Knowing When To Go Home: Sim Hutchins Talks
Sim Hutchins has been having a lot of fun with Clubeighteen2thirty, his latest record (out now via Local Action). The mass market hedonism of Tomorrowland is distorted by lysergic glitches and saturation in the video for ‘Let’s Commodify Our Love’, where a fairy-tale about a future EDM revival skewers the movement with tongue firmly in cheek. Meanwhile in the video for ‘No More Propofol’ the phenomenon of boozy Brits abroad – and the surfeit of reality shows that document them – is satirised in good form, as footage of a group of lads on their first holiday is recoloured and captioned with sobering statistics concerning cases of hospitalized and incarcerated revellers.
The record itself is shot through with a similar sense of sabotage, as oblique electronics and subs tailored for robust soundsystems thrust and clash amongst vast resonances and heavily distressed disruptions. Conjuring a backwards slant on techno and rave that integrates spectral traces of dub and grime, Hutchins amasses atmospherics that cycle through submerged euphoria (‘No More Propofol’, ‘Let’s Commodify Our Love’, ‘Ecstasy Honeymoon Romance Period 2’, ‘Her Lazer Lout Eyes’) and post-rave disquiet (‘Lost Squat Dog’, ‘Bath Salts in the Saccharin’, ‘Dumped by Pirate Radio’), reflecting both the exhilaration and the fallout of nights out framed by dance music.
Clubeighteen2thirty bears more than a passing resemblance to such an experience. As outlined by the record’s precis, this is a work bound together by Sim’s conceptual preoccupations, in this case, rave nostalgia. Where Vantablank Stare – Sim’s previous release for Lee Gamble’s UIQ label – examined the severe, desensitizing overload of the contemporary news cycle, Clubeighteen2thirty pays subversive homage to the retrospection of rave culture, in both personal and collective terms. Yet instead of overstatement and reverence, Sim is concerned with critique and departure, dissecting this form of retrograde memorial with humour and invention. Ultimately, if this is a rave record – and there’s a case to say that this is in fact a record about the act of remembering rave – then it’s one where any familiar tropes have been thoroughly vandalized.
As Hutchins recounts, he’s been reflecting a lot on his own time going out to raves, and Clubeighteen2thirty seems to be a product of this contemplation, his own way of closing one chapter and beginning another. It’s a significant step that builds on the ambition demonstrated on Vantablank Stare, a record that not only rephrased the depths of dub techno and jungle but came accompanied with a rolling website that mirrored the concept of the record perfectly. With that previous entry and this current effort Hutchins has committed an engaging level of detail to his work which is rare in an era of immediacy and decontextualization.
Yet despite the rigour of Hutchins' approach, there’s no pretension or hubris in his attitude, a quality which comes as a relief in a climate where everyone seems to want to either say the ‘right’ thing all the time or to say very little. Instead there’s a sense that Hutchins could just as well discuss his first pinger, the merits of living in Essex or the transition of his listening habits from UKG to Napalm Death as he could anything else. The prospect of casual candour above the usual affectation and anonymity. This characteristic is extended to his intentions too, as elitism and delusions of grandeur are left at the door. Instead Hutchins sets out to make music for his own fulfilment and "for the punters" – the ones who, like him, have experienced all the excitement and inspiration, as well as the downfall and regret, that comes with following rave and the many musical denominations associated with it. What sets Hutchins' work apart in this respect is the resolve not to treat these punters like idiots, to avoid cynicism and derive enjoyment from his own experiences of dance music but to attempt to say something different and substantive in his own work.
These subjects and more besides are considered in our wide-ranging conversation as Hutchins recalls his first forays into rave and the free party scene, the influence of Adam Curtis, Lee Gamble and Avicii (RIP), his development as a producer and the inevitable realities of the comedown. Rave is dead, long live the rave.
Clubeighteen2thirty is cited as a rave requiem, and in the press release there’s references to your own experience growing up and going out. How did you first get into rave? Was there much of a scene around you? Were your mates into it? What were the records and the parties that shaped your experience?
There was a rave scene right under my nose the whole time and I didn't even know it, and it wasn't until age 16 when I took up the offer of a space in a mate's clapped out Ford Fiesta that I realised the free party scene in East Anglia was pretty lit. The thing I first went to was terrible by the way, but it was in this warehouse venue in deepest rural Essex that soon became a regular haunt for me, and the people I met there I went on to run events with (both legal and illegal). I remember hearing tracks from Aphex and Bong-Ra but the most poignant and powerful moment for me there was when Venetian Snares' 'Epidermis' dropped after a friend's funeral (we had the wake there) and all of us just tore the dancefloor up in our mate Tom's memory.
