Thursday 19 March 2009

There's certainly no other artist in Bristol like Thumbs Aloft - the party-starting disco machine have been releasing some seriously hot re-edits for a while now and live they get you in a sweat like no other. With a world record already under their belt thanks to a bizarre show at Bloom, and with a history of putting on some of the finest eclectic DJs through their Best Before nights, few are as well-placed as Thumbs Aloft to rock a party so sweetly. Best Before is drawing to a close this Friday 20th March (see our pick of the week), so we felt it was time to get the good word from the Thumbs Aloft posse and see what's popping. They've also very kindly offered up one of their tasty edits for free.

B : Best Before is drawing to a close with one big final party. Why have you decided to stop one of Bristol's most eclectic parties?

TA: All good things must come to an end at some point. We’ve been putting on best before parties for five and a half years, which is a long time in anyone’s book. Once we got to the fifth birthday at the end of last year we began thinking where we could go next, and it soon became apparent that we all felt we’d taken best before almost as far as it could go. So we sat down and thought about how we could go out in style, and decided that the way to go was a big blow-out with our favourite guest sharing deck space with our residents and regulars.

Luckily Chris Duckenfield was up for it and free on the date we’d chosen so we locked it down! The bit I’m most looking for is the hour-long back-to-back bestbefore anthems mash-up at the end. All our residents will be sticking on a record or two, alongside James and Paul from Eat The Beat, who were regular guests when we first started, and Chris Duckenfield. He’s been taking it very seriously – he even asked us to provide him with a list of best before anthems!

B: We hear you’ve got a special CD giveaway. What’s that all about?

TA: It’s a limited edition CD called ‘The Final Version’, featuring mostly unreleased and exclusive reworks, re-edits and remixes from the best before: family. Most excitingly, Chris Duckenfield has given us a number of unreleased ‘Popular Peoples Front’ versions of obscure disco, soul and electrofunk records. The other versions come from Al Dare, Vast & Bulbous, Hardway Brothers, myself and Thumbs Aloft. We’re only doing 50 of these CDs – 25 to dish out to those who turn up early and 25 to hand out at the end.

B: What have been your most memorable moments from the Best Before history?

TA: There are so many to choose from! The one that always sends a shiver down my spine when I think about is the fourth birthday weekend we did in 2007. On the Friday night Norwegian dub disco legend Rune Lindbaek came and played at our fave little rave boozer, the Bank, for free – literally. We just paid him in beer, magic rolls and bus fare to Heathrow. He played a fantastic set and got a five-minute round of applause at the end!

The next night we went back to our original home, Timbuk2, and hosted the second room for Switch. Puffin Jack and Richard Carnage played an amazing set, just obscure underground belters mixed with classics – pure “hands in the air” fare. Then I hooked up with the Kelly Twins for an end-of-night acid house rinse-out that was much fun. In terms of other highlights, Brooks and Clyde playing live at Timbuk2 was great, Greg Wilson’s Bristol debut was hot and last year’s ludicrous Halloween bash with Padded Cell was great fun. Oh, and the time we hosted the second room at Clockwork and found Jesse Rose raving behind the speaker stack to our old acid and deep house selection was brilliant!

B: Do you feel you leave Bristol in a better place in terms of parties hosting varied music then when you started?

TA: Definitely. When we launched, there just didn’t seem to be anything in Bristol that really played a great variety of music – certainly not in that old school, slightly Northern “basement soul” style. We wanted to go out and hear broken beat, Detroit techno, deep house, proper disco, boogie, electrofunk, acid house, proper soul, hip hop, funk, acid house, afrobeat and party bangers all in the same place, but no-one was really doing that apart from Seen, and they were more jazz-inclined in those days.

It was hard to try and sell that idea of being mixed up and open-minded in those days, as it was all about selling your night on one type of music – drum and bass, breaks, house or whatever. And Bristol had few good house nights then – now there are loads. Over the last five years there seems to have been a shift away from obsessing about one genre to just playing good music. I don’t think anyone quite does it like best before and we have our own niche, but it’s brilliant seeing nights like Byte, Freejive, Futureboogie and Falling Up being so successful. And, of course, UFO, which best before/BYTE residents the Kelly Twins promote. I think they’re going to have a big year. Any night that books the Unabombers for one party, some mental techno dude for the next and then some wonk-hop nutters is properly open-minded and eclectic!

