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Si Begg

Proprietor of Noodles, the ‘Stupidest Recording Organisation in The World’, Si Begg is one of dance music's most idiosyncratic movers and shakers. Overload caught up with the much sought-after producer prior to the release of the Noodles compilation, The Death Of Cool Part 2

By Alex Ward

 
You're a busy chap I take it?
Non-stop. I seem to have so many bits and bobs all going on. The main thing at the moment is getting Noodles, The Death Of Cool Part 2 out, and then I'm doing this project for Novamute, which'll be the next big one.
Hadn't heard about that one.
Oooh – hot off the press. Yeah, I'm going to be doing an album with Novamute. Under the name SI Futures – a kind of a mock corporate kind of vibe going on. That's scheduled for I think September or October, haven't quite finished it yet.
What's the plan with that?
Basically, it's a lot of material I've had piling up for a while, 'cause I haven't really had an album out since the Cabbage Boy one, and that was all that kind of more slow tempo breakbeat stuff. Before that was the Buckfunk album, so I've had this material building up for ages and couldn't decide what to do with it. I was umming and aahing. I wanted to do another Buckfunk album, but Language has kind of disappeared – the label.

So I was just shopping around really, and cos Cristian [Vogel] got the deal with Novamute I got to meet Seth, and Seth said 'oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, I'd like to hear it', kind of thing, just a few tracks. And I didn't think they'd like it – I thought it'd be a bit too quirky for them because Novamute's kind of… So anyway, when Seth heard them he said he really liked them, come in lets have a chat... so we just got talking; a lot of negotiating and now here we are kind of thing. I've decided to give them a new pseudonym because they wanted it exclusive and I didn't really want to give Si Begg exclusive to anyone. I do so many things like Mosquito, Sativae, I'd have to stop doing all of that – and that's not going to happen really [laughs]. I'd rather give them this new pseudonym – an exclusive and that will be my Novamute name. I'm really excited about it.
Do you like working under many different pseudonyms?
I do and I don't. I think it's a kind of necessity because of the way the industry kind of works. Because a lot of people want exclusive names and there's just no way I could. If there was one label that I felt was my home and I didn't want to do stuff for other labels then that would be fine, but no single label is willing to release my full output – my full kind of range. So I have to come up with these different projects all the time, and that's the way it's got to be done.
Are the names you use always angled towards specific projects?
Yeah, they tend to be. It's normally a matter of who I'm working with. With Buckfunk 3000 stuff I was always working with Tony Thorpe, and with Ninja Tune, they're not going to want to release a load of belting techno. I tend to do a load of tracks and then give them out to who I think will like them, and that's the way it seems to work. Sometimes I get it wrong and what I think say Ninja Tune will like they don't like but Tony likes it for Buckfunk or some of big major stuff, and whatever.
Why did you hook up with Leaf for the second Noodles album?
With Noodles I did that one double-vinyl release and that was through SRD. I had a P&D thing there so I didn't have to spend any money. Then Dennis left and went to Vital, so it went a bit pea- shaped and I didn't think they were very interested in it really. So, I thought 'I haven't got the money to do CDs' and all that kind of thing, so I was just looking for someone to kind of help me out with it. I think it was a guy in Japan – Plug in Japan suggested Tony because he had been doing the Susumu Yokota deal thing with Leaf putting out loads of Susumu Yokota stuff in the UK, and I thought 'that seemed to work really well – why don't you license it to Leaf?' So I met with Tony and played him the first rough bits and he was really into it and I thought wicked, he's someone who really understands. Not everyone really understands the Noodles thing.
How did the reaction to the first one go?
It did go down really well. I mean there are no copies of it anymore, although we only did about 900. I've only got one knackered copy. It was one of those things that kind of appeared and disappeared – a bit of a cult phenomenon really. Loads of people were really into it and I still hear people now going 'that mad country and western track, and those birds – what the fuck's all that about', but then it just disappeared because I didn't do anything more with Noodles for so long... missed the momentum really, and I'm trying to build it back up again now. I'd like to re-release it sometime really.
So, it's still the silliest recording organisation, then?
Stupidest, by far... although at some points it's not really that stupid. It's stupid in that most other labels would never consider doing that many styles all on one label — techno and breakbeats and everything all mixed up together – stupid in that respect, and kind of commercial suicide. But then again, some people are all for it.
People find it difficult to pigeonhole you as both a producer and a DJ?    
It is really hard. The normal procedure with an artist is to align yourself with a certain style or movement, and that does make life a lot easier. If you're a techno DJ then you play the techno clubs and you make 12" and remixes that techno people will like. With me it varies. It might say 'Si Begg remix' and they're going to be like 'what's he going to have done'. When people ask me to remix I always have to ask them "you want 4/4? You don't want 4/4?" Stuff like Botchit and Scarper, some of the breaks people, they wouldn't be so interested in 4/4 and if I'm doing a remix for Sven Vath he'll be the opposite.
