A Conversation With Andy Bass Agenda

Although the electro scene is fairly small in comparison to some other electronic music genres, it seems to me that every couple of years someone emerges with so much passion for the sound that they really do carry the genre on their backs: they promote, they connect the community and they do it all out of love. In the next in my series of conversations with electro scene makers, I finally dive deep with the one and only Andy Bass Agenda. Ever humble, and ever busy, the man has a die hard work ethic in his relentless pursuit of promoting the music he loves: first with the popular Bass Agenda radio show and now with what’s fast become one of the scenes go-to electro music labels.

Andy, let’s get this started off with an introduction. Tell the people who you are and where you come from.

I go by Andy Bass Agenda, and I live near Milton Keynes in England, which is about about 45 mins from London. I was born in Suffolk, England 1975, but moved to Essex when I was very young. So, most of growing up done in a small place near Chelmsford called Nounsley; one shop and lots of fields, not much else.

I was lucky really, my Dad started his business when I was young and did pretty well. I get my tenacity and work ethic from him without a doubt. I always remember the street we lived on as being full of families with kids my age, playing outside loads, making our own entertainment riding bikes and stuff like that – ‘the old days’ of childhood I guess! Three memories that really stick out for me from my younger years there are loads on planes flying over our house during the Falklands War, my mate Chris getting space invaders on his Dad’s computer (ate many hours that thing did!) and seeing a girl naked for the first time!

So your old man gave your work ethic, which definitely stands out as far as what you’re doing with Bass Agenda, the hustle is evident. Did he influence you musically in anyway?

I would say my parents were fairly middle of the road as far as music goes. They had records around but were not played that often as I recall. The one that I always remember is an Elvis vinyl boxset that had a load of 12” in it, when you laid the covers out on the floor they made a giant picture of Elvis. I remember how proud my Mum was of having that and I know it to be special, probably before I even heard the music. Dad was into the Stones, Status Quo that kind of thing – again not obsessed like I am.

As you know I’m a bit of a gear junkie. One of my mates has this vintage late 60s early 70s pioneer set up and I love to tie a few on with him and listen to that system. What kind of stereo did your folks have in the house?

I remember being given a monster 70’s Hi-FI system called a Lloyds W762. Not sure how old I was, early teens I think. The speakers had this thick woven fabric frontage that smelled weird. It was in good condition though and I had it for ages. The turntable broke and I remember ripping it off and using the unit as an amp for Technics separates for a while. The whole thing weighed a ton and was damn loud and heavy on the bass. I have no clue whether it was a ‘good’ system – but it was mine and it got well used for many years.

Thats killer mate. My first stereo was this junker from Wal Mart but it had a turntable - I would rock early hip hop 12”s on it and I used a fisher price turntable for the other deck - no mixer - I would use the volume control on each deck with the built in amps for faders. I vividly remember cutting some bugs bunny kids record over a big daddy kane instrumental. Tell me, what was  the first album or record that you remember that really made you move?

I remember going to a school disco and hearing Soul II Soul and being blown away by it. I remember chatting to people in the playground the day after and still buzzing about it. I remember it being a real eye opener, the first time possibly I really heard ‘urban’ music and synthetic drums. It stood out so much against the typically 80’s pop they played that night as having something much deeper going on. Up until then I was really following the hard rock path. It was many years though before I really diversified my taste.

One of the things I miss most about the old days was the trip to the local record store- before I started DJing it was going to the typical stores here in the U.S. and copping cassettes. Later came trips to thrift stores and proper DJ shops. I’m always interested in hearing about where heads went to get their tunes, where did you go for yours?

As far as growing up goes there were two main record stores I remember going to regularly. First was Musicrafts in a town called Witham. It was in a small shopping centre and was run by a guy with long black hair. It was always exciting going in there though at that stage I was mostly going into buy something I already wanted and had saved up; before I discovered the fun of browsing and taking chances on an album.

My mind and taste really opened up when I went to Uni in Northampton. Moved into a house with a guy who was into electronic stuff like The Orb, FSOL and I was curious, a lot more open to other stuff than my friends from home really, who felt all non rock music was s**t! To cut a long story short I started buying more types of music during that time and spent a small fortune in Spin-a-Disc in Northampton.

That was a great store – downstairs was a mixture of stuff – upstairs was all dance vinyl and staffed by guys who knew their stuff and were linked to guys running free parties in the area. I liked the way the dance section had its own identity and space. Going in there was great, exciting even. I was like a kid in a sweet shop; my own cash and the different sounds I was hearing as me and my friends asked the guy to spin some vinyl before we purchased ... it was brilliant.

