Global Underground has become more than just a record label, it’s a way of life! From selling dodgy bootlegged tapes in Newcastle Upon Tyne in the early 90s with his mate James Todd, Andy Horsfield created one of the most iconic brands clubland has ever seen.
Everyone has their favourite CD from the main series, and stories associated with it, everyone remembers with affection the sleeve notes written by Mixmag editor Dom Philips which allowed you to feel like you were in the audience anywhere in the world. Many collected everything religiously and still scour online stores for anything they might have missed. Very few, if any other brands command that kind of respect or following. And then, it was all gone.
Fortunately, building on the ashes of the once omnipotent super brand, Andy, flying solo these days, is back. Having already launched the Original series with a wonderful Solomon mix from Hamburg, and the Electric Calm series to much industry acclaim, soon (November I’m told), a new UNKLE Sounds mix with James Lavelle drops, which we wait for with baited breath.
A&R man, and (not so) closet GU super fan, Simon Huxtable caught up with Andy to chat business, DJs and the future of the scene.
Hi Andy, its an absolute pleasure to meet you. Whats a typical day in your life like these days?
What I love about what I do is that there is no “typical day” it varies so much, as we are in full album mode for James Lavelle’s upcoming album it pretty hectic liaising with video editors, mastering houses, graphic designer, book printers, tour agents etc …… it’s a lot of fun!
I guess its a little less hectic now than in the 90s. Did you ever think it would snowball like it has?
There was no way I thought things would grow they way they have, but that’s down to loyal and passionate GU fans all over the world who have supported GU as we’ve grown.
OK, so let’s start at the beginning. How did you get into dance music, and at what point did you and James think you could make a business from selling tapes?
Well I was a photographer, James worked in fashion so we both came from a design background and appreciated art, but we both loved dance music and music in general and neither of us had any experience in the music industry when we started, which proved to be an advantage as we came at things from a “why don’t we do this….” kind of perspective rather than coming from an existing record label environment where you would be taught to do things a certain way, I guess when GU started we were what is now classified now as “disruptive”.
We saw the potential of a business as no one was representing DJs properly as artists at that time, DJ’s were considered someone you hired to mix tracks together that you chose not them, when we started we worked for over 2 years with GU before we took any sort of salary, so it wasn’t like we had this financial master plan for world domination, we just did what we thought was fun and cool and rolled with it.
Since 1996, GU’s music policy has changed from Hard House and Trance through Progressive to a more sedate House and Breaks sound now. Do those changes reflect the market, or personal tastes? Moreover, did you mind becoming synonymous with Progressive music?
Well originally I wanted GU to be the best DJ’s in their field, be it hard house, trance, progressive, house, techno etc.. something I think we achieved with Tony De Vit, Paul Oakenfold, Sasha, Danny Tenaglia and Darren Emerson. I think the reason we were thought of as progressive was for the Digweed /Sasha and Nick Warren albums, but obviously we’ve released multiple genres across the years.
Branding has become a necessary evil in today’s culture. Can you take us through the design of the GU logo?
Well I think it is important to have a strong identity, it is a hallmark that people recognise, the original GU logo the triangle was designed by our then designer Richard Short, it has stuck with us now for 19 years but it’s been refined along the way.
Its pretty fair to say the first GU mix series’ main strength was the exotic locations that were chosen. You could figuratively travel the world at the speed of sound. Who chose the destinations, and how long did each edition take to complete? Were any easier than others?
Yes it’s been a lot of fun!! Sometimes I choose the location but more often than not the DJ concerned picks somewhere that’s very special to them. The albums take a minimum of 6 months of work, so none are easy but the end result is always worth it !
There’s something I feel I need to ask on behalf of all GU fans Andy, And I’m sorry if this is something you’ve gone over a million times before, but… GU002. What happened!?
It was a simple error, when we started we literally had no experience in the record biz, so for the catalogue number for Tony De Vit the CD was GU001CD and for the tape we used GU002T (it should have been GU001T), simple error but then meant we couldn’t use GU002 again and had to skip to GU003CD of Warren Prague.
