Interview: Bomb The Bass

Twenty years ago, a musical uprising was taking place. Its name was Acid House, and leading the charge was a new kid on the block, the DJ Tim Simenon. His newly-built vehicle Bomb The Bass had just released Beat Dis, a myriad of samples powered by a killer bassline, spawning a hundred imitations.

And now, with electronic music coming through its critically imposed ‘nu rave’ era, credibility intact, the real thing returns. Bomb The Bass have their first new material for fourteen years, and stand on the threshold of a live comeback where it all began – at London’s Astoria.
Simenon, a London boy through the ’80s and ’90s, now lives in Amsterdam – and had just begun rehearsals for the live show when musicOMH came to call. He seems relaxed, but there’s a palpable sense of anticipation for the forthcoming gig.

“It’s going well, and all the boring work’s been done now – rehearsing the show and getting the rehearsed bits up to where we want them.” Crucially this time, there is scope for working outside the box. “To a degree it will be improvised”, he says, “but there will be structures that we’re working within, and there’s going to be a big light show and visuals as well.”

Simenon’s tone of voice suggests a great excitment about his return to the stage. “Of course! It really has been twenty years, it’s literally that long since Bomb The Bass did Beat Dis, more or less to the month.” And yet it seems not all the memories of that time are happy ones. “That gig, and that whole tour in fact, wasn’t that great for me personally. It was too early – we had a five week tour on the back of Beat Dis coming out, and to be honest the turnout wasn’t great because we were unknown. This time things are much better – I can think up the visuals and music together, and the technology’s available to do these things live. It wasn’t like that at all before; we were playing things on top of a DAT and had very little flexibility to do things properly.”

“Generally I don’t get to meet the singer!” – Tim Simenon on his distant relationship with the majority of the Bomb The Bass guest vocalists.

On the subject of vocals, Simenon confirms that current collaborator Paul Conboy will be spearheading the show. “He guested on five tracks on the album, though always the idea is to spread across different interpretations.” To that end there collaborations from elsewhere, including a track from Mark Lanegan. “I heard that he had recorded with PJ Harvey for ‘In The City’, and I loved how he sounded on that, so I started listening to a few more things that he’d done. It was a shot in the dark really – I sent over the backing track that I’d envisaged him singing to, and he really liked it. A month or so later I got the vocal back from him, which was the song Black River.”

This typifies the method Simenon has when dealing with guest vocalists. “Generally I don’t actually get to meet the singer! With Leslie Winer, we did a track that we recorded just through the telephone, called If You Reach The Border.” And how does he go about choosing the vocalists? “As always it’s an appreciation of what I’ve heard them do before, and being able to see them fitting in with my musical style.”

Chapter two of Bomb The Bass comes after an enforced break for its mastermind, though it wasn’t envisaged he would be away so long. “The album started at the end of 1997, believe it or not! After Clear was released I got into production work, and worked mostly with Depeche Mode and Sinead O’Connor, and then I started recording the new stuff with Jack Dangers from Meat Beat Manifesto. I then went on to spend a month working with Justin” (Warfield, of Bug Powder Dust fame).

He pauses. “A lot of that stuff was OK, but during that time my headspace was completely knackered. I wasn’t finding the excitement anywhere, so in 1999 to 2000 I moved to Amsterdam and started a label called Electric Tones, but soon found running a label wasn’t in my heart. I slowly got back doing stuff that excited me, but it took a long time. I’m now delighted to be doing it again, it feels right and it doesn’t matter so much how it’s received.”

“During that time my headspace was completely knackered. I wasn’t finding the excitement anywhere” – Tim Simenon recalls how production work drained his brain of creative energy.

In view of these revelations, does he see a return to production work as an option? “Possibly, but right now my priority is Bomb The Bass. The idea of touring it all really excites me, and the production thing will more than likely get in the way of that.”

In terms of how electronic music has progressed while he’s been away, Simenon is careful not to name names – but it’s clear he’s been keeping abreast of developments. “I think it’s progressed in a way, and I’ve been shopping at a lot of download stores to hear new stuff. A lot of it’s become more musical. Back in the day all we were using was a drum machine and a few bleeps, but as time has gone by the equipment has really progressed.”

That said, when working on the new material Simenon drew back the excesses. “For me, after learning so many tricks, I just wanted to strip things right back to drums, bass and a voice. If you can listen to that for a day without getting bored you’ve got something really special.”

When it was released in 1995, the previous Bomb The Bass album Clear became something of a blueprint for trip hop and its associated acts, featuring several guest collaborators and exploring a range of styles. Its creator, however, remains modest about its achievements. “I never really see things like that to be honest. At the time of making it I was hoping to make music I would buy myself, and that’s always been my approach – as a fan. Maybe the collaborations have been influential, but I couldn’t really say.”

Time’s nearly up, but one question has to be asked, for Simenon to describe the moment he knew Beat Dis was something huge. Again his response is modest. “I never even realised, that’s the thing! I went into the studio with a bag of records, two bags even, and they were full of records I was playing out when I was DJing. All Beat Dis is a a cut and paste of the stuff I was playing out, put over the bassline. So the records were bombing the bass – hence the name. It wasn’t thought through at all!”

So it’s back to rehearsals for Simenon and his crew, with the album “pencilled in for the end of August or September”. Not surprisingly, it will chart new territory for its composer. “I think the idea of repeating what you’ve done, it’s a safety net and a comfort for record companies. I’m not really in to that.”

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Interview: Bomb The Bass