When it comes to talking about Andrew Weatherall I have no idea where to start. Of all the loons and geniuses and nuts and mentalists who have come to define British electronic music over the last couple of decades It’s difficult to think of anyone else who has had a similar effect on the scene. Sure, there have been people with larger bodies of work, or whose talents have more readily, more easily shined over every one else, but very few have had the same sort of long-lasting impact.
Part of it is probably down to the fact he has always seemed like an outsider, even though he’s been involved in more projects than most of us have had hot dinners, and the truth is that he isn’t so much a musical outlaw than someone with a dedication to his own sounds and ideas, a singular visionary who has little to do with the fads and trends the rest of us seem to get wrapped up in. His music has always been a document of his comfort and familiarity with an almost unbelievable range of styles and genres. In an age where Dubstep producers move on to make techno, and techno producers look to orchestral arrangements as the next step, and everyone keeps a pet project on the side for their occasional forays into house or acid, how many can claim to do all of that sort of thing on the same album? Weatherall’s music has long been the best argument against the increasing compartmentalization of the genres, the splintering of a sonic world that was, not even all that long ago, all coming from the same place.
Even in the early days – especially in the early days, perhaps – he was helping to draw together common strands from very different dimensions. His production work on Primal Scream’s Screamadelica, probably the first time a lot of us became familiar with his name, irrevocably altered the DNA of that band’s sound. It took the sounds of late 80s indy rock and filtered it through the psycho-tropic influences of the first genuinely new youth movement since the birth of rock. He wasn’t the only one to lend his production skills to the album, of course; The Orb, Terry Farley and others also had an important hand – but it was Weatherall’s touch that left the biggest fingerprints, and were instrumental in the creation of a record that wasn’t only an important landmark, but came to define an era.
His own music has been no less forward-looking. His two best known bands, The Sabres of Paradise, with Jagz Kooner and Gary Burns, and Two Lone Swordsmen, with Keith Tenniswood, dragged house, techno, dub, dancehall, acid and almost everything else into the mix in a way that has rarely been approached by anyone else. There are little glimpses of this pan-genre creationism in the work of a host of other artists, but no one has come close to mastering the completeness of it. In the mainstream, there are a handful who at least seem interested in learning what else lies out there. Blur’s Damon Albarn springs to mind. But where Albarn’s work seems to often be played for the sake of cleverness, and for the applause of critics, Weatherall’s music seems to work, and be the genuine thing, because you suspect he couldn’t do it any other way, and has little interest in amusing people like Jools Holland.
There is a lesson here for all of us who make beats (or flatter ourselves that we do). It it a big world out there. A huge one, in fact, and colourful. And the more we limit ourselves to a single palette, the more monochromatic our music will be. It’s high time we started learning all over again.