Probably best known to the populace as Portishead's ace turntable meister, DJ ANDY SMITH should be equally highly regarded for his two brilliantly eclectic solo mix albums "The Document" and "Document II" (out recently on Illegal). We've been trying to track him down for a chinwag for a while, but finally our intrepid SARAH M cornered him for a cordial chat at, er, 3am at the Rescue Rooms in Nottingham.....
The Cast list read as follows:
DJ ANDY SMITH: World famous eclectic DJ known initially as the crate digger and turntablist for Portishead, more recently lauded for his mix albums "Document I" and recent release "Document II" (out on Illicit Records) as well as his co-founding of well respected Dynamo Productions.
MARIA. DJ Andy Smith's Very Good Friend. A BIG Gary Newman Fan.
W&H. i.e. me (Sarah). Overtired and painfully sober.
Andy is a straightforward man, as his DJ moniker might suggest. He's plain speaking, whether it's describing his view of G-Funk ("weedy") or Japan ("mad") and having just finished a rocking 2 hour-plus set of Hip Hop, Northern Soul, Funk and, sweet jesus, AC/DC, you get the feeling he's just warming up. For me however, it's really, really late. The Rescue Rooms are brightly lit and emptying as I'm shown into a grim strip lit backstage area that no cat could reasonbly be swung in. I've checked the batteries in my Sony-Cassette-Corder, now I've just got to check the levels.
Just a test question, it's an easy one.
What's a Sound Burger?
ANDY: "What's a Sound Burger? It's a portable turntable. The best portable turntable ever made. To this day."
Does it have a built in speaker or..?
ANDY: "No, no. It’s really small and you open it up put the arm in like this and it shuts like a burger. Made in 1982 I think in Japan, not for very long. Apparently really big with prisoners in the 80’s, because in prison you’re not allowed anything that you can plug into the wall. Bit of trivia!"
OK. First things first. Document II. Is it just Document II, or were you trying to do something slightly different with this record?
ANDY: "No, basically I just wanted to do a follow up to the first one; put lots of different stuff together the way I do it and do it live on two decks rather than mixing it on a computer, but it took about 5 years to actually get a label to release it without there being a Portishead album out. Some say 'it's not as good as the first one' but it's just that the timing was different when Document I came out, for me it was just an extension. My approach was exactly the same with both records, and if I do a third I'm sure it'll be the same. I don't go with any particular fad of music, I'm just playing what I like.
A Document III?
ANDY: "I talked to a label about doing a document III yeah."
MARIA: "There's not enough Gary Numan on Document II."
ANDY: "Maria's 's a big Gary Numan fan, as I am."
MARIA: "So on record, Smithy is a big Gary Numan fan and a big Electro fan. The best thing about Smithy is that he's got electro in his blood."
ANDY: "Well the thing is ... showing my age ... I first got into music in 1978 which was a fantastic time because so many things were going on; Punk and New Wave were still big, Reggae was on the back of that, Club Music, Disco Music, there were so many things going off, and then Hip Hop came along, unbelievable really."
You mentioned earlier that Portishead don't have anything out. Has that held you back?
ANDY: "It has with "Document II", ‘cause as I said the label didn't want to do it until another Portishead album was out... The Portishead thing was only a small thing I did in the mid 90's, when I met up with Geoff [Barrow, Portishead] Obviously I went on tour with them, but I wanted to get on and do other things while they were involved in their own projects; the mix CDs and Dynamo Productions. It's good and bad. It's great becuase I get gigs that in places I would never have played but the posters still say 'Andy Smith from Portishead' they don't say Dynamo Productions and it’s frustrating that it doesn't get on there."
When you co-founded Dynamo Productions what were you trying to do initially?
ANDY: "The original idea for Dynamo Productions came out when Scott [Hendy, of Boca 45] and me used to DJ together alot, we just wanted to make tracks which we could DJ out. We felt there were certain tracks which stayed in our record boxes for a long time, like funky break beat stuff -not horrible noisey breakbeat 3000 yuk shit- stuff that was fast but funky, like in the old days when you used to have fast Hip Hop. All of a sudden in the 90's, in the noughtys, Hip Hop was slow and not really about dancing, we wanted to play tracks in the club, so the original idea was just to make up records that we could play. They were only vinyl in the early days but they started selling well and other people were playing them and it was all good and then the label asked us to do an album. Originally it was just for us."
On the subject of vinyl, everyone wants to know where DJ's shop, do you have any particular favourite coutries or cities?
