Swapping beats for meatballs: How Tim “Bomb the Bass” Simenon came to run a Prague eatery

19-09-2016

In 1988 Tim Simenon earned overnight fame when his first single as Bomb the Bass became an international hit. The dance musician and producer went on to release a host of Bomb the Bass albums, as well as producing the likes of Neneh Cherry and Depeche Mode and remixing tracks by David Bowie, Massive Attack and many more huge names. Today, believe it or not, Simenon is to be found behind the counter of Brixton Balls, a meatballs takeaway that he opened on Prague’s Korunní St. earlier this summer. To learn more about this unlikely sounding change of career, I caught up with the Londoner at the cosy, cooly-designed eatery.

Tim Simenon, photo: Ian WilloughbyTim Simenon, photo: Ian Willoughby “The first time I came to Prague was in 1998. I was deejaying on the Singles tour for Depeche Mode. They were doing the European leg of the tour and I was the support DJ.

“I would do a 45-minute set before they would come on and it was great.

“From what I can remember, we spent a couple of days here and I was quite besotted by the place.

“I started coming here again probably two or three years ago, just visiting. I was based in Vienna for a few years so it was just a bus journey or a train ride away.

“I rediscovered the place and fell in love with it, really.

“I met my current business partner [Luděk Netušil], who I’ve opened up this place with, and he was working at a restaurant that I used to go to. That’s how it all began.”

Tell us more about the first time you came here. Depeche Mode are huge in this part of the world – I guess you must have been treated like royalty.

“Yes, they’ve got an amazing fan base across Europe. It was amazing. For me, as a Depeche fan when I was a teenager, to have ended up working with them and then doing a tour with them…

“They had their own plane, flying around Europe from city to city. It was an amazing experience really – a wonderful few years of my life [laughs].”

How did you hit on the idea of a meatballs shop here in Prague?

“It’s the same with meatballs as with music – you just fine-tune things until you find something that works.”

“That wasn’t immediate, actually. Luděk and I were thinking of a few different ideas and the meatball concept came along because we felt, or I felt, that it was something that I wanted to cook, it was fun and it could be interesting.

“And there wasn’t a meatballs place in Prague. There’s loads of pizza places, loads of burger places. And we wanted to do something that sort of reflected who we were, really.

“The place that we wanted to put together is what you’re seeing now – something quite warm with a living room vibe and comfortable. A place where people could come in and listen to music, and where I’d be happy to invite my friends and family.

“That’s how it all began. We sort of built it from the grassroots up and thought, This is kind of place where we would like to come to and hang out.”

I get the impression that a lot Czechs associate meatballs with Ikea, which sells them pretty cheap. Have you had to kind of educate people as to what meatballs can be?

“Not really. I think people can taste that for themselves, really. If they’re adventurous enough to come along here and just sample one of the balls with a bit of sauce, I think they understand. There is a difference.

Photo: official website of Brixton BallsPhoto: official website of Brixton Balls “Whether that’s a difference that they like or not, I don’t know [laughs]. But there’s definitely a difference.”

Had you always been into cooking all through your years of making music?

“Yes. I’ve always enjoyed cooking. I’ve always been a bit of a foodie, travelling around, trying lots of different things.

“As for the meatballs, the meatballs are obviously the foundation of the concept.

“Just looking at the menu here, there’s spicy beef, reflecting my love of Indian food, the classic beef, my love of Italian food, the beef and bacon, cheddar – it’s reflective of a lot of food that I really enjoy eating. Sort of condensed into a meatball [laughs].”

What makes the perfect meatball?

“Lots of things, actually. It’s not just pure good quality meat.

“If anything you want what you would call a cheaper cut of meat, grinded up with loads of herbs and spices.

“The more stuff you put into it, the lighter and tastier and juicier it is.

“If you put in what you would consider a really fine steak, you’d just end up with a golf ball [laughs], something really hard.

“I didn’t really want to be a 60-year-old DJ, in Ibiza or whatever, trying to be cool.”

“It took a lot of experimentation, actually. I was mucking around with it for six to eight months until there was a small menu that I thought could be presented.

“It’s the same with music – you just fine-tune things until you find something that works.”

Generally how do you find living in Prague as a foodie?

“Good. I’ve had some great food experiences here. I think you’ve just got to look a bit harder, really.

“I love the farmers’ markets. That’s quite special here in Prague – going there, enjoying the atmosphere and picking up stuff and taking it home and cooking it up is also a wonderful thing to do.”

If we could back up a bit and talk about your music career a little, you had a huge hit with your first single Beat Dis, which was number two in the UK and number one on the American dance chart. Also it was really cutting edge music at the time. It was very sample heavy and was the new thing, the cool thing, in those days. What impact did that have on your life, having such a big hit at the age of 20 or 21?

“A major change. I was at a sound engineering course when I made that record and I was quite happy just to work as a tea boy and work my way up in a studio.

