Interview / Andrew Meecham  / The Emperor Machine

Andrew Meecham is probably best known under his current production nome de plume, The Emperor Machine. Using this moniker to manufacture electronic excellence for something like two decades now, Andy, however, also has a colourful, storied, past, first as a member of chart-topping rave favs, Bizarre Inc., and then the dub-disco-defining outfit, Chicken Lips. Since Andy’s the man behind two of my favourite “Alt.” dance-floor fillers of the last 12 months – namely 춤춰 Chumchwo / Let’s Dance,  on Leng, which features the brilliant punk funk vocals of Korean artist, Bom Carrot, and a collaboration with Sean Johnston as Unknown Genre – I thought, as the year draws to a close, I`d corner him for a quick chat. 

Where are you from? 

I’m from Staffordshire, born and bred.

Where are you currently based?

Still in Staffordshire haven’t moved yet!

How, when and why did you start making music? 

I started making music quite young, after being heavily inspired by the Doctor Who soundtracks and Kraftwerk, as well as Depeche Mode later in the `80s. I used to have an old H&H mixer with an on-board echo, so, with a guitar & a mic, I would make SCI-FI noises and record them on one of those small cassette recorders.

Do you come from a musical family?

Kind of. My mum was constantly singing, my sister played the guitar, and my dad was, and still is, really into HIFI.We had an amazing Tandberg system in our front room – which went down well in a little terraced house – when I was growing up, so music was alway being played.

Have you had any formal music training? 

No, Not at all I taught myself the guitar and piano. I can’t read music so I just play until something sounds good to my ears.

How did you get interested in electronic music, and dance music?

Electronic music, probably my sister`s copies of Kraftwerk`s Autobahn, and Garry Numan`s Pleasure Principle. She also had a 7” of Empire State Human that I used to steal from her room and play on my Bush record player. 

Later in the `80s while watching the Tube, they played the video of Afrika Bambaataa`s Planet Rock, which blew me away and sent me deep down the electro rabbit hole.

How did you get interested in house? 

I started working as a lighting technician in a nightclub in the mid `80s and that’s where I first heard “House music” being played. The club was a real Ritzy “chart music only” type club, with Smashy & Nicey DJs, but there was one DJ who`d play really good upfront music. I think it was either Love Can’t Turn Around or Move Your Body that really got me into house. 

What clubs / parties were you going to? 

Well, because I worked most weekends at the club I didn’t get to go to as many parties as my mates were going to but there was one venue… Shelleys in Stoke was amazing! That’s where I first heard Sasha and Carl Cox play.

Back then, did you DJ? 

Yeah, I used to DJ occasionally at the club I worked at on a students night, but that’s about it really. I was more into operating the lighting rig than playing records.

How did you hook up with Blue Chip Studios?

Me and my friend Chris Peat – later of Altern 8 – answered an advert in the local paper for keyboard players / studio engineers. We completely bullshitted our way in, and told the guy we knew how to work the desk, outboard, etc. We didn’t have a clue. Chris was, and still is, an excellent blagger, plus his parents were both in bands, so he already had some prior engineering knowledge that he’d picked up from them.

How did you meet Dean Meredith, and become a member of Bizarre Inc.? Do you know why Mark Archer left?

I first met Dean at school. We didn’t really talk much back then, but we were both buying electro records and making mix tapes for mates. It’s quite strange that we didn’t chat, as we were both into the same things – we became mix tape rivals at school. I didn’t chat with Dean until I walked into Blue Chip studios, on the first day of my new job as engineer / keyboard player, and would you believe it was Dean who was sitting at the desk! From that day on we became the best of friends, and have been ever since. As for why Mark left, I can’t remember but I think it was probably just musical differences, and Blue Chip was about to close down anyway, so we all left in the end. I think because I played keys for most of the early Blue Chip projects, and Mark was out of the picture, the timing was right for me to step in.

Did you do Top Of The Pops with Bizarre Inc.?

Yeah we did it 4 or 5 times back then.

Did you do PAs at loads of raves? What was it like?

We played probably all of the big raves. I remember being out every weekend in the mini bus, and coming home and just throwing loads of dirty rave cash in my top draw in my bedroom. The problem with most of those gigs back then was always the sound on stage – it was usually really bad so you couldn’t hear a thing, plus Dean`s 909 had a bad habit of breaking down, along with his SP12. I was OK because I used an Alesis data disk, and my S950, which seemed to always work perfectly.

What was it like working with J. Saul Kane? Are you still in touch now? What’s he doing?

He’s a great guy, full of musical knowledge. If it wasn’t for him Playing With Knives probably would have took longer to be released. I’ve no idea what he’s up to these days since DC records folded, and the last time I chatted with him was on Facebook regarding synths. I remember he was telling me that he had some synth connections in Japan, and that he could probably find any rare synth if I wanted.

Did you make enough money from Playing With Knives to retire?

Ha! No, it was I`m Gonna Get You that was the cash cow, although Playing With Knives has had some great film and TV synchs lately. 

