ’90 and is a classic by any measure, sounding like nothing that had come before.
‘Loaded’ begins with the now iconic sample: ‘Just what is it that you want to do? Well, we wanna be free, we wanna be free to do what we wanna do, and we wanna get loaded and we wanna have a good time and that’s what we’re gonna do (away baby, let’s go), we’re gonna have a good time, we’re gonna have a party’. This was taken from the cult 1966 biker movie ‘The Wild Angels and immediately caught the attention, which was dramatically built upon via the tracks horn-powered intro fanfare, accompanied by the vocal line sampled from ‘I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love’ by The Emotions, before the entry of a granite-hard breakbeat, pilfered from an Italian bootleg remix of the Edie Brickell’s song ‘What I Am’ (which in turn had been lifted from Soul II Soul’s 1989 hit ‘Keep On Moving’, who had sourced it from Graham Central Station’s 1975 track ‘The Jam’). It was stunning stuff, and the track had barely started! Weatherall would call his approach to the mix ‘the confidence of ignorance’, to quote Orson Welles, as he broke the rules by not knowing what the rules were.
‘Loaded’ will be played by DJs globally this weekend – it’s probably the record that Andrew Weatherall will be best-remembered for, such was its invention and impact. It gave Primal Scream their first hit, reaching #16, with NME placing it at #59 in its 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time and Muzik magazine naming it as one of the 50 most influential dance records.
What Oakenfold and Weatherall had done is take recordings from an Indie-Rock base and help alchemise a genre that became known as Indie-Dance. It was a critical moment for music in the UK, illustrating how Dance, once shunned by the Rock / Alternative community, was now being eagerly embraced. Along with the Happy Mondays and Primal Scream, other artists scored big as this new hybrid increasingly pierced the chart with major hits for artists like The Stone Roses ‘Fools Gold’ (in the chart at the same time as the Mondays’ ‘Madchester Rave On’), Electronic ‘Getting Away With It’, The Soup Dragons’ ‘I’m Free’, The Farm ‘Groovy Train’ and, of course, New Order (way ahead of the curve with their 1982 magnus opus ‘Blue Monday’), whose England World Cup offering ‘World In Motion’ topped the chart and included Weatherall & Farley remixes. This all fused with what was happening in Bristol, where Massive Attack had found their sound (to be referred to, to their distain, as Trip-Hop) and were poised to release their classic ‘Blue Lines’ LP in 1991, and with the Dub sensibility of Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound collective, who’d go on to score their biggest success, reaching the top 10 with the ‘91 single, ‘Human Nature’ by Gary Clail On-U Sound System, released on Perfecto and including Oakenfold & Osborne mixes.
Teaming up with his Boys Own brethren Terry Farley and Pete Heller for a release on their newly-formed label, Weatherall and Hugo Nicolson, who’d cut his teeth working with Adrian Sherwood at On-U, released 2 singles as Bocca Juniors, ‘Raise’ in 1990 and ‘Substance’ the following year, featuring vocalist Anna Haig. Weatherall and Nicolson had previously teamed up for the celebrated remix of My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Soon’, which just missed the top 40, and would subsequently produce the bulk of the tracks on ‘Screamadelica’. Weatherall, Farley and Heller talked about the Boys Own label on the music show Snub TV in 1991: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_vqf9DDHqUg
Primal Scream followed-up ‘Loaded’ with ‘Come Together’, unleashing another Weatherall mix masterpiece running at an epic 10 minutes plus. Its slowmo spaced-out groove was lysergic-dipped. It was stripped-down, almost ambient, but then the beats dropped, and while ‘Loaded’, also downtempo, was hard and earthy this was deep and ethereal. With the gospel infused ‘come together as one’ vocals of Manchester’s Denise Johnson brought to the fore, this was the perfect record to listen to after the rave, when you were kicked back and chilled.
Once again, as with ‘Loaded’, the track opened with an inspired vocal sample, this time Jesse Jackson’s speech at Wattstax, a historic black gathering at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1972, and a spectacular showcase for the great Soul label, Stax, which was subsequently released both as a film and soundtrack album. The use of this sample made a particular impression on me, given that Stax was one of the first labels I was nourished on, and later down the line when I put together my Essential Mix for Radio 1 I opened with sections of the same Jesse Jackson speech, very much as a nod to Weatherall and ‘Come Together’. I also, for good measure, dropped in the spoken part from ‘Loaded’ a little later in the mix.
Whilst the next Primal Scream single, 1991’s ‘Higher Than The Sun’ was produced by The Orb, Weatherall took care of the follow-up, ‘Don’t Fight It, Feel It’, released just ahead of the album that had now evolved – the seeds sown a couple of years earlier when the band’s leader, Bobby Gillespie, took ecstasy at one of the Spectrum nights held at Legend in Manchester, the club I’d been privileged to DJ at for a number of years earlier in the decade. Another highlight, landing just ahead of ‘Screamadelica’, was his dubbed-out mix of Saint Etienne’s cover of Neil Young’s ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’, signed to Jeff Barrett’s recently formed Heavenly label, and the band’s first top 40 hit. Then, just after, in early-’92, Jah Wobble’s Invaders Of The Heart also went top 40 with ‘Visions Of You’, sung by Sinéad O’Connor and carrying Weatherall mixes.
Released in September 1991, ‘Screamadelica’ was a revelation – both a critical and commercial success, peaking at #8 on the UK album chart, whilst picking up the inaugural Mercury Music Prize the following year. Further acclaim would include it’s placing at the top of Select magazine’s albums of the ’90s, and the runner-up spot in the ‘Best 50 Albums Of Q’s Lifetime’ list. Primal Scream had placed their finger firmly on the pulse of cultural change, triggered by the Acid House movement, and, with Weatherall’s guidance, instinctively set about soundtracking it, capturing the essence of the era more than any other album – it was a zeitgeist bullseye.
