He’s the king of clubs, the lord of dubs, the junglist don gorgon. Join us as we delve into the mind of drum & bass’ favourite son, Andy C.
Having thoroughly conquered the worlds of DJing, label-running and producing, you could forgive Andy C for having a touch of the swollen ego about him. But, much to Knowledge’s delight, in person, he’s down-to-earth, arrogance-free and still very much in love with the genre that he played no small part in moulding.
But just who is Andy C? What makes the junglist nation’s most popular selector tick? What were the key influences that moulded this human anthem factory? We have his big sister, ‘Voodoo Ray’ and a woman called Barbara to thank, apparently…
Let’s begin at the beginning. Is it true that it was your big sister that first got you into dance music?
[Laughs] Yeah, that’s right. She’s five years older than me, and it was her that first exposed me to acid house. She was always going out raving with her mates, and she used to sneak me into the illegal parties around our way. When I was about twelve, thirteen maybe, she played me ‘Voodoo Ray’ by A Guy Called Gerald, and I was just like, ‘What is that?!’ I wasn’t really into any music at all until I heard that track. Funnily enough, a few months ago I got A Guy Called Gerald to come and play the second room at The End. It was wicked chatting to him, telling him that it was his track that got me into the whole dance music thing. It was an honour.
Which came first – the desire to make tracks, or to be a DJ?
The music-making came way before the DJing. When I was growing up, I was into computers ‘n’ that. I had a Commodore 64, a ZX Spectrum, and then the Atari ST came out. There was a program called Pro 24 by Steinberg – this was before Cubase. It was one of the first computer-based sequencers. You could sample about two seconds of a tune, so I’d sample ‘Voodoo Ray’, and rearrange it.
How did the musical hook-up with Ant Miles come about?
I’d always been into drums; I learnt to play drums at school. I’d been making these tracks with layer upon layer of sampled, chopped-up beats. Ant came round, and he was like, ‘Woah, that sounds really different’. He was from a different era, musically. At that time I was getting into stuff like Shut Up And Dance and ‘Energy Flash’. We both had set-ups, but his sampler was better, so we used to go round his. We started making tunes together around February ’91.
What did your early stuff sound like?
Rubbish! [Laughs] But there’s a learning curve. I didn’t really know what my musical tastes were, as far as making tracks went. Back in ’91, we were making hardcore tunes, with the big stabs and the pianos, just finding our feet really. Then one night we just had this magical five hours, and ‘Valley Of The Shadows’ came out of it. The tune kind of wrote itself. At the time it wasn’t ‘current’ or ‘contemporary’, but we were like, ‘Wow, really into this, let’s turn out the lights, have a dance’. We’d created something we were really pleased with.
But did you have any idea how big it would be?
Naah. It was originally intended as the b-side to ‘The Touch’. I can remember putting it onto some dodgy cassette – there weren’t any CD burning back then – and playing it to Red One, who was like, ‘Yeah, I kinda like that’. Then we took it to [legendary hardcore shop] Boogie Times and played it to Danny Breaks, who worked there at the time, and he was like, ‘Yeah, I like ‘The Touch’, but ‘Valley…’ is cool, it’s different’. Then we pressed up a few promos, and people just got really into it, and it just grew and grew.
Where did you get the “long dark tunnel” sample from?
It was from a QED documentary on the BBC about near-death experiences. It’s from a woman named Barbara. She had a near-death experience while she was in labour. She found about the tune, because her daughter was listening to Kiss FM around ’96, heard it, and told her mum that she was on some hardcore record. She didn’t mind at all. She wrote us a really, really nice letter telling us all about her experience.
How many copies has ‘Valley…’ sold now?
It just continually sells; we pressed up another 5,000 copies just a couple of months ago. It’s nearly six figures altogether now.
So how did you get into the DJing side of things?
From doing work experience with Red One, funnily enough. He was putting on parties in the east end. I went to one and I was like, ‘I’ve got to get a pair of decks’. The first gig I ever got was through sending a tape out to Elevation, who were putting on a gig on Shaftesbury Avenue. They just rang me up and told me I was playing between two and three in the morning. It was surreal.
If you had to give up either producing or DJing, which would it be?
