IN THE EARLY YEARS OF HOUSE MUSIC in the UK, the traffic was largely one-way, coming to these islands from across the pond. Tales of the niche underground sub-genre called “Acid House” infecting the mainstream and even the pop charts across Great Britain have already been told too many times, but it’s an important point to mention in order to set the scene for what happened next.
In the wake of London’s Acid House explosion, a group of forward-thinking UK producers became the first to return the favor, putting their own stamp on House music and sending it back over the ocean, contributing something brand new to a scene which had changed their lives. At the center of this new cultural exchange was a young DJ and producer called Ashley Beedle and his production outfit, the Black Science Orchestra.
Now, this might seem a strange admission from someone who writes for North America’s only dedicated House Music magazine, but in the mid nineties I wasn’t a fan of House Music at all. Too young to fully understand rave culture and caught up trying to be a “proper” musician, I had pretty much written off the genre based on what I’d heard on the radio. I suppose everyone needs to have that Eureka moment with any new experience; mine was a mixtape which opened with “Save Us” by the Black Science Orchestra. To this day, the visceral excitement of that intro still sends tingles down my spine, and the track remains (to my ears) a near-perfect example of the vast emotional and musical journey that can be contained in a single record. “Ladies & Gentleman, Welcome To The Black Science Orchestra,” a voice said. I was hooked.
As the years went by I found brilliant downtempo and floaty drum’n’bass tunes by “The Ballistic Brothers” creeping into my collection, all credited to A.Beedle. Who was this guy?
In 2002, Ashley’s latest project X-Press 2 (alongside Rocky & Diesel) hit the number 2 spot in the UK pop charts with “Lazy” featuring Talking Heads’ David Byrne and I remember feeling a small sense of pride. Someone from the underground, someone who had truly changed my musical life had made it to the top. It was possible.
Little did I know at the time, but 13 years later I would find myself in a seedy cafe on the south coast of England with the “gentleman rudeboy” himself, eating baked beans, drinking truly terrible coffee and discussing dub reggae’s influence on House Music production. Oh and that voice on the intro to “Save Us,” the record which single handedly turned me onto House Music? I had to ask: it turns out that was him, too.
Now working on his new production project “Africanz on Marz” and a Black Science Orchestra reunion with Rob Mello and Uschi Classen, as well as mentoring new talents on his own Back To The World label, Ashley Beedle remains just as inspired (and inspiring) as ever.
Where in the World are you right now?
I’m “Back To The World!” Having launched my label in 2014, I’m currently enjoying a lot of attention because of the latest EP Tell Me by Glaswegian electronic artist, Waterson. The track has multiple mixes including several from #1 producer KDA and it’s been hammered by the likes of Sister Bliss, Mark Knight, CapitalXTRA, Jason Bentley, Kenny Dope, The Magician and the list goes on and on… So, fingers crossed on this.
Waterson will be releasing another EP in a couple of months with some fierce mixes on it and I’m in the process of producing his album as well as showcasing Igor Jadranin, an amazing artist from Serbia with his forthcoming Boulevard EP. In addition, I’m working on something special reunion-wise with Black Science Orchestra which is happening later this year – watch this space…
You started DJing in the late-’80s. What were you playing at that time?
Actually, I started DJing in the early-’80s with my mobile disco and then by the mid-’80s with Stateside Soundsystem. I would’ve been playing tunes like Eric B’s “Eric B is President,” Bobby Byrd’s “I Know You Got Soul,” BB&Q Band’s “Dreamer” … Anything along those lines as well as a bit of reggae – Johnny Osborne’s “In The Area” was a big tune.
Who were the key artists & DJs that got you into House and Disco?
There were so many brilliant artists and DJs but mixing it up – there was Frankie Knuckles, Larry Levan, Tony Humphries in the US and then Froggy, Greg Edwards, Norman Jay, Dave Simmons and Robbie Vincent flying the UK flag. Brainstorm, Brass Construction, Slave, Mass Production, Fingers Inc. and a lot of the artists on Trax, Hot Mix 5 and DJ International labels.
How important were the London pirate radio stations in schooling you?
Essential. DBC – Dread Broadcasting Corporation, KISS FM and LWR – breaking new ground in the way that presenters could play tracks without adhering to the old school format of introduction and waffle. It was new and exciting and a threat to decent society – the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) hated them but we, the punters, loved them. They played our soundtrack.
Black Science Orchestra came out of nowhere and sent waves back across the pond to the US. How did you guys meet?
My memory is rather hazy on this but it centered round Danny Arno’s studio in Bermondsey (South London) where I met Rob Mello and John Howard. We made “Where Were You” together and then Rob and John went off to do solo stuff. Uschi Classen and Marc Woolford joined me, having met up at Danny’s studio and at State 51 studios. We went on to produce “New Jersey Deep,” “Philadelphia” and the album Walter’s Room. There was an additional 12″ with me, Phil Asher, Lindsey Edwards and John Howard called “Strong.”
Black Science Orchestra was very organic and people came and went but all left a legacy under the BSO umbrella. I’ve mentioned earlier that I’m regrouping with members of BSO for not only live reunion dates but also working towards new recordings. Not only have I been chatting to Rob Mello and Uschi Classen, I’ve tee’d up various artists with some stunning material for them to look at prior to going into the studio – it is going to be something very special.
Did you set out to make more “US friendly” House than most of your UK contemporaries were making at the time?
Absolutely, because as I’ve mentioned before, Frankie Knuckles was one of my major influences both as a DJ and artist, as was MAW. So you can hear the effect they had on me via my output at the time and still do today.
X-Press 2 found mainstream success all over the world. Was that the plan, or was it a surprise to you?