Rewinding a bit to my pre-teens I was always listening to pirate radio, though being ~30 miles from London meant often you'd have to blu-tak the scrappy wire that hangs out the back of the knock-off hi-fi you got for Christmas in cruel and unusual positions to achieve adequate tuneage. I was big into garage then, stuff like Tuff Jam, MJ Cole and The Dreem Teem (their “theme” being a fave of mine).
Also my local CD shop sold tape packs and I'd save up for those (United Dance/Slammin Vinyl etc.) I was into this stuff too early for it to be cool with the school crowd, and by the time '21 Seconds' came out (catapulting UKG into the forefront of UK pop culture) I was listening to Napalm Death albums and paying 15 quid for a meagre looking block of soap bar from a bloke whose acne scars had the visual appearance of moon rocks.
Like Vantablank Stare, Clubeighteen2thirty feels like a critique, albeit one with a more irreverent angle attached. What motives did you have in mind during the making of the record? What prompted you to start thinking about rave in this way?
I planned this to be my swan song to club music, I might not make club music any more. We'll see. It's not even really “club” music anyway, more my skewed view on the subject; I've always maintained that what I do is totally for me, and if other people dig it that's great. I did a lot of reflection first in making the record, and a lot more after. Speaking to people about it now has made me analyse the impact music has had on me, especially before I'd started producing, DJing or even been old enough to attend an event, and in ways I can't quite articulate yet.
There’s a precedent for records which reflect on rave as something faded and bygone (Leyland Kirby’s work as V/VM on the ‘Death of Rave’ record, Mark Leckey’s ‘Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore’ etc) Did any precursors like these come into your thinking? How do you personally diverge with how rave culture has been memorialized and conceptualized in music, art and elsewhere in the last few years?
I'm just not a fan of pastiche, I think it's just fucking cheesy, and that's what made rave go corny, and ultimately facilitated its demise int it? I haven't heard these records, but I really liked Lee Gamble's Diversions 1994-1996, and that's something that channels the spirit, without just replicating it devoid of all context. Saying that, in the club I feel it's completely different, the sound of the hardcore continuum was fuelled in most part by bodies moving, and an amen break chop, mentasm stab or distorted 909 is the cake stand propping up this neon-coloured blancmange if you ask me. I just probably won't listen to it on the night bus home.
As with Vantablank Stare the visuals created for some of the tracks on the record seem like an equally important facet. Patrick Savile (Bokeh Versions designer) did the cover for you too. What effect did you want the design and visual elements of this record to have?
It goes without saying that I'm a massive Adam Curtis fan, and not having the suave BBC accent of this Kent-born filmmaker (being blessed with these not-so-dulcet Essex timbres) I choose to subtitle my video work to tell a story instead. Fortunately, I make music too eh.
So, in ‘Let's Commodify Our Love’ I took footage from EDM-festival-turned-rave-pilgrimage 'Tomorrowland' and presented it in the form of a documentary made in the not too distant future which goes on to cite the rise and fall of both taste and monetary investment in youth culture. Hours of combing through footage of people in inappropriate Native American headdresses and looking like the hoe filter IRL made me look harder for instances of people enjoying solitary moments in a collective situation. Juxtapose that with the video for ‘No More Propofol’ where I alluded to what it means to be teenager on a 'coming of age' trip, and how any of us can be swept away under the tsunami of hedonism, and shallow self-indulgence.
I liked the humour in these videos and how there's some sincerity buried within them. What’s your take on EDM in 2018? You reckon the bubble’s about to burst as stated in the video…? And what were your memories of those reality shows? I remember coming in late and unashamedly watching them on Bravo etc…
I feel that the loss of Avicii could be the leitmotif for the bath salts finally wearing off for EDM, but no doubt his music will have influenced the next generation, so I can see no end to its reign of terror yet. Good. With regards to your unashamed Bravo sessions I love that there is a taboo feeling around these shows, I certainly wasn't allowed to watch them as a teenager growing up, and I think most of my peers had to do so secretly, or someone would Video+ it (VHS' poor man's version of TiVo) and we'd see it on a mislabelled cassette. You just wanted to see the odd hot ladette or occasional St George's flag bikinied boob pop out really, but I think the undercurrent that resonates with people and their interest in these shows is the feeling that anything can/will/should happen on these holidays, and that these events in the minds of the revellers/perpetrators effectively stay on these holidays. Not if you've got a camera sticking in your face the whole time they don't; I work with a bloke who was on Greece Uncovered, he drank WKD out of the stiletto of someone with a rather bad case of athlete's foot and went on to vomit electric blue out into the neon streets. Good times.
