A master of ambience and atmosphere, Sydney’s Simon Mann has been keeping dance floor denizens engaged and in the moment since the turn of the millennium. Simon will be performing live at Unison II – the second iteration of Brisbane’s new, pure live house, techno and ambient event, at The Brightside on Friday 6 July 2018.
Q. Simon Mann, you have been a consistent contributor to Sydney’s underground house and techno scene for a long time. As a musical environment, what does Sydney have to offer? What is it about your home that keeps you involved there?
A. I find Sydney to be a massive challenge musically. It’s a pretty diverse scene and trends can change pretty quickly, it’s always in a state of flux. Having your finger on the pulse can be tricky because promoters and venues change quite often and as a result, crowds and musical preferences change as well. Musically, I can’t help but make what I make, so I don’t necessarily fit in with what’s popular most of the time. Although occasionally Sydney does have a deep renaissance and the kind of music I make is appreciated a little more than usual.
I keep involved by constantly making music and playing gigs where I can. I get out to parties, whenever I can, to see friends play or support an event I enjoy. There is always a lot going on and Sydney has a vibrant scene happening, both above and beneath the authority that pervades the city. Sydney is also very resilient, considering the pressures put on the party scene from the state government.
Q. The first time I saw you play was at Capulet here in Brisbane, at a Buxton Records party in August 2016. Also performing that night were Echo Inspectors, and your good friend Trinity. I still have really fond memories of meeting you and your crew, and of the music that you performed for Brisbane’s techno enthusiasts at that event.
A. That Buxton party was really enjoyable; Brisbane crowds are up for anything and a heap of fun to play to. In Sydney, I’ve played for Nightime Drama a couple of times now, once DJing and once live, they throw great parties. I enjoy their flavour of techno and have most of their records. As with Echo Inspectors and Trinity, great producers and I thoroughly enjoy their music and play it often, but I digress.
I’ve also played live for .darkroom and DJ’ed for Trench in Sydney. Both great quality techno parties with great production and stage setups, very creative crews. Trench just threw an amazing fifth birthday party in a Marrickville warehouse and it was fantastic, very proud to be a part of that one. In Melbourne I recently played a live ambient set for the INSTASIS crew at The Sub Club and on a previous trip had DJ’ed an instore at Profile Records for Controlled Violence. I try to play at least a few live sets a year but have also been ramping up my DJ work as well.
Q. As a DJ you’ve been playing gigs for more than 15 years. Electronic music has gone through a lot of change in that time. How has the music you’ve played fared? What is different about what you play now compared to when you started?
A. It’s funny you asked this because it’s been something that’s come up in conversations a bit lately. When I started DJing, I played techno – Jeff Mills, Dave Clarke, Green Velvet, Dave Angel etc. although it wasn’t accepted socially to love or play techno in Sydney so much at the time. I also played house, minimal and tech house records which were more in demand for DJ work locally. I’d only ever really get to play proper techno at house parties or random underground events.
Now over 15 years later and techno is much more readily accepted in Sydney, there was a time in the last couple of years when all you’d be able to hear in Sydney was techno. Although that trend has now moved into the tech house and minimal sounds, it’s very reminiscent of 2003. In the last 15 years Sydney has had love affairs with so many different genres, but it seems we’ve come full circle since I began playing in clubs.
As far as my live music goes, I always tend to seek out deeper low-key sounds and ambient atmospheres, albeit coupled with a big kick drum to evoke energy on the dancefloor. When I’m sitting with my music for hours on end tweaking and moulding sounds, I find I quickly get over hearing harsh sounds repetitively. I go for filtered, deeper sounds most of the time. I like working with textures and enjoy finding complementary frequencies that work together in the mix. I enjoy the emotion that pads and strings evoke and tend to gravitate toward those timbres. So, when it comes to live music, I tend to just make what I make, and that always seems to be in the deeper, more moody end of the electronic music spectrum.
