Ten years ago Dan Hickin was just Dan Hickin. Since then he has evolved; part man, part machine. The machine part is comprised of circuits and lights and buttons and he carries it all with him in a giant suitcase that looks like a steam rolled coffin. Dan is now Loopcycle and his musical sound has changed from that of post-twentieth century earnest singer/songwriter to something altogether more intriguing, deeper and demanding of attention. Loopcycle is hybrid guitar/beatbox compositions created live and looped to build up a collage of mesmerising sounds.
Nothing stays the same. The world moves on and we move with it. If it wasn’t for the developments in musical technologies and the ubiquitous behemoth of the internet, Dan’s development probably wouldn’t have occurred. But just as we can celebrate the power now in the hands of many musicians to create in their own way, often in their own space, there is also something that has been lost, something to mourn, something which Loopcycle and others like him must tolerate.
It is the paradox within the mainframe of our musical landscape today. The very omnipresence of every musical style and pop culture fashion for the last sixty years is available within a click. Almost with the speed of thought everything is everywhere. In the past how did those underground scenes begin far from epicentres like London? Scenes like Seattle’s grunge and Nottingham’s death metal and even Liverpool’s beat sound? It used to be that their cultural isolation and geographic uniqueness meant that something mutated or was synthesised out of their very segregation. Can that process be said to occur anymore? Can any remote, rural wastelands be truly isolated? Can a new, genetically powerful and superior subspecies now crawl its way out of suburban isolation to frighten those cosmopolitans back in the shiny cities? Probably not, but Loopcycle is trying. He might succeed.
Sure, it is still possible for something to rise up, like a glorious weed above the homogenised factory lawns; acts like Grantham’s Sleaford Mods or the new psychedelic garage championed by Burger Records in California, but somehow this seems to happen far less than it should. There will never again be a movement like grunge or true punk. Punk isn’t dead. Scenes are. Diluted. Every flavour new and old available any time. No wonder our taste buds have become dulled. When there is a wonderful new flavour we don’t always notice it.
I ask Dan his thoughts about all this when I meet him, aptly, outside a Lincolnshire windmill built in 1837, its five sails still turning. In their shadow we sit and have coffee and he muses over his cup.
“Yesterday’s wheel is today’s tradition,” he tells me enigmatically. “And today’s wheel will be tomorrow’s tradition.”
The sails creek. We sip our drinks.
I ask him a more direct question about what he thinks the future of loop style music might be. This is something he has clearly contemplated before. “Rather than a style,” he begins in his baritone voice, friendly if not slightly bumbling, “it’s more a varied technique. For live looping it will likely become more user friendly as it adapts to cater for more hobbyists in order to sell something easy which you can get quick results with.”
There is an undercurrent of scorn, albeit jovial. One senses that as the wheel (or cycle) continues to turn many more will come on board and this would just muddy the waters of an already little understood technique. For Dan it is vital that his artistry is appreciated. Rightly so.
“If someone is playing guitar, you can see their fingers moving. You likely know what a guitar is, you can appreciate the vibrations are being created in the moment – the expression of another human being. Relatively few people have seen a loop pedal, or know how one works, let alone all the other technology for creating effects.”
If this wasn’t already a barrier enough to overcome, many other musicians out there who call themselves ‘live’ loopers actually fall back on pre-recorded or pre-sequenced sections for some of their performance. Dan thinks this often makes the general public suspicious. People love to call out a cheat. Dan is with them on this.
“I have respect for my hecklers who accuse me of using backing tracks because I told them it was all live. I said I would PLAY music for them, not PRESS play.” He goes on. “When someone DJs for example, the audience understands the DJ is manipulating recorded music. The mixing, crossfading, effects etc are done live but the pre-recorded material isn’t. It is a mixture of the two things. The audience gets this. Live looping on the other hand is unfamiliar territory for many. People need to understand what is happening in order to appreciate it for what it is.”
And in Dan’s hands it is something often remarkable and magical. Layers of sound you can’t always be sure haven’t come from interstellar space. A guitar sounding like something that would blow the mind of Buck Rodgers. But none of this is simply smoke and mirrors or even simple pop froth. For Dan it is self-expression.
“It is reaching out to those who recognise the emotion, the feeling, the colour and the taste of the sound.” It feels like he’s offloading a big secret to me. “I have my vision and my creative process – my music is part written and part evolved over periods of time. That process has extended to ten years for some pieces, for others the evolution stage is still ongoing.”
Spending time with Dan I begin to realise the commitment and dedication which he gives his art. Some kind of recognition and understanding is required and you can’t help but feel this is what Dan is burning for. I asked him what the music scene was like in Lincolnshire where he lives.
“It’s mainly cover and tribute bands round here.” He tells me despondently. “If it’s not then generally it is people who claim to be original, yet all their songs sound like covers of their favourite band, which I find pointless from a creative outlook.” Our chat is in danger of getting gloomy but after a little contemplation Dan brightens. “There are still some musicians round here worth seeing for sure and some special events, but you really have to search for them at times. There are those trying to change this who I have a lot of respect for and I try to be involved as much as possible.”
This is where the power of the internet must be proclaimed. As much as it can dilute the sounds of ‘now’, it is of course a way for Loopcycle to reach beyond the borders of a rural and sparsely populated county. I ask him what one thing would make his life better. You might expect him to reply that some nice new piece of hardware would do the job, or perhaps a van to get to gigs safely. Those things would undoubtedly help him, but his answer was far more telling.
“If more people in the world were not completely different to me, then more of them would be in to what I do instead of it being niche. Nevertheless, when people dare to put me on in front of a decent sized audience they pretty much always love it.”
I don’t think scenes matter to Dan too much. He’s far too unusual for that. Describing his look he tells me, “grungy has-been wrestler/hippy.” Then adds, “not giving a shit helps.” Dan is a classic British eccentric. They should be making a documentary about him and his off kilter lifestyle. It is a lifestyle that he has cultivated and refined in order to continue making his music. Loopcycle represents a creative spirit, an idiosyncratic brilliance that more than deserves to find its place in the contemporary music scene – whatever that is. My final question before he went off to his car that might start or might not, the same car that he was hoping would get him to the Lake District and back for a gig just a few days later, was about the sacrifices he’s made for his unique brand of loop music. His answer was just a small insight into his life and his commitment to making music that means something.
“Being a musician you are looked down upon by society as it is not a ‘real’ job. I often work up to eighteen hours a day, six or seven days a week. I have little stability in life. I have to live in a way that most would not tolerate due to my financial situation as a result of what I do for a living. My sleeping is all over the place as I often have late nights and then have to get up for daytime life stuff and then the usual practice, promotion, finding gigs, recording videos, writing music, equipment maintenance/upgrade/design and building. The last gig I did involved ten hours of driving, sleeping in the car and two nights of three hours’ sleep. The last video I made took twenty four man hours. I have to do odd jobs for people to make ends meet. A holiday for me is collapsing and not hearing the alarm go off when my body forces me to sleep. Then if anyone comes round and finds me sleeping in the afternoon they just think I’m a lazy layabout musician who never does anything. How do I justify all this? It’s what I’m good at. It is what I do. It is what I am driven to do. Not many other people would do it. Not like this.”
For more information on Loopcycle: loopcycle.co.uk