Written by: Jack Wynne
If you posed the question, “who is the biggest act in drum and bass” to the entire community of fans and artists, the likelihood that a mention of Andy C would be included in the majority of responses is almost overwhelming. Ever since a certain Origin Unknown song produced alongside Ant Miles was dropped, the world has constantly been in awe of his handiwork and now, ‘Valley of the Shadows’, now sits as one of the most iconic tracks of the genre.
There’s no argument to be had that Andy C has garnered such a monumental reputation, and as well as his incomparable productions, that can be put down to the pure wizardry he demonstrates during his DJ sets, almost always including countless exclusives. ahead of a Liverpool takeover, we had an in depth conversation with the RAM Records head honcho and covered all bases of his extensive career, from impressively selling out Wembley Stadium to what got him started in drum and bass in the first place…
The drum and bass icon is scheduled to take on Liverpool's Invisible Wind Factory on Friday 2nd November, as well as Forbidden 42 at Bruntingthorpe Airfield and Proving Ground, Lutterworth on Saturday 1st December.
With over two decades DJing, over 30 ‘best DJ’ awards, your own massively successful label and you’ve sold out Wembley Arena - can you pinpoint a particular career highlight that made you realise your successes?
I’ve been really blessed man and there’s been a lot of standout moments from playing my first gig or a first big gig back in the day at like Voodoo Magic in London playing after people such as Fabio and Grooverider and Randall. Then we did Brixton Academy shows, we’ve done Ally Pally shows. This Wembley thing is pretty much like how did this even happen.The response to it has been so cool. Everybody’s gone mad and there are so many heads coming down.
So many people are saying I’m taking the night off. This show has got to be up there. Speaking of the sold out Wembley Arena show. I bet Saturday 17th November can’t come soon enough!
It’s weird because I think it went on sale at the end of June and it sold out so quickly and you think that’s ages away. When it sold out in a few days I enjoyed that moment, then went away and DJed for the summer and yesterday was a month to go. What I want to do is make it a really great night and everyone’s enjoying themselves. I want the venue to be good and everything to be all good about it. I think the pressure’s on.
It’s a happy pressure to have, but now’s about the time I start locking myself away in the studio for long periods of time and just mixing all the tunes and finding all the records I want to play for it.
You sold out the place in three days as well which is huge! How did you feel when you got that news and where does it rank compared to other moments in your career like the residency at XOYO and the Alexandra Palace show?
They’re all different. The XOYO residency was different. It was kind of cool in the respect that night one went so good. I get to do this every week for the next thirteen weeks, each night had its own theme. This one just feels on a real level of craziness, I enjoy the build up to gigs with everyone on social media buzzing about it. At the end of the day you have all these people who’ve put their faith in you to come to a big party like that and we’ve got to deliver a good time.
And what about the more grounding bits of your career? How do you have down time from the constant travelling to and from shows?
The downtime is spent with family and trying to recuperate. I do like going to football. aThe build up to the game is all good fun, on the day travelling and having a couple of drinks, then ten or fifteen minutes in you know exactly how the game’s going to go.
It must be a refreshing feeling when you do actually get to watch them. I know a lot of the times with the shows you’re playing you try your best to catch them.
I’ve gone through some missions to watch West Ham. They’ve not always delivered for me, I just love going to the football and enjoy the whole vibe of it. Usually if it’s on a Saturday I’ll always have to go to work after. Sometimes the final whistle goes and I’ll literally be sprinting away from the stadium and getting a full sweat on and then sitting in the traffic trying to get to the airport.
How did it begin? What triggered you to get into production and DJing - particularly within drum and bass?
Drum and bass didn’t exist when I started producing. Getting into music and pinpointing a specific time to make this type of dance music would’ve been my sister taking me out, my family always encouraged music and then my sister often took me out to a rave. I was always into funk breaks. My dad got me a sampler and I was always into funk breaks, realising that I could sample them and then loop them over and over, I guess that was the real thing that tempted me to make music, just looping up breaks. Everything else came after that really.
Was there a certain record which really inspired you to get seriously involved with DnB? Can you remember the clubs you went to back in the first days?
The first rave was in a barn in Essex when I was thirteen, I’m not sure if that barn still exists. The first rave I went to was in Bishop’s Gate, just opposite Liverpool Street station. Wax Club was my first residency and I wasn’t even old enough to get in, I got in by default. Church for me back in the day was AWOL at Paradise Club which is where I got hugely influenced in terms of DJing and musically as well.
