Interview: Sim Hutchins

In late 2015 we spoke to Sim Hutchins about the release of his debut album, I Enjoy To Sweep A Room on No Pain In Pop. The digital single Melanotan II / No Paco Rabanne followed in 2016, as did a stunning AV project on Lee Gamble’s UIQ label: Vantablank Stare was a personal response to what one might simply term the death of news. His latest work, Clubeighteen2thirty, reflects on a kind of imagined nostalgia for late ’90s White Island magic. Arriving via Local Action, it ponders the benefits of selective amnesia (pun intended), reflecting on “better times” that are intertwined with the mistakes of youth, the loss of friends, painful solitude and the consequences of excess. In one post, the label called it a “beautiful/brutal requiem for a D Ream”. So in the spirit of long-running Google Chat windows, we caught up with Sim for a lengthy discussion that covered his personal path through clubland, the sounds and impulses behind his latest release and, of course, the passage of time.

How are you feeling today? “Yeah prettay prettay good. What bout you?” Grand. Quiet Friday, weekend is here. (Not in a Human Traffic way, more a… pipe and slippers way.) “Ahaha. Someone just messaged me ‘It’s Friday, I’m not buying music on a Friday,’ CHEERS FOR YOUR SUPPORT LAD.” I bought and paid for it… Some time ago. April 5. “Awww really? What a lad.” It was the sticker that won me over. “Excellent.” Did you see who’s on the RA Exchange this week? “No?” Paul Oakenfold. “Lad”. Very appropriate listening for me in the build-up to this chat. Nostalgia for things not experienced. In my case anyway. So tell me, what’s your experience of all that – Ibiza, trance classics, Is Harry On The Boat? “I honestly experienced it only via CDs, listening to Kiss FM and those ‘Uncovered’ documentaries you’d have to sneak about watching (against your parents’ wishes). This was age like 8-12, so quite young. Like I found the Kiss In Ibiza CD I had the other week.” Some bangers on there. “Oh god yeah haha, the Club Ibiza ones were cool but more underground. Um so yeah like I’d listen to all that being young and naive, not even being close to clubbing age – knowing nothing about sex drugs and partying. It totally changed in my teen years, I just went full metal and left those behind. DJ Mag was a good read too, mostly cos it had absolutely loads of adverts for turntables and such – do you mind if I just riff on this stuff for a sec?” Not at all, go for it! “Ads for like KAM belt drive decks with an awful mixer, or those horrid all in one CD units with the jog wheels the size of a 50p. So I was saving up my pocket money for that stuff at like 10, and pulling in the old ‘it can be my birthday AND Christmas present’ and my parents gave in eventually. So after that ‘phase’ – and that’s what you go through at a young age I ‘spose, the absolute horror of your parents who bought the damn things – I ended up getting back into DJing at 18 and bought some Technics. So yeah at 18 I was DJing DnB and going to warehouse parties, miles away from anything pertaining to Ibiza Trance Classics ™.

“And so like I guess you’re alluding to what’s that got to do with the influence of the imagery/the name of the record/the campaign etc?” Yes, exactly. How does it all connect? But also I’m generally interested in your ‘dance music’ history. How it all led to here – I don’t think we touched on that last time. “Nah we didn’t, and it’s weird cos it’s gone through so many cycles and phases. You’ve got the influence of me listening to pirate radio, Kiss FM and buying crappy dance music ~ age 10, then 12-15 I’m just a moody teen listening to The Cure and Marilyn Manson – you know the type, we call em ‘greebos’ lol – then being into the darker side of the music spectrum lead me to fall in love with the proper dark DnB that was about at that time (people like Tech Itch, Dylan, the Renegade Hardware label). So I’d got decks, I was in with a crowd who went raving up London every weekend and we’d just do that, like live for the weekend style. Like really into the tunes too, listening to stations like Rude FM a lot.” For non-UK readers, Rude FM is a DnB station? “Yeah, a very well respected pirate. One of my fave memories from that time is seeing Stevie Hyper D – a big MC who sadly died – his mum get up on stage and recite his legendary ‘JUNGLISTS ARE YOU RE-EAD-Y’ bar. Origin FM too, that was more jump-up, but the darker stuff was on later. I actually did a few sets on there.” Never heard of jump-up but it has its own wiki entry! I am truly sheltered. 4/4 or nothing. “Ahahahha love it. Right so how the fuck did I end up releasing the debut Sim Hutchins LP – a record that’s encapsulates some sort of IDM spirit of sound/production – you may ask. I quite liked when you said earlier on DM that you interviewing me is like a ‘2 years on’ thing btw.” For sure. “Maybe we should save the next Sim’s Past saga for the ‘5 years on’ looool. I’m honestly thinking like wow so much has gone on up to this point. There’s a great bit in a William Boyd book, might be The New Confessions, where he makes a point of looking in the mirror each birthday and analysing his face, analysing his body – what’s grown or shrunk, fallen in or fallen out – with the purpose of figuring out his place in relation to the world. That’s what record release day feels like to me. It’s been a reflective process.” That’s brilliant. When you’re so used to yourself you might not see the changes without looking. “Yeah very true, and it’s not like we all keep full body pics of ourselves to compare them with (Jesus wept), BUT when you have a record that encapsulates a period of time it’s pretty cool to hold them up next to each other and see how much you’ve grown.” As I think I said over DM, it’s recognisably Sim; the sounds are the same, but they’re used in different ways and incorporate new ideas. “Yeah totally.”

