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andrew weatherall

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...stuck in the Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo) in December 2002.
Cut-and-pasted together by Andrez Bergen.

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Who says earnest electronic music and a sense of humour aren't mutually compatible?

The headline act at last year's Elecraglide festival here in Tokyo was one Richard D. James, an expert knob twiddler occasionally referred to in the past as Polygon Window, but better known as Aphex Twin. While treading the terrain of experimental sounds, James also has a reputation for his mischievous approach to video clips and live shows, and inundated Moby with a bunch of raucous practical jokes when the two toured the U.S. in 1994. His accomplices at Electraglide? Fellow tongue-in-cheekers Plaid and Mouse On Mars.

"Yeah, humour's very important," agrees one Andrew Weatherall down the line from London. "If I didn't see everything as a complete joke, I would've been locked up years ago. I would've gone completely insane."

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No, this picture ISN'T of Andy Weatherall, and it has absolutely nothing to do with Rotters Golf Club...

If irony is considered the next big art putsch in the UK, it's surprising that Weatherall has been asked to take up Aphex Twin's baton at this year's Electraglide festival. Irony would dictate an expectation for a more austere practitioner of his craft this time round. Then again, it appears that the Electraglide organisers have a warm penchance for leftfield laughter alongside a nod towards historical references and an insightful knowledge of the contemporary trendsetters of electronica. 

Weatherall fits all of these categories. For, while he takes his art seriously, he's been in the game longer than most of his peers - and that experience makes him now wary of the po-faced approach that hallmarks much critically-acclaimed electronic music.

"In the sub-Autechre kind of world there's an hour of minor chords, and that does affect the physiognomy of the brain," Weatherall assesses. "Personally, I found myself wondering why I was so fucked off all the time, and eventually I knew why - it was because I was listening to this music. There's no light and shade. I don't need to hear a fart noise, but you can go somewhere with the tune that brings a smile, just to break up the darkness."

As an example Weatherall cites Si Begg's Noodles label in the UK - whose releases mix-and-match witty sampling with an empirical approach to sound - but he warns that humour can often drift into yawn-inspiring slapstick. "Just so long as you don't resort to Bentley Rhythm Ace hilarity and zaniness, its okay. It's a little more subtle than the man-on-the-banana-skin scenario. People say that what we do is humourous, but it's still quite twisted. It's a dark humour that makes it a little more effective."

This time around Electraglide also features Kraftwerk - the original robot dissemblers credited with kick-starting electronica in the '70s - and younger whippersnapper Squarepusher. The fact that both acts happen to be chuffed by an occasional in-joke just adds to the equation. Their co-stars? Think Sasha, local live act Y. Sunahara, Tim Deluxe, and X-Press 2.

X-Press 2 happen to be label-mates with rambunctious party-boy Fatboy Slim at Skint Records. Behind the ulterior guise British DJ Diesel tinkers with old friends Ashley Beedle and Rocky, and he has his own interpretation of the need for a good, rollicking laugh. "That's definitely one thing we need in our headspace, because when we're in the studio together we have to amuse ourselves. And I think homour in general - and fun in particular - is important in the process of making records. It should never feel like work. Once it does, creativity disappears."

Diesel should know what he's talking about regarding studio confinement and the _expression of jocularity. The trio have been hard at it since 1993 when they unleashed the demented sirens, typewriter-noise percussion and dancefloor pyrotechnics of 'Muzik Express'. They've since branched out into projects like Problem Kids and The Ballistic Brothers, and recently tweaked the vocal input of Talking Heads' David Byrne and Yello's Dieter Meier. "Both of them are just so bloody charismatic," Diesel enthuses.

Andrew Weatherall's own C.V. is nothing to laugh at. Born in 1963, he was dee-jaying by age 14 and a professional behind the decks when 1987 clicked over. During the next five years he grabbed the nascent UK acid house movement by the scruff of the neck, first remixing New Order and The Happy Mondays and then producing Primal Scream's opus 'Screamadelica'. The album turned out to be one of the most influential releases of the 1990s. "I'm proud of that piece of work," Weatherall admits. "I'm still chuffed when people come up to me and say it's their favourite album, or it changed the way they listen to music."

Without any obvious attempt to pause for breath, Weatherall got his head around production as well when he formed Sabres Of Paradise with collaborators Jagz Koomer and Gary Burns, followed by Two Lone Swordsmen with Keith Tenniswood; Weatherall has also stirred his fingers in other projects like Meek, Planet 4 Folk Quartet, Rude Solo, Bocca Juniors, Klunk, The Major & Brother T, and Lords Of Afford. 

It's his partnership with Tenniswood, in particular, that has most shaped Weatherall's directions over the last seven years. They set up Rotters Golf Club in 1997 with accomplice Nick Detnon, and declared that the partnership's perimeters were the investigation of 'the combined pleasures of quality meat products, machine funk in all its forms, and golf'.

"We started Rotters Golf Club as a joke, really," Weatherall now admits with a hearty laugh. "At the time I was going to a mate's place to listen to some good music, play a golf game on his PlayStation, and eat luscious meat from the deli that was nearby."

Somewhere along the line, however, that burlesque became a fully-functioning record label. "The name Rotters Golf Club isn't pseudo-scientific or futuristic; it sounds faintly Victorian," he muses. "While the music on the label is futuristic, it's a Victorian vision of the future. If you look at H.G.Welles and the comics from those times, the future is a steam-driven, cranking, cog-ridden machine. It's not squeaky clean. You could see Rotters Golf Club in an old comic book anthology from those times."

After a bunch of records issued forth from the label, Weatherall decided it was time to release his own Rotters Golf Club anthology. 'The Machine Funk Mix' has just recently surfaced and it's a selection of the man's favourite tunes, in which he deftly mixes together electro, drum'n'bass, breaks and down-tempo material from projects like Radioactive Man, Rude Solo and Remote. Most of the material comes from the headspace of Weatherall and Tenniswood. "It's raw, it's quite direct, it reflects my deejay style, and it reflects the label," Weatherall asserts. "If you've not heard the label before it's a decent introduction to the range we put out, and it also saves you the bus-fare of seeing me play."

The Victorian vision of the future or of its own culture wasn't always cheerful, and rear-visionist impressions like David Lynch's 'The Elephant Man' are downright dark and gothic. "I don't mind David Lynch," responds Weatherall, "but the universes he sets up are a little too skew-whiff; a little too stylised. It's cool and it works, but sometimes it's a bit too obvious. It's like a Chemical Brothers of Fatboy Slim record. It's all laid out for you."

The comment takes Weatherall down another path that's obviously on on his mind. "Perhaps I'm getting reactionary as the years go on, but I don't get the same poetry and humanity from a lot of electronic music at the moment as I do from musicians using more conventional means," he muses. "There was a time when I painted myself into a musical corner. I got so interested in musical process that I lost a bit of soul, and in the end I found myself in a cold environment, listening to very clever computer programming and not much else."

"To extrapolate from that, the only people I'm getting human, dirty feelings from in electronic music are people like Kid 606, Gold Chains and Cex."

And then there's Nick Cave. "I'd give my right arm to write one song as good as he does; I'd go to the crosroads and sign my soul away in blood, Robert Johnston-style, to have just a tenth of his talent."

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