I notice you're playing for Sven Vath over at his new club venture.
Yeah, it's not the Omen anymore – I haven't played there yet. I played at the Omen about two years ago, did a Mosquito night there.
There's very few artists that could play well there and then at a Ninja Tune night...
Well, that's the thing – I don't see a problem with it. To me, it's all about music at the end of the day. All it is is my personal taste, and I like all kinds of music, so I make all kinds of music. It's just logical. I don't see how you could do anything different.
Have you always been making music?
Yeah, I used to be in bands and stuff, years ago when I was twelve, play the guitar, the drums all that stuff – muck about. Then I got more into all this, I got a four-track, got millions of effects peddles... It was a gradual thing – it got more and more electronic and all of a sudden I had no acoustic instruments left and it ended up strictly electronic. But again, I was always into both. Where I was living in Leamington Spa there was a lot of hardcore there — Napalm Death, Bolt Thrower, all those kind of bands. So I'd go and see a band like Napalm Death and all that kind of shit, and then come home and listen to Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, prog rock, anything. As long as it's kind of weird, I'm like 'yeah, that's cool'. So I've always listened to loads of different kinds of stuff. The dance music thing just kind of came along, just a kind of natural progression I guess. I was always into the electro stuff and hip hop. I was never really into disco stuff, soul stuff anything like that. So when I started getting into techno it was mostly like acid house stuff; I appreciated that and that's what got me into it — I could see the angle, I could see where they were coming from.
Have you known Cristian Vogel for a long time?
We went to the same school – he was living in Stratford at the time. We missed each other, because he was a year younger than me, but I had some friends there and they said 'oh, you ought to meet this guy Cristian – he likes mad fucking music as well. He's got an Amiga and makes this crazy music. When he was at university in Brighton I was in London, and he got in touch because he heard that I had loads of analogue synths. He just had computers and stuff and was much more on a sampling tip. It started there really. With all of us – me, Cristian, Neil Landstrumm — it's not so much that we make the same kind of music, just that we all have the same attitude towards it. At the time we were all into techno but very dissatisfied with the way techno was going, but at the time it wasn't so obvious. At the time | thought I was a techno guy making techno, and all of a sudden a year later everyone else was going off somewhere else. Me, Christian and Neil were going in a completely different direction and all of a sudden no one was really into what we were doing. It split when the Jeff Mills thing really hit in.
There's a definite dividing line now, with so many producers making tracks solely for manipulation by DJs...
It's true, but with most styles of music really. Like the breaks stuff for example, people use stuff that's just tools. All the Buckfunk stuff was very much start to finish, you know – structured, but then something like Mosquito is more techno for DJ's. It's just what you're into – different styles. I just get bored with the minimal stuff – bores me rigid, doesn't do anything for me. It's just my personality. I would never say any kind of music is worse or better than any other, it doesn't really matter how clever it is or how complicated it is, it's just what I like. love cuts, I love stuff cutting in and out, things suddenly appearing from nowhere. I blame it on TV, low attention span. That's why I never liked trance, the whole concept of trance for me isn't very exciting – it's a kind of monotonous, tribal thing that I was never up for. I much prefer breakbeat, hardcore stuff like Shut Up and Dance. I used to get a lot of mix tapes when I first got into dance music, like the Eclipse at Coventry, mix tapes with Derrick May along side Doc Scott, Grooverider, and all playing similar types of music. It had riffs and breakdowns, build ups and chops and changes. I always liked that, and I think there was that point where it got minimal and was seen as more extreme more kind of purist – 'it's better not cheesy' kind of thing. But to me it was just dull. I love all the early Jeff Mills stuff; a lot of that minimal stuff I do like, like Surgeon — his productions excellent, and especially for his more experimental stuff. Basic Channel and things like that. I just like to mix it all up a bit. I play some of that stuff, but just not all night.
Your BuckFunk 3000 material must have made people curious as to where you were coming from musically?
Well, that's the thing – I don't see a problem with it. To me, it's all about music at the end of the day. All it is is my personal taste, and I like all kinds of music, so I make all kinds of music. It's just logical. I don't see how you could do anything different.
That's when you first started appearing in the music magazines. Do you do much press?
I'm always more than happy – I'll babble away for England, as you're probably realising. I did so much press for the Buckfunk thing, every radio station and student radio up and down the country, some bizarre Norwegian magazine, Sweden, America — loads and loads of press. Don't know what difference it made but I did a lot of it anyway.