Tom Lea (Local Action boss) has said that the UIQ release was a massive favourite of his, and that’s what led him to connect with you – how did you end up with Lee Gamble? “I sent him the tracks, the video clips and the concept and he just dug it. I’d dug the first releases UIQ put out, I love the design (by Dave Gaskarth), the web stuff (by Sam Keating-Fry) was just unreal, and I just thought yeah it’d be a great home for me. He’s a really inspirational fella.” Ah that’s nice. “I was surprised that release did so well, I mean it’s hardly dancefloor friendly, and one track is 15 mins *shruggie*” Was this your first contact with him? “Yeah I’d not sent him anything before.” That’s really cool to hear, that he was willing to take a punt. Obviously the music being good helps. “I think you gotta be quite considered where you put out music. I’d like to think I’ve been very choosy.” So far, three solid labels. “Yeah wow. Also it takes bloody ages to get out music. And so I’m really stoked to be working with LA.” It’s a bit of a leftfield release even for them. (Him?) “I had the express desire to do this with them, and yes like you say here I thought maybe it was leftfield, but the second Tom said he rated Vantablank I thought ‘right, this’ll work’. Trust me I’m used to being the oddball on a label, normal. I position myself that way anyway.”

So EDM not IDM. #braindance is a bourgeois decadence. I was talking to someone in work about how I’m a film snob but I love the Fast and the Furious films. Is this the musical equivalent? “Yes. Yes it is. And in all honestly these slogans were made up on the fly by me to give a bit of context to the listener, it’s like a soundbite yaknow, it’s saying ‘don’t take this TOO seriously’, to even suggest that EDM should be considered above IDM is pretty hilarious to me; I can imagine these guys just fuming at the suggestion, whilst the EDM lot continue dabbing pink molly and dressing like the flowery hoe filter on Snapchat. And that’s why Tom at Local Action is great, cos we just went ‘EDM NOT IDM’ yeah? Boom, let’s get some stickers done, this’ll ruffle the collars of some North Face jackets.” Like the whole Migos/Beatles thing. “Yessssssss, great example there.” The whole notion of commodification is quite intriguing too. That Paul Oakenfold interview, there’s a reference to everyone wearing smiley face tees – even if they have lofty ideals they still bought them somewhere. someone’s making money. “Yes very true. I think everyone just wants to feel a part of something. the last time I legit felt part of a scene was dubstep when it was at its peak – this is like 2006? – we’d go to all the clubs and see the same people (which is normal) but everyone is on the same sound. FFWD to now and you’ve still got the thing with the same crowd, but EVERYONE is on some individual wave. Take India Jordan for example, she’s running a very influential ambient label, but she can tear up dancefloors like it’s nothing.” For sure. “When I was in the DnB scene it laughable that you’d spend your money on records you can’t mix, let alone ones of a different genre.” Deliberately cutting yourself off from both ideas AND pleasure. “So being ANTI that mentality is basically me all over. In everything I do. I’m like ‘you’re this, how can you not be’. I used to have this idea that you should leave when it gets good, leave on a high. I’ve walked out of gigs before like ‘cool well it can only go down from here so imma skrrrt’. I find I’m just keeping myself entertained. When you finish a record it takes a LONG time before it comes out, artists forget about it and move on – and I’ve been guilty of this before – but this time I tried to really hone in the ideas about the record, the music, the visuals; I set myself a deadline and just did all that from scratch.”

