Hiem HQ is situated at the wonderful Stag Works in Sheffield. In years gone by it was home for dozens of ‘Little Mesters’ whose basic workshop accomodation housed. often solo ‘mesters’, craftsmen working with the steels that Sheffield proudly produced in large quantities until an unspeakable Prime Minister did her best close the steelworks down.
Stag Works since then became home to some legendary musical studios (one of which, 2Fly, is where the Arctic Monkeys recorded their ground breaking demos with one Alan Smyth), rehearsal rooms a plenty, artists, film makers and various other creative mediums. Hiem, on the top floor, welcome me into their lair. Larger than life Bozz (David Boswell) and his long time music partner Nico (Nick Eastwood) are discussing a contract involving their debut album Escape From Division Street. I ask if their lawyer has read it, Bozz laughs “we have been looking at contracts for years, we know they are going to fuck us over” Nico finishes the sentence “so we just look where and how much they are going to fuck us over” then we all erupt into laughter.
“We were in the charts and pulled up in a really crappy tour bus and they were in a 3 decked Star Rider, we thought how the fucking hell can they afford that?”
They are a delight to interview, funny, very talented but self deprecating, knowledgeable and immensely likeable. Hiem began life just before the end of the last millennium and has grown a reputation for ground breaking music but what musical paths did this dynamic duo tread before ending up together in Hiem?
Nico offers “I started in garage bands like Carday with Tim McCall who sadly passed away last year. Then I got into promoting bands upto about 4 nights a week. That developed into a club The Citrus, which features on the album (Lemons and Limes). I met Bozz when I put All Seeing I on at the Casbah (Sheffield). We’d been getting about 200 in but when I put them on it went absolutely bonkers ! I was also playing in a band at that time called Venini with Russell Senior who was in Pulp “Bozz jumps in feigning outrage “we were in the charts and pulled up in a really crappy tour bus and they were in a 3 decked Star Rider, we thought how the fucking hell can they afford that” Nico carries on “Phil Oakey, Bozz and Roisin (Murphy from Moloko) stumbled out of their poor tranny (Transit van) and we opened our door (making a shwoosh noise) of the brand new big coach.”
Bozz explained the line up “Roisin joined us mainly for the big festivals, but that night I was doing I Feel Love with Roisin and I could see this guy (Nico) doing this weird monster dance and that’s how we met when he came backstage,” Nico again jumps in and adds with relish “and drunk his rider.”
Despite the fractious start they began writing music together within a few weeks. It took 4+ years of writing in Bozz’s room to get the sound they wanted, obviously not in a rush because as Nico says tellingly “we wanted it to be something defining. We knew it would be electronic but both were from a band background so a Kraftwerk type sound but with a live show like Kiss, so I’d be thinking can we do scissor kicks to that beat.”
Bozz agrees “we basically spent 2 or 3 years honing the sound and playing FIFA 1999 on the play station and getting drunk and going out to clubs. Then about ‘92 a London label called Ideal got hold of a track we’d done called Japanese Motor Car and they put it on a compilation. That was quite pivotal as the whole electro clash thing was emerging in New York and London and dance music was changing and we met that head on with that Flexi Pop compilation.” Nico adds “We never really felt a part of that though” and Bozz continues “we were never electro pop we are just Hiem, we could be anything we wanted to be, we could even do a country and western album if we wanted to”. Nico nodding agrees “he (Bozz) never admits how good he is but he’s a real genius, he can pick up any instrument and within 2 hours he mastered it.”
Bozz began in music at school in Wales, being a mod at 10 years old and even getting a note home asking his Mum why he was dressed as an old man ! he takes up the tale “I was being bullied by two guys, Ivor Jackson and Richard Walker, cos they were rockers, so to stop the bullying I changed to be a rocker too. I got into heavy metal then got a drum kit at 11 and got into bands, then by 15 I was touring” he says matter of factly “The truant officer came round to the house and I showed him all the pictures of me on stage and he said ‘ that’s fucking brilliant carry on mate’. I went to Liverpool and started a studio, about 12years ago, but that all went wrong so went back to Wales. I wanted to get into another studio so a mate suggested getting on a music course so I ended up looking at Barnsley College and got in over the phone, that’s how shit that college is, nothing worked so I ended up booking a studio in Sheffield and met Dean (Honer ) and Parrott from All Seeing I and started singing on their records and it took off from there.”
