To kick off the week here at KALTBLUT we have an exciting video premiere and exclusive interview for you with one of the greats, Sean Dickson, a.k.a Hifi Sean. Known to many for his astonishing musical background, Sean started out as the frontman and producer of multi-million selling band The Soup Dragons, whose hits include stone cold classics like ‘I’m Free’ and ‘Divine Thing’, as well as fronting critically acclaimed band The High Fidelity. Fast forward to today, and Sean is now a revered DJ and dance producer, playing at some of the most hallowed underground clubs in London and around the world. The exclusive video he’s shared with us is for his disco inspired track, released today, ‘Ultratheque’ with guest synths from Soft Cell’s Dave Ball. The new track is taken from a series of three limited edition 12” single releases from his extraordinary upcoming album called FT (as in “featuring”) later this year, where he’s collaborated with an impressive array of musicians and vocalists, from David McAlmont to Yoko Ono. The singles feature Fred Schneider from the B-52s and Bootsy Collins, as well as Dave Ball, and are a taste of what is set to be an epic album. Each 12” contains an exclusive vinyl-only remix on the B-Side, and has an accompanying short film. ‘Ultratheque’ pays tribute to Glasgow’s first ever laser disco, and Dave Ball adds his trademark sound on the solid electro groove, cranking up the electroclash vibes with Skull Bandits on the remix. The nostalgic 80s graphics, and laser disco visuals, transport you to a world where a song can uplift you out of your surroundings and you can truly live in the moment, and this very much reflects the creative approach behind the album itself. FT is a nod to Sean’s past, yet firmly establishes him in the present as an artist and producer, in a masterfully curated project inspired by a wealth of personal and musical experience.
KALTBLUT: How did ‘Sean Dickson’ become ‘Hifi Sean’?
Hifi Sean: So I was in the band The High Fidelity from 1996 to 2001, and it was just then that the internet was starting to happen, it was the first time I had a website! So we all had email addresses; hifisean, hifipaul, hifiross, hifiadrian. Then my friend started to run a party in Glasgow Art School. He said to me “Do you fancy DJing one night?” Because he knew I had lots of records. I DJ’ed one week and the next week, and then he said “Shall we call it a name? Let’s start a party!” So I was DJ’ing in a bar, and this famous Scottish television personality that reads the news, she turned round and went ‘Who’s playing the record players?’ And that’s why we called the club Record Players, and it became massive, we were getting like 600 people every Thursday night at the art school! So he said ‘You need a name, a DJ name. Just use your email address!’ That was how I got my name. It was kind of funny because at first I hated it, but it was too late, it was up all the time! It’s kind of honest as well.
KALTBLUT: So how did your early experiences with music lead to your first with the industry with Soup For Dragons?
Hifi Sean: These days people connect through sharing what they like, like we do in life. When I grew up, before the days of social media, you had to just suss it out by looking at people. So I grew up in a small town, and I remember seeing this guy walking down the street once, and I was about 13,14, and he looked kind of punk-y. And you kind of think ‘He’s into the same thing as me…’ And we became best friends. He’s called Norman (singer of Teenage Fanclub). Norman introduced me to a guy called Duglas, who’s the singer of the BMX Bandits, and we got together. If you look up the Music Nation documentary ‘The Outsiders’, it’s a documentary that I helped curate. It gives you a good insight. It all started with the three of us in in Belshill (Scotland), and we used to do things like write letters to Smash Hits to try and be outrageous, and we used to start bands with stupid names to get banned, just like what you do when you’re 14,15. We were just young and really excited about making music. But then John Peel started playing it all. And it’s like one minute you’re in London doing John Peel sessions, then you’re getting record deals, and next minute you’re number one in the indie charts….But it kind of also gave me a twisted view of the dark side of that side of things, and it started making me question a lot of things.
KALTBLUT: Can you us a little bit about the way your personal life and musical journey have become connected to one another, and led up to this point?
Hifi Sean: My personal life has coloured what I’ve done, and the new friends that I’ve made. It’s coming to a different city and starting again, and being exposed to different cultures. Being a DJ over the last fifteen years has really helped me understand different aspects of music I never really knew about before. And I never told anybody about my past – I wanted to be me. I was working at a club called Fire for three years, and these DJ’s came up to me and were like ‘Oh my god – you’re Sean Dickson!’ I’d known them for 3 years and they were like ‘Why did you not tell us?’ I don’t wanna come across as somebody trying to open doors. The last ten years I’ve been down here have been a very big learning process, and the last three years of making this album has been another learning process. Of getting back to something that I’ve been doing since I was 14 years old – I wrote my first album when I was 14. I had a cassette of it, I had two synthesisers, a drum machine. And it’s kind of funny, because I started off with electronica when I was a kid. And then I got into guitars and rock and roll, and all my bands were rock and roll bands. And then through the years the Soup Dragons started messing about with samples, in 1989-90, around the time of acid house. And then we used to go to all those clubs, in New York, to Sound Factory, that kind of stuff. I completely burnt myself out in the 90s in New York. It was so good times! I have no regrets! The only regret I have is to do with musical things, where I regret doing something musically. But with life, and experiences no, because if I had any regrets I wouldn’t be where I am now. People have to realise that that’s the most honest pure form of art, is when you use your life experience as part of what you do.
