Q&A: Simon Baker

A new sampler and a new sound: XLR8R explores the motivations behind the acclaimed producer's new BKR Projekt.
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After breaking through with 2007’s “Plastik,” Yorkshire-born, London-based DJ-producer Simon Baker rose to became a leading light within the U.K. house scene. More EPs ensued, released on labels including Sasha’s Last Night on Earth, Ralph Lawson's 20/20 Vision and Get Physical, before he dropped Traces, a well-timed debut album that perfectly captured the maturing talents of a producer on his way to the top of the game. But since then, while his skills as an artist have remained unquestioned, his artistic growth has stalled, impeded by the absence of any clear vision as to the sound he wished to pursue. As evidenced within his ever-growing discography, the minimal techno output of his earlier years steadily evolved into a deeper sound, a change in course that also visited various other house-orientated soundscapes.

It would appear that a line can now be drawn, however. Inspired by the acquisition of a new sampler, Baker has returned to a more European techno sound, a long-considered move that's in evidence with the release of his Chapter One EP and the birth of his BKR Projekt, a title that serves as the basis for both his new imprint and his latest production moniker. Having uncovered his sonic direction, and feeling more inspired than ever, these are exciting times for Baker. His latest release, the excellent three-track Ebony EP, provides a snippet of the stripped-back techno-orientated sound he now wishes to pursue, further supported by a second EP that's scheduled for a September release. To learn more about the inspirations behind the change and explore his plans for the future, XLR8R sat down with Baker in his East-London studio.

Over time, your sound has moved from techno to deeper house-orientated places and everything in between. Judging by your latest work, there seems to have been a sharp shift back to techno. Is this a conscious decision?
Yes. I started of making electro-house in 2004, but the first music that really got people’s attention was a sort of minimal techno sound with “Plastik,” and I kept on following this path for quite a while. But when the minimal thing died out, I sort of went deeper instead of following the techno sound that came in—mainly because I was on 20/20 Vision. They were a house-orientated imprint and this certainly influenced the sound I was making.

Over the last year or two I’ve just found myself liking a tougher sound, and the more I hear this new, so-called deep-house sound the more I want to go to the other end of the spectrum. I am now looking to find that more organic techno sound. I feel massively more confident in this sound, and that’s the direction I want to go now.

When was the decision made to pursue this sound?
I have been thinking about it for a while. It’s certainly not a random decision. The change came about a year ago, when I got my hands on an Elektron Octatrack sampler, and it has completely changed my life. I have always made music with hardware; I have always started out of the box. And then all of a sudden I got this bit of kit, and it's changed the way I produce music. It makes the process so much easier, and has inspired me massively. I’ve chatted to my mates for ages about how I want to change my sound and go back to the techno sound I used to have, and that was the catalyst. I know it’s only one piece of kit, but it gave me that little push that I needed.

Is it fair to say you were a bit tired with the house music that were making before?
Yes—I am not going lie. I was at a crossroads; I had done the deep house thing, I had done the minimal-techno thing and I didn’t really feel the scene that I was in. The gigs I was doing, and the music I was producing, wasn’t really what I wanted to do artistically. I knew I needed a change.

Is that where you want to be, in the European scene?
In my head, I break it down into two different worlds. I see the deep house, Beatport kind of world and then there is the purist, vinyl Berghain-Panorama world. I’ve had stages in both, and I’ve sat in the middle for a while—but now I want to return to the European scene, producing techno and playing in places like Berlin.

Is this how you envisioned it when you first began producing music, or has it become gradually more apparent through experimentation?
It’s become clear by trying things out. I don’t have any regrets about my career but if I could go back I would probably not have ventured around as many different sounds. Some people would say that it’s good to try all these different sounds and push yourself artistically, but I think that if I had stuck to the techno thing from 2007 then I would be in a different place right now.

The danger is that you can alienate your fan base.
Exactly, and that is what I’ve done. But I see it like this: I’ve laid the foundations of a house by making music touching all these different crowds, but at the same time it takes so much longer to grow.

"I’ve laid the foundations of a house by making music touching all these different crowds, but at the same time it takes so much longer to grow."

Do you believe that by trying all these sounds, you’ve also developed your skills as a producer, which will help you now?
That’s certainly the plan. The reason that I ventured around these sounds is because I can get bored very easily. At the end of the day, I am a producer and I always want to make something new.

Your first release on the new BKR Projekt label, the Ebony EP, feels like a strong representation of this new stripped-back, grooving techno sound. Is that how you see it?
Yes. With the BKR Projekt, I am taking the experience from everything that I have done previously, and this is it for me; I know where I want to be now and I am going to pursue it. I wouldn’t call it a new sound because it’s not completely different to what I have produced before; it is more of a decision that this is the direction in which I wanted to go. I didn’t know where I wanted to be in 2007 so it was hard for me to move forward, but the experiences have given me a direction. It’s taken eight years—but now I know.

That must be very exciting. But are you frustrated that you didn’t know this earlier?
It is very exciting, but there is no blueprint in this industry. There is no map showing you what you must do to be successful or get to where you want to be. People get to where they are via different routes, and I am doing it my way.""

So are you feeling really inspired right now?
Yes. I actually dream about music at the moment! I wake up each morning and go to the studio while I am still in my dressing gown. I’m literally getting goose pimples with the way I am working. I have a real hunger to make tunes. Ideas come to me so quickly and I can see exactly where the tune needs to go. I started producing when I was about 28—I was a late starter—but this is one of the most inspired moments of my career. This is the start of something brand new. You’ve caught me at the start of a new phase of my artistic career.

"I’m literally getting goose pimples with the way I am working. I have a real hunger to make tunes."

