Having been there since the early days of acid house gripped London, Ashley Beedle has remained a pivotal figure in the story of dance music, his plethora of aliases and affiliated projects spawning hundreds of releases, re-edits and remixes. Whether with the other members of Black Science Orchestra, the Ballistic Brothers, or as a some-time member of X-Press 2, Beedle has been responsible for some of the best dance music to have come out of England. His reputation as a DJ and master of the re-edit is legendary and despite being more than 25 years deep into the music, he still releases an impressive amount of it. Catching up with Beedle to talk about his recent album of re-edits, Message in the Music, we sat in a once-grand top floor bar of a slightly down at heel hotel in London’s Soho. In a lengthy conversation, a passionate Beedle talked about working with Horace Andy, the similarities between house music made in the 90s and the recent revival house sound, and why he’s enjoying his new residency at London’s Notting Hill Arts Club.
How much do you generally DJ these days?
Ashley Beedle: Well, the funny thing is I’ve kind of — by being ill, it’s given me time to have a real think about what I need to do. Getting that residency is a godsend because it allows me to develop something here, do you know what I mean? Because I think for a long time I was a bit… well, not necessarily for a long time, I was bit kind of not focused, necessarily. I think it’s good when you have to question yourself like that. So what it’s meant for me is retreat, getting into the music, which made me like being a DJ, which is good black dance music. So that’s kind of what I’m returning to now. So at the club [Beedle’s night is every second Friday] we’re playing lots of good hip-hop from back in the day and lots of good R&B from back in the day. And some sort of Masters at Work-style house, just good old jams. But just because a lot of the kids that are coming don’t know it, it’s quite fascinating. So there’s me just coming out of 51 and all these kids are, as usual, they’re the same; they’re like 20 years of age. And they listen to this music thinking… but for us, it’s easy to play, and for them, it’s like, “Wow, what are these tunes?”
It’s interesting that you’re playing old stuff like Masters At Work and in the last few years there’s been this big house sort of revival, and these producers are really trying to make an early 90s sort of sound. It must be kind of strange for you seeing this stuff coming back around when you were playing it when it came out?
Yeah, it’s just big cycles, I think. If you look at any musical phenomenon, it doesn’t naturally carry on and carry on. It will loop on in itself. So I think we’ve just got to this point now where, knowledge-wise, they haven’t got the same amount of knowledge as people like myself or say Norman Jay or people like that. We’ve got the knowledge because we were crate diggers; we’d go out looking for this stuff. And same as, I suppose, Kenny Dope, you know? Used to be and still is, I’d imagine, an amazing crate digger.
So I’m used to getting these tunes [and saying], “Yeah, we can house that up.” What they’re doing now is housing up the house. [laughs] Literally. So they’re taking samples from house records. It’s quite extraordinary. But then I read a really interesting interview with Disclosure, who I rate, I really do rate them and I think what they’re probably doing is what Kenny, Louie, Masters at Work and people like that did way back in the day. They’ve been listening to their dad’s collection or whatever, and then using it to make brand new records. And I really rate them. I think they’ve got a bit of longevity there. They’re still young, so I think they’re going to turn into really good producers.
You’ve seen lots of cycles in dance music, how do you feel the direction that technology has taken the music translates has affected the quality of what we’re hearing?
You know what? It’s something which I try and get over to people, especially, like, the younger artists who — now they do look up to people like myself because I’m still in the game. First you’ve got to come with the feeling. You have to come from what’s inside you. As cliché as it sounds, that’s where it starts and that’s where it ends. The technology side of it, don’t care. It’s a by-product. Right now you’ve got so many people using the same plugins, all using Ableton. It sounds the same, you know what I mean? It bores me, to be honest with you. It absolutely bores me, and it’s like, you know, what about found sounds, just making a snare out of hitting a box? That’s what we used to do, you know? Record it, crimp it, what I used to call it. You know, shorten the note on it, and you’ve got a snare sound. And it’s things like that which I always found lovely.
