Travel to Leeds and you will be heading in the right musical direction for a night out where Andy Hickford is DJing. A regular at Outlaws Yacht Club with his own Downtown Science parties whilst also spinning across various venues across the city, you can expect to hear a varied assortment of boogie, jazz, broken beats, reggae, disco, funk soul, balearic and then some.
I caught up with Andy after he had warmed up for Nicky Siano over the Easter weekend, in the interview he talks about record collecting and his love and respect of Outlaws Yacht Club amongst other things. He is a digger first and foremost with a deep love of music which is evidenced in this excellent instalment on the Half-Lights mix series.
- DK/SK - Hammond Blue
- Farbror Resande Mac - Midnight Caller
- Begin - Let's Talk
- The KLF - Build A Fire
- Alumnia - View From A Blue Train
- Closed Paradise - Jungle Goddess
- Dream Chimney - Charlie Dub
- A Vision of Panama - Southern Breeze
- The Irresistible Force - The Lie In King
- Miguel Atwood Ferguson - Antiquity
- David Axelrod - Smile
- Jean Claude Vannier & Serge Gainsbourg - The Pleasure Pit
- The Dragons - Sunset Scenery
- Mulatu Astate & The Heliocentrics - Blue Nile
- Bjork - Mawal (Omar Souleyman Version)
- Don Cherry & Latif Khan - One Dance
- Clutchy Hopkins - Swap Meet Me At The Corner
- Roy Ayers - Time & Space
- Willie Wright - Right On For The Darkness
- Travis Biggs - Fly Like An Eagle
Firstly, what have you been up to lately?
The new-year is often a fairly quiet time and this year has proved no different, however I haven’t been completely idle. I am lucky enough to be the resident DJ at the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield and in February they opened their latest exhibition with the works of Anthony McCall. For those who don’t know his work, he uses light and smoke to create ‘sculpture’ (I’m doing him a disservice reducing it to that, but I’m no art critic…). I’d already seen some of his work a couple of years ago in Barcelona, so was really pleased to be involved in this – most music fans are suckers for smoke machines and lasers anyway aren’t they? I put together a playlist taking inspiration from his history and work and was dj for their opening party. I have been doing this for a couple of years now and their events are always good, great atmosphere, busy and a mixed crowd. What is always pleasing is the positive feedback from those attending showing that there is an appetite for this kind of thing in art galleries. As well as that I have been doing a few local gigs and also provided a guest mix for Adam Warped’s Strange Days radio show – it is always lovely to be asked to get invitations to contribute to others shows, blogs etc…
Most recently I was lucky enough to meet Nicky Siano who was DJ’ing in Leeds again (he was here last year). This time he was playing a very intimate party with just 100 tickets available, so it was more of a house party vibe. Together with the Boogie Monster (one of Downtown Science) we opened proceedings for the night, it was real privilege to share a booth with such a legend.
What is your first memory of music in your life and what was the first record you bought?
It is a really tough thing to try and identify a first memory like that; so much of early life is a blur of half-memories, re-told stories and nostalgia. My mum was a big music fan, so the radio or tape deck in the kitchen was often on, Motown being a favourite. My dad was a Shadows fan, so tunes like Geronimo and Apache were always playing in the car. I can also remember flicking through albums by the likes of The Beatles, Abba, Diana Ross and the like – nothing that most homes wouldn’t have had – but the nascent obsession with vinyl was certainly taking hold even at that age.
The first record I actually chose to buy myself was the England World Cup Squad album from 1982, though in my defence I was 7 at the time, though I would hope it was the football rather than the music that drew me to that. Kevin Keegan was a better striker than singer that is for sure. Mid 80’s pop like INXS and Depeche Mode wold have been early more musically led purchase, Paul Hardcastle’s 19 was big for everyone then, pretty much everyone had a copy. The late 80’s probably saw me form more defined musical tastes, buying up comps and singles of of Hip Hop, Rap and House with Run DMC, Eric B & Rakim, Bomb The Bass and Public Enemy being big favourites.
