Andy Smith is the DJ behind one of the best mix CDs ever recorded, The Document, and it’s follow up, the Document II. He’s also one half of the incredibly upbeat and funky Dynamo Productions with Boca45 (Scott Hendy), and in a little unknown group called Portishead as tour DJ and sample finder. On tour recently to promote the new Dynamo Productions Get It Together, which features remixes of their finest tunes as well as a few new ones, I managed to catch up with Smith after a very successful Melbourne solo gig. “We’re not going to Adelaide or Brisbane,” he laments. “I asked the promoter why how come and they didn’t really give a good answer, so I don’t know why were not going!”
“I did a Northern Soul night last night in Melbourne,” he states, “It’s a bit of a hobby for me,” he claims of the Northern Soul music. Relatively unknown in Australia, Northern Soul, called that because DJs in the North of England in the 70s would play this rare American pre-disco soul music, is regaining popularity in the UK. Smith got into it by digging for records. “If I found a label that was interesting I’d listen to it on my portable turntable and I guess I must have heard a few things… like the uplifting vibe on this one, or the fantastic voice on that, or it had a piece of music that was just amazing. I’ve started up a monthly club in London, and that’s become one of my favourite club nights, it means I can go a bit deeper, do something a bit different.”
Deeper and different is what Andy Smith is all about. From the sombre sounds of Portishead, to the upbeat tempo of Dynamo Production, to making mix CDs that feature James Brown, Cut Chemist and Kate Bush, Smith has a diverse and interesting musical knowledge that he clearly wants to share with people. “Basically my role within Portishead was finding samples, obviously I’ve got a big record collection. Before I met Jeff Barrow, (the main producer behind Portishead), I was a DJ… obviously I still am,” he chuckles, “and when I met him at the youth club, in Portishead (the city from which they got their name), I was cutting up funk and hip hop, and he was one of the few people around who understood what it was all about. The whole Portishead sound is from Jeff, utilising the bits of the records I was finding him. When they went on tour, he was keen to help people realise the origin of the Portishead sound. That’s why I did the warm up set playing original breaks and hiphop and a crazy kinda scratch mix before the show, to show people where their sound came from.”
Given that both his mixes and the Dynamo Production stuff is so upbeat, I wondered if the being the Portishead DJ had its drawbacks. “Depending on where I am in the world,” he says “Some places in Europe, I’ll go to a gig, someone will come up to me and ask me to play a Portishead record, which annoys me really,” he grumbles, “as they don’t know about the Dynamo productions, but by the end of the night they will know. The Dynamo stuff is more me,” he pauses. “I like being in a club and rocking the crowd, seeing the smiling faces and people having a great time. Doing the Portishead thing is great because I get to play my stuff to a different environment, but week in week out, I’m a club DJ.”
The Document II was an astounding mix, and testament to his skills as a DJ. “I have a rough plan, but it all comes down to what you can get cleared (by the record company)”, he says of his mixes. “I might submit 20 tracks and get only 6 or 7 back. So I might have two tracks that mix really well, but one might get rejected, so I have to go back and put them together the best I can. I was really lucky to get that Kate Bush track,” he laughs. “I really wanted to do a mix that had a totally different intro, to make people go “wow, it’s got Kate Bush on the intro”. Some people don’t understand why I’ve got Kate Bush on there at all, they’re like ‘what’s that got to do with it?’ whereas others think it’s something really special, but as long as people talk about it, I really don’t care!” he chuckles, “but I was really lucky to get that and the track that hiphop track that mixes into it. I think Kate Bush has done some fantastic music, and if someone picks up that CD because it’s got Ultramagnetic MCs on it and then think ‘oh, I actually like that Kate Bush track now’… it’s all about opening up people to the music.”
Smith loves the scene in Australia, and he and Scott Hendy seem to have a rapport with Aussie artists, having done remixes for the Resin Dogs and Katalyst. “We did those remixes because we come out here a bit, and the Resin Dogs were kinda into what we were doing and simply asked us. The link with Katalyst is through the label (Invada) and last tour. The scene out here seems pretty good for what we do; our album did better in Australia than anywhere else in the world, which comes down to the promotion invada gave it really, and the crowd here seem to be into what we’re doing. In the UK if there’s no scene for ‘that thing of the minute’, people might pass it by, whereas over here people just listen to it, they don’t really care what they ‘should’ be listening to. The UK press tries to tell people what they ‘should’ be into, but here people listen to what they want, which is a lot healthier really.”
The new Dynamo Productions album features remixes by Katalyst, One Cut, Krafty Kuts and Jimi Ently Sound. “I’ve known Krafty (Martin Reeves) for quite a few years. We’ve always thought about getting him to do a remix. Most of the people we remixed we knew, and offered to do their remixes, so I think we owe a few people some remixes,” Smith laughs. “The Jimi Ently Sound were a band that used to play at Holiday Camps in the UK in the 60s. Someone found a master tape of them doing a version of Apache (originally by Cliff Richard and the Shadows), which then got put out on a 45… But it’s a scam,” he admists with a laugh”, it’s Jeff Barrow and Adrian Utley from Portishead who wanted to do some things under a different name without people buying them because they were Portishead. It now says “produced by Portishead”, but originally it was going to be a quiet sideline,” he chuckles again.
For the future, both he and Scott have a lot on their plate, and the continued collaboration may come to an end. “ I’ve got a Northern Soul mix out in October for BGP records, and then maybe I need to make a few more phone calls, send a few more emails and get working on Document III,” he says. “Scott’s done a solo album, out on invada, under the guise Boca45 called Pitch Sounds which is also out in October, so he’ll probably be doing promo stuff for that for a while, and if that goes well he might want to continue the solo stuff… but I think we’ll probably at some point get back together and do something, I’m just not sure when,” he adds optimistically.