Sean Johnston and Andrew Weatherall Bring A Love From Outer Space to Scotland
Sean Johnston discusses his collaboration with Andrew Weatherall and the ethos behind their club night, A Love From Outer Space, which lands in Edinburgh this month
With their increasingly popular touring club night, A Love From Outer Space, veteran DJs Andrew Weatherall and Sean Johnston have shunned the pervasive convention of presenting music within fixed parametersstrictly defined by genre and frantic bpm counts. Both emerging from rich musical backgrounds, and with a shared involvement in myriad alternative scenes dating back to the 1980s, they bring a wealth of diversity and expertise to a venture which has reclaimed a spirit long lost in much of mainstream clubbing. The pair share a passion for styles from post punk to dub and A Love From Outer Space is as much informed by these early influences as by contemporary electronic music.
“Andrew and I come from the same school of DJing,” explains Johnston. “When I started going to clubs, at the beginning of the night people would play slow music and the night would build up. Going back to the early raves, you would hear tracks like Soul II Soul’s Keep On Moving being played alongside banging Detroit techno records and there was a progression in the music over the course of the night. But, at some point in the late 90s, you started to see the emergence of what I call genre fascism and the kind of ghettoisation of different types of dance music. Now you’ll go to a club and it’ll be a techno night or a deep house night or a disco night or whatever. We’ve got stuck in a situation where clubs are full of DJs playing all the latest Beatport top 100 deep house records. I think we’re presenting something different which does have a certain degree of quality to it. I think people recognise that.”
"We've got stuck in a situation where clubs are full of DJs playing all the latest beatport top 100 deep house records. I think we’re presenting something different" – Sean Johnston
Having taken ALFOS beyond its initial setting in front of a small crowd in London, and touring it throughout Europe, one wonders if they have at least found some need to adapt their approach depending on where they go. “No, Andrew and I decided to stick to our guns,” affirms Johnston. “The temptation is just to play faster music if people aren’t getting it. But we found that if you stick to your guns, though there’s an hour and a half of people going, 'errr, we don’t get this.' When they realise it’s not going to change - and you get that submission - it’s fine. If I had been doing it by myself I don’t know if I would've had the mettle to persevere with it. But when you’ve got Commander Weatherall present it’s a bit easier.”
While the two friends go back a long way, and though Johnston is hardly an incapable DJ himself, he exhibits a clear reverence for his partner’s skills behind the turntables. “He’s a legendary DJ, probably one of the most technically gifted DJs I’ve ever seen, so trying to maintain the quality assurance alongside that is fucking nerve-wracking from my point of view! I spoke to both Ewan Pearson and Ivan Smagghe about it, as they’ve both played back to back sets with him. Ewan asked me how I felt about it and I told him I was shitting myself. He replied ‘Yep, so was I.’ Ivan was exactly the same.”
Yet, the balance that exists between the ALFOS duo is a key component of their collaboration. “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts”, says Johnston. “It’s interesting when I play something Andrew would never play and it works, then he has to kind of run with that. It’s an interesting dynamic playing as a pair. Ewan Pearson said that it was like waltzing, or playing chess – it’s fun.”