Late last summer, my girlfriend spent most of the evening with a grime producer from Skid Row, LA. I spent it with a mate of mine who'd just lost his job and been dumped. When our paths crossed, several drinks down, we found our moods were mismatched. A big night out didn't look likely. Still, we gamely ploughed on, drinking rum and ginger ale and listening to PLO Man's Trushmix and probably some Kerri Chandler or whatever it is people listen to when they want to go out. We'd both, silently, pegged this as a home and in bed by two job, a quick excursion into the heart of clubland for strictly professional reasons. As we sat in the back of an Uber cruising towards Camberwell, we had no real idea what we were letting ourselves into.
This was our first taste of World Unknown.
For the uninitiated, World Unknown was a monthly party thrown by veteran DJs Andy Blake and Joe Hart —a bacchanalian bash that took South East London by storm when it rolled under an archway in Brixton back in 2009. To this very day, WU is synonymous with the kind of partying that actually feels like going to a, y'know, party. It's a loose, vibrant affair that feels about as far away from the identikit corporate experience of big city superclubbing as it's possible to get.
A few years back now, Blake and Hart decamped up the road to their SE5 love pub, a corner of Camberwell that's forever the Paradise Garage or Twilo or Tresor or any amazing other club you've ever read about or experienced for yourself. Stepping down into their basement is like voyaging into a world where possibility is only ever hampered by imagination. In a good way, though. It's a genuinely perfect party.
Sadly, all good things come to an end. Kind of. Last week saw Blake announce that WU would no longer be a monthly affair, instead becoming an occasionally part of London's clubbing calendar. We decided to catch up with Blake himself to discuss the past, present and future of the party of a generation
THUMP: For our less educated readers, can you tell us a little about your career to date as a DJ? When did you start playing out, where was your first residency, that kind of thing.
Andy Blake: I'd contemplated DJing for a few years since the mid-80s, and like so many others I finally gave it a go after getting caught up in the '88 acid house/balearic storm. For the first few years I was playing guest slots and throwing the occasional party myself. I then found myself holding down residencies in a few not especially inspiring bars. Places like that are a good training ground though, or at least they were back then, and I learned a lot in a few years from doing that. I've also been putting out records on and off since the mid-90s and finally got into my stride with the Supersound 12"s and the Dissident label. That brought me out of a semi-retirement and into the nascent Dalston disco circuit, and I found myself travelling abroad for gigs again. Then we started World Unknown which took over my life from 2009 till now. I appear to be back on that international circuit again and am playing a few festivals over the summer, so let's see where that goes.
How did you and Joe first meet?
Seven years ago Joe heard me play at a Cocadisco/Top Nice party at Ado Hao in Dalston and asked me to play at his night Body Hammer. We had such a good time we decided to do a party together and we've thrown one every month since then.
Do you remember much about the first ever WU?
There were about 80 people in the railway arch in Brixton, which was to be our home for over three years. Ali Renault played live and it was Joe and I playing records. Even then there seemed to be something a wee bit special about it and we somehow knew that we'd keep going through thick and thin. Even now, it's not an end, just a change of gear so we can find time to carry out all the other World Unknown ideas we've never got round to: out of town gigs, boat parties, daytime parties in disused church crypts, that kind of thing!
If you had to pick five records that sum up the WU sonic ethos, what'd they be?
My mind goes blank at the thought! Its a very broad sonic palette at WU and perhaps a good indicator of that is the music by new artists that I've been having a lot of fun playing and that has been going down really well recently. So much so, in fact, that it's pulled me out of retirement on the record label front too and as soon as I've got some time and spare money to put the plans into action there will be around half a dozen labels run with and by friends, a distribution and manufacturing arm called Twelveinchpeople and a vinyl only boutique promo service called Smoke and Mirrors that will handle all our releases and a few from other friends and co-conspirators.
All of that is inspired into being by, amongst others, the likes of FYI Chris, Henry and Zander (who record as The Soft), Beans and Lily from Chaos in the CBD, my dear friend Tom Gilerion and his pal Afriqua, and perhaps most importantly Johny Davies from Analog Electric London who keeps putting the most amazing dubplates by him and his friends in my hands on a regular basis. There will be 12" based evidence of the talents of all this bunch and more in shops very soon. Public service announcement over...
Where does WU fit into the current London clubbing landscape?
I honestly have no idea at all. It's very likely it doesn't at all.
Does the move from a monthly bash to something slightly less regular signal the end of something, or the beginning of something else?
Ends are always beginnings. We live in a world of verbs not nouns and we only invented things as a concept to stop our tiny little Western minds freaking out too much. And look at the trouble it's caused.
What prompted the decision to take WU off the regular circuit?
Lots of things kept coming together and I think it was the universe saying give yourself a break chaps, you've probably earned it. Doing a party every month is a lot of fun but it's also a slog. That probably sounds a bit rich in an age when everyone has five jobs to barely make their rent but frankly I'm a wee bit worn out and have lots of other things I'd like to have time to do before i'm too old to do them. All the record label stuff above will no doubt give me a few more grey hairs but it'll be fun to change tack for a while at least.
Are there any other parties out there who you feel tap into a similar vein? if so, name them and let us know why. If not, tell us exactly what makes WU so singular?
WU, for all it's faults and shortcomings, is honest. We care about the people who come and they are paramount to the whole experience. It's not a come and gawp at the artists extravaganza, at all. It's a party plain and simple, nothing more, nothing less and we make sure the people who come are treated as human beings, not walking wallets or sport for bored and bad tempered bouncers to chase round and harass.
Care to tell us all about the messiest/wildest/most bacchanalian WU party that's been thrown to date?
What happens at WU stays at WU.
When the lights come up this Friday morning and it all looks set to finish, what record are you drawing for?
It's Joe's turn to play last this time so that's a question you'll have to ask him. There may be an afters nearby though and if there is and I'm playing I'll likely be reaching for a load of unreleased dubplates that my very talented friends have made.
The last ever monthly World Unknown party takes place Thursday March 24th. There are a few tickets left so go and snap them up now.