On your biography you mention that you have been DJing for twenty years, where did it all start for you, what music were you into when you were first playing out?
My early exposure to DJ’s came from rave tapes largely, DJ’s like Carl Cox, Fabio, Mickey Finn playing sets that spanned Nu Groove style house, early breakbeat, Belgian New Beat, techno and so on. Inspired, I used to try and make my own mix tapes on one of those all in one hifi systems that had two tapes decks and a turntable. I realised if you could jam down the phono and Tape 1 tabs together you could hear both at once and therefore ‘mix’ recording on the 2nd deck. So that’s what I started to do; cueing up the next tape at the right point using a Walkman. Fortunately I don’t think any recordings still exist. Beyond that I would often be the one who provided mixtapes for parties and for the school common room, but never really got round to actually DJ.
I first properly started to DJ at a few parties at University in the mid-90’s. It would have been fairly rough and ready, playing a mixture of indie, dance, hip hop, trip hop etc… I was listening to essential mixes by people like Andy Smith, the Dust (Chemical) Brothers, Massive Attack as well as releases like the Coldcut JDJ mix and wanted to play cross-genre sets like that. I was also out listening to house music and buying records from Warp in Sheffield, but never really pushed to do much more than play the odd party – though by then I was hoovering up records in increasing volumes buying and playing records on labels like Mo Wax, Ninja Tune, Talkin’ Loud & Warp and enjoying the music of the likes of Underworld, One Dove, Gang Starr and more.
Alongside this DJ career, you have a wide taste in music and collecting records. What are you looking for when buying music?
I think we are all looking for a similar mix of things – on the one had ticking off records from the wants list, on the other hand finding something new and undiscovered (at least by yourself). Rifling through dusty piles of records in a charity shop, you are looking for certain things – producers, artists, labels you know – as that gives a clue as to whether you are likely to find a keeper, or you look for those tell-tale signs of something that might hold unknown pleasures. Album titles that reference space, the cosmos, or the tropics, especially if aligned to images of spaceships, synths or rainforests are always worth a second look. Flipping the sleeve over to see if there is any mention of moogs, congas, rhodes or other slightly different kit played by the musicians involved may also guide you that there is something worth checking out. Of course much of the time you flick through the wax and it is dross, but when it’s not… that is what you are looking for!
When you go into a record store, which sections do you go to first? Do you have a collecting/buying philosophy?
I think that depends on the store – I love bargain bins, so if I’m in a big enough second hand store I will often hit those first. Somewhere like Huddersfield’s Vinyl Warehouse in the basement of Vinyl Tap (apologies to those who want to keep this secret) has 10,000’s of records with crates and crates of unsorted 12”’s for 50p. If you don’t want to get your fingers dirty and skip these you are missing out on some great stuff.
Elsewhere if somewhere like Sounds Of The Universe I will often drift towards the Jazz/Funk section first, usually followed by Brazil/World sections ending up in Broken Beat, Disco, and Balearic sections. Strangely as I consider this question I realise that I would probably go in exactly the reverse order if in Piccadilly in Manchester. From this I can probably conclude that the way I approach record stores will probably be based on where that stores strength is?
The real challenge is record fairs – you walk in and see dozens of sellers, tens of thousands of records and you have no idea who has the bargains, who charges sky high prices and who will have that Freddie Hubbard album that you have been after for months… If anyone has a sure-fire way to win at fairs I’m all ears.
What have been your latest purchases?
Recent purchases include the superb Talking Drums 12” – those familiar with the Patterns On A Diamond Ceiling nights at Outlaws will know who was behind this - the new Psychemagik 12” ‘The Trip’; the Starving Daughters album ‘Strange Valley’ on Forest Jams; the third in the series of ‘Ambivert Tools’ by Lone and the Ernesto Chahoud compiled ‘Taitu (Soul Fuelled Stompers From 1960’s-1970’s Ethiopia) on BBE. I was also pleased to finally pick up a 12” of Thelma Houston’s ‘You Used to Hold Me So Tight’ – one I’d been keen to find for a while, but didn’t want to just pluck from discogs.
