The history of pop music is endlessly fascinating because of its intrinsic democracy. History, so far as the school books are concerned, is a matter of following the lineage of Kings, Queens and Prime Ministers while disregarding the ordinary man. Pop music inverts this and disregards the oligarchy. Every musician plays a part and no person is shunned because of their origins.
UK pop music has many exemplars; some have found their place with a single guitar riff, others with ambitious career-long bodies of work. More intriguing in many ways are those that have followed their own meandering paths uninterested in prevailing trends but paradoxically have affected more strongly the music of others.
As a teenager Andrew Weatherall was drawn to pop culture as a whole and absorbed music, clothes, books and film in equal measure. His taste in music was eclectic right from the start and the thrill of discovery overshadowed any need to follow trends. DJing came out of an urge to play records he’d found to people he liked. It started at Danny Rampling’s ‘Shoom’ along with Terry Farley. They soon branched out with sets at Paul Oakenfold’s ‘Spectrum’ and Nicky Holloway’s ‘Trip’ nights. It wasn’t just DJing. Weatherall and Farley had been part of the fanzine ‘Boys Own’. There was no plan; things were moving too quickly. Weatherall started his recording career with two singles as part of ‘Bocca Juniors’, then worked with Oakenfold on remixing Happy Monday’s ‘Hallelujah’. Farley moved on to Junior Boys Own with Steve Heller and took on The Chemical Brothers and Underworld, Weatherall remixed New Order, My Bloody Valentine and Primal Scream then formed his new outfit Sabres of Paradise which was signed to Warp Records.
Those early mixes were primarily responsible for the somewhat clumsily named indie-dance scene of the early 90s. In a backhanded acknowledgement the Expletive Undeleted blog once stated “Weatherall is probably as much to blame for the horror that was ‘indie-dance’ as the Great Satan Oakenfold”. It has to be admitted that there were a plethora of pale imitations giving the genre a bad smell but Primal Scream’s ‘Loaded’, Flowered Up’s ‘Weekender’ and MBV’s ‘Soon’ are indubitably great records irrespective of style. Indeed just four years ago ‘Soon’ was voted by NME readers the best remix of all time.
Weatherall didn’t slow down. The band was followed by an eponymous label which released a slew of records by new artists. Meanwhile members of Sabres of Paradise the group, despite many era defining tracks including ‘Smokebelch’ and ‘Wilmot’, were tugging in different directions. Jagz Kooner and Gary Burns left to create The Aloof and Weatherall, after a brief foray into production with Primal Scream, Beth Orton and One Dove, joined up with Keith Tenniswood to form Two Lone Swordsmen.
Shackles thoroughly loosened Weatherall reconfigured his label as Emissions Audio Output and set about exploring his new studio freedom. Weatherall spent most of his time moving between the studio and the DJ both for the next five years. New records poured out; albums stretched to six sides and even the so called EPs barely fitted onto single discs they were so prolific. Two Lone Swordsmen didn’t shirk their remix duties either producing nigh on one hundred and fifty during that period for artists as diverse as Stereo MC’s, Texas, Howie B, Calexico, David Holmes, Spiritualised, Paul Weller, Throbbing Gristle, X-Press 2, Death in Vegas….
In 2004 Weatherall reunited with Warp Records and promptly took a sharp left turn with ‘Double Gone Chapel’. Initially it seemed Two Lone Swordsmen had abruptly left the world of electronica behind but close listening revealed a modern heart utilising the equipment revolution the 80s had introduced. Skillfully woven into the mix were traditional guitars, drums and bass elements but more importantly conventional song structures and, to the surprise of Weatherall’s early followers, singing.
‘Double Gone Chapel’ was by no means a deliberate attempt to revolutionise electronic music. Weatherall had been recently enjoying spreading his wings as a DJ playing dub, rockabilly and spaced out rock at small clubs around the UK and inevitably these adventures fueled his new records.
In subsequent years there were two more sets in the same vein under the collective title ‘Wrong Meeting’ until, just shy of twenty years after his first record release came the first album under his own name ‘A Pox on the Pioneers’. ‘A Pox on the Pioneers’ signified another stylistic shift with the emphasis on pure songwriting albeit ensconced in everything from mellifluous synth lines to unhinged guitar. Its parentage was clearly second phase TLS but Weatherall was feeling the pull of pure electronica again. The Asphodells was put together with Timothy J. Fairplay and harked back to the beginnings of techno at the same time as it planted its feet firmly in the twenty first century. It cheerfully threw all but adherents of the ‘expect the unexpected’ camp into a new spin.
Weatherall’s continuing relevance reasserts itself each decade with remixes for Mark Lanegan, Heart People and Noel Gallagher as well as revisiting New Order and collaborating on new tracks with Moby and Beck. He even briefly returned to production work with Fuck Buttons on the triumphant ‘Tarot Sport’. While his credit as anti-producer on the Twilight Sad album exaggerates his contribution — which began and ended with “You don’t need a producer, it’s good enough as it is” – it reinforces yet again how his opinions and insight, however tangential, continue to carry considerable weight.
Weatherall hasn’t been all music in the last few years. He was Faber & Faber’s inaugural Artist in Residence in 2013, he has directed the now annual Convenanza festival in the south of France, conducted one on one conversations with Julian Cope, Brix Smith and Rob Chapman, provided the aural backdrop for Michael Smith’ s observational writing, creating artwork for the independent singles club Moine Dubh and curated an exhibition of photographs taken in his studio. 2016 saw the debut album by a new project, The Woodleigh Research Facility, which explores a sparse sonic landscape. That was swiftly followed by a second Andrew Weatherall credited album ‘Convenanza’, a collection of songs and instrumental flights of imagination which threw spanners in works, put cats amongst pigeons and huge smiles on faces. Never one to rest on his laurels the Chairman now returns with a new album, ‘Qualia’, on influential Swedish label Hoga Nord.