Andy Meecham

M interviewed Bizarre Inc and Emperor Machine main man Andy Meecham on how he helped invent rave…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 31 Oct 2013
  • min read
Club music and rave culture wouldn’t be as half as interesting without analogue synth lover Andy Meecham.

As one half of original dance pioneers, Bizarre Inc, he was there at the start of club music, dipping his synthesisers into its primordial soup. Through his Chicken Lips, Emperor Machine and Future Four (with Erol Alkan) projects, he’s played a key role in shaping the way dance floors have been moving for more than 20 years.

Bizarre Inc’s Playing with Knives is probably Andy’s best known work. This euphoric explosion of pure rave music helped kick off the second summer love, inspiring a generation of youths to wear t-shirts with smiley faces and begin bulk buying tubs of vick’s vapour rub.

His other work isn’t quite as ubiquitous, but he’s become one of the UK’s most respected producers via an uncanny ability to plug his machines into the very heart of the dance floor. He Not In by Chicken Lips, Mandy Mutron by Emperor Machine or his more acidic material with Future Four show off an incredible versatility as a producer. He knows how to make you move your body.

M had the pleasure of quizzing Andy about the 25th anniversary of Playing with Knives, synths and recording on a llama farm…

How did you first get involved in electronic music?

The first record for me was Afrika Bambaataa’s Planet Rock. I watched it on the Tube and just thought it was perfect. It made me want to make music. Before that I was listening to John Foxx courtesy of my sister. That’s when I was into noises. My family were into hi-fi.

How did you first start making music?

Blue Chip studio in Stafford was where I got my first break. I went in as a keyboard player along with Chris from Altern8. That’s where I met Dean [Meredith – long-term musical partner in crime] and where Bizarre Inc started. We were employed as keyboard players and studio engineers. That was me and Chris Peak. Mark Archer [Altern8] and Dean were already starting to make music in there. We just joined in.

This year sees the 25th anniversary of Playing with Knives - did that song feel like a watershed career moment?

Well Vinyl Solution didn’t like it to start off with. It confused them. We had to convince them to put it out. They didn’t get it because of the abrupt change in the song. But it just took off. It was the timing. It was spot on. But it was a pure fluke. It came out in 1991 and went just outside the top 40. We were playing it everywhere as Bizarre Inc. All the big raves.

Did you think the song would have such a long lifespan?

Not at all. We went to a studio called Out of Blue in Manchester and worked with this engineer called Adam Lesser. It was him really. At the time we were making stuff at home but he polished it. Me, Dean and Carl Turner went there - we worked through the night on it. It took us a day and a half to put it together. I remember lying on a sofa sleeping while the engineer Adam was messing with a bass drum or working on the vocal sample we used. It was that intense and the longest studio session I’d been on.

We didn’t know it was gonna be a hit. We just thought it was good. Dean took it to Graeme Park. He was the first person to play it and apparently the place just erupted. And Dean came back the next day said: ‘It’s gonna be massive mate’. We called it the Quadrant Park mix after the club where it was first played.

Why have you worked under so many different guises?  

Chicken Lips started towards the end of Bizarre Inc. There were ‘musical differences’ there. It fizzled. When Carl left the studio, we would carry on writing other tracks. It wasn’t behind Carl’s back. We just started writing and saving these tracks.

We were drunk and a friend of ours said I had Chicken Lips because I couldn’t speak properly. That’s how it started. We signed to King Size. Sometimes going under another name releases the baggage of previous projects. It lets you start again.

Have you a new Emperor Machine record coming out?  

Yes. I’ve signed to Southern Fried. I’ve getting loads of requests to play live and DJ and I’ve been turning them down for some time. It’s got to the point where I need to start saying yes. We’re working out what form the live gigs will be – whether a full live band or not. I’m excited about it.

Where do you record?

I’ve got a lot of gear at home but I recently met this guy called Richard Hale. He owns the Llama Farm which is where I’ve started recording. He does actually breed llamas. When I met him, he had all this equipment in storage. We decided to set up all his synths and I used them to record my album. He’s a bizarre but nice guy who also collects synths. I’m moving all my studio gear to his farm.

Do you have a favourite piece of gear?

It varies from track to track. At the moment I’m using an SH7, a Roland SH7 – but a few weeks I was just using a Juno 6 which I’ve always liked. So there isn’t a favourite. If I had to go on a desert island, it would probably be an EMSVCS3 I would take. I’ve got quite a few synths. But not as many as the llama farmer.

Which new artists are you into at the minute?

Still old music to be honest. I don’t follow many new artists. I don’t get inspired by what others are doing at the minute. I still listen to John Foxx, Yellow Magic or even Depeche Mode, some old electro. I know what works on the floor and what doesn’t so the inspiration comes from just playing on the synth. When I get a riff I’ll get inspired and it’ll grow from there.

How did Future Four come about?

Erol Alkan’s been playing a lot of my music and talking about it over the last few years. So I got in touch with him and we decided on a concept – we want to move it forward but keep a dancefloor element. Erol mixed it. He toughened it up. The songs sounded enormous when he sent them back. My mixing techniques are more 70s or 80s. Erol made this old style music sound like the future. I’m really excited about that project and he’s a great guy to work with.

What’s your career highlight?

Kananana is my favourite Emperor Machine track. I’m super proud of Bizarre Inc and how Playing with Knives continues to roll on and on. It always pops up at Xmas like Slade. But obviously not as big as Slade. Chicken Lips He Not In was done in an afternoon as a filler. I've always found that speed and keeping it simple work really well. It’s the ones I’m into that don’t sell.