For: The Warehouse Project
A pioneer of Drum n Bass, Andy C has cemented his reputation as one of the most influential figureheads in dance music since the start of his production career and the creation of his label RAM Records in 1992. Celebrating 20 years this autumn, RAM has been responsible for supporting the likes of Chase and Status, Noisia, Sub Focus and Fresh, as well as Andy’s own productions under his own name and as Origin Unknown.
The Warehouse Project’s Will Orchard spoke to Andy about two decades at the forefront of a rapidly evolving dance scene.
Tell me a little bit about the start of your DJ career. It went hand in hand with you starting the RAM label, didn’t it.
They kind of came around the same sort of time, summer/autumn of 1992. It wasn’t a plan. I was making this EP that took about six months, nine months to make, and the plan wasn’t to start a label but me and Ant [Miles] had put out a few tunes on other labels and always got the short end of the stick when it came to realizing the rewards, shall we say. I’d spent so much time on this EP, I was sitting at home one night having dinner with my Mum, Dad and my sister, and my sister said, “Well, why don’t you put it out yourself?” And I went, “I can’t do that, what the hell does that involve?”. It happened to coincide with leaving school, and I had to get a job anyway so why don’t I start a record label? You’d done a few phone calls, made a few inquiries, found out where a pressing plant was in Wimbledon, and then the place where you could print labels. As soon as I found out you could print labels, my sister’s who’s an artist drew the logo for me – she suggested RAM because I’m an Aries – and then I sent all the stuff off to be done and went on holiday to Magaluf, my first away day from leaving school. When I got back from there, the records were in the back of the car and it sort of went from there. I printed out 1500 copies and they all sold. I borrowed a grand off my uncle to do it, sold them all, paid him back and then I was like, “right, I’ve got my own record label!”.
It’s a completely different way of starting a label nowadays
Doing a label now, you could make a tune today, name your record label this evening and put it out digitally by the end of the night, and there’s your record label. I think back then, it wasn’t as in-depth as people thought; you don’t need offices, you don’t need corporate headquarters. It was a case of finding out where to physically manufacture the records, negotiating a deal with them, doing the labels and then obviously trying to sort a distribution deal. That was the hardest part and that’s where the digital realm has made it easier and facilitated people to get the music out there. I think that’s benefitted music greatly because you haven’t got to rely on the need to get a distribution deal. I know that there’s many people out there who couldn’t get a distributor interested in their product and it became a massive source of frustration to them. Whereas nowadays if a big digital distributor isn’t interested in your product, you can be like “Well, sod you mate I’m just going to put it out myself.” There are lots of ways you can do that and I think that’s massively helped smaller artists get through.
It also means that a lot of artistic freedom back to the artists themselves because they aren’t required to dilute their vision to fit in with a distributor.
Quite possibly. There was always a case where distributors would be like “Here’s what’s selling at the moment, why don’t you make some tunes like that.” I guess people were influenced by what was selling at that minute rather than making the tunes they wanted to make. It goes hand in hand. With RAM, we’re massively helped by the relationship we have with distributors. I’m not bringing distributors down. Fortunately, we came up with the kind of product that they wanted, you know. Apart from RAM002 (Origin Unknown’s ‘Eastern Promise’ EP). It was funny, I did RAM001 and we sold out of that and made a bit of money. And then RAM002, the first Origin Unknown record, the distributor went “It’s not good enough, I’m not putting it out.” It’s ironic that RAM002, the one that wasn’t good enough to put out, I heard it sold for about £1,200 on Discogs. Some rarity that wasn’t good enough to put out back in the day is now selling because there’s a finite number of copies. But that’s the beauty of physical products isn’t it, it’s collectible.
How do you think the relationship between the mainstream and underground has changed over the course of RAM’s 20 years?
