Superstore boss Dan Beaumont recently had the opportunity to interview the amazing Sean Johnston, one half of the cosmic A Love From Outer Space. Here, Sean tells us how he got into DJing, how he met his ALFOS partner-in-crime Andrew Weatherall, his exclusive dancefloor killers and all about his ongoing production project Hardway Bros ahead of tomorrow night's party...
It all started in the mid ‘80s. I was a young lad growing up in Hull and my introduction to nightclubbing was the Wellington Club, or the Welly Club as it’s affectionately known in Hull. I used to go to a clubnight there that was run by Ragna Gift, sister of Roland Gift from the Fine Young Cannibals. It was essentially a northern soul and motown night, and the resident DJs were Porky and Steve Cobby, who went on to start Pork Recordings. I used to go down there and drink Newcastle Brown and dance and that was really my introduction to nightclubbing.
My introduction to DJing also came through the Welly Club. Roundabout the summer of 1985, an ex girlfriend of mine who was a student in Leeds said to me, “What’s house music? Have you heard of house music?” and I was like “No, I haven’t.” But being a curious lad, the next time I was in Manchester, I tracked down some records and the first thing that I bought was Hercules – 7 Ways To Jack. After that I was done and that was the only kind of music that I wanted to buy.
I’m pretty sure I persuaded Ragna to let me DJ upstairs at the Welly Club. I’d like to think she invited me but I’m sure I just blagged a gig. I was playing early house records, things like Steve Silk Hurley and Hercules. They were the kind of things you could pick up on Trax and DJ International but at the time there wasn’t enough house music to be playing a whole night of it so I was also playing stuff like Orange Juice and Depeche Mode and Tackhead and a whole bunch of other stuff from my record collection that was danceable.
MOVING TO LONDON
I moved to London in 1988 and I got a job as a booking agent, booking various dodgy indie bands into college balls. As part and parcel of the job I had to go out a lot to a lot of clubs. As a result of this I got to know the two guys that DJ’ed at The Camden Palace and who did the legendary Tuesday night there. It was a really big indie night in the ‘80s run by Jonathan and Eko. Eko was a real indie kid but Jonathan was a bit of a clubber and I used to go out with him to various places when he was dropping flyers off. He took me to Pyramid at Heaven, which was a Wednesday night gig that Mark Moore used to play at and it was probably one of the first clubs in London to play house music regularly. Over the course of that summer things just blew up monumentally. I mean, everybody knows what happened, but it was just the right time to be in London.
MEETING ANDREW WEATHERALL
I was moving in fairly low-level music business circles and I’d gotten to know Jeff Barrett, who at the time was a press officer for New Order and he was just about to start up Heavenly Records. Jeff kinda took me under his wing really; saw that I was enthusiastic about music and saw that I was trying to get things going on the DJ front. Jeff’s a good guy and he helped me out.
Around the time of the whole Primal Scream, Alan McGee thing, Jeff was basically the conduit for the Boys Own guys getting involved with them, so Jeff just introduced me to Andrew. We’ve been in and out of each other’s orbits ever since.
During the ‘90s I made some music for his label The Sabres Of Paradise and over the years I’ve been in and out of the studio and he’s always been interested in what I was doing. About four years ago he rang me and said “Seany, can you do me a favour? My regular driver’s let me down, can you give me a lift to Brighton?” So he got in the car and said, “What have you got to listen to?” And the only thing I had was a CD with a mix that I’d made of stuff that I was really interested in at the time and had made purely for my own entertainment. And it was all this slow BPM, nu-beaty, disco, weird slow psychedelic music. He sat and listened to it and said, “I can’t believe this, I’ve been buying this sort of stuff and we’re both on exactly the same wave-length. We should really do something.”