I think Nick Warren still holds the title for the most GU mix compilations. What was it about him that attracted you?
He puts great albums together and always searches out new exciting artists for each album.
He used to mix the albums live didn’t he. Do you think listening back now, that raw edge: mistakes and dodgy mixes adds character? At what point did the DJs begin to use ProTools etc, and was that a good move?
I can’t remember when they started mixing on a computer and using edits etc, but I think if you’re going to listen to something hundreds of times, the smoother it is the better really, but yes the early albums definitely have their charms!
As the company grew in strength and notoriety, side projects began like the Nu:Breed series and Electric Calm. How did you feel those CDs did compared to the main series, and are there plans to restart all the projects you used to do?
Well everything we do is because we want to do it, with Nubreed we wanted to support up and coming DJ talent, with Electric Calm we wanted to put together amazing home listening albums. We just released a new Electric Calm and Nubreed is something that may make a comeback soon too!
Tell us about to new mix with UNKLE Sounds.
When James Lavelle told me what he wanted to do I thought it was a cool idea, but what it’s grown into is phenomenal, he has literally remixed or created new originals for every track on the album, it’s like Involver meets an artist album, it’s a real journey. Most people will have seen the track list but it doesn’t explain what’s been done in the mix and the layers upon layers that are going on, there are some stunning highlights like the UNKLE remix of HÆLOS ‘Dust” (a new band signed to Beggars) through to the new UNKLE mixes of Queens of the Stone Age, there are tonnes of songs on the album, as Dom Phillips says in his sleeve notes:
“What he has made is a remarkable mix that goes up and down and backwards and forwards. Fast and then slow. It has song after song. There are voices everywhere …..”
Before GU034 came out, I was in Milan the weekend Felix was there for the GU party. I remember scouring the local press for information regarding which club he was playing at, but found nothing. It turned out he played a small village about 20 miles away! haha. What have been some of your favourite GU stories people have told you over the years?
There’s so many and they always surprise me as I’ve forgotten certain moments, but people that were there haven’t! It always makes me smile though when people say “I met you in Miami and you…….. “ Did I really, oh god….. you know there’s going to be high jinx when stories start with “I met you in Miami ….”
Do you have any personal tour stories you’d like to share?
Ha ha….. nice try, what happens on tour stays on tour you know that!!
Are there any DJs/Artists you would love to work with that you haven’t yet?
There’s a few yes … I have a list and I’m working my way through!
Having taken a break for a few years, how do you find the music business these days? Are there aspects you miss?
Well it’s definitely changed, and the way some people consume music has changed with digital, but people still value physical products, we are hunter gatherers after all and will always feel a closer connection to something we own than something we borrow. In terms of stuff I miss I think some of the fun has gone from dance music with what I call the “EDM Goldrush”, with some agents, managers and DJ’s clambering to make more and more money. Sometimes I think we’ve lost sight of our roots, which became club culture, which at best is a fun and excessive environment.
A while ago I wrote an article called ‘What is Progressive House’. During the research process, I reached out to Dom Philips to ask about his time working with you guys. Can you recall how you met Dom, and what prompted you to ask him to tour with you?
It was actually Lynn Cosgrave (Carl Cox’s manager) who introduced me to him, we chatted and found we had a similar mindset, he really gets GU and it’s been a pleasure to work with him for so long now.
Do you think GU would have been as influential without his sleeve notes, and the care and attention given to the packaging?
No, I think GU is the whole package, of course the music is the most important thing but my vision for GU was always to make it something really special and to spend a lot of time and money to make that vision a reality, we work the very best in the world be it DJ’s, photographers or writers, I’m glad to say there’s no such thing as second best at GUHQ.
Thanks for taking the time Andy, it’s been really enlightening! We wish you all the best with everything.
Many thanks for chatting with me, see you on the dance floor!