“It’s a new chapter,” says Simon Aussel aka Simo Cell, when we speak to him at his home in Nantes, France. Moving back last year to the city where he grew up, following a decade in Paris making his name as one of France’s most singular bass artists, the pandemic stopped his DJ career in its tracks. But among the mental hardship, it’s also opened up new avenues.
It’s been tough, he admits, especially last winter. Despite being the first non-Bristol artist to join Livity Sound back in 2015, and releasing on labels such as Wisdom Teeth and Lyon’s Brothers From Different Mothers, “I really lost confidence,” he says. “‘Am I still able to do this?’ I was thinking about plan B, ‘what can I do if I can’t live off my music?’” Fortunately, France’s unemployment insurance scheme for artists meant he was at least financially supported, albeit with a 50% reduction in income.
The result was a period of fruitful productivity. Making music, he says, filled the hole of not being able to DJ — the feeling of which he compares to a drug, its withdrawal part of his winter wobble. But the studio also kept his mind on the future: “The more that I can make music, the more that I’ll be safer later.”
Mini album ‘YES.DJ’ is a result of this, put together last March out of the 20 or so tracks he had finished. Traversing tempos across six finely-tuned cuts, from the creeping 100bpm bass menace of ‘Short Leg’ to the title track itself — a warping 150bpm peak-time stepper — its arrival, as clubs are reopening, seems to reward his lockdown calculation.
In some senses it’s an answer to ZULI’s ‘All Caps’ EP, which dropped last spring. Pulled out of his rut by the Egyptian producer’s boundary-pushing energy, Simon realised, “Wow, so club music still has an influence on me”. But ‘YES.DJ’ also draws on a nostalgic longing for playing music, not just from immediately before lockdown, when he’d been touring the world for five years, but from his earliest days as a DJ — before starting to produce — when “all I wanted to do was play in clubs.”
He was 16 when he bought CDJs, catching the DJ bug via France’s Fête de la Musique, an annual event held on 21st June, when people are encouraged to play music in the street. Hearing The Egg’s ‘Walk Away’ (later remixed by David Guetta) was the catalyst, while Justice’s 2006 set from I Love Techno festival in Belgium was another early touchstone, Simon practicing their mixes at home.
MySpace, the world’s first social media platform, hooked him up with likeminded people to start putting on parties, as did forums such as Joachim Garraud’s, the defunct Scenehoppers, run by Teki Latex’s Institubes, and the seminal Dubstep Forum, a valuable source of production tips when he first started making music in the early days of Boiler Room and Hessle Audio.
Back then he was known as Pursim, but it was his first crew in Nantes, Scribe71, named after a road (“We put a number behind the name to sound like Swamp 81!”), that also gave him the nickname Simo Cell, a shortening of Simon Aussel inspired by Joy O’s massive 2012 hit ‘Sicko Cell’.
It wasn’t until he moved to Paris, however, and became part of another collective, Phonographe Crew, that his tracks ended up in the hands of Hodge, who played ‘Cellar Door’ on Rinse FM and passed his work onto Livity boss Peverelist.
“I was in the right place at the right time when Pev wanted to open the label beyond Bristol artists,” he says modestly of this break, noting it was also a time when Livity’s release schedule wasn’t as busy as it is now. Three months later, he had his first release, adopting Simo Cell as his new “grown-up” name. “The planets were aligned.”
Starting his own label, TEMƎT, during the pandemic didn’t feel like the planets aligning again — far from it. But the move back to Nantes, around the same time as turning 30, seems to have been a catalyst that’s defining its direction. Planning the label since 2018, Covid finally gave him time to launch it.
“The first four months of lockdown were just me working on the label with the graphic designer,” he says. “It was like therapy.” Putting out two tapes, featuring excerpts of back-to- back sets with Peverelist, Low Jack and Skee Mask, posting them to people across the world, provided a sense of connection during the darkest days of lockdown.
His EP on TEMƎT follows releases from E-Unity and Elise Massoni, and next up is “a newcomer called Less-O, my little brother actually”. Having been DJing for five years, and producing for two, the hefty, intricate sound of his ‘Shenanigans’ EP arrives fully matured.
It’s just the beginning of drawing on the next generation of talent in Nantes. What Simon has learned through releasing on Livity and BFDM, he says, is a “sense of family and to push new artists and do your own thing”. Moving to Paris was essential to launch his own career, he tells us. But now that’s done, returning home has made him determined that TEMƎT shines a light on the artists there.
It’s a scene supported by key venues. The Macadam club, he reckons, has lights and sound to match anywhere in France, while Blockhaus, an old Nazi bunker, is home to more DIY parties. Another, Trempo, offers recording studios, and is where he’s held workshops for young artists and has a DJ residency, performing extended nine-hour back-to-back sessions with international guests. “When I can do it, they stay for a week, and we make music before the party.”
Still maintaining the relationships that brought him here, a joint EP on Livity Sound with Hodge, the label’s 50th release, cements his importance in the Bristol label’s canon. Last year, meanwhile, saw a joint EP with Egyptian producer and vocalist Abdullah Miniawy on BFDM, ‘Kill Me Or Negotiate’. It’s the beginning of another flourishing project, the duo planning to make more music together and evolving a live show, hitting their stride this summer at France’s Vision festival, “in my top five experiences on stage,” says Simon proudly.
He returns to DJing honouring a commitment made to daily newspaper Libération. Writing an open letter about lessening the ecological effects of touring, something he had long discussed with friends, its publication sparked a national conversation. This has led to monthly meetings with ecological groups, “trying to see how we can financially help artists follow this path,” and adopting the measures he outlined, such as travelling to shows by bus.
“Before Covid I was happy, but everything was out of control, it was too much,” he says, reflecting on this new beginning. “I’m learning to say ‘no’. I’m going to be selective about gigs, to spend more time in the studio. I’m trying to focus on quality.” Or, as his letter so succinctly put it: “Let’s not forget that constraints can eventually become a source of emancipation, inspiration and freedom.”
One thing that isn’t changing though is his hugely popular Instagram, which collects and catalogues drinks tickets from around the world. With the best recently compiled into a 64-page fanzine, it turns out promoters are making bespoke tokens to get featured. “I became a drinks ticket influencer!” he says with a laugh.
Listen to Simo Cell's On Cue mix below.
Tarta Relena ‘Peproteico’
Keith Ape ‘IT G MA Remix (josh pan Opus)’
Di-Meh ‘Règlement Statham Freestyle’
Sputnik One ‘Michael Cera’
Rich Boy ‘Drop Instrumental’
Shabazz Palaces ‘Forerunner Foray’
Tommy Genesis ‘wet’
Damso ‘D'JA ROULE’
Re:Ni ‘Revenge Body’
Amor Satyr ‘Kika Uma Vez’
Phillip Jondo & DJ Plead ‘Whowhuwho’
Jeune Kuzan ‘JET LAG (feat. Thahomey)’
YVNCC ‘Rufus Anthem’
Maxo Kream ‘BIG PERSONA (feat. Tyler, The Creator)’
Yaleesa Hall ‘4373 (Bambounou & Simo Cell's Trance-Attitude-Mix)’
Metrist ‘VV Squi’
Hodge x Simo Cell ‘Medusa’
T5UMUT5UMU ‘Tsushima (Drill)’
Pa Salieu ‘Lit’
Less-O ‘A Third’
Sangre Nueva ‘Goteo’
Rosalía ‘MALAMENTE (Cap.1: Augurio)’