If you don’t know Sam Hall, you only have to stick your head inside any one of the many great forums for dance music – online and off – to find him immersed in the search for great records. You can often find him in Bristol’s musical epicenter, Idle Hands, where he’ll be sure to zero in on your taste and improve on it – no doubt a vital asset to Chris Farrell – with his exquisite ear for real Detroit-inspired deep house, disco, techno and everything from there on.
It’s quite possible that Sam is single-handedly keeping Royal Mail in Bristol afloat with the volume of record-shaped post he receives on a weekly basis. He is a consistent source for new and old records, sharing his music with great excitement online, overlooking the DJ protocol of not giving away dancefloor weapons, just because he’s enthusiastic to turn people on to his discoveries
Sam is a great musical friend to us and we’re proud to present him to you as major upcoming driving force behind serious dance music in the UK. Enjoy his first online interview, alongside a sublime 90 minute mix inspired by DJ Sprinkles and some photos shot exclusively for this feature by Bristol-based photographer and fellow selector, Sam Wild.
It’s been nice to see your name being a more regular feature on lineups in Bristol and further afield. How’s 2015 been for you so far?
For me it’s been a really successful year. I think I’m slowly establishing myself with in the Bristol music scene as a DJ, which is no mean feat due to the incredible amount of talent in the city. Like you said, I’m appearing on more and more lineups in Bristol and playing for parties and at clubs which I never though I’d get the chance to play at. In fact, if you had told me four years back that I’d be DJing at my old stomping grounds like Cosies, Motion or Lakota I’d have told you that you had a screw loose.
I’ve also played in various cities in the UK this year too, which was a massive stepping-stone for the progression of my DJing. I was no longer in the Bristol bubble that I’m used to and the fact that promoters were paying for me to travel and play at their night was something that I couldn’t quite get my head around for a while. I really enjoyed the opportunities though, especially in Manchester, as the crowd was really receptive. I’ve got some more gigs in other cities coming up which I’m really excited about as I’ve heard great things about the clubs and the crowds so that should be interesting.
Beyond the very observant lineup studiers, for anyone who’s finding out about you for the first time in this feature, could you describe yourself as a DJ?
When I play out, the main focus on my mind is to keep the audience guessing and on their toes.
I used to be pretty obsessed with finding the perfect mix between two records by making sure they were in the same pitch in the transition, had similar drum patterns and there was no clashing between vocals and prominent chords when bringing the next record in. Consequently I became too analytical on the whole process and almost turned my style into a somewhat robotic and methodical routine as it had lost the human touch.
One pivotal night that changed all this for me was when I saw DJ Sotofett of the Sex Tags Mania crew playing all night at Dirty Talk’s event in Bristol in 2014. He switched back and forth between genres repeatedly and the pitch and tempo were constantly being altered – it sounded like what I can only describe as a beautiful mess. One example of this on the night was his mixing of a Fela Kuti record into ‘I’m Too Sexy’ by Right Said Fred into Round One’s ‘I’m Your Brother.’ This is a very extreme example but it’s what I needed to hear to highlight to myself that its not just all about perfect mixing and getting two tracks which create the same atmosphere, but to have fun with the whole process and bring a human element to it by stepping outside the box.
From that day on I became more risky with my track selection and started mixing records together that you wouldn’t necessarily think should work. This style was positively enforced when I saw people losing their shit to the weirdest and exciting combinations of records. An example of this would be playing an Italo Disco record from the 80’s and then slowly bring a rolling bass driven House record from 2015 underneath, while slowly cutting out the bass on the first record. This creates a weird hybrid with slightly cheesy 80’s female vocals and earworm synth chords but a roaring modern bass line below. Don’t get me wrong I still continue to think about how records should follow on from one another by the mood they create but I’m less uptight about this now which means I can create a serious and sustained style to my mixing and track selection whilst throwing in curveballs two records later which could flip a dance floor on its head.
So, to put all long-winded rabble that into a summary, I’d like to have an introduction to myself as a DJ as someone who doesn’t take the process too seriously and can be unpredictable whilst maintaining a level of rhythm, tempo and mood so that it isn’t complete fucking chaos.
At what point did you cotton on to dance music in Bristol? You grew up here so would it be safe to say you could mark the changes in Bristol’s music taste? If so how has it changed?
I started going out to nights in Bristol when I was about 16-17 so around 2007. I always knew that Bristol had a massive musical culture and heritage but I had no idea to what depth and importance the city had served in creating bands like Massive Attack and Portishead. The majority of nights I first started attending were primarily jungle, drum & bass, garage and the early dubstep sounds, which is what really got me into Electronic music.
