Interview: Andy Blake
After manning the Dissident fort and being responsible for releasing a veritable slew of excellent releases on one sided vinyl, Andy Blake has secured a reputation as a no nonsense individual with an encyclopedic knowledge of electronic music, matched only by the massive array of vintage synths and analogue equipment housed in his South London studio.
The sadness felt amongst the vinyl buying community when Blake announced he was shutting down Dissident in December last year was palpable, though it was more than offset by his new venture, Cave Paintings, an imprint that acts as a conduit for his own stripped back house and techno productions. Despite Blake’s well documented reservations about the mp3 format, a recent decision to open up the Dissident back catalogue in WAV format exclusively through Juno Download was met with golf claps by all. As a result Juno Plus writer Tony Poland decided to quiz Blake further on this, terrace funk and the future of Cave Paintings. We also coaxed out of him his top five Dissident releases.
Hi Andy, I suppose we should start with your reasoning behind reissuing the Dissident catalogue digitally – why WAV only and why in limited quantity?
WAV only is simply because I don’t like the way mp3s sound when played loud, and the limited edition bit is probably just a vain attempt on my part to try to retain some control of the situation.
Do you some times feel like a lone dissenting voice with regards to your staunch disregard for mp3 DJ culture?
Sometimes it can feel like that, but then lots of people I DJ with play mainly or solely records so there are definitely quite a few people out there who recognise that vinyl sounds better. There do seem to be some scenes though where I get the impression that turning up with a bag of records would be tantamount to arriving by steam-powered penny-farthing.
“There do seem to be some scenes though where I get the impression that turning up with a bag of records would be tantamount to arriving by steam-powered penny-farthing”
Would you say one of the key elements of this disregard is the lack of interest in discovering new/old music? For example, buying a 12 inch on a whim because you recognise a remixer or intrigued by the cover art?
To be honest that lack of interest in searching out off the beaten track music seems to be as prevalent in record buyers as mp3js. I find it hard to understand how so many DJs don’t dig about for their own special records that nobody else is playing, especially as it’s so easy now with all the records and information easily available on the internet. There are so many amazingly good records out there, both brand new stuff and tons of under-appreciated older bits all available for just a few quid at the click of a mouse. It seems just plain daft that so many people all just play the same tunes as each other and follow other DJs.
Dissident has been a stepping stone for quite a few artists – Hard Ton, Off Key Hat and Ali Renault for example –It must be heartening to see acts you’ve released on Dissident blossom on other labels?
It’s great to see people whose music I love doing well. So many of them couldn’t get a look in with other labels until after their Dissident releases and then they had a queue of labels wanting stuff from them, so I guess I was doing something right.
Could you pick your five favourite Dissident releases and give us the story behind how you came to release them?
Tricky to answer that one as it changes all the time but I’ll give it a go….
1. The first Hard Ton 12”. they got in touch because they liked the label and their tunes simply blew me away with their total disregard for any notion of what things should and shouldn’t sound like.
2. The Niallist – The Hots. Niall is one of the Glasgow gang and I knew him through mates. He sent me some stuff and that one is just pure unadulterated sleazy, scuzzy filth.
3. Photonz – Compulsion. The third one of theirs I put out. It’s just mad from start to finish. Slow and weird heavy house with a crackers looped up rap bit that seems to drift in and out of time. Something of a future classic that one.
4. Helium Robots – Metallic Dawn. He got in touch with a demo and via email I helped him finish it off and then stuck it out. The first time I heard it on a dancefloor was when Teamy from Wrong Island played it and it ripped the roof off and put a shitting great grin on my face. That big silence right in the middle is absolutely deafening in the right hands.
5. SCS – Model Specific. Me and my mate Casper from the Head Drillaz made a bunch of techno things in about 2002 and when I started the label we listened to them again and it was obvious that this one’s time had come so we put it out. It’s some kind of homage to industrial and new beat and really does the business on a decent rig.
Before your recent gig at The Beat I noticed you were describing your current sound as heavyweight terrace funk – could you expand on this genre?
I wouldn’t really say it’s my current sound; that undulates from day to day and gig to gig depending on where my current mood and the general expectations of the gig come together when I’m packing my records. When I said that my tongue was firmly in my cheek but if anything it’s a nod to the cocky, boisterous end of Balearic and the funkier, booze, coke and quaaludes end of punk funk. There’s a recording of most of my set on the the night in question on their website so you can check it out in all it’s stroppy, unrefined glory and make up your mind as to whether it really means anything definable at all or is just me playing around with words and egging myself and everyone else on yet again.
You have a unique one take approach to remixes and your Cave Paintings releases – take us through the process?
Simple really. Turn studio on. Get grooves going on a selection of synths and drum boxes. When happy with general vibe and sound hit record and get jacking.
And when might the next Cave Paintings release be?
Number two is imminent and the next few are all ready to go so hopefully it’ll one every 4-6 weeks from now on.
The ethos of Cave Paintings – stripped back raw house sounds seems to translate to your World Unknown parties in Brixton. Is this a night you want to see expand and grow like Disco Bloodbath?
It’ll be fun if it gets bigger and it does seem to be gathering steam month by month but I suspect it’s a bit too leftfield and cultish to really cross over like Bloodbath did. Although contrary to what a lot of people think it’s not just about heavy stuff. Everything has an edge but we cover a lot of musical ground and there’s plenty of light at the end of the tunnel in there. There’s a ton of mixes from myself and Joe here at our website (worldunknown.co.uk) for anyone who fancies a crash course in what makes the party tick.
What has been the reaction thus far to the digital move?
Mainly very positive really. I did get one email from someone who told me that he thought going digital was a step backwards and I think a few people seem genuinely confused that I think WAVs are OK but mp3s aren’t.
Do you think there is a bigger disregard for sound standards in than in days gone past?
Definitely yes, all the way from the over-maximised loudness wars that ruin so many potentially good new tracks with bad mastering, to people playing low-res mp3s and youtube rips in public and thinking that’s OK even though they sound terrible, to the sound systems themselves in lots of places, big and small, being truly awful. It would be a bit rose-tinted and totally untrue to pretend we’ve just lost a halcyon age where all the sound systems were amazing and everything played on them was sonically spot-on because that’s simply not the case but places like Berghain, where the sound system is absolutely perfect for the room its in and lives and breathes almost organically, are very few and far between. You don’t need to spend a fortune to have good sound, just spend a bit of time and suss sourcing the right components for the room and setting it up properly.
What does the future hold for Andy Blake?
One thing that’s near the top of my priority list is to get back to having a weekly residency somewhere where I can stretch out with a long set and cover lots of ground musically. I haven’t had one for about 3 or 4 years now and I really miss playing at the same place every week and building something up and breaking tunes to a crowd. Of course its more difficult to fit one in now with me being asked to do lots of guest slots all over so it’ll either have to be midweek or I’ll have to think about juggling my gigs around a bit to make space on one of the weekend nights. Hopefully I’ll have something sorted out soon. And cracking on with the cave paintings releases is a high priority too. I should have had 3 or 4 out by now and I’ve got tons of tracks backing up but I got distracted by the usual summer stuff. At least now its raining again I can get some work done. There’s also a world unknown label in the pipeline and, as well as the monthly parties at our HQ in Brixton, Joe and I will be doing occasional World Unknown nights and guest DJ slots at other venues across the UK and Europe.
Interview: Tony Poland