words: Elise Bramich
pics: Chris Saunders
make-up: Graham Pownall @ Studio P
Despite Radio One’s general fall from indie grace, an Evening Session is still what most bands dream of. Radio One has a stupidly large audience share, and with the increase of digital listeners through TV and DAB radios, the exposure for a band can be immense. Recently both Pete Tong and Steve Lamacq have had Hiem singles on their playlists, giving the band access to a whole new national audience. And now Lamacq has invited them back for that all important session.
That’s why Hiem are here, consummate performers and experienced musicians, ready to make their name known to the country. The band already have amazing musical CVs, Bozz is an ex-All Seeing I, Nicky and Bob are currently part of the Human League’s new line-up, Nico was in Venini and has more energy than a seven year old. Management and mentorship comes in the form of ex-Pulp Russell Senior, well versed in the ways of the musical world. Hiem however is a new format for them all, the concept of performance as part of dance music rather than just a DJ behind some decks is what brings them together.
The Maida Vale recording studios, usually host to Philharmonic and Symphony Orchestras, are in an extremely posh part of London where houses are as difficult and as expensive to get as major record deals. These studios also have a few smaller recording rooms, doors plastered with band stickers and logos and furnished with amazingly large and technical looking sound desks. Bozz isn’t entirely happy with the voice levels when I arrive, and Russell is trying to calm him down. Several cigarettes later, we head down into the depths of the BBC, which inside, resembles a 1960s military organisation, with long tunnel like corridors. References to Dr. Who and Sapphire and Steel are bandied about, adding to the surrealistic experience. The whole place feels quite sinister and tense, and hardly seems the kind of atmosphere conducive to producing creative music, but once we get into the band’s recording studio, MV4, the atmosphere is much more relaxed.
This is in fact a much bigger recording studio than most venues in Camden, and the band have already made their mark, setting up their equipment in the centre of the room, with Nico’s homemade neon Hiem sign glowing defiantly at the back. The band sit down to have one last chat before the recording starts at 2.30pm.
Apparently Evening Sessions don’t tend to go out live anymore, and so this recording won’t make it to air until the following Monday. This does give the band some relief since if they make a mistake they can start over, but on the other hand they want to appear as professional as possible.
The mood is definitely tense, pre-recording. Endless cups of coffee have already been drunk and Bozz is worried it won’t go well or according to plan. Nico is more positive, telling him they should just get on with it and go for it. Nicky is getting into costume, a grey boiler suit with an “H” logo on it. “I wanted a red H”, he complains at one point. I intervene to ask what the costumes stand for, Bozz and Nico both wear red shirts, gold stars and “gay-boy” flat captain hats. “Passion, revolution and change.” There’s definitely a military theme to Hiem, then. A definite game plan and direction for where they want to take this music… to the people.
The very nice lady in charge of these sort of operations at the BBC announces we’re ready to start at 2.30pm exactly. There’s suddenly a lot of nerves in the room. Nico with his buoyant energy is doing press ups and stretches on the floor in front of the keyboard and Bozz has slipped out quietly to get changed. Bob is the only one who stays contemplatively reserved, I put this down to nerves to begin with, but later I realize he’s just a very chilled kind of guy. The fact that the band have been given this big a chance to prove themselves has given them a lot of confidence in the music they are making, but suddenly made them all very self conscious of their appearance to the world at large.
Suddenly Steve Lamacq’s familiar voice is present in the room, recording an intro. The fact he messes up and has to start over probably helps relax the band. Steve Lamacq is definitely Sheffield’s biggest London ally at the moment, and he’s managed to get Hiem quite a bit of notice at the BBC. Pete Tong included She’s The One, the band’s latest single release on the Crosstown Rebel label in his recent playlist, and as a result Hiem have already had a fair bit of national exposure. Lamacq later adds that he had received lots of emails about another track, Chelsea (the band’s debut on Sheffield based independent, Atlantis Audio), he’d played in his show; interest in the band is slowly growing.
