Updated: Nov 3, 2018
Bass Agenda is a name that needs no introduction these days. While the show and label haven't been around as long as some others perhaps, few can compare with the kind of energy and rapid success that Andy Barton has seen for his beloved project. From reviews and articles on staple media sources like Mixmag and DJ Magazine, to getting a chance to interview and release names like Dave Clarke to Bass Junkie and so much in between, it is no doubt that Bass Agenda is a pillar of constant support for the Electro scene. This powerful medium; by means of both the label and radio show, presents to the people, veterans and newcomers alike, the music we all love with a keen sense of understanding of the values we hold dear for it, but also with an adventurism that even challenges those of us who have been followers of the sound most of our lives. For our next interview on Electric Kingdom, we bring you an in-depth interview with the man behind it all, who shares his stories, vision and feelings on everything from life itself, to the music and the thing that ties it all together...the love! Let's get on with it.
Santino Fernandez: Welcome Andy! Huge pleasure to get a chance to do a proper interview dedicated to all the great work that you do with your radio show and label. Let’s start with your upbringing: where were you born in the United Kingdom, and as a child how did you find your way into music?
Andy Barton: Thanks Santino, the respect is mutual! I was born in the county of Suffolk in ‘75, but grew up in Essex. I lived in a fairly rural area, so wasn’t exposed to much variety in music I guess. It was pretty much whatever was in the charts, on the radio, on a TV show called Top Of The Pops...the days before the internet! My parents were not big music lovers but had records around: Rolling Stones, Elvis, that kind of thing. The good thing about the charts and "mainstream" music back then was that a lot of it was amazing Electronic music. Synths appearing on Top of The Pops like New Order, Depeche Mode etc. It wasn’t until senior school that I really started to take a real interest though, and then became gradually more obsessed.
I agree, mainstream music these days and for some time has been quite an embarrassment in my opinion. So much of it back then was really incredible and inspiring. Speaking of which, do you remember the 80’s Electro scene in the UK? How did it appeal to you as a youngster watching it all happen?
I barely knew it was happening to be honest. As I said my exposure was pretty much whatever was mainstream, so yeah I’d hear stuff leaking out from the underground onto radio sometimes, but I didn’t hear much. In that respect I’m quite envious of people who lived in bigger towns and cities where there was more variety in terms of people and music.
I know what you mean. That was in many ways my exposure to Electro, slowly but surely. What about the Rave scene later on then? I know you were part of that. What did it mean to you personally and perhaps even spiritually?
The Rave scene was something I was much more into yes. I found Electro through Techno. I had friends who DJ’d Techno. I went to Spiral Tribe Raves in London, local ones in Essex and later in Northamptonshire where I was at college. I went to a couple of the big organized things like Dreamscape, but most of my experience was squat parties and outdoor raves. I went to some festivals like Glastonbury a few times. The Prodigy was a local band in Essex and a friend of mine at the time played guitar for them so I went to a few of their gigs and I really liked the blend of Rave hooks and broken beats. Those days hold great memories for me and definitely shaped my DNA as far what kind of music I liked and for appreciating music as being way more than just sound. It’s ability to get people together, to strip out the stuff that divides us and to communicate what we can’t say with words.
Absolutely! That is exactly what drew me into Electronic Music, and why the Rave era also holds great memories and meaning for me. That erasing of societal boundaries like you speak of. Alright, let's talk about the founding of Bass Agenda, the show and label. How did it all come about?
Well, there’s a mixture of things that made that all start I guess. Firstly, I had loved Techno for a long time and was introduced to Dave Clarke mixes, radio stuff and early releases fairly early on. I heard Electro in some of his mixes and was curious about it, but never really understood it or recognized it as a separate genre at that time. I went record shopping at Spin-a-Disc in Northampton once and saw his Electro Boogie mix release, and grabbed it straight away because it was him, not because it was Electro. I played it and was like "Oh, this isn’t what is was expecting" I recognized a couple of tracks from his mixes and by the end of the first play through, I was totally hooked. That was a turning point for me.
So, I listened to Electro for a long while, but didn’t know many people that liked it. A lot of my friends were quite narrow in their musical taste back then; all Techno or all Metal or whatever. I just enjoyed this exposure to new stuff. I listened to it all. Anyway, fast forward a good few years and Soundcloud came around. I had been making mixes for myself for a while; to listen to while traveling, that kind of thing. I found mixes by others on there, like DVS NME's Dark Science Electro for example, and thought I’d upload some to see if it led me to meet other people. Back when Soundcloud had a bit more of a social feel to it than now. I came up with the name Bass Agenda somehow, and posted Bass Agenda 1.0 and made it a weekly thing; not so much to make it a podcast, but just because I had few mixes backed up and thought I’d spread them out a bit.
