Next time you hear the arguments that hanging out in nightclubs is a sign of misspent youth and that nothing good ever happens after 2am, make sure you tell them the Global Underground story.
Back in 1996 Andy Horsfield and his then business partner James Todd spent a lot of time hanging out in nightclubs like Back2Basic and the Hacienda. They were such regulars that they became good friends with the DJs and built up connections that would assist them in starting of one of the most renowned and successful dance music labels in the world.
When Global Underground launched 19 years ago the compilation mix wasn’t exactly a new concept, club brands like Ministry of Sound were already in the game. But Horsfield and Todd had ideas that would set them apart.
“When you bought a Ministry album back then, there was a huge Ministry of Sound logo on it with Mixed By, say, Pete Tong or whoever it was in tiny letters,” said Horsfield.
“But we thought, because we were friends with all the DJs, that it was the wrong way around.”
Global Underground put the DJ’s name and photo front and centre, as though it were an artist album, with the label’s logo featured merely as a stamp of quality and not the main feature.
They also wanted to mirror the global expansion of dance music that saw DJs like Sasha and Paul Oakenfold jetting around the world at a time when it was uncommon to see DJs touring internationally.
“We thought it would be good to base an album series on flying to an international city with a DJ, throwing a party, bringing a photographer and a journalist along and capturing the whole thing in an album – in a similar way that a lot of rock bands in the 70s did a Live from Paris album or whatever.”
As the DJs careers took off Global Underground did too and the next thing they knew they were selling millions of records.
The iconic brand has now seen 41 cities with some of the best names in dance music and, after a partnership with Ministry of Sound, is once again under complete control of its founder Andy Horsfield.
They’re celebrating the release of James Lavelle’s Global Underground 41 by releasing a super deluxe collector’s edition, which you can preorder now before its October release.
Pulse caught up with Andy to talk about all things Global Underground.
What has been your favourite of the Global Underground releases? Ooooooh, don’t ask me that! I’ve got lots of favourites. I love Sasha Ibiza, I always say that. I love Danny Tenaglia’s Athens record. But I mean, they’re all special.
I’ve been on all the trips and it’s very hard to pinpoint. We did the Sasha record back in 1999 and it still stands up and sounds amazing, it really does. That one’s the most special to me and the trip itself was mazing, we went to Ibiza twice for Sasha that year – for the opening party at Space, which is what the album is based on, and then the closing party at Space.
Back then Space was a complete freak show, it was amazing. There was all sorts of weird and wonderful characters in the club. So that one’s probably the most special, if I have to.
What’s your favourite city that’s been featured? I wouldn’t really say I had a favourite city; I have really fond memories of all of them.
The city that kind of made my head spin was Tokyo when we went with Tony De Vit because I’d never been to the far east. We landed in Tokyo after a twelve or fourteen hour flight from Europe, a little bit jet lagged and just straight into Tokyo.
Back then nobody spoke English: there were no signs in English and you were very very much aware you were somewhere completely alien. If you had to go anywhere you had to get the hotel reception to write something down in Japanese and hand it to the taxi driver so he knew where to take you. It’s still a little bit like that, but back then there was just no western influences at all.
Was the Dance music scene big in Tokyo at the time? Yeah, yeah. Huge. We played the Liquid Room and it was packed. I think it was fashion week or something so the place was full of models and it was crazy. It was huge, absolutely huge. The place was rammed, yeah. Really, really popular.
Does the popularity of a DJ matter when you’re choosing someone to do a mix? We work with artists. We don’t try and work with somebody who’s just hot right now in the way that, say, Fabric do and they pick somebody and in six months they might not be that popular.
“We work with people who put great, timeless mixes together and it’s as simple as that.”
I’m interested in putting great mixes out, I’m not interested in being the coolest person on the planet ‘cause I’m working with some obscure German techno artist who may or may not put a great album together. A DJ might churn out great remixes and be really hot at that point, but can they go into a studio and put together two and a half hours of amazing, timeless mix? Quite often the answer is no.
I do a lot of research and last year we did the Solomun record and every time I’ve seen him play and every mix I heard, from his Essential mix to the Watergate album he did was just amazing. He’s clearly not just an amazing club DJ but someone, as an artist, who can put an amazing mix together and that’s exactly what he did last year.
It’s funny, I thought he was an obvious choice, Solomun – he’s very hot and very talented – but the reaction on social media was a bit like ‘who is this guy’.
Really?! Yeah, yeah it’s quite surprising. A lot of people didn’t know who he was. And now it’s funny on our social media channels – a lot of people that were kind of skeptical last year listened to his record, loved it and now have been to his party in Ibiza this year and have just gone “Oh my God, I can’t believe Global have discovered this guy last year,” which is nonsense. We didn’t’ discover him, he’s been hugely successful over the last few years.
So it’s kind of weird… different people have different opinions about what we do.
In terms of how we choose people, I’m very particular and I do a lot of research. It’s not just about how good they are in a club. It is important that they are good club DJs because we do events and parties, but my primary concern is that they put timeless, amazing albums together that you can go back, listen to in ten, fifteen years and still absolutely love. I think that’s what we’ve managed to achieve.
