“Tea is necessary, and sometimes biscuits”: Talking Tech with Hector Plimmer

Hector Plimmer is a man with many strings to his bow. A producer, musician, DJ and designer, the born and bred South Londoner’s expertly crafted music has received high praise from tastemakers alike, while his longstanding residency on NTS has been his platform to share the music that inspires him, from jazz to hip-hop, soul and beats.

Although he was making considerable waves prior to 2017, this was the year that saw him release his breakthrough album ‘Sunshine’ on Adam Scrimshire and Dave Koor’s Albert’s Favourites imprint. The organic, tribal rhythms and melodic synth lines cemented Hector as a producer to keep tabs on, so it’s no surprise that the imprint invited him back this year for his second album ‘Next To Nothing‘ which sees him collaborate with the likes of Andrew Ashong, Emma Jean-Thackray and Ego Ella May.

Here he talks us through his home set up, the pieces of kit he couldn’t live without and how he gears himself up for a studio session…

Let’s start from the beginning. What was your first ever set-up, when you started making music?

My first production set-up was a laptop running into an old Gemini DJ mixer via the headphone jack, then the mixer into a hifi system. I did everything by mouse clicks. I used Reason at the time and that’s how I learned most of what I know now about navigating the what the various components of most synths do. I spent my whole time experimenting with all the bits and bobs and learning how they affected the sound as a result. Reason didn’t support audio at the time so changing over to Ableton was like a breath of fresh air to me! I do think spending that time with Reason was valuable for me though, exploring the limitations of that software at the time.

What was the first serious piece of kit you bought?

To be honest most of my equipment isn’t that serious… pretty much everything is second hand and most of it isn’t worth loads. I bought the Korg MS2000BR with my student loan whilst at uni. That was the first physical synth I had used. I’m still learning new things about it years later and it still features pretty heavily in lots of my music.

Thanks for inviting us into your studio. Where is it located and do you share with anyone else?

My ’studio’ is actually just a room in my flat in Sydenham. It also serves as a studio for my graphics work and my girlfriend who works from home as a designer too.

Could you give us a little walk through the main components?

Everything runs into Ableton. I run a midi keyboard into my laptop, then USB to midi cables into my Korg MS2000BR & Yamaha PSS-580 so that I can record the midi notes and then manipulate the sounds physically on the synths after. I run the Roland SP-404 and Strymon El Capistan as and return in Ableton for effects. Also drums (I record elsewhere), percussive bits, shakers, cowbells etc. Sometimes I play beats on the Akai MPD26 or drum them out on the Roland SPD-SX. It’s not the most complicated set-up, but having a couple of physical components I can play with in real time helps a lot.

If money were no object what would you add?

I wouldn’t mind owning a Moog One! I’m sure there’s lots of way more practical bits that I need to get before that though.

You must have a most treasured bit of equipment. If you had to keep just one piece, what would it be?

I wish I could say one of my bits of gear or something, but to be honest it’s probably my laptop. It’s at the centre of it all and I’ve spent more time with Ableton than I have any piece of equipment.

How do you condense your studio set-up for live sets?

For my live band set-up I play drum kit, I have Ableton running sounds and tracks which I control using the Roland SPD-SX and Akai MPD 26. I also use the Roland SP-404 for it’s effects on a return channel in Ableton. I also do a solo thing using just the SP-404 to trigger sounds and effects and a Pioneer DJ mixer for more effects and EQ. 

Before you get into the studio, do you have a routine to get you in the right mindset?

Not really. In order to keep some kind of daily routine, I always make sure I’ve got up and ready, had my breakfast etc before I start working on music. I try and treat the studio like a separate working environment from the flat. Tea is necessary, and sometimes biscuits.

What’s your creative approach when you’re in the studio? Do you go in with a concept in mind and labour over it until it’s perfect, or do you opt for a more raw and impulsive approach?

I rarely have an initial concept. I find if I push too hard for a certain predefined thing it’ll end up sounding super cheesy, or feel disingenuous. I try to be as open to experimentation as possible during the initial process. I find this opens the door to a lot of unexpected musical possibilities and happy accidents. I think it helps in bringing what I like about various genres to the surface too.

Where do you go or what do you do when you have writer’s block? Anything to reset the mental hardware?

I tend to avoid making music if I’m going through a stage of writer’s block. I find if I attempt to force myself to make stuff I end up frustrating myself and it ends up being all in vain. If I’m going through a period in which I can’t focus on working on stuff in the studio I’ll spend more time practicing my drumming or working on graphics work until I start to feel inclined to sit down and work on music again. Sometimes it feels like it’s never going to come back again, but sure enough it does. I think it’s all part of the process of developing creatively.

What inspires you outside the world of music?

Nice design, satisfying colour combinations, cooking food, my friends who are constantly pushing themselves to work on their art.

You’ve just released your second album Next To Nothing. Was there a key bit of kit that you used through the album? 

I got a bit excited by the El Capistan and may have used it excessively throughout the entire album… No regrets!

The album features several collaborations, including tracks with Ego Ella May, Emma Jean-Thackray and Andrew Ashong. How do you approach these in the studio? How does it differ from working on solo productions?

It doesn’t differ wildly. I normally like to start from scratch and build the music together with the collaborator in the room so we can work together in the moment. The tracks with Andrew were slightly different in that I had made the foundation of the tunes before getting him involved so in that case I sent him what I had done & he worked on them at his, then I went over there to mix them with him.

The track on the album called ‘2 Minute Switch’ was started with myself and Pie Eye Collective setting a two minute timer, each person works for two minutes and when the time’s up the next person starts working. We kept switching every two minutes until we had something solid, then we worked together to finish the track. It was a fun exercise.

Anything else on the horizon for the rest of the year that you’re excited about?

We’re throwing a launch party on the 22nd November at a brand new spot in Peckham called Peckham Audio. I’ll be playing live with my band and the Albert’s Favourites crew will be doing as well.

A collaborative project I’m involved in with Alexa Harley called Equal Echo will hopefully be releasing some more music before the year is out. Also in the new year I’ll be doing a four day residency in the Purcell Room at the Southbank Centre with Ben Hayes. We’ll be developing a human-AI interactive performance using our own custom-built technology, with a final performance on the 8th Feb and drop in throughout the residency to watch it come together.

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