Aim (Andy Turner) is one of those rare beatmakers who can conjure up whole landscapes of feeling and tone and yet still keep it funky and danceable. So it’s fortunate for us that the release of a new best-of album 'Drum Machines and VHS Dreams' marks the end of his short hiatus and the beginning of a new chapter in Aim’s music – he tells us the best is yet to come…
The name of the new compilation is to reflect growing up in the 1980s – what was it like for you and do you have an affection for that time?
I just remember it being dead colourful and kind of a cool time. I was dead into horror films and stuff like that and it was the best time for it really - they’re re-releasing a lot of them now. It was a new thing then and when you’re that age it’s just exciting to go to the video shop and pick stuff out because of the cover - the artwork was brilliant. And obviously computers were starting off - the Spectrums and the Commodores. Yeah it was a good time.
I remember taking trips to the video store – that doesn’t happen anymore...
Yeah that’s right you had to actually go out and hunt these things down. Now you go into Tesco and you can get "Driller Killer" so it’s totally different now. I started getting them just before they had certificates so you could just go and get anything it was crazy…I think I did…maybe I’m getting confused…but I can remember going and renting "Maniac" when I was about 12 so…if there was a certificate, they didn’t enforce it!
I used to order the uncut stuff from America as well, because a lot of the films were butchered – all the best bits were cut out. So I’d order stuff from dealers in America - I was into it.
Did 80s music influence your music?
Yeah. There were records that affected me at the time that I still think are amazing now. I mean some of them don’t stand up today obviously. When I bought the first "Tears for Fears" album – people were saying “That’s a girl’s band what you on about!” but that was a massive album for me. I listen to it now and it still sounds good. So there was stuff like that and more poppy stuff. I got into the Smiths later on.
I guess if I’d only listened to Hip Hop maybe the stuff I make wouldn’t be as melodic. It definitely influenced me but it wasn’t till I got into Hip Hop that I actually wanted to make stuff. I was the drummer in an Indie band for a while and that was good, but I never really wanted to take it any further. But as soon as we got into the late 80s/early 90s that’s when I got a passion for Hip Hop and that’s when I thought I could actually make this, if I work out how to do it.
Any particular Hip Hop artists that turned you on to it?
The usual really – Pete Rock, Diamond D, Lord Finesse. I’d been DJing for a while and I’d been playing American House stuff which didn’t make me want to make it. But as soon as I heard people like Pete rock and tracks like “They Reminisce Over You” (Pete Rock and CL Smooth)...I had a record shop at the time and I was getting the stuff in from friends and from that point on it was like – how do I make this music?
The T.R.O.Y. track still sounds good doesn’t it?
Massive. It’s timeless – it stands the test of time. It’s now just as fresh. I mean tracks like “93 to Infinity” (Souls of Mischief) I mean these are classics. And that was the stuff I was looking through that really inspired me to make the stuff that I made. But then I was drawing on other stuff that I’d heard. And I didn’t know any MC’s so you had to pad your beats out to make them interesting. That’s where the layers and layers of stuff came from I guess.
How did you come across this music, without the avenues then that there are now?
There’s a guy who lives in Barrow called Gripper and he took me under his wing. He was putting on raves and club nights and I went along and that’s when I made the transition from indie to dance stuff. It was like wow! This is amazing. Then I started buying some records and he gave me my first gig. And it just went from there really. And like I said, I had the record shop and initially it was just European stuff and rave stuff and breakbeat hardcore that was coming out at the time – 'Shut Up and Dance', people like that. And then I just started getting Hip Hop stuff in, and because I had a shop I could just get everything. And it was just such a rich time for Hip Hop. And that’s where the start came from really.
What tracks on the compilation are you most proud of?
Well obviously I like the remix which is a new track ('True To Hip Hop' [featuring AG of ground-breaking NYC hip-hop crew D.I.T.C.]), but as for the old ones I always have a soft spot for 'Fall Break'. I think that’s one of the ones where I really nailed it of what I was trying to do. Another one I really like is 'Interview' which is often under the radar but for me it was closer to the sound I was trying to get at the time.