Following the success of ‘Pills ‘n’ Thrills And Bellyaches’ and ‘Screamadelica’, Oakenfold and Weatherall were understandably in great demand, the world their oyster, but the 2 DJs would embark on radically different paths. Whilst Oakenfold set off on the road to DJ superstardom, embracing mainstream adulation and forging a future of fame and fortune, culminating in movie soundtracks and Vegas celebrity, Weatherall would shun the limelight, preferring to retain a more underground profile where he could continue his experimental approach unhindered by commercial demands, remaining relevant throughout the decades to come without compromising his principles – a stance which earned him huge respect within the club community, and especially with fellow DJs.
Whereas Oakenfold represents the rapid ascendancy of the superstar DJ, complete with its accompanying riches and popularity, for Weatherall it was all about musical integrity, and he was happier DJing to a smaller more committed audience than to the throngs in a vast stadium, always playing what he wanted to play, be it Dub, Techno or Rockabilly, for which he held a great love – he was very much a maverick who preferred to remain on the margins. I’m not sure where this quote was from, but it was tweeted by writer / columnist Fiona Sturges – it’s a wonderful summary of succumbing to material temptations as opposed to following your own less lucrative, but perhaps more spiritually rewarding path:
“That sort of carry-on was never for me…it’s a lot of work once you go up that slippery showbiz pole, and it would keep me away from what I like which is making things. I mean, I had a little look in the early ‘90s, I stood at the bottom of that pole and looked up and thought to myself ‘the view’s pretty good. But it’s very greasy and there are a lot of bottoms up there that I might have to brush my lips against. So, maybe I’ll give it a miss’.”
Having left Boys Own in 1992, (although the following year he’d produce One Dove’s top 30 album ‘Morning Dove White’ for the label), he’d go on to form his own label, Sabres Of Paradise (from which his Lord Sabre title derived) hooking up with Gary Burns and Jagz Kooner to work on their leftfield Dub and electronic influenced project of the same name, scoring minor hits with ‘Smokebelch II’ (’93) and ‘Theme’ (’94). The Sabres were picked up by Sheffield’s Warp Records, then very much on a roll, and would secure their best singles chart placing with ‘Wilmot’, which reached #36 in 1994. Their first album 1993’s ‘Sabresonic’ fared even better, peaking at #29, although the follow-up ‘Haunted Dancefloor’ stalled at #57.
The Sabres Of Paradise disbanded in 1995, Weatherall going on to form Two Lone Swordsmen with Keith Tenniswood (aka Radioactive Man) and releasing under this project for the next 10 years, initially on Warp, but later via his Rotters Golf Club imprint, an Electro label set up in 2001. Further chart success eluded him, not that this would give him sleepless nights.
In more recent times, he ran the A Love From Outer Space parties with Sean Johnston, whilst he continued to DJ in clubs and at festivals both in the UK and overseas. Having never stopped recording, at the time of his death he was in the process of issuing 2 new tracks ‘Unknown Plunderer’ and ‘End Times Sound’, both previously scheduled for release this week (vinyl and digital) on the Walthamstow-based label ByrdOut, who he’s recorded for since 2017.
I first met Andrew Weatherall at Heavenly Records in Clerkenwell in 1991, where he was camped out in Jeff Barrett’s office, and then a few months later in a post-gig chill out on the band’s tour bus after he’d DJ’d before Primal Scream’s appearance in Manchester soon after the ‘Screamadelica’ release. It wasn’t until ’94 that I remember seeing him DJ in a club setting, at Manchester’s Herbal Tea Party, held at the New Ardri in Hulme, where he was a regular guest during the mid-‘90s – a number of his mixes from the night available to stream here:
I’d first appear on the same bill as him in 2004, not long after my DJ return, at the Whistle Bump party in London, and we’d cross paths on a number of occasions over the years, often being booked by the same promoters. In 2010 he was one of the first names on our wish list on putting together the DJ line-up for the Vintage Festival in Goodwood, when I curated the dance arenas in conjunction with Jack Hemingway – our intention to bring together the most impressive collection of legendary British DJs ever assembled, dating from the Soul scene in the ‘70s through to the Rave pioneers.
Remembered by many as a gentleman, he was a raconteur and a sharp dresser, always expressing his individuality, whether it be with the long corkscrew hair of his rave on days, to the resplendent full beard of his latter years, which, as has been pointed out, gave him an uncannily similar appearance to the comic book maestro and modern-day mage Alan Moore.
Given his wide and eclectic musical taste, there was a Facebook campaign in 2010 to secure him the old John Peel night-time slot on Radio 1. It made perfect sense, Weatherall providing the most suitable contemporary fit, but alas it didn’t come to pass. Had it done so, you can be sure that a new generation of listeners would have had their musical horizons considerably broadened (he was however subsequently a resident on BBC Radio 6). Weatherall was asked about the campaign at the time in Dazed & Confused magazine:
“I’d be churlish to say that it’s not nice to know that there are loads of people enthusiastic about what you do. But then the curmudgeon says I’d rather be the one Andrew Weatherall than the second John Peel. That’s why I try and not look at it because it’s so easy to get sucked up into it. When I started out I believed all the hype and when NME are telling you you’re the best thing since sliced bread it can go to a young man’s head….thank god I’m a slightly more rounded individual than I was back then.”
Andrew Weatherall Wikipedia:
Weatherall drawing by Pete Fowler.