From Beat Dis Boy To Mega-Blast Man
Bomb the Bass
tim simenon turns the tables
CLUB DJ TIM SIMENON - "BOMB THE BASS" TO HIS FRIENDS - HAS HIT THE BIG TIME HARDER THAN MOST OF HIS CUT-UP CONTEMPORARIES. FIRST THERE WERE TWO HIT SINGLES, NOW THERE'S AN ALBUM AND EVEN A LIVE TOUR...
"EVERYBODY IN THE STREET, get down to the funky beat." It was so simple. It was cool. Slick. Fresh. Addictive. And very, very successful. After the pioneers from MARRS had laid the groundwork with 'Pump Up the Volume', the door was open for DJs, engineers and producers to ransack their record collections, spend a couple of days in the recording studio, and cut themselves up a nice hit single or three. But relatively few people took up the challenge with any real determination - let alone talent or originality.
One DJ who did was young Tim Simenon, a handsome, Oriental-looking chap with the knack of being able to get bodies moving on the dancefloor and enough technical knowledge (and good luck) to start making his own records. He also had the good sense to realise that Tim Simenon was not a very memorable name and, being of modest disposition, decided to change it to something totally anonymous like "Bomb the Bass".
His first cut-up collage, 'Beat Dis', included samples from Gerry Anderson's 'Thunderbirds' TV series and the 'Everybody in the Street' hookline. It rocketed to number two in the UK singles chart, much to everyone's surprise, not least Tim's. The follow-up, a double-A affair called 'Megablast/Don't Make Make Me Wait', climbed almost as high.
Tim began DJing when he was 15 at friends' parties. His talent for mixing records, his vast knowledge of music and huge record collection ensured he was soon playing regularly at West End nightclubs like the Wag.
"I've been listening to a lot of black music since I was a kid", he says. "Then I branched off into listening to avant-garde stuff like Brian Eno and then on to Depeche Mode, Fad Gadget and Robert Rental. That branched into the electro scene with people like Afrika Bambaataa. It's been quite a steady musical tree."
But Tim's musical background goes beyond his DJing. He started out with piano lessons when he was at school but decided he wanted to pursue pop music as a record producer. The first step was to enrol at the School of Audio Engineering to learn to be a recording engineer. The course was to lead to the recording of 'Beat Dis'.
"It was like a bit of homework", he recalls. "I started at the school in September of '86 and around October a friend of mine booked some studio time at Hollywood studios, so I worked on 'Beat Dis' then. It started off as an experimental collage of my favourite parts of records which went down well when I was DJing."
The "friend" was one of the top men at independent record label Rhythm King. He signed Tim and pressed 1000 copies of the single. They'd sold out within a week.
"Word had got round and the pirates were playing it like mad. One minute I was at college and I'd got a job as a part-time waiter in a Japanese restaurant, the next I was at number five in the charts. The record was for myself and aimed at the clubs, I didn't think it would chart - I didn't think about it at all really. I was playing it at the Wag from acetate for about a month and people would come up to me and say 'what's this record?'. Nobody normally does that at the Wag because the people who go there really know their music."
Since then Tim Simenon hasn't looked back, and the recording course remains unfinished...
"I planned to be a tape operator at a good studio and, two or three years after that, produce. But I've missed all that tea-boy business out. The whole idea of the course was to produce a record, so I suppose 'Beat Dis' exempted me.
The overnight success of 'Beat Dis' could have got Tim signed to a major record label several times over. Yet instead of "selling out", he remained with Rhythm King. Why?
"I could have made a fortune by now doing shitty remixes", he says, "but I want to see a future in what I'm doing. If I'd been to a major company before 'Beat Dis' had been pressed they'd have told me to get out. At that time a lot of the DJ records were bootlegs because no major record company would put them out. After 'Beat Dis' came out, quite a few of the majors got onto my case and said 'we'll sign you up and give you lots of money', but I didn't want to know. If I'd signed to a major they'd have expected me to come out with a safe 'Jellybean' record so I'd be accepted into the pop scene. Rhythm King have no say in what I do, but then I don't tell them how to run their company."