How long does it take you to make a track?
Too long! Especially because I do it all myself now owning my own label. When you’re on a label you’ve got people pushing you constantly because you’ve got deadlines to meet – they’ve got people to do press, people to do promotions. Whereas I’m involved in it all. As for making songs – it’s like anything, the more you do it the quicker it takes. I’ve got out of the routine a bit – we released other people’s albums and that took up a lot of time. And I wasn’t making as much music as I was. When I got back into it the last couple of years I struggled to get back up to speed but I’m on it now.
But yeah I do take a long time, I like to really focus on details and kind of obsess over it. Some people can start a track in the morning and finish it the day after but that’s not me I’m afraid. Generally from start to finish you’re talking months for me but it’s getting quicker now. I’m doing an album with Q and C (Q-Ball and Curt Cazal) at the moment which has taken about 3 or 4 years on and off. But I’ve kind of remade the record 3 or 4 times because the first time we did it I sent them loads of beats and they rapped on them but I went back to them and the beats weren’t up to it, so I had to start them again and it would be slightly different to what I sent them originally so it was a back and forth thing. It’s only the last few months where I'm finishing it off now.
Do you prefer to work with other artists together in the studio or does it work remotely?
It’s a case of you do what you can really. I’d rather be in the studio with them. When this record comes out I’ll definitely get Q and C over and do some gigs round Europe and UK and while they’re here I’ll make sure I’ve got some new stuff to record while they’re here.
In the past when Souls of Mischief came over to Manchester it was good to hang out with them and they’d write a line and you could have some input on it or they’d have a couple of options of choruses and you could have some input on it.
I’ve got a relationship with Q and C where we can critique each other and it’s no big deal you know – but it’s not as practical as being in the room together.
For every track you make are there many you discard?
I can make a call on it quite early on but you never know until you chop the first sound or beat.
Do you sometimes have a certain loop you really like but you can’t get it into a song?
Loads of times. I’ve paid a lot for a record because I thought there was a brilliant break on it but when I’ve got it in the drum machine and starting doing stuff I couldn’t do anything with it. Like I say, you don’t know until you start doing something. And conversely, stuff that I didn’t think was gonna be that big of a deal, when you get it going, turns out to be better than anything you could have imagined.
Do you find remixes easier that your own stuff or more difficult?
The remix I did for this release was the first I’ve done for ages. But when I used to do them it was very similar to the way I make my own music. I’d get all the parts separately from the original track and I’d kind of treat it as if I was going through records and pick out sections of the vocal that I liked or a piece of music I liked. I’d pull that out and build something around that. Consequently a lot of my mixes don’t have any relation to the original. But they all came from it.
Did you ever get any back and forth with the original artist?
Not so much. It was different back when I was doing remixes though. I mean everyone’s making beats now. Back then major labels would say “that’s what’s in at the moment” and there was a lot of money flying around. There were a couple where the artist said “this bit is out of time” or “can you just try this” and that’s cool.
I did get one knocked back, but it wasn’t up to it. It was a wake up call. I was getting a bit blahzay about it all to be honest and taking it for granted which is natural I guess.
But looking back on it, it was a good time to be into it put it that way. The big labels were looking for credibility and at the time Grand Central was the hot label.
What career would you have had if it wasn’t music?
God knows. I was into architecture for a bit and then journalism. But I wasn’t passionate about any of it. But you know, you have to find something to do! Once the music thing happened it was such a relief. To know that the music I was making was actually gonna come out was amazing. So that gave me the inspiration to really push. I mean when I did 'Cold Water Music' I didn’t have a family. I lived on my own in a one bed flat and all it had in it was my equipment and that was it! That’s all I did - all day, every day - so that’s why quite a lot of stuff came out in a relatively short space of time because I was hungry for it and I wasn’t doing anything else – that was it.
When you were working on your own did you have people to bounce ideas off?
That’s one of the good things about being on a label – you had to run it by the label manager and everyone involved had an opinion. I kinda knew what was what, though there were a few tracks that didn’t make the cut. But I send stuff to the same people now that I did 10 or 20 years ago and I’ve got all my friends who are into the music enough to respect their opinion.
