By David Mark Levy
If there’s one name in the world of drum and bass DJs that resonates beyond the genre itself and into the further spheres of electronic dance music it would be Andy C.
Known for his unrivaled technical skills as a DJ and maintaining an extraordinary command of the dance floor – as well as his innovative and influential Ram Records which has been a leading drum and bass enterprise for more then 20 years – The Executioner is a man who has more then earned his substantial degree of reverence.
DJ Mag Canada caught up with him less than an hour before his set at this year’s Bud Light Digital Dreams Festival for an exclusive interview. The resulting dialogue covers the untold story of the Ram Records’ beginnings, a hearty embrace of the dubstep explosion that followed drum and bass, and serves as a powerful affirmation of Toronto – and Canada’s in particular – vibrant drum and bass scene.
DJ Mag Canada: Let’s start from the beginning. What music were you raised on, and what got you into DJing and electronic music?
Andy C: Well, [I was] raised on, I guess, just the music in the UK in the ’80s. My parents got me drums and were very encouraging with music. My sister was going out to the old raves, the original raves, when acid house first came around. And she was five years older then me so basically [I was the] younger, annoying younger brother. I just wanted to be part of her crew.
One of your early big successes was of course “Valley Of The Shadows” in 1993. You started Ram records in 1992. What was the musical climate like at the time. Was Ram started with the express purposes of catering to jungle, or had jungle not even placed itself apart from its hardcore predecessors?
Andy C: I guess it was the period of time when Reinforced Records were around and LTJ Bukem was starting with Good Looking, Formation. There was a split starting to happen and there was a scene emerging that was getting faster and faster.
I remember the first tune I ever made was at 128 BPM and then pretty much every tune we’d raise the BPM by a couple and a bit more and more.
Eventually we kind of got to the 160s. I think Valley of the Shadows was at 160. But Ram was started when we were having dinner one night in my home, and I had just left school in May of ’92, and Mom’s like “Gotta get a job, What are you gonna do?” and I had been making this EP for 6 months, and it was a real labour of love because back then it was on reel to reel tape machines, monophonic samplers so you had to output each individual sound.
It was just so long and it took me six months. And I had a couple tunes out, myself and Miles and I had been faithful. So my sister was like “Why don’t you start a record label?”
And you know, you’re 16 and you’re sitting there eating dinner and you think “how hard can it be?” And she sat there and she hand drew the logo for Ram that evening. She said “Call it Ram because you’re an Aries.”
I woke up the next day and I looked through the Yellow Pages because there wasn’t Google back then and I found a printing company, phoned them up and said “Can you print record labels” da-da-da-da 70 pounds for 1000 pairs. I printed them out, shipped of the DAT to the company, and Ram Records was born. Pretty ad-hoc.
Then I went on holiday, so from that point I sent it off to JTS in Hackney and mastered it and then I went on holiday to New York, my first ever holiday without my parents, with my best mate. Had a pretty wild time, Came back, got picked up from the airport, and in the car was 1,000 copies of Ram 001. That was the beginning.
Who were the breakbeat hardcore acts who really influenced the jungle sound for you?
Andy C: One of the first ever times that I can recall hearing a breakbeat and being absolutely blown away by it, I was in a shop called “Mash” at Oxford Street in London, which was an old fashion store, and downstairs they had turntables and the DJ would play, and I heard Meat Beat Manifesto’s “Radio Babylon” and it absolutely blew my mind. To listen to it today it’s so simple, but at that point in time, being a young kid and hearing an off-beat pattern with all that sub bass on it, I was like “What is this tune?” It absolutely, completely changed my world.
What about drum and bass. What do you think was the tipping point from jungle to drum and bass. Was it sudden or was it a more nuanced, gradual process?
Andy C: I think it was nuanced. Obviously we had the jungle period from, like you say, ’92, ’93 up until ’96 maybe. Then drum and bass started. We had a couple of tunes on Ram that had the two-step pattern. Myself and Shimon did Quest, which is more of a two-step pattern.
Then obviously Ed Rush and Optical were emerging with such an influence in sound. Then laterally, a year or so after that Bad Company started to emerge. And obviously then you had Metalheadz with the Blue Note going on. It just got darker, and people were like, “Oh it disappeared.”
In the mainstream everyone thought it disappeared but it didn’t. It went underground to build its foundations and lay the cornerstones of why we’re still here in 2014, because that was the period when this new darker-edged aggressive sound came through and we had to go underground because that’s the only place it would work. But because there was such a network of labels and DJs supporting it and that’s where the foundations were built.
On Ram records now you’re releasing a variety of genres. For instance, some dubstep and garage like Chase and Status’s “Blk & Blu” last year. How does the emergence of dubstep and re-emergence of UK garage effect the drum and bass landscape? Do you see it as a competition in a sense or more as a good thing that encourages drum and bass artists to step up?
Andy C: Well it’s an interesting conversation piece because a lot of people, when a new genre comes along, they see it as a threat, and then all of a sudden you have all these new DJs and new producers and they’re getting booked and everybody’s standing there going, “Who’s he? I’ve never heard of him?” But it’s the natural thing of music, and we need new genres.
