“It’s a new chapter,” says Simon Aussel aka Simo Cell, when we speak to him at his home in Nantes, France. Moving back last year to the city where he grew up, following a decade in Paris making his name as one of France’s most singular bass artists, the pandemic stopped his DJ career in its tracks. But among the mental hardship, it’s also opened up new avenues.
It’s been tough, he admits, especially last winter. Despite being the first non-Bristol artist to join Livity Sound back in 2015, and releasing on labels such as Wisdom Teeth and Lyon’s Brothers From Different Mothers, “I really lost confidence,” he says. “‘Am I still able to do this?’ I was thinking about plan B, ‘what can I do if I can’t live off my music?’” Fortunately, France’s unemployment insurance scheme for artists meant he was at least financially supported, albeit with a 50% reduction in income.
The result was a period of fruitful productivity. Making music, he says, filled the hole of not being able to DJ — the feeling of which he compares to a drug, its withdrawal part of his winter wobble. But the studio also kept his mind on the future: “The more that I can make music, the more that I’ll be safer later.”
Mini album ‘YES.DJ’ is a result of this, put together last March out of the 20 or so tracks he had finished. Traversing tempos across six finely-tuned cuts, from the creeping 100bpm bass menace of ‘Short Leg’ to the title track itself — a warping 150bpm peak-time stepper — its arrival, as clubs are reopening, seems to reward his lockdown calculation.
In some senses it’s an answer to ZULI’s ‘All Caps’ EP, which dropped last spring. Pulled out of his rut by the Egyptian producer’s boundary-pushing energy, Simon realised, “Wow, so club music still has an influence on me”. But ‘YES.DJ’ also draws on a nostalgic longing for playing music, not just from immediately before lockdown, when he’d been touring the world for five years, but from his earliest days as a DJ — before starting to produce — when “all I wanted to do was play in clubs.”
He was 16 when he bought CDJs, catching the DJ bug via France’s Fête de la Musique, an annual event held on 21st June, when people are encouraged to play music in the street. Hearing The Egg’s ‘Walk Away’ (later remixed by David Guetta) was the catalyst, while Justice’s 2006 set from I Love Techno festival in Belgium was another early touchstone, Simon practicing their mixes at home.
MySpace, the world’s first social media platform, hooked him up with likeminded people to start putting on parties, as did forums such as Joachim Garraud’s, the defunct Scenehoppers, run by Teki Latex’s Institubes, and the seminal Dubstep Forum, a valuable source of production tips when he first started making music in the early days of Boiler Room and Hessle Audio.