screamadelica cover

Deep Cuts: The Making of Screamadelica

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Primal Scream’s Screamadelica was a significant milestone,  born from the technicolour acid house explosion that changed British music culture forever. We caught up with co-producer Hugo Nicolson to learn about his involvement in the record, collaborating with Andrew Weatherall and how he helped bring this classic album to life…

screamadelica cover

At thirty years young, Primal Scream’s Screamadelica still sounds as gloriously genre-twisting and life-affirming as it did when it first exploded into 1991.

As an album, the Scottish gang’s third long-player occupies a pivotal place in many record collections, revolutionising not only the fortunes of the band but the very fabric of British pop culture. Landing as acid house and ecstasy were still tearing up and down the land, the record defined the wide-eyed zeitgeist of those times, effortlessly blending rock and rave over its 11 tracks. The LP helped elevate the careers of Alan McGee’s Creation Records and Primal Scream, with the band scooping the first ever Mercury Prize in the year of its release.

Despite the success and acclaim, its origins were auspicious. Since their inception, Bobby Gillepsie’s band of rock and roll loving wreckheads had struggled to land an identity that fit, veering from the indie moments of 1987 debut Sonic Flower Groove and their guitar-heavy self-titled follow-up. On Screamadelica, the group opted to flip the switch after falling in love with dance music. They chose to work with different producers to elevate their sound and embrace electronic music – primarily the late, great Andrew Weatherall and collaborator Hugo Nicolson, who helped transform their original tracks.

“I had never heard of Primal Scream or Andy Weatherall when I first started on the project,” laughs Hugo, when reflecting on how he became embroiled in recording. “At the time, it was just another job and I had no idea how important it would become.”

Hugo’s studio career was initially inspired some years earlier by watching Paul McCartney using a mixing desk on children’s TV show, Blue Peter, Seeing a musical world he wanted to enter, Hugo knocked on the doors of various local studios asking for work experience until one took him in.

“The first studio I worked at asked me if I wanted to do some painting for them, then sit in on sessions in the evening,” Hugo explains. “Before long, I started helping out running the studio when people were away and sat in on recording for the Cocteau Twins when they were making Victorialand, their breakthrough album. From there, I managed to land a job at the Townhouse as a tape op.”

Meeting Weatherall

Hugo spent four years at the Townhouse, working with a range of different artists including idiosyncratic solo star Julian Cope before his manager got the call asking for him to join DJ Andrew Weatherall in the studio. He took himself to Battery Studios where the pair met for the very first time.

“Andrew assumed that every engineer could program and I was like, ‘I’m not very good at that’,” says Hugo of this first meeting. “I asked a friend to help me, then I worked out how to arrange everything on the SSL board. Andrew loved what I did, he was ecstatic when we first started collaborating. For me, I was pretending to be Adrian Sherwood who I had just worked with.”

Hugo cites the dub studio pioneer as an important influence because of his raw studio skills and intuitive approach. Rather than bury himself in technical prowess, Sherwood would go by musical instinct, a maxim which Hugo found inspiring and applied to his work on Screamadelica.

“At the Townhouse, you’d work with plenty of A-list producers, engineers and artists but I wasn’t really learning much from them,” Hugo explains. “When I met Adrian, I was really blown away by how he would manhandle the desk. It was a real eye opener, not to tiptoe around the music, but really go at it in terms of taking it apart.”

“Just Destroy It”

Hugo was drafted into work on the project after Andrew had already achieved success with an inspired reworking of the band’s I’m Losing More than I’ll Ever Have. His first version of the remix was deemed too close to the original so he went back and ripped it apart. In a recent interview after Andrew’s death, Bobby Gillespie remembers how Primal Scream guitarist Andrew Innes told the producer “just fucking destroy it”. The new version, dubbed Loaded and now featuring an iconic sample from Peter Fonda film, The Wild Angels, reached #16 in the charts. When Hugo joined the project, he remembers the atmosphere in the studio as a wildly creative one.

“The band loved Andy’s version of Loaded so it just felt like we could do whatever we wanted in the studio,” explains Hugo of their collaboration. “Usually, there’s normally a lot of politics when you’re the producer and you need to be very mindful of the band. But in this situation, we had carte blanche to go wherever we wanted with the music. Primal Scream would come down occasionally just to vibe but it was a very free, creative experience.”

