By: Mitchell Treend
Simon Begg has put in the years. His career has lead to countless releases for major labels in the UK and Europe as well as the chance to lend his abilities to the likes of BBC, MTV and various film outlets. His work is steeped in a fascination for noise; an obsession with the potential for sound to express the ineffable.
We don’t have to woefully slap the term “toiling in obscurity” on him like a melancholy afterthought, because amongst bass music producers Si Begg is a god. Lorin Ashton of Bassnectar fame credits him with helping to develop the sounds that so many in his rabid army of bassheads pine over today. His supporters include curators as disparate as The Glitch Mob, Thom Yorke, and the late BBC legend John Peel.
After some reclusive years away from touring spent grinding away on film and television projects in the studio, Si Begg is slated to release a brand new album, Blueprints on Berlin’s left-field Shitkatapult label. His sixth studio album and first in four years is built around an inscrutable engineering journal his grandfather George, a legend in his own field, left behind full of thermodynamic tables and labyrinthine designs for factory-grade machinery.
Today we premiere “Vacuum Pump Ejector,” an industrial goliath that hisses scalding steam and pulses with the rigidity of pistons firing a series hydraulic hammers. Standing in stark contrast to the ambient musings of miniature clockwork that make up much of Blueprints, this track glows with mechanical energy and serves as a the missing link between Begg’s entire catalog and the brash experimentalism of today’s nascent bass stars.
We are extremely humbled to share that Simon took the time to answer a few personal questions and tell us more about the concepts behind this album.
The Untz: What was the first instrument you had the chance to play? Who gave it to you/ where did you find it?
Simon: We had a nice piano in my house when I was growing up. My dad is pretty good player, so that was where I started. I didn't get far technically (Grade 1) but loved mucking around, holding down the sustain pedal and just improvising etc. Then I started bashing around on cardboard boxes. I set up my own kit, numbering the boxes and writing down patterns. After a while I persuaded my parents to get me lessons which led to me getting a super cheap kit, which I loved! Then I wanted to play tunes so picked up the guitar and got a cheap electric. Then from there I got into FX pedals, making my own tape delay with a reel to reel, using a thing called Specdrum which turned a ZX Spectrum into a drum machine. From that point I just started getting anything electronic that made a noise and I mean anything.
The Untz: What were some of the first tracks that sparked an interest in electronic music? How did you find new music growing up? How did you expand your listening library as you developed a deeper passion?
Simon: I know exactly which tracks. First, Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene. My cousin got my Uncle to into it as it was a compromise that the whole family was happy to listen to. So on holiday, through a nice car stereo, at the age of 7 or so, I was just like, “what is this?” I was into sci-fi stuff so this to me was perfect. I got my dad to buy some records whilst he was in France this led to him accidentally getting a Jean Jacques Perry record called Moog Indigo that I also loved (One of the tracks, E.V.A. was famously sampled by Gangstarr). Then this led to Kraftwerk Computer World, I got the single cheap in a bargain bin and on the B-Side was “Numbers” … so that was that .. blew my mind. Then it was Gary Numan who was in the charts then with “Cars” etc. So I threw myself into all that early electro pop (mainly Human League, Japan and OMD) whilst at the same time discovering all the 70's synth pioneers, Tangerine Dream etc.
Next big siesmic shifts were getting Negativlands' first LP (they are still one of my all time favourite bands) this made me realise you didn't need what was then hugely expensive synths and studios. They were doing crazy things with radios, tape cut ups etc. Then it was acid house which made me realise there was a world where people would listen to electronic music all night! And both of these were thanks to John Peel's amazing radio show. Growing up in a small town in the middle of England there were not many places you could hear electronic music so his show was a godsend for getting to hear all types of alternative music.
The Untz: When you first got in to production, what was your creative community like? Where did you get your first gigs?
Simon: We had a big cellar and that became a studio of sorts. We would hang out and make crazy noises all night, total freeform experimentation. We would just hit record and go wild. Around this time me and my friend Anthony formed Cabbage Head and started releasing cassette albums ourselves, including two albums by Cristian Vogel, who lived locally. Very homemade DIY punk ethic but with weird electronic music. Out first gig was at our school, it was nuts... we have a recording of it somewhere. We had reel to reels and an old EMS synth, reading poems and all sorts (laughs) Then later we did gigs at this community center called Bath Place that was a hub for all sorts of radical / political / art stuff / saw some amazing gigs there . It was also the first place I DJ’d years later... the first local raves etc.
The Untz: What was the first out of country show you played?
Simon: Hmmm.. I think Belgium? Back then the electronic scene in the UK was pretty tame compared to Europe. Raving was the backdrop to the scene which was often more about crowd pleasing anthems or balaeric style tracks.
In countries like Germany, Belgium and Holland you had this rich history of hardcore electronic music from the EBM (Electronic Body Music) scene and the Krautrock movement of the 70s. Kraftwerk, Front 242, DAF, Einstürzende Neubauten, Tangerine Dream etc. experimental and industrial electronic music was part of the European club culture’s DNA.
