On a rare hot & sunny day in Angel Meadows, Andy Shef catches up with Si Heslin, the head honcho of Electronique, a young house music label & events brand that is making waves in Manchester and beyond, and as a bonus Rich Hall of Zutekh joins the party half way through!
So you’re DJing at all sorts of nights in Manchester and further afield, your Electronique label releases are scoring well in the Beatport charts and your Saturday night in Cord is always busy. But how did it all start?
Basically when I was 18, which is quite a late bloomer these days, a lot of kids start very young now.
How old are you now?
Twenty-nine, but I've not been DJing the whole time, I've had 6 years out the scene, which is a long time. So I started in the very popular funky house days in Manchester, where you had North and nights like Angel Delight that played very soulful funky house, very US based stuff. But there were labels like Defected starting up over here that pushed that sort of sound and brought it out here.
Did Defected start around that time then?
It did, and it's now become one of the biggest labels in the world. I don't totally follow what they do, but it seems they've now cottoned on to what I was doing a year and a half ago and they're now finally coming round and doing it with a major label. But that again shows how far the music that we've been pushing has come in terms of having that influence on the scene. People like Jamie Jones and Lee Foss started it for that kind of music and it's just grown from there.
TOUGH INTERVIEW: Si Heslin and Rich Hall chat to Andy Shef
What took you to Cord in the first place?
Cord's just a nice little place isn't it, with a lot of character. We stumbled upon it really and they'd never had a house music night there, but one year down the line, we're still there with our free party.
So have you done any other parties elsewhere?
Yeah we've had Luca C who's the biggest head-liner we've had, Moodymanc & Rebel. Now Rebel's involved with the label which is nice and we were able to expose him to a nice intimate crowd before he blew up. He's playing everywhere now, which is nice for Jonny. We do bigger parties too, we brought Louis Fresco over from Mexico and Buga over from Brazil, both of whom are involved with the label, very high profile figures, which was a fantastic night which sold out. We've got a couple of big parties coming up in Manchester over the summer as well as parties in Ibiza, Barcelona & Italy.
Whereabouts in Italy?
It's interesting, Fabio Toky came over last weekend and he was so enthusiastic about Electronique, he loves what we're doing and was itching to get on the label. When someone like that says that to you, it's a really really nice thing, because Fabio's already established himself as an artist and a DJ in his own right and played some big big big parties himself around the world.
When he said he wanted to get involved, we signed a 3 track EP there and then, and that's just lead to bigger things. We've just signed Lula Circus this week, and we're getting more and more big artists. But I don't want to lose that ethos of nurturing talent which is what the label's about. It's obviously great for the label that the bigger artists can get involved and help the up and coming artists that we've got.
At this point Rich from Zutekh joins the interview with a funny story about Lee Foss! Introduced by Simon as one of the biggest nights in Manchester, really pushing those artists that you really want to see in this kind of music.
This brings up an interesting point that I've noticed, it seems the promoters in Manchester are a very close knit community, helping each other in promoting each others events. I often get invited to the same events by multiple promoters on Facebook.
Simon – We all help each other and I think that's a great thing, and we've all become friends as well, it goes beyond music.
Rich – You need to, you need to put Manchester on the map, and the best way to do that is together
Absolutely, Manchester certainly has a reputation musically, but maybe not so much for Electronic music. It's always good to have a bit of a battle with London.
Simon – Certainly. London has so many different parties going on and Manchester is basically mirroring that now.
Rich – London's obviously so big in comparison though.
Simon – It's vast, you can go out any day of the week in London and luckily it's like that here in Manchester now. Me & Rich, we're now working together on various projects in the studio too, we've just been signed to a Mexican label.
That leads me on to something I was going to ask about your label. So you’ve had around 20 releases on Beatport, but as far as I can see you’ve not used it to release any of your own tracks, why is that?
That's all up and coming, that's something I'm looking to do. Me and Rich have done some good work in the studio and we've found a sound that we both like. As soon as we did our first track together we got it signed.
As I'm getting into producing now, everyone tells me it takes years to find 'your' sound
Rich – Everything that's going on in your life at the time contributes to what your sound is. Some people can pick it up more quickly, maybe something emotional is going on in their life and they just hit the nail on the head straight away.
The discussion moves on to Djing, producing, the events we're all planning to do, different venues and parties at the moment.
Were there any significant turning points or 'lucky' breaks when you were starting out?