Complete surprise to all of us! Our first track together as Diesel, Rocky and myself was “Musik Xpress” which was huge – from day one, it took off. And then we followed that with “London Xpress” and “Say What.” The six Technic deck, six CDJ thing started around the time we did our Cream residency and this became our “trademark.” The visual aspect was powerful but for me as a DJ, it made it “seat of ya pants” every time I performed as XPress-2. Exciting times!
How did you link up with David Byrne for “Lazy?”
David wanted to work with the Ballistic Brothers as his live band. But we had to let him down gently because we were a studio outfit only! However, our engineer for XPress-2 was called James Brown, and he made a suggestion that we pitch a demo track to David Byrne that we were working that had no name… and the rest is history!
How did it feel when Daft Punk referenced you on their track “Teachers?”
It was like winning the World Cup!
Using names such as “Afroart” and your latest project “Africanz on Marz” seems to be a proud acknowledgement to your heritage and history. How important is this identity to you as an artist?
It is extremely important to me. I’ve always felt an affinity to Africa and it’s had an effect on my music from a spiritual standpoint. I’ve been blessed to have worked with Femi Kuti, Baaba Maal and there are more African artists in the pipeline with a current project that I’m working on.
Juan Atkins and some other founders have been very vocal about Black artists being forgotten in the current climate. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think the roots of dance music culture have been forgotten to an extent?
On the EDM circuit, I think that there is no reference to anything other than the present. There is no indication in that genre of dance music as to where the roots came from – it’s devoid of soul. On the other hand, the House Music scene always pays respect to those artists who paved the way. I know I certainly do.
While we are on the subject, please tell us about the Africanz On Marz project: we understand it’s a “concept album” of sorts?
The idea came to me and Darren Morris (my musical partner) about 5 years ago when we discussed the possibility of the human race developing on Mars and then voyaging to Earth. It snowballed from there and after much deliberation, we arrived at the “Africanz on Marz” title and the pieces were created as vehicles for Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner and “Classic Album Sundays'” Colleen Murphy to narrate the story, which was written by David Cain.
You’re also a renowned reggae fanatic. What does the genre mean to you?
It’s an area of music that I can relax in and feel comfortable in that vibe. When I DJ with reggae, the pressure is off – the “club dancefloor criteria” doesn’t apply. It’s a different set of rules with dub plates – the crowd carry you and vote very vocally. I revisit a lot of “old friends” – artists who have inspired me and uplifted me over the last four decades. Only recently I bought the Cornell Campbell track “Hypocrite” on Tuff Scout – and I had the same reaction to that as I did when I first heard “Truths and Rights” by Johnny Osborne – that “wow” factor. It’ll never stop.
Would it be fair to say that Jamaican dub reggae formed many of the production techniques that paved the way for modern dance music in all its forms? Do you think the dub pioneers get enough props from dance producers?
I don’t think that there is always an automatic connection between the two with a lot of dance producers. That could be seen as an “age” thing but people should do their homework and pay respect to those who went before. The likes of King Tubby, Lee Perry, Scientist, Mad Professor, Joe Gibbs, Errol T, Adrian Sherwood and Sylvan Morris have been crucial to the way dance music producers can approach a track. They have given us permission to throw away the rulebook – true musical pioneers and I salute them!
Working with Horace Andy and remixing Bob Marley, how did your approach to production change and adapt?
I applied the musical knowledge I gained from listening to the output from major Jamaican studios including an amalgamation of Channel One, Studio One, Joe Gibbs, Wackies and a host of others. This mash up of styles allowed me to create my own unique flavor which I applied to both projects.
What are some of your favorite venues and cities to DJ?
Loop in Tokyo, Panorama Bar in Berlin, Festival #6 in Wales, Womad Festival, Latitude Festival, Electric Elephant in Croatia and Bob Master’s Soul Weekend in Ibiza. But every venue, festival and crowd is always a pleasure.
Do you still find yourself learning new things about DJing and production after all these years? What’s the most recent revelation you can recall?
USB sticks – still not sure about them but they’re easier to carry about than a bag full of 12″s…
Do you still play vinyl? Is the format still important to you?
Yes and yes. Call me old fashioned but vinyl is really the only format that I enjoy DJing with. It’s what you’re used to, isn’t it? And now, vinyl is trendy again, having a record label makes sense.
What’s your personal view on the “streaming revolution?”
Makes music very accessible but then, does that take out the thrill of the chase? Tracking down that elusive track was always part of the ritual – of hearing a DJ play the track, writing it down in a notebook, going to the record shop, chatting to the staff, buying the track and taking it home to play LOUD. Have we lost that with streaming? It’s all about instant gratification.
How do you feel about the state of health of the current dance music scene?
The House scene is very healthy and some really exciting new producers and artists. There’s an abundance of well crafted tracks about at the moment – Lay-Far, Moon Boots, KDA, Claptone, Atjazz… Too many to mention but there’s a few to go off and research.
If I were to ask you to gaze into your crystal ball for a moment; where do you see dance music / the industry going in the future?
A lot more DIY/independent record labels and record shops – there’s already a renaissance in vinyl and record outlets. People are doing it for themselves without having to tie themselves into restrictive contracts with major labels. There’s a freedom to the infrastructure at the moment and I don’t see that disappearing soon. This translates into positive vibes all round – really interesting internet radio stations that don’t follow tried and tested playlists, artists that are in control of their own careers and a lot of collaborations – about time too.
Finally, what current artists and labels are you listening to at the moment?
Back To The World: Waterson, Igor Jadranin, Harry Coltrane
Ramrock/ Ramrock Blue: Greg Blackman, Ghetto Priest, Electric Wire Hustle
Local Talk: Lay-Far, Munk – lots of great releases
BBE: consistently excellent output
Honor Oak Dispensary: Control Remote