It’s that community aspect you’ve described of the local vinyl shop that I miss the most! So let’s jump to electro which is why we’re sitting down and what introduced us to each other: how did you first come across the scene?

I discovered electro almost by accident. During my time at Northampton I had been introduced to Spiral Tribe raves in London and various free parties in the area. I was well and truly bitten by the techno bug. A friend of mine had done me a copy of a Dave Clarke mix from BBC Radio 1 which totally destroyed my perception of music and rebuilt it again –  it was amazing. The whole mix and that scene just screamed ‘we don’t give a f**k about the mainstream culture so we’re building our own’. I cannot think how many times I played that mix, or how many times I copied it for people – it was the pre-internet equivalent of going viral I guess ;-) That mix was mostly techno though.

It spurred me to go out and buy some Dave Clarke stuff; first I bought Red 3. One day I went into Spin-a-Disc and saw Electro Boogie 2 on CD. I bought because it had Dave Clarke’s name on, expecting it to be techno. That mix was the second time I had been utterly blown away by something Dave Clarke had put together. I bought the X-mix by him soon after and both alternated in my car, at home etc. for months. Most of my techno friends liked it, but not to the same level. Really from then on I maintained an interest in techno and rock, but electro became something I enjoyed without other people really…….hence starting Bass Agenda.

It’s funny, DC’s probably been one of the biggest influences for electro for a lot of folks. From my end I was introduced to electro through my miami bass days and having a trunk full of subwoofers. All the bass albums eventually led to Dynamix II which in turn introduced me to the world of electro. It all came full circle for me when I heard DC’s Electro Boogie. So going straight to the gut: you’ve become an influencer in the scene yourself no matter how humble you bring it down brother:  can you give me some insight into who your current favorite artists are?

Funny, I ask people this for Bass Agenda all the time, it’s a damn hard question. Here goes though, and it varies from mood to mood day to day etc. I have chosen people who are consistently interesting to me:

Miotek. His work is different to most in the scene. It combines a musicality and level of funk that is hard to do well. That plus his commitment to music from Latvia, his label and general attitude to music has to be respected. Listen

Alavux. Another guy who has an individual sound and approaches things differently to most people. He has an incredible music knowledge, technically too. His music has that same ‘f**k you’ that drew me to so much of the music in my life to date; and a strong techno heart to it too. Listen

DeFekt. I admire his music but also his attitude and where he has got to. Whilst lots of people (me included on occasion) are ranting and raving about how hard done by underground music is sometimes or whatever, he is there kind of saying ‘calm down, ignore the bulls**t and lets concentrate on making the best music we can’. Listen

W1b0. Again a guy with a strong appreciation of techno and electro and the linkages between them. I was apparently the first person to buy his music, I emailed him after I heard his stuff on White noise. I like the fact he is into jazz, house, techno and many other styles and that he is committed to the quality of his own music. It all combines to make a mature sound for someone who hasn’t put a vast amount of music out. Listen

I've watched your show go from a small podcast to a big deal in the electro world. What motivated you to start the show and why did you decide to make it a more traditional radio format - the style of show you present is almost like an audio magazine with the guest selectors, the backgrounds on music selections, the guest mixes and so forth.

I didn’t set out to do a ‘show’ as such. I stumbled across some electro mixes on Soundcloud and started looking into it more. It was great to find other people were into electro and to discover new stuff that way. I had been doing mixes for myself mainly for a good while – mostly digital stuff using software as money has been tight over the years, especially since having my daughter. I uploaded a few with no name really and got some good feedback. I started doing one a week and came up with the name Bass Agenda. It was around Bass Agenda 5 that DVS NME contacted me to do a mix for his show.

Around the same time I had a message from Mike Ash saying ‘here is a load of tracks if you want to use them’. I was blown away, this guy who makes this amazing music has contacted me. That night my mind was racing about how cool it was…  I get seriously attached to music emotionally and have massive respect for anyone who can create something that has that effect. I was thinking “I wonder what got him into this music”? I wonder what music he is into himself? And I thought, what the hell he has contacted me – I’ll ask him. I said I am thinking of turning Bass Agenda into a podcast built around three questions (1) What music inspired you to start making music (2) What tracks have impressed you in the last year and (3) What of your own tracks are you most proud of?

He said he was up for it and so the first Bass Agenda ‘show’ was born - Bass Agenda 7.0. It went on from there; people commented on my podcast and I would contact them to see if they would go next.