This inspiration that you have right now must speed up the production process.
I'm completing tracks in just a couple of days. I really am back, and I am hungry. The tracks on the Ebony EP took about a week to produce. The artwork actually took longer than the tunes!

What's a regular production day like for you?
I am fairly strict with myself in the sense that I try to stick to a routine midweek. I will often go for a run at some point in the morning or do yoga or gym, then I will spend the rest of the day in the studio making music, with breaks for doing emails and stuff. It depends on how creative I feel.

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Why did you only start producing at 28?
I had been DJing in bars and stuff around Leeds for about 12 years by this time. It was actually strange how it started: I was offered a redundancy package from my day job at the time with Norwich Union Insurance. I had been there for eight years but I was desperate to get out. I used to dream about making tunes so I decided to take the redundancy money and run. I sold my house and moved to Leeds, using the cash to set up a small studio and survive for three years while I learned my way around the studio kit. I got signed by 20/20 Vision when I was 30.

Have you had any feedback regarding Ebony?
I actually did a mail out to a bunch of DJ friends of mine mentioning my new direction, and I had such good feedback. A number of leading artists wrote back to me the same day asking for the wav file—or the vinyl. It seems to have touched different worlds: the A-side straddles industrial techno, while the B-side ventures into other scenes, too.

Who do you show your productions to before you release them?
I have a select group of three or four people that I will piss off on a daily basis. I respect their opinions, which is something very important. Two of them are producers while one runs a record label. I take their mixed opinions and pin them together.

The BKR Projekt is both a label and the moniker you are using for your new work?
The project that I am doing now is Simon Baker Presents the BKR Projekt, but the label is called BKR Projekt. It is double branding.

Is the fact that you’ve spelled “Projekt” with a “k”—the German spelling—a reference to your desire to move back into this European scene?
I just wanted the label to be European, and that is the German way of spelling project. It also ties in to my “Plastik” release. I just thought it made sense and would be a bit different.

Is there a reason that you haven’t pursued this new techno sound under the Simon Baker moniker?
I wanted a new beginning. I actually considered doing this as just the BKR Projekt and leaving my name off it, but I didn’t want it to get lost in the deep sea of anonymous white labels. Because of this, I wanted to put my name to it and do a “Presents” thing—so my name is associated with it, but there is also this fresh identity to accompany the new sonic direction. Eventually I plan to get rid of the “Simon Baker Presents” bit, leaving just the BKR Projekt, and start a live show as BKR Live or something akin to this.

And you've just released on Drumcode too?
Yes. Adam [Beyer] likes my stuff, so I did a Simon Baker EP on Truesoul, the Drumcode sublabel, and a single on Drumcode itself. I also just did a BKR remix on Matthias Tanzmann’s label Moon Harbour, as well as one on Secret Music.

This decision also leaves the Simon Baker name free to produce other stuff, as an entirely different project. Is this something you intend to do?
Not right now, no. I would never say never, but for the moment my energies are on developing this techno sound under the BKR Projekt. Before I started the project, I had already agreed a deep-house track with Steve Bug’s label, but everything that I do from now on is going to be under Simon Baker Presents the BKR Projekt.

That is a big decision to make.
I just hope it works out for me, because I have been known in that world for a long time now. It’s going to be a tough transition but I think it’ll be worth it.

From a label perspective, why did you decide to start the BKR Projekt as a new label instead of continuing Infant Records, your previous imprint?
I almost did go back to Infant Records actually. I looked back at the discography for Infant and there were some great releases. I discussed it with people, and then decided that I want to look forwards, not backwards. I wanted a new name and a new sound.

"I want to look forwards, not backwards. I wanted a new name and a new sound."

Do you have a long-term plan or vision for the future of the label?
It’s not something that I have really considered. I’ve definitely thought a few years in advance, but I don’t have this massive picture as to how I want it to go forward. I’m just going to take it release by release. It’s more for me: First and foremost it's a vehicle for me to release my material when I want and as fast as I want. If I am producing as fast as I am right now, I need a my own label to get it out.

Besides your own material, do you plan to diversify with other artists further down the line?
The first four or five releases are going to be me but as things progress I am going to be open to new artists. It is initially for my work because I want to have an outlet through which I can put my own stuff whenever I want—but if some other good music comes along then I will take it.

Do you have a very clear vision as to the sound of the label?
I do. It’s going to be this stripped back techno sound, with a bit of soul. I am all about having a bit of soul. A lot of people, like Laurent Garnier for example, always describes my sound as funky. I cannot hear this but I guess there is a funky sound, even with this new stuff I’m making. Garnier described it as “funky techno,” which I guess is a compliment. I enjoy the stripped back sound but I need something more—some actual body to the sound.

And you are going to release vinyl, as you mentioned?
Yes. When I first decided to do the label, about three months ago, I thought I would just start releasing my own stuff on a digital basis. It has evolved now, and the sound is a little bit more vinyl-orientated, so I am going to do vinyl.

Besides these scheduled EPs, do you plan to release another album?
I would definitely like to. But my first album took so much energy and so much time, that it took my a long time to recover. There is always this lull after an album because everyone has booked you, you’ve done all the press and there is nothing more for you to do. I cannot face that again so soon.

Finally, you’ve also recently changed your DJ agency. A big part of this change is going be your DJ schedule. Is this all part of the same picture?
Yes, it’s all part of the same equation. With my previous agency, I didn’t feel like I was quite in the right world musically. I’ve always been playing in Europe, albeit less so in the last two years, but more so worldwide like Mexico and USA. I now feel a need to focus on Europe again if I am going to be producing this new stripped back techno sound that I want.