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Hector Plimmer and the happy accidents behind 'Next To Nothing'

Hector Plimmer's new album is drowsy, introspective and almost otherworldly

  • Words: Chal Ravens | Image: Chris O'Donovan
  • 3 March 2020

Certain occasions call for a special kind of album. Perhaps you’re back from the club and need an early-hours soother. Maybe you’re in the grip of Sunday night blues and you need to be transported. Tip: the latest release from South London’s Hector Plimmer is just that kind of album: drowsy, introspective and almost otherworldly, despite being created entirely in his flat in Sydenham, south-east London.

‘Next To Nothing’ is a leap forward for Plimmer, whose debut ‘Sunshine’ came out in 2017. The songwriting has doubled in ambition, pulling from soul-rooted rhythms and broken beat (Dego, Floating Points, the Low End Theory crew) as well as the melancholy sounds of James Blake. Try ‘Sonnet 17’, a riff on a Pablo Neruda poem with smoky vocals from Ego Ella May, or ‘Joyfulness’, a silky groove with Alexa Harley. Then there’s album peak ‘Somebody Else’, featuring at least 100 extra channels – drums, vocals, MIDI guitar – from Theo Parrish collaborator Andrew Ashong.

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Amazingly, it was cobbled together on second-hand equipment in Plimmer’s home studio. It’s decorated with lucky trinkets, he tells us, looking around the room: fossils, acorns, feathers, a bird-shaped whistle from fellow beatmaker Flako, all of which provide a calming backdrop to his day job making posters and record sleeves. Plimmer studied graphic design, but “wasn’t much of a designer”, instead drawn to the more hands-on skill of print-making. He spends hours playing with shapes and patterns, a repetitive, meditative process that feels like an outgrowth of his talents as a drummer.

He learned to play as a teenager, drawing inspiration from his dad’s “wall of records” – Talking Heads, Bill Withers, Grace Jones – but swapped drumsticks for decks at college. He discovered dubstep at DMZ in Brixton and soon started testing his own productions at CDR, the bring-your-own-tunes party at Plastic People, where he would “hide in a dark corner and make notes”. He’s not much of a raver these days, preferring to be at home in his studio. “I’m a bit of an introvert,” he admits. “That’s why I like DJing – it’s social, but there’s a bit of a barrier.”

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Each collab on ‘Next To Nothing’ came about in one or two sessions, pieced together on the fly; for hazy instrumental ‘2 Minute Switch’ with multi-instrumentalist Pie Eye Collective, they took turns writing in two-minute blasts. It’s a thing coders do, he explains, “just to get the ideas going”. Coding has been on Plimmer’s mind lately. In February he put on a live show at the Southbank with AI expert Ben Hayes and a virtual bandmate: an AI that spews out musical ideas using Google’s neural networks. “The process is weirdly organic, because nobody can guess how it will react,” he says – ideal for a musician who likes to play it by ear.

His next gig is a different challenge: improvising with trumpeter Yazz Ahmed at the Royal Albert Hall. He’s not afraid of making the odd mistake; in fact, he welcomes them, a lesson learned from his favourite LA beatmakers. “I rely a lot on happy accidents. Ras G used to call it ‘seasoning’,” he says. “Rather than spending hours fine-tuning a kick-drum, I prefer to just lay stuff down – be in the moment.”

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