The definition of a roller has a slightly different meaning across the scene and its generations. But since 2003, Simon Mortlock has been belting out what many would consider the traditional, techy-roller style.
Most D&B heads will remember his former alias’ as one-quarter of Vicious Circle – releasing huge tracks like Section, Cloak & Dagger, and Deliberate. Or as Siren, a link-up with Universal Project where they released the Broken Silence LP – which included the destructive tune Snorkel. If you weren’t familiar, it’s well worth a listen to the back catalogue – rich with collaborative moments including Fierce, Sabre, Kasra and Jubei.
But around 2012, the releases and collaborative projects came to a gradual halt – as members of Vicious Circle dropped off, and Simon had a pair of new commitments himself to look after (twins). He never stopped producing, but the work rate and finishing of tracks had slowed.
However with more time during covid, came more time in the studio producing and DJing. This coincided with Jubei forming his new label Carbon, a perfect match for that techy-roller style Simon made a career out of. With a little encouragement from the label boss, Simon makes his return to the scene as Mortlock – a solo project that picks up right where he left off.
Starting things off is the Fortress EP – a set of four steady, energetic tracks that would slot in perfectly to a rolling DJ set. It sounds like what we’re used to hearing from Vicious Circle, but with a modern tinge. Here To Move keeps the pace high and bouncy with a repeating, pitched up vocal sample. While Envoy charges along with a persistent sub, and stabs reminiscent of various Metalheadz tracks. 99 Flake shows off Mortlock’s ability to mangle and process bass, generating gritty patterns.
The EP is rounded off with a Universal Project collaboration – the always-dynamic pair refresh an old dub, adding a slamming kick and snare, surrounded by moving parts across the frequency spectrum. Not only are we glad to see Mortlock is back, but also this duo formerly known as Siren.
UKF were keen to see what Mortlock’s been up to since the days of Vicious Circle, chat through the new EP, and see what’s in the pipeline beyond this release…
It’s been a while production wise. What’s been going on over the last few years for you?
So just after the Broken Silence album that me and Aaron (Universal Project) put out around 2011, I became a Dad of twins. So that switched my focus for a bit, I kind of fell out of the loop and got distracted with life. I never really stopped writing tunes, but I stopped finishing them. So now I’ve got a lot of stuff on my hard drives, accumulated over the last 10 years – some of it is decent, but I haven’t had the discipline to wrap it all up.
Now, I’m at a point now where I’ve got the time – and also Paul Jubei has really kicked me up the ass. He made me realise I could do something with these tracks, and gave me a bit of enthusiasm to crack on. Since then, I’ve been paying more attention to the drum & bass scene – and I’m liking it man. I think there’s still a space for the stuff I do.
I’m all about the rollers – which is a word that has taken on a slightly different connotation since I was playing ten-plus years ago.
I know what you mean, every-time I say rollers these days I have to think about who I’m chatting to.
Yeah, my perception of rollers is perhaps different to what the kids think these days! But you know, each has its own place. But to me it essentially just means loops that develop, morph and change. That head-nodding, techno influenced vibe. No big build ups or massive breakdowns, but just a steady flow.
I’ve always liked the idea of my DJ sets to be more like a techno set – not loads of double drops and hype, hype, hype all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I love a double drop, but I generally just prefer to roll out.
Going back to your hiatus for a second – what was the pandemic like for you? Did you find more time to write tunes?
It was great for me to be honest, it gave me time to reflect.
I’ve been writing music as much as anybody, just for the process and the release it gives me. But I was only getting my tracks about 70% finished. That last 30% is just discipline – it’s not a particularly creative process. But if you haven’t got time, the temptation is to do the fun bit and move on. So with lockdown, it got me into that zone where I managed to finish a bunch of tracks.
It was also a good way to just step back and reassess stuff. Particularly because I haven’t released anything for ages, and I’m not as absorbed in the game, so I can see things from a bit of a distance. So yeah, I enjoyed the lockdowns really, just not the virus!
With all this reflection and time, you’re making a comeback! What have you got in the works?
Following this release for Carbon, I want to continue to release more of the modern-sounding, relevant bits that I’ve got sitting around. I’ve got a 12” coming on Dispatch. Then we’re also going to re-release the Broken Silence album – because it was only really available digitally for a short time, as a result of ST Holdings folding. And at the same time, I was knee-deep in nappies, so I never really made much of an effort to keep it out there.
Fantastic – I’ve been searching for a copy of that for years…
Yeah I think that album might be something that people haven’t really heard a great deal, some of the newer cats. So we’re re-releasing that with some other unreleased bits, and the singles that were released on Siren.
It will also likely be re-branded as Mortlock & Universal Project, because it seems to make sense as it was my work anyway (working under the Vicious Circle alias). I really dig the album still too, it’s still something I would like to put my name to. So that should be coming in the next few months, I would expect around July or August.
I’m just happy to get back involved. Mixing as well man – I’ve been having a good few couple-hour mixes, soaking up the vibes again. Some of the tunes are great. I mean it’s a lot of the same cats that were making great tunes back in the day, but then also some of the newer artists I wasn’t so familiar with as well.
