All hail the executioner: Andy C and the absolution of drum and bass
Andy C runs circles on your everyday British dance icon.
Against all the odds, drum & bass has held its corner as a genre too poignant to die at the hands of cultural change. Two decades in, its chief commanding officer can hardly believe it himself. This is coming from man whose career pre-dates the existence of the sound, but seemingly came to define it. His is a legacy of cultural, technical and aural connotations, all leading to a now ambassadorial stand. He coined the ‘double drop’ – a technique that would set precedent for the genre and create some of its most earth shaking live moments that can probably account for his nickname ‘the Executioner.’ His albums and compilations set precedents alongside such early peers Fabio, Roni Size and LTJ Bukem, opening headway for the global airwaves, dance floors, festival circuits and popular market to relish in the glory of drum & bass. Humble as he may be, Andy C runs circles on your everyday British dance icon.At the turn of 2014, his abstract still stacks with impressive accolades. His RAM Records imprint took its roster to Brixton Academy and new age talent Wilkinson to the album charts. Furthermore, his Nightlife compilation series turned ten years old, beckoning chapter six of the hallowed installment to show that his crate digging skills have not wavered over the past ten years. When all is said and done, the year could not have been better from both a physical and mental standpoint.
He makes a valid point – few could have comprehended the lifeblood of drum & bass reaching such impressive heights given its humble origins. The soundtrack to disgruntled rave culture founded off the peak of jungle and breaks, bred in the basements of British society by its faithful and sparing elite, this wasn’t a sound with as obvious of a timeline as house music. Subgenres followed, albums became possible, the pop charts bucked an ear and then suddenly his generation was suddenly the vital gatekeeper to a sound every pop princess and salty A&R solider wanted a piece of. Even Oxford University has called upon Andy to deliberate over the workings of his craft.
But in the first instance, there was no drum & bass. More to the point, there was no perception of an impending low-end revolution, more a natural transition from selling records out the back of his car to moving the masses across continents. Cutting his teeth in school and sampling the taste of things to come from outside the jungle of heyday London rave culture; a chance meeting with Scott Bourne (read: Red One) set the rest into quite literal history.
For Andrew John Clarke, making people understand drum & bass was the biggest hurdle. Little did he know that patiently brewing was a global thirst for the sound, one that now has him crossing every continent imaginable. Back in the homeland, however, it remained that 170 bpm elephant in the room. The likes of Home and Fabric may have later proven the epitome of its national spiral, but until that time drum & bass was approached with a sense of fear.Accordingly that landmark showdown at Brixton Academy was not just a notch in the bedposts for RAM, but the long road taken from a sound that once couldn’t get a look in at London’s notorious super clubs. Without the chic and commercial values of house music of the period behind it, it wasn’t until late London nightspot The End gave RAM a break in 2008 that would spark the flame for this imprint on the run. These were intense and chaotic nights for London club life. Friends spoke of the sweaty experience and peers followed to see what all the noise was about. Before long, the extended sets and roadblock lines said it all. London had woken up, its alarm bells drum & bass. “It was an amazing time for our image, both as a brand and a genre,” he reflects. “There was a lot of head scratching and wondering how we could get people to take it seriously. We knew the passion, talent and enthusiasm was there. The time line has been a long one, but the footsteps have been phenomenal. The End nights changed the game.”
We reflect on the motherland of drum & bass, quickly concluding that it had to be the UK where this turbulent genre found its feet. Andy fondly remembers tuning into pirate radio stations at any given opportunity, pointing to his earliest memories of sneaking into barn raves at the age of 13 and testing the doormen of London and its surrounding suburbs with his early taste for electronic music. “London was integral to the genres footsteps – I am not saying it couldn’t happen anywhere else, there are a lot of very accomplished sects of the country who have helped pioneer the sound.”He points to the expanding global canvas that has since appeared, remembering the clubs past, present and future that benchmarked the capital city as the genre’s flagship state. Casualties such as The End and Home aside, it isn’t in his nature to let what has passed dampen the spirit of a sound that simply refuses to drop off the map. “Those are incredible memories we have lost forever. We won’t get them back, but the whole point is to create new ones. For me, those are getting more and more exciting by the day.”For every conversation regarding this particular festival staple comes recognition of his technical form. A self professed tempo chaser from dub plates or bust generation, his conviction behind the decks is one of a lost art form. Far from a cynic to current convention and technological short cuts, his is not an exclusive party – he welcomes the access and ease of engagement without ever contemplating the short cuts for his own live dispatches.
22-years in the making, the future is a subject RAM needs little prompting over. Weekly releases, devout talents and new blood alike have made it a consistent machine in the ever-evolving industry spectrum. Andy acknowledges he has more staff than ever before, but “could definitely do with more” given the way things are going. Is the game getting easier? No. More enjoyable? Absolutely! “It comes down to the global market and the communication streams that have opened up around the industry. Back in the day you could cut a dub plate and wait three years for it to every really explode. I look at what we have done with Wilkinson in just 18-months and then see guys like Chase & Status doing arena shows and I can’t help but feel it has been a very good path of progress. There is a different dynamic with a label’s involvement on every level. We’re now a platform for new artists to sing from – how can you not be proud of that?”That isn’t to say that the once underdog status has granted them industry immunity – the shift from physical to digital via illegal download culture was still a head scratcher for the genre. There are no open wounds here, mind you. As far as Andy is concerned, it was high time the industry got its act together. The period was a challenge and more are still to come (‘I still haven’t made my mind up about this streaming thing,’ he later admits), but where so many labels turned that dip into a drawn out sob story, his circle has pushed forward with flying colours.
Nightlife Six said it all. 80-tracks strong, three long-playing mixes deep and still demanding the attention of devout genre fans and ‘Joe blogs’ consumers alike that established it as a mecca for what is happening in Andy’s breakneck musical space. “I was still licensing tracks the day before release,” he admits, noting that for all the strong suits built within the ten years of the series, licensing such masses of music has got no less laborious. “It’s been a labour of love rather than habit. We do them when the time is right and as a result they always feel like a natural embodiment of what is going on.”But what next for the man whose feet have barely touched the ground since 1992’s Base Logic EP? “I’m ready to make an album again,” he playfully marks, alluding to the new laptop and software that he is confident will assist a bit of on-the-road production for his meaty tour duties ahead. His stake in the game may have been established decades ago, but one thing is for certain: the executioner is no closer to hanging his hatchet just yet.