When the luscious tones of 'The Gift' first starburst onto Top Of The Pops
in 1997, it was immediately obvious that Way Out West had more going on
than the usual dance act. Just as co-creator Nick Warren, with his
gamekeeper past, comedy writer-cartoonist brother, and high-quality DJ
career that has included Massive Attack and superclub Cream, clearly has
something more than the average DJ. With its eerie, evocative vocal from
Brit soul diva Joanna Law and its gorgeous, fluttering melodies, 'The Gift'
was a stylish, emotionally-brazen house record that connected as deeply
with people never found on a dancefloor as it did with die hard clubbers.
Even the Halifax Building Society felt moved enough to include 'The Gift'
on a celebrated advert, though they still turned Nick Warren down when he
applied for a mortgage.
The self-titled album that followed mixed fiery breakbeats with powerfully
melodic house and had just as widescreen an appeal as that smash single.
Three years later Way Out West, Nick Warren and former child prodigy Jody
Wisternoff, are back with their second album, 'Intensify', and the first
single, 'Intensify', that will set hearts fluttering. After one listen, you
just know it's going to be a huge hit.
'Intensify' has a perspective that only the best electronic act Moby,
Underworld, Chemical Brother, achieve. It means you don't have to spend
Saturday nights on a podium to enjoy their music (although you certainly
will if you do), because they're musically inventive enough to survive the
toughest challenges a home stereo can throw at them. "It's a dance album
but then I do think it sounds like an artist album and so many dance albums
don't," says Nick. 'Intensify' is a seamless collection of powerful house
music that wears discrete emotions on its sleeve and rides beats that kick
like an angry horse. There are innovative vocal numbers that weave magical
webs of rhythm over ethereal voices; and there are sleek, nasty grooves.
Tracks like the silvery 'Secret' pump hard, but retain a sheen of
effortless musicality. 'Call Me' is a sleazy funk beast that mixes dirty
grooves with recorded messages from a telephone dating service. When the
style known as 'progressive' first appeared in the UK in 1992, it was used
to celebrate early British house records that combined the energy of techno
with the funk of classic American house. Eight years later 'progressive'
has become one of the most dominant styles of dance music in the world -
played by DJs like Nick Warren, Sasha, John Digweed and Dave Seaman to club
crowds as far apart as Hungary and Argentina, Israel and America. With this
album, Way Out West have contextualised that sound into something bigger
than anyone has managed before.
26 YEAR old Jody Wisternoff, the other half of Way Out West, released his
first record when he was just 15: a home-made hip hop collaboration with
his rapper brother Sammy, that came out wrapped in Bristol cool. Produced
by Smith and Mighty for their 3 Stripe label, it earned the brothers a page
in The Face. By the time Jody reached A Level age, it was becoming obvious
to his parents that a normal job wasn't on the cards. The child prodigy
spent all his time DJing at illegal raves and making tunes in his bedroom
studio so the family did a deal. "There was an agreement that I had one
year to make money, otherwise I had to take my A Levels," Jody remembers
now, paying respect to his parents, "just old hippies really. Laid back
music lovers, just the same kind of people that I am now. They allowed me
to chase an idea."
Like Nick, Jody has watched his own DJing career explode - just this year
he's played in Colorado, Russia, Hong Kong and Hawaii. He's over a decade
younger than his partner but in that relaxed Bristol fashion, it doesn't
seem to bother either of them. Jody is more interested in recent remix work
for Orbital ('Nothing Left') and Inner City (re-released house classic
'Good Life'), or new vocalists like singer Aly Kennon, the breathy,
slightly folksome voice on the sweetly sad single 'Intensify' who Jody
found in a restaurant singing with a guitarist. Guitar and bass on this
track comes from Eelz of Bristol group Staircase. The restrained emotion in
Kennon's voice connected instantly with the moodier edges of Jody's musical
psyche. "Every time I sit behind a keyboard, the chords I play are
melancholy. There's always a tearful edge," he admits. You can find that
same emotional edge on the melody drenched 'Stealth', sung with quirky
pathos by Kirsty Hawkshaw, who topped the charts with Opus 3's 'Fine Day'
and has recently worked with BT, Hybrid and Ian Pooley.
WHEN Nick Warren was a gamekeeper in the wilds of Oxfordshire, he used to
walk Gary Glitter's dog. Living in Bristol in the late 80s and working as a
career's officer, he was a key DJ on the city's underground music scene
whose commitment to constantly finding the next new record, the best new
sound quickly earmarked him for success. He toured America as Massive
Attack's official DJ while building up a fierce loyalty amongst British
house crowds for a uniquely accessible approach to underground dance music.
He became a resident at Cream, the superclub that became a byword for
Liverpool's city centre rejuvenation and that single-handedly increased
applications to the local university. Now he's one of the most respected
DJs in the world, though he prefers to play abroad because it gives him the
freedom to create the kind of cutting edge soundtrack British clubs, more
mainstream than ever, can't handle. "The best crowds are outside the UK.
Northern Ireland is fantastic but really, I go to Israel or Hungary or the
States or South America and the people are really into good music." He's
explored his love of foreign travel through his DJ mix albums for the
internationally famous Global Underground series. As you might expect,
Warren didn't plumb for obvious destinations: his CDs were based on visits
to Sao Paolo, Amsterdam and Budapest.
Family is as key to Nick Warren as it is to partner Jody. Nick's brother
Mark writes comedy for Channel 4 and cartoon strips like Private Eye's
celebrated 'Celeb'. Three years ago Nick's wife Sarah gave birth to their
daughter Esme. "Once you have a child your perspective on life completely
changes," says Nick. "A fear comes into your life for the first time since
you were a kid. Wanting to shroud someone in cotton wool and wanting to
protect them from everything from pollution to crossing the road. When you
have a child you fall in love with them and it changes you and your
partner's life. But I still love the DJing and I feel I'm playing the best
I've ever played in my life."
There is no danger of Nick Warren ever falling out of love with dance
music. "It's the repetitive nature of it. That's the main thing. There's so
many more surprises in dance music than in rock music. Something can be
really dark or uplifting, but if it's done really well, it's fantastic.
It's the technology. We're making sounds that have never been heard
before." Jody, meanwhile, just wants to keep chasing the perfect track
around his studio and the perfect club around the world. "It's one of the
nicest things we do - going out, dancing, communicating with people, eye
contact," he says. It's as simple as that.