Early on I was contacted by Mike Ash who had heard one of the mixes which had featured a couple of his tracks. He offered to send me some tracks and we chatted a bit. That night I was thinking how cool it was to hear from someone whose music I loved, and it got me wondering how he got into it. I decided to ask him how he got into making it, what artists inspired him, and that was pretty much the beginning of the show’s format that people know today.
From Bass Agenda 7.0 I had a guest choose a few tunes and I hosted it. Later on I started interviews and here we are. It's been crazy and such an honour. I’ve spoken with most of my Electronic music heroes and am in touch with some of them regularly, not what I expected this to lead to at all. I’ve never been a DJ, I always used software to mix stuff for my own listening. I was keen to not be one of those people that pretends to be a DJ. I was big into radio shows hosted by John Peel, Giles Peterson and Dave Clarke. I remember hearing Dave’s show online in the days of 56kbps dial up and thinking how cool it was. So that’s why it’s more of a radio show format than a mix format. I think there are so many 1 hour mixes, etc. being put up, it's an important part of how Bass Agenda has evolved to not be one of that crowd.
Label wise, I was meeting so many people online once the show got going and discovering so much music and artists, I just felt compelled to do something that was a kind of a showcase release; also saying thanks to the guests that had been on the show in the first year, and thanks to people who had got behind what I was doing. "Bass Agenda Vol 1: The Fight Against The Mundane" was meant to be a one off release. At the most I was thinking I might do an annual release and leave it at that. I learnt a lot doing that release. I had never done anything like that before. That was 2013. Next month I put out the 75th release on the label. I guess I am hooked!
Some of the latest on Bass Agenda Recordings © Bass Agenda
It's addicting once you see the effect a label has on the scene, that's for sure! Congratulations by the way on such a lucrative label career so far. Bass Agenda is one of my favorites without question! So while we are on the label tip, your imprint seems to be thriving well in the vinyl department. Is that just how it appears, or do you still find that support for vinyl and perhaps the music in general seems to be not as it should be?
The label is doing good, although I am never satisfied. People say to me how the label is one of the biggest around and people have this idea that I’m selling loads. It’s all relative I think. I’ve done it long enough to know I work harder than a lot of people and that’s what has to be done. So many labels do nothing for their artists, except upload the tracks to Bandcamp. I try and do further than that, otherwise why bother?
To me though, selling 300 copies of a release on vinyl being the definition of thriving doesn’t feel right to me. Yes, it’s good compared to some, but don’t the artists and this music deserve more than that? It’s a tricky one to reconcile. I’m certainly pleased to be doing good seeing as I have taken an approach to A&R that is like the radio show; no two releases sound the same, it's kind of unpredictable in terms of not knowing what’s next, etc. Some labels deal in a very specific bandwidth I think, you can see a new release from them and be pretty certain what part of the Electro spectrum it will fall into. That’s perhaps best commercially, but then seeing as there is little or no money to make, I like to keep things interesting.
I like to take risks on people sometimes, to put out stuff and kind of use the profile of Bass Agenda to reinforce the point that music is supposed to be interesting. I look at some mix tracklists and see half a dozen tracks from the same label or artists and lose interest straight away. Again, I go back to John Peel, Dave Clarke and Gilles Peterson and their radio work. What always appealed to me was the diversity, that’s how my brain works, and so that’s how my label works. I’d have stopped long before now otherwise. I love how John Peel used to say stuff like "I was sent this, it’s a bit weird and I’m not sure if you’ll like it, but its definitely got something, have a listen" You can do that with digital stuff, doesn’t make it any more or less valid than what gets pressed to vinyl.
Interesting approach, a very broad taste and vision for the entire spectrum of Electro music that you have. Bit old school minded, but ironically unique in this day and age and true as to why Bass Agenda is succeeding so much I think. I also have to chime on the bit about selling 300 copies. I absolutely agree that the music deserves more and better than that. I have always felt that, and hope it can change. I guess if all music sold that across all genres it would seem normal, but other genres sell so much more, I know the quality of our scene's music deserves more.
But let's talk about the scene in general for a moment since we are on the topic though. Where do you see it going these days? Like for example, how do you feel about the recent article on Mixmag that seems to portray Electro music as a sound on the rise; perhaps even the next big thing?
