One of Sydney's finest steps up with a mix of techno, soul, funk and house.
Simon Caldwell is what you'd call a DJ's DJ. A fixture in the Australian party circuit for nearly two decades, Caldwell can play sets in nearly any genre that you'd care to name—or all of them at once, if the party requires it. As part of Sydney's Mad Racket crew—a group that has brought the likes of Moodymann, Andrew Weatherall, John Tejada, Jamie Lidell and more to the city—he has to constantly be ready to read and react to what the crowd wants and needs.
Caldwell learned the value of diversity early on in his career, taking on a radio show in Sydney in 1991 that specialized in house, jazz, funk, soul and hip-hop which soon led to a residency at a night called All Funked Up at the Bentley Bar. Caldwell soon held residencies on six of seven weeknights at the venue, working in a variety of genres to ensure that the Bentley's sound was never stale. He's done the same at some of Sydney's biggest venues, Home and Chinese Laundry, as well. And on his RA podcast, Caldwell does the same as always, showcasing the many sides of his musical personality, moving effortlessly through dubby house, tech house, funk, acid, ambient, soul and disco. It's a nearly ninety minute mix, and Caldwell takes advantage of every minute of it, proving that he can handle almost any DJing situation you throw him into.
What have you been working on recently?
Mainly working on the Mad Racket parties. We just had our 11th Birthday party with Chris Duckenfield, and now we're working on New Year with Pepe Bradock and a show for Sydney Festival in January. Plus I'm always trying to make a living DJing in Sydney and occasionally in other capital cities around Australia.
Where and how was the mix recorded?
I recorded it straight through in one go at home, using 3 x Technics SL1200Mk2 turntables and a rotary Rane mixer on a hot and humid afternoon in Sydney.
Can you tell us a little about the idea behind the mix?
I wanted to do a mix that represented a bit of what I was about, rather than a really straight-up club mix on a single vibe. I am into a varied range of music, and I play all sorts of gigs in Sydney, from super-chill bars and funk gigs to big techno and house nights, so I guess I wanted to present some of that diversity in the set, while still keeping it house and techno-based. It's always hard trying to compress a lot into 90 minutes, but hopefully the mix will convey an idea of what I am feeling.
You've been running Mad Racket in Sydney for 11 years. Tell us about the party. How have you've kept it going for over a decade?
Along with my three partners, I have had the great luck to be part of a crew of DJs and punters who keep coming back for more! It sounds clichéd, but we all really just put the parties on to be able to play our music to people who want to hear it. These days we do about nine parties a year, roughly half all-local, half with international guests, so it doesn't get stale because each party is an event in itself. We hold them at a lawn bowls club outside the city, so it really does feel like you are escaping the nightclub world into a little private oasis when you come to a party. We bring our own sound and a few flashing lights, decorate the place and dance until dawn. Many of our long-term punters now have to get babysitters for the night, but they still come every few months, and we are always encouraging younger folk to join us to avoid the generational shift completely. Some punters have kids old enough to come along now.
You've also had a long running involvement in radio. How important is radio in Australia? What do you get up to on your show?
I think radio is always important, and has a part to play in spreading music to places it wouldn't normally go. Particularly in Australia, where there is still only a fairly small electronic music scene, radio plays an important part in presenting new music to people and giving local artists a place to have their music heard. Unfortunately, most commercial radio has absolutely no idea about dance music, which I am sure is not confined to Australia.
Most cities have several community (not-for-profit) stations, each with a different focus. Over the past 16 years I have been on three different stations, and am currently doing a 6 – 8 PM Monday spot on FBI Radio. On my show I simply present music in a live mix each week, playing a variety of stuff, keeping the talk to a minimum apart from the odd interview. The station I am at now has a fairly young core listenership, so I try and give some context to the newer music by playing the odd set of '90s house or some other "older" styles, as well as throwing in older tracks with the new, because I think it's important for people to have some idea of the history of the music. Some weeks I will do a special on one style, but mostly it's quite mixed. I also try and get guests on my show regularly, sometimes internationals that are in town and often local producers and DJs.
Finally, what are you up to next?
Summer is fast approaching here, so festival silly season is just around the corner, which has its good and bad sides. I'm currently in the process of moving to the beach, and then trying to finally get some tracks of my own together. Then planning Mad Racket for 2010 and thinking about doing a PhD one day.