“During that time I was looking at different studios that I wanted to apply to.

Photo: official website of Brixton BallsPhoto: official website of Brixton Balls “Then the record came out and the reception was just phenomenal. Eventually the fact that it did as well as it did meant that all of sudden I was a music producer.

“The record company I was with at the time, Rhythm King, suggested, Beat Dis is a hit, why don’t you make an album? And that’s what happened.

“Then Neneh Cherry came along and I worked on Buffalo Stance, her first single, and three tracks from her Raw Like Sushi album.

“Then there was Seal – I worked on Crazy with Trevor Horn. It was an amazing 10 or 12 years of working with people that I really wanted to work with.”

Do any of those collaborations particularly stand out? You also worked with Depeche Mode, who we spoke about, Sinead O’Connor…

“A lot of them stand out. Obviously the Neneh track stands out because it was the first production I did. Depeche Mode’s Strange Love was the first remix I did and that obviously clearly stands out.

“So do remixes I did for Bowie, because I met him. For Bjork, because it was an amazing tune.

“Also the Depeche Mode album Ultra. Working with Gavin Friday – I was a bit of a Virgin Prunes fan. Working with him on his solo album led me to work with Sinead.

“There have been a few Depeche Mode fans coming in here, asking me to sign copies of Ultra. It’s wonderful.”

“It was an amazing journey of musical… love, really [laughs]. That’s the only way I can put it!”

About remixing, when you do a remix, is there usually much collaboration, any collaboration, or do they usually just hand you a track and say, We want you to do your thing on our track?

“Usually that is the case. And hopefully that is normally the case.

“When I approach somebody that I like musically and give them a track, I let them do whatever they want.

“Because I respect what I do and it would be pointless me saying, Let’s to this, this or that. Then it’s not that personal to them.”

And say with Bowie, did he give you any instructions or say anything to you at all?

“Absolutely not, no. It was brilliant.

“I met him at a hotel where he was staying. He invited me and played three tracks, on a cassette!

“He was like, These are three new tunes I’ve done with Brian [Eno] and these are the tracks I’d like you to work on.

Photo: Ian WilloughbyPhoto: Ian Willoughby “Then we started remixing it and he popped by the studio, with Damien Hirst, and we sort of had a laugh in the studio for 30 minutes. It was just brilliant.”

Do producers in the dance area have a kind of limited shelf-life, because the music changes all the time and there are always new trends, compared to in rock?

“Yes, probably. I think that’s about right really.

“Two or three years ago I just kind of got to the point where I thought I’d done what I wanted to do. I’d worked with the people I’d wanted to work with.

“It was definitely time to explore something else. And food was a natural progression for me.

“I didn’t really want to be a 60-year-old DJ [laughs], in Ibiza or whatever, trying to be cool. It’s silliness.

“It was just a natural thing, to move on and try something else.”

Recently I was speaking to a Czech musician I know and when I told him I was going to be meeting you he said, Oh, we should drop by and talk to him – maybe he could work with us. Would you be open to working with Czech musicians?

“The thing is, when I did music, that’s all I did. I was completely absorbed by it and dedicated to doing music 100 percent.

“I’m not very good at doing two things at once. I found that out at a very young age.

“So for me, now that I’m doing this, I think it would be unrealistic to detach myself from this and work in a studio for a week or two, even if it’s just on one track.

“I like to get things right, to the best version of a song or of a meatball or as it may be [laughs].”

Have you had music fans coming in here looking to talk to you? For instance one of the places that I read about this shop was on a Depeche Mode fan site.

Photo: official website of Brixton BallsPhoto: official website of Brixton Balls “Yes, there have been a few Depeche Mode fans coming in here, asking me to sign copies of Ultra. It’s wonderful.

“In between making a menu [laughs] I’ll grab a pen and sign an album.

“It’s unusual. It really is unusual. It’s hard to describe. But it’s at the same time really sort of touching.”

Looking to the future, what are your plans for Brixton Balls? You haven’t been open so long at this location, but would you like to expand or anything like that?

“We’re still trying to find our way here, to be honest. We opened about two and a half months ago and I’m still trying to find what’s working and what isn’t working.

“I’d like to reduce the menu some more, because it is literally two people doing this.

“That’s why we’re open four days a week. But we want to open five days a week and maybe on Fridays and Saturdays we’ll want to open later.

“We’re playing with a lot of different things. It takes time.

“We’re sort of growing into the concept. We started the concept, we got the place, we’ve opened the place, it’s up and running and now we’re going, This is working and OK, this could be left out.”

My last question is how do you like living here in Prague?

“I love it. I think I wouldn’t have chosen to start a business here if it wasn’t a place that I could see myself spending time in.

“I love it because it’s open, it feels free, people are good.

“I’ve met some really wonderful people since I’ve been here. And that’s encouraged me to carry on doing what I’m doing here.”

19-09-2016