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Dub and dope: Weatherall’s weird science

by James Hadfield

He’s been a key mover in every dance genre from acid house to techno and indie disco. But if you really want to know what gets DJ and producer Andrew Weatherall out of bed in the morning, it’s a rather different type of music.

Last month, Glasgow dance-label Soma Records released “Sci-Fi-Lo-Fi Volume 1,” a mix album that sees Weatherall trawl through his record collection. And it’s a far cry from the “bumpty-bumpty disco” (his words) that you might have expected. Rather, it’s a motley collection of rockabilly, surf, glam and garage punk that finds space for Gene Vincent, T.Rex and the wonderfully named Hipbone Slim and the Knee Tremblers, among others.

It seems that Weatherall isn’t alone in digging this stuff, either. Speaking from his studio in London, he sounds genuinely surprised by the positive response the album has had.

“I tried to talk Soma out of it for months, thinking it would be the undoing of them because nobody would be interested,” he says. “But they did insist, and now I get comments almost every day. I can be sitting in the pub and get people coming up to me and going, ‘Oh, I love that compilation.’ ”

Rockabilly, of course, has plenty of fans in Japan too — which can prove an expensive problem when he comes here.

“That’s why I’m actually leaving the day after the gig (Weatherall will be DJing at ‘Oblivion Ball’ this month, an event headlined by Underworld),” he admits. “Because I usually go and seek out the rockabilly haunts, like the clothing shops and the record shops, and I come back with no money and three suitcases full of stuff. So as much as I love Japan, I am running to the hills as soon as the gig’s finished.”

“Sci-Fi-Lo-Fi” sheds some light on the recent adventures of Two Lone Swordsmen, Weatherall’s long-running duo with Keith Tenniswood, aka DJ and producer Radioactive Man. Once one of Warp Records’ flagship electronica acts, they raised a few eyebrows when in 2004 they released “From the Double Gone Chapel,” an album of post-punk flavored jams featuring live instrumentation and vocals (courtesy of Weatherall himself).

This year, they went one further, putting out a pair of new Swordsmen albums, “Wrong Meeting” and “Wrong Meeting II,” whose songs incorporate an even wider range of influences — including, yes, rockabilly.

It seems like quite a break from the sleek techno and machine-funk of records like 2000′s “Tiny Reminders,” but Weatherall insists otherwise: “We don’t come in (to the studio) and say, ‘OK, let’s have a radical change of direction,’ he says. “To me, it’s just us . . . If you stripped away the live stuff, it would sound how we sounded four or five years ago. You know, quite minimal, electronic and sparse. It’s just we’ve added an element.”

Mind you, he admits that the band’s audience is still catching up. Two Lone Swordsmen’s live shows over the past few years have, apparently, inspired a “mixture of confusion and general appreciation.”

“No one really knows where to put us,” he continues. “We’ve played at the Camden Crawl (a North London alternative-music festival), which is the belly of the indie beast, and we’ve played at Fabric, which is the belly of the techno beast, and we’ve got an equally good reception.”

It isn’t the first time Weatherall has found himself straddling camps like this. His first shot at the big time came during the indie / dance crossover of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when he became an in-demand remixer for the likes of Happy Mondays and New Order.

Most famously, he produced much of Primal Scream’s 1991 classic, “Screamadelica,” which saw the guitar band given a radical dance-floor makeover. That album’s lead single, “Loaded,” was his remix of an earlier song of theirs that removed virtually every trace of the original.

Ironically, it provided the group with their first major hit.

Indie purists may take comfort from the fact that Weatherall’s adding guitars his productions rather than stripping them out these days — but that doesn’t mean he’s done with straight-up techno either.

“Quite a lot of the tracks I’m doing at the moment are electronic-based,” he says. “When I DJ out on the weekend, on the Monday I come back and I usually want to make something with a bit of a 4/4 rhythm and a wobbly bassline.”

Looking back on his career, I wonder how he feels about his influence on the latest crop of dance producers. A lot of his back catalog still sounds astonishingly fresh: Two Lone Swordsmen pre-empted today’s minimal-techno scene, while his earlier outfit, Sabres of Paradise, loosely marked out the territory now inhabited by dubstep.

“It’s just the next generation of people that are probably listening to the same sort of stuff we were listening to when we made that,” he says. “When we were a lot younger, we were smoking weed, listening to dub and electro. And here we are, 10 years later, (and) it’s the younger brothers doing the same thing. So there’s bound to be a similarity, I think. Sitting around listening to dub records, smoking dope — we were hardly pioneers in that area, d’you know what I mean?”