It was just after that that it all went a bit quiet. [I did] the Cabbage Boy album on N-Tone, and it didn't get much press, but I think a lot of it was to do with bad timing – Ninja Tune were putting out new DJ Vadim album, the new Funky Porcini album, new Herbaliser... About seven new albums out in September 1998, or was it nine? So mine was at the bottom of the stack. Most music magazines aren't going to do seven Ninja Tunes releases in one issue, they'll only do two or three or whatever — but never mind, those people who did hear it liked it, so that's what counts. It's still out there and people pick up on it. Because my music's not so genre conscious it means you can still listen and enjoy it two years later. It's not very of the moment because it's so unstylish, or not of a certain style. A bit like Cristian – I still play tracks of his that are five or six years old.
His album for Novamute was much more on a breaks tip than normal.
It's a good album. There's not many clubs that will play that sort of music. It's pretty unique. He's always had his own sound and especially now with Super_Collider. It's pretty organic – it almost feels like there's a live band playing, very floppy and wobbly. That's Vogel – no one else does stuff like that.
Do you and Cristian still run your Mosquito label together?
Sort of. Emma [No Future] runs it more than me — it just depends on whoever's got the time to do it. When it first started I was doing most of it because I wasn't doing so much music then but then when Buckfunk started kicking off I didn't have time and nor did Cristian, so we just left it for a while. The last one I did, Welcome To the Discotheque, that's really gone off in Germany – it's one of those tracks that's been on about five compilations in Germany. I never intended it to be anything but it just got on there for some reason. Sven Vath got really on it, DJ Hell played it a lot, and those guys have a lot of sway in Germany. But over here it's nothing, no ones heard of it.
Have you been DJing over there much?
Not so much recently... I used to three years ago. I've concentrated on the UK, I've been trying to do the Buckfunk stuff over here, breaks crowds, you know. I'm doing something for Fuel as well – a 12" that will be coming out soon and a track on their compilation.
You did a remix for Tipper...
Yeah, I love Tipper's stuff. So I'm still doing a lot of stuff with those kind of guys, like Mark from T-Power. But again, that's a weird scene. I think it's going the way all scenes do — a formula arises and people try to copy the formula, and now there's a million breaks records out there and they're all the bloody same. Well a lot of them are. There is some really good stuff out there, some really good two-step – all that breakbeat garage scene. I play stuff like that at techno clubs and then try to play techno stuff at breaks clubs and see what happens! I play stuff like Tube Jerk there – Tim Wright throws everything into the pot. It would just drive you crazy, things like minimalalistic attitudes, stripping stuff down 'til it's left with just this bare necessity — it's just not what I'm about… but then sometime I am.
One for the adage 'music for moods', then?
