Nationally beloved club brand BuggedOut! may have been present on the scene for nearly twenty-five years now, but it’s most recent history has had much to do with it’s booker, resident DJ and all-round jack of all trades, Lemmy Ashton. From their sorely missed January weekender, to a string of all-night club events, Ashton has been key to keeping things future-thinking yet always fun.
It’s this same ethos that informs his solo productions, released through his TNC (Take No Credit) imprint, and supported by the likes of Artwork and The Black Madonna, as well as his acid-flecked, party-focused DJ sets. A pure transmission of the latter is what we’ve received for Lemmy’s contribution to the Phantasy Mix series, expertly threading together tracks from artists including Virginia, The Golden Filter and Al Zanders, and record shop imprints such as London’s own Phonica and Berlin institution, Oye.
A few words from the supremely affable Ashton below, while you dive into his oscillating, occasionally outlandish record collection.
Tell us about the Phantasy Mix?
I wanted to put together a sequence of records that i consider peak time. I tend to play either the earlier or really late parts of nights and my recent purchases usually reflect this, so it felt good to go out record shopping with the explicit motive of finding the records that reflect me, the music i make and how i’d approach the busiest hours in the club. Then it's a case of ripping them all and putting it all together without you noticing the ends.
You operate as both a DJ and promoter in London. How does your corner of the dance music world look there at the moment?
London promoting is tough, be it festivals or any size of club space there’s always a bun fight on. I’ve never been anywhere like london, and there’s nowhere else as exciting so its a necessary evil in this corner of the dance music world. A club kid has never had it better, with such a wide variety of nights on it forces promoters to make sure that whatever they are putting on is the best it can be, a rising tide lifts all ships. Relationships with artists and agents, venue choices and sound systems are so important at this time, if any of those three fall away then it makes an event almost impossible.
Where are your personal favourite venues to play in the city?
I love village underground, I personally think it’s the best mid to large sized space in london. Large exposed brick walls, one warehouse esq room and great staff make it my favourite place to put on parties and to play at. For smaller events Stoke Newington’s Waiting Room is a great space, alongside Rye Wax basement in Peckham, super low ceilings and an always clued in crowd make it a really special place.
You’ve served as a warm-up DJ for years, long before your tracks began to have an effect on other DJs and larger dancefloors. Do you think this apprenticeship has worked for you?
It really taught me how to structure a set, although with a warmup set there’s a general upwards trajectory, it's not linear. You have to coax people into being the first on the floor, and have faith in the crowd that it will ebb and flow before it really gets going. Even though I’ve done countless warm ups, it’s still never helped ease the promoter anxiety when you’re waiting for the place to fill up. I do think there’s an ‘always a bridesmaid never the bride’ effect for me at times though, after the pure buzz you get from bookings and playing alongside these other great artists you keep looking upwards and wanting to make it to the next step. In the current environment there are only two ways to do it, either produce tracks or be so unbelievably talented as a selector and as a DJ that you can force your way through. It’s not the reason why i made tracks, i had been making them for years before, but it was the push i needed to do something with them. A folder of your own material on a hard drive is only gathering digital dust, do something with it.
You’ve previously said you live with too many blog-house era records than you know what to do with? It’s fair to say your taste have evolved since then, but what do you reckon it is about the energy of those records that’s still rooted in you? I hope that’s equally fair to say?
I do, i really do. It’s the type of music that got me into this electronic world, before then it was all guitars with more delay pedals than you can shake a stick at. I couldn’t afford CDJs as a teenager (who can?), so i put the paper round money into a pair of belt drive numarks and all i could do was purchase these blog house records on 12” from anywhere that i could get them. Quite a lot of them haven’t aged well at all, there might be one in fifty now that could work in a set currently, if that, but i have so many memories attached to them that they’ll always have a space on my shelf.
I definitely feel that the energy of some of those records is still prevalent in my style of DJ’ing, the quick cuts, layering things over each other to create moments of joy instead of tension, looking for things that grab me instantly rather than working into them and reaching for the hands in the air track once too often. At times I think of it as burden rather than part of what i want to do. I try to make a conscious effort to let tracks play out, to be more patient with records and to let the energy levels during a set ebb and flow, but I'm also aware that how i play records is what makes me, me. I guess its part of the self reflection it takes to better yourself in whatever you are trying to do.
Not to invite burglars, but you have an impressive collection of synths and racks in your Peckham studio, and have recently been developing material with elder synth-wizard, Jas Shaw of Simian Mobile Disco. How has this process been coming along?
I’ve always had part times jobs whilst working in music, be it retail, tech or manual labour, so I always thought to reinvest anything i got paid (if at all) for DJing into making music. Working ‘inside the box’ never felt productive enough for me, it’s possible, but it never felt like i was doing the best i could do. So i saved up for a sequencer and synth, and the knowledge i learnt from being hands on with equipment accelerated my music making so much that i got hooked and spent everything i could on more and more equipment. It did go too far and i sold some pieces (i still regret the DrumTraks sale) but I reached the peak equipment level where i knew what everything did and knew how to make whatever sound i wanted. I could never feel comfortable putting out music that i didn’t have an obvious and integral part of making, so it was really important for me to understand everything i could about the process. Modular synthesis is still a grey-ish area for me, but i have a small system that i’m learning but it’s a real rabbit hole.
Jas and I have been friends for a while, since their XOYO residency where we met through mutual friends and just became quite good mates. After a few B2B sets in some interesting locations we decided to put a date in the diary and I would head down to his studio in the countryside. It’s an amazing place and he really is a wizard in there. It’s coming along really well, but it’s still in its very early stages so we’ll see how it goes. It kind of follows on to my answer above where working with him helps me to calm down on the ‘instant impact’ and ‘eyes on the dancefloor’ mentality that always rears its ugly head when making tracks.
When can we expect the next edition of TNC?
With turnaround times currently at 15 weeks for records, probably not much until the end of the summer. I’ve got a few tracks nearing completion but i want to evolve whatever sound it is that i have into something more. The first two EPs were more successful than i could have hoped for, but i’m really trying to make the next one bulletproof, in whatever form that comes in.
John Thorp, January 2018.