“It’s great getting that nervous energy again”
When it comes to electronic music, stars don’t come much brighter than Andy C. Widely regarded as among the greatest DJs of all time, the Ram Records boss has been at the pinnacle of his craft since the early-1990s, when, as a 16 year old, his DJ sets and game-changing productions stamped his name on the nascent jungle scene forever.
In his 20-plus years in the game, the Essex local has taken the music he loves from the Paradise Club in Hackney to the terraces of Space in Ibiza, and in the process infected thousands with his seemingly infinite enthusiasm for drum & bass.
Never one to rest on his laurels, the last year has seen Andy touring the festival and big rave circuit with ALIVE; his own take on the increasingly popular and demanded ‘live’ format. A huge audio-visual show that needs to be seen to be believed, ALIVE sees Andy step things up a level, controlling not just an incredibly complex bespoke DJ set-up (with, naturally, three Technics 1210s at its core) completely live every gig, but also the full visual VJ aspect.
With just a couple more shows of the festival season to go before Andy locks himself away in a studio for the autumn to continue the recent re-ignition of his name as a producer, we grabbed the phone and a few rare spare moments of Andy’s time to find out more…
Hello Andy, everything good with you?
Yeah really good man, what’s the day today? Tuesday, yeah, I’m enjoying a couple of days rest, and the weather is actually ok down here in Essex for once!
It’s not been the best summer…
It’s been terrible in the UK, awful. The frustrating thing is, I’ve been going down to Europe every weekend and it’s absolutely sweltering. But I only go in for 12 hours at a time and then fly home. Fingers crossed the rest of the festivals this summer will be dry ones; I’ve not had a dry UK festival yet!
“i’m definitely blessed”
So, where you off to this weekend?
I’m doing BCM in Majorca for MistaJam’s Speakerbox night on Friday, and then off to Russia for Global Gathering in St Petersburg. I finish on the decks in Majorca at 4am and then my flight is at 7.30am. I might be able to get a bit of kip…
How do you do it? London to Bristol and back in one day kills us!
Everyone says I’m nuts, but you just get used to it. Once I get on the decks, I forget about it all and it’s just part of the job. I’m very lucky to have the job that I’ve got, so a little bit of travelling here and there; it’s no price to pay. I’m definitely blessed, I’m not gonna moan about a little bit of travelling.
This summer, you’ve been lugging your ALIVE show around with you too. The bookings are still flying in for you as a DJ, so why did you feel the need to do the show?
There were a lot of performance based live shows coming about, but I wanted to celebrate the DJ, because that’s what I am first and foremost. I wanted to represent D&B with a big show that was focused on the DJ. Also, you need to set yourself personal goals in life. So, from starting off learning how to mix all those years ago, to learning how to make tunes, to learning how to double drop and then going on to three turntables; where do you take it after that?!
Indeed, you’re more than just a DJ at these shows – you’re controlling the VJ aspect too?
Yeah that’s right. We teamed up with the company that do the visual side of things for the Oscars and Cirque De Soleil. We were rehearsing in a warehouse in East London, and they were just like ‘What? Why do you want to do this? It’s too hard!’ And my response was ‘That’s why I want to do it!’ Like DJing, I wanted it to be freestyle. They ended up programming me bespoke software that means I control everything, not just the music but the visuals as well. It became really interesting at that point, and that’s when it all gelled together.
The whole process took over a year, but it’s been really rewarding. The shows have been amazing, and it’s great getting that nervous energy again before a gig; not knowing if it’s gonna work. It’s enabled me to get excited about something entirely new, and learn, and it’s enabled us to go on these huge stages and perform a DJ drum & bass set and really try to expose the music to even more people.
“it will be an ever-evolving entity”
Beyond the challenge it presents, was it something you felt you had to do? Some might say the ‘Superstar DJ’ days are well behind us now, and a big stage demands something more than just a bobbing head behind a couple of decks…
I don’t think they are over. Have you been to any big festival recently, and seen DJs up on their own in front of 60,000 people? I wouldn’t say that’s over.
But then, maybe with a show like this, even though it is a D&B DJ set at its heart, the promoters think ‘You know what, I’m gonna put that on the biggest stage.’
And I’ve now got a show that I can adapt; it’s very modular. I’m back in the studio now and will be all autumn, working on my own tunes, so with the nature of the show I can easily adapt it to accommodate my own tracks and have it all linked in, so it will be an ever-evolving entity. So, after the first year travelling abroad with it to LA, Vegas and Europe, now going into 2013 we can adapt it and take it on and incorporate a performance aspect to it.”
It’s future proofing you?
The show itself is future proof. I’m not future proof! Because, as a DJ and as a producer, you’ve always got to keep on top of the game. But, yeah, the show itself is future proof.
For anyone who’s not yet seen ALIVE, what shows have you got left this summer?
We’re doing Pukkelpop in Belgium in August, and then a festival in France called Corsept, and then we’re rounding it all off at SW4 in London. We’ve got a whole Ram stage there, we’ll be closing that with ALIVE, and that will be it for the festivals for the year.
We’re gonna go out with a bang; we’re adding some bits and bobs. That show’s gonna be special. It’s always wicked there; the promoters are fantastic and the vibes are always amazing – I’ve played it the last few years, so am really looking forward to playing there when it’s nice and dark and intense!
And finally, it’s an obvious question that we’ve got to ask; what is it that makes Andy C feel alive?
That moment when you’re DJing and everything is perfect, the connection you have with the crowd. It’s an incredible range of emotions I go through when I’m playing – first of all there’s the excitement at the start the set, then how I start dictates how quickly I get in my comfort zone and start expressing myself.
“Then, what I always do is focus on little pockets of people in the crowd. Whether that’s two people hanging over the barrier, or a group over in the corner; I think ‘As long as I keep those people dancing, their energy will inspire me and it will inspire the people around them.’ Then sometimes you might look up and they’ve gone to the bar and you’re like ‘Fuck. What have I done wrong?’
I love that connection with the crowd. When you get the connection, the DJing becomes instinctive; it’s automatic, it’s beautiful. That’s the money-shot right there, that’s what I do it for. Those moments, it doesn’t last the whole set, but for half an hour, it’s just pure euphoria in your mind, you’re on autopilot and everything you do works.
“I’m enjoying myself, the crowd are enjoying themselves and I just look out across the crowd and think this is amazing. That’s when I get the camera out and start taking photos. That’s the vibe, that’s when I feel alive!