To be honest with you, I think the underground and mainstream have become very blurred. Don’t get me wrong; you’ve still got your to-the-core, underground music out there, but the incredible support we get off the likes of Radio 1 with the specialist shows, filtering down to the evening DJs and then eventually daytime, it’s very blurred isn’t it. If you look at the success that we’re seeing from artists now, artists that you see at all the big nights like The Warehouse Project, RAM at Fabric, and then the big festivals, it’s very blurred compared to how it used to be where the odd one used to break through now and again.That is nearly down to the popularity of the music and the good music that there is. It’s like we were saying, the digital means of getting your music out there mean that you haven’t got to rely on someone in some corporate label somewhere telling you what to do. Good music is good music. I think the past few years in particular have seen an absolute explosion of dance music in the mainstream. It’s not like people aim for the mainstream, it just happens doesn’t it. If you look at an act like Chase and Status who, when we broke them through with ‘More Than A Lot’, I wouldn’t say that we were aiming for the mainstream but it’s the sheer force of the music and the snowball effect that starts going. It becomes part of that and then we sit there with pride watching the headline festivals, headline their own tours, you know. It’s a great thing to see.
Chase and Status are certainly an integral part of the RAM story, as it were; what other acts, or moments can you pinpoint as highlights of the last 20 years of the label?
The feedback you get from the public is always key and back in the day before the internet, that was through sales. So ‘Valley Of The Shadows’, when we put that out we pressed a couple of thousand for the first week and I think by the end of that week we’re pressed another seven thousand, the week after we did another five… then you’re getting the feedback and that gives you massive confidence. Then it’s like “This is a bit serious now, let’s step the game up a bit.” And then as the years go by, in the late 90’s when we had the RAM Trilogy, the album got a good response. It was really crazy days, because we were doing triple-pack vinyls and pressing fifteen or twenty thousand for the first week. It was pretty mad, and we were doing that with pretty much every release. Nowadays, the unit that we were doing back then, we’d be in the top twenty every single release. There’s key points like that. I had the release with Shimon, the ‘Body Rock’ single in 2000, which was the first chart record. Purely instrumental. There are so many key things over the twenty year period.All these things help give you confidence and then when you take on artists like Chase and Status and Sub Focus, our current roster of acts, and they’re driven and hungry, you become a platform for that and it’s our job to maximize their talent. So far, touch wood, they are all coming up with the goods. We can all work in hand in hand. We have a great team and we really do try and maximize each artist to their full potential. When you do that, you really do see the goal. It’s such a proud thing to see our artist explode onto the scene, performing to fifty or sixty thousand people.
How are you feeling about playing alongside people like Sub Focus this season at The Warehouse Project?
It’s always great to see him. He’s in the studio now working on his second album so he’s tucked away doing that, so I haven’t seen him much recently because he’s been in a bit of a hibernation process. I bumped into him at the Hackney Weekend and I saw him in America a few weeks ago but apart from that he’s been tucked up, so I’m looking forward to seeing him at The Warehouse Project for sure.
What can we expect from your DJ set on the night?
I’ll go with whatever. You can’t go into a night with any pre-conceived ideas of what you’re going to do. You might have your first three or four records lined up but then you have a few vodkas, judge the crowd. The good thing about The Warehouse Project is, from a DJing perspective, it’s not that hard. The crowd at The Warehouse Project has got to be one of the most incredible crowds in the world, to be honest with you. I don’t know what’s in the water in Manchester but it’s just absolutely ridiculous up there. I love it, you know. This year, fortunately, I’m getting to do a number of the nights. I’m going to soak it up and try and switch it up each night, but the crowd lead me. My philosophy is that I’m there, let’s have a party. I’m a raver as well. The first three tunes – I’ve got to start the set somehow and then I just go with the crowd. If they’re going for it and having it, let’s go. Let’s take it to the limit.That’s one of the things I love about The Warehouse Project; it’s not a pressure one. It’s purely fun. Like if you go to a party with everyone you know, you know you can’t slog. You’re not going to be crap, because everyone is there and up for the party. And I’m looking forward to playing the new venue, I hear it’s absolutely enormous compared to the last one. All the nights there are guaranteed to sell out. It’s going to be mega, I can’t wait. It’s one of the marquee dates of the autumn isn’t it, The Warehouse Project. I speak to people all around the world, DJs and producers, and they always say they can’t wait for it. I think I’m going to book the next day off so I can soak up the vibes!