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Documenting club culture with Simo Cell

We caught up with the Paris-based artist to talk about his new release ‘YES.DJ’, club culture, drinks tokens and much more in an exclusive interview

Simo Cell has been delighting listeners over the past few years with his eclectic selection that takes in all manner of Bass- led sounds. His latest release YES.DJ is a celebration of dance music culture and features tracks heavily inspired by trap, tech funk and juke amongst all manner of Bass led goodness and comes equipped with a 60 page fanzine including documentation of photos taken by Simo Cell of drink tokens from clubs round the world!

With the release date rapidly approaching, we spoke to Simo Cell, who is currently on a tour of Europe to hear all about YES.DJ and its creation and how the tour is going and the return of playing live sets again as well as his celebration of club culture, his history with Bristol, working with Peverelist and Skee Mask and what music he has coming up next.

You’re currently on tour around Europe at the moment. How is the tour going and what have some of the highlights been?

I questioned the way I travelled before the pandemic and wrote an open letter to take ecological commitments. I try to consider flying as the last solution for travel  as well as using trains as much as possible on the same continent… It’s a new challenge. I refused gigs in the US this summer and came to Dekmantel Selectors in Croatia by Bus for example.  It is fun because you visit more cities and meet people but also exhausting. It’s a new process that I have to learn. Beside this, I played live for the first time this summer with my friend Abdullah Miniawy. We released an EP together on BFDM last year and it’s nice being able to present the project on stage. He sings and plays the trumpet while I play drums and synths. It’s so exciting and new for me. Visions festival in Brittany was definitely my highlight with him. I played dj sets too. It feels good to be back. Dekmantel Selectors was definitely the highlight so far. It was too crazy, the crowd turned into a mosh pit !!

How does it feel to be back out playing in front of live audiences again?

Such weird emotions. Djing used to be my job. Going back behind the decks after the big pandemic break makes me see things differently. I feel new to it. Gigs that go well make me feel so alive but I have a lot of trouble managing my emotions after a set that I’m not happy with.  Going back to something after a long break makes you question everything. People are up for simple club music (in a good way). It makes me revisit the old house, techno, and breakbeat records I used to play a lot before.

How did your set go at the Visions Festival recently?

We played at 8pm which is one of the best slots, the stage is in front of a cliff and the crowd is really dedicated to the music. It’s really something. All the ingredients were there. Before the show in Visions we had a couple of strange shows, two streamed concerts with no audience and two shows where people were sat. We were very frustrated and I started to doubt. Visions was the first time we played in good conditions. It was a magical moment, a big catharsis. It’s probably one of the best experiences I had on stage, it’s so rewarding to play our own music. I loved it because it’s also new and fresh for me.

What tracks are currently going down best in your sets?

A new track from Ploy called RAYHANA, also Pending In The Pattern, from Abdullah Miniawy and I, and Ahh Fuh from 100mado

Your new mini album YES.DJ is out next month. Are you excited to be getting it out there?

Yes ! It’s my first solo record in 3 years. I took my time, some tracks were made 2 or 3 years ago. But if I can still like them it’s probably a good sign.

How did the creation of the album go? 

I worked with a singing voice synthesizer software called Vocaloid to create computer vocals. The voices from Whispers and ‘not all it’s cracked up to be’ were made with Vocaloid. Also, Short Leg is actually a track that I made during an Ableton Workshop. I was in Tunis for a residency organised by a crew called Neuvième Ruche. The idea was to learn how to work with a very limited number of samples in order to show that limits can increase your creativity. I was teaching the session and participating at the same time, this is how Short Leg came out.

YES.DJ melds a lot of different and vibrant sounds from juke to B-Moreclub to trap, did you want this release to be a celebration of all those sounds of the dancefloor? 

As a DJ, I play a lot of different styles. My approach as a DJ nourishes the way I produce club music. B-More, Juke or Trap are genres that I love to play as a DJ so it’s definitely a celebration of all those sounds, but it was not intentional.  I made a lot of music in the last 3 years. I sorted all my demos and tried to come up with a cohesive whole.  I spent a lot of time defining particular colors, sounds and textures. I did a lot of work around low frequencies and compressions. The hats and high frequencies have a very special signature as well, a very crunchy sound. That’s why I allow myself to incorporate so many different aesthetics into my metal usic since it’s digested in a very personal way.

What track will guarantee to get you on the dance floor every single time? 

Promiscuous from Nelly Furtado

The track ‘not all its cracked up to be” is inspired by the mending sounds of Memphis hip hop, what was it about that sound that made you want to pay tribute? 

Memphis hip hop sounds really trippy and loud at the same time. There’s also this really slooooow vibe that talks to me a lot. I saw Judaah from bfdm playing Memphis hip hop tracks in his sets and it always works so well. It makes me realise I could try to cook a Memphis hip hop inspired track.

Have you been playing material from YES.DJ in your sets recently? 

Yes a lot. Especially Short Leg, Whispers and YES.DJ.

You have included a special edition fanzine with the vinyl release of YES.DJ, can you tell us about that and how the idea came about? 

Drink tickets were often left in my pocket or put away in a waist bag when I got home after a dj set. There was no particular reason to keep them. I was just like a kid who would collect pogs or marbles. One day I created an Instagram account to post them. Originally it was supposed to be a bit of fun trolling as I didn’t want to have a proper Instagram account, but it started to take off. I received IG messages from promoters asking me to post their drink tickets on my page. Also, a few promoters began making me special drinks tickets. As weird as it sounds, I became a drink ticket influencer! The truth is, I had become obsessed with drink tickets. I could pay for a drink rather than use my last drink ticket. I could also get sad when there was no drink ticket at a party.  At every party, I was excited to discover a new token.  It became an obsession.

