Ashley Beedle is a don. In a time when the dance world is riddled with superstar DJs, touting supersized egos, and bitching like babies at the slightest provocation, Beedle still rocks every party like it’s his first. Having been in the game for 30+ years, his heart still syncs to a house beat — he’s as passionate flinging down the disco classics from his youth as he is roughing up kicks and creating future bass t’umpers for Toddla T’s Girls’ Music. As we said: A don.
The occasion of our interview is 'Message in the Music', the new Beedle curated comp coming out on Harmless, a double disc set of classic re-edits, with Ashley getting freaky with the disco and soul he's often associated with but also some surprising curveballs. As you’d expect there’s a wealth of variety, from the chugging post punk of The Fall, to the floor filling fire of Ruth Copeland’s belting cover of 'Gimme Shelter', to the sheer emotive power of Cymande’s 'For Baby Woh'.
With the comp focusing on the '70s and '80s grooves Ashley grew up with, it seemed like the perfect time to evaluate his career so far, and try and get a taste of the clubs that shaped him. Here’s what he had to tell us...
What’s your first musical memory?
“Listening to Mum and Dad's music. Mum was a big fan of Brook Benton, Al Green, Sam Cooke. Mostly ex-gospel singers doing secular stuff and Dad loved his 7" reggae: bluebeat, rocksteady, along with soul. He was a massive soul fan, as well as eclectic stuff, ranging from rock to classical. Every weekend Dad went out buying records and took me with him. All his mates were big vinyl fans as well.
There would always be a party somewhere at the weekends... so I'd get to hear all the latest tunes that he'd bought! The first record I ever bought was Sparks' 'This Town Ain't Big Enough' on Island. I bought it from a greengrocers in Station Road, Harrow — there was a record shack out the back of the store and Mum would send me over for a bag of spuds and I'd come back with records!”
When did you start DJing? Your first decks must have cost a fortune, right?
“It was my 16th birthday present! Dad asked what I wanted and I said 'a set of decks'...they were more than we could afford, but it was something my Dad was passionate about too, so he bought me some belt-driven Garrard decks. I played out at house parties around Rayners Lane, South Harrow... good times!”
And what were those first sets made of?
“'81-'83 was all the electro stuff. It was the transition from soul boy to DJ to a broader musical spectrum... widening my horizons... I'm into the melting pot and London is one, if not THE, best place in the world for culture clash. One night I'd be at a soul club, the next night rock, the next night reggae... everything was influencing me. I was always playing house parties and still do when I can. A lot of club nights are more about an industry these days, and it all started as private parties, with 'party' being the emphasis, rather than promoters and punters.
If you look at what David Mancuso started with his Loft parties in NYC and what Cosmo (his protege and my partner on Darkstarr Diskotek) does with him in NYC, London and Japan, you can't be any purer about what it should all be about. I try to bring that vibe to club nights and festivals in the way I play and for me it's not about genres. That's boring. I like approaching a DJ set with the dancefloor in mind and where to take them on a musical mission without genres defining the route. When you hear people talking about it 'going off', there's nowhere better to understand this than places like The Loft.”
In your biography there’s a gap between starting to DJ in the early '80s and the explosion of acid house in the late '80s, what was going on for you in this period?
“I was starting to produce. I was in Shock Sound System, which was one of the first systems to introduce garage/house to Carnival. Shock got signed to JackTrax and we released 'Give Me Back Your Love' with Carol Leeming in 1988 as Boys in Shock, it's pretty much one of the first UK garage tracks. It went massive at warehouse parties.
“I was also working at Black Market Records so was getting loads of influence from all sorts. I also used to DJ in the back room of Nicky Confusion’s Sunday nights around '89/'90. E-Mix and Kid Batchelor were residents in the main room and I was playing alternative stuff in the back room. This night was utterly seminal and its influence was huge, but rarely hyped. There were 600-700 people going for it every Sunday night and it ran for years.”
Did it genuinely feel in ’88 like a shift in culture was occurring?
“Something was definitely in the water! Whilst the rave scene blew up, Soul II Soul also blew up out of the Africa Centre and everybody was playing them. Cars, kitchen windows, shops, everywhere you turned you heard it. You just don't get that anymore.
This was happening concurrent with the whole acid house scene and Soul II Soul and Shock Sound System, we were bringing those worlds together. We were mixing the reggae with funk, soul, hip-hop and more, and with Shock we were also bringing the house and garage vibe together.”
Are there any venues or parties from the time that hold particularly vivid memories?
“For me though, it wasn't one thing. One minute I'd be co-producing 'De Niro' as Disco Evangelists with David Holmes. The next minute it'd be a Rolling Stones remix, the next minute a Detroit track, then in with David Hill, Rocky and Diesel working on Ballistic Brothers productions and remixes. Then the Delta House of Funk. I was wearing lots of different hats on the production side and likewise DJing.
