If comparisons were very much your thing, Andy Blake could be comfortably filed next to Andrew Weatherall and Ivan Smagghe for he also shares the descriptor of being a ‘DJ’s DJ’. But perhaps the most important thing about Andy Blake is that he has the kind of knowledge that deserves a special place in today’s music world. He’s someone who offers a hindsight that can contextualize today’s music, and combined with his love for the analogue sound, we can get somewhere close to defining the aesthetic of Blake’s sonic signature.
It was through the short but significant life span of his label Dissident that Blake rose to notoriety, releasing analogue oddities on quality vinyl pressings from emerging as well as established artists. He decisively ended the label in 2009 just as it was starting to get noticed and set upon a low-key word of mouth monthly night, World Unknown, where him and Bloc resident Joe Hart could unleash the full power and weirdness of their record collection on a tightly knit crowd that’s become something of a cult after its 18 month gestation.
We have a double dose of Blake magic for you in anticipation of his Room Two set - where he’s appearing alongside Slam (Live) and Andrew Weatherall on the 23rd April. Firstly, here he appears with a house and techno set, but then over on Allez Allez’s ever-excellent podcast series next week you can grab a heavy Balearic mix to preview the beginning of his set when he’s in Farringdon.
DOWNLOAD: Andy Blake House + Techno Mix for fabric
What does a typical day in the life of Andy Blake involve?
During the week it’s mainly watching films, making music in my studio, some writing for magazines and websites, doing mixtapes and interviews for various websites, a bit of admin work and emails, hanging out with my girlfriend, our cat and a few close mates, and a bunch of early nights. The weekend is usually pretty much the opposite of that with two or three gigs, lots of partying and not much sleep.
With such an expansive music collection such as yours, you don't strike me as a DJ who simply plays the latest promos - how do you approach selecting tracks for your DJ sets?
A lot of the time I do play a few of the latest promos and new releases but its certainly true to say that my sets aren’t driven much by records I’ve just acquired, either brand new ones or older ones from my record-hunting missions. Sometimes I’ll be itching to play a new acquisition and end up carrying it round with me for months before I finally feel that it’s exactly the right time and place to play it.
At any given time I’ve got a pool of around a couple of thousand records across a range of styles that I’m mainly choosing from and my method for deciding which ones to take often ends up being me simply filling up my bags with a load of good records that I really want to play that night until I can’t fit any more in.
I bet your vinyl 'want' list is quite long - which records in particular do you desire the most at the moment?
For many years now I’ve made a conscious effort not to make wants lists. If I did I think they would probably end up being really long and and quickly drive me to the edge of what’s left of my sanity. As soon as I find out about something I really want I try to get hold of it as quickly as possible and I’m usually pretty good at tracking things down within a few weeks or months at the most. I’m very dedicated to the hunt when I’ve got a record in my sights and I’ve got quite a few places that I look that most people seem not to bother with so I rarely find myself having to wait too long or paying over-inflated prices for things.
Having said all that, a lot of what I’m playing at the moment isn’t really rare at all, it’s more that it’s currently overlooked by most people. And there are loads of great records from 10, 15, 20 years ago that I kind of assume that everyone knows but which are often things that most of the people on any given dancefloor have never heard before so they can sound completely fresh to them and often far more exciting and exotic than a set made up of new releases.
What do you think it is that makes the DJ a DJ?
I think it’s really important not to play older music in a retro kind of way, especially by limiting yourself to a specific time-frame or genre like a lot of revivalist types do. you can get an interesting vibe together if you can pick up on a thread that links certain pieces of music from different eras, places and scenes and combine them all in a way that’s quite likely never been done before. That way you can distill some kind of energy and essence from when and where all the different music came from and use that to create something really special and unique for the particular place and time that your set is taking place. For me that just about sums up what I think is so special about the art of djing and what sets it apart from a straightforward performance. When it’s done well it’s a way to tap into an ageless continuum of dance music that stretches all the way back to men banging sticks together and drinking strange potions in the jungle.
Can you talk us through the inspiration behind these mixes?
One is a fairly straight-up moody house and techno selection with a few left turns in there which includes a few brand new bits and some unreleased dubplate things and the other is a kind of heavy balearic mix which is along the lines of what I’m likely to play for the first hour or so of my set.
Currently I do a fair amount of online mixes so I’m in quite a good groove with them and my inspiration re what to choose is mainly influenced by what I’m listening to and playing out currently, who I’m doing the mix for and if it’s related to a particular gig or something. I tend to shortlist a bunch of tracks that fit with the general theme of what I’m going for, whittle that down to 10-15 and get them in an order that has a good arc and makes sense and then find an hour or so to record the mix.
