[Interview] Simon Baker chats about techno and where he draws his inspiration from.


By James McDaniel Photos by Kayode Lowo

March 10, 2016

When I arrived at the Alley Cat Music Club’s Grand Opening, I was hoping for something a little different. I had been to a number of its Beta events, and I had grown accustomed to the vibe. The unassuming façade, the sheik front bar which leads to a space donned with antique lamps suspended from the walls – this is where the place starts to really feel like something. In this spot, I remember mad nights of dancing to syncopated rhythms and deep bass grooves. It is a good place, but the unfinished, upward leading staircase tells of something more gritty and raw.

tito mazzetta
tito mazzetta

Upstairs, Tito Mazzetta’s set begins with deep house, moves into a more tech sound, and ends exploring the minimal side of things. I start to notice the way this new room feels. It’s dark, and sketchy. I imagine that it looks pretty rough in broad daylight, but at night, it’s perfect. The sound in the room is phenomenal.

This becomes even more evident when Simon Baker starts his set. His unique approach to techno and tech house, infused with soulful vocal samples, and dark grimy effects, stirs the party into a frenzy of dance. At one point, people are jacking on the walls, reminiscent of the old warehouse days. I definitely got what I was hoping for. I got together with Simon the next afternoon in the lobby of his hotel to talk about his music.

simon baker 2
simon baker 2

Since the beginning of your career, your sound has swung like a pendulum from techno, to house, and back. What’s the reason for this fluctuation in style?

When I was living in Leeds in 2006-2007 it was very house oriented. Well, it was minimal house at the time. In fact, I’ll go back even further. It was kind of electro house, when that was big and then it moved into the more minimal sort of era, and I came to find myself sort of being quite suited to that sort of music. I guess you could call it minimal techno at the time, and that’s kind of where my roots are from. I made this track called “Plastik,” which was a hit, basically. It was like number two on the RA {Resident Advisor} biggest tunes of the year, and it did really well. It got me onto the ladder. I started making other sounds similar to this, but then the minimal era kind of disappeared. So I either disappeared with it, or I carried on. You know, going with the flow and trying to develop new sounds. I headed into a more classic, deep house kind of sound. Which at the time, I had been signed to 2020 Vision in Leeds, and it suited them pretty well. Which led me up to the album. I was doing a classic house to deep house kind of thing – Obviously, a bit of tech house mixed in.

I’ve never been the kind of producer to make the same sound every day. I was always making harder bits, bigger room, you know, deeper Detroit, and a bit of broken beat kind of stuff. It was only recently that I was plodding away, ticking along thinking, I’ve done a deep house album with 2020 and I’ve done the minimal thing. I just want to focus on one thing, so I bought a load of new studio kit – new drum machines, and other things which in a natural and organic way triggered some nice techno kind of grooves. I just got really into them and started busting them out every day. I was thinking, well, I’ll just focus on this now rather than rushing around doing everything. I’m just going to focus on the techno sound, this is where I am now eight or nine years later.

simon baker 1
simon baker 1

I understand you studied classical guitar in your youth. How has that training, especially the study of music theory and form, influenced your artistic approach as a producer?

Without sounding cliché, it was in my blood. I found it quite easy to make music after doing that. I played the classical guitar for about eight years and I did the whole theory thing and all the rest of it. In my teens, I dropped out of that. I found other things, girls, skateboarding… a load of other things. I just lost interest with the guitar. I always had it in me that I wanted to do something. I found hip-house when was around 16-17. Then I got decks in my bedroom, buying records, doing that kind of thing. It was a natural feeling inside me that I needed to play, not necessarily an instrument, but to make music. I went out and bought a drum machine. I used to tap beats all the time in my head or on my leg. I started playing the drums, but when I started playing synths and everything in the studio, it all became quite easy. It just gelled because I knew keys and I knew how things should fit together.


What have been your most daunting challenges in starting your own production label, 2020 Vision? How has its creation impacted your musical style and output?