Rich – For us, it was having Lee Foss & Adam Shelton on, and after that we took Adam as a resident DJ.
Simon – He's such a high profile resident to have, he's very influential in the scene in the UK. Zutekh snapped him up and every time he plays, he's got such a good following. You can't get much bigger than Adam Shelton as a resident. As far as Electronique goes, it's just progressed. I think we got a lucky break with finding an unsigned talent called Max Chapman. I heard his tracks in an after-party, so I tracked him down the next day. He sent me over eight tracks he was working on and from there the EP went huge and was getting support from Lee Foss, Robert James, Lauren Jones, all influential DJs and promoters in the scene. I think once you start to get support off people like that, that's when people start to notice what you're doing.
What came first, the DJing, the promoting, the producing or the label?
Simon – Definitely DJing, I think everybody starts off as a DJ.
Did Electronique start as a night or a label?
We did a label launch night in 2008, which looking back now was so low key, at Music Box on Oxford Road.
What’s your background, before you got into this? Last time I spoke to you said your job now is pretty much waking up and logging into Facebook!
Simon – Facebook is my office essentially. Like a lot of promoters, me and Rich probably spend 60% of our lives on Facebook!
Rich – Although we don't like to admit it. At least we're doing it in a productive way, not the sad needy way we used to!
Simon – No more updates like “The cat's just had a dump”, or “I'm off to bed now”! Facebook is a massive massive promotion tool, you can't get anywhere without it these days.
Rich – YouTube's also becoming more and more important, especially for finding music and posting it on Facebook. You can have a melody in your head, type it out like hum, hum, hummm, hum and in the end you'll find it!
Simon – Soundcloud is probably the biggest thing for the label musically, we now have 2300 followers and that was only at 1000 six months ago.
The world of DJing is rapidly changing with the uptake of digital technology, what’s your equipment of choice these days?
Simon – We both use CDJs still, but I do like Traktor, I'm not a hater of it and it does open up a lot more possibilities.
Rich – I've tried using Ableton, but I don't like the warping on it, you can bring a tune straight from iTunes and the warping makes the kick drum go all sluggy.
Simon – I like the fact that with vinyl or CDs you have to be on your guard, it can skip, things do go wrong. I love the interaction of CDs and vinyl. But with the digital age, it has made life more difficult to make money in music. The digital revolution has just brought costs to an almost halt, you can pick up tracks for 79p.
How do you make make a living from music?
Simon – Well we struck gold with the Miami EP with the Finnebassen track, we are gonna do well on that financially, but that's very very rare and it's still not a massive amount.
So how many records do you have to sell to make it a success these days?
Simon – 500 would be a big success in terms of charting position on Beatport. Beatport take a fairly large chunk too. But I do love Beatport for the exposure it gives you, if you're a digital label it's the only site you can be on to get anywhere.
Your label’s getting support from Pete Tong on Radio 1, have you noticed that exposure in your record sales?
Simon – Definitely, when things started changing musically on the label from Max Chapman's EP, that got supported on Radio 1 and the effect was massive straight away. Even though it's no longer the number one selling track on the label, it was for a long time, a track called Don't Go, part of the four track Lost EP that I signed and yeah being on Radio 1 had a massive effect.
The discussion then moves on to jobs, places in Manchester to go out and so on.
Rich – Zutekh are running some outdoor parties in the courtyard at South nightclub, with some major bookings such as Phil Weeks, Terry Francis in June and another big one at the end of August. We're doing 10 in total. People seem to go out of their way to buy tickets, so you know it's not just the crowd that would go to any old pub, but people who are there for the music with smiles on their faces.
Simon – That's the whole vibe of Zutekh, it's so well respected all over the country, not just in Manchester.
So where did the name Zutekh come from?
Rich – James & Dave, the guys who originally started it in Ireland, were just cutting and pasting words from newspapers together until they found something they liked. They started with two parties in Ireland, then moved to the Shisha place in Rusholme and then me and Damien got involved to try and big up the night and brand it properly. We were fortunate enough to get a good crowd, and got the right bookings to the right people.
So you've got the label now and a popular night associated with that name, which would you prefer to be more successful if you had to choose, that or you?
Simon – Definitely the label every time, because the label gives people an opportunity to get their music out there and that's why I started it. I didn't start it for any personal gain.
Rich – The advantage with a label is you can push it in different directions musically, whereas you're a bit more limited with a club night.
