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11.10.2019 | Words by: Angelina Nikolayeva

Kraftwerk closed its main doors and I am following the stream of people to the entrance of OHM, not ready to wrap the night up just yet. As he joins the so far motionless queue, I see Simo Cell; it’s the last day of Berlin Atonal, and he just closed the Stage Null, joining forces with his fellow Livity Sound affiliate Peverelist. They killed it, and I mean it. As if everyone forgot about their sore feet from the 5-day marathon, the crowd had sheer endless energy that seemed at its peak as Simo Cell dropped TNGHT – Goooo, leading to a mosh pit in front of the booth. I think we all lost it there.

As I compliment him on his set, I immediately cause the chain reaction of people greeting him, still buzzing from excitement. It’s already his 4th time at the festival he calls his “home” and it becomes all the more special for him to play there for his “family”. When I ask if he still had the energy to party, he smiles, nodding in agreement. OHM is his favorite club and he was in for some frisky breaks Sybil had got in store for us.

Now, a bit more than a month later, we speak again, this time on the phone, ahead of his set in the basement of De School that I was so looking forward to. Next hour we would talk about his times in conservatory, necessary breaks and not taking things too seriously. 

Simon Aussel grew up in a Franco – Argentinian family of guitarists in Nantes, immersed in music from an early age. Waking up he would hear his father rehearse for his concerts and every holiday he’d spend attending festivals with his parents. But it wasn’t until he was 16 that he actually felt the affinity with music. “My parents put me in a conservatory, and I played guitar for 6 years. I didn’t know if I was really enjoying it. It was too academic.” Intense evening classes and a lot of theory were only bringing tears and turned him away from music for a while.

“I discovered the rave scene much later when I started djing and touring. At first, it was just regular club nights, friends or even concert rooms,” tells Simon. After all the years of rules and theory imposed by academic school, electronic music offered a sense of liberty not known to him before. “I started self-learning by going on forums and watching YouTube tutorials. I really enjoyed this freedom of DIY approach and intuitiveness.” The passion for music kept growing and he started to spend most of the spare time tweaking sounds from a computer with friends. “One summer we would meet up every day and make music from 10 am to 8 pm,” he tells. “We were all motivated to keep up with each other; it was uplifting in a way. That’s when I realized I wanted to get into production more seriously.”

Soon he joined Phonographe Corp crew and started playing at local parties in Nantes and Paris under his Pursim moniker. Leaning towards house music at the time, his selections yet never lacked eclecticism. Going through his old mixes I notice how the sound of Simo Cell, as we know it, got sculpted bit by bit. It was 2012 when Joy Orbison released his ‘Sicko Cell’ track on Swamp 81 that strangely resembled his real name [Simon Aussel]. “Me and my friends were huge fans of this record and they gave me this nickname,” he explains. Name “Simo Cell” grew on him, and it was a matter of time before he changed his moniker into it. He was waiting for his first release. “The ‘Sicko Cell’ track reminds me of a lot of good memories and my artist name refers to my friends and those special moments we shared rather than being a nod to Joy O.” Many years passed, and they still remain a huge source of support and inspiration for him. “We took different musical paths, but the connection is still there,” Simon shares. “We always exchange our demos before releasing and ask each other for feedback.”

Moving to Paris, he met Nicolas aka Tite (one half of Society of Silence) and found his first professional studio they still share now. “Everyone I knew was using analog gear at the time. I wanted to change my habit and move away from my computer as well; I couldn’t consider myself a real producer yet,” he tells. Working around the clock for 6 months and jamming in the studio without making any progress only made him realize that machines weren’t for him. “The way I learned to make music still works best for me. In the past 5 years, the software improved so much, it's crazy! In the grime scene, it’s common to compose just on a PlayStation; medium is irrelevant as long as you do your own thing instead of following trends.” Launched in 1998, Music 2000 is an elementary, intuitive tool for PlayStation which became a groundbreaking invention for “bedroom” producers, picked up by the likes of Wylie, Roll Deep and Lombardo. “Eventually, it’s all about developing your own signature and making your sound distinct,” he explains. “I started with learning how to copy other styles and genres until I got enough confidence and knowledge to do it my own way. It’s a very intuitive process of merging different styles and creating something hybrid. Sound design plays a major role when it comes to creating textures and moods; most of the time I use the same chain of FX to add this personal touch to it.”

Working on music is a full-time job for him now. “My studio is my office; it’s vital for me to have a routine,” he tells. Being indulged in music most of his time, he realized how important it is to give yourself a break and his passion for football has been a reliable companion. “Every week we take a car and go outside the ring with my friends to play football, each time on a different pitch. It’s essential to find a balance and have something next to my music.” It took a substantial amount of time and effort for him to learn how to let things go in times of creative block. “Sometimes you just have to take a step back and stop doing what you’re doing,” he explains. “I had a burnout 3 years ago. Even on weekends, I returned to my studio listening to the tracks before the release and didn’t see any friends. Now, I sometimes spend days in a park speaking to no one, look for peace in a church or read a book during my breaks. It’s a good way to put things into perspective. There are times when you feel like your music career is paramount, but you have to realize that it won’t last forever. It’s so important to remind yourself that there are other things that matter more in life. If my music goes down in a few years, I’ll be prepared.”

When I ask him about the main challenges in his career, he tells me that it’s spontaneity. “The more you make music the more you get skills and you lose your spontaneity,” he says. “I had a nice chat about it with Asusu from Livity Sound last year. He told me he started photography, and the process was super fun and easy because he didn't know anything about it, and he was just messing around with some random effects. You lose the magic when you start to understand what you're doing. It's all about letting it go in the present moment.” As we talk, I realize that music might not be his main occupation in the future. “Maybe in 10 years, I will do something different. Still artistically but focusing on writing or video making. Music takes all my time right now, but I’d like to get into 3D design. It’s a good way to stay fresh. You often see great artists stop bringing something new and sticking to the same sound.” One of such ambitions is also playing live. “I would do it differently, however. If I do a live set, I’d involve other artists and do crossovers between styles. I’m not a big fan of big empty stages where a single artist stands behind his laptop. I’d like to utilize the space and incorporate a theatrical element to the performance as well.”

Collaborating is something Simon is practicing more and more lately. “We made some tracks with Peverelist and I started to work with Low Jack last year,” he tells. Livity Sound and BFDM became significant milestones in his career. “It means a lot to me to belong to the French scene and I’m really happy to be part of the BFDM crew. It’s a big family and we are just having fun. Magic happens when we are all together, and I think other people feel that connection we share as well.”
One could notice that another thing they share is a sense of humor. “I think this is why we became such good friends with the guys from BFDM,” he laughs. “I always use this phrase, ‘Trying to make things seriously without taking it too seriously.’ The music scene seems so severe sometimes and we just want to keep it fun for ourselves.” His titles speak for themselves. Take his Pogdance EP, for example, named after French football player Paul Pogba known for dabbing as his signature post-goal celebration, the gesture you can see Simon and Louis (half of The Pilotwings) doing on the cover photo. “I used to play a lot of video games and most of the time when I don’t know what title to choose, I look at the cheat codes. There are a lot of track names referring to Age of Empires as well, it’s a game most of the guys from my generation played.”

Simo Cell plays our basement tonight alongside Pearson Sound and Mark Knekelhuis. Tickets are still available here.
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