Andrew Weatherall, Champion Of Underground Music, Dies At 56

Feb 18, 2020
Originally published on February 18, 2020 3:53 pm

DJ and producer Andrew Weatherall, a titan of underground dance music, died Monday in London at age 56. The cause of death was a pulmonary embolism, according to a statement released by his management.

Weatherall started producing in London in the mid-'80s, and was known for a wicked sense of humor — and for blending an eclectic mix of genres.

"He was just this renegade man, completely electric as a human being," Lauren Martin, an editor at DJ Mag in London, says. "You could never pin him down. He could move from cosmic disco into Krautrock, into rockabilly, and it was just really magical."

But Weatherall wasn't just a celebrated nightclub DJ. In 1991, he produced Primal Scream's Screamadelica. Martin says that album — and Weatherall's contributions — completely changed the trajectory of the band's career.

"Screamadelica was the breakthrough," she says. "Primal Scream were, to be honest, absolutely not a big deal at the time. It was really Weatherall's work that made them stars."

Looking back at the process of making Screamadelica in a BBC interview years later, Weatherall said that his lack of experience allowed him to make the remixes his own.

"I was full of what Orson Welles called 'the confidence of ignorance,' " he said. "So I don't know [that] I'm breaking rules, because I don't know what the rules are."

Weatherall's time with Primal Scream drew the attention of big record companies. But Martin says he was more interested in continuing to play in the underground.

"He could have quite easily become a famous record producer from that point on and ditched the DJing and his underground affairs and just gone all gold plaques and show biz, but he didn't," she says. "He would just play dive bars and small clubs and basements. He was the kind of guy that would turn up to a pub in a small town in Ireland with a bag of dub records and just have a pint and work through the bag. And if people came, they came; and if they didn't, they didn't."

Weatherall's music kept evolving — under different pseudonyms with massively different sounds. Through it all, he kept an analog-first approach, in a genre dominated by digital production.

"Take it out of the computer. I always get kids coming up to me, saying, 'I've done a track. I've done it in the computer, but it doesn't really sound right,'" he said at a Red Bull Music Academy event in 2011. "And that's always my answer to them, 'Well, take it out of the computer. Just buy an old reel-to-reel, run it through that.' "

For Martin, it was this resilience and loyalty to the dance scene that he helped shape in the '80s and '90s that made Weatherall so widely beloved.

"We have to remember that in the 30-odd years that dance music culture has been happening around his work, dance music has become homogenized, commercial," she says. "But Weatherall was considered a hero because he would completely ignore what was en vogue and would never do it to make a name for himself. There just seemed to be something immortal about him, that he encapsulated something really magical about what it was like to be in London at a time when cultures were exploding into each other."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
YouTube

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The dance floors of London have lost a titan of underground music. DJ and producer Andrew Weatherall died yesterday. He was 56.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOCCA JUNIORS SONG, "RAISE (63 STEPS TO HEAVEN)")

LAUREN MARTIN: He was just this renegade man - completely electric as a human being.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

That's Lauren Martin, an editor at DJ Mag in London. Weatherall started producing in London in the mid-'80s. He was known for a wicked sense of humor and for blending an eclectic mix of genres.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAISE (63 STEPS TO HEAVEN)")

BOCCA JUNIORS: (Singing) (Unintelligible) that I would never get. Rewards will only come to those who wait.

MARTIN: You could never pin him down. He could move from cosmic disco into krautrock into rockabilly, and it was just really magical. I think anybody who's lingered on a dancefloor but also is completely dripping with sweat knows exactly the sensation I'm talking about.

KELLY: Absolutely. However, he was not just a celebrated nightclub DJ. In 1991, Weatherall produced a record called "Screamadelica" for the favorite band "Primal Scream."

(SOUNDBITE OF PRIMAL SCREAM SONG, "MOVIN' ON UP")

MARTIN: Really, "Screamadelica" was the breakthrough. "Primal Scream" were, to be honest, absolutely not a big deal at the time. It was really Weatherall's work that made them stars. You have to remember there was no real playbook of how a DJ should perform in this traditional role of producing an album by a rock band, so he seemed to really charge forward with his own style of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOVIN' ON UP")

PRIMAL SCREAM: (Singing) I'm movin' on up now, getting out of the darkness. My light shines on. My light shines on. My light shines on.

KELLY: Here's Weatherall speaking to the BBC years later about making "Screamadelica."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDREW WEATHERALL: I was full of what Orson Welles called the confidence of ignorance. I don't know that I'm breaking rules because I don't know what the rules are.

SHAPIRO: His music kept evolving under different pseudonyms with massively different sounds. Through it all, he kept an analog first approach in a genre dominated by digital production. Here he is at a Red Bull Music Academy event in 2011.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WEATHERALL: Take it out of the computer. I always get kids coming up to me, saying, I've done a track. I've done it in the computer, but it just doesn't quite sound right. And that'll always be my answer to them. Well, take it out of the computer. Just, you know, buy an old reel-to-reel. Run it through that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAINT ETIENNE'S "ONLY LOVE CAN BREAK YOUR HEART")

SHAPIRO: Lauren Martin says for all the projects he worked on, it was Weatherall's time with "Primal Scream" that drew the attention of the big record companies.

MARTIN: He could've quite easily become a famous record producer from that point on and ditch the DJing and his more underground affairs and just gone all gold plaques and showbiz. But he doesn't. He would just play dive bars and small clubs and basements and, you know, he was the kind of guy that would turn up to a pub in a small town in Ireland with a bag of dub records and just have a pint and work through the bag. And if people came, they came. And if they didn't, they didn't. We have to remember that in the 30-odd years that dance music culture has been happening around his work, you know, dance music has become very homogenized, more commercial. But Weatherall was kind of considered a hero because he would just completely ignore whatever was in vogue and would never do it to make a name for himself. There just seemed to be something really immortal about him, that he encapsulated something really magical about what it was like to be in London at a time when cultures were exploding into each other. He was always someone that was around to do some beautiful work and see him. And now he's no longer with us.

KELLY: Andrew Weatherall died of a pulmonary embolism on Monday. He kept producing and gigging in nightclubs right up until a few weeks ago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.