NYC in the '90s was off the hook as well and I have some intense memories of FK, Cosmo, Danny (Krivit), Louie and Kenny (MAW) killing it. Clubs like Sound Factory became a second home.”
At what point did you decide that DJing could be a career?
“I was working at Black Market Records, but I'd always been DJing. I guess as an international DJ it all started with my Black Science Orchestra releases in the early '90s. 'Where Were You' on Junior was a moment that took me to 'headlining' parties and clubs around the world.”
You had massive chart success with 'Lazy' as part of X-Press 2 — did it lead to surreal music industry offers?
“Yes. The offers were there. We went down the underground route though, and didn't capitalise on the commercial offers on the table. We got to work with so many amazing people, but we didn't want to sell out and go pop. I also have so many different guises and directions to explore creatively and I didn't want to get stuck in a rut.”
How did your first edit come about? What was it?
“I started re-editing for my own DJ purposes primarily. It's easy to strip out vocals, take a loop of the groove, stretch it out and put a kick behind it. In my mind, that's not a re-edit though and is school boy. Essentially, I wanted to extend great songs (more often than not arranged and edited for short attention spans on radio) and make them make sense on the dancefloor. All the drama can be in the song, but staying true to the song and bringing it alive for the floor is one of my missions. I had this re-edit label called Weekend Records in the early '90s and Harvey did some releases with me on that.
Lots of my edits became underground hits and in some cases re-charted classic songs back into the charts, like Elton John's 'Are You Ready For Love?'. Who wouldn't want a piece of that?! Similarly with remixes, I like to stay true to the song, if it's good! From the Stones to Manic Street Preachers, Bent to Bob Marley, Sade, Lily Allen, Candi Staton...”
How did you work out what was going on the comp? Was there anything you wanted that couldn’t make it?
“We just started really. Demon/Harmless have a great and extensive catalogue so I just started digging through their crates. Annoyingly, we lost some of the clearances from some awesome Philly catalogue, as it was sold on to a different company during the licensing process.
I've already edited those tracks though and they're sitting there ready for the next 'Message in the Music'! Luckily, every edit I did for this was approved by the original artists or their estates and this album, whilst being two CDs, is only scraping the surface. It's important though, to get albums which make sense from a compiling perspective and I'm really happy with the sequence of the edits and flow.”
The comp focuses pretty much exclusively on '70s and '80s tracks — does anyone make good soul anymore?
“Hahaha. There are still great producers and artists doing it today, but the '70s and '80s are a golden era indeed when it comes to soul. That's also why it's such a wicked honour to get to revamp these songs for today, because they're the foundations of today's music and I want to turn people onto them. Floating Points is definitely somebody to watch out for who's killing it at the moment and I'm looking forward to hearing more from him.”
Looking at your 'Yardism' releases — are they a change of direction or a chance to show a side of yourself that has always been there?
“It's not a change of direction for me at all, but more of a celebration of my passions and influences. On one side, reggae has always been a big passion of mine and it's the backbone and driving force behind bass culture. Look at what the Trojan Sound System guys have done over the last 10 years to bring reggae back into clubland and festivals. Reggae is foundation music, if you know what I mean by that?
As Jamayka Boys we also started making the early steps and foundations of dubstep. The Marley family entrusted me with remixing Bob's 'Get Up Stand Up' and Damian's 'Jamrock' — that's something not to be taken lightly and something I feel blessed for being entrusted with. Likewise, that early, stripped-back house vibe is brand-new to a lot of younger people out there, so I wanted to bring those influences and my heritage, experience, whatever you want to call it, together. The results have been really satisfying and exciting creatively, and the response has been wicked. I'm already working on 'Yardism 3' and want to keep it building. Toddla T loves his bass culture and early dance vibes, so when he asked me to work with him on some Girls Music releases, 'Yardism' seemed the natural way to go.
What’s coming up next? more releases in the pipeline?
“There's some really exciting stuff happening on some of my labels — there'll be releases on Back To The World and Welcome To Ramrock... LSK, Jo Love... an amazing collaboration with Adamski, I'm finishing a track with Earl Zinger at the moment too... the list is endless — REACH!”
AKA Ashley Beedle
Here’s a handful of some of Ashley’s greatest alter egos -
Black Science Orchestra — the original UK garage masters, BSO were all about gospel vocals and warm 4/4s. They gave the sound of New York a London lick, back when two-step was a dance your mum did.
Ballistic Brothers — dabbling in drum & bass, breaks and skanking reggae, check 'Peckings' for a classic Ballistic Brothers take on ska.
Africanz on Marz — Beedle’s partnership with Darren Morris has seen him sprinkle cosmic house magic on everyone from the innovative — South Africa’s DJ Mujava — to the unlikely — hairy American synth wizard Todd Rundgren.
Disco Evangelists — working with producer and film soundtracker extraordinaire David Holmes, the Disco Evangelists hit big with their classic jam 'De Niro'.