Saturday, 11 January 2014

Your Substitute Teacher is: AndyCapp

1. Crossing The Line
2. Efri Tete
3. Burrito Bandito
4. Say You Will
5. Mr. Pride
6. Mass Riff
7. Rejoice In Righteousness
8. Rollin'
9. Yo No Como Camaron
10. Magic Toy
11. Crossing Over
12. Chunga Funk
13. A New Day
14. Hold On To Your Heart
15. Castles Made of Sand

Artists Withheld

Just prior to the December ice storm, I met with Andrew Gavin Hicks, better known as AndyCapp. He invited me to his place, fed me a delicious steak dinner and reflected on throwing bittersweet parties, negotiating dance floor politics, approaching creative milestones and standing at existential crossroads.

With this, the second Substitute Teachers interview, I'm beginning to notice that these casual get-togethers take on powerful lives of their own. And although I come prepared with questions, unexpected conversation blossom and the time passes unaccounted. I suppose that's the sign of good discussions.

I consider Andy to be both a solid friend and a musical inspiration. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as we did.


HH: You’re probably best known for your Bang The Party nights. Could you tell us the inspiration for that party and about its evolution over the past eights years.

AC: Coming on eight years. 

I came from London, Ontario and I had a really big night there, simply called “Down,” with reference to downtempo.  But it was really an eclectic night, literally playing everything from punk dub to hip hop to boogie to electro to disco to house, techno and even some drum and bass. But as the years went on I became more attracted to disco and boogie, while always keeping up to date with new stuff that was complimentary.  

When I came to Toronto, my deejay partner Todd (Rod) Skimmins was here ahead of me doing some hip hop projects but also had a side night at Andy Poolhall, where he was playing eclectically. 

So when I came, I convinced Todd to get out of the hip hop game. And he was frustrated because he was known as this hip hop guy but he also liked punk records. So we said, "Let’s do this [eclectic night], delve into it but keep things on the soulful side." 

We started Bang The Party originally at Andy Poolhall every Wednesday night for the first six months. And it was terrible. It was impossible to get people to come out. 

And then we did it at The Social every Thursdays for a while, starting with my birthday.

But then we got a chance to do it at The Boat. 

And from our very first party there it was massive. We continued our eclectic feel but concentrated on the era between 1977 and 1984, which I can expanded on later. We decided to book our friends as guests. We’d switch it up, so every other month was just Todd and I but then we’d have whoever. 

At that time I was a newbie in Toronto, in terms of the scene, but I knew some friends like Andrew Allsgood, Paul E. Lopez and Jason Palma. And coincidentally there were other people at that time, like you, Mikey Apples, Pammm and Jaime Sin who were doing the same kind of thing. So that became the mandate: to book like-minded people.

Let’s go back to your attraction to the ’77 to ’84 period.

In '77 there's a change in punk music and world politics and things sort of shifted from classicism in the way music was structured in a sense.  

Punk, in its essence, is sped up rock n roll or blues. And disco is extended RnB.  

A lot of people don't think punk and disco have a lot of similarities. But you have the white lower class who are disenfranchised and you have a black gay underclass being disenfranchised. And the liberation of their repetitive music was something that people feared.  

If you look at this music in relation to pop music - with its three-and-a-half minute structure which is sanitized and can be marketed and sold - punk went one opposite way and made two minute songs with all the energy and disco did the other opposite by making seven to ten minute songs, where people could let loose their energy. 

I believe that '77 is a turning point. If you go through your record collection, you'll see that that's when disco really starts to become a long format that producers would start to think about when formulating a track. 

And also during this time period is the birth of hip hop. 

Then at the tail end of this, around '84, we see the culmination of these things - a punk ethos affecting New Wave and the birth of electronic music with the advent of synthesizers and drum machines. If you look back on any New Wave artist - Depeche Mode or Human League - their first albums are very raw and simple. 

We're also getting the beginnings of proto-house and boogie, which is where I've landed.  

So '84 is the capper. 

It's also the capper for the art world, which was now capitalizing on anything experimental. Take graffiti, for example. That's when people were getting really recognized and things got bastardized. 

This is also the last period when these groups merged, when blacks and whites and gays and straights would come together. 

To me, this period is the last great, purest moment in America. People today still like to revisit that moment.

How did you arrive at Grace Jones as the muse for Bang The Party? Was there anybody else in the running?

When we were doing the Wednesdays, we flyered heavily despite the lack of success. We had about six of seven images that we were using in rotation and Grace's cover to "Pull Up To The Bumper" was one of them.  

I wanted to move from just putting an image on a flyer to making somewhat of a statement. Even if it was something that not everybody got. The people that I wanted to get it, would get it. 

So when we got around to doing Bang The Party at The Boat, we settled on Grace because the song that defined me as a person was "Pull Up to the Bumper." 

It's this highly innuendoed song. Everyone knows what she's talking about but the lyrics are about driving, on the surface.  