When we used to listen to a lot of the old early house records, [we’d say] “Why do their drums sound like that?” And someone said, “Oh, that’s an SP-1200 drum machine.” And I’m like, “What’s that?” We didn’t have Internet then, so we used to really try to figure out, “What’s an SP-1200 drum machine?” And Phil Asher would go, “Oh, you’ve got to go to Sam Ash in New York to pick one of those up.” So what did I do? I went to New York and bought one and brought it back with me. I think the trouble is everything’s available now. It takes away all the mystique. And I think what we need now is a bit more mystique and a bit more people doing some hard work, you know?
I think a lot of producers need to start putting a bit more work in. Start being a bit more competitive. You know, that’s what I think. Someone would come out with, you know — when Masters at Work did — sorry to keep referring to them, but I think it’s good. When they did that lovely dub of St. Etienne, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” that changed the game. Everyone went, “How do we do that?” You know, the same when I was doing Black Science Orchestra. You know, I’m very proud of that project now. I got a bit afraid of it because a lot of people are sort of going, “Aw, man, tell us how did you make that?” And I’m like, “Well, we got in the studio and worked bloody hard.” You know? Same thing. But now I realize it’s a benchmark in British house, or British dance music. So I’m quite happy to tell people to go in the studio, use your heads more, have some fun.
But it’s very much changed, hasn’t it? Because dance music till, I guess, sort of the mid-90s was still very much an outsider scene and after that, it all of a sudden became a commercial enterprise as well. And so that changed the whole way that people look at it. Where now success can be as much about being a savvy business person as well.
Yeah. You’ve got EDM in America, which no doubt will morph into something else. And it’s quite funny what EDM stands for: “electronic dance music.” And it’s like, “Excuse me, house music was born in Chicago. Come on, guys. Get a grip.” But you know what? That’s a lot to with the fact of they don’t want to acknowledge those blacks, Puerto Ricans, and gays making that music. And savvy white guys, they don’t want to acknowledge that fact. You know, so they say, “Oh, let’s call it EDM and then we can resell it to the kids.” It’s just crazy, so I think that’s going to fall flat on its face anyway. In some ways. But at the same time, it may have opened a gate there for stuff to come out of this country now and then translate over to America. But we’ll wait and see anyway.
You recently released Message in the Music, your collection of edits. And from what I read about, it was several years in the making. Was it just a collection of edits that you’d been working on in general, or was it a very specific project for the label the whole time?
No, they were made specifically for the project. Because what happened was originally I was approached by Ian Dewhirst, who runs Harmless Demon, the music department over there, because it’s part of BBC. Long story. And Ian Dewhirst approached me about coming in to do a comp, and originally he wanted me to do a comp of tracks available in Demon’s Harmless catalogue. So we got talking about that, and then that’s how it came into play. I started finding tracks, editing them, sending him the edits, he was liking the vibe, and eventually it came into this fruition as an album.
The reason it took four years was because a lot of the stuff you have to license in lumps. So for instance, we went to Hi or Cream, which is the home of Al Green, Syl Johnson, Willie Mitchell, and all that stuff. We’d license three or four tracks for the comp, probably we would only use one or two, but after licensing four. zonce we got it done, they were going, “Oh, your license has now run out.” So we couldn’t use the bloody tracks. So a lot of this is happening, so eventually we’re like, “Aw, man,” we were just pulling our hair out. And that’s why it’s taken four years. I mean at one point, I think we dumped literally 98 percent of the album because licenses had gone. So there’s loads of unreleased stuff that never, ever made the project. Which in some ways helped because that way the album became more eclectic. It’s good; it’s given it a few little weird curveballs.
It seems there’s not too many corners of music that you haven’t really touched on.
Yeah, I mean it’s just a love, my personal love, of music. No one else has to get that. I wake up some mornings and think, “Do you know what? I’m going to make a fucking rock record,” do you know what I mean? And it happens. And off I go. Or I’ve got to produce a rock band, or whatever. It’s just literally what’s in the air that day, you know? A lot of times I’ll get up and I don’t want to make music today. You know? But I’m very blessed, very, very lucky to be in the position I’m in because it’s, like, going over 25 years now for a professional level of actually doing music. And I’m still making music. Alright, we don’t get paid like we used to, but I can sit on top of a fucking hotel and talk about it. [laughs] So that’s a nice thing.
