On a drive down to Brighton together, Sean Johnston and Andrew Weatherall unearthed a musical appreciation for the slower things in life. Less lawn bowling and handkerchief hats on the promenade, more the unrushed rhythms of new beat, disco, kosmiche and post-kraut. In 2010, A Love From Outer Space was born and has grown into one of the UK’s most revered parties. Growing up, Sean tells us “music represented escape, the promise of a world less mundane”, but with ALFOS and his Hardway Bros production arm, music now represents one of Sean’s greatest accomplishments. Not to the detriment of his home life though, as we find out in the below interview; a recovering vinyl addict, whose family life takes top priority. We delve deep into his life spent collecting records, accompanied by a mix recorded at Sean’s kitchen table that combines the ALFOS sound with a few weird pieces from his collection.
Catch Sean at Virgo Festival 2018 (25th-28th May) for the A Love From Outer Space session.
DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their family’s record collection. Was this the case for you? Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?
I grew up on a farm in rural East Yorkshire. Neither of my parents had notable taste in music. My Dad has always been big on show tunes but seems to have had a passing interest in skiffle in his youth, Lonnie Donegan’s take on the Rock Island Line was a favourite of the inherited 7”s with my brothers and I. At some point we were given an old Dansette and a stack of seven inches, ex-jukebox, I guess, and of these The Sweet’s Hellraiser and Suzi Quattro’s Devilgate Drive always caused hysterical bouncing on the sofa. How much this informed my later taste I can’t say, but they did teach me the powerful emotional response that music can provoke.
People buy records for a multiple of reasons. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?
As I said I grew up on a farm so we were pretty isolated. The nearest neighbours were miles away so we spent a lot of time entertaining ourselves. At some point in my early teens I was given a Walkman so I bought a lot of stuff on cassette initially, as I could listen on the go. I was massively into Jean Michel Jarre at that stage, Oxygene and Magnetic Fields were particular favourites. Growing up in the 80s was also the golden age of the pop 12” and I was avidly buying the Human League, Soft Cell and Visage. On reflection, music represented escape, the promise of a world less mundane.
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
As a recovering vinyl addict and father of a young family I find myself at the divesting-myself-of-records stage of the digging curve. I once owned in excess of 20,000 records but have whittled this down to a more manageable amount which are stored on shelves by genre.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
Let’s be honest, Discogs killed digging as a serious proposition. I’m from the school of the notebook and wants list that you had to hunt stuff for years. That said, nothing beats the joy of random chance discoveries in charity shops and flea markets, the ones that come when you’re not really looking!
Digging isn’t just about the records you find, but the people who help you find them. Who are some of the colourful characters you’ve met on your travels in record stores round the world? Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?
Over the years there have been innumerable record shop characters – shout out to the Fat Cat Records crew, Rub-a-Dub and Atlas Records chaps. Definitely, an honourable mention to Richard Scanes, aka Tricky Dicky, (RIP) of Trax Records in Greek St. I’d go in there looking for piano house scream ups in the late 80s, but leave with cosmic gems like The Unknown Cases, Helen and Pili Pili.
Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be illusive over the years?
No, but the money to procure them has been more of an issue!
Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search for strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?
It’s always been a solo mission for me. Although, it’s always educational to go to a record shop with my partner in crime Mr Weatherall.
Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting experience. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after?
Always go for the dollar bins under the main shelves, there lies the real treasure!
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
That, my friend is a slippery slope. Some of the worst records I own were blind punts on the strength of interesting artwork.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
This mix, recorded on my kitchen table, was an attempt to reconcile the current ALFOS aesthetic with a few weirder pieces from my collection in order to entice punters to our show at the forthcoming Virgo Festival.
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
I’ve got to say that I’m really digging Cos/Mes, 2007 piece ‘Like A Virgin Point’ for managing to sound like an early Simple Minds off-cut while also sounding like something straight out of the future.
Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?
Shout out here to my good friends Nathan Gregory Wilkins of London and Vidal Benjamin of Paris. Both of whom can be relied upon to turn up with a box full of amazing music and you are guaranteed not to know a single track.
And are there any young collectors emerging who we should keep a close eye on?
My friend Que Sakamoto from Tokyo is a serious digging fiend.
What’s on the horizon with Hardway Bros over the next few months?
I have a new EP, The Laser, out on Throne of Blood in May and remixes for Flash Atkins and Future Beat Alliance.
Anything cooking with Andrew and A Love From Outer Space you’d like to shout out?
The highlight of the ALFOS calendar is always Andrew’s Convenanza Festival in the South of France. 2018 Lineup to be announced imminently. Also really excited to be playing the aforementioned Virgo Festival.
And finally what’s coming up away from music that’s getting you excited for the rest of the year?
Trying to steer my kids in the right direction!