Who’s names are you loading into the CDJs then? Any newcomers you’re really feeling?
Amoss – I love his stuff, honest well-produced, dark side rollers. Also Survey out in Berlin, I love his stuff.
On the musical side, guys like GLXY and Pola & Bryson – who weren’t around when I was releasing, but have built up good names for themselves since then. I love the melting pot of a bit of deepness, darkness, and musicality. It’s bridging the gap between a lot of sub-genres, which is how I like to play a set.
I’m also finding it really refreshing to see the influx of women producers and DJs across the scene now as well. It’s been underrepresented for too long now – so I’ve enjoyed seeing some progress there.
Then of course Break, Perez, DLR – my top three for consistency. If I was still a record shopper going out on my Saturday run – those are the ‘buy-on-site’ artists, and their labels too. Guys like Monty and Visages… great tunes with real depth and thought gone into them. They’ve taken the rollers up a bit production-wise. It’s nice to see – that constant flow, but with lovely touches and bright, colourful, wide production.
On that point, I was going to say – while you seem to have picked up where you left off – it’s a touch more refined and there’s a hint of upbeat-ness to it with tracks like Here To Move. Are there any differences in style that you want this Mortlock project to go with?
Well what you say there, the refining, that’s all I’m trying to do. I’m not trying to redesign my wheel, because that core style is what I love. You’ve got to change and progress though, and for me it’s in the refinement. I’m trying to nail the details, spending a bit longer on things. Tunes were made a lot quicker back in the day, which was cool and raw in some ways. But now I want to elevate the sound with some small improvements.
I’ve also been learning a lot of stuff from my good friend Calyx. He keeps me in the loop on what’s happening, if there’s new techniques to make things pop in mixdowns and things.
The difference in the technology between then and now – it must be different?
I mean I’m still on Logic, but it’s a few generations newer – I’ve still got my old outboard, my trusty Juno 106 that still gets wheeled out, and some old analogue synths. But there’s a lot of stuff in the box which I find amazing. These emulators of old SSL gear that, maybe 10-15 years ago didn’t sound so great, but these days just sounds so good, and so close to the hardware. So I’m trying to bring those in.
Does that change or optimise your production process?
Well it’s essentially the same really, lots of samples, lots of twisting things up in the sampler. I try to veer away from the soft-synths a little bit to be honest, because I find a lot of the stuff I don’t like on Beatport seems to have a similar texture.
Serum, for example, is great and you can get a lot out of it, but if your whole palette is from similar sources like that, it adds quite a specific sound to it, which is not grainy – you know? I quite like the noise of hardware synths and the slight imperfections. Which you don’t get as much with the soft synths. So I try to steer away, and if I do use them, I try to re-sample them and put them through a bit of hardware, to give some character.
I love that. The new EP definitely has a unique touch, and refined rawness kind of sound. How long has it been in the works?
Well, Isolator was made about 10 years ago. It was written just before I’d stepped away, and it was given out to a few people – but when Paul Jubei asked about it I wasn’t really sure where it was. So did some digging, and sure-enough, found it on an old hard-drive, and all the parts loaded up straight away. With that tune, I just tried to update it, more drums -wise than anything. The transients on my old drums were a bit baggier – everything was back then – so I just tried to layer up some more modern sounding drums behind the breaks.
But Here To Move for example, that’s fairly recent. I just love loopy vocals – 1-2 bar loops with atmospherics you can just filter up and down.
The rest of the tunes are also fairly recent, but done over multiple sessions. My goal now is to try and get back to finishing a tune in a few sessions. Once you’ve listened to it too many times, it becomes boring, and harder to finish.
It must be nice getting to release on Jubei’s new label – it fits your style perfectly and you’ve got a history with him.
Yeah, I’ve always been about his tunes. We’ve got the same sort of production ethos: as few parts as possible, make them work, and just vibe it out.
Do you keep in touch with the old Vicious Circle guys?
Yeah for sure. Andrew and I went to a gig on Monday night actually. It was The Smile, which is Radiohead’s new project, which was amazing. And I’m still good friends with Dan and Adam as well, I caught up with them both recently.
Love to hear that! They must be stoked to hear you’re continuing to crack on.
Yeah for sure. It’s definitely a different feeling – like it’s my thing now, and it’s only me I have to blame. Everything’s on me, which is empowering, but a different dynamic for sure.
Same with DJ sets. As a collective, you compromise to each-others wishes and ways, but doing it on your own, you can run things exactly how you want. I’m really looking forward to playing out.
I bet. When will we get to see you DJ next with all your new stuff?
Yeah I’ve got a couple of things in – I’m doing this Renegade Hardware thing in a couple of weeks but that will largely be an old school set I think. But I want to come out and play some fresh stuff, just on my own. I’m trying to brush up my skills on the CDJs too – I probably didn’t mix for a good few years, but in the last year or so, just enjoyed dimming the lights and having a mix – just to enjoy the process. It’s nice to be back.
Follow Mortlock: Instagram