Future Leader Underlord aka Simon Saunders is man with a love for weird and wonderful off kilter house and techno sounds. Quietly building his empire, the London based producer and label owner has hit gold with his latest release – U Crazy Fuck, which has none other than Fatboy Slim salivating like a fat kid staring into the cake shop window. With added pizzazz and a full up DJ schedule and new online merchandise store, Underlord is set to rule the world!
A&R Simon Huxtable went to meet the man behind the music and find out a little more…
Hi Simon, congrats on becoming a Future Leader! How’s you day been so far?
Thanks, I appreciate the support. My day so far..well, they are always manic and always about getting as much stuff done as possible before I my eyes close over. I work very hard on the Underlord project. 7 days a week, mostly 15 hours a day is normal, some days I push that to 17 hours a day. Weekends freak me out a bit, because you see everyone else relaxing and doing stuff, going out, getting drunk…me, Im always working…I just wanna be making tunes in the studio or working on my current project which is the Underlord e-commerce shop. I designed it, built the site, everything is 100% my effort. Think of Beatport, but just for Underlord on a smaller scale. All my promos that the likes of Carl Cox, Laurent Garnier, Claude vonStroke, Eats Everything are hammering, are all on there months before I release them on my label Exploding Chicken. Ive just finished my 2nd android app, again I designed and coded it. Also just finished my first sample pack series, new set of t-shirt designs… and when all thats done, I chill out by making banging tunes… and at the mo, Im working on remix project with Carl Cox…and thats a normal day! Anyway, I think you get the picture… its crazy!
Can you tell us about growing up in Harrogate. We understand Tim from the Utah Saints set up a club night in your hometown, what other events highlighted your teenage years?
Yeah I played in the same club called Legends, I used to be resident when I was 15, they couldn’t pay me (apparently) but instead they gave me a white VIP card so I could get all my friends in for free. Tim did his bleep techno nights, tons of people would come over from Leeds to check him out. Great crowd, great vibe, brilliant tunes, think LFO/LFO.. He then opened his own club called “The Mix”. That had a lasting impression of what a good club night is all about for me. Big bass bins, 100% black out, smoke machine and a wicked DJ who knows how to mix creatively and when to play the right track.
I spent a lot of time in Leeds, buying mix tapes from all the raves. Friday and Saturday nights were the best, me and my neighbour would go to the Gallery & Warehouse. I didn’t drink or do drugs, just went for the tunes. There is something very special about DJs from Leeds, they just know how to rock the place, non of this shoulder dancing, chin stroking stuff that goes on nowadays. My philosophy is simple, you go clubbing to dance.
Who were the DJs/ artists you admired most? Have you ever met them in person?
Carl Cox & Laurent Garnier. Carl, yes met him at EDC Vegas where I was playing a pool party for him. Funny thing when we met, we chatted about t-shirt designs, not music. Laurent, he’s another major fan. Met him at ADE, had a very long chat, he even gave me his mobile number and sorted out the guest list for me. We agreed to meet at 4am at Radion, which is in the middle of nowhere outside the dam in a mental industrial estate. a great concrete bunker turned club. Funny thing is, my alarm didn’t go off, I sleep in, woke up at 5.30am, jumped in a cab, made the driver go extra fast to get me to the club, bouncers were not having a bar of it, letting me in. Eventually I persuaded them. Got into the club, place was packed, Laurent was peaking his set, I was onstage with him, he then played my tune, place went nuts. That put a big smile on my face. Met him again at Fabric, London. Turned up at 5am again, stayed with him till 11am, even went to breakfast with him at his hotel and then his mate, Francois K turned up. We all had breakfast. Best breakfast of my life.
Talk us through becoming a DJ. What was your biggest challenge?
Becoming a DJ was easy when I started, very natural. I mixed with vinyl, in those days it was a hard skill to learn. I ended up writing the first mini guide book on it “How to DJ like a Pro” and sold it in Tower Records in Piccadilly and all the small vinyl shops in soho and in the back of DJMag. I had orders from all over the world. Did the same with a video and I then started London’s first DJ school here and in Oz.
Whats your opinion on the state of the scene these days?