KALTBLUT: This album has clearly grown out of so much personal and musical experience – can you tell us a bit about the actual creative process?
Hifi Sean: The crazy thing about this album is that when I sat down and decided I was gonna ask these people, it was all just a dream. I’d kind of forgotten that they might say no! I wrote like ten ideas of songs, because when you ask somebody to work with you, you’ve kind of got to present something! You can’t just go ‘Hello Yoko Ono, would you like to work with me?’ You’ve got to go ‘Would you like to hear this?’ So I wrote this bunch of core songs. I sent them out – but everybody was picking different songs to the ones I thought they would pick. It threw a whole curveball for me, but then again it pushed me further, it made me think about it more. And then it started about two years ago. I had to have a symphonic finale to close. The idea I had was when it ends, I wanted it to finish with an orchestral piece, so it was a bit like the end of a movie or something. Because if you listen to any of my work I’m very into grand, fantastic, romantic productions. So I met Alan Vega from Suicide – Suicide’s work’s very minimal, and in the 70s, were the first electronic act to take in the punk aesthetic, in New York. The first Suicide album’s just a classic in my books.
I asked Alan Vega who’s used to doing very minimal electronic things. I said to him “How about we do a track, and halfway through that track it turns into an orchestra, and you don’t even notice the join.” So he did it – I made him sing on the electronic bit – and then I took it away. And it was funny because when I put it all together, I had it recorded in sections, all over the place. I never normally do that, I’m a bit of a control freak! And I was in San Francisco DJ’ing, and I was staying in my friend’s apartment, who has the best fucking view I’ve ever seen. He lives up in the hills in Castro, and you overlook the whole of the Bay. And I joined it up together on my laptop, and I pressed play, and I stood on his balcony, and I listened to the track and I actually cried my eyes out, thinking ‘Fucking hell I can’t believe I’ve done this,’ just looking over San Francisco, it was just the most amazing moment. Some of the tracks are quite happy and some of them are quite down. That’s me, I’m quite extreme. But what I’ve learnt to do now, is put those different emotions in one song. It’s quite hard to make a euphoric, uplifting song when it’s melancholy, and that was a goal that I had to do with the album. I wanted to make some really uplifting, ‘hands in the air’ songs.
KALTBLUT: How did you take advantage of new developments in technology to produce your music in a different way this time, and to create a truly collaborative album with you at the helm?
Hifi Sean: There was a lot of it done with technology which I could not have done ten years ago. You can do a session and then send it to somebody. They do something and send it. It was all dead exciting – and dead new. I felt like a sixteen year old! I met Bootsy Collins in 1990 – we toured with Dee-Light, and the backing band was Bootsy Collins. We became good friends, and we spoke about doing something way back then. So I got in contact and reminded him, it was maybe fifteen years later but I was like “Fancy doing something?” He was well up for it. The thing I like about Bootsy, is if you look into his whole empire he was quite at the forefront of technology as well, selling his music online like Prince was. He’s amazing to work with. For the 12” single ‘Atomium’ I came up with the idea because the Automium is my favourite building in Brussels. I spent two days just standing outside it. It blows my mind – and I told him this. And I said ‘You could play on that it’s some kind of mothership’, which is very him. And he turned it into a spaceship that takes you into a sexual journey! I was just like ‘What?!’ That’s the thing, it was his view. It’s like curating an art show. It’s an album with different artistic views on your concept.
I remember the first day I heard the first track ‘Testify’, which has Crystal Waters singing on it. We all know Crystal Waters from ‘Gypsy Woman’ and all those amazing house records. I said to her ‘Your voice has always reminded of a Motown singer, proper old soul voice. Do you fancy doing something that’s not a house record? I wanna do a real swampy, Louisiana voodoo, type bluesy thing, but also mix in acid house, so kind of this Northern Soul, acid house record.’ I thought ‘She’s gonna say no! So she’s like ‘Yeah, yeah! But if we do it we’ve got to do it like a 7” inch. It’s got to be three minutes long with fade.’ So the first track of the album’s got a fade, and it’s total pop song, it’s an instant bang.
KALTBLUT: You’ve gone from playing mass stages to playing clubs, where you’re more a part of the crowd, and where audiences and DJs vibe off each other – can you explain a little bit more what you mean about your sets being tailored for the audience?