I've said to people before, when you listen to a piece of music or you buy a piece of music you have to consider the environment it's designed for. A lot of my mates don't like dance music at all but they never listen to it in clubs. They might hear a record or hear something on the radio first thing in the morning at nine o'clock when they're trying to have their breakfast, and well of course you don't like it — it's not meant for that. But if you have a few drinks, come down the club and you'll hear what it's all about. And just the same with other kinds of music, non-dance music, experimental stuff... You should listen to when you're on your own going for a walk or something. There are lots of different environments for music. A lot of my music is not all for the same scene; it's not all for clubs, it's not all for home listening.
Have you always been one for going to clubs?
Yeah. I used to go to gigs a lot and then less and less gigs and more and more clubs. We used to do a few things at our local venue where Napalm Death used to play. We started doing raves there – 'til midnight, ha! Yeah, I like going out to clubs. A lot of people don't though — it's not like in Europe, Germany where everyone goes to clubs no matter what kind of music you're into. I once spent ages chatting to someone at the Tresor club by the door and I was just watching the stream of people come through the door, and you get a total cross section of society — rockers with really bad mullets, people with Saxon t-shirts on, people of 30, 40, and young kids off their heads — because everyone goes clubbing; it's seen as that's what you do, where as here it's not really ingrained — it's a new phenomenon, this big clubbing raving thing, it's very new to us. A lot of people never consider going to clubs or a lot of people might not have considered going to clubs four or five years ago but would now, and I think it's because it's all blurring, the late licensing laws, bars sort of becoming clubs...
Do you tend to play out much in London?
I've been trying to more and more. I play regularly at the Big Beat Boutique night – that's a weird one, I don't know how I ended up doing that! They really appreciate that I can play different stuff. At the Bomb in Nottingham, quite a lot [the Boutique] and one in Dublin. They appreciate the fact that they can put me on any time of night in any room in any kind of club and as long as I know what it's going to be like then I can do it – warm up slots, all different styles whatever. The last time I played there it was Timo Maas and Ian Pooley; it was Bugged Out in one room and Big Beat Boutique in the other, and you just couldn't tell the difference – they're all playing 4/4 of one sort or another.
Any idea where you might be musically in a few years?
No. Half of it's the new technology. At the moment I'm trying new technology out, I'm doing whole tracks where I never touch my desk, I never touch my sampler, never touch my synths.
Much of your material is quite complex. There must be a lot of computer-based work involved?
I use Logic Audio, such a great machine, I've always loved sampling and to me it's just even better than sampling, I've got a hard-drive just full of millions of sounds of shit I've picked up — weird sound effects all stuff I can record on my Mini-disc, samples off records — and you can just burrow in there, cut it up into all these little pieces, mad plug-ins that do these crazy things with sounds... So a lot of it is technology, where it takes you.

