Andy Smith Interview
Though Andy Smith is most widely known as the "Portishead DJ", he is a remarkable talent in his own right. With a string of his own "Document" mix albums already in circulation and last year's "Andy Smith's Northern Soul" mix, Andy is poised to make more waves in the industry in 2006 with his new "Trojan Document" out now on Trojan Records...
GJ: How long have you been making tapes?
AS: I was doing pause tapes in the late 70's (mainly with disco & pop records) trying to emulate a couple of DJ's that I had heard on the radio in the UK ('Froggy' & 'Alan Coulthard'). They were the first DJ's that I ever heard mix records together.
GJ: How were you introduced to deejaying?
AS: Via the above DJ's - 'Alan Coulthard' used to do a special slot on Tony Prince's Disco import show on radio Luxembourg. 'Froggy' used to do a special mix slot on Radio 1.
GJ: How were you introduced to turntablism?
AS: I heard 'Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel' and was blown away, then Davy DMX (on tour with Kurtis Blow) and Grandmixer DST (on tour with Herbie Hancock) was actually when I watched it!
GJ: How many records are in your collection?
AS: I've never counted them - one room and a loft are pretty much full now!
GJ: Are you tired of lugging them around?
AS: Well they are heavy, but I'd rather lug them around the world than use CD's or a computer - I just like vinyl too much, and as promoters pay excess baggage I'm not thinking that I'll change (I must be one of a dying breed!). I've just been doing it for too long on vinyl.
GJ: Have you considered Serato?
AS: I use a computer all day long, and don't want to use one in a club!
GJ: How much actual scratching do you do when you spin at a party?
AS: Quite a bit (If the mixer lends itself to the art - some mixers I have to use are useless!) - I think it always adds to the party and I hate DJ's that just stand there waiting for the track to end - I've got to keep busy to keep the excitement up.
GJ: Did you teach yourself or was there someone you explored the art with as a youngster?
AS: It's all self taught! - When I met Geoff Barrow (Portishead producer) it was interesting as he had a different style to me and it was good to compare techniques (I still think he is more musical than me, but I'm more into doubles!).
GJ: When was the last time you worked with Portishead?
AS: The last Portishead tour in 1998.
GJ: What were you doing before you started working with them?
AS: Working in an office and DJing at weekends whenever I could,
GJ: What happened with Dynamo Productions?
AS: We split to do different projects (Scott to do his Boca 45 project & me to do more mix CD's) - The idea is to get back together at some point.
GJ: When did you first get into skinhead reggae?
AS: I first got into roots & dub reggae off the back of punk in the late 70's and then started to check out earlier stuff.
GJ: How did you hook up with Trojan Records for the new release?
AS: 'Document 3' was released on Sanctuary records (who own the 'Trojan' back catalogue in the UK), so it was them who asked me if I wanted to do a 'Trojan' compilation.
GJ: Are these all records out of your own collection?
AS: Unfortunately not! - about 50% of them were mine & the rest came from them. I had fun putting it together (I added a lot of the effects, rewinds and vocal parts!).
GJ: What was the criteria for selections which made it on the album?
AS: Anything that I wanted to put on - I received a monster stack of CD's that took me a couple of weeks to go through and I just picked out the ones that stood out to me. Four tracks were licsensed from other labels (the three 80's dancehall tracks near the end to complete the whole spectrum of reggae that I wanted to cover, and the Gregory Isaacs track wasn't owned by 'Trojan' (although had been on a previous 'Trojan' compilation).
GJ: Did you make a point to include a few tracks which were sampled in hiphop tunes?
AS: I didn't really have that specifically in mind. I have heard a Madlib track since I've done the mix that samples parts of the King Tubby track though!
GJ: Do you think that recently there's been renewed interest in the classic ska sound or is this a labor of love for you?
AS: I think that there is some renewed interest in ska and roots due to labels like Soul Jazz putting out compilations (with good distribution!) and as they are on vinyl a lot of DJ's play the tracks out around the UK.
GJ: Do you have any "drunkest guy I ever saw" stories?
AS: Last Sunday at Madame Jo'Jo's a drunk guy came up to the decks (I was playing 'Justin Hinds' at the time) with no regard for the fact that his hand was near the turntable so I put my arm along the side of the deck while we were talking. He then turned and left, I turned to look at my records, only to see him decide that he was going to ask me something else and so returned only to wave his arm straight on the deck and knocked the record off!!
GJ: Are you spinning a regular gig in the UK nowadays?
AS: Yes, I do Madame Jo-Jo's every Sunday with Keb Darge, the Jazz Cafe every other month (my Northern Soul night), Cargo in Shoreditch, London every other month ('Andy Smiths Document' Live night), The Big Chill Bar in Brick Lane, London ('Tamla Tuesday' - Motown and Tamla night every first Tuesday of the month with Motown UK/Universal) & various regular nights around the UK.
GJ: Were you ever a "battle" DJ?
AS: I did go into the DMC's in the late 80's - I usually got through to the evening event but never won anything.
GJ: What record are you still searching high and low for?
AS: At the moment 'Why When Love has Gone' by The Isley Brothers (Tamla) - Not that rare but I dont seem to be able to turn one up at the moment!
GJ: Who are your favorite emcees?
AS: Rakim, Big L, Lord Finesse
GJ: How do you clean your records?
AS: Washing Up liquid in the sink.
GJ: Whats the most you've spent on a record?
AS: Probably about £60-£70
GJ: Any odd airport experiences?
AS: In Moscow a russian taxi driver (who didn't speak english) left me at the wrong airport to get my flight back home. I had to use my mobile phone (with barely any power left in it) to call the promoter to talk to another taxi driver to tell him where I should go (and not rip me off!) - I got to the correct airport late expecting to miss my flight, but luckily the flight had been delayed.
GJ: What work are you proudest of?
AS: I'm happy that I was given the opportunity to do my own CD's, and that I have managed to sustain a career of DJing and doing more CD's without relying on the big 'P'.
I was quite happy that the intro of 'Document 2' was used on a national UK TV programme last night just before the England Vs Sweden World cup game! - The thought of 10 million people hearing me mix Kate Bush into Craig G is kind of mad!
GJ: Andy Smith can be found at his website www.djandysmith.com and his outstanding new album "DJ Andy Smith Presents: Trojan Document" can be purchased at www.trojanrecords.com or previewed freely on his own site. Folks in the UK should take some time and check out one of his regular club nights as well, as this is one DJ with some tasty platters.
- Gentle Jones