Every hardcore trance fan in one way or the other has encountered the name Simon Berry in their life. Better known for his moniker, Art of Trance and co-partnership in Union Jack, Simon is not only responsible for many classic trance tracks, but also runs one of the oldest trance labels – Platipus. After seeing Simon taking over the dancefloor during this year’s Luminosity beach festival we realized that there are many questions we would like to ask Simon and here we present you a very special kind of interview with Simon Berry himself. We hope you will enjoy it.
TranceFix: Hi Simon,
Thanks for taking your time having an interview with us. Of course, you’re known from the legendary Platipus records, Art of Trance and Union Jack. How would you like to introduce yourself?
Simon Berry: Hi. Thanks for your support over the years.
Trance is a genre that has many sides. For example the psy side that you do as Art of Trance and Union Jack is a way different one than the world that Armin van Buuren lives in, though we all have the same roots. How do you see this and what are in your eyes the differences between these worlds?
Trance can be a very ambiguous genre to define. The type of music I produce as Art Of Trance and Union Jack with Paul is what I’d describe as techno-based hypnotic progressive house with depth, and occasional psychedelic and melodic elements…or what I call Deep Trance in a nutshell. As you say, there’s the more mainstream euphoric-based trance by numbers with full vocal verse and chorus floating over sawtooth riffs. This sound has got way too commercial for my personal taste, with arm-stretched clubbers literally singing along to every lyric, as if they’re at a One Direction concert. It’s just not my thing.
TF:You are one of the legendary producers, being a part of writing the history of trance. How do you experience the scene nowadays and performing nowadays versus the past?
SB: I guess the main difference is how compartmentalised the scene has become and consequently the events we perform Live at. In the 90’s we played at clubs and outdoor events where there was a real cross section of music being played. Now we play at much more sub-genre specific events. This varies quite a lot which suits us fine as musically we don’t comfortably sit in any single genre. For example as Union Jack, we play a lot at Psy-trance festivals in places like Israel, even though we’re quite often one of the only performers that isn’t an archetypal Psy-trance band. The other thing that’s changed quite recently is the amount of retro events we play at, which is fine, but sometimes we like to play the new material we’ve been working on, so quite often than not we just slip them, in regardless.
TF:Who do you think are the most influential producers in the history of Trance? Also, which of those inspired you the most?
SB: For me, the early techno pioneers in Chicago and Detroit in the late 80’s such as Juan Atkins, Derick May, DJ Pierre, and Kevin Saunderson were pivotal in influencing what trance progressed into over the years. Consequently artists such as Underground Resistance, CJ Bolland, Joey Betram, Hardfloor, Jam & Spoon and Matthias Hoffmann were all breaking new ground. All of these guys directly inspired me as well as acts I’d grown up with in the 80’s like Depeche Mode, Vangelis, Art Of Noise, Jean Michel Jarre and Kraftwerk, and later on bands such as 808 State, The Orb, Orbital and Underworld.
TF:What hardware or software do you use the most for your productions?
SB: In the 90’s I had pretty much every well known analogue synth at one point or another, along with a dedicated studio with a massive Amek automated console etc. Around 2005 I started to shift towards an almost entirely software based set-up and haven’t looked back since. Now I use just one piece of analogue gear: my trusty x0xb0x which is a Roland TB-303 clone along with Logic and hundreds of cherry-picked plugins for juicy sound sources and processing. I’m currently really into Oddity 2 which I used a lot in ‘Before The Storm’ and imOSCar 2 is always lurking somewhere. I used to have 2 hardware OSCars which I loved. Reaktor also features heavily, along with my vast Kontakt library which still has all my sounds I transferred from the Akai samplers I used in the 90’s.
As for processing and effects, I like using UAD, Soundtoys, Slate Digital, Eventide (I recently waved farewell to my Orville), and Waves for effects…along with a whole load of one-off stuff depending on the effect I want. I can get a bit overly obsessed with sourcing the best plugin for the job in hand for example I’ve literally spent weeks comparing plugins, like trying to find the sweetest sounding flanger, so I really have to rain it in.
TF:Last year you have released the beautiful track “Moroccan Roll”, together with Loud and Domestic. Can you tell us the story behind this collaboration?
SB:I met Eitan and Kobi from LOUD a couple of years ago at party in the desert a few hours north of Jerusalem. They were playing at the same event and I was really struck by how much I enjoyed some of their tracks. It was a refreshing change from the generic psy-trance sound. We ended up chatting. I asked them if they were up for remixing Papillon (by Union Jack) which was due to be the leading track for the new album Pylon Pigs. We kept in touch and they said the next time I got a booking in Israel I should come along to their studio and have a jam, which we did, along with Ido from Domestic. They had a studio full of analogue gear…Rolands, Moogs, decent monitors and a great sounding room so it wasn’t difficult to quickly put to assemble the workings of a new track. We then finished off the track in our own studios, sending each other stems until ‘Moroccan Roll’ was fully formed.