Before this most recent one, I started a label a long time ago called Infant Records, which was my first label. When I was involved in 2020, just before I did my album, I actually went into one of its sub-labels {Infant Records}. It was like house/ techno. There were a lot of good artists on there, actually. People that have made it big now - Paul Woolford, a load of people who are really big now were on it. So I’d already done the label thing but, what I didn’t know about was all the back-end of running a label, so that was really the most daunting thing to learn. I’ve been in the industry long enough to know how it should work and how the music that I want to put out and all the rest of it works. But, it was the back-end that I didn’t really understand, because I had someone doing it for me before. It was just the ins and outs, royalties and all the rest of it. Again it was a natural, organic process that I was ready to do.

Describe the process of creating your LP, Traces, and do you have any plans for a follow up?

That was, when you look back, 2011, which was quite a few years ago. If I’m honest with you, because I’m really proud of that album and how it got a lot of respect with the press, I was listening back to it the other day. I don’t mind telling you this, I was thinking I might do a BKR remake of the tracks with more of a techno vibe. I had this little idea the other day, and I don’t know how Ralph Lawson, who runs 2020, would feel. Obviously, I’d need to run it past him because he’s publishing and all. I’d like to do something similar, but maybe remixes. I’m so proud of that album, and there were some good remixes that got done. But I’d like to redo them in a new style.


Which recent collaborative efforts have excited you the most?

I’ve not done that many. The last one I was working on was with Lee Curtiss {Visionquest}. My problem is with collabs, and I love doing them with the right people. For example, I loved doing one with Lee. I’ve done them in the past with Jamie Jones before, which worked really well many moons ago, before he was absolutely huge. I’ve done quite a few of them, but I struggle because I’m such a fast worker. Somebody comes into my studio for one day and then I don’t see them again for six months. And it’s just like, you need that person to be there, nearby with you in the same mindset, wanting to work as quickly as you do to get things done. It’s rough. I struggle with collaborations. I’ll be honest with you. Not that I don’t want to do them, but the person has to be banging on it as much as I am, rather than just dipping in every few months. 

simon baker 5
simon baker 5

Your musical career involves DJing, producing, and collaborating. In which environment do you find yourself most artistically expressive, challenged, and rewarded?

100% in the studio over DJing in the club. Producing is my number one love. I can get up in the morning and sit there for twelve hours, quite happily, and make tunes and be really happy with them. Don’t get me wrong, I do really like the DJing thing, but that kind of follows on from producing. If I could make a living just from producing in the studio, then I would. Obviously, these days with the music I do, that’s not how it works. It’s creating a track. Getting the idea up and running is my number one buzz. That’s what gets my blood going.

Where do you find your inspiration, and how has that changed over the course of your career?

Yeah, it’s changed. I do listen to a lot of music out there. I listen to a lot of classics. I listen to older mixes – more Detroit sounding stuff, and that kind of thing. I do a lot of running, actually. I do half marathons. I’ll occasionally listen to old classic Detroit or Chicago house, and I get inspired by them. I’m into more the classic sound than I’m into the sound of today. I guess I get it from there but I can’t put my finger on it. Some days I’m really weird in the studio. Sometimes I won’t make a track for two weeks because I don’t have anything inside me bubbling away. Then all of a sudden, I’ll make three or four tracks a week. I don’t know where it comes from. Once I get on a roll, I’ll get a good idea and think, right, I’ll do another one of these tomorrow. I’ll make an EP in a week. I can’t quite explain it. It just comes and goes. I think its frame of mind. You’re maybe stressing about something else in your life, or whatever, and you have this moment, and you are like, right. Since my studio is in my flat now, I sometimes will jot my ideas down at one or two in the morning, and then finish them the next day.

James McDaniel

A man of many talents, James not only writes about music, he also composes, arranges, teaches, and plays. As an Atlanta area high school band director, he stays busy developing his program and writing and arranging for percussion at his place of work aw well as a number of other Atlanta area schools. He is also a gigging percussionist, playing live and doing studio work for InCrowd of Atlanta. Music is more than a passion for james. It is his lifestyle.