Waifs & Strays have been purveyors of forward thinking house music for over a half-decade. Among the crop of house artists to emerge around 2010, along with fellow Bristolians and friends Julio Bashmore and Eats Everything, Waifs & Strays have shown real staying power. Following the loss of Rich Beanland, one half of the original Waifs & Strays, in 2014 Amos Nelson has pushed the project forward with releases across a variety of labels and solo shows at clubs and festivals across the globe.
We sat down with Amos at Eastern Electrics to find out about the meaning of house music, why Amos does what he does and going it alone.
So you’re from Bristol. The number of artists we interview from Bristol is crazily high. Why do you think Bristol produces so much talent?
I think Bristol has always had a really strong musical culture – a really strong musical heritage.
Roni Size, Massive Attack and Portishead are examples of that. It kind of went into a little decline, but in the last eight years artists have stepped up their game a bit. There were already plenty people making good music, but suddenly there was a bit more of a platform.
Then you have things like Love Saves the Day, Motion, all the events that Rag has done, they’ve had a massive influence in bringing house music to Bristol. On top of that Bristol is a very bohemian city, a very artistic city. Also, you drive around certain areas and the walls are covered with really amazing graffiti.
Bristol has always had that creative energy where ever you go. You’re constantly getting inspired by the bits of art or music other people have done. It’s not the biggest of cities. In somewhere like London there is so much going on all the time. If you’re in Bristol, everything is quite concentrated, so everyone bounces off each other. The creativity just seeps in to you because you are surrounded by it all the time. It’s a really great place to live – really laid back and interesting – without being a massive city. There is no one reason why it produces such talent, it’s just a really nice positive place to live and that comes through in what we’re doing.
London’s Fabric or Bristol’s Motion, which is the better club?
That’s really difficult. That’s really, really difficult. I have a very strong connection with both clubs. I love Fabric. I maintain that Fabric is one of – if not the – best club in the world.
With Motion, Rag and I were actually the first people to put parties on there before it was even Motion. So, Motion has a very strong place in my heart as well. They are different, very different clubs. Motion parties are more of an event, whereas Fabric is more of a club.
There is no way that I could choose between the two, they’re both special in their own way. A non-committal answer but that is the truth. I’m just lucky that I’ve been involved in a small way with those clubs.
Waifs & Strays: Yeah Yeah
So, why are you here, playing at a music festival, rather than sitting in an office all day?
Passion really. Because it beats in me. If you like music, like playing music and you can make a career out of it, it’s a dream come true, really.
What does that passion mean to you then?
If you can do something that you love, that’s all you can really hope to achieve in a career, in life. If you can do something that you could do for free and get paid for it, then that’s great. I have DJed for free and would do it forever, but to be able to make a career out of it is amazing.
Who inspired that love for music?
Originally, old house DJs really. Sounds a bit cliché, but Frankie Knuckles, obviously. That’s what I was in to, that American, New York and Chicago sound. Kerri Chandler, people like that. I was always a house music person. And then more recently, the people who I’ve been associated with. Eats Everything is a good friend of mine, other Bristol people. You go places and hear your friends play and think, ‘Wow! That’s really inspiring.’
How do you feel about the term house music at the moment?
It’s a bit of a tough one. I don’t really know if you can define house music. As a song goes, it is a spiritual thing, it’s a body thing. I think that house music is a very broad genre of music. It’s like saying this is rock music, and rock music can be in all its different guises.
I think what is a little strange is people going into the sub-genres of house music, deep house is a prime example, and calling everything deep house or something. It’s not. It’s garage or it’s normal house music.
In the end, though, good music is good music regardless of labels.
How has becoming a solo artist changed how you make music?
It’s changed it a bit. Rich [the other half of Waifs & Strays] was obviously a huge influence in what we did and it did change things. It’s given me a bit more creative freedom but I miss his influence a lot. It’s a double-edged sword in that sense. We’re still friends, there is no bad blood there at all.
Does that apply to how you play live as well?
Yeah, that’s changed a lot. I’ve gone from playing with somebody to playing on my own. I quite like playing back-to-back, some DJs don’t, but I quite enjoy it. It’s nice to have total control. You know the direction you are going in your set and you don’t have someone else influencing that.
Not having Rich there definitely has had more of an influence on the DJing. It’s less of a collaborative thing now and more just doing whatever I want.
Waifs & Strays: OfUnsoundMind EP
Sticking with live performances, how important is the visual element of live performances?
I think that it’s incredibly important. I’m probably not the most visual DJ out there. Especially with the bigger clubs and events and festivals, things like that.
Having a stage presence is very important. Getting to the top level is very difficult if you don’t have a strong, charismatic presence on stage. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be doing something all the time. But if you have a strong presence it is definitely a positive and will help move your career forward. Obviously, if people like watching you, then they’re going to want to come and see you.
What’s been your favourite festival to play?
Got to be Glastonbury.
The first time I properly played Glastonbury and played a decent sized stage, it meant so much for me. When we got booked it was amazing and it went amazing and we played to a big crowd. That’s the one.
So what have you made of Eastern Electrics today?
It all looks really good, really friendly. All the stages seem really busy, so it looks good. Looking forward to getting back out there.