Andy and Hugo had met at Battery but spent much of their time working out of Eden in Chiswick next door to Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osborne. They were producing Manchester’s Happy Mondays, another unconventional group fusing guitars and beats.

“That’s where we spent most of our time – and it was exciting to be next door to the Mondays,” recalls Hugo.

“It was an interesting way of working as I felt like we were hired as remix guys. Every morning, we’d have the tapes and Andy would have a specific idea. He really loved some of the My Bloody Valentine loops so he’d play some reference tracks, then I’d go to the computer and try to put something together.”

Hugo Nicholson
Hugo Nicolson


Crafting Screamadelica

Hugo and Andy had various multitrack tapes with different chord progressions and sounds Primal Scream had put together. The producers would cherry pick the elements they liked, load them into the samplers and begin building the music from there.

“It was initially tricky to get things in time,” says Hugo of the challenges stitching the songs together. “I’d find sections that would feel like an intro, work on that, then record it before moving onto the next part. It was challenging to get things aligned in time but once you had that, it’s quite fun and fluid. I knew how to work the computer on the desk so I could manipulate it in any way I needed.”

Hugo lists the Akai S1000s and S1100s as samplers at the heart of their process alongside a Korg M1 and an MPC 60 he acquired on his previous travels in Japan.

“We were also renting a lot of gear to do these remixes, then using this to gradually build something up,” he says. “Some tunes like Shine Like Stars, I’m Coming Down – these were less edits and more like one piece of music.

For the majority of their time together in the studio, Hugo says he could do no wrong in the eyes and ears of his collaborator. “Andy was always so enthusiastic during the making of Screamadelica,” he states. “The only times he would slow me down was when we were doing arrangements, I would always want to move the vibe on sooner, whereas he would let things go on and on. This seemed like more of a DJ mentality – if you find something good that works, then you’re happy to continue with it for a while.”

Don’t Fight It, Feel It

Hugo’s favourite tracks on the record veer from I’m Coming Down to Come Together alongside Don’t Fight It, Feel It. The latter’s final version was put together rapidly compared to some of the other moments on the album.

“We’d normally do tracks over a couple of days and had spent a day and half on a version of it,” he remembers. “Once we’d finished it, Andy said why don’t we have another go at it and I didn’t think we could do it.”

“I programmed the gate to open to a certain rhythm, put everything through the gate. Then fucked with it, added the backwards bassline, some extra elements, then suddenly it was there in its form. It took just a few hours to do but everyone loved it and it made the final version.”

While the album perfectly encapsulates the rush of a night out, bleeding into the morning after, Nicolson’s musical highs would come once a track had been successfully completed.

“If I felt something was good, I was just glad I had got away with it,” he laughs. “I was at the limit of my abilities. If something would work, then I’d be like, that’s a relief. Then we’d do the next bit and I’d try to maintain the quality. The euphoric bit for me would be when I’d listen to it at home, that’s where I’d get my kicks.”

Coming Down from Screamadelica

After Screamadelica was finished, Hugo went on tour with the band for a year and a half, pushing himself out of his comfort zone again both in terms of performing and the rampant acid house hedonism he was surrounded by.

“I ran all the MIDI gear on stage, and tried to be Adrian Sherwood again by dubbing everything up, possibly too much as I was so nervous about being there,” Hugo remembers.

“I wasn’t the greatest rock star either on or off the stage, and it was hedonistic. I’d always wanted to go on tour with a band, but I went on tour with the most rock and roll one in the world at the time. I was like what the fuck is going on?”

These days Hugo is based in LA, investing his time in working with unsigned and emerging talent as well as releasing his own dance music productions. His career has taken in various stints as an engineer with the likes of David Holmes and Youth. Unsurprisingly, he looks back fondly on Screamadelica as it reaches its 30th anniversary.

“The record itself does give me a warm glow,” he says. “It was a very creative time for me, but it felt so positive everywhere else too. Everyone seemed optimistic and had this great attitude.”

“When people hear this record, they’re taken right back to that period of time. It recaptures those feelings, that energy. It may not have lasted very long, but it was very, very special.”

Visit Hugo’s website for more information on his work

Primal Scream will play a series of anniversary shows in the summer of 2022.

Visit the official Primal Scream website for more information