A lot of the titles refer to some type of drug. From propofol to bath salts. Real party stuff. “Yeah and a lot of that is tied in with the notions of love etc. ‘Love is the Drug’ vibes. I’m using a lot of the notions of drug use and relationships to other human being to express the themes, and more so the metaphors of this album. Propofol was the drug that killed MJ. Everyone remembers where they were when that happened. “Baby You’a Drug” is a reference to dependency on a person, it’s masked as a compliment, but how great would it be to literally date heroin idk.” Lmao. Flipping these things on their heads. “And “Bath Salts in the Saccharin”, which is on some 4D chess level of metaphor because it’s like saying fake knock-off ecstasy is in the fake knock-off sugar, and you’re selling that as a drug or is it spiked?! Like an enigma wrapped in an enigma wrapped in Prosciutto ham. Starving here. Lol. So basically dance music and drugs go hand in hand. And they say you can’t find love in da club.” Aye. Again, back to Oakey, but he said that the reason house went stratospheric in ’88 was ecstasy. and it’s a truism at this point, but that’s cause it’s true. “Agreed. I’ve heard it being compared to a social awakening, that era. Like a return to tribal mentality, you think people who were accountants were getting absolutely off their nut on loudpack MDMA. And that era in ’88, bar maybe “Bath Salts” (since I used the baitest Korg rave piano on purpose) isn’t referenced at all in the music of this record. But that music influenced what I went and raved to. Old Simon Reynolds’ hardcore continuum.” Oh naturally. Sorry just tying things together in my head, not saying this music has anything as such to do with it! “No it’s cool I’m trying to bring some context to it. Part of me wanted everyone to assume by ‘rave requiem’ I meant that ’88 sound, so I wanted them to be either deeply disappointed, or pleasantly surprised. Like putting a gabber record in a Luther Vandross sleeve.” Rave-rolling.

On the subject of bait pianos, Sweep A Room used the Casio CZ right – are you still using that? What other bait instruments have you been playing with? “I’ve still got that yeah, I used it a bit but a lot of the sounds were samples called Sontfonts – you know these? they’re like really short samples from back when space was limited, and packed inside with metadata on looping them so as to appear seamless.” Ahhh! That sounds cool. Never heard of them. “So my idea to use them is because you can get them in packs of thousands, making flicking though to find a sound easy, and a lot of them are home-looped, and then shared on news groups or forums – the file size is tiny – and to me that just adds this layer to my tracks that there’s this ghostly remnant of human interference before I’ve even made one note.” That’s a beautiful idea. “For me the synthesis part hasn’t been that important, it will be… I’m never ruling out any particular route or sound. If anything I’ve left that whole side open and ready for me to dive into, having worked solidly at the idea and conceptual part as the basis of me making music.”

Is this right now a period of reflection or are you constantly making music? “Oh god I did the Lee Perry ‘burn down your studio and bury your mixer because it was evil’ bit right after I finished the album. In all honesty I thought C18230 would be the last time I made dance music. I was writing it as a fond goodbye to making club stuff.” It’s weird it doesn’t always seem like dance music. “It definitely is, and definitely isn’t.” From my notes – “Ecstasy Honeymoon Romance Period 2” starts with most Sim-ian sounds. Ebb and flow, hiss, crackle. Builds into something bigger and bolder. Synth themes, muted but still there – beats undermined by strange patterns, coming and going. “Yeah see that track is like the duality of my work epitomised, I’m just an ambient producer who tries sometimes to frame it in a dance music way. But so I’d finished the LP, and was like: ‘so that’s it goodbye and good luck? I don’t recall saying good luck.’ I’d recorded loads of material to use in a new record, just getting up at 6am and pulling the studio apart and trying to change my methods.” Is your studio still your bedroom? “No my front room is my bedroom, my studio is all of upstairs haha.” Wicked. “And then I still had these fragments of older club tunes left, and thought fuck it I gotta finish ’em. Fast forward now and playing the Clubeighteen2thirty live set in a club setting literally the most fun I’ve ever had. At a party last week people were banging on the walls looooooool.” Ahh class. “The ultimate existential crisis for me is leaving the club, then walking to an even bigger one. Like going from Plastic People to Tomorrowland. Now I’m like ‘ok, I want in. I’m staying. I can’t find my cloakroom ticket anyway so I’ll have to stay til the end’. Protip btw take a pic of it in case you DO lose it.”

Sim Hutchins – Clubeighteen2thirty is out now on Local Action. Buy here.

Aidan Hanratty

Dublin ...