It’s been pretty hard to ignore the massive expansion in column inches given to the Hotflush label in the last year or so, and certainly since a certain ‘Hyph Mngo’ burst onto the scene. But beyond the obvious big hitters like label boss Scuba, Joy Orbison or Mount Kimbie, the imprint’s success certainly seems to have allowed Paul Rose to branch out further with the artists and sounds he’s supporting. This year, that’s taken the form of a host of special one-offs (tracks like Ation’s wonderful ‘Lover’s Dub’, which crept out with next to no fanfare), but it’s also been seen in the continued output of some of the label’s longer running, but less well-known, artists.
Since the release of his first twelve for the label, ‘Bruised’ b/w ‘Expansions’, in January 2009, James Sigha has been one of its quietest but most prolific sons, putting out three further releases on the Hotflush Two subsidiary since. His latest, the Shake EP, pulls together a typically varied collection of music – the title track is all monochrome, slow and ocean-deep, but ‘Shapes’ is pacier, clocking in somewhere close to that hallowed region where dubstep reaches techno. Its ascetic nature and lack of obvious melodic development has tended to ensure that’s exactly where Sigha’s music tends to be categorised, but over the last year or so it’s felt as though he has finally begun to shed its London exterior to reveal a rapidly pulsing Berlin heart.
They’re certainly a far cry from anything as obvious as build-drop dynamics or catchy vocal hooks, but the four releases he’s clocked up so far have been hypnotically addictive. We caught up with James to find out a little more about how things have been going, and why Sonic Youth still inspire him as much as Marcel Dettmann does.
Sonic Router: Can you provide those who might not know you with a bit of background info?
Sigha: I write music and DJ predominantly under the name Sigha. I’m lucky enough to be part of the Hotflush family, and my last EP dropped on Hotflush Two at the end of May.
Outside of music, who are you? What do you do on the daily?
I don’t really do much outside music to be honest. I still work one day a week, but even that’s in a record shop (London's BM Soho), so it’s literally permeated everything I seem to do. I’m starting to paint to give myself some headspace from it really - its good to be passionate, but to escape sometimes would make me a happier person I think.
An average day for me is waking up mid morning, checking my emails in bed, drinking A LOT of coffee and then heading downstairs into the studio. If things are going well in there, that’s where I’ll stay for the majority of the day. If not, I might head out to a gallery, watch a film, read a book, just try and pick up some inspiration really.
You’ve said before that you originally started off playing in bands. What changed your perspective and led to you start making dance music?
I generally don’t find working with other people very easy. The collaboration process itself can be great, especially if you’re writing with a friend, but I think that often the end product is watered down in terms of the original concept, and keeping that pure is something that’s very important to me. When I first started experimenting with electronic music, I was really inspired by the fact that it was just me and a computer, there was no one there to tell me this wouldn’t work, or if I did that it would sound bad. That was really key in shifting my emphasis towards dance music. I could write a whole track by myself, and so was totally free to be as self-indulgent as I liked. At the same time I was going to a lot of warehouse parties at the weekends, and I was hearing sounds I’d never heard before, or at least not in that context. All this came together at the right time and I just fell in love with it as a way of making music.
How did your experience in bands translate across into electronic music? Do you enjoy the difference in process between playing in a band and making music by yourself?
Um, it’s really different. I don’t have to run my ideas past anyone else first, which like I say is a major plus. It’s probably given me an insight into music, both the creative process and sound itself, which I probably wouldn’t have had if I’d started out writing electronica/dance music. I’m fairly solitary, so over all it suits me well.
I do really miss playing live with other people though, the connection you get when you’re jamming and it’s going well is incredible. I miss that a lot. At some point soon I really want to work on a live project.
Do you think that your music as Sigha still takes influence or inspiration from the non-electronic stuff you listen to?
