It doesn’t really feel right to say, but Andrew Weatherall’s gone. Perhaps as we get older, we have to start getting used to this sort of thing. But I’m not sure I’m ready yet. It was only a week or two ago I was flicking through tracks and stopped on a whole folder of his stuff and went down another musical rabbit hole. He was down to play at a friend’s party in a few weeks. So none of today’s news seems to make much sense.
‘Iconic’ and ‘genius’ are thrown around liberally these days of course, but both words definitely fit this rockabilly kid from Berkshire that never sat still and never stopped making incredible music and playing it the best way imaginable. It’s also hard to think of a guy that’s not changed himself a lot, or sold out, nor stopped experimenting with interesting people because they’ve never got into a rut or satisfied with what they’re making. I don’t think anyone would have expected Weatherall to end up playing Creamfields, or Vegas, or headlining Lost Village. Because it wouldn’t have made sense. Why do that when you can create your own festival in a castle in France, or run your own night in distinctly not cool Elephant and Castle or a basement in Stoke Newington, or run your own studio so you can resolutely do it your way? Because that’s one thing he always did. Got too close to safe? Risk being confirmed as part of a scene? Go make something weird, throw them off the scent. And start afresh.
Yes, Prince and Bowie were absolute gods, and their influence so big that it seemed impossible they’d ever actually die. But they were of another world. You’d never bump into them in the street, or get to shake their hand at the end of a night. They existed mostly in older records, or hailed touring memories. Weatherall was tangible, he was here. He was around. You could see him play. You could see him often. You could go and say hi. You could listen to dozens of his mixes (or indeed, 900). Despite his fearsome appearance (back in the 90s/early 00s) he was a lovely guy, and back then i was one of many that doorstepped him – in this case in the back room at Turnmills at a friend’s techno night, Split – but I never knew anyone that had a bad word against him. He lived in east London still. He was part of the furniture. So it seems ridiculous that he’s not around, but that he was yesterday. He felt like he was one of us, really. And now he’s not.
I may be a little younger, but it’s hard not to see the impact from Screamadelica onwards on a skinny, clueless lad from Surrey, through a dance music epiphany, meandering through some questionable (but enjoyable) choices, to my middle age, and nodding with delight on the dancefloor at A Love From Outer Space, or catching him at one of the more interesting tents at a festival. That club night – so lovingly curated with Sean Johnston – reaffirmed and refreshed my dwindling attachment to clubs. I wasn’t fully retired, having spent the best part of my last two decades dancing, writing, playing records and hanging around the edges of London’s nightlife as a not-quite-proper member of the industry. But I happily assumed a slow cycle of diminishing returns, having good nights, but never really finding anything that was as good as it always was, because, well, that’s getting old isn’t it? It’s not a cliche to say that, but you never feel the same about something in your 40s as your 20s. And yet…. ALFOS was a revelation: musically perfect, reassuringly lacking in competitiveness, or black t-shirts, or overpriced, over busy bars. It was, as Andrew often said “a good room, 2-300 people, a good sound system, some lights worked by someone that knows what they’re doing, and some good people”. And it really did light something back up in me. And for that I’ll forever be grateful, and also forever sad, because I always felt there was another night to get down to, however more difficult it is living further from where’s familiar.
And going full circle, there he was, still ploughing his own furrow through these later years, just as vital as he ever was, yet more informed, more canny, more content, making interesting – and sometimes challenging – music, and talking about it in a way that was so much more vibrant than the majority of the industry, especially in an age of 280 characters, soundbites, insta-stories and paid-for content. Because Weatherall was much more than just a great DJ and selector: he was ridiculously well-read, a devourer of culture, and wanted anyone in his orbit to get some of the good stuff he was so enamoured with, and so committed to sharing. There was never any protectionism (ok, perhaps those white labels).
His skills and ability to hear music that was just off the middle lane, and seek out unusual musicians, producers and general creatives to not just work with, but feed off and listen to, was unrivalled. He made us take notice of people we’d never heard of: Timothy Fairplay, Nina Walsh, Keith Tenniswood, and so many more, who we of course became disciples of, like we did of him. Whether hearing that fragment of a track that no one else did, and turning it into a ten-minute epic 4am chugger, or calving off into another collaboration with a new name to dive into discogs from. You always knew it was one of his, but yet nothing was ever quite nailed down.
He never seemed willing to rest on what he had, and that dry wit, and glint in the eye always made you think he was one step ahead. A man that was at the epicentre of so many of dance music’s eras, but that neither wanted its full glare (and when he got it, it burned him until he withdrew) nor was blinded by its reflection, always willing to state its fleeting resilience, knowing no one was ever really at the top for long and ensuring he was in the dark edges, where it was always more intriguing. As part of the mischief-making Boy’s Own crew, or later on in his own studio, a sort of king of Shoreditch, on his own terms, never really seen out with his crown. It just wouldn’t have been his style.
I only ever met him fleetingly, but he was a person you’d have happily wanted to spend a day with, asking him about everything he’d done, and the conversation never would’ve ended up where you’d expected. I was never a neck-deep fanboy (even he saw the funny side of that cadre, though), but perhaps I just wasn’t trying hard enough. But it was hard not to be mesmerised by what he did. And I’ve had only a handful of moments better than lost on the dancefloor hours into one of his mammoth sets. He was never boring to listen to, never a poster boy in the way his contemporaries were (or sought to be) and he always felt more content on the outside, just where he wanted to be. But more than anything, it felt like he was keeping us in suspense for the next stage of a career that had much more to give, and because he meant so much to many people. That’s why the gigantic hole he leaves will be so hard to fill, and why he’ll be so missed.