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Mr Bass Man

Simon Harris

Article from Micro Music, August/September 1989

Vie Marshall talks to record producer Simon Harris, but will he show her his Yo-Yo?


Vie Marshall chats to mixmaster and record producer Simon Harris about the art of Yo-yoing - oh, and music!

Not many people could boast about being top producer and the yo-yo champion of the world (not many people would want-to - Ed). DJ cum recording artist and producer Simon Harris gave up 'walking the dog' and 'looping the loop' at the tender age of thirteen to concentrate on his music and hasn't looked back since.

Before his single Bass... How Low Can You Go? thumped its way into the mainstream charts it was a virtually inconceivable idea that a record composed of breakbeats and loops could prove danceable.

"When I started off" he says sitting in his state of the art, purpose built home-studio "all I had was a stereo which got for my twelfth or thirteenth birthday. All it had on it was one turntable, an amplifier and a cassette deck. I used to do mixes by pressing the pause button and playing with the balance.

I eventually worked my way up to doing parties for people and I bought myself a little DJ console (a Citronic Hawaii, the smallest console that you could possibly buy)".

But as they say from little acorns, big things grow and the diminutive Harris proved them right. He started to plough back all his profits from DJing into his sound and then began selling mixes of the current songs at the time to wine bars and fans. Soon he had an echo machine, a console with a graphic equaliser and a tape machine added to his collection.

"From there I got into editing. I met up with a DJ called Froggy, who was a well known local DJ at the time. He was very influential on me musically and he introduced me to the funk scene. Before, I was just into commercial disco music, you know whatever was in the charts at the time.

I think it was in 1981 that I got really heavily into the jazz and funk scene in London. I think that is where most of the DJ/producers around today first evolved. We call it the garage scene, which started back in the Paradise Garage club in New York, where that sort of music was very popular".

As well as his own music which comes out on FFRR label (a subsidiary of London Records), Simon Harris is actively involved in the work of up and coming artists such as MC Duke and the Demon Boyz who are on the Music Of Life label.

Harris founded the Music Of Life two years ago with music entrepreneur Chris France. France put in most of the initial funds to start the company and helped Simon afford the sixteen track recorder, which much of his earlier stuff, such as 'Bass... How Low Can You Go?' and tracks for the Demon Boyz and other M.Q.L stuff, was recorded on.

"'Bass... How Low Can You Go' was the hit that bought me the current 24 track set up which you see here. It was a big jump, but it was a jump that I managed to get London Records to pay for".

After 'Bass...' they asked me to do an album, and I said to them that if I was to do an album, I didn't really want to waste time or money sitting in an expensive studio, with someone being paid to run out for sandwiches and all the other expensive trimmings which you have to fork out for.

When I had the sixteen track set up, I had a Fostex E16, which I've kept. I think you can get a lot of good results with a 16 track and I would say that you don't particularly need a 24 track, unless you desperately want one. I don't really need a 24 track, I just thought to myself if "I can get it, I'll have it." He confesses in an unguarded moment.

"I use the 24 track for the remixes that I do. It's a lot easier to work at home on these things when you feel like it."

At this juncture Simon runs out of the room to go and blow his nose, he's suffering badly from hay fever, which he finds gets in the way quite a lot when he's trying to work. After some advice on how to ease the symptoms from me, we continue the interview with Simon clutching a handkerchief in wait for another sporadic burst of spray.

"With the two inch format and a big enough desk, which is what I bought (sniff sniff)... and some outboard gear it means I don't have to hire out a studio and that keeps the costs down, which means I can supply remixes cheaper to the record company, which should mean hopefully that I can get more work.

I have been doing a lot of remixes recently for artists like Ice T, EPMD and Tony Toni Tone. Those are all American artists and I think it's really great to be known and respected in the U.S. It's a dream come true... well it's great to be known anywhere really. It's more important than money to me, I guess it's egotistical, but then I think any producer or artist must be egotistical. That's the whole point of it really, you're in the game because you want to be appreciated for what you do. (Something that doesn't really come with being Yo-Yo Champion of the world eh? -Ed) It's not really important for me to feel that I've got a recognisable sound, although people do say that I have got a sound. I think it's limiting to have a sound because people are always expecting you to come out with a certain product. I want to be able to surprise people all the time with different types of music.

I did 'Bass...' on the Seck 18-82 desk, the EQ on it is really harsh, which I feel gave the track a lot of its 'street' sound. I got rid of that machine and now the EQ I've got is a lot softer. I can still get that 'street' edge, but it takes me about ten minutes longer than it used to".

Simon Harris' work has crossed the boundary between the street hardcore audience and the more commercially interested punter, a hard thing to do with Stock Aitken & Waterman type songs saturating the charts.

"I write my stuff more for people on the streets, I prefer for things not to be hyped and aimed for the pop market, because when artists start to write songs specifically for the charts the music starts to get watered down".