Are there any producers/artists that you are trying to complete?
There are a fair few artists/producers who I will buy on sight, but it can get so tricky to be totally completest. Does that mean different versions of the same release, what about when they had a dodgy spell, should I get that album the time they dabbled with hip hop? Artists who I’d really like to have at least every album they have released would be Roy Ayers, Gil Scott-Heron, Donald Byrd, David Axelrod and Madlib – I’m close with each of them, but not quite there. I am also trying to complete my Mo Wax collection – at least that has an end point as the label ceased. I will often buy releases on particular labels without fail – like 22a or Rhythm Section at the moment – but after a time that will fall away, either because the label loses steam, or changes direction or because you end up missing one or two and so that nerdy completest element falls away. It’s not quite a completest thing, but certain artists and producers do guide buying too. When out digging you look for those reliable names – producers Patrick Adams or Charles Stepney, or musicians like Airto who would pop up on all kinds of records and give you a clue as to what lies within.
You have played across the UK and Europe, where are your favourite places to play music?
I always enjoy playing records at Outlaws Yacht Club, it is such an open-minded venue, both in terms of the management and those who drink there. It’s lovely to play regularly in such a venue where music is so central to what they do. In that it shares a lot if similarities with Spiritland, it was a real pleasure to play there late last year. The wonderful sound system has been well commented on, but what really stood out for me was how friendly everyone was there. So many there were genuinely enthusiastic about the music being played, with lots of track ID requests and people taking pics of the sleeve of the record currently playing. As a note more venues should have a stand for you to display the sleeve of whatever is currently playing.
I also had a great time playing records at Café Belgique in Amsterdam last year too. It is a bar I knew well having visited a few times before, but last year I was dj’ing with my brother James – 5 hours of boogie, disco and deep house. It’s a compact place, but the atmosphere is great, it was packed all night and even though it was a cold January night there was a big crowd outside dancing too. You can’t beat the feeling when you get hands in the air when you drop a tune from people who aren’t even in the venue! We are hoping to get a return trip together organised for the summer – hopefully it will be a bit warmer for any alfresco dancing.
It's nice to see a venue like Outlaws Yacht Club which has an eclectic blend of things going on - from film nights right through to an in-house record store. How did your relationship come about?
I have known Andy Pye of Balearic Social for a long time – originally from his days at HMV in Leeds back when they used to shift huge piles of vinyl every weekend. Andy used to keep them well stocked in all the quality labels back then; Paper, Nuphonic, Glasgow Underground as well as decent selections of re-issue soul, jazz, funk, world music and more. Even though it was a chain, this branch still had the vibe of an indie with crowds of people at the decks each weekend and under counter saves etc… Along with places like Crash, Soul Alley (RIP) and Jumbo Fridays and Saturdays were solid record buying days, but I digress…
Andy was one of the first to start a residency at Outlaws when it opened and through him I got to know Joe, the owner. I’d been dj’ing around Leeds for a while, so really it was just a case of finding a regular spot in the calendar, so we started the Downtown Science residency there, and over 3 years later we still play every month. I’m sure that we’d have soon been shown the door if they weren’t happy with what we played, but I think as long as you keep with the ethos they have – the wrong records to the right people – you’ll be ok there. Since starting there we have played other events there, such as book launches, art exhibitions, Balearic Social weekends as well as putting on Mixmaster Morris there last summer. We are lucky to have such a venue in Leeds, so hopefully that relationship will long continue.
How is living in Leeds at the moment? Where are your haunts and where would you recommend to a new visitor to the town?