How did Chicken Lips, with Stevie Kotey and Johnny Spencer come about?

Jonny Spencer is an old friend of Dean`s – he’s a vinyl junkie, or used to be, and also a great vocalist and lyricist, so Dean suggested we should try something different and get Jonny on board. The LP that we made with Jonny – Making Faces – is probably one of my favourite Chicken Lips album’s, but it didn’t sell as well as the instrumental ones. As for Stevie, he originally came on board to join the Chicken Lips DJ collective, but ended up working with us in the studio on occasions. He’s also full of musical knowledge, and a top geezer.

What made you plug-in, solo, as The Emperor Machine? Where does the name come from?

Nothing really. It’s just me and my synths and no-one else around – no Chicken Lips  – no Bizarre inc. – no pressure – no deadlines, etc. Just me having fun. It’s something I’ve always done. It was J. Saul Kane who came up with the name Emperor Machine, when I started to record for DC recordings.

I remember everyone being blown away by the first 12, Pro Mars. What was the inspiration behind it? It seemed to tap into the Baldelli / Cosmic thing. 

Pro Mars came second out of two sessions in the studio for DC Recordings. Basically I was reading a music magazine, I can’t remember if it was online or print, but it was someone saying that the Roland SH3A was a poor man`s synth. “What a load of crap”, I thought this guy obviously has no idea how to use it, so to prove him wrong I switched on my SH3A and wrote a whole track, using an MPC to record some different sections. I sent it to James Dyer and J. Saul Kane who loved it ,and asked me if I would record a B Side, because they wanted to release it, so I did exactly the same process using a Roland Pro Mars. 

Do you collect vintage analogue gear?

Yes, very much so when I have the money.

I have visions of you plugged-in to a room size Buchla. Is that the case?

Haha I wish ! I mainly play and program synths. I love modular but I’m very impatient, and I seem to always drift off down a path of no return, so before you know it the day`s gone. I just want to quickly turn some knobs, flick some switches, and get it recorded. That’s why I prefer synths with keys.

What was the first synth that you bought?

I bought a Roland SH101, in around 1984. I think my dad lent me the money.

What was the last synth you bought?

The last synth I bought was a Behringer Poly D out of curiosity. I ended up being really inspired and wrote a couple of tracks with it. 

Do you have a favourite synth?

 Yes, my EMS VCS3. 

What piece of kit is at the top of your want list?

Korg Maxi Korg 800DV.

How did you hook up with Leng?

Paul (Murphy) contacted me for a remix a few years back, and we’ve stayed in touch. I’ve done a few mixes for Paul and Simon (Purnell) over the years. I’ve always been a fan of Claremont 56 and Leng.

You seem to be incredibly prolific. Are you always working on new music? Looking out for new collaborators?

I go into the studio every day, from 9am to around 4 in the afternoon, and then again in the evening if I’ve got something going earlier in the day, to finish it off. I’m addicted to synths, and quite often just sit and program sounds, record riffs, until something happens, so I guess yeah I’m always working on new music, and have probably got enough ideas together for another LP next year.

How did the collaboration with Bom Carrot happen? Do you plan to do more together?

Bomi is a friend. I contacted Bomi on a recommendation from our mutual friend called Gig – who runs the Golden Lion in Todmorden, with Waka. I’ve been friends with them both for years. I got no reply at first, but Bomi then contacted me almost a year later, and we got chatting. I asked if she would rap / talk / sing on an idea I had. She delivered loads of vocals takes, and they were exactly what I was hoping for. There are no plans at the moment to record another track but I would love too.

How about the recent single with ACR, or Sean Johnston, as Unknown Genre? Do the two of your plan to do anything more together?

I haven’t spoke to Sean for a while, but we have already discussed working on another E.P. It`s just getting the timing right, when we’re both free to get together and work something out. As for ACR that was a dream come true, and we’re still in touch.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve recently finished a remix for Telefis – Jacknife Lee – that’s coming out early December, but apart from that I’ve just been programming drum patterns and some new patches ready for next year`s album.

I know that you’re still in touch with Dean. Do you’ll ever do anything in the studio together again?

I speak with Dean two or three times a week usually, and we’re always talking about getting together in the studio but it`s so difficult these days. We have got some new ideas brewing, they are just taking longer to finish.

Have you played live – as Emperor Machine – a lot?

Oh yes, so many times, but most recently I did 13 dates supporting ACR on their recent UK tour. 

There`s a live clip on Youtube, and it looks like James Murphy on guitar. Is that right? Where is that from and who’s the vocalist?

Well it wasn’t James Murphy – would’ve been cool if it was! it would have been my friend Dave and as for the vocalist that would have been Michelle Bee.

Do you have any gigs coming up?

Not at the moment, it`s all studio, studio, studio until the end of the year.

You can pick up The Emperor Machine’s marvelous 춤춰 Chumchwo / Let’s Dance via Leng, and Unknown Genre’s brilliant debut E.P. care of Other Goodness. 

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