TF:We are halfway 2015 now. What are your plans for the rest of the year and the near future?
SB: I took a little breather after ‘Before The Storm’ was released in July. Now I’m half way through the next Art Of Trance single which I’m aiming to be completed and released before the end of the year. I’m also planning the release of the next Platipus Archive compilation: Volume 9, as well as contemplating new remixes for ‘Octopus’ by Art Of Trance and possibly ‘Cactus’ by Union Jack. I’m also hoping to ultimately get back in the studio with Paul Brogden, once he stops procrastinating over which acoustically superior carpet to put down in his newly built studio at the bottom of his garden. Then we can then carry on producing new tracks for the next Union Jack album.
TF:Which moments are you the most proud of in your entire career?
SB: Hmm… three things spring to mind:
Firstly, creating the first Union Jack single ‘Two Full Moons & A Trout with Claudio Giussani in ’92…we were both pretty chuffed with the fruits of that three day studio session.
Secondly, being fortunate enough to hear one of only five test pressings of ‘Children’ by Robert Miles in the world being dropped in a club in Orlando, and taking steps to find out what it was, and consequently successfully signing it and being a part of taking a record which I thought would only sell a few thousand copies to another level entirely.
Thirdly, being fortunate enough to take Platipus to the level where I could end up working in some shape or form with some of the musicians I’d admired over the years.
TF:How cool is your union, Jack? 😉
SB:Erm (scratches head)…. well the union that is the collaboration between myself and Paul Brogden works very well. Despite having very different musical pasts and interests…Paul used to play Fender Rhodes in a funk band in the 80’s and then became a full time sound engineer at the BBC. Coincidentally, we both played the violin as children (not together, obviously) and we both share a similar taste in quirky, melodic, techno-based soundscapes which is where our experimental and creative interests transcend.
TF:For those who don’t know too much about the Platipus label, what would you like to tell about the history of the Platipus label?
SB:Well it started out in early ’93, just myself releasing my own material as Art Of Trance and Poltergeist. Each release featured remixes by other musicians I was working with at the time and then they started releasing their own tracks and in a sense became the regular in house artists for the label, in particular: POB, Terma Ferma, Queitman and Moogwai/Chab. We all ended up working towards artist albums. Further releases attracted other artists to get involved and as the profile grew, I was fortunate enough to get some big guns like Oliver Lieb, Humate, Carl Cox, BT, Humate, Bedrock, Armin, Man With No Name, Yello and Hardfloor involved. This was increasing possible after the success of the 18[SUP]th[/SUP] release which was ‘Children’ by Robert Miles. After that point the label moved from my bedroom to a well needed office. Towards the end of the 90’s, with the help of Cygnus X and Ferry Corsten, Madagascar was another milestone and opened up further opportunities. I decided in the early 2000’s that I wanted to diversify things somewhat, so we started a series of compilations, one of which was called Art Of Chill, which featured artist mixes by The Orb, System 7, Bent, Jon Hopkins and I Monster. I was also fortunate enough to release a compilation by one of my favourite artists of the past decade: Future Sound Of London who as Amorphous Androgynous released: ‘A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble Exploding In Your Mind’. So all through this decade was mostly albums with a sprinkling of singles including my own productions. Then the Digital thing took off and the whole label down-sized, at at one point stopped trading for a couple of years. Unfortunately it just wasn’t viable to continue. But after a while I really wanted to get back to writing music again so I kick-started the label on a digital-only basis with most of the old catalogue out there again…or at least most of the artist singles and albums. This continued a platform to release my own productions and collaborations and release other artists, both old and new, who were up for the ride too.
TF:With the commercial success of your label during the 90’s, do you think it’s harder for you to achieve that same commercial success you once had in the 90’s?
SB:Yes very much so. The whole business model has changed. Platipus no longer releases physical product like CD’s or vinyl. In the past we relied heavily on licensing singles and albums to other territories outside the UK. Not to mention compilations, some of which used to sell hundreds of thousands of copies and create genuine income for the artists to live off. With downloads and streaming, those days are in the past unfortunately and artists have had to support their passion with brutal measures such as getting full time jobs. Musically I’m not interested in competing with what’s commercially successful these days. Never have been. I’ll leave that to the mass-market EDM sector…and good luck to them…it’s just not why I got into music in the first place. I’m happy sticking to what I know and love…as long as it floats my boat.
TF:Can we expect any new artists on Platipus in the near future? Perhaps any legendary returning artists from the past?
SB:I hope so. I still listen to every demo that comes through the Platipus website so who knows…
There’s a few things in the pipeline. After moving to Miami a few years ago, Terra Ferma is currently working on his third album which I’m hoping will be released on Platipus in the new year.
We thank Simon for this exciting interview and will be looking forward to new productions from him in the future.
Simon Berry’s interview is exclusive for TranceFix.