Seance Insight: Simon Heartfield
Written by seanceradio on June 2, 2016
Simon Heartfield has a musical lineage stretching back to the late 80’s as founder member of electro noise terrorists Twelve 88 Cartel (Bite Back!) and later bass player with John Peel Session faves the Psylons (Thunderbird).
From 1996 he was DJ’ing regularly at techno clubs like Geushky, Vurt and Defcon 1 as well performing live with Seatman Separator who have released six albums to date. Simon also collaborated with Surefoot on their acclaimed “Rucksack EP” released on Brenda Russell’s On Test label which appeared in the record boxes of such diverse DJ’s as Dietrich Schoeneman, Joel Mull and Carl Cox.
Simon has a number of releases to his name including “Permanent Way” in 2005, the “Sublimate” EP on Techment Records and the downtempo album “Reconsequences” on In Deep Recordings.
In 2010 the album “Venom and Eternity” was released on Dust Up Records via EPM Music followed by the album “Schrage Musik” in 2011. Simon has also been an active promoter and resident DJ for the Downtown, Phase 2, Release and Binary Nation nights in Portsmouth and has played alongside Dr Alex Paterson from the Orb, Billy Nasty, Mark Broom, Darren Price, Umek, Aubrey, Fabio Paras, Luke Slater, Terry Mitchell, Colin Dale, Ian Void, Actress, Matt O’Brien, Chris Finke, 65D Mavericks and Mark Ambrose.
We caught up with Simon to find out more:
Your back catalogue is really varied, taking in many different musical styles, and includes audio-visual work, several bands, singles and albums, DJing and remix work. Has this been planned out, or do you just follow inspiration when it strikes?
Absolutely not, I could rarely be accused of having a plan for anything! Things tend to happen naturally by chance or by opportunity. I get inspired by something and work from there, often without a specific plan. An album like Venom and Eternity came from the desire to work with a number of different singers on one release, which is something I’d never done before. Lately it’s been working on material specifically for releases on a labels like Low Noise Productions in Canada who have provided their own inspiration and support.
In the last few years I’ve tended to work on my own more which has its advantages and disadvantages, the only exception being the many remixes I’ve done but that doesn’t usually involve working directly with other artists.
I noticed you recorded a Peel session for BBC 1 as part of the Psylons and toured with several well-known bands back in the day. How does this experience compare to playing an electronic gig, or a DJ set?
Playing in bands like Psylons and Twelve 88 Cartel feels like a lifetime ago. The writing, rehearsing and gigging process was totally different and in fact the whole music scene was in many ways. I only started DJing in the mid-90s when both bands had finished. I’d lost interest in regular rehearsals or writing music within the constraints of a band. The appeal of DJing was that of learning a new skill, being self-sufficient and becoming part of a new musical scene as techno emerged.
The downside was I become so purist about electronic music and techno in particular didn’t pick up a guitar for another 15 years, which in retrospect was one of the stupidest things I ever did. I love playing guitar and bass again but I don’t feel confident enough yet to use guitars again live with electronics, it’s something I’ve been thinking about.
Having said that, in the early days of Twelve 88 used a lot of analogue synths and drum machines together with guitars so maybe things are coming full circle!
I enjoyed listening back to the Twelve 88 Cartel material, how did the group come about and how do you think things have changed for people starting bands these days?
The three of us were all at Art College together in Portsmouth where there was a small music room where used to hang out. I’d written some electronic tracks very much influenced by Cabaret Voltaire, Front 242 and Test Dept. We put a live set together pretty quickly and did our first gig at the old Polytechnic Ents hall complete with projections video screens, oil drums and metal percussion on stage.
Bits of my musical past with Twelve 88 Cartel emerge from time to time. It seems the band still have a bit of a profile in Spain. A label in Barcelona called Domestica who specialise in high quality 80s and 90s electronic music re-issues got in touch out of the blue and they wanted to re-licence the first Twelve 88 Cartel album We Encourage Resistance. They’ve just released a compilation with a track from it – luckily the original label owner still had a copy of the master.
I guess musicians still form bands in similar ways though the way people engage with music has fundamentally changed. Although social and electronic media has changed the way a band get their music heard many, of the essential questions still exist – how do we get decent gigs?, how do we get people to buy our music? I think the only thing that has radically changed is it’s so much easier to make your music available.
I’m quite proud the fact that Twelve 88 Cartel were releasing vinyl and getting features in music magazines and papers in the days when it was so much harder to do it.
Your electro roots are clear in newer works such as 2014’s “Ornament & Crime” along with punk, techno and ambient influences. What would you say is the musical genre that has had the greatest impact on you?
There’s no single genre but the major formative music influences when I was young were a) hearing Kraftwerk’s Autobahn when I was 13 b) hearing Joy Divison’s “She’s Lost Control” and Magazine’s “Motorcade” on the radio when I was 17 and c) buying British Electric Foundation’s “Music For Stowaways” on holiday when I was 18 – it’s the single most influential electronic album for me.
Up until hearing Kraftwerk my record collection consisted of a Beatles compilation, a Monkees compilation, Geoff Love’s Big War Movie Themes and a Thunderbirds TV series EP. All still enjoyable records though and not without some influence either.
Your last record was “a musical score in four movements for an imagined ballet” – quite a change from the prior EP “Clock Code”, can you tell us how this came about?
About 5 years ago, in the spirit of trying something new, I went to see the Royal New Zealand Ballet at the Barbican in London who were using a favourite piece of Philp Glass music in their performance. I knew nothing about ballet but the whole event was mesmerising so I decided to go to see the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden which was the next level again. I found I really preferred the modern ballet productions because of the scores of people like Max Richter, Joby Talbot and Scanner many of which have electronic elements in them.
I started going regularly and got totally absorbed by it and the next few times I was in the studio I would think back to some of the choreography, particular dancers and moves and some musical ideas began to form. I’d done an imagined film soundtrack before which consisted on several short tracks and a title theme but I wanted to do a proper thematic 25 minute score that a choreographer could conceivably work with.
I’m currently discussing with dancers and choreographer about them doing something at a live A/V event in July so it’ll no longer be “imagined” in that sense!
Tell us about your current direction and projects, what is interesting you right now and where do you draw your influences and ideas from currently.
Plans for this year are: to write a brand new 45 minute live set which I’ll be performing at the Victorious Festival in Southsea in August. Write a new, possibly narrative ballet score to be performed as a site specific event in London – going to look at potential venues soon. I’d like do another techno/club tracks EP at some point this year too.
I was intending to do the third in the Venom, Ornament trilogy of albums this year but that might be something for 2017.
Low Noise Productions are re-releasing my One World Or None EP on vinyl too.
I listened to a lot of Shostakovich before starting on Music For Imagined ballet, though the danger with listening to genius classical composers is it can be overwhelming and totally counter-productive.
I’m not sure about direct influences but the most exciting and innovative producers around for me currently are Clark, Kangding Ray and Lakker/Eomac – I love the way they completely have their own sound, which is the most difficult thing of all to achieve in my experience.
Finally what do you think is the single most important lesson you have learned in the music industry and why?
Producing music is not like making food – there’s no recipe book. If any formula is evident in your work you’re creatively dead in the water.
“Simon’s music and visuals are deep, emotive pieces, reminiscent of Chris & Cosey and Coil whilst still showing a crisp contemporary edge” PLEX
Don’t forget to tune in to Simon’s Secret Self Radio Show Sunday’s 17:00 UTC+1