I think so - more obviously in terms of what drives me creatively though, rather than the sound pallet. I listen to bands like My Bloody Valentine, Joy Division and Sonic Youth on a daily basis, more so than any single electronic artist probably. I’m sitting in my kitchen listening to Sonic Youth's 'Daydream Nation' right now. There’s so much raw energy and power, combined with moments of really intense beauty, in what they have done over the years. If I can translate even a small amount of that into what I’m trying to do I’ll be really happy.
What’s your production set-up like?
That would be telling! But it’s nothing too exciting I promise. I’m a big believer in the idea that 'its not what you use, its what you do with it.' I suppose given that I should have no problems revealing all, but I reckon a little bit of mystery is good.
“for me the best music seems to do nothing at all, but somehow manages to hold your attention for its duration.”
There’s a lot of Berlin in your music, but there’s also a lot of London in there. How have the sounds of those two cities inspired your music?
I’ve lived in London all my life, so part of that is always going to be lurking in what I do somewhere. It’s got a great history for music and is a real melting pot of different sounds, so it’s been really inspiring growing up here musically. I think though that I’ve become a little numb to it, just through over familiarity... It’s easy to take what you’ve got for granted. In terms of electronic music, drum ‘n’ bass, garage and dubstep are sounds that run deep here, and they've definitely moved me.
Having said all that, I feel more at home musically in Berlin these days. There’s an amazing creative vibe in the city that’s incredibly inspiring. I suppose it’s because the cheap cost of living has encouraged a kind of artist migration over there. So much great music has come out of that city over the years, and the place itself is magic. East Berlin feels like it’s in this state of slow dilapidation, there’s a sense that everything is decaying which is very beautiful to me.
Marcel Dettmann’s just remixed one of your tracks, and there’s obviously some influence from the Berghain school of techno in your sound. I presume you’ve been to the Berghain - did the club itself and hearing techno in that kind of environment change your perspective on your music?
Berghain seems to be at the center of this revival in techno at the moment. It’s brought together some very talented likeminded artists and DJs, which has been really important to give people a focal point I think. Before I’d even been to Berghain, I already had a very strong impression of what it was and what it would be like inside. They've created a really powerful brand with the club, which is definitely helped by the no photos rule and strict door policy. Everything about it seems to go hand-in-hand with the music it represents, which only serves to heighten the experience for a techno lover. I don’t think there’s another club in the world you can get quite so lost in both figuratively and literally. I was listening to, playing and writing techno before I visited the club, but hearing Dettmann play for four hours at eight in the morning was a real eye opener for me. Obviously his sets are legendary, but it was the crowd that really blew me away. The place was packed and full of energy on Sunday lunchtime - that isn’t something you can find in the UK week-in-week-out. That really made me think, ‘I’m in the wrong city’.
Your sound is really stripped back and lean, with little in the way of obvious melodic development. Is that a style you specifically aim for, or is it just the way it seems to come out?
I’m not a big fan of anything too obvious in music. I try to create soundscapes that are really immersive and that the listener can really get lost in. For me, when I write and listen, music is about introspection, and big melodies always seem to get in the way of that. Development of a track in general is something I’m really particular about - for me the best music seems to do nothing at all, but somehow manages to hold your attention for its duration. I suppose that’s what I’m aiming for. There is something in UK bass-oriented club music that is very extrovert, from the way the tracks are constructed, with huge emphasis on the impact of the drop, to the individual sounds used. I’m fairly introverted and have always like my music 'eyes down' so to speak, so that comes out in my own tracks I guess.
Your tracks, especially the slower ones like ‘Rawww’ and ‘Shake’, have that weird ability techno has to put people into a trancelike, dreamlike state. Is conveying that sort of mood something you consciously work towards?
Music is a really powerful thing. I just mentioned the UK’s obsession with impact, and that in itself can deliver a huge buzz when it’s done right. But personally I love the otherworldly feeling that good techno or house can bring. Repetitive rhythms actually cause your brain to produce serotonin - and what’s more repetitive than a four-four beat, right? To immerse yourself completely in the music and the feeling of hundreds of people around you sharing this experience is truly amazing. So yes, after all that, it’s definitely something I bear in mind while writing. Maybe it’s the most important thing, in fact.
