Going right back to his days putting on free parties in rural Essex, producer and visual artist Sim Hutchins, has always pitched his desire to do something different in opposition to what ravers want. “I swear we were the first people to play dubstep and grime in that context,” he says of the raves that gave him his first platform as a DJ and producer, “but people couldn't actually grasp it as a soundtrack to their night, so we usually played techstep and breakcore.”
Drawing equal influence from pirate radio, the early dubstep and grime scenes and free party crews like Life4Land and Scumtek, Hutchins has since taken his mischievous revisionist sensibilities to contexts far and beyond the Essex free party scene that spawned them. His latest album, Clubeighteen2thirty – out tomorrow Local Action – is the most compelling and conceptual club record he’s put out to date – a nostalgia-free ode to the soundtrack of his young adulthood which serves as a composite refinement of the self-reflexive, lo-fi aesthetic by which his artistry has come to be recognised. “I feel like my process of creation of audio and video is linked by the same propensity for low-fidelity and abstraction,” he tells me. “It’s a lot like how Jackson Pollock made his art; he circled the canvass endlessly, making what at first glance probably seem like arbitrary or random decisions, but which are actually very considered moves.” To gain a sense of the kind of covert consideration to which Hutchins alludes, one only has to look at “Let’s Commodify Our Love”. The lead track from his new project was released in advance of the full album with a video that melts, distorts and saturates typical imagery of old-school rave crowds so far that it dissociates its audience entirely from the sense of mimetic nostalgia that such footage usually evokes.
Hutchins describes working on Clubeighteen2thirty as “like chipping away at a sculpture,” stressing the physical nature of a production process which involved manual automation and “a lot of outboard stuff that doesn’t have MIDI.” It’s unsurprising, given the abstract textures and degraded surfaces which characterise his work in both sound and image, that he draws repeated comparison between his approach and the tactile practice of an experimental painter. “Sometimes I'm using generative processes where I put the machines to work and I oversee the results,” he says. “But before any of that happens, I've built the framework in which to drape the canvas on.” I quizzed Hutchins to unearth more about his unique creative process, the inspiration for his new album, and his vision for the future of rave.
Tell us about the ideas behind ‘Clubeighteen2thirty’. What’s it a response to and where did the inspiration come from?
Sim Hutchins: I set out with one thing in mind: to make a nostalgic record that was devoid of nostalgia. There're so many obvious things that make something ‘ravey’ or whatever, but my thing is to always allude to an idea – to take the framework that's in place but twist it up or melt it down, or hit the listener over the head with it. Each of the tracks takes something important from the soundtrack to my late teens and twenties and presents it in the context of the now.
I made use of a lot of rave tropes. There’s a hardcore piano in “Bath Salts…”, some hardstyle stabs in “Lost Squat Dog”, and some bro-step build-up mentality to “Let’s Commodify Our Love”. A lot of the marketing of the album has just emerged from playing around, like the ‘EDM not IDM’ tag we used, I actually remember seeing Tom Lea (Local Action) post on Facebook, something along the lines of, ‘Do we really need an IDM renaissance?’ That made me laugh. People were really catching feelings in the thread, whereas by suggesting in my video to “Let's Commodify Our Love” that EDM fans are, in the nicest way possible, fickle trend followers and puppets of monetary control over the scene has gotten me zero backlash. It seems to me that the EDM scene doesn't take itself that seriously. I'm a prankster who does things very tongue-in-cheek. I'm tryna have fun, always.
What motivated you to adopt a lo-fi approach and what effect do you think manipulating sound and images this way has?
Sim Hutchins: I think if you listen across to my catalogue I've not strayed far from the lo-fi sound people use to describe my work, and even in the visuals I’ve made too. I think a lot of it comes down to personal taste, it’s just my thing. I use expensive, vintage, Soviet-era drum machines alongside awful guitar pedals I got for a tenner off eBay. I often listen to stuff, especially club tracks, and think to myself, ‘Yeah this is cool but it makes me feel nothing in particular.’ It probably goes off in the club, and this record was supposed to be a club album, but one you listen to at home or hear on the radio. I think a lot of glossier stuff can communicate the personal too, it's just that I don't really go that route. Saying that, I am going intentionally more into hi-def in my new video stuff – that's been a goal of mine recently. Oh, and I just did a remix for worriedaboutsatan; it was the first time I used a soft synth in absolutely years and it sounds slick as fuck, so…
Local Action seems like a great fit. What were the label's first impressions of the project?
Sim Hutchins: You know it really was meant to be, I think. I’ve respected the label's output for time and what I admired the most was the label's way of doing things. I had this album finished and I was thinking what to do with it, and this was right around the time my Vantablank Stare EP dropped. I got a notification that Local Action was following me on Twitter and we ended up chatting at a New Atlantis night at Rye Wax. Tom told me he always dug my stuff, so I sent him the album and he had a listen. I can't speak for him personally, but, to me, it seemed he 100% got it and backed the concepts and ideas behind the record.
Did you approach this album feeling the same way you did while making your other projects?
Sim Hutchins: I think I’m a more confident artist now. I now know what I want to hear and how to do it. My first LP was as much a lesson in music as it was in discipline. Being able to finish tracks is the bane of every emerging producer and I struggled getting my thoughts down at one point. I mentioned earlier how I listen to stuff and let my internal monologue communicate how it makes me feel, and I think on this record I'd flexed that cortex muscle hard enough to make the process of sound selection easier. It's somewhat easier to do this with music anyhow than it is with visuals. I've made it my mission this year to get all up in design and communication and how I can visually present something that will have the same collective response that I've had in mind. Although it's tough, I'm really enjoying this route. If anyone reading this wants to suggest resources, get at me.
What’s your vision of the future for electronic music and club/rave culture?
Sim Hutchins: Each year I'm more and more impressed by the homogenisation of scenes and how things come to the forefront then fade away. Right now, you’ve got people from a once-exclusive little pocket taking their sound and doing it in the context of another and at the location that is considered the spiritual homeland of that club music. This will happen over and over as time goes on and produce ever-recurring variations of genre and sounds. I think we just need to get over, not only the exclusivity thing, which is what fucks up every emerging sound, but artists need to take control of their sound and scene before it's appropriated by the corporations and masses. Also, I'm sorry, but we do really need that IDM renaissance.
Clubeighteen2thirty drops tomorrow, 13 April, on Local Action.