Music wise, there is a ton of amazing undiscovered talent out there that isn’t getting a chance to shine, this has a knock on effect for event line ups, just the same names, which is pretty boring for the punter. Promoters need to get some balls and book a DJ who is good at DJing, DJ’s are getting booked because they have 900,000 likes on facebook. Its ridiculous. Everyone knows 99% of those likes are fake. Its time for some fresh blood and when that starts to happen, then it will exciting again.
We hear your considering moving away from the UK. It seems the combination of bad weather, bad laws and bad moods has given you itchy feet. Which destinations have you in mind?
I lived in Oz for 4 years, loved the weather and the positive people there. I need sunshine and access to the ocean. Its too far away from anything now, so need to move to somewhere sunny with good food. Italy is my fav choice, I’ve been going on about it for years, but Im still based in London.
Let’s move on to your production life. Recent single U Crazy Fuck really got us hot under the collars. Can you talk us through the sound design, and how long the whole track took to come together?
It was one of those tracks, that I worked on initially and it didn’t work, so I stopped it and moved on and started another few tracks. Months later I came back to it, I had totally forgotten about it. But when I came across it again, I changed the build up, the baseline and it just fell together. Next mission was to get some good reactions. I sent it to Fat Boy Slim, had a reaction back in 15 minutes which shocked me, he said “Haven’t head anything this chemical for ages!”. I was pretty happy!
As you’ve just said, Fatboy Slim was really behind this one, and Carl Cox has been hammering Jack Ya Body. Flattery aside, must be gratifying to know such celebrated DJs find your work interesting?
Its a really great buzz to get really positive reactions back from such legends. Laurent’s mostly contain swearing, he has sent me emails with reactions like “Its a f*king hot as hell” ..which makes me smile. Coming across a tube video of Carl dropping my Jack Ya Body tune at Tomorrowland was insane. He’s even singing it and punching the air. He also dropped it at Space Ibiza a few times and even played 2 of my tracks one after another. Getting to do the Carl Cox Global radio show guest mix (635) was a huge honour this year, but when I heard his comments on air I finally felt I was getting some traction. He said “Big Big sounds & fresh talent, I guarantee you would of danced to an Underlord track before the end of summer” – he was not wrong. He played so many of my tracks at so many events, I think Ive lost track of them.
Would you take us on a virtual tour of your studio please? What pieces of kit would you be lost without?
I used to have my studio on Kensal Road in Ladbroke Grove. I got it rent free for first year if I soundproofed it myself, which I did. New management came in after and they were complete tossers. They stole all my gear and locked me out and I lost a hard drive of all my tunes. I was so pissed off. But even that set back couldn’t stop me. So I moved it into a dedicated room in my flat in Maida Vale. My neighbours are very understanding! My studio is very simple, 2 event 2030 audio monitors on tripods perfectly positioned for the “sweet spot” stereo image. Logic Pro X, and a very select number of VST’s. Quality not quantity. Mostly NI stuff. I don’t even use a midi keyboard anymore. I prefer to key in using piano roll, works for me. I would be lost without my trusted Event monitors I think. They are very loud and have a huge powerful bottom end. I master on these speakers as well and have used them for years.
Something I ask all producers, on those days where ideas don’t seem to come, how do you spend your time?
Thats called “getting dry”. That has happened, but only a couple of times and when that does it means you need to get the f**k out and go clubbing or drench yourself in listening to tons of new music or both. :) Fortunately for me, I spend all day, every day, listening to everything from drum and bass to techno to tech house, to be very honest, most of the tracks I hear amaze me at how boring they are. Without sounding like a dick, I could probably create one of the those tracks in about 1 hour. I feel so sorry for the punters at those events. They must be so bored. I like to produce exciting tracks, not stuff that makes my cat sleepy.
We all love to spend hours noodling over a snare or hat pattern, but invariably, you lose that creative forward motion by being bogged down in trivialities. Whats the best workflow trick or advice you’ve learned?
Im always on a bit of a deadline when producing tracks. If you have all the time in the world, it doesn’t work for me. A bit of pressure is great. I just put down a basic groove very fast and get the it going. Sometimes it doesn’t work and I just dump the track and start another and then come back to it. I work on about 3 tracks at once. But you know when your onto something, my test is.. does it make me turn up the volume and get up and dance, when I get to that stage I know Im onto a winner.