If I'm doing dance music, the whole point is that it's got funk. There's not point in making dance music that isn't funky – it's got to be something that makes you want to move, not headbang. To me the minimal stuff is not really dance music; I can see how maybe you'd listen to it as an experimental experience, but to me it's not funky really. A lot of the people who play in the clubs in Germany the crowd are not really grooving, they're just standing there for two hours. To me it's almost like it's become the new heavy metal, the new music for young teenage kids to bang their heads to. It's become like gabber or something. But again, the first time I saw Jeff Mills DJ I was totally blown away – it was the best thing I'd fucking heard in my whole life. I remember seeing him and Richie Hawtin at Club UK and I was just amazed. The way he plays those records is very different to the way that other people play them. I mean he plays one minute of them, other people play them start to finish.

I think there's this whole thing whereby people want to align themselves with a certain cool. Like Detroit, Detriot's just so damn cool. Half the people wish they were from Detroit. At the end of the day those were just guys being individual and that's what made it so special. Derrick May and Juan Atkins, they've just gone with the flow and I don't know what they're doing but they wouldn't have been doing weird European electronic dance music... So if you really want to be as cool as those guys then you should just do what is relevant to you.
With such a mix of stuff on the new Noodles album, how did you arrive at the final product?
First it was a matter of just if I liked it, it was in there, and getting a good balance... different styles – didn't want it to be too this or too that. There's a lot more tracks on the CD that aren't on the vinyl and things on the vinyl that aren't on the CD, like the Spice Girls mash-up. I think I might get into trouble for that. It's just a matter of getting the balance of electronic stuff and non-electronic stuff, technoey and non-technoey, breakbeaty non-breakbeaty… The vinyl is meant to be stuff that is almost playable, that could almost be used somehow in a club, but that I know a lot of people wouldn't buy — but I would! Like the Michael Forshaw track – he just does his own thing; he's another one who goes off and does his own shit.
Why do you think the quirky techno sound that emerged from Edinburgh and Brighton has never had a great deal of recognition, especially in the UK?
Me and Christian always said that if we started doing more techno stuff that we'd given it a name, like the New School of Techno or something something stupid like that, [that] would probably help you sell a lot more records. But we just did it, and unless you knew that we were all kind of interlinked it was never seen as a new movement. That's the cunning thing to do, especially if you want to get into Musik Magazine or something, you've got to have a new scene, a new club, a new style of dress and whatever. A new kind of package, that's what people like.
Do you read much press?
Every now and then if I'm in an airport and I'm bored. I just get so irritated. If I'm in a good mood I'll have a chuckle to myself at it. The thing is I don't even feel part of it, we all make music, release records and play in clubs, but I think to me that's a whole different world, the world of Muzik Magazine, Seb Fontaine… But then every now and then you have the capacity for crossover; Pete Tong played Buckfunk's Fried Funk and Microchips, the last single I did on Language. It was one of his ' 'Essential Tunes' or whatever. So then you kind of end up gatecrashing into that world. But I've never really thought it was my scene. It's a different ball game, a different idea, it's all to do with what's fashionable, in at the time. For us it's a personal thing. We just do our own thing.
Would you say these magazines target quite specific age groupings?
It's like Q Magazine, they're trying to be so rock 'n' roll and it's run by a bunch of 40 year-olds. I think Oasis and bands like that are so not rock 'n' roll. Kids don't like that kind of music, young kids, they like S Club 7 or Eminem, or Prodigy – something with a bit of balls; they don't like this tedious old guitar stuff. People like Blur, it's great if you're 40, but if you're 16 or 14… All these magazines used to harp on about dance music and know they're letting a few in through the door, especially if you've got a lead singer or someone who'll jump around - all of a sudden you're okay. 'Prodigy, okay we'll let them in. Chemical Brothers - they recorded with Oasis, we'll let them in. It's bizarre.

I've got a friend who used to write for Select and I'm always trying to get him into stuff. When the first Super_Collider came out I said 'look, you'll like this', and he'll be like 'I like the Chemical Brothers, I like Skint, but that's a step too far for me'. Most people have their parameters. I just really like music, the more it surprises me the better. If you're just driving the car or doing the washing up, you just want to hear something that's not going to annoy you, you just want something that's pleasant in the background — that's what pop music's for. I don't think it takes much to open people's minds a bit. A lot of people who come to the Big Beat Boutique hoping to see Fatboy Slim, and I've played a lot of interesting stuff there and people have got into it, as long as you keep it varied. I always find the warm-up slot at Big Beat Boutique a real challenge - trying to get them dancing without having to play something horrible.

A lot of it is nostalgia, older stuff that people remember. A lot of the problem I have is the fact that so much hangs with recognition. You go to see a band live, you'll tend to have already bought the album and you know it all as soon as it comes on. And to an extent that's what dance music is like, the garage lot forever sampling, ripping each other off and using the same riffs over and over again, sounds everyone recognises, that bass sound, that break, giving people something familiar then putting new twists on it — to an extent techno works like that. No one likes it if you do a whole new style of techno overnight. If it's building on something someone's done before people will be okay with it, but if it's something completely different…'whoa, scary'. What Herbert does, people get into it on one level because it's house but what he's doing with it is pretty extreme. Something from a style, something to hang it on, something they recognise. You can often get away with murder. With techno you can pretty much do anything. 
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