The show is done in a radio format as opposed to just being a mix for a number of reasons. First off, I wanted to create a show that I would like to listen to, for people like me who love the music but wanted to get further behind it. Also, I never have had the patience to learn to mix well enough to make mixes of the quality I can do with software. I did not want to be one of these people who pretends to be a DJ – that annoys the hell out of me. I mix the tracks because it helps the show flow. I talk on the show because I want to share my enthusiasm and help connect the dots between tracks, the guest and the audience. As things have evolved I try to get the guest to speak as much as possible and just have my voice as a bridge between sections. It’s not about me or my ego, it’s about the artists and their music. I try and keep it as pure as I can.

And it definitely shows Andy, your enthusiasm is infectious brother.

In many ways it’s just me discovering new music in public. I love discovering new music. I love speaking with artists new and established. I love the feedback from people who contact me saying ‘I thought electro was dead’, ‘Thank you for introducing ‘X’ artist to me. I love it when a guest contacts me and says 'I got load more followers on my Soundcloud page or there was a surge in sales on my Bandcamp page that weekend.' I love it when people meet each other through the show. The reaction is beyond anything I expected really. I don’t know more about this music than a lot of people – I just happen to doing my journey of discovery in ‘public'

What do I hate? The positives outweigh the negatives really. I get some bizarre comments and messages from people occasionally. Asking why I did something or had this guest on but not that one on. It’s odd to me – if you don’t like it don’t listen to it or start your own show – it’s not compulsory to listen to what I do. The other drawback can be when I approach artists that I am so into that I almost have to pluck up the courage to ask and they say yes, and then never reply to anything again – it can take the edge off how I feel about them. Occasionally I get frustrated that people don’t see how incredible this music is or how amazing a certain artist is. I did a show with dynArec and Noise&Noise and it was the least listened to show I have ever done, I was totally confused by that and that almost made me think ‘why bother’?

I think anyone out there who is trying to do a show or run a label comes across this same feeling. Likes and shares don’t put bread on the table, and I definitely know the feeling of promoting or writing about great records on City of Bass and the view counts are low as hell, but it is what it is. From my own experience in running the Vocode Project Electro showcase series back in the day , I know it's not easy to maintain that motivation ... but you're clearly motivated so what keeps you going with BA?

What keeps me going is the seemingly endless crowd of people out there making good music. Bass Agenda has a kind of snowball effect going on; each guest and their selections sparks ideas for the next. The feedback from people is great and really keeps you going – you need to know someone is at the other end when you put so much time and money into this.

No doubt. The electro scene is small but tight knit in certain places, islands of self-isolation amongst others - you're one of those folks I like to call electro evangelists or pillars of the community itself - promoting the sound. To a certain extent back in the day, I along with my Vocode co-founder Lex did the same when we were going full steam, these days its Matthias from Electro Empire, DVS NME with his Dark Science Podcast, the Spotta Sound show, Natural Nate from the Lost Art and many others…. including yourself. It's one of the things I admire about you - your show is authentic, your passion for the scene and its artists clearly evident and I'll just put it out there that your selfless and relentless pursuit of promoting the sound is really a key ingredient in your success - what is it about this music that drives you to be so inclusive - from interviewing big players currently, legends from the past, to small time producers and DJs that interest you?

I think a big part of the show’s apparent success is my naivety or lack of exposure to ‘the scene’ until recently. There are politics out there, but I was and try to stay unaware of it. Good music to me is a pure thing. I got into electro for the music only, I had no friends around me that were into it really so I was kind of cut off from ‘who’s in’ ‘who’s out’ and all that bollocks. If I find someone interesting I’ll ask them on the show, regardless of where someone else might think they ‘rank’ in the ‘scene’. I see no problem with a lesser known artist or DJ being showcased in part 2 of a show where part 1 featured someone like The Egyptian Lover or The Exaltics who are getting lots of exposure. Good music is good music – end of story. The only other thing I try and do is avoid repeating guests that other shows have had on recently.

At what point did you decide to turn Bass Agenda into a label? Given the lack of sales and how difficult it is to run a label these days, what was the decision to move forward with it?

The decision to start the label was made in two stages really. To begin with I wanted to do a compilation of the artists that featured in the first year of the show: Bass Agenda Vol 1: The Fight against the Mundane. I originally approached a couple of labels to see if they would release it and to be honest that whole process made me realise I was better off doing it myself and having full control. So to begin with it was about having an entity through which to release the compilation. I had no clue what I was doing and the whole thing was a gamble financially.

I think discovering I could make a release happen made me want to do more than that one, particularly given that the show had put me in a good position to find new music like The Bokanovsky Process or make connections with people like dynArec, Mike Ash and Franck Kartell.