So the kind of stuff we were doing fit there. They were also onto the Detroit stuff in a big way, which was a massive influence to me and alot of the forwad thinking techno community. Derrick May, Juan Atkins, UR etc these guys were gods to us and they were getting regular gigs in Berlin, Frankfurt, Geneva etc but hardly ever coming to London. So to get on the same bill as these guys was just amazing. So in those days we were playing in Europe a lot, often big shows, all night long, 3-4 hr sets going till 8am etc... but in the UK it was small clubs, 100 people on a Wednesday night!
The Untz: Your new album is really exciting. I'm especially interested in the focus on analog hardware. Tell us about some of the machines you used to produce Blueprints.
Simon: Having started with super lo-fi gear and then coming into the digital age of perfection, it was really refreshing to go back to a more immediate “real” way of producing. Much more instinctive and unpredicatable. It partly stemmed from me getting my old Sequential Circuits Pro One working again and getting an old Zoom FX unit “modded” by a circuit bending crew who added a load of switches and knobs that made the most insane noises. So as an experiment I thought, let's go back to playing with the hardware .. and let's use the computer as a multi-track tape machine.
The Untz: Which aspects of the album were the most enjoyable to produce if you can narrow it down?
Simon: Mainly the feeling of jamming and playing with the electronics instinctively. It was almost like playing in a live again, had that same excitement. Not just clicking a mouse and perfecting that fill at bar 17 etc. This was about one take, one chance to get it right, jeopardy, if you fuck it up that's the whole track blown and you’ll have to start again.
The Untz: With this album, do you plan on going on the road or play any live shows?
Simon: Maybe! Doing one little cozy London show to launch the LP, but hopefully more to come. I’ve had a few tedious health issues which I’ve had to deal with that have held me back from travelling till they are resolved, but lets see what happens.
The Untz: Are there any producers that you particularly admire at the moment?
Simon: Well… hard to know where to start. I listen to a lot of different stuff, past and present. I’m doing a lot of work in film / TV at the moment , not so much DJing so I listen alot to that kind of thing. The new Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross score for Patriots Day is amazing. I’m always looking for something fresh and new, recently I loved what Bil Bless and KiloWatts were doing as Skeetaz for instance. There's a guy in Italy called Dot thats bring some raw fresh sounds to trap / footwork etc he just did a great remix for me. Detroit Underground is always releasing stuff thats worth a listen so I’m always on that. I don’t get to listen to stuff as much as I like—too damn busy in the studio! Probably a bit out of touch with the dancefloor (laughs).
The Untz: To follow that, what do you observe about current electronic music in your community? What about in the US?
Simon: The US is really interesting. It's weird and lovely how people like The Glitch Mob and Bassnectar are always supporting what I do. Crazy to think I remember Kraddy sending me tapes like 10 years ago and Ooah sending me crazy demos and now boom these guys are playing arenas and saying my stuff was an influence etc. It's amazingly flattering! When I started we were so into stuff from the US , but it was Detroit (May, Atkins, UR, Carl Craig etc) New York (Frankie Bones , Adam X) and also Freddie Fresh, Missile Records. The West Coast wasn't really on anyone’s radar for electronic music. Then when the glitch thing kicked in and Tipper and FreQ Nasty were going over all the time things went nuts. And now there is so much excitement and creativity there.
The Untz: Although there is a lot of room for improvement, what are some positive trends you are noticing in the music community?
Simon: As with all these things, when it gets big there is a massive commercial angle and things get cheesy and formulaic. But I hope out of that there will be some 16-year-old music nerds who want to dig deeper and push the envelope to move things forward. Beyond the big anthems, snare rolls and bro-step. And I’m sure that will happen. I would also like to see more of the social consciousness that peeps like Bassnectar are progressing. We live in troubled times, it's all right for us middle classes with money in our pockets, but the more vulnerable in our societies and getting royally fucked and that will come back to bite us. It will lead to a divided society and encourage a dog-eat-dog, fuck thy neighbour attitude.
I’d also like to see a more positive approach to the truth and, for want of a better term, the scientific / humanist angle. I see alot of stuff that reminds me of the hippie “revolution” of the late 60s / 70s which , although it had some great things about it, was seriously floored and somewhat narcissistic. Also too much bad logic leading to anti-vax stuff, bone headed conspiracy theories, chemtrails blah—people need to get real.
Frank Zappa said (and this was at the height of the hippie movement so you can imagine how it went down) something like “I’d rather be a bank manager with some power than a hippie with no power” and I think there’s something in that. It's too easy to “drop out” and see that as a radical move. A radical move would be to do something to try and change your society, not sit on your ass spending your parents money smoking weed. Also people need to educate themselves more, sure don’t trust CNN or the BBC, but don’t trust some dumb ass conspiracy theory website either. Do your research and remember, you might want something to be true, but that doesn’t make it true. Look up confirmation bias before believing what you read.
The Untz: Anything you are looking forward to the most for the rest of the year?
Simon: Looking forward to the album dropping, a new film score I’m working on and moving house. Exciting times!
For those interested in a lesson on experimental electronica, or for all the seasoned heads out there, you can dive in to Blueprints June 16th via Shitkatapult records. We want to thank Simon for taking the time to share a bit about his life and career as well as providing a glimpse into the depths of his creative process. Stay tuned for more as we draw closer to the event horizon.
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