Do you feel that it’s important to keep on documenting club culture? 

It’s important to keep on documenting every bit of culture ! This is how heritage is built

How do you feel that club culture has evolved and change since you’d started getting involved in it? 

I first discovered clubs around 2007/2008. Music wise,  it’s funny to see how trends come and go. The music that was popular 10 years ago becomes popular again. During a moment music becomes more futuristic, then we go back to the basics. And so on, it’s a never-ending game. Technology has changed the way of mixing. You can play shorter tracks and make loops or blends easily. It’s also a lot easier to have good selections today with Shazam and Internet communities. Therefore, to stand out you have to know how to build intelligent sets today. Also, the electronic scene is much more politicised today and is committed to defending its minorities. This summer I played on lineups where I was the only male. That wouldn’t have been possible five years ago, and that’s a very good thing.

What are some of the best clubs that you’ve ever played or raved at and what is it about them that makes them so special? 

It’s always a combination of several factors : the music, the audience (how diverse and open is the crowd), the sound system, the venue, the kindness of the staff. My favourite clubs are Ohm in Berlin, De School (rip) in Amsterdam, Bassiani in Tbilissi, Meta in Marseille and Nowadays in NYC. Ohm has a special atmosphere with its white tiles, central bar and red lights, De School is a huge dark basement, Bassiania is an old olympic pool behind a football stadium, Meta is a legendary squat, Nowadays has a wooden floor with small colored windows where the sun sees it in the morning.

What is the electronic music scene like where you’re at the moment and what new artists would you recommend for us to check out?

I’m currently based in Nantes. The city is smaller so there is more connection between all kinds of art. Graphist, architects, musicians hang out all together. We also have 2 great record shops and cool spots to play. You can check Dites Safran, Mercedeath, Magicien windows, Zone Rouge crew, Combe to name a few artists. I will soon release 2 newcomers from Nantes on my label TemeT, keep your eyes wide open !

simo-cell-ukbm

Photo by Adrien Ozouf


You are also closely associated with Bristol and the scene there, what was it with Bristol and the music that comes there that resonates with you so much?

The sub obviously !! The label is built as a family which is something very important for me. At the beginning, Livity artists were all neighbors and lived in Bristol. Obviously, even if each artist has his own personality, it has made it possible to shape a very precise aesthetic since everyone works and evolves together. Dubstep and Techno are two different genres and no one would have thought of mixing them together to create something new before 2010. Livity Sound made the fusion of both styles possible. Livity Sound created a new interstice in Electronic Dance Music. A very distinctive Bristol sound.

Do you see parallels with the music scenes in both Nantes and Bristol and what other cities have that same vibe to you? 

Bristol music is so singular. It’s impossible to compare Bristol with any other city.

You have released music on Peverelist’s Livity Sound label. How was it working with him on realising your music on Livity? 

A dream came true. One day we were hanging out in Berlin together. We spent the afternoon playing ping pong in a park with Kowton, Tess, Pev. It was that easy. Pev has always been very welcoming. I stayed a few times at his place in Bristol. We did studio sessions together and I learned a lot from him, especially about using less elements and letting simplicity speak for itself. For example on Stop The Killing there is this desire to go towards something minimalistic but very effective. It’s a track at the crossroads of bass and techno that represents the Livity Sound DNA.

How was the experience of making the TemeTape 2 with Peverelist and Low Jack that came out earlier in the year and what has the reaction to it been like? 

I have a residency in Nantes called Re-Cell where I invite an artist to play B2B with me for 8hours. I invited Pev, Low Jack and Skee Mask in 2018 and 2019. We recorded the DJ sets and decided to archive some extracts as it went super well during the nights. I listened to all the recordings to choose the best moments. Cassettes are limited to 90 minutes of listening time, it was hard to choose. There were over 25 hours of recordings. Reactions have been good. We had to repress the first tape with Skee Mask because it went sold out in 1 week.

You also did the first TemeTaoe with Skee Mask, was that just as fun to do?

With Skee Mask, we’ve been trying to play together for a long time because we’ve known each other for a while. We were swapping demos back in 2010. My residency was a good opportunity to invite him. We share a fairly similar vision of DJing, with a particular affection for fast, dynamic transitions, and the desire to make varied and heterogeneous sets by mixing different styles; footwork, hardcore, techno, house, bass, UK funky, grime, jungle, rap… Skee Mask is a sound freak who spends so much time digging into Bandcamp or Discogs when he’s not producing. His selection is impressive, his knowledge of footwork, hip-hop or grime is encyclopaedic, that’s what amazed me the most about him.

Have you got plans for a third volume at all? 

Probably!

Have you been working on any other new music that you can tell us about?

I wrote a lot of music last winter. I’m currently working on a new EP with Abdullah Miniawy.

Who would you say that your biggest influences when it comes to making music are? 

Argentinian folk music, Piazzola, Yupanqui. My dad is an Argentinian guitarist, he plays music taken from this repertoire among other genres.  Sudacas and Milongas cadences lie in my blood, this is probably why I love to use polyrhythm and write complex drum patterns.

What have been some of the highlights of your career so far? 

Been able to sign on Livity Sound, my first 2 Atonal sets in 2016 and 2017, my set at Sustain Release in 2018. The release ‘Kill Me Or Negotiate’ with Abdullah Miniawy, my set at Dekmantel Selectors this summer, the love show with Abdullah Miniawy at Visions Festival.

YES.DJ is out on 21st September and is available to pre-order here.

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