Andrew Ashong Talks

Ghanaian-British artist Andrew Ashong, hailing from Forest Hill had his first solo release on Theo Parrishs label, Sound Signature last year. You may have heard it! Flowers was by all accounts, massive. We were rather partial to it round these parts so given the opportunity to have a chat with the man ahead of his appearance in the capital this weekend at Above The Clouds we jumped at the chance. 

Andrew, like alot of people, the first music of yours I heard was Flowers, a track thats really pushed you into the consciousness of quite a large audience. Youre obviously an accomplished musician, what had you been doing prior to the release of Flowers?

Just living, loving, lounging, listening and learning… with a little toil, sweat and graft when necessary. I’ve been making recording music for over ten years and playing records out and about for over fifteen. But (aside from the DJing) I didn’t often mix money with music, so I’ve always done various other work to stay alive.

How did the hook up with Theo Parrish come about?

I met Theo around 5 (I think?) years ago through Ade Fakile and his club Plastic People. I was at Ade’s house (in the countryside), when he suddenly remembered he was due to meet Theo at Heathrow, but he’d double booked himself and was already late! I raced over there, scooped Theo up and took him over to Plastic to do his Saturday night thang… that ended up becoming a monthly arrangement.

Youre based in Forest Hill in south London, a place I spent a lot of time in as a kid owing to have an auntie who lived down there. Is there much of a local music scene in that little pocket of London?

I’m not much of a ‘scene’ person. People travel lots… so to me it’s just London as-a-whole that has a scene, if anything… since I meet with people from all over. If there are scenes, they’re not really based on postcodes, and so all the different tastes and interests exist on top of each other. That’s part of what makes London so interesting. I couldn’t live in a place where everyone has too much in common. I think it’s healthy for everyone to be mixing with everyone else, rather than just other artists, or people with the sane tastes. All these people living their lives from Forest Hill and Peckham to Brixton and Croydon or Tottenham and Hackney to Ladbroke Grove and Dollis Hill is what has become what may (from the outside) may look like scenes. For visitors, they may look that way, but it’s all in the mind really… just different perspectives. These are just places where people rest, but they may work in a second place and party in a third place. All corners of London have people doing their thing even if they do usually meet somewhere in the middle.

I see youre getting about much more now as a DJ and whats striking is the diversity of where youre getting booked – Secretsundaze, Huntleys and Palmers at Plastic – it seems youve got a broad appeal. Where do you think your natural setting is as a DJ – playing peak sets to big crowds or more laid back music in more intimate environs?

Very good question… something I’ve wondered about for a long time. There’s lots of playing it safe going on in clubland, since generally people just want to dance at a certain tempo to something familiar. What about hard sets in intimate settings or getting big crowds to lay back and chill. If we always stay within the parameters of normality, we risk losing our jobs… or our minds… or both! We need to take chances, otherwise we might as well be an IPod playlist. We need to think, feel and be in the moment and respond with the sensitivity to have some kind of dialogue with the crowd.

It also really depends on that age old debate between playing for yourself and playing for the crowd. I’ve always enjoyed sitting on the fence on this one. To me that’s the whole point… that’s all you’re actually doing as a DJ, walking the fine (or very thick!) line between what people expect and what they may not know, may not be familiar with and may not even be very open to (initially).

DJing seems to be more and more about artistic expression and making statements nowadays than simply making people dance, probably because so many musicians are now from the DJ/Producer camp and therefore a DJ set might be their main platform to present what they do.

So, to date – Flowers and the equally great b-side Take it Slow are the only tunes youve released, is that right? Have you got anything lined up for release in the near future?

Yes sirrr, another record on the way soon for sure… definitely before the end of the year. Really excited actually, it’s been a real labour of love. Lots of loving… and consideration.

Youre playing at Above the Clouds, which has a great lineup and an even better modus operandi – to fundraise for the homeless charity Providence Row. Youre playing back to back (to back!) with Mr Wonderful and Alex Nut – two great Djs in their own right. Have you played many sets with the two of them before?

The charity is great, and I’m very happy to be supporting that… as soon as I heard what it was for, I jumped on board. It’s tragic that there is still so much homelessness in a country with so many vacant buildings, so many resources and so much waste. 

Femi (Mr Wonderful) is an old friend, as it Alex Nut… mad love for both of them boys. Killer selection as always too… I’ve never played out with Alex, although I was on his radio show before. 

I know youre a multi instrumentalist, but which instrument do you favour – do you write on the guitar? What else do you play?

Anything really…

I probably write on the guitar the most though… but songs come from many different sides for me. Take it slow, for example started with a drum pattern that I was just emulating with my mouth, which I played the synth bass over, then guitar then vocals. I probably enjoy the bass guitar and drums the most though, since that’s usually spine of the groove. And that’s what often get’s me… I play whatever I can find, to make sounds with. 

Youve got some slots coming up touring with Ghostpoet – what does the live setup consist of at the moment?

The live set-up is constantly changing… but it’s looking like it’s some strings, tines, cymbals and skins in various evolving configurations along the way. With a few vocal chords thrown in for good measure. The way it is at the moment, is a lot of fun for us, and definitely feels the most natural way we’ve done it so far. We’re all kind of buzzing actually of the vibes. 

Finally, from the outside looking in it seems youve had a great year –  What have been the highlights and how are you going to follow it up in 2014?!

It has been a great year, many changes, evolutions and revolutions. Too many highlights… we’d have to sit down and break bread for a long moment for me to do it all justice. The Worldwide Awards was wild… both Soundwave and Dimensions Festivals were amazing… our first live gig at Madame JoJo’s went surprisingly well… we had a really great time at a really good arts centre in Madrid (La Casa Encendida), performing on a beautiful roof terrace to a really chilled but enthusiastic audience! Just the other day we had a really nice candlelit gig at The House of St Barnabas for Brownswood. That was definitely one we’ll remember! Everyone’s been very receptive and cool with us, long may those vibes continue!

Thanks very much Andrew, much appreciated. Joe

Thank YOU sir! Peeece.

Andrew plays Above The Clouds Friday 11th October.