Groove Terminator: Terminating the groove
Like Phil Collins said, he could feel it in the air, and now the change is upon us. It’s dripping from every ceiling in every club in Australia. No, it’s not sweat, it’s success. In London three lads from Scarborough in WA are the hottest thing going. TV Rock is still sitting in the ARIA charts. Yes we may finally have it. Or did we always? There was a time in the land of nod when this was definitely not the case. In the dark days the lights of dance were dim, lit only by an underground scene that was loyal to its roots, but with no chance of seeing the light of day. Now, our hard working producers and DJs, from Kenobi to Bexta, are not only stepping onto the world stage, but are blitzing many of the heavyweights from Europe and beyond.
So, back to the beginning. Rock ruled. We were aliens on a distant hazy shore stuck somewhere in time. Pre 1995 many of the today’s punters couldn’t tell you that Oz even had an electronic scene. The Big Day Out’s Boiler Room was a misting tent with a DJ. However there were some shining lights in that era that chose the path less trodden. At that time, the path less trodden was the one to Sydney. A place where DJs were held in high regard. In fact if you weren’t from Sydney the chances of you getting respect on the national stage were slim, even if you were at the epicentre of dance – Melbourne. A young Adelaide DJ by the name of Simon Lewiki decided to take the chance early on to settle in Sydney and he quickly found his niche in an emerging market. He’s been an ARIA and Billboard chart topper, Ibiza resident, touring DJ and radio presenter, just to mention a few. However it is his latest incarnation as one half of the duo Tonite Only which sees him at the most personally satisfying creative point of his career. Catching up with Lewiki in his native Adelaide, I found him in a relaxed mood, about to head out to his mate’s driving range for a well deserved beer and a few swings.
Casting his mind back to those early days when he trekked to Sydney for the first time, GT felt that for him this was a natural progression from playing clubs in Adelaide and running his own radio show. The move to Sydney meant a chance to put himself on the map and to associate with the main acts of the day. “When I started doing the national slots there weren’t really a lot of guys who were doing it at the time, people like Pee Wee were the only guys that were touring nationally. And the guys from Sydney would get more national slots so it seemed pretty logical to head there. You seemed to carry more weight if you had a Sydney name at the end of everything else. I think these days I just want to put Australia behind my name. If you put Sydney you know that could mean you’re from Campsie! (laughs) Funniest thing was I played on Saturday night in Brisbane at Family and I had a “USA” after my name. I thought that was bloody funny. I was playing with Matt Nugent who is a Brissy boy who’s been living in Sydney for I think almost a year now and now he’s got Sydney after his name.” Conversely some of the people surrounding him in the past felt that any success would be a positive marketing tool. “I had a record out about ‘96 on Sony and I think we went to number 1 in Budapest and my manager always wanted to say “number 1 in Budapest” and wanted to put stickers on the records and stuff like that. In reality it actually meant I had sold about 20 copies! (laughs)”
With his feet now firmly placed on the world map, GT has the luxury in music where some major labels are as loyal to him as he is to them. With regular spots mixing discs for Ministry of Sound and more recently Central Station (for their 30th Anniversary ‘House Years’ album), Simon finds it encouraging that even though he has since moved to LA, he receives continued support in his particular style. However Lewiki was more than happy with his new arrangement and for future releases will be mixing for Ministry under his new moniker, Tonite Only. “I didn’t do Clubbers Guide this year though for scheduling reasons. We’re doing the next Mashed CD but under my new name Tonite Only with Sam Littlemore. That’s my musical priority for the next two years.” Moving to La La Land was a bold move for a DJ ensconced in the world of house. LA has forever been known as the bastion of all things rock and hip hop – hardly a place where a house DJ might find his place in the sun. With the new project Tonite Only taking up much of his time, Lewiki was enjoying his time in the City of Angels. However it seems that without his new project getting some serious gigs may be tricky. “Over there you’ve kind of gotta be DJ and promoter… I mean, basically if no one rocks up you don’t get paid, which I think is fair enough – it’s almost like work for the dole (laughs).”
With over 15 years of DJing and producing under his belt, including a number 1 hit on the Billboard Charts with his former project Chili Hi Fly, GT has made his mark in the collected musical consciousness of Australia. He is particularly upbeat about Tonite Only, which he has formed with fellow Oz success Sam Littlemore (aka Sam La More). Taking their influences from a wide range of sources, from New Order to Daft Punk, the duo have been creating catchy synth driven tunes which reek not only of dance floor anthem status but also of a seriously retrospective mood. Their remix of The Semilou’s ‘All This Love’ was subsequently picked up by Ministry of Sound for the Australian market, and it’s seen regular rotation across the country. “We’re trying to do something different and it’s very removed musically. It can’t be a Sam La More thing and it can’t be a GT thing, so let’s try something new and it’s a new sound… we’re saying this is what it is, and we’re not confusing anyone… it’s a very different beat and the aim over the next 18 months is going out and performing under that name and doing live shows, ala Daft Punk. They’re pretty much the role model for what we’re doing.” This step away from GT has seen a rebirth of sorts for Lewiki, who found that the sound was born partially from not being able to find the music that he wanted out there. “I felt that at the time that was the type of sound that I wanted to be playing and I couldn’t buy those records, so I started making those records. Those sounds are the one’s I’m really into today.” Having already created some seriously catchy numbers, such as ‘Danger (The Bomb)’, and with more high profile remixes for artists such as Kid Kenobi on the way, Tonite Only looks destined to become another success on the carnival ride.
