Many of the finest albums are a mix of serendipity, connections, and genius. While many will tell you that the composition of ‘Screamadelica’ was more chemical in nature, don’t let them fool you. Without the meeting of Andrew Weatherall and Andrew Innes from Primal Scream, club culture in the UK would not be as it is today.
Having created two solid, if unremarkable, Rock albums in the late 1980s, Primal Scream as a band were at a cross-roads in their career as the 1990s began. Musically they were tied to a style of Garage Rock that was out of step with the burgeoning Acid House scene in the UK, as well as with the nascent steps of the Grunge Rock scene in the US. Personally, the party-going band were becoming entrenched in the Rave scene where they were to meet the DJ Andrew Weatherall. Skip a few hazy memories and the story goes that Primal Scream guitarist Andrew Innes provided Weatherall a copy of the bands ‘I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have’ with the request to remix it.
Weatherall was at this point a DJ with his finger on the pulse of dance floor trends nursing a deep love for Rock. His involvement with the fanzine and record label Boys’ Own and work as a music journalist brought him to the centre of the club scene. However, with little to no experience in a recording studio, the remix project was more of an experiment than a shot at a dance floor hit. An initial attempt was deemed too polite, while the follow up resulted in near instantaneous love and jubilation when it was pressed to 12” in February 1990. The success resulted in Weatherall gaining access to a hoard of session material as he and the band began work on a genre-defying, Dance/Rock hybrid that would spawn club hits, Top Of The Pops performances and one of the finest albums of the 1990s, only two years into the decade.
Yet, ‘Screamadelica’ has always been more than this linear telling of its gestation. That it appeared at all is serendipitous, as a great many cooks passed through the kitchens of its formation, from the band members and Weatherall to Terry Farley, Jah Wobble, The Orb’s Alex Paterson and the oft-overlooked Hugo Nicolson. These connections and abundant creatives not only provide breadth to the album but almost ensured its appeal.
At its most granular, ‘Screamadelica’ is the sound of a Rock band subsumed in the history of that genre, from The Byrds to the MC5. Those influences slip through overtly in the cover of the 13th Floor Elevators Garage-Psych opus ‘Slip Inside This House’ and more subtly through lyrical allusions to The Byrds, The Beatles, and more. The subsequent three decades have shown that Primal Scream are, at their core, verse-chorus-verse traditionalists. So when Andrew Weatherall and his fellow producers blew up that structure and in its place implanted an ear for loops, samples and dance floor rhythms the stage was set for something new. Yet, that’s not what makes ‘Screamadelica’ particularly unique, nor is it what ensures its place as a classic album that spoke to a generation. After all, many great Rock bands have seen their work remixed, sampled and screwed with by talented dance floor minded producers. Instead, what ensures ‘Screamadelica’s place in musical history is the manner in which the various players kept their focus on an end result that allowed the album to provide material that was club ready, could be played live and loud by a Garage Rock band, and could stand together as an album that sounds exceptional thirty years down the line. Taking in Acid House, Italo Disco, Psych-Rock, Soul, Funk, Dub, and Techno ‘Screamadelica’ is an amorphous album that fused three diverse audiences in a way no one had previously managed. With a remixer’s ear for carefully separated instrumentation, Andrew Weatherall’s arrangements allowed each track to be a canvas for whoever took to it; where beats, rhythms, melodies and vocals could each be accentuated or diminished with each play on stage, in a field, or on a bus.
Three decades since the recording of ‘Screamadelica’ and the album’s power still resonates. The winner of the inaugural Mercury Music Prize in 1992, the album has been featured on countless ‘Best Of’ lists since. Yet, this review must close celebrating not only the album, but its creators. On 17th February 2020 Andrew Weatherall died aged 56. His voracious appetite for music from the margins, his ear for sounds that resonate on dance floors, and his ability to build community every time he stepped behind the decks will live on. As a part of The Sabres of Paradise and later Two Lone Swordmen, he continued to shape musical culture. For many, his finest work was in a studio cutting, splicing, and tearing down the walls of Rock ‘n’ Roll to make ‘Screamadelica’ the first truly great British Dance album.