Simon D James has been described as mysterious and an enigma – a sensitive chameleon with a social conscience. Born as the son on 70s one hit wonder Brendon (‘Gimmie Some’), Simon learnt to play guitar in his teens and has been writing music ever since. Following his travels around the globe with nothing but a backpack and a guitar, the style presented in ‘My Everything’ expresses an absorption of inspiration – whether from spending time with babas in India, or volunteering in the Calais jungle (a migrant encampment rooted in the north of France), the track reinforces his claims as one of the most alluring musicians around.
Tucked away in an estate in Devon, Simon studied music in (what he describes as) a bizarre contemporary arts college. It was here he went on to contemplate many styles of music, and further his understanding of the conceptual ways of thinking about art. However, it wasn’t until late 2017 when his focus shifted to recording music after a cancer scare forced him to re-evaluate his priorities in life.
The track ‘My Everything’ began life as an improvised jam with friends on a venture to Mexico City, before being traversed across the Atlantic where it was pieced together in an even more abstract location at Greenmount Studios – located in the catacombs of a church in Leeds. The engineers at the studio – Jamie Lockheart and Lee Smith, who also produced and arranged the EP, actually learnt how to play the violin with a saw-blade to record the piece and is just one example of an unusual choral ambience which remains overwhelmingly powerful, even after repeated listens.
Department M announce the release of their self-titled mini album through fierce panda on Monday 16th December. The Leeds-based quartet fully explore the expansive indie/electronic sound present on their acclaimed previous singles ‘I’ll Fax You An Apoogy’ (Black Boutique) and ‘The Second Prize’ (Too Pure).
The Truth: DEPARTMENT M come from Leeds in the North of Englandshire. Ostensibly a creative vehicle for one Owen Brinley, they have spent the past year cautiously, yet crunchingly, developing a fascinating, fizzing sound which combines the heroic synths of yesteryear with a cutting contemporary electro sensibility. Depeche Mode, Air, Talk Talk, Cabaret Voltaire and – of course – ELO are just some of the names referenced in their company, and fair play too – Owen Brinley is decidedly not a man afraid of a saxophone solo. Bolstered by a four person-strong live line-up this is an act which can straddle the divide between the shiny retro-obsessed Classic Pop magazine and the cool dark alleyways of modern East London.
They have previous, do Department M: in March they released the ‘I’ll Fax You An Apology’ / ‘Black Boutique’ single on local label Hide & Seek. In June they released the ‘The Second Prize’ / ‘Absentia’ single through Too Pure. This handy Department M mini-album brings together most of the songs on those first two releases, throws in future single ‘Miscellany’ – due out in January 2014 – adds a couple more toweringly sombre tunes and waits for the light to come pouring out of the sky. It is being released on the monumentally illogical date of December 16th because a) a similar version of the EP is being released on Rallye Records in Japan in November, b) because we could and c) because it’s a timely way to end the first chapter in the Department M story.
So how did we get here? Legend already has it that Owen’s career took a completely different turn when he put down his guitar and picked up a Roland Juno-60, the classic keyboard that defined the sound of the likes of ’80s hair bears A Flock Of Seagulls, and all of a sudden his nascent electronic influences burst to the forefront of his writing. No less interestingly, his career as DJ and binge drinker in several Leeds nightclubs had him suffering from the onset of Hyperacusis, an acute over-sensitivity to certain frequency ranges. Something to keep his well-developed tinnitus company, but not something to keep him out of the studio.
These conditions over time created a tension which arguably informed the lyrical and musical elements which saw Owen mould the Department M sound alongside local long term collaborator James Kenosha. Unsurprisingly, phrases like “abrasive beauty” and “brutalist pop economy” tend to be bandied about Department M’s music, for theirs is a world of overdriven hip-hop drum loops crashing against smooth swathes of analogue synthesiser, where the beefiest of rhythms collide with the sweetest of vocals.
‘THE SECOND PRIZE’ video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjRNtMsIi_w
3. I’ll Fax You An Apology
5. The Second Prize
Sat 2nd Nov @ Belgrave Hall, Leeds
Tue 5th Nov @ The Shacklewell Arms, London
Thu 5th Dec @ Head Of Steam (Rattled By The Rush Club), Newcastle
Sat 7th Dec @ Eiger Studios (Symposium Festival), Leeds