Andrew Weatherall died last Monday and if you’ve read this and this previous post on here, you’ll possibly have gathered I was a disciple. Admittedly I wasn’t quite sure how to process this news, being hobbled like most other people by an unexpected death. I only met him twice so I can’t say that I knew him. Apart from knowing him the same way other fans would through his interviews and tuning in to his radio shows. But he was far more of a real presence than any other artist I have ever listened to. I think this stemmed from the lack of physical distance in my experiences with him. I mean, I met him on Berwick Street before, carrying a poly bag of records, and he instantly responded to me in a friendly and welcoming manner as I approached him (heart hammering slightly) for a chat.
But that was 20+ years or so since I had first seen him play. Seeing him DJ so many times, in small clubs, where I was usually up the front trainspotting and the decks weren’t particularly high up off the ground, meant that he never seemed like an elevated “star” or “celebrity” to me, despite his name recognition and, yes, fame. The longevity of his output, in a scene that (let’s be honest here) doesn’t exactly hold up as a paragon of healthy living, is fairly unique. I’m struggling to think of anyone else who has continued to produce and DJ consistently for over 30 years. Reading other people’s eulogies this week illuminated how little airs and graces there were about him, and how he never seemed to balk at listening to a messy story from a gushing fan.
Death is a strange bedfellow to humanity. The great leveller awaits us all at the end, we all know there is no escaping our shared eventual destiny. And yet to discuss it is awkward, taboo, painful. And that is fair enough, because it means having to accept the end of someone, something. If it’s been a source of joy and community to you, then this means that part of your own life is also closing. Coming to terms with that, even in a small way, is difficult to manage.
I was a huge fan of the earlier Two Lone Swordsmen output. The combination of house and ambient music, and then later electro and smoky downtempo, wormed its way into my brain and seemed to fit every occasion. I remember renting a complete piece of shit bicycle in Albany, WA, and cycling to Goode Beach. It was roasting hot, the bike was a bone shaker, and the saddle was chafing the arse off me. Eventually I reached the beach, and I was the only person there. The sand was almost white and the grains were fine, and plunging myself into the cool water was heaven. I got out and put on a 2LS compilation I had made on my MiniDisc player. Laying there on the beach, tired, alone, and laying very still with the sun drying me off, I felt this very profound sense of calm, with the music enveloping me and radiating pleasure through my body.
The first time I saw Weatherall play in my home town was around 1994, so he was already a name by that stage. For ten years I probably saw him play (in some guise or another) around twice a year. Those mixes he did for React and Force Tracks have never left my “high rotation” pile. Then around 2004, I guess I entered what I would call my Weatherall Wilderness Years. Will I get in trouble if I admit that I wasn’t overly keen on From The Double Gone Chapel? Parts of that album were such a departure from the sound I’d grown to expect from them, as were the two Wrong Meeting albums. I didn’t ‘get’ the drift to rockabilly and post-punk. And there were some DJ sets that bombed for me during that time. I just couldn’t understand “The Nine O’Clock Drop”, it struck me as an ancient relic from another era. He tells a good story in the inner notes of the Ministry “Masterpiece” 3CD, where he was DJing in Cork, Ireland, and people had travelled for miles to see him. When he didn’t play techno, he had people coming up to him drawing their fingers across their necks.
I didn’t feel quite that strongly, but my interest waned. So I parted company for a bit, and he drifted from my radar. I moved back to London again in 2010 for work, and had a friend living in Stoke Newington. Weatherall has this new night in a pub just around the corner from my house, he said, are you up for it. Alright I replied, why not. It’s been a few years.
And that began my second wave of fandom. Maybe it was because I too had aged a bit myself by that time, and the lure of “full-knacker, panel beater techno” had dissipated. Something about the chug of ALFOS clicked with me, even though it was a shift in mindset to gear down and grow accustomed to the lack of a peak. The crowd was also a healthy mix of young and old; although on some occasions it went more one way or the other. An outing at the PoW in Brixton had hordes of instagram sunglasses wearers; whereas one sparsely attended all-nighter in Bloc in Hackney Wick felt like an unhealthy OAPs disco. What stood out at these nights though, compared to all others, was the openness. It’s rare these days you feel like you can strike up a conversation with anyone in a club, but at ALFOS you could. I certainly did anyway, and was never snubbed. I usually managed to get to ALFOS once a year, despite the arrival of my own kids. And I came back to the production work from the Asphodells onwards.
I would have seen Weatherall at the upcoming Gala festival in May, so I didn’t have a ticket for the sold out event at Phonox last Friday. But after his death, I wondered if this might be the last ever ALFOS, so I thought I would roll the dice and see if I could get in. I brought a book and stood alone at the door at 8:30pm like some Stan lunatic. But within five minutes the queue had expanded to twenty or thirty people. The book was discarded and I ended up talking with the people next to me, sharing our life stories and musical adventures. The people I queued with had all had the priviledge of going to Carcassone for Convenanza, which I had been storing up for a future milestone birthday. Maybe it will still happen.
I had printed up a poster which had been shared as a high resolution jpeg on the ALFOS facebook group by Justin Robertson (not the DJ, the artist). My intention was to have it as a physical artefact for people to leave their sentiments on. Doubtlessly there would be Facebook posts (and blog posts, aware of the irony) but I wanted some route for people to express themselves outside of the digital. I was slightly apprehensive about doing this – if close friends were there, would they be offended? One of the promoters or venue managers said yes it’s fine, just do it away from the decks because we don’t want anyone to be upset. I unrolled the poster and stuck it up on the wall near the entrance, and offered markers to passers by to write their thoughts. I was there for nearly two hours talking to people, as they wrote on the poster and shared their thoughts and sadness with me.. It was so euphoric to hear how the music had touched their inner selves and made them feel a part of a greater whole. I’m going to mount the poster on the wall above the decks in the sitting room, so the kids will grow up with the image of him in their minds.
What other DJ or producer has maintained output for so long? Is there really anyone else? If you ever felt like disappearing down an enormous rabbit audiohole, you would struggle to do better than the Weatherdrive, where every skanky C90 tape from the early nineties has been faithfully digitised (along with a huge swathe of his other sets). I still have some of those tapes in the family attic, I should dig them out on the next visit. Until then, weather permitting, I’ll haul the soundsystem out on the cargo bike this coming Friday evening to the Critical Mass bike ride, and fire out some of my favourite tunes of his for everyone to enjoy.