Invited back to his homeland for the Central Station Records 30th Birthday Celebrations, Lewiki was more than happy to support the label that has supported him for so many years. With his new release, ‘The House Years’, already on high rotation throughout the country, it was encouraging to note that GT had seen the quality of the Australian house scene explode overseas in recent years. In fact, he only agreed to do the disc if he was allowed to add Australian content, which he firmly believes is one of the vanguards of the recent house resurgence. “It’s been great. I’ve been a big customer of the store and I have some long standing relationships with various people within the company. They’ve gone from strength to strength really, and it’s great that they have managed to survive and maintained it in this day and age. The quality of Australian house music… I could have just been feeling really home sick that week and got really Olivia Newton John on it (laughs)… [but] it’s really good on it’s own merits. It’s really firing and I think the next two years is going to be ridiculous. It’s like the whole electro sound. Australia is really on top of that more than anyone else.”
Having performed all over the world, and with just about every major DJ you can imagine, it’s given Lewiki the chance to see trends come and go in some of the hottest destinations across the globe. A veteran of Ibiza, GT felt that while the place had been over commercialised in the past, it was now returning to its underground roots. “I’ve been there for the last three years and it’s actually really cool again. I think that TV show really killed it for them (Ibiza Uncovered) and that exploded the scene and made it all very huge and consequently the prices of everything went up. It’s really cheap to get there but really expensive when you’re there. You know it’s like AU $80-$90 to get into a club, and drinks are like AU $25-$30. That’s not a cheap holiday for anyone! The only people who can afford to drink there are the DJs you know.” Interestingly, he felt that the resurgence of the underground scene in Ibiza had strange parallels to our own scene in Australia. These parallels here however have had the opposite effect, where electronic music is now becoming widely accepted and respected. “Summing it up you can find that it’s had a weird follow on here. Having not been here anymore you really notice it, house generally is massive in this country and we’re even at the point where TV Rock can be number 1… it’s pretty amazing that that sort of record has done so well over here, even more so than in England. Ivan [Gough – TV Rock] has been doing this for as long as I have, and I’m so happy for them, they’re quality. They came from the club and it’s not some contrived thing put together by some dude at a record label, they’ve come from the dance floor.”
It’s been a long time between ARIA chart drinks for Lewiki’s alter ego GT, but he hasn’t been idle. With a new track on iTunes for a listen, he has now found the freedom that comes from being unsigned to a record label under his most famous alias. While many unsigned acts dream of being signed, often the silver lining comes with a cage. After the success of ‘One More Time (The Sunshine Song)’ in 2000, GT felt the full scrutiny of his label when his second release failed to make a similar impression. ‘One More Time’ incidentally was a song that was never intended for the record, in fact it was part of an EP he had written for his mate Norman Cook (heard of him?), but the label insisted it be on the album. “I left my record deal about two years ago now, actually it’s about three years ago now. I pretty much didn’t do anything for a year and half, just took some time off from writing music. I wasn’t sure musically where I wanted to head, I just needed to find my focus again. Finding that focus rather than doing a million different styles under one name, which is what I was trying to do with the whole Groove Terminator thing, [it] kind of confuses people. I found that with all my dance floor stuff I can do it under various different names. My song ‘How Life Should Be’, to me that sounds like a pop record and I don’t mean like Britney Spears, I mean more like the stuff that I used to listen to when I was growing up… When I released my last album and actually produced with Andy Page, I loved that record, but it didn’t sell particularly well and wasn’t promoted by the record company. They were pretty much over me by then because it didn’t go to number 1. It’s politics or whatever, and the first album sold about ten times more, but I liked the second record much more than the first.”
Many DJs come and go, but GT has survived the test of time by playing the music that he loves and never being wavered by record label whims or a need to follow the trends of punters. This doesn’t mean he’s never failed, but it’s his ability to recover from setbacks that has seen him maintain his position for a sustained period of time in an industry which can put you up on a pedestal, only to smash it from under your feet. With Tonite Only now Lewiki’s main priority, he finished the interview by summing up his career succinctly and honestly. “I’ve never been a purist, I’ve got a real pop sensibility. To be honest I just do whatever I feel like and sometimes it just worked in my favour, and sometimes I’ve fallen flat on my face.” With this sort of down to earth attitude, you can be assured that under whatever guise he wears, GT will remain a true ambassador to the Australian music scene.
Central Station’s 30th Anniversary album ‘The House Years’, mixed by Groove Terminator and Matt Nugent, is out now through Central Station/MRA. ‘Danger [The Bomb], his most recent single as Tonite Only with Sam La More, is available on Hussle/EMI.