As a teenager I was obsessed with drum’n'bass to the point where I wouldn’t give any other music the time of day, I’d listen to pirate stations and rave tape packs constantly, talk about it all day long with my friends at school and try to find out the names of every tune that got played. Now I’m older my tastes are a lot more varied, but drum’n'bass from the mid-90s to early 2000s still holds a very special place in my heart. One of the scene’s hardest working and most revered DJs/producers is Andy C, a man who has won Best DJ at various drum’n'bass awards ceremonies pretty much every year since they began and a man whose record label, Ram Records has produced a steady stream of classics including the all-time cult smash Valley Of The Shadows (or Long, Dark Tunnel as most people call it). A firm favourite of drum’n'bass fans around the globe, he’s become known as The Executioner, thanks to his ability to destroy dancefloors around the world. This year Ram Records celebrates 20 years in the business and Andy gets his live show on the road again after its debut last autumn, here’s the result of a chat we had just a few weeks ago…
How does the live show differ from your standard club set up?
Well, from a technical standpoint it’s massively different – I have five controllers, three computers, I’m linked in to the visuals – I’m able to control clips, the visuals mix at the same time as the music. We’ve rehearsed for a long time – it took a year to get the whole thing together. The beauty of it is that it can be expanded almost limitlessly.
It kicks off again in February and at the moment we’re madly running around and seeing how far we can take it. It’s enabling me to go on some big stages and really let go, all the shows we did last year were awesome, they were all sold out – so we want to build on that this year.
And was the initial idea to make everything bigger then?
Yes, and also it’s a celebration of DJing for me – there’s a lot of live acts out there at the moment and they do the music live and that’s wicked but I’m first and foremost a DJ’s DJ. So I wanted to get back out there and do a show based around a DJ set and that was the starting point – ‘let’s celebrate the DJ’.
Yeah, that’s really important… I’ve asked a few people about how accessible DJing is these days and I wondered how you felt about that and whether it’s cheapened it at all?
It is accessible but, like with anything, it’s progression – there’s a couple of schools of thought: You could say ‘It’s accessible and I hate it because it’s too easy and everybody can do it’ OR you could say ‘It’s great, everybody’s enjoying DJing and enjoying music and having fun, whether it’s at a house party with their mates or a warehouse party with 10,000 people’. I tend to lean towards the latter because I love the whole DJing thing. For example yesterday, because I knew I had a big night tonight, I was in the studio for six hours mixing because I just love it, so I can totally relate to people wanting to mix. You cant just say ‘Oh, you’ve got to get a pair of decks and stand in a record shop for 10 hours waiting for promos.’ For me decks are always at the core of what I’m doing, I like the physical interaction, I like to get a sweat on..
…yeah I’ve noticed you’re always pretty animated up there behind the decks.
I’m getting into it like I’d like the people on the dancefloor to get into it. I started out being a raver, luckily I’m able to stand up on the stage and be a raver – I’d look a bit stupid if I didn’t have the decks in front of me! I just like having a good time and when you’re feeling it, when you’re really really feeling it, the auto-pilot takes over and stuff starts happening without you even thinking about it. You finish the set and people are like ‘Ah that mix that you done with that tune over that’ and you can’t even remember doing it.
Haha, like some hoodoo trance!
Exactly! They’re the moments we live for.
So do you still practice DJing a lot?
Definitely, I just love mixing. Like the other day when I was mixing, no one forced me to, I’d just been in Australia for two weeks and I thought ‘I haven’t had a mix in a while on my own’, so I spent six hours in the studio.
What era did you start out raving then? Late 80s?
Musically, I would’ve been listening to it from around ‘89 because of my older sister. Raving-wise ‘89-’90… I got snuck into this rave when I think we were 13 and it was a life-changing experience because you go to school on Monday and you’re like ‘I know shit you don’t’ [laughs]. It was that era when Voodoo Ray was getting played and all that, it was beautiful. For real raving, you know Red One?…
Yeah yeah, he’s one of your boys…
Exactly. I met him and he was putting on parties in London, called Imagination (in ‘91) and that was where it all started. It’s funny because one of the first times I went to one of his raves, I dunno if you’ve seen Chase & Status live?…
Their MC, Rage, well it was Scott Red One who gave him his first ever booking as well.
