Interview: Portishead's Andy Smith

Photos: Tim Schnetgoeke
Interview: Alison Emm
Monday 01 November 2010
reading time: min, words

He put work in for Portishead back in the day. Now he’s on a mission to inject the timeless thunk of Northern Soul into your tabs at Moog


DJ Andy Smith put work in for Portishead back in the day. Now he’s one of the most influential deck-diddlers in the world - and on a mission to inject the timeless thunk of Northern Soul into your unenlightened tabs, at Moog, on a monthly basis...

You’ve got a new album out at the moment...
Yeah, Andy Smith and Dean Rudland Present New Orleans Funk Experience. The label it’s on do a series of albums based on different cities. Although it’s called the Funk Experience, it’s not just funk - there’s some old r’n’b on there, some northern soul. It’s a cross-section of old tunes from New Orleans, basically.

Tell us about the Jam Up Twist nights...
It’s the night I’m doing at Moog every month. I do a night in London on a Saturday, which I’ve been doing for four years, and we play fifties and sixties stuff all night. Loads of people are really getting into it there. I figured I wanted to do that on a Friday, so I just made my own regional twist night. I’ve regressed basically - I just love fifties r’n’b and sixties northern soul and ska, rockabilly. 

Those tunes used to be such fun - a lot of new music takes itself far too serious these days. That era of music probably does seem new to the last couple of generations, though.
Exactly. I always think that if it’s music you’ve never heard before - even if it was made fifty or sixty years ago - it’s still a new piece of music. We get young people in, who come up and say; “Can you give a eighteenth birthday shout for my friend?” I think, man - she’s eighteen, she comes to this night, listening to music fifty, sixty years old, and they’re just loving the beat. It’s all real musicians playing, not made by computers and all in time, it’s a bit looser so you can be a lot more free with it. You just want to dance and get into the groove with all those old tunes.

So would you say that’s your favourite era of music?
Yeah, I think it is now. I grew up in the eighties and first got into music in the late seventies. I love what I grew up with; disco and boogie, rare groove, early hip-hop. If hip-hop today was as it was then I’d probably still pick hip-hop. It’s turned into something which I don’t understand or particularly care about anymore.
With original hip-hop, you get into the samples, you go back into the seventies, but you can go back further and there’s even more interesting stuff.

The fifties and sixties nights do seem to be kicking off in Nottingham as well, with Bopp and Shake and Bake...
That’s what it’s all about! I got fed up with hip-hop nights as no-one really dances; they just stand around looking cool, showing off their trainers. I’m learning to jive myself, learning northern soul dancing with the spins, it’s great. It works with people who just want to go out and have a laugh, as there’s no preconceptions of what you’ve got to look like; you just get out on the floor and do what you want, have a good time. It’s not like standing around chin-stroking, getting fed up and all that.

What was the first record you ever bought?
Well, apart from The Jungle Book OST, it was actually pretty cool; What a Waste by Ian Dury and the Blockheads. I think my first album was Blondie’s Parallel Lines. I was kind of skirting the edges of punk, but didn’t go for the hardcore stuff. I still love Ian Dury and like listening to Blondie - it’s still relevant to me.

Do you class yourself as a bit of a vinyl addict?
Oh, my goodness, yeah! 

How many records do you reckon you own?
Oh, I’ve never counted them… but we’re having a room put into the loft so I can move all my records, which is going to be wonderful. There’s one room that’s pretty much full that I’m sat in now, plus a load more at my mother-in-law’s. I probably buy records every day, more on the internet now rather than shops, which is a bit of a shame.

Do you miss all the independent record stores?
I do, I do. I try to go to record fairs whenever I can. Usually when I’m away from London, I try to find out what record stores are about. I’ll still go to vinyl stores in America but the stores over here, I’ll go to some but there just isn’t the stuff anymore. 

Have you ever been to Rob's Record Mart?
I was talking to somebody about that just yesterday, actually. I heard it had shut. No, that place is never going to die - it’ll get fuller and fuller with records to the point where you can’t get in…
The last few times I’ve done the Moog night the shops are shut by the time I get here. I can still picture Rob from ten years ago, but it’d be good to go in there. Maybe if I get out of London early enough I’ll go in there again.

Have you ever played DJ Hero?
No. I played Guitar Hero once and I was a bit baffled as to why the whole world and his dog’s into it, to be quite honest. But the DJ one, no I’ve never done that. Shadow kinda endorses all that doesn’t he?

DJ Shadow endorses loads of stuff…
A friend of mine who knows him quite well was sat in this pub in London one day and saw him walking past. He was like, “Josh? Josh! Is that you, Josh? What are you doing here?” “Oh, I’m doing an in-store in HMV.” “What’s that about then?” “Oh, well, it’s DJ Hero.” I think he was a bit mashed about it - didn’t even tell anyone he was coming to London to do this massive thing in HMV Oxford Street.

Well, you’ve got to keep the pay cheques coming in…
Yeah, he’s got twins like me, I know what it’s like. Can’t blame him on that score…

What is it with DJs and twins?
Something to do with double decks, innit?

Jam Up Twist, Friday 10 December and every second Friday of the month, Moog, Newdigate Street, NG1 4FD.

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