Simo Cell is powering up
In the west of France lies a lake called Lac de Grand-Lieu. It’s one of the biggest in the country and in the summer it comes alive with the possibility of adventure. In the winter, if you listen carefully, you might hear bells ringing out from an ancient town submerged by the lake in the sixth century. According to legend, it was flooded as a punishment from god because the locals were embroiled in medieval debauchery and mocked the local bishop.
The realms of nature and legend have converged to forge Simo Cell’s debut album, Cuspide des Sirènes. Its 12 tracks tell the story of a brave protagonist who embarks on a quest to find a mystical hidden lake, encountering magic, danger and self-realisation along the way to a sparkling nirvana. If this sounds like the work of someone who’s equally obsessed with the great outdoors and video games then you’d be right. Producer, DJ and TEMƎT Music label founder Simo Cell – real name Simon Aussel – is from Nantes and has spent hours mapping out the seemingly endless banks of the Grand-Lieu, a 30-minute drive from his hometown. Every summer he visits different parts of the lake, unlocking new sections on his own or with friends; a chance to get lost in natural beauty and sleep out under the stars. He’s also a massive Zelda fan and will release Cuspide des Sirènes as a fully playable Game Boy cartridge, with different levels soundtracked by special 8-bit versions of album tracks.
“I’ve been creating universes since I was a kid,” he explains over video call from the French countryside. “I used to play with these wooden blocks called KAPLA. I’d build towers, cities and stadiums, and I used to draw.” This childhood imagination has now manifested into an album where sound becomes scenery and object, an aural RPG based on a character who’s gifted a magic conch in order to take on a mind-controlling octopus and communicate with mermaid-like sirens. Aussel’s ability to shape music so intuitively also throws back to his younger days: raised in a family of musicians (his father is the famed Argentinian guitarist Roberto Aussel, his mother is a music teacher), he started learning music theory and guitar at the age of six, before embarking on classical guitar studies at a conservatoire, aged eight. An interest in French Touch and Detroit techno came during his high school days once he became armed with an internet connection. “Right now, I’m in this state where I can do whatever I want, technically,” he explains. “Every time I go to the studio I can write directly into my computer, which is really fun. It’s just me making music spontaneously.”
We’re speaking over a patchy connection and Aussel is on screen rendered in big, lagging pixels, as if he’s turning into a low-bitrate avatar in real time. Aussel has made his name releasing club bangers for Livity Sound, Wisdom Teeth and Brothers from Different Mothers, and has earned a fierce reputation for seamlessly blending rhythm and low-end that has seen him turn out DJ mixes for the likes of Trilogy Tapes and the Dekmantel podcast series. Before that, he cut his teeth in France’s regional underground networks. As an aspiring producer, he immersed himself in the west coast scene in and around Nantes. When he moved to Reims, near Paris, to study in 2011, he joined local crew Phonographe Corp as a DJ and writer. He toured around France and internationally with the Corp, opening up opportunities like his 2015 I.M.O. EP for Fragil Musique, and a friendship with Bristol producer Hodge, who passed on his tracks to Peverelist.
Having established himself as a formidable club producer and DJ, Aussel is redefining himself artistically with Cuspide des Sirènes. “I was really trying to fit into the box of doing nice EPs with bangers on and trying to get through [a DJ/producer career] as you’re supposed to do it. With this album, I’m going beyond that. I think it’s the first time I’ve finally come to the fact that, yeah, I’m an artist, and I’m ready to explore my artistic side,” he says, confidently. “That’s why this album is a big step, because I consider myself differently now. Making an album as a club producer is quite a big challenge, because you don’t want to make this collection of bangers with, like, two ambient tracks. But at the same time, you don’t want to write an ambient album trying to be too serious.”
Not that anyone would accuse Aussel of being serious. His last release, 2021’s incendiary YES.DJ, contains a track called Farts and came bundled with a zine of photos of drinks tokens he’d taken at clubs around the world. He makes a good point, though: club producers have been known to overcook their debut LPs or crumble under the pressure of such a milestone event. In Aussel’s case, the sound design on Cuspide des Sirènes brings to life his quest concept masterfully. The music expands and contracts, applying pressure and tension, bursts of ecstasy and brief moments of calm, just like a real adventure. This is Aussel conjuring sonic magic realism where nothing is quite what it seems – nor should it be. There’s also a new focus on melody, which was an underdeveloped part of his production palette. The voices of mythological sirens appear throughout the album, which Aussel has created using Yamaha’s AI software Vocaloid, and synths provide bursts of shimmering Technicolor. One of the closing tracks, Where U From, is a great example of how Aussel’s music has evolved into a widescreen experience, more cinematic than ever before.
“The synergy of hybridisation, metamorphoses – I feel it inside me, too. I see myself made of different personalities and moods”
The album will arrive via TEMƎT, the label Aussel started in order to platform new French talent and retain total creative freedom over his own work. “The fact I’m creating a universe is also based on my label work. It’s a new playground that has helped me to develop a vision and try bigger projects with visuals, like the Game Boy cartridge, for example,” he says. “I’m trying to be as independent and self-sufficient as possible. I used to go from one opportunity to another, but now I’m trying to question myself more about what I want to say. TEMƎT is a tool that lets me express myself exactly the way I want. I don’t want to rush to try to release every six months to stay in the game, you know?”
Sirens are central characters to this story for reasons other than being cool Odyssean creations. For Aussel, they are a symbol of hybridisation, one of the central tenets of his musical practice. Cuspide des Sirènes is full of beautiful and intense new forms that splice ‘n’ dice trap instrumentals, broken techno, dancehall, overdriven dub, and US styles like footwork and Jersey club. “I’m fascinated by the fact that nature is always in the state of hybridisation, searching for new ways to express itself. It’s pretty crazy to think about the fact that there’s eight million species out there,” he says, a little mind-blown. “A worm turns into a butterfly; water becomes clouds and thunder; wood becomes ash. Nature is moving all the time. It’s the same for humans, but we forget about that. Human bodies become food for worms, and also carbon for trees. The synergy of hybridisation, metamorphoses – I feel it inside me, too. I see myself made of different personalities and moods, depending on the context.”
Sirens also have the power to hypnotise, their song the ultimate temptation that could lead to a protagonist’s tragic demise. “I have an unhealthy relationship with music. After two or three days of making music, I become obsessed and it’s really hard for me to stop,” Aussel admits. “So this idea of a siren reflects what happens to me with music – you want to spend all of your time with it, but you also want to be careful.” Cuspide des Sirènes was three years in the making, the sirens helping to draw 50 songs from Aussel’s fingertips during ten-hour studio sessions. This catharsis came after a period of deep self-reflection and the resulting creative intensity is something he likens to the work of a blacksmith, forging tracks from heat and fire.
At the time of our conversation, the internet is full of people moulding their own realities, whether it’s TikTok’s viral NPC cosplayer Pinkydoll or the collective escapism of the Barbie movie. It’s tempting to place Aussel’s album in the increasingly seamless crossover between IRL and URL, but maybe it’s a throwback to that time when, actually, wooden blocks and 8-bit graphics would do. Simple tools which allow vivid imaginations to fill in the blanks, to come up with a completely separate world. “Creating this universe helped me to find a direction for the album. But I’m not so sure it’s important to have the story in mind when you listen to the music,” Aussel affirms. “I don’t want to share a message, it’s more emotions.” So, listen to Cuspide des Sirènes with your eyes closed and choose your own adventure.
Cuspide des Sirènes is out today (14 September) via TEMƎT