B: Talk us through the Thumbs Aloft experience...what's involved in the unique blend and what can we expect from a live show?

TA: The Thumbs Aloft experience is like nothing else we know of. No one else is idiotic enough to get an MC to hype over obscure disco records, pointless re-edits of unnecessary records and things with wobbly basslines made in the 1980s! Although myself and Five-Stylez are both sad music nerds with shelves full of obscure records with strange titles, when we get together we turn into shameless crowd-pleasing party freaks.

The live show is something we’ve been working on for a couple of years. For that we’re joined by MC Coherent from East London, who does various verses and hypes. Musically, we mix it up a lot and everything you hear we’ve reworked and re-tweaked in some way. It’s kind of like a Soundsystem versioning thing I suppose, but with live remixes of disco records, filthy broken beat, silly hip-house bangers and a boot-load of samples. The show we’re doing on Friday for best before will hopefully be the tightest we’ve done yet – we got together with Coherent the other day and he was sounding fresh. Expect a wild ride through the genres… and some obligatory silliness!

B: What's been the high point of Thumbs Aloft's career so far?

TA: Definitely our Musical Statues world record attempt at Bloom Festival a couple of years ago. For some unknown reason we suggested to the Bloom organizers that we could get them a world record if they have us a slot on the main stage. Amazingly, they said yes! The sight of 700-odd people playing musical statues to re-edits of Paul McCartney records on Saturday tea-time was just mindblowing. I found it hard to stop myself laughing to be honest! If anyone’s interested there’s some footage on YouTube. Apart from that, having our first sneaky 12” played by Annie Mac on Radio 1 was pretty amazing. As was the reaction we got for the live show at Bloom last year – 200 people throwing their “thumbs in the air” during one of Coherent’s spots was hilarious!

B: What does the future hold for Thumbs Aloft?

TA: World domination via the medium of kazoo-playing and disco dancing. Possibly. Certainly, we’ve got a few festival gigs this summer, including the Big Chill, which should be amazing. Our much discussed but never finished mix CD, ‘The Sound of Bedmo’, will be ready very soon, and we’re expanding our Bedmo Disco night. That started at the Spotted Cow but is now also monthly at LAB, starting on Sunday 22nd March. Incidentally, Bedmo Disco’s 1st Birthday Party will be at the Spotted Cow on Saturday 28th March. Eventually we’ll finish off some tunes and put them out, but we keep getting distracted by the shiny objects in our studio so don’t hold your breath.

B: Give us a top 5 (of anything)


1. Orange Juice – ‘Rip It Up’

This is such a fantastic record. Although technically new wave, it has a fantastically squelchy bassline and the song is just wonderful. There tends to be a fight between me and Puffin Jack to see who’ll stick it on first. Incidentally, we’ve done a special version for Friday night, which is also on the ‘Final Version’ CD we’re giving away.

2. Fleetwood Mac – ‘Everywhere’

A Puffin Jack fave, but loved by the rest of the best before: crew too. Maybe not the Mac’s finest hour, but it sounds belting at 4am after a night of dancing!

3. The Turtles – Happy Together [Wade Nichols Edit]

Brilliant dubbed-out dancefloor extension from none other than Todd Terje. This tends to inspire a mass drunken “best before can can” featuring the Kelly Twins, Legendary Tone and anyone else in close proximity.

4. Ladycop – To Be Real

Heavyweight Northern house wonkiness from 1995. Supposedly a cover of Cheryl Lynn’s disco anthem ‘To Be Real’, though it couldn’t be more different. God knows why you don’t hear this more in Bristol – it’s dead bassy and impossible not to dance like a loon to.

5. Thumbs Aloft – Stick Around

Probably overplayed at best before events for obvious reasons – it was our first vinyl release for starters – but always goes right off. 7 and a bit minutes of belting disco funk based on Paul McCartney’s ‘Coming Up’. I dare say this will get an airing on Friday, though it definitely won’t be the last tune.

Mr.Lee - Get Busy (Thumbs Aloft Edit)