Jun 14, 2023
9 min read
Four years since his first release on Anjunadeep, Simon Doty has finally gifted us with his debut album, Universal Language—a blend of deep house, melodic techno, and everything in between. But the main goal of the album is to inject the groove and funk back into the dancefloor. After over ten years of single and EP releases, Doty says it's long overdue.
"I had always talked about doing an album for quite a while. A lot of people would ask me, 'when are you doing your first album?'... It's something that sat as a concept and an idea for quite a while," he tells Gray Area. "I wanted to do a mix album where it was more DJ oriented… I started working on it last year. And once I had a couple of the core tracks together, it all kind of fell into place really quickly."
The main inspiration for Doty's Universal Language was the lack of presence on the dancefloor. The moments when people should be dancing and connecting with the music, instead, are filled with eyes on phone screens. He feels that music of late has been geared towards "Instagrammable moments" and being "TikTok friendly."
"And so I think for those reasons, we're starting to lose the core of what it's always supposed to have been about, you know, just like underground dance music, the character, the soul and the groove and the feel."
It was important for Doty to return to a time when phone camera's had just one megapixel, and the only concern of the night was to enjoy the music rather than worry about how many views a video might get.
"All the marketing was showing old montages of clubs and footage of people dancing, before there were phones and all that kind of stuff. And to be focused on getting back to that type of a vibe."
Lee Hon Bong
Yet, despite wanting to time warp back to the era of no phones, Doty doesn't want his shows to feel restricted and doesn't plan to join artists like Lane 8, who ban cell phone use at tour stops.
"I'm kind of proud to say I've noticed a lot of my events through this whole tour that there haven't been a lot of phones. Certainly you see people with their phones and taking videos and stuff. Like I said, it's okay. It's not a bad thing as long as it's just a healthy balance."
Doty speaks to me between tour stops and after three grueling months of taking the new album worldwide. Even as we begin the interview, he's prepping to leave again that afternoon. Jetting off to New York, then Orlando in one weekend, a brief stop in Manchester, Glasgow, Poland, then back to the UK again for Brighton, followed by jetting halfway across the world to Singapore, and finally Bali. That's only the end of phase one!
There certainly is a different feel across continents and nations when it comes to partying, so given his breadth of experience, I was interested to know who donated the best vibes during sets.
"I was really impressed with Argentina. It was the first weekend of this whole tour… I've heard a lot about it and that the fans are great… but to see it in person was pretty special and I would almost say it was kind of like a religious experience," he recalls. "They're just into the music in a totally different and unique way. You just don't see people on phones much. And the people are really locked in and into the music and down to go for the whole journey. Both nights I played 3 am till 7 am. And they were literally just ramping up as it hit 7 am. I mean, they were ready to keep going, which is wild. In North America, if it's over a couple hours, I think oftentimes you can just tell, people definitely lose the energy a bit. But people in Argentina are ready to go for sure. So yeah, it's a pretty special place from a DJ perspective."
"At the time, I had a manager who was saying we should send stuff to Anjunadeep… We sent a couple of tracks, and we didn't hear anything. So I gave one of them to my friend Eelke Kleijn, whose got a label called Days Like Nights. He's part of Armada, and he signed it right away. And then, about a month or two later, we had a message from Anjunadeep saying they wanted to meet at ADE in Amsterdam. I'd almost forgotten that we had sent music there. And then when we went and met with them, they were like, 'Yeah, we actually got in trouble. The boss, James Grant, was kind of mad that we didn't end up signing the track.'
So as soon as I was back, I sent them a few tracks, and I think they signed all of them. And it's kind of just been growing ever since."
Simon Doty in Buenos Aires
Doty has been on the scene for over a decade, bringing much experience and many releases that span the genre gamut. A listen through his catalog reveals the journey of an artist who's never content to sit still.
"Yeah, it's gone all over the place, to be honest," he says about his winding journey through dance music that began when he was 18. Surprisingly, his first releases leaned more toward tech house than the lilting progressive he's known for. However, that sound didn't hold long. "I felt like it was missing something for me. And so I almost reset and started working on stuff that was a lot more musical. About 2016/2017, I was doing more melodic techno and did releases on some labels that are cool and still doing well, like Stil vor Talent. And slowly ended up shifting more into the Anjunadeep thing."
He explains that recently he's beginning to feel a return to his early days. His records are getting a little bit housier these days. "It's almost like going back full circle ... I think just personally, the way I am, I get a bit bored. I can't keep doing the exact same thing forever. So for me, it's always subtly shifting and changing and evolving, but you know, I think that's good, and I think that's how it should be."
Before discovering his music proclivities, Doty rooted himself in sports. Playing basketball his whole life, he went to university on a sports scholarship and studied economics. He did well but didn't care much for a life in academia. Despite basketball taking up most of his time, music was still a significant interest of his, DJing at college parties for friends. Uncertain he could make a career of it, he decided to follow his mum's steps and become a teacher. However, just before enrolling in the two years conversion course, Doty had a conversion of his own and decided to pursue DJing full-time.
Simon Doty DJing in 2010
"I started doing everything I could, I was even playing top 40 and I even did some weddings and anything I could to just start being out there and in front of people. And then eventually started making music and getting more specifically into playing electronic music like I am now."
Away from his hectic schedule playing long into the night and traveling across a plethora of time zones, he still makes time for a normal daywalker life. Even still making time for his basketball roots.
"I'm really into fitness since I did play sports my whole life. So, I'm always trying to stay as fit as possible. And especially when you're traveling, it's hard to be healthy. Sometimes, especially in the US, it's hard to even eat healthy… Right now it's the NBA playoffs going on so, I'm always watching stuff every night."
Life as a DJ can be challenging. Just like any career really, there are certainly the pros, but then there are also certainly the cons. However, it's the love we have for what we're doing that keeps us coming back despite the downsides. So I was interested to hear what kept Simon at the helm of the decks all these years.
"One of the things that's really special about it is that you meet a lot of people that you wouldn't necessarily have met otherwise. And you end up having these groups of friends in all these different cities and places. And it was part of the influence of the album, that that's why it was called Universal Language. You meet all these people that only speak Spanish and we literally don't speak in terms of actual words, but you can definitely communicate through a mutual love of similar music. So I think that's something that's really cool about doing this and keeps you going when it's tough and when it's tiring."
Judging by Doty's track record, and despite only just releasing his debut album, I had a sneaking suspicion there may still be even more releases up his sleeve. He certainly has a lot more planned for the rest of this year. However, he was coyly keeping them close to his chest. I guess 'embargoed' till PR says go! But he did say as much as "special remixes and edits." Exciting! So what are you waiting for? Go now and listen to Universal Language, and check to see if you're lucky enough to have Simon Doty play in a venue near you (hint: chances are, he probably is!).