And the more Todd and I discussed the type of music we play - which is the fusion of disco and punk, kind of edgy but not full-on gay disco, as well as more recent stuff like Jamie Lydell, Maurice Fulton, people on the margins - we realized that Grace embodies all of these things. She's androgynous, neither gay nor straight, and we decided to go with it.

What this imagery of Grace Jones also did was put-off the crowd that thought we were trendy. We always knew that we'd get people who were down to crossover but it kept us underground no matter how popular we might have got. Not that we thought that we'd ever be popular. But there was this certain joy we got from putting a very scary black woman on the cover, every single time. 

I guess it was also subconsciously a reaction to all the flyers that had some chick with big tits on them.

In addition to Bang The Party, you're known for throwing creative, thematic one-offs and small series, such as Tropical Galactica, Where's D'Angelo and Life on Mars. Any new series coming up or parties that you haven't found a home for yet? 

Definitely, Pooyan and I want to do another Higher Heights. That was probably the most well received party that either of us have done together. Realistically, for all intents and purposes, we were thinking that maybe we'd get 50 people. We were going to do it for the people who didn't go away on the long weekend. We had no idea it would become what it became. 

We'll probably do Wild Life again, which was a party we did in September. We’re shooting for January. 

I think that in some way I want to properly close off Bang The Party, rather than letting it drag on. 

And I really want to emphasize two new things, which are at odds with each other.  

I want to do a party based around something that Paul E. Lopez and I have been talking about, which we call "Black Wedding Music." An opposite party, where we play slow jams and romantic music, but all night. It’ll be for an older crowd.  

And the other one, which I think I’ll bounce off of the title of my last mix, is Robot Voodoo Power. I’m hoping it will differentiate my parties from the other disco parties. Bang The Party never played just disco. And this party will also merge newer sounds with older sounds and connect the dots.

What’s the best party you ever played?

Definitely Higher Heights was a blessing. And a curse. Because it was probably one of the best parties that Pooyan and I played. It was a curse in the sense that it was very strange to play every single song you wanted and have people freaking out.  

I’m used to playing where I like to challenge people when I play and therefore I like when people feel uncomfortable and aren’t completely settled. 

This party was really freaky deaky. I’d play something fun or filler, like “Something About You” by Level 42 and people were screaming and yelling and slamming the walls.  

I remember thinking, "What the fuck is going on here?” This to me is a filler track, to make people feel nice. 

But people were losing it. People were genuinely coming up and saying, “I can’t believe you played this. I haven’t heard this in ages.” Or, “I know all the lyrics to this song. I was twelve when I bought this tape.”  

Then Pooyan was playing fairly uptempo and it was my turn to go back on and I decided that I was going to drop the party right back down. And I played Luther Vandross. 

I thought the place was going to implode. I’ll bring them down. Everyone will go get a drink, go for a smoke. 

But it had the opposite effect. The party just ramped right the fuck up.  

I woke up the next day and a friend called me and asked me my feelings on the party. And I said, “I think I’m done. I’ve got nothing more to say. I literally played every song that I really like and I got the reaction I wanted and I don’t know what to do after this.”  

The week after I was having a panic attack. That was it. 

That’s kind of where I’m at. It’s kind of weird. It’s not that I want to recreate that moment – although I do, every time I play – but maybe that’s it.

People may not know that in addition to being a deejay, you're also a visual artist, graphic designer and film director. Could you tell us a bit about your other artistic endeavours and how they comment on each other?  

When I started making mix CDs or started flyering for my nights, I always had a friend who would design them and I’d be shelling out $60 to $80 for the flyer or CD cover. Then I realized, why not do it myself?

I feel that basically everything has to coalesce. 

It’s fine to throw a party with good music but the visuals have to go with it, your CD covers, even what you decide to wear when you show up to deejay. I think that it should all matter.

Is it a branding thing? 

No. Even at the beginning of Bang The Party, we’d show movies and they had to correspond, movies like Downtown 81 or Wild Style or a Grace Jones or Kid Creole live concert. 

Then I said, why not make my own videos? That’s what I ended up doing. 

Just recently we had a huge show at Nuit Blanche that I curated called Third Culture. And those sorts of projects come when I feel the opportunity is there. I don’t try to force it. Basically it was a gathering of friends to do art together. Of course there was a certain angle to it. We got to do it at Nuit Blanche and where it was [OCAD Student Gallery] but it worked. It was definitely more of an event than an art show. 

But something that’s become very difficult for me at this point in my career – and this coalesced in the Third Culture show – is that we’ve become such a multi-cultural society, yet art is still whitewashed in a sense. 

And this isn’t a dis to my white friends. I shouldn’t even say whitewashed. Everything has become gentrified. 

Even when we talk about other disco parties, there’s a certain gentrification of that. 

If you go to those parties there’s a definite lack of blackness or a definite lack of diversity. Which is why I don’t necessarily go to them. 

Yet on the opposite end of the spectrum, if I go to an all black party or an all ethnic-specific party they tend to be rooted in too much of that culture. You can go to a black boogie party and you’ll hear an hour of reggae at the end, but no chance of hearing any Jamie Lidell or Metro Area or DJ Harvey.

