Andy Meecham's better known these days for his work as Emperor Machine and Chicken Lips. So why's he dusting down his old rave outfit?
Since first-generation rave heroes Bizarre Inc called it a day back in 1996, you certainly couldn't accuse Andy Meecham of resting on his laurels. He and fellow former Bizarre Inc member Dean Meredith went on to carve out a successful career in the noughties as Chicken Lips, while in more recent years his solo project The Emperor Machine has been a firm favourite with lovers of leftfield disco and other electronic exotica.
He's a busy man, is Mr Meecham, which probably goes a long way to explaining why you never see Bizarre Inc's name on flyers for 'back to 92'-type events. Er, except that recently you do, because Meecham and former Bizarre Inc MC Cameron Dante reformed Bizarre Inc last summer to perform live at several large-scale shows alongside fellow veterans such as N-Joi and Shades Of Rhythm.
So with three more live shows coming up, we wanted to ask Andy, 'Why now?'. Before we do, though, a little bit of history for those of you that weren't around... or for those who, like us, were very much around but whose memories of the early 90s are decidedly hazy for that very reason!
Bizarre Inc formed in Stafford in 1989, as the duo of Mark Archer and Dean Meredith. When Archer left to concentrate on his other projects Altern-8 and Nexus 21, Meredith drafted in the band's studio engineer Andy Meecham and local DJ Carl Turner. It was this line-up (augmented by Danté and, frequently, vocalist Angie Brown) that would go on to have a string of chart hits including Playing With Knives, Such A Feeling, I'm Gonna Get You and Took My Love. The albums Energique (1993) and Surprise (1996) followed, but ongoing commercial success didn't, and the band eventually went their separate ways.
Which is where we came in... so now, on with the interview!
Why bring Bizarre Inc back to life now?
"We're back by demand, as corny as it sounds! I kept getting asked to do these things for years and years but I was always like, nah, I'm too busy doing Emperor Machine and stuff like that. And then it was just this one opportunity… Cameron contacted me and said, 'Look, this guy really wants us to come and play, let's just do it and see how it goes'. So I did... and I really enjoyed it! It was great to do the tracks live.
"The first thing was Hacketts last year, that was really good. I came off stage and I'd just thoroughly enjoyed it, really! It was nice to see some old faces again, and people really respected the music - the fact that I'd done it live. There was no laptops and stuff like that, it was all running sequencers and samplers. That was the main idea for me, I thought, 'If I'm gonna do it, I've got to do it live'. So from there really just more gigs kept coming in, to the extent that we needed to get someone in to look after it.
"It's good fun. At the end of the day, that's what it is - it's good fun, it's a good laugh and I love playing live."
While you're doing this, what's going on with Chicken Lips and Emperor Machine?
"With Emperor Machine I've started a new label called Vertical Tones, I've got a 12-inch coming out on there but it's delayed at the moment at the pressing plant. And then I've written two EPs for Prins Thomas's label, and then with Chicken Lips we're reforming and writing stuff, and we've got some DJ gigs booked as Chicken Lips as well. So I'm quite busy at the moment."
So you're keeping quite a few different balls in the air...
"Yeah, for me it's just about keeping active. It's all music at the end of the day, whatever style it is. And that's what I do."
Does it feel different when you work on the different projects - do you have to put a different head on, so to speak?
"Erm... well from a live point of view I always use the same gear so it's just a case of reprogramming stuff. For writing... no, it's the same with writing, but maybe you put a different head on in terms of production. Chicken Lips is anything goes, really, there's no kind of angle. Emperor Machine is usually mainly synth-based, and then Bizarre Inc that's just basically, y'know, doing the old stuff. But twisting it in a different way live."
So no plans to record anything new then?
"Well, never say never, but there just isn't time at the moment. I have been asked quite a few times now, when I've been playing these gigs... y'know, 'When are we going to hear some new stuff?'. And I've spoken to Dean, and we'll perhaps get together and chat about it. But there's no plans at the moment, no."
A lot of people that have done revival-type things have told us they actually enjoy it more the second time around...
"From my point of view, what's good is that there's no strife to be at the top of the bill. There's no competition, it's about reliving an era that spawned a lot of other music, so it's really interesting. There's so much... how can I put it? There's so much love, when you go to these events, compared to doing an Emperor Machine gig, where it's about the new music. Doing the revival things, it's all about the love.
"And it's great for me to play it all again live but do it differently. Because some of the tracks I never did live years ago, they used to run off a DAT, and we used to maybe play some bits over the top. But this is all competely live, so anything could go wrong, and that's the thrill for me, revisiting it in that way."
Something else we've noticed at 'back to 92'-type events is that when you play the old music, the old attitudes seem to come back. It's like you stick K-Klass or N-Joi on and suddenly everyone wants to share their water...
"Ha ha! Yeah. You know what's amazing though is, you look at the crowd and you see a lot of old faces... but standing next to the old faces are a lot of teenage faces. It's as if the parents are bringing their teenage kids. So it's a bit of a mix really, there's the classic fans that loved the music and loved the times they had, because it was a new thing then - rave, the culture, it was all new and fresh. And now they're bringing their offspring to the shows, which is really good, I think."