So don’t get me wrong, when a new scene emerges and all of a sudden people might be down on drum and bass or not so interested, it does hurt a little bit. But at the same point, I use it as fuel, because if a scene like dubstep especially – because I don’t think our music resonates so much with the re-emergence of UK house, they’re just so far apart – the explosion that it had and the amount of people that it called into aggressive electronic music in general, it’s like a big fishing pot. And it’s brought all these people in, and what the beauty of that is, a lot of the old dubstep guys started out as drum and bass producers, so there’s a real great connection, a lot of them are really good friends of mine. And what has happened is that I end up playing on a lot of the same bills and you get a completely new audience opening their mind to drum and bass, and that can only be a good thing.
We don’t want, “this is the end of music as we know it, these are the only genres that can exist, there aren’t gonna be any new genres.” We need new genres because new genres expand the horizons of everybody and open everybody’s ears to new music.
Drum and bass is certainly a primary influence on dubstep but do you think the kids these days realize that fact? They might have not have had as much of an opportunity to be exposed to it: there is no Skrillex of drum and bass.
Andy C: Sure, you’re right. I don’t think they do realize that. I think that they’re open, and it’s made them open to accept drum and bass like I just said. Does it bother me and make me wanna shout from the rooftops, “Hey, these guys used to make drum and bass,” no, shit like that don’t bother me, I’m not one of those purists that’s sitting in my room like “uhhh.” I mean we’re in the room right now, Jeff Excision is on, The Dirtyphonics guys are around, I’ve got all my Ram guys here. It’s a beautiful thing. And that shit don’t happen unless you have a broader melting pot of music.
Now, Toronto is one of the cities that has maintained quite a large drum and bass scene outside of the UK.
Andy C: It’s like a second home.
Yeah, and you’ve had a relationship with the city. You come back pretty frequently. Do you have any insight, what is it about Toronto that keeps the jungle spirit alive and what is it that people respond to differently?
Andy C: First of all there’s a number of people behind the scenes in Toronto that have really helped shape the scene from Mystical influence and Sniper back in the day, Marcus Visionary, you know you got Robbie and all those guys that were throwing the parties back in the day. And then you’ve got Ryan and Jesse and Rick from Toronto Jungle. There’s such a core of people, and I’ve probably missed people out, but you can’t underestimate the passion that these people have got, that has carried the city of Toronto through. And then, I know every UK DJ, It’s an absolute honour to play this city. I’m just so hyped for this set tonight.
We did the old Docks, Sound Academy in March, we did the 4 hour set last year in the Guv. It’s just a beautiful thing man. There really is something special about Toronto and drum and bass and jungle that resonates from the very beginning of the whole scene. And you know what, the crowd they just get it. They just love the free abandon. The fun, the energy, the positivity of drum and bass. Toronto just gets it and always has.
You’re extraordinarily renowned for your DJ sets, maybe more than any other drum and bass producer. How has the digital age of controllers and CDJs impacted the DJing process for you?
Andy C: I’d say that initially I was very reluctant to join the digital age. I kept on carrying my bloody dubplates around and to be fair it was getting harder to play a set because of the amount of skipping and the amount of terrible sound.
I now play on Traktor. I still use turntables because I love the physicality, I like working up a sweat, I actually like mistakes. I love the performance angle where anything can happen.
Traktor, I’ve been using for a few years now and it has been a revelation because now, in the UK, I do all-night sets. I might play hundreds of tunes. And before when I used to go on tour it would be,“What dubplate am I not gonna put in the box?” because you’ve only got a finite amount you can bring. Now the freedom musically for me is just incredible. So in that respect I’ve completely embraced that side of it.
As far as the controllerism and syncing and all that, that’s just not my thing. But that’s because I come from a different time and place and I actually enjoy the process of DJing, the beat-matching process, the fun – because it Is fun.
So at home I still go and lock myself in my studio and mix for five or six hours at a time just dancing around like a loon, working up a sweat. So from that angle, I’ll never change that aspect.
What can we expect from you in the future?
Andy C: Well, as well as the DJing and the touring, the festival schedule this summer is incredible. I’m working on tunes. I’ve been doing a number of remixes, but I got a new tune coming out in the autumn and I’m working in the studio more then ever.
I lost the buzz for a few years just because DJing went so crazy. But now, having done a few tunes and turning up to venues and hearing them play. You know when you walk in and there’s this muffled bass sound, and you’re like “I recognize that. Oh, that’s my tune.”
The excitement that you feel when other DJs are playing it is such a brilliant buzz and it reminds me of being young again, in terms of when I was breaking through. So i’m super hungry for it, so that’s what I’m gonna be doing: I’m concentrating in the studio.
Any last words for DJ Mag Canada?
Andy C: I’ve got nothing but love and respect for the Canadian drum and bass community. It really is an honour. This is my last show of this tour and I couldn’t have picked a better place to end it, man. It’s gonna be fantastic.
Listen to what Andy C has been up to lately: