Cult Q & A: HiFi Sean

Sean Dickson on his new album, The Soup Dragons, the late Alan Vega, John Peel, T. Rex, and getting banned from TV-am.

Earlier this year, ex-Soup Dragon turned international superstar DJ HiFi Sean released ‘Hi-Fi Sean Feat.’, a floor-filling electronica epic featuring such stellar cult names as Fred Schneider (B52s), Yoko Ono, Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub), David McAlmont, Dave Ball (Soft Cell, The Grid), P-Funk legend Bootsy Collins, and Suicide’s Alan Vega, in the last recording before his death. His latest single, ‘Testify’, is out today.

We chatted with Sean about his long and varied career, his influences and inspirations, fave raves and what he’s up to next.

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HiFi Sean. Photo © Paul Grace, used with permission.

What were you like at school?

Hated school and everything about it , I was kind of a loner and hung about with friends who were not even at my school and slightly older than me; around the age of 14 I discovered rock n roll and knew I was not really for the academic or sports world. Thank God myself, Norman (Teenage Fanclub) and Douglas (BMX Bandits) all connected and found each other in our small town of Bellshill outside Glasgow .

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I remember everything I wanted to be got squashed when they found out I was super colourblind, in fact I am as colourblind as a person can be, so out the window went wanting to fly jumbo jets age five .

What advice would you give to your teenage self?

Don’t be afraid of your freedom .

What are your best and worst qualities?

I wrote a song about this in The High Fidelity, ‘2 Up – 2 Down’:

“I’m just a little 2 up 2 down, my mood swings are swinging round , I just got to find a place to be”

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

I have only had two jobs in my whole life, one when I was like 17 for about 6 months, and one when I moved to London at first for about 6 months too; in London I put the music on iTunes, Juno, download sites, it depressed me as sometimes I used to have to tell little budding producers when they phoned up that actually your six months royalty was zero due to no sales at all . Plus I used to listen sometimes to the literally hundreds of things that went through the system that 98% was god awful and it put me off wanting to release music for a long time as it all seemed so digitally saturated with shit , in fact it still is to an extreme .

Who were your pop culture heroes growing up?

Easy. T-Rex, Marc Bolan – he was and still is fascinating to me in every way.

What do you consider to be the single greatest piece of television ever?

The Soup Dragons being banned from TV-am by Lorraine Kelly. I would love to see that, let’s just say it was 1990 and we had been up all night having fun and were dragged to a 7am call at Breakfast TV ‘cause our manager forgot to tell us we were in front of millions of people that morning. I can laugh about it now but it was pretty tragic stuff the state we were in.

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Monty Python: Is it funny?

Tries a little too hard for me , whereas Spike Milligan’s ‘Q’ series fascinated me as a teenager, surreal and obtuse humour .

What was the last film that you watched?

Can’t remember to be honest right now but recently watched the whole of ‘Stranger Things’ in about 2 days which was totally amazing and loved every second of it

What film could you watch every day?

‘The Towering Inferno’, glamour and destruction, a great mix

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What’s your favourite film soundtrack?

‘Car Wash’, love Norman Whitfield productions, great sounds; overlooked soundtrack that.

Which album would you recommend and lend to a friend?

American Spring – ‘Spring’, sheer gorgeous record.

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Which record wouldn’t you let out of your sight?

My copy of Get It On that Mickey Finn from T-Rex gave me which was the first pressings that him and Marc got, he knew it was my fave record and when I worked with him on some music he gave me his copy, prized possession .

What’s your definition of what makes something cult?

Usually when people try too hard to be cool and pretend it’s their thing so everyone joins in too

When did you first decide that you wanted to become a pop star?

Being a pop star was not the option or intention, to just make music and hear John Peel play it was good enough for me back then.

So how did your life in music begin and what inspired you to make a career out of it?

I made a flexidisc at 17 with my first band The Soup Dragons which cost £33 and it got single of the week in the NME, life kinda changed dramatically from that point .

Which other singers, musicians, or producers have inspired you over the years?

Way too many to mention but at a very early age, I realised who produced records as well and that fascinated me just as much as those who made the music.

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John Peel (Photo credit: BBC).

What’s the best bit of advice anyone has given you?

John Peel over his kitchen table when I asked him how do you keep searching for new music, he said “The next record I hear may be the best record I have ever heard’

Who has had the biggest influence on your career, and how has that person changed your work/life?

John Peel again, as I owe such a lot to his support on both my previous bands and we became good friends, an intelligent and warm genuine man , not many of them around in showbiz these days .

Do you think it’s true that you should never meet your heroes?

Depends in what situation but when it comes down to it’s usually the people around them and the hangers-on that are the ones to watch out for .

What would you like to be your epitaph?

The next record I hear may be the best record I have ever heard

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Although they were a guitar band, Soup Dragons sampled things like Russ Meyer films and Iggy & The Stooges. What inspired that eclecticism; in a way you were ahead of the curve with that kind of pop culture sampling?

We did many many things before a lot people around that time which will never ever be credited for as history was re-written for us by a few journalists who we never hung around with and sucked ass with, most people did not understand our true intentions and what we were trying to do then, I hate this whole lumped in with certain bands from that period shit , I mean you tell me WHAT band or ALBUM that ‘Lovegod’ or even ‘Hotwired’ sounds like?

We were experimenting a lot with samplers as it opened up the psychedelic aspect that were had for many years previous to that , eventually we could afford to have this machine that instantly could do what was going on in our heads, especially mine as the producer.

Also something we have never been credited for – that we produced our own records too from that period, along with co-producer Marius De Vries who went on to work with Bjork, David Bowie and Madonna.

After Soup Dragons, you formed The High Fidelity. Although they didn’t get the recognition they deserved, was it satisfying for you creatively?

It was some of the best years of my life  we worked with Mickey Finn from T-Rex, he starred in one of our videos, we made a record with John Peel which he co-wrote with me and played on, we made a whole album dedicated to Omnichords and we recorded with Bollywood orchestras in India

I don’t hear or see any of the indie brigade doing anything remotely as interesting as that these days over the space of three years!

What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career so far – and why?

Recording with Alan Vega from Suicide a track that took him away from electronica and added an orchestral arrangement which was lovely to see and hear how much he loved it all and was so excited to see what people’s reactions were going to be on this new sound for him.

Sadly as you know he passed away a few weeks before the album was released which was a total head-fuck, especially to know it’s his last recording on my album , but I am so proud that it is and I got to work with such a legend and carry a little bit of his soul around with me on my own work .

HiFi Sean. Photo © Paul Grace, used with permission.
HiFi Sean. Photo © Paul Grace, used with permission.

You’ve recently released your latest album ‘HiFi Sean Feat’, with a barrel-load of guest artists. How did you go about putting it all together?

I wrote a bunch of songs, I asked some of my favourite people to sing and be involved in them, simple as that really!

I made this album for myself and my own enjoyment , after fifteen years of not making albums I thought my pleasure was the main factor to all this for it to transcend into exciting music that I would want to live with the rest of my life .

Do you have any upcoming projects? How can our readers discover more about you and you work?

I am on the usual Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud etc.

I am starting to work on two new albums for next year, that is all I am saying but both are very different and both will take me to new avenues and revisit some too, for instance I am working with Bollywood orchestration again and trying out some new things with all that.

Thank you for taking time out to talk to We Are Cult!


❉ ‘HiFi Sean Ft.’ (Plastique Recordings) is available on double vinyl, CD and digital formats from iTunes and all usual retailers of fine music.

❉ Sean’s new single featuring Crystal Waters ‘Testify ’ (Le Mongrel Remix) is released today.

❉ We Are Cult would like to thank Sean Dickson and Jon Bills for their input and assistance in putting this feature together.

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