The whole timing thing is kind of irrelevant to me really. I had plenty of people telling me it is a thankless task and that I would lose money. But I am the kind of person who needs to try something for myself really.

You mean you’re stubborn

Yes!  So I thought what the hell let’s have a go. Don’t get me wrong I am not throwing money away for long. I started the show and said I’ll give it a year. The label is the same – if it is not breaking even or if the loss is more than minimal I’ll stop. My theory and hope when starting was that the show will help the label and vice versa and that people will see from the show that I have good intentions and am interested in the music as a pure force and want to release music by people with the same ethos.

The  label is only a few releases in and you already have a killer catalogue, you do digital releases and exclusive 100 print runs of compact disc runs - tell me about your process in choosing artist to work with, what do you look for specifically? 

What I look for is music that gives me a buzz, an artist that is motivated about their music and working with me and recognises or at least has the capacity to recognise the reality of what is involved. In the mainstream I guess labels think about what sells as priority number 1, but the harsh truth is that in electro not much sells at all – so I figure I should focus on music I like and be enthusiastic about it and hope other folks like it too. The digital thing is a double edged sword – it’s the most cost effective way to release music in many ways, yet it’s massively undervalued and there are f***ers  out there willing to pirate even the most obscure and underground music. That said when I think about Franck Kartell’s ‘Afterlife’ CD album it had sold around 50 copies at the same time it hit around 900 plays on Soundcloud, 400 on YouTube, got rave reviews by a few good blogs and a track included in Dave Clarke’s best of electro 2013. So you think well something doesn’t add up here. It’s a hard situation to fathom; everyone has an opinion but no one has the answer. So, it all boils down to doing it for the love of doing it.

I think everyone in the electro scene is doing it for the love, there’s not another explanation. So tell me about the 100 print compact disc runs...

The thinking behind the 100xCDs is mixed really (1) The production cost vs sale price is good enough that for a new label you can gain some traction in the bank to do more (2) the physical product element has some value – the number of cool photos people sent me when they got their copy of BA Vol 1 was overwhelming and really made me think we’d created something special, that united people (3) for some artists a full album on CD is what they want – that’s what Franck Kartell wanted with Afterlife – to keep the whole experience together instead of making it available digitally and for people to buy one or two tracks and hear them out of context – this is art after all – you wouldn’t say ‘I like the Mona Lisa but I’d like to buy the smile and leave rest behind!’.

I had a guy message me on FB the other day saying what’s the point in buying a CD when all I am going to do is rip it for my iPod? Hard to answer calmly really – first off no one is holding a gun to anyone’s head here and secondly think about it, if you want a wav copy of an album these days it’ll probably cost you more than a CD – and you don’t get that physical, tangible thing you get with CD or vinyl. This from a culture that spends £4 on coffee from Starbucks and drinks it in 10 minutes and forgets about it later on. Music provokes emotion, it marks memories and events in life and if it’s on CD or vinyl it’s nice to hold it and discover it again later on. I listen to physical release more times over than most digital stuff – I feel attached to it, I want my money’s worth from it and there is a primitive part of me that want to go through the ritual of getting it off the shelf, out of the case, into the CD player or on the turntable.

Any plans for vinyl?

I have my first vinyl release in progress.The financial element is a bit scary - all the money I have made from the 3 CD releases after royalties etc. and more will go on this one release. But, I want to go through the process – learn by doing rather than listening to other people’s views. Just because ‘x’ had a certain experience doesn’t mean I will. It’s going to be a killer record – I want it to be pure dynamite; it’s w1b0’s ‘Main Squeeze’ track from Bass Agenda Vol 1 + remixes by The Exaltics, BS-1, Simplicity Is Beauty and Boris Divider. It’ll be limited numbers for financial reasons really. Truthfully though, the main reason CDs and Vinyl are ‘limited’ in this genre is more to do with the fact that shifting more than 100-300 copies of anything is pretty damn hard. I have been utterly shocked at the sales figures some guys have shared with me – people with established labels and seriously heavyweight artists on their records that I would probably buy from blind and on reputation alone.

It’s funny, I’ve had the same conversation with some folks and at one point wanted to bin it once I found out sales figures from established name labels. It goes back to the doing it for love aesthetic we talked about earlier. We also touched on folks bootlegging. You've been very vocal about bootlegging and pirating of music - some people shrug their heads and say its part of the game, but I take it you don't take too kindly to people jacking your labels tunes.

