Now a DJ whose pounding dance beats are being used in numerous celluloid blockbusters, turntablist ANDY HUNTER met up with Mike Rimmer.
On the day that I am writing this feature I pick up a certain Christian newspaper and the teaser for the feature on Andy Hunter is titled "God's DJ". The question is, if God was a DJ, would he play Andy Hunter tracks?
The new EP is called 'Life' and it doesn't feel like an EP. For starters it's 43 minutes long! "It's good value for money!" insists the DJ. "I had about 16 tunes for this one but I think the record company wanted to try and put an EP out to reach a wider audience. Obviously it's cheaper so people are more likely to risk their hard-earned money on it."
In case you haven't sussed it out yet, Andy Hunter's debut album 'Exodus' spawned some monster tunes that ended up being heard on movie trailers, TV shows, film soundtracks and games consoles around the planet. It's been quite a journey. He reflects, "When I wrote 'Go', I thought it sounded like a James Bond track! You could see action all over it. I didn't write it with that purpose but once we put the strings on it, it sounded like it belonged on a film!" He admits that hearing his music on 'The Italian Job' soundtrack was a surreal experience. "It's just so weird hearing your music on a big film."
The new release seems to have more of a structured feel to it than his
previous albums. Although many tracks are still very lengthy, there
are more vocals and dare I suggest it to the man, it sounds more like
he's writing songs! "I wanted to experiment more with vocals," he
admits. "I was really getting into vocals. I wrote one of the tracks,
'Lifelight', with Neil Wilson from the band Steve. He sings on that.
So that's a song-based track. And I think just generally, my own
writing has improved in terms of melodies and writing lyrics as well.
So I was branching out into that."
In these days where DJs like Paul Oakenfold and Fatboy Slim and others have become celebrities playing club sets and earning a lot of money, Andy Hunter has joined that scene taking his talents on the road. "My first big gig was a tour with Tiësto, who got voted number one DJ the last three years," he remembers. "I ended up on the road with him for 10 dates, which was incredible. That was really good! And then playing in Miami, at Club Space, which is one of the biggest clubs in America with people like BT and Paul Van Dyk and Seb Fontaine. And then I've also been doing a lot of work with Microsoft, doing different parties for them and corporate parties. I did one in the South of France on a yacht. You know.it's a hard life!"
He laughs and then continues, "Microsoft did a DJ summit for a couple of days where they got a lot of top DJs in, like Roger Sanchez and Grandmaster Flash. A few hip-hop guys, Tony Touch and people like that. They invited me along and really I kicked the whole summit off. They wanted me to be a bridge between the DJs and Microsoft, being that I already had a working relationship with Microsoft. So it's just been incredible to meet with these DJs and just for my own skills, learn from them."
I recently dug out a very early album that Hunter worked on in the '90s when he was part of Hydro. 'Aborigination' was a collaboration with Robbie Bronniman from dba. Thinking back to those times, he says, "For me it was about learning the basics and starting to branch out into the world of programming. With Hydro, we'd perform live and that was exciting as well. Just to really grab experience from that. The heart behind Hydro really taught me a lot about who I am and just going for God and using it for worship and things like that. That's really been at the core of who I am these days as well."
Hydro always had a vision to go out into the club scene and take God there. It sounds very similar to what Hunter is doing now. "Yeah definitely," he admits, "it's still ringing true with me today. I'm just carrying on. It's amazing. Sometimes when I look back, I think it's amazing that I have got these albums out!"
He's come a long way but the vision is still there for people to experience the presence of God on the dancefloor. So how does that work when you're deejaying on a yacht for Microsoft? Andy reflects for a second and then says, "For me it's just about being who I am in Christ. Just being prayerful and open-minded while I'm spinning and even if I'm not spinning. Even if I'm just at these parties. It's being mindful and seeing if God wants to use me in any way. There's been so many times when people have come up to me after my deejaying and have said, 'Oh you're different from other DJs. You bring a different atmosphere. You seem so engrossed in your music.' For me, that's people seeing that God is on me and I can talk to them about why that is and about my faith and about my relationship with Jesus."
I reflect that it must be difficult for people unfamiliar with God because they don't have the vocabulary to describe what they're experiencing on a dancefloor. "That's true," agrees Hunter. "A lot of the time, people are there just for a good time, but there's also people who really enjoy music and are spiritually open-minded. That's why it's good for us Christians to be in there because so many people want to experience stuff and you can introduce them to the best experience ever. Which is having a relationship with God."
