Rich Furness discusses rave, Top of the Pops and synthesizer rest homes with Andrew Meecham ahead of the return of Bizarre Inc on August 13th.
Last updated: 20th Jul 2016. Originally published: 13th Jul 2016
Photo: Andrew Meecham
Have a look at a track listing on any old skool rave or 90s dance compilation, and it's highly likely that you will find a track by Bizarre Inc. Originally a duo consisting of Dean Meredith and future Altern8 hero Mark Archer, they later found huge success as a trio consisting of Dean, Carl Turner and Andrew Meecham, releasing three albums and seven Top 40 singles in the UK in the early half of the decade.
Their singles included the anthems 'Playing With Knives' (which is still being regularly bootlegged and remixed over twenty years later) and 'I'm Gonna Get Ya'. The group's early appearances on Top Of The Pops and early morning Saturday TV shows are many of a certain generation's (this writer included) earliest experiences with dance music.
After calling it a day in 1996, Dean and Andy went on to form one of the most successful acts of the late 90s and early millennium with the Chicken Lips moniker. They enjoyed a whirlwind period, where as well as releasing a plethora of original material including the sleeper mega hit 'He Not In' - a record that grew exorbitantly in popularity from its release in 2000 over the course of the decade - they were one of the most in demand and prolific remixers in the UK.
After 20 years away, Andy is returning in August to perform for Hacketts at Club Domain in Blackpool under the Bizarre Inc name once more. Ahead of the show we sat down with him to discuss rave revivalism, creating a rest home for vintage synths at a llama farm, and being excited when you spot the bloke from The Scorpions at Top Of The Pops...
So on Saturday August 13th, for the first time in 20 years you'll be performing under the Bizarre Inc name again at Hacketts in Blackpool. You did say in an interview three years ago when you re-released 'Playing With Knives' that is was unlikely you would reform, so why is now the right time?
I got talked into it! I got asked the question a lot and I'd be like 'no, no, no', because everything that I'm doing currently is doing ok for me not to rewind, but you know what, one day I just thought ''sod it! I'll do it'' because it will be good fun.
I thought the way that I could do it and the way I'd be happier doing it, is to do it completely live, but only do the music from like 89-91. So that means no 'I'm Gonna Get You' or 'Keep The Music Strong', none of that stuff, all the proper kind of early stuff that for me was my favourite part of it all really.
So when you say it will be completely live it will be all analogue equipment with you onstage?
Oh yeah, it's going to be no laptops, all sequencers and samplers, fully live!
And while it's unlikely we'll hear 'I'm Gonna Get You', can we expect to hear the rest of the Bizarre Inc classics?
Definitely, I'll still be doing 'Such A Feeling' (below), 'Playing With Knives', 'Plutonic', you know all the better stuff in my opinion. I mean 'I'm Gonna Get You', it was a good track and it made us some money but it was a pop song really...
Do you think as well that without having the original vocalists onstage with you that sort of track might not work as well?
Well I did think about doing 'I'm Gonna Get You' I'll be honest, and I thought if I did it, I'd completely mangle it and use the original Jocelyn Brown sample and kind of cut it all up with some beats and it could work quite well, but with the set list I've got it's not in there at the moment, but you know things can change, but the idea is to concentrate on the early stuff.
You once said that signing to a major label was the biggest mistake you ever made, why was that?
They tried to change us. We signed to erm... who was it we signed to... I forget now [laughs] Warners or someone, I can't remember! Basically they said, "Can we have more like 'I'm Gonna Get You'" and we were like, ''What? you know we are trying to push things forward here?"
I don't know, we just felt like a very small cog in a big machine, whereas with a smaller label you can kind of speak to the boss and speak to the press, speak to any kind of department if there is one and have a lot more freedom.
So the only good thing to come out of it really was money because I think it completely killed Bizarre Inc and ruined it. Which is why Chicken Lips formed to kind of go back to what Bizarre Inc was about really, which is club music.
You were flung into the pop charts at quite a young age, and one of my earliest rave memories as a kid is seeing you on Top of The Pops bouncing away behind your keyboards. How surreal was it to go straight into the limelight like that, and do you have any interesting tales to tell from back then from being in that sort of environment?
We were just like blithering idiots really! We got there and I remember we did a lot of laughing and giggling...
How old were you when you first did Top Of The Pops?
I was 24 or 26 I think. So we were just like, ''No way there's Annie Lennox'' or ''No way there's that guy from The Scorpions'', so we just had a laugh and nothing was serious because we were younger. It was wicked to do and I'm dead chuffed and proud of myself that we managed to get on the show.