When I found BA Vol 1 on a few sites I took it personally. People said I shouldn’t but I do. I worked my arse off getting that together, making it special, looking good and sounding good. There were more than 30 artists to liaise with and they all worked hard too; the vast majority made tracks especially for the release as well. So for someone to think that ripping it and sticking it on a website for free or next to no cost is acceptable offends me in a big way. For someone to download it and think it’s acceptable also annoys me. What’s more incredible is that some of these people believe they support the scene by doing that.

To me it’s a moral thing, and its actually quite simple; if an artist puts his track on Bandcamp at ‘name your price’ or as a free download on Soundcloud then clearly that artist has taken the view that he is happy for people to have his art for free. It’s like graffiti – if a guy decides to express himself on a wall then that’s cool – he is making a decision to make it a free for all on who experiences it. However, if an artist has chosen to sell his music, to recoup some of the cost of making it or whatever then that should be respected. The days of saving up for an album seem to have dwindled off – the internet has bred this mind-set that everything should be accessible instantly and for free. It’s sad really as that feeling when you bought an album you were saving up for is priceless and the attachment to it a lot stronger.

So as I said earlier the digital thing is a double edged sword. What the internet does seem to have created is a sick sense of entitlement in some people. I contacted a guy who had uploaded a mix of Bass Agenda Recordings tunes on Soundcloud that he had not bought and had ripped from Bandcamp. He came back saying the CD would take too long and he wanted to support the release. He also said he has been buying music for 30 years so how dare I suggest he is doing something wrong. My answer was “You may have been buying music for 30 years but you have not bought THIS album, by THIS artist on MY label.” On one level what worries me more is not that he stole the music but the fact he thinks doing so is supporting the scene.

I don’t have a definitive answer here, no one does, but look at it this way - the electro scene globally is tiny, it’s like a village – and what any small community doesn’t need is people stealing from it.

You know, I've even come to the point myself as well as watched other established artists publicly state "What’s the point of producing" - the point of course is the art BUT equipment costs money, computers cost money, time itself is money - there's nothing worse than pouring countless hours into production to see it pop up for free on various illegal sites.  

This goes back to the doing it for the love thing really. If any of us, artists, DJs or show hosts have anything higher than that on our priority list it is likely to be a bitter ride.

So what's next for Bass Agenda the radio show, Bass Agenda the label, and yourself?

For the show I am going to keep going. My first milestone was a year – I said I’d do a year no matter what happened. The next is 100 shows, then I’ll see how I feel about it – it is a lot of work and I make it that way in many ways because I am hard on myself. I want to include a few more techno artists in the show going forward; Techno is how I found electro and I love the connection and overlap. There are three guests that I have always said would be the ultimate achievement for me – Dave Clarke, Keith Tucker and Anthony Rother. We just broadcast the Dave Clarke episode and Keith Tucker episode.  I keep thinking I’d like to get the show out onto more stations in other countries but that’s another time issue and the expansion to other stations so far has been based on their asking me not the other way round – which I think is a good test of merit and commitment.

Label wise I need to slow down a bit in some ways as I don’t want all the stuff I am working on to distract me from the reason BA Recordings was born – to do an annual compilation of the guests from the radio show. I have BA Vol 2 on my mind and need to start the ball rolling. I think that will become the focus once the w1b0 vinyl project is done. I have some fantastic music to share with people via the Bass Agenda Presents Series; for example the latest episode - a guy from Holland called RXmode who has made some seriously intense dark tracks. Also an EP from Jay Mass is imminent. He is such a great guy, we share similar tastes in techno and I really think his work has something – some feeling to it.

I also have an EP in the pipeline from US artist _AWOL whose work I have loved for some time – another guy who makes seriously dark electro with a punch. An EP from Alavux just dropped and it's some of his best work in my view – his sounds develops and matures with every release and I am big fan of his sound. Another EP is almost done with a new artist called L’ectromagnetique – very very nice dark minimal electro.

There are also two other projects cooking, all be it very slowly. One is a ‘versus’ release with 4 Bass Agenda artists facing off against four artists from another label. There’s four original tracks from each label and these will be remixed by the opposing label’s artists….so 16 tracks all together.

I also have a project happening between two former guests on the show who are doing a collab together and wanted remixes from some artists from BA Vol 1. So I am facilitating that really. It’s all hush hush at the minute but it’s going to be very cool and good exposure for all concerned.

Andy thanks for taking the time to do an in-depth long interview for City of Bass. Best of luck with everything, you’re an inspiration to a lot of people. Peace, and thanks to everyone who reads City of Bass - you can keep up with what Andy is doing at the official Bass Agenda site.

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