Dead Elvis

With Steve Hellier (Death in Vegas)



The year 1997 seems to represent the absolute height of an inspiring period marked by Electronics and Acid House. Among that year releases: Pop by U2, Ultra by Depeche Mode, Ok Computer by Radiohead, Urban Hymns by The Verve, The fat of the Land by The Prodigy, Dig your own hole by The Chemical Brothers, Homework by Daft Punk, Vanishing Point by Primal Scream, Homogenic by Björk and Dead Elvis of course. The title from the Oasis album looks like a great slogan: Be here now. An event not to miss…

I think every “time” has its allure, looking back on it now it looks golden but it didn’t feel particularly different. It was an interesting time after the first wave of acid house and then the countless reinventions of dance music that followed, drum and bass etc. I don’t think the record companies really understood what was going on? It was also the last period before the Internet started to take hold and change the rules of the game.

Why your contribution to the Vegas ends with the first album?

Richard and I had very different ideas, even during the making of that first album. I spent all my time in the studio working on arrangements, sounds and textures with other musicians trying to find moments to sample. My interests lay in different areas, I had been making music before DiV since my early teens when I bought my first synth (korg ms10) I was a big mute records fan. Then I got an electric guitar inspired by amongst others the Cocteau twins. So I had come up through a different path to Richard (who was at that point a dj primarily).
I appreciated what djs could bring to the process, I had worked with a few putting out various records in the early 90s but there could also be frustrations. Ultimately someone still has to create the music, sitting down and talking about it isn’t enough, the ideas have to breath and take shape and I always wanted to be hands on with that process.
I programmed all the synths including an old system 100 modular (The Human League had used the system 100 on their first two albums which I was a big fan of) the first DiV album sounds different for that reason.
Ultimately for financial and family reasons I couldn’t commit fully to the second album and I think Richard decided he needed to do his thing so we parted company. I wouldn’t have made the records he went on to make so it was the right thing to do.

Do you think there is a particular reason if, despite the passing of years, the music icons are more or less the same?

I think that the (cultural) media can help to redefine that? The music business has a lot invested in those icons, the late 80s and early 90s was spent reissuing back catalogue and getting people to buy it on CD, made them a lot of money and contributed ultimately to where we are now. We need some anti icons. Everyone seems to be absorbed in authenticity, that seems the most important thing right now; it’s a form of cultural insecurity. Stadium rock folk bands??? Come on.


Dirt contains excerpts from Woodstock: Three days of peace and music. A nostalgic choice or there’s just something ironic in it?

I know from my making music in those early 90s how people reacted to hearing recordings of crowds on the tunes, it some how injects urgency into a room full of people dancing. So when I heard that sample I thought it would be great to use. That was meant to be our big beat moment but I think Richard and I had a different idea for that track, there had been a tradition in hip hop of sampling rock records (Led Zep breaks etc) it was meant to be more along those lines.

What kind of world we are living in?

Very different from when I started out but still full of amazing opportunities, I think the revolution that happened to music making in the 90s in terms of affordable samplers and bedroom studios (which is now the norm) is happening to film making right now with the DSLRs. Really exciting, I love seeing what people come up with even on their phones. The down side to this democratization of production is the shear mass of stuff. We’re drowning in a sea of self-authorship.

Do you think that social networks are a good thing or a trap for inspiration?

I think social networks aren’t very healthy at times; they amplify different emotional states, both good and bad. For example you will get amazing communication between people followed by pointless hatred. It concerns me watching my children grow up, it has to be balanced with some proper personnel interaction.

What about Hellviss?

On Dead Elvis there are a number of musicians who I knew at the time for example Ian Button (guitarist, that lovely big rock riff on Dirt!) who I had played with previously in his band motorcyclone. Another was Andy Visser who I had met at the royal college of music when he was studying electroacoustic music for his MA. Andy played sax, flute and even a bit of harmonica on the album. We’ve stayed in touch and last year decided to collaborate together on Hellviss. It’s a business first and foremost. I had been working in music and sound for film mostly for commercial clients and Andy was doing the same thing so we decided to pool our talents. More recently I’ve done some music for Mustapha Hulusi a long time friend scoring some films about his work.
I’m planning on putting out a series of very limited 12inch records in the near future. watch this space, there’s something very special about them……

A few words on your Italian experiences as dj:

I haven’t every played in Italy, but I’ll jump on a plane if you want to book me and give me a bed for the night?

The best “underground” memory of your childhood:

My father is a painter and would regularly have parties when I was growing up, these would include some very interesting and creative people like Barry Guy, Paul Rutherford, Tony Coe and Manfred Mann, I was too young to understand but the house was fully of influences and creativity. Nice one Fred Hellier.

“Once they started playing the free festival circuit they found themselves on a mission: ‘to make some fucking noise’ and decided not to return to the city” (from Matthew Collin’s Altered State). Where’s the Spiral Tribe’s noise, today?

I think it might be mostly in people’s bedroom studios and then onto Youtube or Soundcloud.


Dirt July