I mean, I think we did it something like five times because we were lucky with the chart climbs. The only thing that did happen, I forget which track we were doing now, is one of the keyboard stands fell down when they were recording, and they were like, ''Oh it will be fine'' but on the recording you can actually see me holding the stand throughout the performance. But apart from that there were a lot of fun and frolics that went on backstage in the dressing room.
And did you have to mime on there?
Yeah you did, but I think Top Of The Pops tried to introduce live vocals later on, they did it and I think we used a singer called Yvonne Yanney. I can't remember what track it was now, and she sung live and when we watched the playback it was absolutely awful, they'd put loads of delay and reverb on the vocal and it was a complete mess.
I think you also had to cover up the names of synthesizers, covering up the Roland name and stuff, it was all to do with the kind of unions. You couldn't plug anything in onstage, it was all a bit mad really.
I suppose it's all because of the advertising regulations for the BBC as well...
Probably, I mean I think it's when we did 'Such A Feeling' on there you can see Dean and he's got a 808 drum machine when it should have been a 909, and they've got a few things wrong. But it was all fun to do at the end of the day and I'm glad I got to do it.
You mentioned Dean there, so, very quickly, will Dean be joining you in August?
No. He's unsure Dean is. I mean he was all up for it at one point but then he has got such a lot going on at the moment so he couldn't really do it. Carl left the band obviously, so it's only me and Cameron left, so it's just me and Cameron doing the August gig.
You're coming very close to 30 years of producing now, so would you ever consider writing a memoir or book like your old production partner Mark Archer has done?
Yeah yeah, I mean maybe. I've chatted to Mark and I did a bit for his new book but then I think I don't know, what can I say? I mean there are a lot of stories and a lot of things that could be unravelled, but I don't know... maybe I will, we'll see!
Now you don't DJ in clubs as much nowadays as you once did...
Well we did a lot as Chicken Lips and I do still play out sometimes but it has to be the right party for me nowadays. When we were playing out as Chicken Lips often I'd have a really bad bout of tinnitus, and Chicken Lips went really mental really quickly. When something's so full on you get tired quite quickly.
Some people might disagree with that, but for me I like to kind of have a break and my ears were just wrecked during the week when I wanted to go in the studio. The bass was sort of making my head throb so I kind of just wanted to cut it down a bit, and then it naturally died down as things do.
I remember a few years ago seeing you had moved all your studio equipment to a llama farm, which you described as a "rest home for vintage synths". How did that move come about and how has it gone since you made the switch?
It's great. I met my daughters at Rainbows once, that's the one before Brownies, and I got chatting to one of their friend's Dads one night and he said to me, ''Oh you're into synthesizers aren't you'' and I just said, ''Erm, yeah I am''. So he tells me that a mate of his has got loads of synths but he doesn't know how to use them, and says he'll introduce me one day.
So I went up there, and he basically just had synthesizers coming out of his arse really, just all stored up, it's ridiculous. Basically I told him they need to be switched on and that he couldn't leave them like that because they're worth thousands, and we kind of just chatted and we decided they should all go into the barn.
So I moved all my gear up there with his and we kind of joined forces really. It is just a barn full of synthesizers that are old, I would say 90% work. It's great up there it's really good, it's nice and quiet and I don't get bothered by anybody.
Is it right that you and Richard (the co-owner) envisage it as a synth resource in many respects, and some producers by special invite might be able to come down the farm and use the resources you have there. Has anyone taken you up on that offer?
There's a few but I can't mention names at the minute [laughs] the only person you might know I can say is Raf Daddy from The 2 Bears. I've had some visits from other people and I'm working with a band at the moment, but I've got to keep that under my hat.
I mean I'll open the doors to people but it's not going to be that every Tom, Dick and Harry can come. It's kind of just for people that I respect musically really and it won't be available 24/7, it's probably just going to be when I'm not using it which is probably going to be never!
But the doors will be open at various times of the year and people have asked and emailed me can they come down and I've said, "Just let me know the dates." I mean there's been a few people I really respect who want to come down and have a play.
In the past few years there's been a surge of rave nostalgia, with producers like Special Request and Lone taking influence from rave and putting a modern twist on it. Some critics have said that it's simply rehashing old ideas, I was just wondering as a rave pioneer yourself what you thought about modern producers looking back?
If it's done right... I mean the thing is with the old skool kind of rave stuff, it was simple, and when I listen back to some of our old stuff like 'Such A Feeling' I think, ''God there's hardly any music to this.'' There's nothing to it if I compare it to an Emperor Machine production which has got so many tracks.