[Looks genuinely aghast] Oh man, nÀeither. I couldn’t. How could I? They’re two totally different things, though. DJing’s a weekly fix: I love it, I need to do it, I’ve still got the same passion for it. I love being behind the decks. Making tunes, though, can be a long, drawn-out process, but the feeling when you’ve done it… Not all tunes give you the same feeling of joy, but when you make one that people really like, it’s satisfying. Hearing other people play my tunes is wicked.
Were you taken aback by the sudden explosion in interest in drum & bass in the mid-90s?
To me, it just mushroomed really quickly. All of a sudden it seemed you’d hear Kool FM or Rush FM coming out of every car, blasting from every street corner. All the attention was a natural thing. If something touches enough people, you’re gonna get attention. To be honest, though, I don’t think we’ve always benefited from the media’s attention.
True enough. Many a magazine proclaimed drum & bass a dead genre around ’99…
But it was only dead to the people who were in it for a quick fix, who were constantly looking for the newest thing. The people who’ve been in the scene for years know we’ve never had a lull. It’s always been growing; the clubs, the records sales, all that.
How did the Ram Trilogy team come to be?
Obviously, me and Ant had been working together for a while, and Shimon had been my mate for years. He’d been coming out on the road with us, and one day he said, ‘Andy, I really want to get set up and into making the music’. He got set up, we started making stuff together, and then him and Ant started doing tracks together. Then one night we were all in the studio together, and ‘No Reality’ came out of it. That was the first Ram Trilogy tune. It was fun, a new angle: three people. It wasn’t a conscious thing; it was natural. Some people don’t blend in the studio, but with us it just worked.
Ram Trilogy tracks seem to be characterised by a sense of boundary-pushing, of doing things that other producers aren’t.
We just like freaking the sounds out. We’re into our effects, mutating the sounds. It’s just about having fun with it. We all treat the studio like it’s a toy, something to play with rather than work with. We always try and add little touches in the production. We can go really deep, right up our own arses sometimes [laughs]! Sometimes you’ve just got to say, ‘It’s done’.
You must have wondered what people’s reactions were going to be to ‘Bodyrock’ when you first played it back to yourselves.
We were just sitting there laughing! We were like, ‘Is this just really nutty, or is it gonna work?’ I first played it out at Bar Rumba, the night after the Knowledge Awards. I had it on CD. I started and finished my set with it, and people were just running up going, ‘What the fuckin’ hell is this?!’. So then it was like, ‘OK, it works’.
Did you ever imagine it would break the top 30?
No, man. It was just this purely instrumental, nutty, 174bpm thing. I remember somebody ringing me up to tell me that Jo Whiley was playing it on Radio One at, like, midday. And I remember Chris Moyles having this phone-in, saying to his listeners, ‘Look, is this a load of rubbish or not? Shall I play it again?’ And people rang in saying, ‘Yeah, yeah, go on, play it’! It definitely created a lot of interest.
It broke a lot of barriers down, too.
Yeah. Around that time you had stuff like ‘Shake Ur Body’ and ‘LK’ on dubplate, so the momentum was building. Now the whole scene’s putting out tunes that are getting in the top 50. I don’t know any other scene that’s doing that. We put out tunes that sell 12,000 a week on vinyl alone.
Have you got any advice for up-and-coming producers?
It’s all about the perseverance. Everyone’s like, ‘It’s too hard, it’s all closed ranks’. But it’s not like that at all. If you’ve got enough passion, that’ll shine through in the end. If you put the time and effort in, you’ll get it back.
How about DJs wanting to break into the game?
That’s a hard one. Just get out there, get in people’s faces, give out CDs. Keep on people’s cases. It’s not going to come to you; you’ve got to go out there, look for it.
So where do you see the scene in five years time?
Who knows? When you think how far we’ve come in the last five years. What are we, 11, 12 years old? We’re not even teenagers yet. What’s good now is we’re getting stuff from all around the world, from America, Australia, Europe, Brazil, Japan, New Zealand. That’s gonna add to the whole melting pot. It’s a worldwide thing now. It’s just gonna get bigger and better.
And where do you see yourself in five years time?
[Laughs] In the clubs, man. I’m still gonna be here, in some shape or form!
Amen to that. And on that happy note, Knowledge sets Andy C free to return to his busy schedule of anthem producing, label masterminding and rave rocking. After all, there are boundaries to be pushed, sounds to be twisted, bodies to be rocked. Onwards and upwards…