Victor Simonelli and his career working with some of the biggest names in music
Dubai, eh? Are you excited? Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it – it’s a bit of a mystery to me because it’s the first time I’ve come to Dubai. But I’ve heard many good things about the club where I’m playing, 360°. A lot of my friends love the place, and I heard through a mutual friend that Graeme Park [a DJ from The Haçienda, a club that was the hub of late ’80s/early ’90s Manchester dance culture] enjoyed playing there.
Do you know Graeme? Yeah. I played the Haçienda in the early ’90s but we never really got to work together back then. But I put out one of his records on one of my labels recently and we got talking.
You’ve worked with a crazy number of artists over the years. Do you have any highlights? Well, if you’re talking about major-label artists, when I was younger and learning production I worked with the likes of Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, Chaka Khan, Talking Heads and Blondie. After that I started at another studio and ended up working on projects from James Brown, Michael Jackson, Madonna…
That must have been pretty high-pressure work. Did anything ever go wrong? Back then, editing literally meant cutting tape up with a razor and sticking it together. This producer wanted me to cut the master tapes on this big release rather than cutting copies, you know. Generally I’d make copies, but he said he could hear the difference between the master and the copy, something that dogs probably couldn’t hear…
Uh-oh. Yeah, exactly, exactly. So he asked me to cut the masters, and as I was cutting the masters, the tape sort of… I mean, I just destroyed a portion of that master… it sort of got stuck in one of the machines and ground it up in a way that it really couldn’t be repaired. And the producer’s in the other room, you know, and this is a major-label artist. Someone who, at the time, was really important.
Who was the artist? It was Will Downing. He’s a really well-known jazz artist now, but back then he was doing a lot of dance music. Basically he was coming in and out of the room and I was really afraid, embarrassed, to say, ‘S***, the machine ate the tape.’ But luckily the song repeated the part that got chewed up a little later on, so I secretly made a copy of that and cut it into where the tape got ruined. And you know what? He didn’t hear it.
Did you feel smug about that? [Laughs] Well, I was too busy being really afraid that he would hear it, because that was the time when I was really trying to prove myself.
You’ve proved yourself now, I guess! What’s the secret to making a good track?
Many people ask that question, and a friend of mine puts it perfectly. He says he could teach people about equalising, he could teach them about levels and he could teach them about arrangement with no problems. But he cannot teach them how to make music with heart. And that’s what he says is the key to success. I feel the same way; I believe that it’s all about putting your heart and soul and sincerity into the music. At least, that’s the way it’s worked for me. I’ve seen big pop acts come and go over the years, but the people that have longevity, from what I can tell, are the people who do it for the love of it.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve seen when playing? The first time I played in Greece, the party got so hot and so energetic that they sprayed lighter fluid on the bar and just lit the bar on fire. Yeah, it was really wild to see… it just went right up in flames, and they were screaming, you know.
Screaming in terror? Screaming with excitement… the fire came from the excitement. It was just wild, man. I had never… just… f***… I couldn’t believe it. The screaming, the excitement and jumping and dancing… I got a recording of that set too. Yeah [laughs]. That sticks with me.
Victor Simonelli plays 360° as part of Dubai SoundCity, November 7, free.