Your label Dissident (2007-2009) became highly respected and loved within that time, why did you decide to put it to bed?
In common with how I started the label and how I made every other decision to do with it, it was on a combination of gut instinct, enthusiastic experimentation and pure self-indulgence. Despite the fact that nearly everyone I know told me I was mad to stop it just as lots more people were beginning to wake up to the label, I’m really glad I killed it when I did so that all of us involved had to step up our games and move onwards and upwards. This year looks like being a great year for many of the artists whose first records came out on Dissident. Something like six or seven of them have their debut long-players out now or coming very soon and it’s really good to see people finally getting their props when they weren’t being given much of a chance by the regular underground/independent music industry before their releases on the label brought them into people’s sights.
You're currently involved in running Brixton based World Unknown with Joe Hart, which has been going successfully for a few years now, what made you want to run your own party?
I guess the main motivation was just so Joe and I could have a place where we can play exactly what we want and completely indulge our shared love for the weird dark corners of dance music. It’s developed from that into a fairly unique party where we have all this crazy music, an amazing venue and a great crowd who seem really into what we are doing and it really is unlike any other night I’ve ever been to or played at.
Are you happy with how it’s turned out?
Its actually only 18 months or so that we’ve been going but it does somehow feel more established than that. Maybe that’s because it’s very fluid and we’ve already been through quite a few distinct phases with it. There’s a definite aesthetic to what we do there but within that there is a fairly large amount of music of all kinds of different styles that’s on the table to choose from. It’s quite hard to describe precisely what it is that we play there to someone who hasn’t been but if you played Joe or I or any of the World Unknown crew a record we hadn’t heard before we could all tell you straight away if it was or wasn’t a potential World Unknown record. I was packing my records last month and I realised we’ve got well over a hundred classics and anthems already, a lot of which you’ll be very unlikely to hear anywhere else, and certainly not in the combinations that we play them. I reckon that’s quite an interesting achievement for a night that is so young and it bodes very well for the future of the night.
Any plans for its future?
It would be nice to do more with World Unknown too, like taking it to other cities in the UK and Europe and doing some bigger gigs in London. Although, because it’s such a free-spirited creation and doesn’t fit within any clearly defined parameters, it can appear to be quite a strange beast and getting promoters and clubs to understand what it’s about and what’s in it for them can be quite tricky so we don’t really bother, we just wait for their curiosity to take over. I think most people don’t really get what it’s all about until they’ve been to our Brixton lair to check it out for themselves. And then the penny drops, a light in their head comes on and they start to come back every month and really get into it. It’s a bit like a slightly bizarre and vaguely dangerous smoke-machine based cult in that respect.
I've noticed 'Cave Paintings' after your name in various places - is this a new project of yours?
Cave Paintings is my current 12” label which is for my raw analogue house and techno experiments made in my all-hardware studio. I’ve got quite a lot of classic drum machines and mono-synths like the 808, 202, Pro-One and DMX and a bunch of others, a few newer things and a handful of really cool heavily modified, custom built and very rare pieces and lots of great vintage outboard, analog sequencers and a couple of nice big mixing desks. All the Cave Paintings tracks are recorded using this set-up without a computer or central sequencer and are completely spontaneous and improvised live recordings. As well as more releases on the Cave Paintings label itself I’ve got releases made in this way coming out on a number of other labels this year which will be lots of fun for me as it’s been a very long time since I’ve released music on other people’s labels.
What are your aspirations for the coming year?
I think it’s time for me to step the pressure up a notch or two and really get cracking in terms of the hundreds of interesting international gigs there are out there. I’m out of the country for gigs once or twice most months these days but despite having had some very nice offers I’ve still not quite managed to get round to playing in the States, Japan or Australia. Even in Europe alone, every weekend there are literally hundreds of good gigs of all kinds of different sizes and types from tiny clubs to huge festivals so this year I’d really like to get my air miles up a fair bit and check out as many of those as possible.
Also, I really enjoy proper weekly residencies and although it’s very much against the grain of how things are done by nearly everyone these days I’d love to have one somewhere in the UK or Europe to go with the handful of monthlies I’ve already got. It’s been 5 or 6 years since my last weekly and I really miss having one. As a DJ there isn’t really anything better than a proper week-in, week-out residency where you can break your own records and create something completely unique that doesn’t have to have any relation to what anyone else is up to, that’s when it starts getting really creative and you can really put your own stamp on things. So, as much as I love all the travelling and playing in different places, nailing a good weekly residency sometime this year would really be the cherry on the cake for me.