Yeah it’s mad, we all know each other from back in the day. That was where I saw this guy called Just Jones dropped this tune called The Beast by Revelations, when it dropped… that was my first time hearing a proper drop and that was when I first thought I wanted to be a DJ.
Who inspired you around that period?
I used to go to places like Mash down on Oxford Street and I’d hear tunes like Radio Babylon – Meat Beat Manifesto. And Shut Up And Dance were a real big influence, I used to tape pirate radio on TDK…
…what was your local station?
Centreforce and Sunrise, they used to operate 24 hours a day so I’d listen while getting ready for school, at lunchtime and then when I come home [laughs]. There was all these real big tunes and I found out they were all by Shut Up And Dance it just blew my mind. I now own every record they’ve ever made because I’ve tracked them all down – they were a massive influence because they always combined huge breaks with hardcore rave sounds.
Going out-wise, was there anywhere to go around Hornchurch where you’re from or did you have to travel out?
Apart from the odd illegal party down country lanes we had to travel up to London. We used to get the train up to the west end or drive to gigs… Innovation, Roller Express, Wax Club, Telepathy (which is where I had my first residency), AWOL at Paradise Club – that’s where I formed my musical whatever you call it… it really was like church for me.
How did you get your first gig?
Red One was DJing on this pirate station and I used to do some shows on there. He was really supportive and said ‘Look why don’t you do a tape and I’ll send it out to a bunch of promoters’ – this was end of 91. So I made a tape and he sent it out to Elevation, Fantasia, Dreamscape all the big promotions… Elevation were doing a night at Club Dada down Shaftesbury Avenue and they got back in touch, I’m not sure that would happen today. They actually rang Scott and said ‘We really like this, we’re gonna give this guy a break’…
Yeah it was that kind of period where something like that actually could happen, and did…
Yeah amazing, imagine the vibe I felt when Scott told me they’d called back! So they gave me a set at Club Dada, we went down there and I’d bought myself a record box and everything – I was proper nervous and Scott’s only broken down on the way there. I’m like ‘Nah man, this is my first gig!’, so we got a cab and left the car on the side of the road – I think I played after or before Ratpack, pretty daunting. Then when I’d finished, I got my record box and took the nightbus back to Romford and I remember walking all the way back to Hornchurch with my record box that weighed a tonne. Very glitzy. But I was on cloud nine.
Then Funky at Elevation, he was a really nice guy, he booked us again and we got into a scenario where we were handing out flyers for Elevation for their big raves. I met Skinny from Telepathy, who was like ‘I like the way you hand out flyers’, bizarrely! He said he was starting this new night at Wax Club, the first two nights I went to were housey nights and empty as you like… so he was like ‘This ain’t working, I’m gonna bring Telepathy in here’, that was the end of 92/93 and there was this new movement of music that would become jungle… so he put Telepathy in there and basically made me resident alongside Devious D, SL and Funky Flirt. That was where everything started, that was around the time we made Long, Dark Tunnel [Valley Of The Shadows] and then it really did kick off. It’s mad telling that story cos that would never happen now…
It’s a completely different ball game now. The internet has changed a lot of things…
Yeah it has and I don’t know if there are many people out there who would think ‘Right in order to get this gig I need to hand out x-amount of flyers until six o’clock in the morning to show my passion and to meet people’…
…that thing of earning your stripes has kinda disappeared.