OYC goes without saying – they have such a broad range of events going on that it is a must visit, not to mention the cocktails and the fact that Andy Pye (that man again) also manages the in-house record store (Disque 72) that always has something worth buying. There aren’t many places where you can meet original school NYC B-Boys and graffiti artists (Sen One), blue-eyed soul legends (Ned Doheny) and hear legends like Andy Weatherall dj all whilst maintaining a cosy, welcoming atmosphere. But that’s not to say all the action is restricted to OYC; Headrow House & Belgrave have a great record of band and DJ bookings – highlights for me recently have been seeing Yussef Kamaal play live in Belgrave, then heading over to Headrow for a Henry Wu after party. Nightmares on Wax, Blackalicious and Roni Size have been superb recently too. North Bar is well worth calling in to, they have a massive range of beers. Out of the city centre, Hyde Park Book Club is a great place, it is a bar/café/events space/club all in one and also manages to fit in a fancy dress shop, record fairs and political events alongside the music. A little plug – I’m playing a new event there in May ‘Moon Unit’ with Alexander Nut headlining – so anyone in Leeds then could do worse than calling in.
Away from booze, there are a number of good independent shops, Jumbo and Tribe should be in the list for vinyl hounds, Colours May Vary is a great art/design store and Laynes serve the best coffee in town. All of these places are characterised by being friendly too – so visitors to Leeds could do worse than check all these out.
It is a DJ interview tradition to ask the 'never leave the bag question' - what are your never fail records?
I think one record that seems to work anywhere, and is rarely out of my bag is War’s ‘Galaxy’. It is a track that seems to be jazz, funk, disco all at once and will fit into an upbeat set, or a bar vibe, so is a great go to record. In a similar vein, The Temptations ‘Law Of The Land’ is a record that never fails. I think a lot of those 70’s soul/funk records were so well produced and crafted that they have a timeless appeal, so will always go down well, if you want a sure fire track to get a crowd going these classic tracks will work most of the time. One record that I have been playing a lot recently and has become a bit of a staple is Juca Chaves ‘Take Me Back To Piaui’ a Brazilian 7” re-issued by Mr Bongo. Every time I play it someone asks what it is, which is awkward as I’m not sure how to pronounce it. Madlib’s ‘Slim’s Return’ is one more that I keep coming back to and also seems to work in most places. Ashford & Simpson’s ‘Stay Free’ will always go down well too as it has such broad appeal whether you are a disco, soul, house or Balearic head.
You seem an avid MixCloud user with a range of mixes, if you had to recommend one to a new listener on your feed what would it be?
It’s quite hard to select one, as post quite a variety of things. One of the reasons I started to use Mixcloud was as a way of being able to listen to my records on the move, so somewhat selfishly I was just recording selections for myself. Sometimes I’d post a collection of recent buys, or music on a particular label or by a particular artist. When others started to listen it was genuinely a bit of a thrill, and lovely to get positive feedback, but it also made me think a bit more about what I was uploading, so I started to theme a bit more carefully; hence tribute mixes to people who inspired me musically, end of years selections, basically selections that would have a bit of relevance one way or another. Now that I have to make one selection to recommend, it has to be one that I really enjoyed putting together. This is by no means the most popular upload, but I loved the idea of choosing music to be played at a Balearic pool party, possibly at some time in an imagined retro past, so my first ‘Dip In The Pool’ is a set I’d point to;
What labels, radio shows, blogs are doing it for you at the moment?
There is a huge amount of superb music being released at the moment, I think particularly strong labels are 22a & Rhythm Section who are really taking that jazz/broken beat sound into the 21st Century, First Word are putting out some incredible stuff too – recent highlights are Kaidi Tatham and Darkhouse Family in particular. Invisible Inc is a label I pick up a lot on too, Mukatsuku is always strong and I think Moton and Far Out are on fire at the minute too. However the smaller DIY labels like Talking Drums, Aficionado, Passport to Paradise and Balearic Social are also doing great things and ensuring that the more established indie labels have to keep fresh too.