Are there any events you wouldn't play? I'm thinking of, for instance, the soul weekender scene, which ranges from cool stuff like Southport or Soundclash, to really cheesy, 'have some chicken in a basket while listening to a guy who was in The O'Jays for a while'-type events. Is there a rave equivalent?
"I haven't come across one yet! But obviously when you get an offer in you do sort of vet it - who else is playing, what time do you want us to go on, that sort of thing. But I haven't come across anything yet like that… the gigs so far have been mental! We did four or five last year, and the atmosphere's always been really good. No chicken in a basket so far!
"For me, as long as I'm there and playing live… it's all about playing live for me, that's the buzz I get. If I was going onstage and just miming to a backing track, with a dummy keyboard, it'd be a complete waste of time and a fake show. But as long as I get to play 40 minutes of live music, that's what I'm about."
Let's talk about the specific gigs you've got coming up, like the Golden Lion in Todmorden…
"Yep, that looks like it's going to be mental. Years ago we turned up to a gig and it was just a pub, and we thought, 'Oh God, what's this going to be like?. But because it wasn't massive, it got rammed, and the atmosphere was brilliant… I always prefer a smaller crowd anyway, and the atmosphere was really good. So I'm hoping that one'll be good, because I've heard reports that the Golden Lion is a really good venue and I know they sold over half the tickets on the first day.
"Then we're doing a Shelley's reunion in Keele, I'm really looking forward to that one."
That's quite a line-up for Shelly's, isn't it? You, Grooverider, Ellis Dee, DJ Nipper, K-Klass...
"Yeah, and the thing is... because everyone's been there and done it, there's no ego. Nobody has any ego, if you see what I mean. There's no competition. It's all, what time you on? Oh, we're on just after you. Ah, wicked! That's going to be a monster night, I'm really looking forward to that."
And then there's Transmission in Finsbury Park…
"Yeah, I think we're playing the main stage at that one, but I'm not sure what time we're on because I think there's a 10 o'clock curfew. I've heard that recently I'm sure. I've never been to the festival before but again I'm just gonna plug in, start the sequencer running and play the drum machine, and it's gonna be great!"
When you're doing these reunion gigs, do you find yourself meeting up with people you haven't seen for 20 years?
"Yeah, and the worst thing is I can't remember faces - I'm terrible! I'm great with names but if someone comes up and goes 'Hey, how's it going?' I'm always like, 'Er, remind me…'. It's one of them. But yeah, it's good, and luckily Cameron always knows everybody, he's like 'There's whatsit from Shades Of Rhythm over there' or whoever, so it's good that he's with me because I'm crap at faces!
"Like I said, there's no ego, everyone's just really pleased to be there. We did a gig for Dance Decade in Preston and it was monstrous… it was massive, and just the backstage chatting and catching up was really good fun. I was talking to N-Joi, and they'd been doing these gigs for ages… quite a lot of artists have been doing these 'revival' gigs for quite a while now, whereas for me it's all kind of new and fresh. So it's good to catch up with people, for sure."
And what about going forward - can you see yourself doing this when you're 70? After all, there are rock n' roll revival nights now where you've got 80-year-old men onstage doing the duck walk…
"Well, yeah, maybe! I love it, so as long as I'm enjoying it… the day I turn up and think, 'I don't wanna do this anymore', that's when I'll stop. For me at the end of the day it's music, and it's quite important. But some people do get stuck in an era, I guess - like the old punks you sometimes see who've still got a mohican…"
When we were kids it was old teddy boys!
"Exactly, and now we have old punks. But I just think, if you go to these nights and you have a great time, and you come away thinking, 'I haven't heard that record for years, that was wicked'… that's what it's about really, it's about having fun and dancing. And whatever else you wanna do. Whether it's rave or punk or rock n' roll or whatever, really.
"Actually, I used to be a rockabilly when I was younger, I'd love to go see some of the rockabilly bands that I used to be into! It's good that people still do it… and I guess I've become one of those people now. Because some of the music of today I really don't like at all… I won't go into names but I just kind of live on the past. A lot of the vinyl I play is old records, but as long as it's good fun I'll keep on doing it.
"I'll do it till I get bored, basically. Luckily I've got other things going on as well so it's not all about Bizarre Inc. Bizarre Inc is just a small part of what I do."
When you're off being Emperor Machine or Chicken Lips, who are classed as quite 'cool' acts and play quite 'cool' events, do you get any stick for doing the revival gigs?
"No, actually - and I thought I would! I did ask a lot of people that I know, 'I've been getting all these offers, what do you think?' but everyone just said 'Go and do it, it'll be a right laugh.' So I did and I liked it... and no-one so far has given me any stick. I think people kind of - maybe, hopefully - respect that I've been at it since 1988 making music - that's when we had our first record out.
"I think anybody who does have a problem with it is just a shallow jerk, to be honest, because at the end of the day it's about music, and you either like the music or you don't. But no, no-one's given me any stick or taken the piss so far... though I'm sure someone will!"
Words: Russell Deeks
Bizarre Inc wil play The Golden Lion, Todmorden on 12 May, the Transmission festival in Finsbury Park, London on 11 June, and the Shelleys Reunion at Keele University, Stoke on 17 June