So starting off in production. I mean you’d already been DJing for a little while, but what were your first forays into producing? How did you learn the ropes around the studio and that sort of thing?
I was in a sound system, a member of a sound system called Shock Sound System, which were on the same par as, say, Soul II Soul back in the day and all the other sounds that were coming out of London. Madhouse, which was Trevor Nelson, the Syndicate, god there were so many sound systems back then. And it was all very nicely competitive. The Wild Bunch, who became Massive Attack, you know? And that was where we made our first inroads, because we went and made a record called “Give Me Back Your Love” [by] Boyz In Shock, which actually was Dean Zepherin and Paul [Denton], one of the other Shock men. Anyway Paul and Dean did this track, but then we all came in with our own inputs on how to get this record sounding hot. Didn’t know what the hell we were doing. And then eventually, I think Marshall Jefferson and Byron Burke from Ten City came in and kind of glossed it up for us.
So that was really, I think, at the time would have been the first kind of British sort of garage record, if you like. Not “garage” garage. And it was good, yeah. We got a lot of props for that. You know, but like most things, when you’ve got a group of guys together, internally it starts to fall apart because everyone’s trying to do their bit and your egos are killing each other basically. And then from then on, I think, really would have been Black Science Orchestra, “Where Were You?” which that was another one, you know, throw the sample out, see what happens. I remember Norman Jay was the guy that found the sample for me, which was the Trammps, “The Night The Lights Went Out.” So I just came in at the right time, really, with that track. And it’s the little acid line, the out-of-tune bass line. Unbelievable. But it worked. It worked. And eventually you learn, you start learning, yourself, how to make records.
Yeah. From that earlier stage you always used a lot of different monikers. What was the idea behind that? Sort of building the mystique of who these people could be?
There was, yeah, I think there was a lot of that, but also there was a bit of fear and bit of lack of confidence, as well. So I used to make up all these names and different musicians and stuff like that. But now, I know it sounds silly at this age, I’m now comfortable to do that. You know, Yardism, I think, was the first proper thing in the last few years where I’ve actually put my name to a project. All before that it’s always been Ashley Beedle Presents or produced by Ashley Beedle, something like that. Something silly. And it’s just the fear and lack of confidence. Now, I think, I’ve got my confidence now. It’s taken a long time. [laughs] It’s taken a long time. I think Andrew Weatherall is probably the same guy on that kind of par. You know, he’s the same kind of way of thinking.
Are your two approaches towards production kind of similar? I’ve seen an interview with you where you say you are very much a traditional producer, not necessarily a musician.
No, it’s very true. I don’t think you should lie, I don’t lie about it. The thing is I can sit there and play a chord, I can tell them exactly what I want; I can get the piano and go, “Right, this is what we need, which key we need it to be in.” I’m not going to say I am Phil Spector, but that’s how he kind of worked, you know? I know exactly what I need to do musically. It’s quite rare — what we do, it’s a rare thing where — there’s an actual name for the condition, which is synesthesia? Which is you see music in colors. And that’s kind of where I see it. That’s how I like to do things, you know? When I work with Darren [Morris], my partner, every time we get a track up on Logic, I go, “Can we have that in purple, please?” And he knows exactly where I’m coming from.
Over the years, you’ve collaborated with some pretty amazing musicians. So, for instance, how did you come about working with Horace Andy?
Well that was a funny one because I was approached by Strut Records about the project, and they said, “Who do you want to work with?” And I went, “Gil Scott Heron, but he’s dead.” [laughs] And they said, “Who else?” And I said, “Curtis Mayfield, but he’s dead.” And it got like that. It got, like, really quite funny because everyone I mentioned was dead. And then Quinton Scott said to me, “How do you feel about working with Horace Andy?” And I said, “Well, to be honest with you, it’s a difficult one.” And he said, “Why’s that?” “Because,” I said, “of Massive Attack. He’s so heavily linked to them.”
