In Memory of Andrew Weatherall
Music journalist Jim Butler pays tribute to one of his heroes
They say you should never meet your heroes, don’t they? Well, I met my hero on a number of occasions. Over the course of my journalistic career (a word he had a healthy disregard for, preferring the more everyday description of ‘a job’), I interviewed Andrew Weatherall four or five times.
The last time I spoke to him as he slouched on the sofa of his old Shoreditch studio, the air thick with the heavy vibes of some kick-ass weed smoke, he addressed me by my first name with a comforting air of relaxed familiarity. The fanboy in me – something I always was and always will be – was righteously and thrillingly proud.
That’s why his death cuts so deep. At the age of 47, I should be used to cultural icons exiting stage left. Bowie, Prince, Aretha, Leonard Cohen… The Grim Reaper has been working overtime in recent years. But Weatherall’s death just hits closer to home. He was the lodestar of the culture that reverberated endlessly in the wake of the late-’80s mesmerising acid house explosion. A culture I embraced wholeheartedly and unapologetically after being seduced originally by the likes of Happy Mondays, De La Soul and co. over the winter and spring of 1989 and 1990.
There in the middle of it all was Weatherall. His rebellious street punk with soul persona chimed perfectly with my 17-year-old self. His appreciation of style, art, books, films – in other words, youth culture – was completely where my head, and countless other like-minded heads, was at.
His work with Primal Scream provided me and my rapt mates with a first taste of his notoriety. An early statement of intent if you like. And then digging back, I discovered his sets at Shoom, his sardonic sense of humour that dripped through the pages of the acid house über text, the Boy’s Own fanzines and, of course, his remixes. My Bloody Valentine, The Grid, Saint Etienne, Happy Mondays, Primal Scream again and Galliano were all remoulded by his instinctive touch of sonic genius. A willing cultural sponge I lapped it all up.
After Screamadelica, his alchemical powers of invention and reinvention saw him cast a dubby, Balearic spell over One Dove, while at the same time ploughing a singular techno vision with his first Sabres of Paradise productions. He was an early champion of The Chemical Brothers (then The Dust Brothers) while his wary suspicion of corporate club culture was prescient.
Over the last 30 years, he was the DJ I loved the most; the tastemaker I listened to the most and certainly the artist I loved interviewing the most. And if all this sounds too self-regarding, too much about me, isn’t that what happens when we grieve people we loved and admired, but didn’t really know? As much as we mourn their death, we also mourn for ourselves. We mourn for the people we once were – those younger versions of ourselves so full of hope and excitement. Those kids who’d dance ’til dawn and mutter cosmic inanities about life and love.
Andrew Weatherall provided the soundtrack to all of that. Last November I went out to listen to him DJ. I hadn’t been out dancing in years, but he was playing at my local
Balearic boozer in St Leonards-on-Sea. Sporting my boxfresh Viva Acid House T-shirt, I went out and had one of the best and certainly one of the most special nights of my life. Surrounded by middle-aged ex-ravers, it felt like a school reunion. Without any knobheads. Weatherall’s musical selections were, of course, exemplary. He had an uncanny knack of knowing what I – and everyone else in the room – needed to hear before we did.
Thinking back to when I last interviewed him, he was preparing to move from his Shoreditch studio bunker – his Bassment – where he’d created all of those Two Lone Swordsman releases. Surrounded by packed boxes, books, music magazines and, naturally, records – lots and lots of records – he told me that he wasn’t angry about having to move, gentrification finally forcing him out. “I’m not that upset, others seem more upset than I am,” he said. “I’m resigned to it I suppose. I’ve found a good new place somewhere suitably bleak.”
Those words take on a chilling new meaning now. I’ll miss him. Not as much as friends and family will, of course. He should still be here. Showing us what to do. And just as importantly, how to do it. As Neil Young so rightly put it in a tune he would remix when Saint Etienne beautifully covered it: Only Love Can Break Your Heart.
Safe travels, Lord Sabre.