What is it about drum and bass that has made you make it your life and career? Has there ever been any temptation to delve into other genres?
The first record I ever had out was by myself and Ant Miles and it was at 128BPM. It had a 4x4 beat and we did a couple like that. I’ve not really been tempted whilst in drum ‘n’ bass. I had this phone call with someone back in the day, in the late 90s, who said “you’ve got to get off that drum ‘n’ bass man, you really need to switch up your style otherwise I don’t really see a long career for you” but we always stuck to it.
It’s interesting to pick your brains because artists and musicians start up different aliases and side projects because they want to cater for their other musical preferences. Has that thought never crossed your mind to start up a side project?
If you can find me another 1000 hours in the week to take my mind off DnB and concentrate on another genre, there’s just no way I could do that on a personal level. Hats off to the people that do but I just don’t have the brain space for it. To be fair I just enjoy making DnB too much and doing everything that goes with it, it’s my life. It would be interesting to produce some other genres to see if you could do it. That would just be kind of experimental for me. My heart and soul’s in DnB.
Let’s talk a bit about your sets - often you’ll be dropping two tracks at the same time and I imagine quite a bit of prep goes into that with knowing the exact timings of each track, especially on vinyl, how exactly do you prepare for a set?
Obviously I don’t want to miss tunes out of a set so I kind of group tunes together and think if I want to go in this direction then I go here or I can go there. I always want to start fairly headstrong, I’m buzzing for it and hopefully the crowd are buzzing for it. I just want to start as we mean to go on. I know some DJs that’ll work themselves into a set but I usually just go hell for leather and then go somewhere.
I guess it depends on the type of show whether it’s in a small, intimate club or a big festival?
I think that matters hugely and also the length of time you get to play as well. With a festival set in front of ten to twenty thousand people and you’ve got an hour, everybody’s turned up wanting to have a party so you’re going to do a different set compared with an XOYO set for four or five hours. I played WHP a couple of weeks ago and went really, really deep, I played two-and-a-half hours. I just started enjoying myself and that was completely off the cuff. I’m lucky that I get to play so many varied sets in terms of venue, time length and destination, I can really mix up my sets and you have to do that as well.
For XOYO the line ups that we went with were different each week and on a personal level it was a challenge to myself to create a different set based around the guests that we had. That’s a really cool thing and fun to do. You don’t want to go out playing the same set again and again.
It’s interesting you mention the time as well because having been to watch you at numerous different venues sometimes there given less than an hour. I’ve been to events where DnB artists have been given 30 to 45 minutes and it feels criminal.
I guess I’d kind of had enough of that on a personal level and that’s why we started doing the longer sets, I get that promoters want to book as many DJs as possible because I think they feel that the more artists they got the more tickets they’ll sell. Actually what we found is that people like really like the all night sets because they know they won’t hear the same tune twice. The DJs will have to take some risks, chances and everywhere. It will be a little bit more personal. For 20-30 minutes I’m going to drop stuff you might not expect me to play.
There’s so many new tunes coming out every week I mean how many tunes can you play in 45 minutes? I definitely don’t think you’re getting the best of the DJ in 45 minutes. You’ll just get banged out for 45 minutes and everyone is going to try and do that constantly all night. From my perspective it’s like blink and it’s over. DJing is like being caught in a time warp anyway, hours go really, really quickly. With an hour set I’ll look at my watch and think I haven’t played this or I haven’t played that, it’s just not conducive. If I had my way I’d never do one-hour sets but unfortunately I can’t dictate that.
I’m sure the DJs look at the crowds and they just want to carry on playing and express themselves, instead of ‘time’s up, thanks for coming, thanks for driving five hours or flying for eight hours to get here’. Bit weird that. Sometimes I’ve gone abroad and flown for hours to get there and they’ll say you’re going to be on from 12-1 or 12-1:30 and I’ll be like only an hour? They’re like, “do you want to play more?” and I’m like “I’ll play as long as you let me., I’ve flown all this way so let’s have a party”.
With your independent label RAM Records and your sub label Frequency championing some of the most successful DnB acts to date, featuring Chase & Status, Wilkinson, Sub Focus and the like, what qualities do you look for in an artist before signing them up?
