One of the UK’s top club Djs and producers, Sean Dickson (aka HiFi Sean) began his musical journey as the lead singer and songwriter of one of the early 90’s top alternative bands, The Soup Dragons. “It was crazy,” says Sean, “We started playing together as a band and had a record deal about 6 weeks later and a hit record in no time. We were quite lucky but it all happened really fast.”
Between 1988 and 1994, the Soup Dragons were signed to the Big Life label, spawning one worldwide smash single, their modified cover of the Rolling Stones’ I’m Free, and three albums (1990’s Lovegod, 1992’s Hotwired, and 1994’s Hydrophonic) that were amalgamations of arena-sized riffs, danceable beats, and uncomplicated alternative pop. They had a couple other songs (most notably Divine Thing) scale the charts, but mostly they toiled away on the fringes of the big time. In 1992, at the height of their pop success, they found themselves nominated for a coveted MTV Music Video Award for their hit; Divine Thing. They were robbed that night, however, when they lost to an unknown band that has long since vanished into obscurity, Nirvana.
The Soup Dragons split up 1995 and Sean started a new band, The High Fidelity. The group’s debut EP, Stash, followed in 1996, and they started work towards their debut album, Demonstration (2000). The LP was recorded largely in Dickson’s bedroom, with Adrian Barry (bass), Paul Dallaway (guitar) and Ross McFarlane (drums). The album was later augmented with a number of Bali-woodesque orchestral arrangements recorded in India. Musically, the record comprised experimental dance-pop songs, and was described by The Guardian as “an expertly composed pastiche of psychedelic pop”. Their single Luv Dup reached #70 on the UK Singles Chart in July 1998.
But despite Sean’s success in his professional life and legions of adoring fans, he was struggling with some difficult and painful personal issues. He was a gay man living his life in the closet. One evening, after reaching his breaking point, he admitted to his then pregnant wife of 17 years that he was gay.
“She was pregnant with my daughter when I came out. Looking back, it was the worst possible moment to come out really. Maybe it was a bit selfish in retrospect,” Sean admits, “But I had to do what was right. She knew something was wrong and she kept pushing and I just blurted it out. ‘I’m gay.’ Everything went silent and she looked at me — and then everything just went tits up.”
Did she suspect it? No, she didn’t suspect it. No one did. Not even my manager – who was also gay – had any idea.
From that moment on, Sean’s life took an entirely new direction. “It was important to be honest but we’d been together since we were sixteen years old and all of our friends were shared between us. Whose side do you think they took? <Laughs> I mean, a pregnant woman learning that her husband is gay after 17 years together?! <laughs> It’s fair to say she got most of the sympathy – and the house. <laughs> But as the years have passed, and the wounds have healed a bit – some of our friends have said to me ‘this must have been really hard on you too.’ And it was. It wasn’t easy. She was my best friend but it wasn’t right to be together as husband and wife. I left with nothing to my name and nobody to talk too. A lot of people turned their backs on me so I spent many years just trying to figure everything out. I’d never been on my own like that so I was afraid.”
You’re friends with your ex-wife now? I mean, you both co-parent your daughter, right? Oh yes. Absolutely. We’ve gotten past our problems. She knew that it had nothing to do with love, it was sexuality. I still love her, still care about her and she does me. We’d been together for 17 years and she was with me before the band started. It was a really hard transition in my life. I locked myself away for years. It’s funny, people think The High Fidelity broke up but we really didn’t, I just disappeared.
