Tony Simon, a/k/a Blockhead, has been making and releasing utterly distinctive, funky and emotive music for the last two decades. Blockhead grew up in downtown New York City. As the son of an artist, surrounded by visual culture, he early on found that his passion was for music, for the sonic. A fan of a whole range of sounds, especially hip-hop, Blockhead steadily built a tremendous collection of tapes and later CDs from innumerable artists, a quiet accumulation of knowledge and know-how.
After a brief stint as a rapper, he realized his calling was behind the boards and not on the mic – and from there he began to produce beats. Since making that decision, he’s kept pretty busy: carving a niche as a sought-after underground beatmaker that people call when they want something special.
Blockhead produced nine tracks on Aesop Rock’s critically acclaimed album “Labor Days.” Additionally he produced half the tracks on Aesop’s follow up EP, “Daylight.” He has also worked with other indie giants Atmosphere, Murs, Mike Ladd and Illogic. In between, he found time to complete a break beat album entitled “Blockhead’s Broke Beats,” with ten hard-hitting instrumental tracks, which was released on Mush Records, the US home of cLOUDDEAD.
To understand Blockhead’s Stateside presence and gravitas – look no further than the fact that he has also contributed three tracks (including the first single) for Cage’s “Hell’s Winter” on Def Jux. The other producers on the project are DJ Shadow, El-P and RJD2.
All this occurred simultaneously to his debut album on Ninja Tune, “Music By Cavelight,” described as “one of the most fantastically good albums you’re going to hear this year” (Sunday Telegraph) and “a beautiful record” (Metro), with Blockhead himself tipped as “definitely one to watch” (Touch.)
Blockhead returned in 2005 with “Downtime Science,” another set of deep, emotional instrumental hip hop tracks, this time dedicated to the downtown area of Manhattan where he grew up and has lived his entire life, encompassing all the attitude, anger and edginess of the neighborhood. This expansive album also features some melancholy reflections upon failed relationships and the promise of future loves.
“The Music Scene,” was released in 2009 to both critical acclaim and commercial success – launching Blockhead on a global string of headlining dates ranging from Pittsburgh to Poland – where he participated in the world famous Zubroffka festival, providing a live score for some of Charlie Chaplin’s earliest films. Blockhead followed this album with “Interludes After Midnight,” further showcasing his development as a solo artist with a unique voice.
This brings us to the present, and 2014 is the year of “Bells and Whistles,” the latest release from Blockhead and a bold artistic statement unlike his previous work. According to Blockhead – the naming of the album speaks to emerging trends in music he is seeking to address: “The whole idea behind the album is that music has gotten so far away from just being music. I think that whole way of thinking, relating to music and art in general, is bullshit. I don’t want to use those tactics to distract people or create a buzz that’s separate from my album. I want to be judged purely on the music itself – just well constructed songs with no frills…thus ‘Bells and Whistles.’”
The album unfurls to the listener deliberately, unspooling twisted melodies and building emotions through many of the delicate tricks Blockhead has loaded into his arsenal over the years. From the artist: “Some of my favorite moments are the more minimal ones. Like on “Sacrificial Santa,” the ominous beginning really gets a mood across. On “FTW,” the way it builds is exactly how I saw it before making the song. I think, in general, this album shows my slow but steady progression. I’m never going to veer off and start making trap music or dub step but I feel as though, with my last few albums, I’ve created my own lane, as far as sample based instrumental hip hop.”
As 2015 gears up, and Blockhead charges on, keep your eyes online as he updates his fans daily through all means of Social Media – whether on his blog www.phatfriend.com, or Facebook, Twitter & Instagram. This aspect of his career has become more and more important – and isn’t something Blockhead takes lightly: “I don’t have that thing in me where I feel I’m above just shooting the shit with people. With things like Twitter and Facebook, I’ll respond to most questions. I’d like to think it makes the fans form more of a connection and recognize you as a normal person, as opposed to a foreign being who makes music they like.”