You once told me that you went to see a very famous New York producer, who owns a prominent disco-not-disco label, and you were expecting him to play the cross-genre stuff that’s on his label but he just played super white, queen disco. 

I’ve played with that person three times now – and affiliates and friends of his – and it was very strange. The disco scene is kind of segregated. It’s weird to feel that vibe. 

So I’m kind of at a crossroads where I feel like I’m an outsider to both worlds. I can’t cater to any of them specifically, so I meet them half way. 

The upside is that your parties bring people together.


What’s your greatest digging story?

I've been actively digging since '96, like with the intention of going to this city and looking up all the record stores. 

The first "Oh My God" moment was in Detroit. 

There was this store - I can't remember the name - but it was run by this older gentleman, maybe in his sixties. It was basically just black music. He had these rares that he kept behind the counter. And instead of selling them for inflated prices, like 300 bucks, he would say, "Why don't you dig for three or four hours or come back in eight hours and I'll rip these records to CD for you?" Then he'd just charge you twenty bucks for this CD of rares. 

So at this store in Detroit, I came across the 45 of "Rendez Vous" by Basement Jaxx, with "Red Alert" on the other side. I was like, "Why was this even made?"

And I kept digging and I found Fatboy Slim's "Rockefeller Skank" on 45. And again, I'm like, "What the hell? Why is this in existence?" 

I decided that 45s were going to be my pop thing. That was my first entryway into thinking about 45s. 

Eventually I met this person who told me what the deal was. In Europe they were still pretty big on jukeboxes, so they were still producing 45s. It was still a market.

But if you want to know my best score…

There is this guy in London, Ontario who has this punk store [Speed City]. I would do my record store tours in London when I went digging. I’d go around. And I didn’t mind going to this punk store because sometimes he’d get newish reissues.  

So he was hip to eBay and had this pile of records when I came in and said, “Hey how’s in going?” 

I saw this record sitting there on the pile. And he’s at the computer checking out prices. 

I said, “What are you doing with that?”  

And he says, “I don’t know man.” The cover is half peeled off. So he says, “It’s kind of mashed up. I don’t think that I can get anything for it.” 

So I asked, “I can I buy it from you? I really like that record.” 

And he says, “Why don’t you just have it?”  

I said, “Ok.” 

And I was trying really hard – like pushing my cheeks down, trying not to smile, trying not to get rid of my poker face.

I didn’t even buy anything. I literally came in, said “Hi,” and he said, “Have it.” 

It was the Fela and Ginger Baker record, original copy.

That was my balls-out best score. For free.

But I haven’t been so heavy on the digging lately. I’d like to expand my life a bit. I’m about to be forty. I want to be just as excited about records when I’m 60. 

I don’t want to find everything yet.

People will say, “Oh, you don’t know that record?” Nope. And I’m kind of cool with that.

Now that you’re coming up on that milestone birthday, how do you feel about entering the pantheon of Toronto veteran deejays? Any retrospective observations you'd like to offer about the your career up to this point?

I think that…I don’t think anyone will give a shit, to be honest. 

There are lots of times I think to myself: if I just didn’t play ever again would anyone care next week? They’d just go to the next party. Who cares? I guess that’s the fluidity of it. I can’t make what I’ve done memorable. It’ll have to be up to other people. 

My friend is encouraging me to do an art show of all the Bang The Party flyers. And it’s a great idea but who will come? They’ll be busy going to Ben Klock that night, or whatever. 

I think definitely ego is a huge part of this equation. 

I had these two existential crisis moments. One with Higher Heights - when I was like, "What else do I do?" And the art show was the other. Both were super well received but then the next morning I woke up and it’s not as if my phone was ringing with people asking to do art shows. 

Another friend said, “I think what you’re good at is bringing people together from different groups. Maybe that’s what you should focus on.” 

And maybe that’s what I’ll start to do. Be less of a deejay figure and more of a bringer of worlds together.

What’s in store for your Substitute Teachers mix, "Private Lives"?  

Basically, I went through my collection and put together tracks that I call "orphans." They’re tracks that just have never worked in mixed sets. They're the ones that make me so sad that I couldn’t fit into a mix. And then there are some that I just really love but they don’t work on the dance floor. 

Or they’re rarer. Some tracks on the mix are balls out rare. And I dare anyone to name a couple of those tracks. So they’re Andy’s rare records.

I wanted to show people that I do know about Latin music, about soul jazz, about rare soul. And there’s some cheesy things on there too that are worth recognition. And I’m really into music from the Congo. That’s my new thing. There’s some of that on the mix.

You’re giving us the song names but withholding the artist names. What's the motive behind that choice?

There needs to be some mystery. 

I know that there are only a few steps towards finding out what I’ve given you. You have the title. You can go to Discogs, YouTube, Google. But I want people to dig a little bit. 

Where can people catch you next?

Wildlife with Pooyan and Wes Allen will be the third week in January. And February 9th is my birthday. I’ll be 40 and it also marks 20 years of deejaying. I think I’m going to try to do it at The Boat.

We’re going to bring it back together.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

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