So I made the call first to Daddy G, and he said, “No, no, man, you do it. Horace needs the work; you do it.” Anyway, we had 11 days to make that album. I wish we had 11 days more because I could have done a bit more production and editing on it. But it was good. It was a discipline. And Horace came, and he was absolutely brilliant to work with. I gave him the rhythm, he’d go home that night, write the lyrics, come in the next day, and we’d lay it down and mix it. And that’s the… we did it like Jamaican producers, literally. There’s not a lot of money here, we’re under a time constraint, let’s get it done. But him telling me tales of how they work down in Jamaica — scary, man. Really scary days. But that was great. It was an inspiration, and from Horace, I definitely got the information.
For you, then, who’s been some of the most exciting or, I don’t know, inspirational people to work with?
Well, David Byrne was a total inspiration. Working with him was beautiful. And also it would have to be Kurt Wagner from Lambchop, working with him. And also Edwyn Collins. Now that was beautiful because he’d just come out of having two strokes. And he worked on my Mav!s album with my partner Darren. He came on, and that was the first thing he sung post-stroke, which is incredible. What a lovely man. Because I was a big fan of Orange Juice when they first started on the Postcard label. Always loved their stuff, and to work with him, that was like, wow. That kind of made it for me. I was like, “Right, I can die happily now.”
Is there going to be more Mav!s material?
Well, we’ve talked about it, and I won’t repeat it because it’s been sullied a bit, been tainted a bit by the record company in question. Not from the actual record company themselves, but the A&R part of it; they could have promoted it better. You know, it was kind of left on the shelf, and it was doing really well, that year we’d done it live at the Big Chill, and there was an article in the Guardian that said that was one of the best live things they’d seen that year at a festival. So it was all ready to go, and then the rug was pulled from underneath us. I’m upset about that, but you know what? Whatever will be will be. But we’re going to be working on a project, hopefully, the name’s there, it’s called Black Saints. So we’re going to start working on that and that will be very similar to the Mav!s thing.
So that will be with Darren as well?
Yeah, it’ll be with Darren, but we’re going to get a different set of singers to come through.
Sorry, which Darren is this?
Darren Morris. He’s brilliant. He is, you know, Jo has described him as a space pixie. I think that’s the best description of him. Working with him is quite amazing because I’ll mention an act and he’ll go, “I’ve never even heard of them.” And you’ll say something like Creedence Clearwater Revival or something crazy like that. “Not heard of them. No idea,” you know what I mean? And he’s a fully trained master in jazz theory and unbelievable, you know? He loves stuff. He loves Billy Childish, likes all that, but he’s an incredible musician. But probably the only guy, really who can translate what I’m trying to do. You know, he’ll say, “What we’re having today, it’s a Sun Ra day, today,” So it’s good.
So that must be quite important, then, having someone who can understand your sort of musical color condition and being able to translate that.
Yeah, I do need it. I mean I’m not going to lie. When I collaborate I do better music than on my own, definitely. I’ve only worked with being on my own a few times, and I’ve not really liked it, to be honest with you. I always end up coming up with dark stuff. [laughs] Yes.
OK, if we can go back to edits for a second, when did you first start editing, or doing re-edits?
I think it was way back. There’s a bootleg record label called Weekend Records that I started. So that must have been the early 90s, around then. And I think I was doing stuff before that, but mainly stuff where I’d… you know, I was taught to edit with tape from reel. So a lot of the stuff I was doing on my own. Just editing and then making little tracks out of them, just drum tracks and stuff like that. But then getting them onto record, obviously the technology changed.
We started to use C-Lab Notator, which from that went into Logic. And we realized we could do it in a computer. But I was liking it because it was a quick and easier way of doing it. But you’re still trying to keep that warmth, that sound. So even up to the later stuff that I’ve done with Message in the Music, once we’ve recorded it, we were still mixing it back through a tape and onto a little desk, yeah. Just to get that warmth, you know what I mean? But yeah, I couldn’t tell you how many edits I’ve done. Hundreds.
What’s next for you? What are you going to be working on in the next while?
I’m going to do a label called Back to the World which will feature the productions of myself and a few others. We’ve got Adamski with some new stuff, which is frighteningly good. It’s based around the waltz — 3-step he calls it and it’s incredible. I’m also going to go back and do some raw Ballistic Brothers type stuff and then there’s another label called Welcome to Ramrock too, so lots to do.