Tony De Vit mixed the first ever CD and it was so different musically to the rest of the series. What was the thought process in getting him to do the first CD? Basically what we wanted when we started, and we’ve kind of stuck to it to this day, was that we work with the very best DJs in the world and it wasn’t a genre specific thing.
He was the best hard house DJ in the world at the time, god rest his soul, and the idea was to work with him and then maybe work with somebody like Oakenfold, who would do a Trance album; and then work with LTJ Bukem, who would have done a drum n bass album; and then the very best house DJ (which was Danny Tenaglia, that we actually ended up doing).
So we did the Oakenfold thing, we did the Tenaglia thing, we just never really went as broad as drum and bass. I’m not saying that we wouldn’t do that now because if somebody’s amazing then we’ll work with them.
I think Global to a lot of people are perceived as very progressive, but there’s only really a handful of DJs we’ve worked with who have followed that niche – Digweed back in the day and I guess Nick Warren and Sasha. But we’ve worked with techno DJs like Darren Emerson, this new James Lavelle record that we’ve got coming out is very different – it’s a kind of rock inspired album and James’ first album for us was all breaks.
Rightly or wrongly we are still perceived as quite progressive but we’ve actually worked with quite a broad range of DJs over the years; it’s just some of the biggest people we work with tend to be from the progressive scene.
I’m really curious, why did you wait until number 38 before getting Carl Cox on board? We’d spoken to Carl a number of times. A lot of the people we work with are the biggest in the world and schedules don’t always work. I’m not going to tell you who they are, but I’ve had ongoing conversations with certain people for ten years and they will do records for me.
A lot of people say “oh why haven’t you done a record with X “ and it’s like, well that person will eventually do something.
It wasn’t so much that we took so long to work with Carl. When we were starting he was always somebody we were friends with and was definitely someone who was on our radar. He was very specific about where he wanted to do it from, he wanted it to be very special and that’s why he chose Black Rock.
Do you feel any pressure to move away from the CD format as CD sales decrease in favour of digital downloads and streaming? No I don’t feel any pressure to move away from it. I mean, I know a lot of people buy our records and they collect them and have them on shelves together.
It flatters me that people buy every single one of our releases. Whether someone buys it and then they rip it and listen to it on their iPhone or however, I know a lot of people do that. They don’t necessarily listen to the CDs continuously, like in the car, they just rip it. But they like having the physical package.
Of course CD sales are not what they were. But, you know what, ten years ago I thought we were finished with CDs and yet we still sell the majority of our albums on CD.
I mean I don’t have a CD player on this laptop, it’s a Macbook Air. But the albums that I really like I buy on CD, I rip them and listen to them and then the CD goes into my collection.
You must have a lot of CDs. I do, yes [laughs].
Who would be your dream artist to hit up for a mix? I think I’d rather not answer that to be honest, because I always shoot for my dreams.
What are the plans for Global Underground in the future? I had a partnership with Ministry of Sound for six or seven years and I’ve just bought their half of the label back from them. I’ve had to think long and hard when I started running my company again “How can I come back, what can I come back with?”
I’m quite perverse, I look at everything that’s going on. You’re streaming mixes up on Soundcloud and Mixcloud and all the stuff on Youtube – it’s all available for free for people. I don’t really think it reflects the amount of work that my artists put into our albums. This UNKLE record, James has been working on for six months remixing tracks, creating new originals. To put that up as a free stream for people just doesn’t work for me or for the artist concerned, it doesn’t do the amount and the body of work justice.
So we came back with this collector’s thing, which I think is a grand gesture. The presales have been phenomenal and we haven’t even released a track listing yet. I’d say 90 per cent of our orders on the website have been for that collectors edition and you know it’s 35 pounds in the UK, it’s not a cheap CD format by any means. But our fans and James’ fans seem to love the idea of having something incredibly special with that album.
So people will pay for music in that format but you’ve got to give people something really special, which I think we’ve done here.
We’re glad to have you back. Solomun’s mix from Hamburg was fantastic and I will be preordering the James Lavelle CD. He’s actually already done a couple of mixes for the series. Is he your favourite? Yeah he’s definitely one of them. He’s just amazing and I’m really lucky to work with people like James that are just immensely talented. It makes my job a lot easier. When you work with people that have that level of talent, it’s why I do what I do.
Can you give us a bit of a mini review of the CD? There’s everything. [Lavelle]’s really good friends with Noel Gallagher, so he’s remixed Noel Gallagher; there’s three or four UNKLE originals on there; there’s existing remixes that he’s done of like Lana Del Ray, but he’s reworked his rework of that; there’s some exclusive remixes from Queens of the Stone Age.
It’s a very rock inspired album. It’s club tempo sort of stuff but it moves from 100 BPM all the way up to about 128, so it’s right across the board. There’s lots of songs on there, lots of vocals and lush music. It’s incredible.
GU41 Naples – James Lavelle presents UNKLESOUNDS is available for preorder now.