Working for Microsoft, he explains some of the things he's done recently. "I've just presented a documentary showing how to mix in 5.1 Surround Sound. So we took the track 'Come On' from the record and remixed it on 5.1. I also did a documentary on High Definition, which is like a new version of video which is really good quality. So I'm doing lots of stuff like that all the time. They're putting my tracks on as downloads on their website."
Surely it must be a challenge for Hunter himself to keep up with all the technological changes. "It is a bit," he admits. "It's expensive. I'm constantly having to sell gear in my studio to upgrade. Computers are moving so fast. You buy one computer and then a couple of months it's gone cheaper and there's a new model out. At the moment, I've just finished 'Life' so I'm in a time where I'm upgrading my studio. So I'm selling some gear to buy modern gear. Then I'll probably keep that studio until after the next project. I look at it like that and so I go in stages."
On the inside sleeve of the CD booklet there's a picture of Andy with some of his equipment but it's a little strange because I think he's doing a bit of an Elvis Presley thing. Apparently, I'm not alone in spotting this! He laughs and asks, "Fat Elvis or thin Elvis?" Unfortunately I have to let him know it's '70s Vegas Elvis. Oh dear!
Hunter splits his work between mainstream jobs and more obviously Christian work, however he doesn't see there being any divide in his work. "I try and live my life holistically. God is always someone that I'm going to talk about if I'm asked. I'm not going to push my faith down people's throats but if someone asks, I'll tell them. If someone asks me what the inspiration is behind my music I will tell them, because that's the truth. It's funny, a lot of these people obviously know that I'm a Christian. They know about my beliefs because they've asked me about it. It doesn't seem to bother them even if they don't agree with me and my values and my faith. At the end of the day they're into my music and they're into what I do. If what we do as Christians is really good then it's going to relate to people. So I find it fairly easy."
He relates a story that illustrates some of the misconceptions that some people can have about his faith. He shares, "I had a meeting with a guy who works in the music industry in South Wales. He read my biog and he was a bit concerned when he met me that he thought I might be preaching to him or witnessing to him. He just really didn't have a clue what to expect. But when I met with him I was totally professional and normal and said the things that had to be said about that meeting. But then he actually pushed and asked me about my faith. He was truthful in saying what he was expecting. Sometimes I've got to be careful with the words that I use on my biog and things like that, just so I don't alienate possible open doors that maybe God wants me to go through."
Since the '90s, Hunter has been involved with NGM and that relationship continues today. "I'm definitely still a part of those guys down there," he explains. "Obviously with my itinerary and with travelling all the time and the fact I live in Swansea, I guess I'm not at the hub of it so much anymore. But I'm still very aware and involved in some of the projects that go on there. I've just recently written a track for the 'Luv Esther' production that Ray Goudie is organising. There are also some of the training programmes they have like training some of the DJs and so I get with some of the teams as well. They act as my management too, so they look after my diary and things like that. So still very much involved but just because of the road I'm on it's not as much."
This autumn Hunter will be touring with the rock band Steve. He explains what will be happening. "It's really going to be a worship night." He elaborates, "The mentality we have with it is not 'business as usual.' That's kind of the phrase - 'It's not business as usual.' We really want God to show up at those meetings. We really want the two of us not to be a separate thing like, 'Okay, Andy Hunter's on,' and 'Now, the band Steve is on'. But really just go for God in worship and just see God do something with people and see lives changed in some way. We're going to be flexible to what the Spirit wants to do. Hopefully Steve will flow out of what I'm doing and it will just be a real holistic event."
Rock and dance music are two very different cultures so how are they going to overcome those differences? "It is musically different," he admits, "but obviously we've all got worship in common and going for God. When I've done things like this before, that's really bridged the gap because as long as you've got people who are passionate about God, they're going to go for God no matter what style the music is."
Our time is nearly up but I'm burning to ask him a cheeky question. Since I'm on the radio, people often expect me to also do discos so the summer wedding season is always a dangerous time for me. What about for Andy? "No I don't get asked to do many weddings! I've been known to play like an '80s party at one of my friend's birthday parties, but that's just good fun."
So you won't find Andy Hunter playing "YMCA" anywhere near you this summer! He laughs, "Well if you do, you know things are on the rocks a bit!"The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.