Another question I’m always interested in asking producers. Remixing. How do you decide on the parts to use, and on hearing the original (if you do), does an idea immediately come to you?
No, remixing is difficult. In my eyes you have to work out what makes that track stand out and try and keep that element in. I did that when I remixed Placebo, that took months, it was a very hard remix. But then when I remixed Orbital, I added in a totally new track into a break down. Amazing tune, my fav remix but will sadly never be released due to probs with phils brother and management. Carl played that on his Global show and said “Amazing remix, I love this tune” so job done. I am currently working on remix project with Carl Cox, Ive done my take on it and sent it back to him, he’s done his take on it and sent it back to me. Now the 2 collide and I have to produce another mix of it.
Can you tell us about your new releases?
I’ve just finished my album. First track is called “No scratch, no snatch!” a funny saying I heard in a mix about the sad life of a hooker. It will be released on my own label Exploding Chicken and available to download from the Underlord e-commerce shop and then a month later it will be on all the download stores and iTunes, but for now its a Decoded exclusive, no one else has been told about it. It has 2 sections, unmixed as singles for the DJs and a mix like my live set.
Can we talk about your DJing a moment? Tell us about learning to mix.
I used to live in a basement in Gower Street W1, just behind Tottenham Court Road. I bought some 1210’s. Practised until I could hold a beat mix for a decent time. Got loads of gigs, was playing 3 times a week, all residencies. One mental one which was an illegal pop up club on charing cross road playing trance. I would turn up at 4am and place going off, girls wondering around in bras… brilliant fun, I would whack on full on 130bpm trance track. Great crowd.
How has your set up changed over time, and do you miss the physical aspects of DJing? Packing your bag, deciding on which CDs etc
Im from the vinyl days, I used to run my own vinyl online record shop in Oz… another story… yeah, I miss getting on a ferry from my flat in Sydney and taking it across to the main part of the city, circular key. had 2 trolleys of vinyl to carry. I loved it.
One of the big stories over the last few weeks has been MistaJams comments about warm up jocks. What are your thoughts on the art of warm up?
Warm up sets are usually given to inexperienced DJs, so if you have a crap promoter he wont say anything to the dj and the DJ will think its his big break to shine and do a full on set with huge tunes. I say go for it. Ive done it, had the place kickin, the next DJ comes on and kills the vibe, even thou the floor was pumping. I hate that. But on the other side of the coin, the experienced good promoters say you are warming up Coxy so keep the tempo down, Coxy is the headliner, not you. You basically need to know where you stand. Its the job of the promoter to tell you. When I do my nights, I tell who ever plays before me to keep it down to around 124bpm, then I come up and take it up to 128.
Another topic hot on the lips of industry insiders is of course the troubles Soundcloud and others are having with phase 3 of its growth into a monitising business. Mark Lawrence (AFEM) claims that within two years, tracks used in online DJ mixes will need permissions from both label and publisher. And that mass takedowns and possible legal action will be the norm. Is the current business model relevant, or should we be more progressive in our distribution of fair payment?
I personally think and this will never happen, if you are getting paid £20k to play someones else tunes for 2 hours, why not give them a part of the cash. Without the artists tunes, unless you are a very busy, good producer, you wont have anything to play. Marks idea is not real, DJs dont like rules, thats why we are DJs.
Its been a real pleasure to chat Simon, we wish you further success with the Underlord project, is there anything else you wanted to add?
No probs, hope you enjoy the mix and if you like the tunes, please show your support and buy them direct from me here
01// Underlord – Hipnotic
02// Underlord – Jack Ya Body
03// Francios Manzo – Scylica (Alex Wolf Remix)
04// Underlord – Whazed Out
05// Underlord – B4 The Storm
06// Culoe De Song – Y.O.U.D.
07// Stephan Hinz & Clint Stewart – Shimmer
08// Musumeci – VI
09// Alan Fitzpatrick – Reflections
10// Underlord – Bitch!
11// Underlord – U Crazy Fuck
12// Underlord – Squeeze
13// Underlord – Down @ the Club
14// Moby – Go (Woodcock Mix)
15// Underlord – U Can’t Escape Detroit