So I think if it works and people can do it right then it's good to mix old with new. I did it with the Future Four project with Erol Alkan where I used all the Bizarre Inc sounds and that was kind of my take on that really.
I did a mix recently and the guy wanted it to be quite 'ravey' and I was thinking, ''Wow, people are using the word rave again." For me it's just breakbeats and madness really, that's what rave used to be. One thing I'd say is that there doesn't seem to be as much horror in it now, there was a lot of kind of horror to a lot of old tracks...
That's such a good point actually, I mean if you actually think about all those old 'darkside' tracks and the hoover sound, it was influenced a lot by horror. And you know, tunes like T99 'Anasthasia' , on the face of it that track is terrifying!
I mean it was quite scary some of the riffs, kind of like horror stabby riffs, it was great, but that does seem to be missing a bit nowadays.
You've mainly dealt with 4/4 productions in your time, would you ever or have you been tempted to dip your toes into some other genres you're not associated with? You mentioned you're working with a band, so for example would you be tempted to produce pop if you got the call?
Kind of, and things like that do happen. Sometimes I say no but it all depends on the music, I don't care if its funk, rock, soul or pop as long as the track is good and I think I can do something with it.
But I just kind of plod on really, truck on until something comes up. I don't go searching for stuff, but I'm always up for listening to ideas. I mean I've done some stuff for TV as well, some stuff for Sony PlayStation games and things like that... not as much as I would like to do that but that's quite a competitive area really.
You did say once that as a music listener, you're more likely to be swept away by a vintage album rather than seek out new music, but as someone who is so obviously devoted to the studio and making music under so many aliases, I'm quite interested to know what new artists, if any, of the past few years you've found any inspiration from?
There's a couple, there's Timothy J. Fairplay and Rodion, and the new Andrew Weatherall album's good. What it is with me is that I go up to the farm and I get stuck in an era, and I don't kind of delve into what everyone else is doing because as soon as I start doing that I start getting inspired by something I maybe don't want to get inspired by.
Now we have obviously mentioned a few of them briefly, but I couldn't not ask about some of your many other aliases and for any news on them. So we'll fire through them because there are a few. First up, it's been four years since any Chicken Lips material, is there anything brewing on the farm we should know about?
There is stuff brewing yeah and there's a solar that has got quite a few ideas in. Me and Dean have had quite a few phone calls, the problem being now is getting and finding a time that suits us both.
Whereas all the early Chicken Lips stuff, you know there was no family and there were no kids, there was none of that so we could just get together anytime, where now it's just a bit difficult to slot everything in. But yeah it's on the cards and we are up for it and we've had a chat and we've been exchanging tracks and music, so it's definitely happening at some point.
I'm sure a lot of people will be happy to hear that! Now onto The Emperor Machine, I saw a post a couple of months back where you said something was coming up...
Yeah there's two new EPs coming out with Prins Thomas, which have been delivered and cut and everything, and they're ready to go I think. There's kind of a label in motion too, it's going to be an output for me being a bit weird, if you know what I mean?
Just me experimenting with stuff and putting it out, and I might sell it or I might not. And of course I'm working with this band as well who I can't mention!
Is it quite a big name band you are working with?
Pretty much, they're very well known. I wouldn't say who yet because you know sometimes you speak too son and it can just fail. I did work on the Visage thing for a while but that went all wrong. It was quite exciting but it went a little pear shaped.
But this is good actually it's nice and slow, they've been up a few times and we are doing bits at a time.
And last but not least, I'll finish with Future Four, your collabs with Erol Alkan (listen to 'Gwad Bwash' above), could we expect any more from that in the future?
Yeah, there's an EP that I'd say is about 80% finished. Erol's been doing the Beyond The Wizards Sleeve stuff at the moment so he's been really busy with that.
Like with Chicken Lips it's just a case of trying to fit everything in is always the problem. But yeah everything is on the go, Future Four, Chicken Lips, The Emperor Machine... it's all kind of bubbling and brewing, stuff's done.
And you've brought Bizarre Inc back as well just to give you a bit more to do!
[Laughs] Yeah! I mean for me I'm not too bothered if there's any more gigs with Bizarre Inc. There has been more gig offers from that, but I don't know, I'm really looking forward to the August gig as it's going to be ace and I'm going to be quite emotional.
If that's the only one then that's absolutely fine.
And finally, with all that on the go, do you ever sleep?!