“It was an out of focus snapshot of its time” Andrew Weatherall talks Screamadelica
He was the man who shaped the sound of Screamadelica and on the 25th anniversary of the release of the album I caught with the legendary Andrew Weatherall to talk about how it all happened.
The first major remix you did was for Happy Mondays’ Madchester Rave On EP. How did that come about?
Bands were interested in dance at the time and they wanted dance versions and Mike Pickering knew I liked the Mondays so he asked me. I was the Guy Stevens of my day (producer for Mott The Hoople and The Clash) whilst Paul Oakenfold was more soul/hip-hop background.
In those days I was just playing to the engineer and telling them what I wanted, I was the imagination behind it all and Steve Osborne was the engineer who put it all together. As I was clubbing all the time I knew what sounds to get and someone else would create it. It’s a great combination.
Geoff Emerick wrote his book claiming a lot of Sgt Peppers was his idea but he was the engineer and as valuable as they are the ideas come from the producer.
Along with The Stone Roses’ Fools Gold that EP created such a culture shift amongst teenagers at the time. Historians always talk about Acid House having this effect but that never reached suburbia like Madchester did, it was easily the biggest thing since Two-Tone or punk.
There was no scene as such in London either, Paul Oakenfold did the Wrote For Luck remix and no one knew what to call the scene. In 87-88 you’d hear The Residents, The Smiths alongside Darryl Pandy being DJed together and then the press picked up on it.
One day The Sun tried to speak to me as we had a party on farmland we rented, it turned out the guy we rented it from was lying and it was actually the Queens land. That was pretty surreal and the moment I think we knew we were on to something.
But the previous year was Schoom to 200 people and it was all about being in the moment and to this day I don’t have an archive so it’s really hard to remember it all. You know what it’s like, I still don’t think it was that important because I was involved.
The clubs aren’t important, it’s what happens afterwards that’s important and I consciously try to stay outside of the industry and I still love the music and don’t want lose that magic. I’ve just been given the Cosey Fanni Tutti book and I had to stop after 4 of 5 chapters as I don’t want to ruin the magic. I love Throbbing Gristle they’re one of my favourite bands ever.
I’m guessing it was the success of the Madchester EP remixes that gave you all the idea to create Loaded?
I’d met the band previously as I was doing the odd bit for NME and they didn’t want to commit to me, so I did a bi-weekly column on dance music when Helen Mead suggested I go and do the review in Exeter which we called ‘Sex Lies and Gaffer Tape’. People thought I was being ironic but I wasn’t, the NME was the bible to me from the age of 13 and was a huge step up from doing your own fanzine so I took it really seriously.
The idea came about in the chill out lounge upstairs at Spectrum whilst Alex Paterson was DJing, this was in Heaven near Charing Cross playing to just 200 people. Innes came over and said we’ve got this track, would you be interested in remixing it for us.
I did Loaded at Bark Studios in Walthamstow and initially there with just an 808 kick drum beneath but it wasn’t enough, Innes said “destroy it” so I did.
Was it always planned to be the main track or a b-side?
No one knew if it was going to be a b-side or whatever until we played it at the Subterrania and people started whooping the Stones over it, really tacky but they loved it and it became quite obvious how popular it would be.
There’s so many tracks that were either sampled or direct influences on Screamadelica. This reminds me of the hip-hop artists of the day when sampling was still widespread which seems quite rare today, but they took it in a whole new direction.
Oh yeh, Hugo Nicholson was a massive part of it and he should get equal kudos for the album, he could tell me what the instruments were from the original song that either Bobby or I played to him and 9 times out of 10 Hugo would help to recreate it.
We’d been playing together for a year to 18 months at the time so really knew each others tastes and I knew what the band were after. A typical example for this was recently I was oblivious to Bobby’s accident as I don’t do Facebook and I sent him a track I heard by Charlie Rich called ‘I Feel Like Going Home’. He responded by telling me about his accident and telling me he’d used that title on his post online. You’re just so tuned in…..
Absolutely, I send people tracks all the time I know they’d like.
There are just some connections aren’t there you have with people and that’s pretty much what I was bringing to it. I now know how to get those bubbly loops that were sampled from science fiction records but really we didn’t have a clue in those days.
Were there any worries about gaining clearance?
No but it’s funny you should say that as it did come back to bite me on the arse with the My Bloody Valentine ‘Soon’ remix and then about 15 years later someone came forward and demanded a load of money from me. But the track didn’t make any money so there wasn’t anything to share.
That reminds me, when MBV reissued all their material a few years they asked me for permission as Kevin doesn’t consider that remix his track, but it’s not my track it’s his. What a compliment though.
That remix actually was placed at No.1 by NME just a few years ago (2011) as the greatest remix of all time…
Really? I’m pleased people still consider it great. It’s not sophisticated, it has the spirit of the band and was actually quite shambolic to put together. You’ve only got to listen to Loaded with all those mistakes, but people really connect with that they still like the spirit.
Absolutely, most bands put out their best stuff when they can’t play properly.
People still come up to me and say “that record changed my life” and I get the same when I see people I love, I saw Nick Lowe at an airport recently and turned into a 15 year old again, I had to go and talk to him.
When I started out I was building film sets as a proper job and then DJing in between, I was earning £50 on a DJ set and spending £100 on records so I needed a proper job. I was on building sites at the age of 18 and have always been happy to work but there have been times I’ve had the opportunity to progress to the Chemical Brothers level but just can’t deal with all the cunts.
So the album running order and the sequence of tracks is apparently in the order of taking an E and drifting through various phases. Fact or rumour?
Bobby put it together and like you I only know that from reading it in articles. Coz I’m so close to the thing I don’t think I’ve ever listened to it from beginning to end because I’m obsessed with all the details and obviously I’m going to want to listen to the tracks I’ve done more, plus I’d heard it so many times.
Don’t Fight It Feel It is based around that whistle loop, what was the inspiration for that?
It’s difficult to remember but I thought it needed a hook, something a bit menacing. I wanted to sound like a Chicago house record or a disco record, only coz despite them being really upbeat they are in a the minor key which gives them a little sadness.
I heard it through a big PA at Christmas for the first time in years and it sounded amazing, it is the whistle that really makes you want to go mad, gives it such an edge and then you have the breakdown sampled from Hey Bulldog by The Beatles. Such a brilliant idea.
Again I can’t remember how that came about but I like stuff that shouldn’t happen just for 8 bars or something.
On Higher Than The Sun you worked with The Orb and Jah Wobble, how did they become involved?
It was a real happy accident as I saw Youth coming out of his flat in London and I was such a huge Killing Joke fan I had to talk to him. At the time he had Alex Paterson as his flat mate and we all started hanging out and that’s pretty much how it came about. Had I left the house 5 minutes later it may never have happened, that can only occur when you live in the metropolis.
You DJ’d on the Screamadelica tour. Any particular memories?
Yep, it was just bliss. The tour bus was a bit manky but you get that close-knit feeling like a family, it was like being on a bus with a mad family and not caring if i die. The outside world is dull but when you are in a car park in Birmingham off your head I was ready to meet my maker, with Mott The Hoople it was ok.
Was anything left on the cutting room floor during the Screamadelica sessions?
Oh yes, there’s versions of everything somewhere, they just gave me the multi tracks and basically said do what you want, I mean it worked with Loaded so why wouldn’t it work with anything else. There’s only Shine Like Stars they didn’t like and we had to go away and do it again, I was away when they asked me to do that one again so they had to wait but it was well worth it despite the additional studio costs as we nailed the final version and made it what it is.
To sum up the album, it was an out of focus snapshot of its time and we made a new sound out of the samples.