Interview with Mike Simmons (Conformist)

Mike Simmons, known musically as Conformist, moved to Cardiff over five years ago, keen to get involved with the compact but flourishing Welsh music scene. Now getting airplay from Steve Lamacq and on Adam Walton’s Radio Wales show, Conformist is rapidly gaining attention and building momentum, and it feels as though this is just the start of the journey.

Mike’s love of music began at an early age, stemming from his mother’s vast collection of vinyl records in their house in the village of Dale, Pembrokshire. Mike said, “I realised at an early age that by slowing, speeding and scratching records that he could manipulate pre-existing sounds with fascinating effects”. From Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ to a later flirtation with punk rock and eventual fascination with electronica, Mike’s love of music and creating sound never faltered.

The name Conformist comes from Mike’s transgression into working life and adulthood; “Walking into my first job in Cardiff at British Gas I saw people in suits and ties – people who did not want to be there…conformists. Conformist as a name is a statement on compromise, those who simply accept mediocrity, something which is perhaps more relevant now with the growth of the X Factor.”

Mike told Plastik Magazine that Conformist’s sound is heavily based around “VHS 80s nightmares and sampled bad sci-fi movies”, in a “cut and paste” style using a combination of software, live instruments and old or modified equipment. Inspired by Crystal Castles, whom Mike dubs “one of the best bands of the last few years”, Conformist embraces the same elements such as mistakes left in songs and effects which are not always technically sound, remarking that one doesn’t need to be a techno nerd to create great electronica.

A self-confessed  “habitual channel hopper”, Mike says he records everything from bad music videos to shopping channels and pornography in snippets to feature on various tracks. Mike further admitted to priding himself on the ability to avoid paying royalties for any samples by “manipulates clips enough for them to remain hidden.” Drawn to the “cross over appeal”, Mike reveals that Conformist’s new single, ‘Savages Go Modern’, due to be released this month, is a mash up of dance, cut up vocals and noise. The single will be followed by the release of an album later in the year. With over eighty tracks in the works under the Conformist monicker, Mike says he aims to release a second album before next Christmas.

Conformist recently collaborated with local musicians Kutosis, remixing their track ‘Islands’ which was featured on Barely Regal’s compilation for Swn festival 2011, How Swn Is Now?  Mike was present at one of Kutosis’ first gigs, having met band member Ian while working at a mundane office job six or seven years ago, eventually DJing at a gig alongside the band in Cardiff pub Dempsey’s. “I’m looking forward to working with them again” says Mike, hinting at the possibility of additional remixes from the album. Conformist has also recently worked with electro pop artists Bury Me in LA, remixing her track ‘Young Lust Seekers’, creating what Mike calls “noisy dupstep punk”.

Yet another idea which Mike is developing is Smash Mastering, a pro mastering project offering mastering and mixing to local artists. This project has enabled him to work with people he wouldn’t necessarily connect with in the world of Conformist such as death metal, acoustic and R&B. Having learnt about music production over the years, Mike wishes the offer guidance on improving sound for amateur artists and reasonable studio time and advice. Through this new project, Mike says he hopes not to make money, but to have the chance to meet and help other artists, make connections in the Cardiff area and embrace the opportunity for further Conformist remixes with local artists.

With the latest single ‘Savages Go Modern’ released this month and the finishing touches being added to the album, to be released in March, 2012 looks set to be an epic year for Mike Simmons.