Interview: ORIGINALS… Jamie Anderson, part one
Having grown up in a musical household in west London, Anderson cut his teeth in Bristol during the mid-90s – an exciting place and time for music – developing a reputation for a unique blend of house and techno that came to be known as tech house.
As well as Artform, he made regular appearances on labels such as NRK – on which he released the sublime Blue Music in 2001 – as well as Dave Angel’s Rotation, as well as putting in a stint for the likes of Cocoon, Bedrock, Fossil Archive and International Deejay Gigolos in what is now a 25-plus year career.
Now based in Berlin, 909originals caught up with him to discuss the people, places, and most importantly, the sounds that shaped his career.
Q. Jamie, thanks for talking to us. First question – how did you first get into music?
I grew up in London in the 70s, and my aunt used to run a festival in Switzerland called the Neon Folk Festival. It was similar to the Montreaux Jazz Festival, but for folk music. We used to go over there every year, and she was friends with Van Morrison and all these people, so I would be around lots of really big name musicians back when I was just a toddler.
So when I was growing up, it was normal to have musicians in the house, and they would teach me things – I was really inquisitive. When I went to school, I learned piano and cello, and took part in the school orchestra. When we moved to Bristol in 1986, my mum pushed me towards carrying on with my music.
She found me a teacher, Dave Buxton who was a jazz improvisation piano player. I studied with him twice a week for about eight years and he taught me everything from classical to jazz to music theory… everything I wanted to know, really.
It’s funny, my dad was a computer engineer and my mum was a theatre performer – she was actually in Star Wars, and a few other films – so you had both the technical and the theatrical influence when I was growing up. When I look back at that, it makes complete sense what I’m doing now. Actually, if you see my studio, it’s like a big mainframe computer – which is a nod to what my dad was doing, and when I’m going out on stage, that’s a nod to what my mum was doing.
Q. You left school just as the acid house movement was kicking off. What influence did that have on your musical career?
For the first time, it seemed like my generation had something to say with music. When I discovered it, I loved it.
When I had music lessons with Dave, I would bring in jazz records, and he would explain what was being played, how the chord structure worked, and what the musician was trying to do. As he would put it, there are set rules to music, and there are some rules that need to be broken.
One day, I brought in an acid house record, with a 303 line in it – I handed it to him, and said ‘explain that!’ It didn’t make any sense to me: it’s the same bassline, but it’s changing; rising and falling. He explained that the same notes were being played by the synthesiser, but the filters and resonance were changing the sound. It was the craziest sound I had ever heard, it didn’t make any sense… but it was amazing.
Q. The late 80s into the early 90s was an exciting time to be in Bristol, with the emergence of what would come to be known as trip hop. What was it like living through that?
In the late 80s in Bristol you had a lot of hip-hop nights – I guess it was the early trip hop stuff – and it was mixed with acid house. As acid house got bigger, you had the hip hop being pushed more and more to the back room, and for a lot of people they were split – ‘do I join the rave scene, or stick to my hip hop roots?
At one point the hip-hop was being made by early Detroit artists like Juan Atkins – that electro-style sound – so I think there’s a real link between hip hop and what came after it. Even with hardcore, they were using the same breakbeats that you had in hip hop, but speeded up.
It was a very inspirational time to be in Bristol. When I was leaving school, the Blue Lines album (Massive Attack’s debut) came out, and it was like ‘these are guys that I know from around town’.
I used to say hello to Tricky all the time, and all of a sudden he’s got an album out. To see them make it meant there was a possibility that you could do music for a living. A lot of people in Bristol were like, ‘we can do this’.
Q. Is there, or was there something about the city that gave rise to so many notable artists: Massive Attack, Tricky, Portishead et al?
When I arrived in the mid-80s, you could tell it was a really vibrant city. There were people skateboarding on the streets and music everywhere, and because it was a lot smaller than London, you had a real community spirit – all the artists were learning from each other.
I think this is part of the reason why you don’t see as many new genres these days. Now, if someone comes up with a new sound, it’s out there on Souncloud in hours, and people can hear it and come up with their own interpretation of it, immediately.
Back then, in Bristol, the people at the centre of the scene were able to develop their sound before the rest of the world heard it.
I remember when Massive Attack and Tricky got big, you suddenly had all these A&R guys coming up from London, signing anybody that made something that sounded like trip hop. The Bristol thing caught a lot of them off guard; they didn’t realise it had been going on for years.
Q. You were still quite young when you founded the Artform label. How did that come about?
I was just 21 or 22 when I started up the label. It was like there was an unwritten slate at the time – you could sample what you wanted, and create the sound you wanted, and it probably hadn’t been done before.
With Artform, I suppose the context was about taking everything I learned from jazz improvisation, and putting it into what I knew from the rave scene – it would give it a whole new context. I might be influenced by a Latin Jazz record, and put a 303 on top of it, and create an amazing piece of music that had never been heard before.
Q. Before Artform started, you were creating a tougher, rave-style sound, under the name Random Access?
When I left school, I joined this jazz-punk band – punk vocals over a jazz keyboard. It was a mish mash of people living in my area.
I had just bought an Atari ST and Cubase and one of the guys, Andy Wescott, helped me set up my ‘studio’. I was in my late teens or early 20s, and he was in his 30s, so he knew a hell of a lot more than I did about making music. I ended up doing the Random Access stuff with Andy.
It didn’t really have much of a direction, we were just having fun. I think if we had a set kind of view about what we wanted to do, we might have made something of it, but it was more of a spontaneous thing.
In terms of DJing, I think I got my first pair of decks when I was 17 – Technics decks, that is; before then, a friend might bring round his belt drive decks and we would try our hand at that.
Q. Which did you prefer, playing the decks or producing?
Producing. DJing is fun, but now it’s something that so many people do, it’s become sort of ingrained.
Before you had to go out and buy records, and get to know record labels and seek out promos. Today, there’s not that much to it. It’s not a difficult task to be a good DJ now.
Q. When did you start developing the ‘Artform’ sound, which would later become known as tech house?
From about 1992 or 93. There wasn’t really a market for it at the time, it wasn’t established. I think Dave Angel paved the way in the UK for that sort of sound; plus you had Jeff Mills and some of the Detroit artists trying something different.
When I started making music, I was working in a record shop in Bristol, and every Wednesday, you would get a new delivery of records – lots of Detroit stuff, imports. I used to feel sorry for the people that went into the shop, because if there an amazing record came in, it wouldn’t go on the shelves at all, I would buy it myself!
They’re quite expensive as well, so for that reason I never really made any money while working in the shop. Anything I made went straight on records.