I think the quality of the music and production values leads to the initial signings. It’s the artist’s hunger which kind of dictates where they go. We really have been blessed with the artists we’ve had pass through the label. You look on festival DnB line ups and everybody’s been on RAM and we’re really proud of that. It’s about spotting the talent in an artist which is musically, the attitude and the want to grow themselves.
It’s the music that does the talking ultimately, maybe the way they can appreciate an opportunity and also if they’ve had a popular tune it’s fuel in the fire. They pick up the baton and run with it. When we did the 25 year thing last year and I went through the back catalogue it always blows my mind, it’s just absolutely mental.
You say it’s the hunger from the artists which is a standout characteristic would you say there’s any artists you’ve worked with that have left such a lasting impression? A few names which pop to mind in recent years are artists like Wilkinson and Chase & Status, they’re a household name in electronic music not just in DnB.
When we had the meal with Chase & Status and initially discussed working together and signing them, Scott [Bourne] and I walked away from that meal thinking those guys are going. They’re going to blow because they just wanted it and everything they were saying about the game plan at that meal came true. Even into the sales figures give or take 10,000. They were really into the whole plan and the music more than lived up to it.
With Wilkinson he is really dedicated, he works incredibly hard and always has done. He is always in the studio day and night and also knows what it takes. You look through Sub’s back catalogue and it’s just landmark after landmark DnB release. When we first signed him he only did one release a year and to think how big he became off one release a year because that single tune was the landmark record of the year alongside a couple of others, it was amazing and he always came with the goods.
There’s a running theme, if the music wasn’t up to scratch then they wouldn’t be up there. Conversely there are some artists that make some great tunes but they need to keep honing their output. We’ve been very lucky and it’s been a wonderful marriage between the people that work at the label and the hunger they’ve had to push these artists who’ve thought here’s an opportunity and they’ve also been massively talented.
How have you seen RAM grow since the very first days of you and Ant Miles?
It’s progressed from me getting picked up by my dad at the airport with a thousand copies of my first record in the back of the car and selling them out of the boot, it’s gone from being just us in mum and dad’s back garden into massive offices up London with a massive roster. Every time you relive it and take stock you think “how on earth did that happen?” but we keep pushing on because you can’t ever stop.
In terms of your own music what can you tell us about forthcoming records?
I’ve got a bunch of tunes coming out we’re just getting the plan together but I’ve been in the studio, I keep saying this, that I’ve been in the studio, but there’s a few finished and it’s about getting the plan right and releasing them in the right order. It’s a crazy thing producing music and hoping people like it. Hopefully as we get to the end of the year they’ll be at least one release coming out.
Can you digress on any potential collaborators or is it all top secret still?
It’s all top secret stuff. That kind of stuff comes out depending on what releases have come out and in what order. I know it sounds like cloak and daggers but I’m far more in the loop about what’s going on with other people’s stuff than my own.
You’re headed to Liverpool in November to headline Invisible Wind Factory, what’re your previous experiences in a city famed for its clubbing scene like Liverpool?
I’ve been going to Liverpool for many, many moons, I’ve always had a great time and the crowd are really passionate.They know their stuff and people always ask if you’re going to play certain tunes. They like a lot of the old school stuff as well. It’s a really nice age range that are there so I get to explore the whole history of DnB as well as playing new stuff. I’ve never played this venue before so I’m looking forward to it, I played a daytime festival a year or two go which was absolutely mental. I’ve been going to Seal Street for many moons and I do Creamfields every year and host a stage there. The connection with the crowd in Liverpool is fantastic.
You mention that Liverpool are well versed in their DnB. Is that something that’s always good for you as a DJ? They’re not just knowledgeable of the tracks which have just come out?
When I know that it is more enjoyable for me because I know we can go here, there and everywhere. The good thing is that you expect one thing from the crowd and you see people holding up a phone asking for a tune from 1997 and you’ll be like sick I’m going to play a little section. The club looks wicked as well. People just love to party in the North West of England.
Finally, as we always finish up on a track, what’s a good closer right now?
I can’t say what it is but it’s a remix and I will finish with it probably in Liverpool. I would love to say what it is but I’m actually not allowed to. If anybody’s heard me play recently they’ll have an idea what it is but I’m sworn to secrecy unfortunately.
Catch Andy C at Invisible Wind Factory in Liverpool on Friday 2nd November, as well as Forbidden 42 at Bruntingthorpe Airfield and Proving Ground, Lutterworth on Saturday 1st December.