And also when you get too close to a track you need someone to just listen to it without knowing what’s gone into it. So they can say “ah no you just need to change this”. I’m like “do you know how long that will take!!!!” [laughs] But because they’re not doing it, it’s their honest opinion. It’s important to get feedback.
One of the first Aim tracks I came across was on a Mr Scruff mixtape which was "Journey To the End of The Night" – I thought it was brilliant and like nothing I’d ever heard before – I just wondered how you came up with that?
I remember making that record and it started with a two or three note cello bassline and then I think I found a brass that went over it, then it just went from there. And what I was sampling dictated the tempo. I never intended it to be a breakbeat sort of track, it was just because the sample was at 120 bpm. I used to make this stuff on an Amiga so I’d finish the song and I’d literally have to remake it – find all the samples that I’d put in it, take them to Manchester, then we’d re-record the whole thing from scratch so it was a long process. When we got in the studio I remember saying to Steve Christian, who used to engineer all the Grand Central stuff, “I wanna start layering this up” so then we’d build it up with atmospheric sounds and layer it up and that’s where the overall vibe came from. And, as with a lot of titles, I was just looking at books on the bookshelf and that one popped out – it was a book by Celine but I just thought it was a cool title - it sounded like you were on a mission on a night out.
I read a quote from you recently that you were “unhealthily aware” of your limited time on this planet. I wondered what you meant by that?
[laughs] Maybe I was just being dramatic! What it came from was because I’ve spent the last three or four years putting out other people’s stuff on ATIC which was great because it’s stuff that I love. They were very selfish, personal releases because I love the stuff. I didn’t care whether it sold or not and a lot of it didn’t. But I realised every time I did that, it didn’t matter how much I wanted to get it out, it was taking six months to a year with the back and forth, getting the artwork done, because we do it all ourselves. I was just aware that that was another year where I hadn’t made any music – and we’d just get onto the next one. I couldn’t find the time. And I knew what it took to make good music - you couldn’t come at it and dip in and out. You have to really commit to it.
So in the near future I’m just focusing on getting the Aim stuff going again. It’s been a while – I mean there’s a whole generation of people who’ve never heard of it, so it’s good to try and reach them but also the people who are wondering what happened to you. I still feel like my best stuff is to come. I really believe that. But I want to get involved in putting out as many records as I can, but that involves putting a lot of time in.
Is the ethos “live fast die young be a good looking corpse” of your track 'Original Stuntmaster' something you subscribe to?
Not really! [laughs] I wanna live as long as I can! Obviously growing up everyone I knew thought Evel Knievel was a legend – colourful, larger than life, cool graphics on his bike. And I had that interview so I just put it over that beat – it was just funny, it made me giggle. But it worked you know.
But a lot of people pick that track out – it’s dead simple but there's something about it. But it’s nothing deeper. I didn’t over-think things when I was a kid. Same with music if it hit me and meant something to me that was enough. I tend to over-think things now so I find it hard to get excited by new music because I’m listening to how it was produced - which I have to be aware of because that’s the business we’re in - but it does take some of the mystique away.
What’s coming up in the future?
I’ve started a couple of things. The next few months is just head down trying to finish this Q and C album – all the tracks are there now so there's no excuse. I’m just mixing at the moment and finishing some of the arrangements. We’ve had some really good response to the 'best-of' album so we want to get some more stuff out to keep up momentum because that's one of the things I’ve realised - because I didn't put my stuff out for a while it was like walking through treacle trying to get it going again.
'Drum Machines & VHS Dreams: The Best of Aim 1996 - 2006' is out now.
Also, check out this AIM Mini doc created in 2002. Shot in and around his hometown of Barrow-in-Furness this rarely seen documentary was created to promote Aim's second album 'Hinterland'. Featuring interviews, a tour of vinyl-vending charity shops, cameos by Gripper, Niko, Stephen Jones and Souls of Mischief and footage of the Aim Live band in it's earliest form, this is a golden find for fans of the Barrow beat-smith.