Hiem open with Ice and Snow, a typically loud and pulsing piece of electronica with minimalist lyrics, all the same the band are already into the performance, it’s no good telling Hiem they’re on the radio, they need to play their music in character and soon all of them are dancing along, the only difference is that their audience is each other. They’ve set themselves up in a kind of circle formation, with Bozz taking the role of conductor. The band later comment on the fact he found performing difficult without a mic stand - nothing to grab hold of. This is true; live Bozz usually uses the stand as a prop, wheeling and pushing it about the stage like a gear stick; with an overhead mic he’s at a loss to know what to do with his hands and he is comparatively still during the set to the rest of the band who have more space to move around in.
A brief pause allows for a short piece of banter with Steve in which Nico manages to reveal the address of the girls who infamously inspired the song Chelsea, their single released in February this year, based around Nico’s experience of being beaten up by a group of girls. This anecdote results in Bozz telling Nico off for using the word “piss” on national radio... It’s all good natured ribbing though, and despite the band being initially thrown by the fact they can’t see Steve from where they are playing, they soon get into the swing of things.
Next up is Electricity, possibly the group’s next single. Things are definitely looking more like the Hiem I’ve seen at gigs, they’re relaxed and in control. This is a more upbeat song with a few more lyrics than the last and Bozz looks like he’s really enjoying himself. Stomping his feet while Nico dances around madly.
The interviews are much more frenetic now as well, Nicco and Bozz becoming a comedy double act that reflects their give and take relationship on stage. They discuss the electronic scene that Sheffield has been famous for for so long now and that they are just a new generation of this. They jokingly infer the obsession with electricity comes from the fact their studio is above an old factory and there’s a constant humming emanating from the floor. Steve asks what equipment they favour and they describe their studio as an Atari graveyard, “a great title for your album”, suggests Steve. Later this issue of equipment comes up and the band are discussing trying out a different bigger studio and maybe working with a few new producers or engineers to get a fresh perspective on things. The band aren’t unhappy with the sound they’re making, they just want to get the best result they can, and with Crosstown Rebels behind them, they’ve got access to a whole new world of talent, as the recent Mathew Jonson remix of She’s the One proved.
During the interview the band manage to get across their philosophy about performance, argue against the “soft southern” and “wrong” pronunciation of Hiem, (it’s pronounced “I’m”, in Sheffield, apparently), and get in a plug for Sandman which Lamacq promises to try and get a link for up on the website. Sheffield is doing very well out of this session as the Long Blondes also get a track played later on. The session winds down with an explosive rendition of Tweak and then the recording is over. Steve promises to get a pint with the band next time he’s up in Sheffield and is whisked off to another engagement. The band doesn’t even get to meet him properly, but Lamacq is doing the band and the electronic scene a big favour with this session.
Winding down and packing up, Hiem bicker about the awkwardness and rawness of the banter, but as Russell points out, it makes them seem more real and down to earth than the “shoegazers” Lamacq must be used to. He’s right, the band have come across as entirely different to most session bands, and very lively. A bit of label chat goes on, and there’s a definite sense that the publicity about them has been growing ever since the initial release of Chelsea, which isn’t even typical Hiem material, and the hype can only grow with an Evening Session under their military belts.
The band are knackered but more positive as they pack up Nico’s homemade props and stands, readying themselves for a four hour van journey home. It’s definitely been worth it though, they behaved like the professionals they were and didn’t pretend to be something they’re not. Russell is proud of them and keeps them aware of the options this experience will leave open to them. Despite not having any plans to gig again until the New Year the band are still going to be kept busy, with a few new songs in the pipeline, and Bob and Nicky touring with the Human League to keep them occupied. Bob admits that “things have worked out quite nicely”, being able to drum for the League and keep being involved with new music as well.
At the end of the day they did their best, and Hiem at their best are something pretty special and pretty unique. If nothing else, they’ve let the country know that Sheffield has got an electrifying scene going, and it could possibly change the face of dance music as we know it down here in London. Hiem are going to be let loose on the UK this Monday night. I don’t think they’ll know what’s hit them.
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