You obviously have a connection with dubstep and garage, especially in your earlier Hotflush releases, but recently the techno and house influences in your sound seem to have moved further to the fore. Has that been an intentional shift?
Since my first release with Hotflush I think that it’s been a really natural move from one side of the dubstep/techno divide to the other for me. ‘Bruised’, for instance, was totally influenced by a Dettmann track specifically that I was playing again and again at the time. I couldn’t find anything that was 'dubstep' but had that same vibe, so I tried to write what I was looking for. People seemed to pick up on those influences and noticed the Berlin references in the track. Now with tunes like ‘Rawww’ and ‘Shake’ the tempos dropped, and they are both out-and-out techno tracks, but people have pointed out UK dubstep and garage influences throughout both of those tunes.
I think I’ll always have that connection to dubstep and garage in my sound - as I mentioned earlier, living in London it’s hard not to - but Sigha has grown very organically into a techno project. To start writing dubstep (whatever that is now) or garage would feel like a step back rather than forward. That’s not taking anything away from either of these styles at all, I mean in terms of my own personal development. I’m still writing dubstep under a different alias, and I’m going to be pushing that more over the next twelve months.
What are you listening to/watching/reading/etc at the moment that’s really inspiring you?
I’ve been reading a lot of Ernest Hemingway and Christopher Isherwood recently. They both have a beautifully simple and engaging style of writing. I’m a massive fan of sci-fi, Philip K Dick particularly. 'Valis' is one of my favourite books of all time. I’ve just re-read Ian Bank's 'The Wasp Factory' as well. I think in terms of books, film, art etc, I like things that make me think differently.
I’ve become a bit obsessed with watching physics documentaries right now. I’ve always been awful at science, and have no idea what they are talking about; but that’s what I love about it, that sense that there are these huge fundamentals that are just out of my reach. It’s a feeling that’s really hard to put into words, but that is what inspires me more than anything.
Your music’s got quite a cinematic feel – are you influenced by films at all?
Totally, films like Solaris or The Fountain, that again seem to suggest something intangible just out of sight, or are really, really depressing, haha. Something like Requiem for a Dream for instance - it’s so dark and bleak, but intensely beautiful as well. I don’t know where I’m getting that sense of beauty from, everyone I’ve spoken to about this seems to think I’m nuts, but to me it’s a heart-wrenchingly beautiful film.
More so than most other labels, Scuba seems to have pulled together an incredibly diverse but very like-minded set of musicians on Hotflush. When I spoke to Dom Kimbie about it the other week he described it as being more of a movement than a label. It must be inspiring to be a part of such an exciting musical community?
Yeah, I think he’s hit the nail on the head there really. It’s a really great thing to be a part of, I feel very lucky and proud, but it can feel pretty intimidating too! Mount Kimbie, those guys are so talented it’s crazy. To be on a roster alongside guys like that, Scuba, Joy Orbison, it’s pretty intense. I feel really lucky that Paul’s got such an open mind too. You mentioned earlier how my sound has developed over the last year and a half - I doubt that I would have had the scope to push out in the direction I wanted to on many other labels. He’s built a great thing in the label, and I feel blessed to be a small part of it!
What projects have you got in the pipeline for the future? Any imminent things coming up?
The main project I’m working on right now is the launch of my own label, 'Our Circula Sound.' The first release will be out in August, with a Dettmann remix of my own 'Early Morning Lights' and a new track by myself called 'Over The Edge' on the flip. The site is still in development but should be up soon, so keep checking www.ourcirculasound.com if you’re interested. I’ve got some big things planned for the imprint, so watch this space basically!
Apart from that I’ve just finished a remix for Commix's Re:Call To Mind LP on Metalheadz, and am working on more for Kevin Gorman’s Microwave label and Echochord. I’m starting to think about a larger scale Sigha project as well, and planning the next few 12”s.
Keeping busy, basically…
Any words of wisdom for our readers?
Stay true to yourself, Do what makes you happy. And buy my music.
Words: Rory Gibb
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