One major turn was the turn away from dubstep and DnB into house and techno. In my early days of partying in Bristol there were little to no house and techno nights. You’ve got people like Pinch, Appleblim, Peverelist, Joker, Krust, and Roni Size all hailing from the city so with that kind of heritage the type of music that they made and were playing was bound to be the biggest and strongest in the city for a long period. Over the last four years a resurgence of house and techno has flooded the Bristol scene massively. There has been some amazing nights starting from just groups of friends making small intimate parties turning into sellout shows with the best DJs and producers in the world.
As incredible as this has been, there have also been some major downfalls to the resurgence. People have been jumping on the bandwagon who are not necessarily at the parties for the right reasons. I’m all for new people coming and getting involved in the scene, which I love and am passionate about. But when they’re ruining it by preventing people from losing their inhibitions to dance or being so wrapped up in their image then this becomes a problem. A major example of this is the whole mobile phone on the dance floor issue. I’m all for people taking the odd photo or video while dancing as they want something to remember the night by but I’ve seen people recently having their phone out for the majority of a DJ’s set while stood completely still on the dance floor surrounded by people trying to move and express themselves. This creates a bad atmosphere and less space for people to dance, which should be the main reason why people are there in the first place. If you want to watch a DJ on a screen the next day then just tune into a Boiler Room and watch it on there instead of creating distractions with flashing phone lights and getting in the way of people who just want to party. Rant over.
Since working in Idle Hands how has your perception of the scene changed if at all?
One major thing that working at Idle Hands has made me realize is how much the whole scene, without sounding too clichéd, is like one big extended family. Before working there I didn’t really feel like there was cohesiveness between different promoters, artists and DJs. From meeting lots of new people who have major roles in making the Bristol scene what it is today, I’ve found that most of them support one another; whether it be by bringing mates along to each others’ nights, or sharing another promoter’s event on Facebook. It’s been amazing to see this happen as people are supporting one another and subsequently increasing the quality of Bristol’s nightlife.
Who’s doing good things for Bristol music at the moment?
Not being biased as I work there occasionally, but the shop and label Idle Hands has got to be one of the most important establishments for the Bristol music today. It’s a lovely space in the hustle and bustle of Stokes Croft, where you can come and relax and listen to records or chat with the staff who can give you great recommendations as they’re all very clued up and well informed on the music that the shop stocks. The atmosphere is really friendly and you feel a sense of belonging while you’re in there. Chris Farrell has instilled a sense of welcoming in both his staff and the overall aesthetic of the shop so people don’t feel intimidated like I’ve experienced in records shops around Europe before. Not mentioning any names *cough*, Hardwax, *cough*.
Again, like Idle Hands, Elevator Sound run by producer/DJ Marco Bernadi is a great fixture in Bristol music. I’m not a producer but I understand its importance from the people I work with and friends who produce music too. The great thing about Elevator is that as much as it is an amazing shop to buy hardware, it is also a place where people come to learn. Being an established producer with records on Mathematics, Clone and Crème Organization, Marco has an incredible discography on some of the best labels around. Having his experience there whilst you shop is great support when you’re thinking of buying a new piece of kit. Elevator also runs group meetings for producers to come together to discuss programmes like Ableton and learn from experienced experts in the field, which I think is fantastic.
Which lesser-known Bristol DJs and producers do you think deserve more limelight outside their immediate surroundings?
Probably the biggest rising star in the Bristol house scene right now, who deserves all the attention she’s currently receiving, has got to be Shanti Celeste. I first saw Shanti play at her Housework event, about three to four years back at Take Five Café. This was before I had any idea of her as a producer so I was basing on her performance on just her DJng alone. Being a woman in a male dominated industry was something that really stood out for me and she played and held her own better than most male DJs I’d seen play in Bristol at that time. She’s progressed massively since that point as a DJ and some of the best nights I’ve had in Bristol have been down to seeing her playing some of my favorite records out such as Green Velvet’s ‘Preacherman’ at Cosies. She’s surpassed herself with her recent releases on BRSTL and Broadwalk records and her next EP on Secretsundaze is probably my favorite from her yet.