ANDY: "It used to be America, and America still is good in certain places but alot of it has been picked over now so it's not so good for older material, but it is good for new stuff, it's dead cheap. For old stuff actually Australia's pretty good. New Zealand I'll be checking out soon! Japan's pretty mad. you get everything in Japan. I see records there that I've never seen in my life. Old Funk, Jazz, Soul stuff. Probably Gary Numan as well."
MARIA: "Cause Andy's a BIG Gary Numan fan."
ANDY: "So Japan's good, but you've got to have the money."
Do crowds vary between countries? I've heard that in Japan they all watch the fingers at work.
ANDY: "Japan is the weirdest place that I've ever played because they totally listen to what you're doing and they don't move, they don't talk to each other, they're silent. It was just bizarre when I first played Japan becuase they don't get into it, they don't really freak out and go crazy, I remember finishing the gig and thinking 'Bloody hell, that was dreadful', and then everybody starts clapping. It's the oddest place in the world."
I'd heard it was all rotating dancefloors and really odd clubs cause they don't have the drugs scene in the way we do here.
ANDY: "I've not seen any rotating dance floors."
There's one in Newcastle as well...
ANDY: "Is there?" (Laughs)
Obviously we know that you're a big Gary Numan fan (Maria cheers) and you've obviously got quite an eclectic taste. Is there anything that you really wouldn't play?
ANDY: "Yeah, House Music... Drum and Bass. And what else? Techno, any 4/4."
Marie: "As in Techno Techno Take-no notice."
ANDY: "(Laughs) Take no notice of it all. And Country and Western. Er no, I played a funky version of 'Joelyne'."
"Joelyne" gets everybody. But within the genres that you do play, are there any No Go areas? I mean do you play a lot of G-Funk?
ANDY: "G Funk? A whole new level/where the bass is the treble, no hang on, where the treble is the bass and the bass is the treble, what the fucking hell is that all about?"
MARIA: "What's G-funk?"
ANDY: "G-Funk is crap funk from California, from LA."
So I take it that's a no?
MARIA: "Do you like G-funk?"
ANDY: "It's just weedy hip hop, I don't like weedy hip hop I like hip hop that's got balls about it and that's just weedy hip hop. I don't know, I mean, I don't rule out Dre, some of Dre's stuff's really good and I think Snoop Doggy Dogg's a really wicked MC, a lot of his beats are a bit crap. When I listen to Hip Hop I listen to the beats and if the beats are working then I go with MC, but G-Funk , I don't know what that's all about, forget it really."
We know what you listen to because it's all on the records, but who are the other DJ's that you respect?
ANDY: "I get sent CDs from a show in New York City, a new Hip Hop night in NYC called Power 105 every week a DJ Premier show run by Gangstarr and that absolutely blows me away. I think DJ Premier's one of the most creative DJs about and he still plays what he wants and really does what he wants to do and Keeps It Real - if you want to say that - he really knows what he's doing. Jazzy Jeff is fantastic, Cash Money and all those kind of people, the Hip Hop DJs just blow me away with what they do, I know how difficult it is and they're just doing it perfectly, so you know it's people like that BUT I also like Northern Soul DJ's who don't even mix, they just play great music all night. I like a Beach Reggae Soundsystem too - it's just unbelievable roots music. One of the best DJ's around is a guy called Mex that you've probably not heard of."
ANDY: "He's a guy from Brighton, he's in a group called Black Grass. They've got an album coming out in February."
Do they do any residencies?
ANDY: "Yeah, they do a residency at The Vaults in Brighton. But yeah, I like to be inspired by other DJ's but I just don't see enough of them that's the trouble, because I'm always working."
How does the touring effect your residencies?
ANDY: "Oh it's weird, because people think that touring around the country around the world is really great and glamourous."
Like this Room…
ANDY: "[Laughs] I'd probably say the worst part of what I do is travelling. Travelling drives me up the bloody wall. People think it's great and it is great to visit other countries and other fantastic cultures and I like the fact that I can travel to various cities around the world and I know people, that's brilliant. But wasting time on aeroplanes when I could be doing something more useful.... I'm playing in Sydney on New Years Eve - I'm travelling for 23 hours and I'll play for 2 hours
MARIA: "But you get paid shit loads of money to do that."
ANDY: "Well, it's New Year's Eve so I'm doing alright [laughs]. Which is why people can't understand. 'What are you complaining about, it's great!' Yeah it's fantastic, that's why I'm doing it, 'cause I get paid alright and it's nice to go out there, brilliant, and I like Sydney, and Dynamo Productions are pretty big in Australia so we''ll have a good night and it'll go right off ... but sometimes I just want to stay at home [laughs] and not move and stay on the couch and not go anywhere..."
Here’s hoping Andy doesn’t get too comfortable just yet...
"The Document II" is out now on Illicit records.