Hifi Sean: I like to feel the situation and what works for that space at that moment , I never ever pre-work out a DJ set, I take a lot of music with me and feel each track in a playlist live as it’s happening. Obviously there are favourite tracks of any particular current time period, but the order, and if they get played at all, depends on the moment and what is happening in that room for me. I suddenly just think ‘that’ and drop it. All the different scenes I’ve DJ’ed at in London, seeing different ways you can control a crowd of people with with different styles of music – as a DJ, sometimes there’s just that moment where it all comes together. And it’s fucking beautiful, there’s no other words for it. It’s that tacky thing, but it is a feeling, you can’t incorporate it, you can’t put it in words. And that’s what I was getting off this album as I was making it. I had to get those feelings. And I made it for listening at home as well, I didn’t make it for dance floors, which was really hard as well. I could’ve made twelve club cuts, because I’ve done lots of remixes, but to me it was an album.
KALTBLUT: What has been your best live experience?
Hifi Sean: As a band that is easy – playing two nights in a row with The Soup Dragons at Madison Square Gardens with INXS. To think we played the same stage to where Sly Stone got married during a Family Stone concert was pretty amazing, and the ‘New York Post’ gave us the best review ever after the first night, telling people to get along early for the next night’s show, so we walked on stage to a capacity audience. At one point the crowd sang ‘I’m Free’ so loud we had to stop and let them carry on, as we couldn’t hear ourselves any longer. That was a real ‘tear in the eye’ moment I will never forget. As a DJ they’re numerous, but one of my favourites was one on a boat party in Helsinki with the sun shining on a beautiful lake, as we cruised about, with everyone’s hands in the air dancing to this cool uplifting house music – and I hate boats.
KALTBLUT: Obviously you’ve made such an impact in the scene with your long running residencies at places like Ministry with Beyond and in San Francisco – but what is it about the London scene that attracts you right now, and, keeps you coming back?
Hifi Sean: I like how London keeps re-inventing things and mixing things up. Youth culture is no longer based on what a bunch of music papers are telling you, but actually about what they are really doing for themselves now. There are some exciting and crazy things going down out there on the street levels and in the clubs, and it’s all exciting to be part of this current energy.
KALTBLUT: Why did you choose these particular three releases this May to give the audience a taste of what’s to come, what do you love about them and are excited about?
Hifi Sean: I thought I wanted to choose something that would not particularly be the kind of thing that would usually be pressed up on 12″, especially within the club culture style record stores. I wanted to show the angles from which the album was coming from – indie/alternative, slo-mo-funk, and electro-disco, which are the flavors of the 3 A-sides, with more dancefloor cuts on the flips. I wanted the 3 x 12″s to be NOT just for the dancefloor, but something you would cherish in your future record collections, and drag from house to house throughout your life. I’ve been noticing how the industry’s changed, massively, since the last time I put a record out – I’ve never put a record out with social media, with that instant review. Before when you put out that record it was only magazines and journalists, you only got feedback from record reviews. Whereas now everybody’s a critic. And it’s quick! You kind of have to detach yourself – I’m not hard skinned. But I’m kind of overly proud of this week that I’m willing to put myself through it.
KALTBLUT: What was the inspiration behind the video we’re premiering today?
Hifi Sean: When I was about 15 I went into Glasgow one night to see a band, Psychic TV, play with my friend Norman. And we went into town and the band were banned by the local church, because they were slightly sacriligious. So we went round to the local disco round the corner, which was the Ultratheque. And it had a laser, and I’d never seen laser before. It was Glasgow’s first ever laser disco. That was an experience, I think that had a really big effect on me. When I was younger it was bands I would go and see, but suddenly going to a club, where everybody’s dancing, in the 80s, to this music – I mean I’m sure the laser was just a red dot, but it was just the experience. It was like sci-fi, it was like looking up to this thing and thinking ‘This is the future.” And I just loved the name Ultratheque. So when I was working with Dave I told him this story and he loved it. And the lyrics in it are quite interesting, “I feel so beautiful, I feel so pretty, I feel so dangerous, I feel so city.” It’s that kind of thing where people used to go to these places to get away from their normal lives, and be quite dangerous, and extrovert. Which is what a club is, really. And the line about “All the boys to the left, girls to the right, let’s meet in the middle of an Ultratheque all night” – it was a very provincial disco, and we would kind of meet in the middle and chat each other up and dance. So that’s where that whole thing comes from. Again, that’s a life experience. This is the thing that’s different with this LP, it contains a lot of life experiences. I never used to do that before. This is all about things I’ve experienced. I’ve just realised that.
KALTBLUT: What do you hope people take from this culmination of everything you’d done before, and what new projects do you hope to undertake and have planned?
Hifi Sean: We live in a world of ‘flickers’, who skim through things whilst playing digital files – I hope for people to spend a whole hour actually listening to this from beginning to end, like an album should be. This is an album that should be listened to in that style, as each track creates the mood for the next track. Regarding the future, I am halfway through the follow up album – and loving writing again. It’s like the door has been re-opened, and I have re-discovered my love for what I have always done from a very young age. It just feels like that part of me that was missing is now back again.
‘Ultratheque’ is released today via Plastique Recordings. Purchase it here. The next single from the FT, Truck ft ft. Fred Schneider is due to be released on May 30, with the full album date TBA later this year.