This idea kinda percolated for about a year and then he did that Watch The Ride compilation and I did the launch party for that, which went really well. Then Nathan Gregory Wilkins became involved in The Drop. He said, “I’m starting this new club, The Drop, I’m programming it- do you wanna do something?” So I mentioned it to Andrew and he said, “Yeah let’s do it, let’s do this thing.” Which is how A Love From Outer Space came about.
There was no masterplan to slow things down, it was just that Andrew and I had been listening to the same type of music and we thought, okay 80 people in basement, we’ll give it a go and see how it works out.
THE MUSIC OF A LOVE FROM OUTER SPACE
Trying to describe the music that constitutes A Love From Outer Space is a pretty difficult thing to do. Funnily enough we’ve started it in Glasgow too, we have a residency there and I was standing outside The Barclay Suite where we do the night, and a lad came up to me and said “Sean, the thing about this music that you play is that you’ve got to have been through the whole thing to understand it.” And I think that crystallised for me what it was really about. The kind of music that we play is very similar in attitude to the Balearic stuff that Andrew was playing 20 years ago but it’s informed by all the progressive house and techno of the ‘90s, disco, psychedelic music, kraut-rock; kind of a distillation of 25 years of listening to music. That’s essentially what it is.
THREE RECORDS REPRESENTATIVE OF ALFOS
The first thing I’d pick is a Scott Fraser production that came out on Relish, which is Headman’s label. It’s a track called Paraphrase Mine. In this instance it’s in the form of Robi/Headman’s remix. It’s 110 BPM. It’s analogue. It’s wonky. And it’s got a massive bassline. It’s primetime ALFOS material.
Scott Fraser - Paraphrase Mine (Robi Insinna // Headman Rework) [Relish]
This is an edit by Haules Baules, otherwise known as Logan Fisher of the parish of Edinburgh. It’s called Creeper but it is in fact a masterful re-edit of The Scat Brothers – Walk The Night. Logan made it about two years ago and gave me a wav of. It hasn’t come out so it’s pretty much an exclusive secret weapon but every time I play it at ALFOS people go absolutely spastic.
Haules Baules - Creeper
Finally, this is one from my partner in crime, it’s Kölsch – Der Alte and it came out on Kompakt earlier this year. It’s a piano house record and it sounds like it could have been made anytime, from yesterday to 25 years ago.
Kölsch - Der Alte
THE HARDWAY BROS
The Hardway Bros is a production project that I’ve been working on for about five or six years. Initially it was a project that I worked on with Jake Davies, an old friend of mine who lives in Los Angeles. We made music together in the ‘90s as Flash Faction. He’s a professional engineer; he went to L.A. to work for Madonna and never came back. He’s worked with people like William Orbit, Mark Stent; working at the highest levels of the music industry as a top level engineer and pretty much the person that I learnt what modicum of engineering skills I got from.
So, we started it together, but trying to run a project across that distance, even with the advent of things like YouSendIt, proved to be pretty difficult. In the end it just boiled down to being me.
HARDWAY BROS TRACK I’M MOST PROUD OF
Production for me is an evolving process. So the track I’m most proud of is always the last one I made. So in this particular instant the two most recent things I’ve finished that I’m really happy with is: I’ve done a remix for Max Essa of his track Burning Palms which will come out on Is It Balearic. The original of it is a fairly low-key, percussion driven, acoustic bass track which I’ve made into a throbbing analogue dancefloor monster. I hope Max will forgive me for tampering with his work in such a way.
Then the last thing that I’ve worked on, which I’m really really excited about is from my good friend Scott Fraser and the aforementioned Robi Headman. They’ve done a project with Douglas McCarthy, the vocalist from Nitzer Ebb. Going back to my music of the ‘80s, Nitzer Ebb were a really influential act for me. The last thing I did was a remix of a Scott/Robi/Douglas track and basically I’ve made a modern Nitzer Ebb record which I’m really happy about.
Sean Johnston brings his night A Love From Outer Space with Andrew Weatherall to Dalston Superstore this Friday 21st September from 9pm - 4am.