Beyond record buying, I am enjoying Andy Smith’s Reach Out radio shows, Solid Steel is and always has been essential listening and it is hard to not mention Giles Peterson too. I am a Luddite at heart, so I still love print – The Move magazine is well worth picking up & I am thrilled to see Straight No Chaser back in the game too. I can’t wait for the next issue… Social Media is a mixed blessing, but it does have its place in sharing things, Facebook Groups like Black Crack and Quality Music Lovers are great ways to pick up on new music as well as sharing blog posts. Through Facebook I have hooked up with lots of like-minded souls, leading to providing selections for great curators like Dusk Dubs. I’d recommend people checking their site out for some stellar selections from the likes of Marc Mac, Saint Etienne, Mighty Zaf and many more…
Musically, who has influenced you? Who is your go to artist/bands/producers?
In terms of being a DJ, I think people like Giles Peterson and Andy Smith had a big early influence. DJ’s who weren’t pigeon holed into a genre inspired me; as I have learnt more about the history of DJ’ing you appreciate how being a DJ can mean very different approaches to music. Artists who I have really admired also fall into that category – not exclusively, but often. Madlib, Roy Ayers and Donald Byrd for example have managed to produce incredible music across different genres of music and as such they are artists whose records you can go back to again and again and often find something new. Of the current generation I think people like Henry Wu, Tenderlonious and Marc Mac/Dego are very similar in that they can produce incredible music without being confined by genre. 4 Hero to me are the modern day equivalent of Charles Stepney & Richard Evans, they really should be household names! Those that have been producing, recording and dj’ing to a high standard consistently over decades like Ashley Beedle, Andy Weatherall and Mr Scruff are also inspirations. Keeping what they do fresh and relevant after so many years tells you that staying enthusiastic and open-minded means that there should be no age limit to being a DJ.
Can you tell us a little about the mix, where it was recorded and what music is on it?
For this selection I have gone for a bit of a chilled back to mine vibe, there is a mix of old and new with some tracks that will be familiar to most, some old favourites and hopefully one or two that will be new to some. I recorded this at home in my record room, so had full reign to pick out whatever I wanted – if this skips around a bit then I blame having too much choice, one of the pleasures of dj’ing is sharing music, so there is always the temptation to want to squeeze in as broad a selection as possible.
I had to get tracks in by Roy Ayers, Serge Gainsbourg/J-C Vannier and David Axelrod in as they are musicians I just keep coming back to, so they really represent my tastes. Additionally there is a jazz influence that needed to be present as that is another genre that I love, a couple of Balearic chuggers, a nod to Dilla as well as a ‘Balearic’ type feel. I wanted to include something by Mixmaster Morris too – he spent a week up in Leeds last summer and has been hugely supportive of Downtown Science, so this is a gesture of thanks!
Lastly, outside of music, what else are you interested in - films, books, TV shows?
I really enjoy films, from the obvious stuff like Goodfellas & Jaws to older movies like Blow Up, Billy Liar and also foreign language films such as La Haine and the work of Almadovar. I’m no film buff, but will always be a sucker for a film with a great soundtrack – so I’ll always find an excuse to watch things like The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, Assault on Precinct 13 or Bullitt again and again.
I’d love to read more, but with full time work, kids and music there isn’t a lot of time left. However when I do read I love writers like John Wyndham, H.G. Wells and George Orwell. I’m a sucker for the sci-fi with political message novels of that era – one I’d recommend that seems to go under the radar a little is ‘The Death Of Grass’ by John Christopher. In terms of more current books I’m afraid to say I’m not at all high-brow – I’ve just read the two Alan Partridge books as well as Richard Ayoade’s book. I’m ashamed to admit I did that laughing out loud on public transport thing with that book.
Beyond film and books, I do enjoy art and design – photographic exhibitions appeal; for example the work of Martin Parr - who really captures people as well as places and time - is brilliant at making what he does appear simple. I really admire anyone who is able to take a photo that has such depth and resonance that it is able to tell a story.