Following the success of his singles, Simenon has been busy in the studio recording an album called 'In 2 the Dragon'. It contains a varied collection of songs that showcase not only his DJ's mixing skills, but also his talents as a songwriter. Tim claims the charts are not his main concern, that the album is structured with the club DJ in mind. So who buys the records, DJ or music fan?
"The people who buy these club records aren't all DJs. Generally they're people who've heard them in a club and liked them. My record wouldn't have made it to number two otherwise. Personally I don't like music like that at home. I listen to it and study it so that I'll know it for the club, but it wouldn't be something I'd listen to for easy listening. But I listen to a lot of rap at home - that used to be considered club music.
"I STARTED DOING SIMPLE MELODIES OVER KRAFTWERK OR YELLO BASSLINES, AND DISCOVERED HOW TO OPERATE KEYBOARDS AND STRUCTURE BASIC SONGS."
"I like loads of different types of music, so the album reflects what I am and what I'm doing. Also I like to work with other people so I'm not really in the limelight - I'll just be the man in the background who puts the beats and the music together. I wrote half of the tracks and the rest were co-written by myself and the artist: I'd do the music and the artist would come up with the lyrics."
Tim's songs usually begin life at home, where he records drum beats off records onto a multitrack recorder or recreates them on one of his own drum machines. From there he takes them into the recording studio where they are transferred to a computer sequencer.
"I get a lot of ideas from listening to drum patterns and things on records. At home now I've got a Roland Juno 106 synthesizer and a couple of turntables, and I lay ideas down onto an Akai MG614 multitrack recorder. I'll write a drum pattern for the basic beat, or if it's a drum break I'll lay beats down from the turntables for three minutes - or until I get tired. Then I'll lay down a bassline or additional samples over the top of other records. I just spin in ideas."
It all sounds rather cosy and sophisticated, but there was a time - not all that long ago - when Simenon had to settle for what he could afford.
"I started saving up my pocket money from paper rounds and bought a Yamaha CS01 synth, Roland SH101 synth, Roland MC202 sequencer and a Boss Dr Rhythm drum machine. I think anyone who started in that electronic field probably bought those or something similar. I started doing simple melodies over electronic beats and typical Kraftwerk or Yello basslines. That's how I discovered how to operate keyboards and how to structure very basic songs."
The link between DJing and making his own music started with a cassette deck, on which Tim would join sections of a record together using the pause button to stop the tape while he changed records.
"Then I remember reading an interview with some producer who talked about using a sampler to replace a snare sound he didn't like with the one from David Bowie's 'Let's Dance'. I didn't really know what a sampler was, but I thought T want one of those!'. It was obvious that people were going to start sampling chunks of music."
"I LIKE TO WORK WITH OTHER PEOPLE SO I'M NOT REALLY IN THE LIMELIGHT - JUST THE MAN IN THE BACKGROUND WHO PUTS THE BEATS AND THE MUSIC TOGETHER."
But just what is it that makes a drum break an irresistible dancefloor force, and how do you turn it into a good song?
"What I'm doing is about feel", says Tim. "If it sounds good I'll put it down. Most of the breaks come from the '70s disco era, although I even get drum breaks from Kraftwerk. Both 'Beat Dis' and 'Megablast' are collections of records that have gone down well when I'm DJing but the way I've used them is quite unique. I think a lot of the cut-up records that came alter 'Beat Dis' were either doing the same thing or they'd used a lot of cliched stuff. I think I've got quite an articulate structure of samples. I don't go to a music library and find the most obscure record I can use. The records I use may be obscure to the layman, but people who collect breaks will recognise them."
And while the punters are trying to spot Tim's sources, he's planning a first for a DJ-turned-recording-artist - he's taking Bomb the Bass on the road. How do you recreate a record made with computers and records on stage?
"Most of the drums will be off tape and we'll be scratching live on top of that", he explains, "because there's no way I can be cutting up the breaks and laying stuff over on top as well.
"Each track that I do is not going to sound like the album track. I want it to be a total reconstruction, as avant-garde as possible, so each track will be like a 12" remix. The whole thing will be quite fresh."
The tour is scheduled to begin around the end of October and should take in Britain, Europe, America and Japan. Everybody in the street, get down to the funky beat.
Interview by Tim Goodyer
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