Yeah yeah it has, and there used to be a hierarchy. You’d be queuing up at Music House and if the super dons were in there cutting dub plates then you might have to wait a bit longer than usual, that was just the nature of it. I do see artists [now] that have had a semi-big tune and they’re after an hour set and they make all these demands, but I remember end of ‘93/beginning of ‘94 we had Long, Dark Tunnel out there but I was still chasing down every gig and handing out flyers. It’s different, but that’s progression for you, you can’t knock it.
So what was the idea behind making your own tunes?
I loved computers, I guess I was a bit of a geek really in that sense. It was when you found out computers made music as well, the excitement was being able to sample a beat and loop it – what the hip hop DJs were using turntables to do. I was excited finding out what you could do with a sampler, I just wanted to loop beats, not even make tunes.
And you made stuff before Valley Of The Shadows…
Yeah the first tune was called Turn On by Desired State [Andy C & Ant Miles], really ravey tune. Then we had Dance The Dream, inspired by my holiday in Magaluf! [laughs] There was some other releases on a label called Deep Seven because Ant and I worked at a distributors for a while – we were driving around London dropping off our tunes at record shops, something else that probably wouldn’t happen these days. I think Long, Dark Tunnel was RAMM004, so there were three releases before that one… That tune just felt right, it was really, really personal we loved it and we snuck it on the B-side of another track. When other DJs got hold of it that’s when it really took off and that started to define what we were about musically. It gives you confidence because when you start out you not really sure what you’re doing.
You’re feeling your way around a bit.
You are feeling your way around yeah and you’re a little bit lost and not sure what you should make and what’s right. And that was the catalyst…
Was it always you and Ant Miles making music in the beginning?
Yeah, that was it from early doors. We were learning together, at different stages in our musical lives, and having fun – driving out on the road… later on in the day was when Shimon came on board. He was just a mate who came out raving with us and wanted to make tunes, so he learned how to make it, got himself a sampler, locked himself away for a bit and we started making tunes which was a completely new era. We did Ram Trilogy, then Moving Fusion came on board – it was just all the crew from Hornchurch.
I wish I could recreate that era of going into the studio and having fun and then come out with these tunes where you’re like ‘Wow man, did we actually make that?! and really feel good about it. That was a really magical time.
To be honest with you, that was one of my favourite periods – everyone was really going for it.
Yeah everyone was going for it – you had your Ed Rush and Optical, you had your Bad Company, the whole Trace thing… that whole period, it wasn’t just those lot, the scene in general was producing some massive, massive tunes. Really unique stuff. Part of that is that we were all learning at the same time, now it’s easy to think ‘I want a beat to do that or a bassline to do that’, you can get your hear round it. Back then it was like ‘What! Did we just make that bass sound?!’ – like No Reality for example, the first Trilogy tune, the bass sound is a bassline that’s been resampled 15 times – it was all just happening by accident, naturally.
And what do you think of the music these days?
I love the fact that you can go to a night and there’s people from all genres. I think that technology has been pushed to the max, there’s a lot of music I mean Christ sometimes I come home and there’s 200 tunes in my inbox. I think it’s a really healthy on a worldwide scale, electronic music dominates the world. We get to do events now that we never could have imagined and I’m loving it.
Yeah I’ve seen you in Serbia, Miami, Austria…
Those three things that you just said there, isn’t it crazy from what we were talking about in the mid-nineties to where it is now…? That’s why you can’t look back to the mid-90s with such rose-tinted glasses because all the mad stuff that’s going on now is probably just as mind-blowing. That’s why you’ve always got to be grateful.
How do you juggle all that touring, making music, the label and your personal life?
It’s difficult… no sleep is the answer! I’m lucky, I’ve got a great family, great support so the home life isn’t complicated and I never get stressed with the amount of work but you have to balance it, you have to say no to a lot of stuff.
What are your plans for Ram’s 20th anniversary?
We’re gonna have some parties, we’re gonna be doing a tour of nights around the UK and across Europe – releasing special tunes, maybe some remixes of a few classics. We’re just formulating the plans but we’re hoping to stretch out the celebrations through the year and make it a big deal because you’re only 20 once.