Q. You’ve played your own productions in live hardware sets at events for many years. Tell us about your process, how does it all come together when you play? What advice do you have for aspiring musicians and DJs who are keen to make the move to playing live hardware out?
A. My hardware setup is an evolving beast, it all began when I decided to have a family and weekly DJ work wasn’t sustainable anymore because there was a baby to care for. So, I started to buy synths and drum machines and started to make music myself. I wasn’t playing live music at all and only made music at home, which took the place of regular DJ work for many years. As my sound evolved and people started to take notice of the music I was producing, I started to get more live gigs and my music started to get released.
When I began to play live it was a very simple setup of a Yamaha RM1x and a Pioneer EFX unit, but over time my setup has evolved into eight analogue synths and drum machines with effects in Ableton Live. Basically, my process is that I’ll write patterns on all my machines’ sequencers and jam the sounds live while trying to create a cohesive whole. It’s a challenge because writing an evolving set can be hard when you’re creating individual parts one by one in the studio and making all the separate parts come together during the performance. There is a lot of background studio work that goes into creating the end performance. The process of playing it all live is basically a matter of arrangement of the parts and mixing the audio on the fly. I’m never quite sure where my sets will go; even though I have all the parts pre-written, in the heat of the moment, anything can occur.
My advice to anyone starting out is to keep it simple to begin with, master your equipment and focus on the sounds you enjoy. Keep evolving and don’t settle if you’re not happy with the results. There is always more to learn and different sounds to make. Create your own style and make the music you want to hear.
Q. Your SoundCloud features your live set recordings for Deep House Australia, Lush Sounds, .darkroom, Buxton Records, KiLTR SEsSIONS, IWTFA, INSTASIS and Trench. They are all Australian sources of live electronic music, so it is safe to say the scene is alive and well Down Under. Can you recommend some more channels for finding live house and techno? Who else is doing us proud?
A. As far as Australian channels go, I think you’ve listed my favourites, although I also really enjoy the Primary Colours, Machine and Bomphcast podcasts too. Deep Seahorse has some great episodes as well. Internationally you can’t go wrong with Hate, Invite’s Choice, Silent Season’s Campfire Stories and Hello Strange.
Q. In February 2018 your second EP for Brisbane label Buxton Records was released, entitled From Out Of Fog. You’ve produced tracks and EPs for Controlled Violence, Hypnotic Room Japan, ETUI Records, Lamb Shanks, High-Jack Records, East Point Sounds and Lobe Limbique. Another outlet for you has been releasing ambient and experimental pieces on Bandcamp, along with some of your other productions, which cover the spectrum of the deeper sounds of house and techno. What are you currently working on? What is next on the horizon?
A. I’m currently working on another EP for Controlled Violence which is coming together nicely; I can’t share too much about it other than to say it’s going to be exciting in both content and format. I’m going for something that’s pretty broad genre wise, and even trying my hand at some sounds I’ve never really tackled before.
Nightime Drama will be releasing a compilation that I’m proud to be contributing a track to. The EP will feature a mix of established artists and rising talent from Australia. Not sure of a release date as yet…
I’m also always writing music and sending demos out where I can. It’s a tricky process trying to share your music with labels; it comes with its own set of challenges.
Q. You’re clearly a connoisseur when it comes to music. Where do some of your other tastes lie? What’s your recommended listening at the moment?
A. Right now I’m enjoying a heap of newer European techno labels; I’m right into the first and second releases of newer labels because I feel they really push out quality music to introduce their label. I’ve found some incredible tracks by relatively unknown artists on these new labels. I enjoy seeking good music from artists that I’ve never heard of before; the exclusivity of finding vinyl only releases that aren’t popular is definitely a driving factor for me. Breaking new music as a DJ is one of my biggest passions.
Some of the newer labels I’ve been enjoying include Blanksheet, Nguillatun Records, Mary Go Wild Black, secondnature and BASSIANI. My trusted labels include Hypnus Records, Northern Electronics, Arts Collective and Concrete. Locally though I can’t go past Southern Lights, Analogue Attic, Primary Colours and Controlled Violence, and I can’t wait for Buxton Records’ first vinyl release!