"If the song's good then it will sell naturally, I think a track by a group called Hijack called 'Hijack' (on the Music Of Life label) is a classic example. We put out that record because we believed in it, we didn't even think about sales, the thought that it might sell as much as Salt 'n' Pepa didn't even cross our minds. That track was absolutely huge in the clubs. Music should be approached from a grass roots level, not from a Stock Aitken and Waterman processed peas attitude. They produce their stuff like canned food rolling off a conveyor belt.

I was really surprised when 'Bass...' got into the charts I couldn't believe it. If my next record sells enough to get into the charts I'll be just as surprised and just as honoured. I don't really want to get too bogged down in the politics of the music business, that's another story."

So let's get down to Technology.

"The basis of a lot of my music is my Roland TR-909 drum machine, I've told myself time and time again that I'd get rid of it, but I can't because it's so brilliant. I've also got an R-8 drum machine (that's a Roland machine), it's pretty good, but I'm really disappointed that Roland haven't introduced the plugin cards quick enough and the screen on this machine isn't back lit.

I can't really see any sense in making people strain their eyes. I've got perfect eyesight (except when my eyes are playing me up because of the hay fever), but I'm thinking about the people who haven't, or who have got badly lit rooms".

Simon switches the machine on to demonstrate. "Isn't that pathetic!" He complains holding it towards the light. I have to agree. "Other than that it's a really good machine. I haven't worked out all the ins and outs of it yet, but apparently you can make it sound like a live drum. It's very kind to your ears but not to your eyes, I'm afraid.

I've also got a Sequential Studio 440, which is a drum machine, sampler and sequencer and I've got a huge library of samples that I've built up for it. My Sequential is the brain of my studio. I've done everything on this and all my work is centred round it. I use it for my midi sequencing with my Juno 1 and D-50 keyboards. It basically does what the Akai MPC-60 do and more, the only thing is it's very difficult to know how to use the thing when you first buy it. It's not user friendly. The manual was a great help though... beautifully written and easy to digest; unlike Akai manuals which are just hell. I recently threw the manual for S-1000 against the wall because I got so frustrated with it".

Regular readers of Micro Music will remember that rap star, Derek B, had the same complaint to make about Akai manuals. So come on Akai pull your finger out; make your manuals more reader friendly. (That's enough griping, back to the interview - Ed).

"My 24 track is actually second hand, it's a Soundcraft 762 machine, and it's brilliant."

For his effects. Simon uses two Yamaha SPX-90s MK IIs and for reverb he's got a Lexicon PCM-70.

"I use the tiled room effect on the PCM-70 a lot, it sounds exactly like a tiled room. They've got some funny names on this like gymnasium and gated plate.

I bought the Yamaha SPX-90 because you can do anything with it. For instance you can do reverb, compression and Echos.

I've got some really cheap Drawmers which are really great for harsh vocals and a really nice quality valve compressor.

I've got twelve Drawmer gates. When I do a mix I like things nice and quiet I don't like lots of hiss in the background, so I think gates are an essential for good quality mixes.

Something which I'm really into is mastering onto DAT. I store everything on DAT. I love the format, I think it's brilliant. The only problem is you can't edit on it, which means if I want to edit something I have to go over to my trusty two track machine. It's a bit of a nuisance, but there you go.

I've got a Roland 202, but I hardly ever use it; because it's got great sounds on it but I can't be bothered messing around with it trying to work out how it works with a sequencer in it. Hence my 303.

A little while ago everyone was saying the 303 was the 'acid machine', but I didn't buy mine because I wanted to make acid house music and it was really annoying to hear people saying that I did.

I recently got some NS10 monitor speakers and Tannoy monitor golds and JBL Control 1s and Quad amps, which I'm really impressed with.

Simon usually works in the wee small hours of the night, because he finds it more peaceful and inspirational. The only trouble with having a home studio for him is that he has to keep down the noise in case he annoys the neighbours. To date he's managed to get over that obstacle. His first music album 'Bass' is in the shops now, and as the title says it's heavy on the bass. Prior to 'Bass' Simon's L.P. works mounted to 3 issues of his 'Breaks, Beats And Scratches' series, which has just been critically acclaimed as the essential DJ tool. Who else could have come up with such an ingenious idea but Simon Harris.

He's not known as the top DJ cum producer in the country for nothing you know... nor the yo-yo champion of the world, come to that.


More with this artist



Previous Article in this issue

The Trackman Cometh

Next article in this issue

Through the Software Jungle


Publisher: Micro Music - Argus Specialist Publications

The current copyright owner/s of this content may differ from the originally published copyright notice.
More details on copyright ownership...

 

Micro Music - Aug/Sep 1989

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Artist:

Simon Harris


Role:

DJ / Producer

Interview by Vie Marshall

Previous article in this issue:

> The Trackman Cometh

Next article in this issue:

> Through the Software Jungle


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