First up, I’d say the articles in magazines lately are a positive thing, ruined a little by some shit choices of headlines and language. I heard a lot of negative feedback to that article in Mixmag, most of which could have been avoided by them choosing a better headline for it. The treatment of Electro as some novelty thing that gets taken out and dusted off every few years is a massive mistake, and an insult to the people who keep it alive whether the media are looking or not. There are exceptions out there, Ben Murphy just started up an Electro page in DJ Mag and he understands the music well, and is reviewing and inviting the right kind of artists to get involved. I think the scene is as healthy as it's ever been whilst I’ve been active in it. The number of events/parties is up, radio play is up, the number of people joining Electro groups I am admin for on Facebook is up. There are always going to be people who see this as a bad thing, particularly if they aren’t the ones directly benefitting. My attitude is, if you work hard and treat people as best you can you’ll benefit in these times where people are paying attention, for however long that might last.
Very true. I personally see it as a good thing for it to grow. I was never satisfied with most Electro fans being other artists and label owners. Things don't grow well with interbreeding so much. So while it won't be perfect, it will be a positive thing going forward.
So what about you personally as an artist, are you also working in studio perhaps?
I’m not doing anything and haven’t done in the past, apart from the few 4th Genome collabs I did a while back. Part of me would like to get into producing, but I really can’t see how I’d have time to. The show and label and day job pretty consume my time. I’m not at a stage where I would want to add another big commitment in there, something would have to get reduced as a result and I’m not up for that right now.
I completely understand that! Gotta keep it simple. Let’s talk life for a second. You are in my view a fairly conscious guy. Where do you see the world headed these days? Seems to hold such promise in so many ways, yet at the same time we almost seem to be regressing into some strange barbaric state that could potentially spiral out of control and thus erase any hope for such promise. Where is it going, what can people do?
I’m with you on that really, it’s a very strange time. There is some really disturbing thinking and behaviour out there. At the same time some people seem to be much more enlightened than ever before. There is a real old school good vs evil vibe at the moment I think. To me it feels like everything has been thrown up in the air and is flying around in a tornado, and we’re waiting to see what it looks like when it lands again. In that tornado you’ve got everything: propaganda, ignorance, lack of empathy, massive focus on things that don’t matter and not enough focus on things that do, people trying hard to educate, people trying hard to corrupt. It’s a storm like we haven’t seen the like of before; not in my life time anyway. It sounds cliched perhaps, but I do think the kids of today hold the answer, they are witnessing the ugliest side of human nature in all its disgusting glory right now, and I hope they move forward sufficiently disappointed to want to do better. As for what people can do, that’s tough. I think it comes down to really simple stuff that is often hard to stick to in modern life: be respectful, help each other, recognize people being different does not mean they are wrong or your enemy, and do something creative.
Words of wisdom. And yes, I do believe the kids these days; of which I have two of myself, do indeed hold the answer. Their generation is a new counter-culture that is definitely being fueled by an angst and frustration towards the current. Much like Generation X which you and I are part of. History on repeat!
What about the music and its potential for waking up the masses if you will. We have talked about this before, and we share common views in many ways. Do you find that music holds a power to help convey a message of truth to people?
I think music has many powers. It can definitely put a message across to people, but people have to be more open to receive the message than they used to. Mainstream media now has so much control over what people hear and see. There is so much hype and pressure around what is and isn’t "cool" or acceptable, that the majority go with the flow and swallow it. Those who want to be enlightened will find alternatives, its always been like that though I reckon. The important thing is for those of us who provide that alternative to keep going and not compromise.
Bass Junkie - Low Frequency Fugitive © Bass Agenda
That's why we are in it for the long run right? To be providers of something true! Always have respected that core value you hold, it's a rare thing out there. So what’s in store for Bass Agenda then, any new releases about to drop?
Well, radio wise I’m keeping on keeping on. The year started great with The Horrorist, who I have loved for years, and next up is Jensen Interceptor; great artist from Australia. I have some exciting stuff in the pipeline guest wise, but it’s a bit early to shout about. For me I just want to look back at the end of the year and see 12 shows that are varied, that stand on their own feet and to have people say they’ve discovered something new every now and then.
Label wise I’m going to slow down a little this year, but not for the short term. On the 2nd of March Bass Junkie’s new EP ‘Low Frequency Fugitive’ is coming out on vinyl and digital formats, which is an honour for me. I’ve got a huge Juno Lazermachine remix release coming soon featuring so many friends from the scene. Also in the pipeline is Andy Clark’s second release on the label, new tracks from ATIX, RXmode and a few others. I’m getting swamped with demos these days and am having to hit the pause button on new stuff.
I’m in the early stages of looking into doing a Bass Agenda night, probably in London. Also, Bass Agenda will be involved for a 3rd time in Dave Clarke’s "Whip It" Electro party coming soon. More details to come on that, going to be another fantastic line up for Electro lovers though.
Great news Andy! Please keep us updated. Thanks for all you do, and for your hard work and dedication to our scene. Cheers!