Q. When you’re not behind the decks or in the studio you can be found skateboarding or capturing some amazing photographs. As a person who values creative expression, what do you have to say to young people who are trying find a work/life balance in our stressful modern world? Do you have any guidance that you can offer?
A. Thank you 🙂 I’m always looking for imagery that inspires me, so I can’t help but notice things that I want to take photos of. The whole photo thing evolved out of me trying to find some creativity while travelling to and from my day job, I work in analytics so everything I do is evidence based and there isn’t much room for creative insights. My photography spawned from my need to feel creative, I just really enjoy producing content, be it music, imagery or other artistic pursuits. It’s actually one of the things that keeps me motivated when not in the studio, ideally, I’d love to be making music all day, but currently that isn’t going to pay the bills.
My skateboarding is my physical outlet, I just let myself be free when I’m on my board and it can help me get rid of excess energy from sitting in an office all day, or to let off steam by thrashing around a mini ramp. I’ve been skating since I was 12 so it’s just part of my life now.
The only advice I can really give to anyone seeking a balance from the corporate, money driven world we find ourselves in these days, is to keep your eyes open and if something piques your interest, investigate it. There are so many things we are ‘forced’ to do in order to sustain our lives, things like work, education and household chores can become a drag, especially when we feel we have no other choice, they can really sap creative energy. I guess I’m always looking for ways to express myself creatively in order to offset the sometimes dreary world of making money to pay bills, of course the sweetener is buying records and musical equipment but unfortunately, I haven’t worked out a way to actually live in my synths yet.
In saying that, I’d love to make my income more creatively but sometimes creativity and financial rewards just don’t go hand in hand. I’m pretty envious of anyone who can sustain themselves financially while working in creative fields. This is actually the next step in my plan, to work creatively for an income.
Q. You’ve recorded an exclusive DJ set for Underground Sound, featuring music from artists from all over the world who are at the forefront of underground techno. Thank you so much! How did you select the tracks for this set?
A. This mix was pretty much new records, most of them arrived on Tuesday (26 June 2018). It’s diverse over all in that it starts mellow, and ends mellow, but it peaks in the middle somewhere with some pretty banging stuff. Overall I’m pretty happy considering I didn’t know the records super well, so I’m not going to critique it too much…
Q. We are really looking forward to having you play up here again Simon, for Unison II – Live House, Techno & Ambient, at The Brightside on 6 July 2018. Where will you take your listeners with your live hardware set on the night?
A. Thanks, I’m really looking forward to Unison as well. I’ll be playing a live set that covers ambient, deep house, minimal and deep techno. It’s pretty laid back with lots of ambience and pads, the overall sound of this set would be described as deep electronica, I’m hoping it resonates with the crowd. From what I’ve heard and read about Unison II, it’s going to be pretty diverse, so I’m keen to hear what everyone else is bringing along too.
Facebook Event: Unison II – Live House, Techno & Ambient
Buy Tickets: https://thebrightsidebrisbane.oztix.com.au/Default.aspx?Event=88513
01. Mike Schommer – Into The Night [Mosaic]
02. Studio Works – Three [7685REC]
03. Feral – East Slope [Hypnus Records]
04. Brothers Black – Marianas (Artefakt Remix) [voxnox Records]
05. Edit Select – Our Little Secret [BASSIANI]
06. Alfredo Mazzilli – Heliodor [Arts Collective]
07. Anthony Linell – Layers of Reality [Northern Electronics]
08. Patrick Siech – Bubbli [MARY GO WILD]
09. Fugal – Monolith [secondnature]
10. Théo Muller – Attentifs Ensemble [Concrete Music 07AM]
11. Sebastian Mullaert – Broken Mirror (Wa Wu We Reflection) [Mule Musiq]
12. Feral – Descending (A Shaman’s Dub) [Hypnus Records]
13. Claire Morgan – Inexorably [The Zeitgeist]