Nico explains how their musical backgrounds is a strength “we are both band orientated which affects the way our songs are written, so we put that in a dance context, they have a chorus and middle 8’s so we basically write electronic music structured as a song.” Bozz smiles “that confuses a lot of the dance people unfortunately cos they want to hear loops and we want more than that. I write Techno as well but when I do that I get hassle asking why I’m singing over everything.”
Never a touring band, which they blame that on agents not doing the jobs, though they like the kudos of having bands like Hiem on their roster. Another reason Nico offers (with a wry smile)” we put that much into our shows, everything we’ve got, that we’d be too fucked to play every night.”
To augment Hiem for the live shows Andy Stenton, a fan before becoming the bands drummer, got as baptism of fire after being asked to join on the afternoon of his debut gig but still played a blinder, and Joe Milnes, a classically trained pianist makes up a formidable multitalented team.
When they do play live, like their remarkable Tramlines 10 main stage set, they wear some memorable costumes. Their Viking attire was a refreshing change from the skinny jeaned indie kid look, Bozz admits “we grew up watching Top Of The Pops and all our favourite artists all used to dress up, like Keith Moon dressed as a Nazi officer.” Nico says “we look obscure cos we are dressed the same but are different sizes but there’s usually a concept behind it.”
Nico confides “Theres a story behind the panda and alien guises for the new album photoshoot, some pandas in Japan ate some magic mushrooms and had a fight with some humans, as they only see in black and white the album artwork is what they could see in the night sky” Bozz sits with mouth open “I didn’t know all that I was just told, ‘Bozz you’re a panda,” cue more bellowing laughter.
How do they write the Hiem soundscapes, together or individually? Bozz offers “I usually start writing something then he comes in and says ‘that’s shit change it, I’m not dancing’ sometimes I can over complicate things, then he’ll come up with a verse and we bounce ideas off each other, Hiem wouldn’t work without the both us.”
Nico adds “I don’t think there’s any set pattern, its usually music and then fit lyrics round it. We work usually together but then sometimes I go off for a month and he won’t see me but he’ll be working really hard on something and then I’ll come back and slag it off” they both burst into laughter yet again.
Why is Hiem more of an underground sound in Sheffield rather than getting the recognition they get, particularly, in mainland Europe? Bozz has his view on this “I don’t think its that necessarily, when we formed Hiem the local press jumped on it and there’s a danger in Sheffield that if something doesn’t immediately have main stream success then they move onto the next thing.” As always on the same wavelength Nico continues “You have a year or two after announcing your arrival to be massive or you’re an also ran. “Bozz’s turn” I never thought we’d be a pop act but put out quirky, more underground, record international records. We have the potential to cross over to main stream but we don’t have the infrastructure in Sheffield now like Manchester, that had Tony Wilson and Factory Records.” Nico again “I think its good we can ring a label in Germany and they say ‘sent it us right away’ and then its released.”
We are signed to the biggest record label in the world and still have a core fanbase that loves what we do but Sheffield’s a bit fickle.”
They both add “We love Sheffield but we aren’t parochial. We just live here, but we feel Hiem are part of Sheffield heritage after being together for over 10 years producing quality dance records. We are really a studio who plays live and not looking for fame. We’ve had that, been number 1 in the dance charts and sold thousands of records all over the world in places like Germany, Australia, Japan, France.”
Nico expectantly adds “hopefully this album will be a crossover, it’s like saying ‘we are here again’”
The album Escape From Division Street is so named because in Nico’s words ”when Hiem started that was a vibrant scene full of sole traders rather than the current Starbucks followed by Subway, it had a cool drum and bass shop and its all gone now. Every city centres the same, so this is an escape from all the commercialised bollocks. X Factor and all the charts is full of bland music that means success, we say live for who we are as people, and be yourself and do your own thing.”
The album is quite eclectic with guests vocalists like Roots Manuva and the Phil Oakey, so it’s hard to pigeon hole Hiem, which is just how they like it. The Hiem sound runs through an excellent album that will appeal many fans, new and old. It also has striking artwork from the iconic Designers Republic to add the final touch of excellence.
Already Hiem have a rightful place in the roll of honour of Sheffield’s music heritage but hold tight for the next chapter when Hiem (previously primarily a singles band) will launch what is incredibly their debut album at Harley, Sheffield on Saturday 16th April, a must see show.