Another person who I think deserves more credit in the Bristol scene is Benjamin Roth aka Semtek. He runs one of my favourite labels called Don’t Be Afraid, which has put out records by MGUN, Darling Farah and Mr. Beatnick. For a label that has put out such fantastic records it has still managed to stay slightly under the radar and maintain a high level of credibility from people throughout the scene. Benj’s recent Fact Mix is well worth checking out and has been on heavy rotation as I make the journey to and from work.
Your mix is not what I would call “UK” sounding. Could you tell us a bit about the idea behind it and whether there are any standouts you want to give special mention to?
The main idea behind this mix was taken one from one of biggest influences and inspirations, Terre Thaemlitz aka DJ Sprinkles. I often read interviews and watch her Red Bull lecture as it makes me realise, reflect and appreciate the foundations of the music that I’m so passionate about. The way she talks about her style of DJing is where the idea for my mix comes from. She’s well know for letting a track play out to nearly its full length so people get to experience the beginning, middle and ending, even if it is 12 minutes long, “letting the dancefloor have a moment that goes beyond one or two minutes as five minutes is where I really get to feel a track.”
This quote really resonated with me as a lot of DJs I’ve seen recently have only been playing the main body of the record and mixing out of it before its even created a proper atmosphere in the club. This style of mixing can be fun at times but to really hear a track in its entirety can create something special and lead individuals to lose themselves in the music as they’ve got time to take all the components of the record in.
This is something that I believe strongly about so I decided to make it the main feature of my mix. A lot of the records included are left to play for ten minutes plus before the next record comes in so the listener really gets to feel the story and mood that the track is intended to create.
What are some of your favourite records from this year?
Reissues of classic records like some Nu Groove and Nervous bits. For example, The Utopia Project and Classic Man. I’ve also been enjoying Generation Next’s output from Detroit. He’s the son of Big Strick who is the cousin of Omar S so he’s got an incredible music background and Detroit heritage that really shines through in his productions. One to watch out for I’m sure!
Your house is burning down, which record do you save?
I genuinely have had a house fire before when I was about 12 and I ran out taking nothing but my dog. I think if it were to happen again though I’d probably grab some of my Jovonn records from the early 90s as they’re all absolute bombs and are some of the records that I enjoy playing out the most as they get the best reception from the crowd.
What’s coming up for you this Autumn?
I’ve got lot of gigs coming up in and around Bristol over the next few months. Most I can’t reveal just yet but one I am really looking forward to is my girlfriend and her mate’s event called Playback which I’m a resident for. They’ve got Tasker to headline alongside myself and Ruff Draft’s Owain K. They’ve already thrown some quality parties with Outboxx and Tusk Wax but I think this one is going to blow all those out the water. You can also catch me playing at various cities throughout the UK including London and Nottingham, which I’m really excited about.
It’s been a bit of a whirlwind year for you so to speak in both your DJing and involvement in the Bristol scene. Are there any people you’d like to shout out or say thanks to?
There’s too many to thanks but one of the main guys has to be the owner of Idle Hands, Chris Farrell. He gave me the opportunity to start working at the shop and I’ve discovered some amazing new music through his recommendations and our discussions. I’ve also met some inspirational people that I looked up to as both DJs and producers and have become friends with some of them through our passion for music so that has been great.
I’d also like to thank the promoters in Bristol and various cities around the UK for putting their trust in me and booking me to play at their nights. I’ve played at some amazing parties and have met some great people in the process.
I want to thank my girlfriend Amber and my friends for taking the time out to come and see me play. Amber’s been there from the start when I played to empty rooms so she knows how far I’ve come.
And finally, a massive thanks to all the crowds I’ve played to. You’ve been really receptive, open and welcoming and I’ve formed some great memories over this past year doing something that I love.
John Heckle – Nothing Can Last Forever (Voyeur)
DJ Sprinkles – Grand Central, Pt. I (Deep Into The Bowel Of House)
Kai Alcé feat. Azulu Phantom – Willow
Steve Legget feat. Greg Blackman – Aquarius (Mark Hand Rework)
Glance – We Can Be Good (Boobjazz Remix)
Reagenz feat. Fred P – Keep Building
Frank & Tony – Only By Moving
Christopher Rau – Swearing
Move D – AC1D
Mood II Swing – Move Me
Vladislav Delay As Sistol – Keno (The Mike Huckaby Synth Remix (Extended Version))
Move D – Horsin’ Around
STABLO – No. 9997 A Side
Schatrax – The Almighty
Keith Worthy – Beathebeatup (Intro)
Patrice Scott – 2000 Black
Delano Smith – Below The Horizon
THE IT – Somebody Somewhere