In the press release I liked how you pointed to how rave and club culture and the enthusiasm that goes with it is predicated on memories which are often unrealistic and how there’s always a ‘shit side’ to it all (the comedown, the darker points of excess etc) You mention friends you’ve lost too. What made you want to confront this darker aspect of rave and club culture?
Because what comes up must come down. I think a big part of clubbing being a religion for the 18-30 generation was the suicidal Monday feeling and mid-week comedown special so associated with partying, and drug taking and hedonism. These things go hand in hand I feel; you're on the tube to the rave and it's all tins and bumps and tunes and hugs, and you analyse that in relation to the ride home which is usually in near silence, with the added worry of being busted by the inspector cos you lost your ticket to the squashed cans and squat juice of the dancefloor (along with the particular braincells you need to articulate this delicate situation to a person in a position of authority).
You hail from, and are currently based in, Essex. I can imagine there’s pros and cons to that, both as a performer and as a punter. What do you like / dislike about Essex? How do you think being based there has impacted your work?
Being 30-odd miles from London is a blessing both financially and spiritually, but it's also a curse both spiritually and financially. I've been lucky that the culture I enjoyed was such a short train ride away, but also luckier to have open countryside to both roam and rave on. I think in my work you can hear and see the mentality of someone who purposely positions himself on the outer edge, often peering in but susceptible to hostile retreat. Also, we have peacocks here.
How do you think your sound and your approach has changed and developed from your releases on NPIP through till now?
I'm a whole lot more confident in knowing what I want, both in sound and achievement. I Enjoy to Sweep a Room and Ecology were pretty light on concept (if any was present at all) whereas now I feel to imbue my creations with context not only for the listener, but to provide myself with entertainment as well. I've not been a massive fan of club music since I stopped DJing, and a lot of the time when I hear a track out I'm constantly asking myself what is this tune saying to me? The whole deconstructed club thing I sometimes get lumped in with I was lukewarm on from the start, but going to shows with my friend – one of the biggest new music fans I know – and hearing her take: “just experience it, it does not matter for dancing” kinda taught me to leave the cynic at home playing with his machines, and go out and have it to some mechanical techno, even if the kick drums are misplaced for the sake of it.
How does your sound on record compare with your live set?
I use a lot of the tools from my studio (pedals/loopers) when I play. I'm into playing live material that I'll never release, and this was an important part of designing a more dancefloor-friendly set to showcase Clubeighteen2thirty. Dubplate culture – something annoying white men who post clips and title them stuff like “128k rinse fm rip” in hope that it provides something of value to tracks no-one wants to release (wow where'd that come from?) – can literally fuck off. I'm doing this for the punters basically. I performed the first ever one of these in a smokey club in Kosovo last year, and each time I feel I'm refining it more by watching the crowd's reactions. I guess you gotta book me to find out. [#ShillAlert]
You were playing a lot in Eastern Europe last year. How does it compare to gigs in the UK?
I'd never realised how spoilt I was being in earshot of London til I'd travelled doing music and seen the high regards in which other countries hold the UK. It's the dream for a lot of these guys to release music on our labels, something I think I took for granted before. I'm really into the culture and people in the eastern bloc, I've met some great people who I'll remain lifelong friends with, and that whole crowd just seem to get me and what I do. Also I get to answer messages often with questions like “hey Sim, what does “LADS” mean?”. Good job I'm a shade-seeker in summer or else I'd be bummed out my listenership are in paces where it's still snowing in April (hold tight my boy Zurkas Tepla).
What’s been the abiding legacy of your early days going out to raves? What still excites you about this culture?
I know when to go home. Amateurs stay at the sesh past the point the peak declines into a rapidly sinking ship, whereas I've sounded off the foghorn and disappeared in a haze of Lambert & Butler, and in time for the first train home.
What’s been the best and worst rave / night out you’ve ever been to?
Best: Countryside Alliance Crew (Wrong Music) at Herbs Farm, Essex featuring untold amount of dancefloor lolz revolving around the slogan “we're not HARDCORE, we're FARMCORE!” that was painted on the wall.
Worst: every single psytrance party I've ever unwittingly stumbled into, or been duped into going to as “there will be some DnB later”. Fuck you all. P.L.U.R. tho still.
Clubeighteen2thirty is out now via Local Action, buy it here. Photo courtesy of Earthly Humans.