Simon – They do tend to go hand in hand really, as the label grows the night gets more successful, and I've got to the point now where I've just signed the Lula Circus boys from Italy (another big big signing which I'm very pleased about) and they're now going to be playing at the party in Sonar.
Rich has to leave the interview.
What are your big goals for the future, for you and the Electronique brand?
Certainly more international tours, we've just been to the US and Mexico, which was absolutely amazing, we got so well looked after. Every party we played was fantastic, very well received. The only thing I would say, and this is just being honest, is that the US side are still a little bit behind Europe on what's happening, so it was a little bit more subdued.
Mexico on the other hand, they absolutely love it out there, they're very very enthusiastic, love the party vibes and the parties are quite wild actually! They do really go for it and get involved. It's nice when you're stood up watching your party, the reception you're getting with people going absolutely wild, it's just such a good feeling, even without having to be behind the decks.
I'm already in talks with people from South America, including Brazil where we've been speaking to D-Edge in São Paulo, so there may be a possibility of doing something there in the future.
Is there anything in your mind that would really make you feel like you ‘made it’?
I don't think I'll ever feel like that, because there's always so much more you can do.
I tend to agree, but what about if you got asked to play the essential mix?
Yeah I mean obviously things like that are what dreams are made of. I know I'm not in that sort of category yet and I keep my feet on the ground with it all. I never get carried away with anything because it could all end tomorrow. I'm just grateful for each day I'm doing what I love.
You‘re a believer in giving up and coming DJs a platform to play, what do you look for?
Well I like to get to know people first, there's not enough of that these days. Nobody really expects anything because it's a free party and it's just a great chance to expose your sound and what you're about and that's all people want to do when they're up and coming and that's all I wanted to do, so you're happy to just get involved and be a part of it. I love the enthusiasm that people have, that I still have and will always have.
I notice it in my day job, that even if I'm not that in to the task I'm doing, if I'm around enthusiastic people it really makes you feel good.
I worked nine to five for a long time and I would go into work and music was on my mind all day, it was all I could think about. I couldn't really concentrate on doing my job.
So what kind of work were you doing?
I worked in insurance, and it was so mundane to me, because all I could think about was music all day. I knew I had a secure thing with the nine to five job and I knew it was going to be a big risk leaving that behind and going full time with the music, but I'm more content and happier in my life doing what I do now, because I'm doing something that I love.
Could you see a way to make enough money when you made that choice or was it a bit touch and go?
You don't really think about that at the time, I was just going with the flow of everything, at the end of the day I just made the decision to leave the 'rat race' behind, because I could not think about anything else. Music was all I thought about 24/7, so when it gets to that point, you know it's time to take the plunge. You have to take risks in life, you only get one chance.
You’ve played at some big clubs nights around the world including Cocoon, Back2Basics, Sankeys & even Space, what’s your favourite gig and why?
It would probably have to be the Ibiza boat parties, because the atmosphere and energy that you get from a boat party is fantastic, even though you've got a lot less people. We did the Zoo Project boat in Ibiza last year, taking over it with the Electronique name, and it was amazing and we'll be doing it again this year.
I'd have to also mention a beach party we did in Mexico at Tulum as it was such a magical place. It's next door to Playa del Carmen, so we played there and moved on to Tulum. It was an amazing experience, it wasn't just about the music, it was quite spiritual as well, with quite a hippy sort of vibe. Much like the what the original days of Ibiza were meant to be like. I'm not really a spiritual person as such, but you do sense it at these kind of events.
For me, the underground scene here is very much alive and kicking, what is it you love most about Manchester?
I just love the people here, so many good people. You often get to know them on a personal level, so it's not just about the music. It's really nice to get to know people who you've connected with through something you love.
What advice would you give to readers who’d like to make a success of electronic music?
Don't give up! There were always times in my life when I just thought it was never going to happen, but if you work hard enough, and you do have to put the hours in, then you can make it happen. The highs you get from it are absolutely amazing and nothing can touch it. I've done lots of good things recently and lots more are coming and that's just through sheer hard work. So yeah definitely, just don't give up.
The other thing is you need to have a bit of backbone. You are going to take criticisms, people aren't always going to like what you're doing, that's just life.
So finally where can people find you playing next?
I'll be playing with Rich at Idiosync, then at the northern quarter street festival, then onto London for a b@TV live podcast, with an afterparty at XOYO. Then we're off to Sonar and Ibiza, finishing off with a rooftop party in Portugal.