How does your ex-wife feel about your relationship with your husband? She really respects my relationship with Mike. They are both artists so they have a lot in common and they certainly relate to one another. But yes, I have a daughter who is incredible – she’s 13yo. She’s funny. We were driving past a shop in the East End of London called Lily Bling and she said ‘Yo, Lily Bling is in the house’ and I asked ‘Who is Lily Bling?’ and she said ‘I am.’ Just like that she had her rap persona. <laughs>
Have you always been a Dj? I DJ’d on and off while I was with the Soup Dragons. I played old disco music – I have masses of records. In fact, when I told one of my friends I was gay he said ‘Well of course you are – you have all those gay disco records!” <laughs> I came out in 2001 and decided to start a club with my friend. The funny thing is that we’d worked together for 6 months and I figured I should come out to him. So I sat him down and said ‘I need to tell you something and I hope this doesn’t change anything.’ I told him and then he said ‘You know that guy who is my flatmate? Well, he’s my boyfriend. I’m gay too.’ <laughs> I had no idea he was gay! Anyway, we started a club called Record Players every Thursday night. We pulled about 400 or 500 people on a Thursday in Glasgow. The club ran for about six years. The Scissor Sisters even performed for us. Then I met Mike.
How’d you meet Mike? Mike happened because I’d met a guy at Pride and we became friends. One night this guy called me and I asked him where he was staying – and he said he was between places. He said he was staying with his friend – a guy named Mike, who was also going through a breakup after being with his partner of 10 years. Ironically, we were both going through breakups. After I hung up with the is guy, he told Mike that I was also going through a breakup with my partner of 4 years . Mike had actually know who I was, thought I was handsome and gathered up the courage to reach out.
He just cold called you? <Laughs> No. Mike sent me a message on messenger. Remember AOL Messenger ?! <laughs> He said “Hi, I was just talking to Steve… would you like to have coffee sometime?” He asked me to coffee?! Can you believe that?! Who does that?! So shy. And it was very touching and sweet. He’s a very handsome man. He’s a florist, or I should say, a ‘floral designer.’ He’s more than just a florist – he’s very talented. He’s done flowers for Madonna and Paul McCartney. Anyway, we met and we couldn’t stop talking to each other. For four days we were on the phone and Messenger at the same time. We were Non stop / constant / obsessive. One day I just said “This is crazy but I think I’ve fallen in love with you.” He went silent and I thought “Ugh, why did I say that?!” – then to my relief he said he felt the same way. We hadn’t even met each other. So Crazy. We decided we needed to do something about this. So I got on a train that next day to London and I’ve never left his side. He put his arms around me at the train station and said “I’ll take care of you.” I was home. Before Mike I had two very disastrous relationships. Looking back I realize that it was all a learning process, but when I met Mike I had to take a chance again. We’ve been married for 8 years. I love him as much today as I did the day I met him. There’s no one else I ever want to be with.
You relocated to London? Just like that? Mostly, yes. And that’s a big deal considering that for many years when I was in the bands, the record companies all tried to get me out of Scotland and to London since that’s where all the business is. I refused. But with Mike, I didn’t even think about it.
He’s cool with you being a Dj and working these crazy hours and traveling to all corners of the globe? He is. I miss him terribly when I am away this long. I try to minimize it and not be gone for too much at once, but we both understand that it’s necessary. In gay world you have so many opportunities, especially as a Dj, to make a mistake – or a bad choice. You have to have an extra-strong relationship. Not to sound dismissive, but that kind of attention is not new – and I am not tempted at all. When the Soup Dragons were hitting #5 in the UK, I had to have people removed from the house. I remember my wife calling to tell me that all these girls were on our porch and we were starting to get freaked out. When we toured with INXS, I really saw how crazy that kind of thing could get.
You seem to be very involved with the guys who do Bearacudda – you’re a resident for them? I am, but I only play certain markets. Matt is wise enough to know which markets I will do well with. I always play Altanta, Denver, Portland and San Francisco mostly because my sound plays well in those cities. When I play Chicago, I always play the straight clubs. I play the Boom Boom Room in Chicago. In fact that is where I met Ralphie Rosario.
You and Ralphie are actually releasing a new track next month? Yes. It’s called ‘Sex Machine .’ It’s hilarious how it happened. I was spinning a gig in Chicago and someone said “Hey Ralphie Rosario is over there. ” He started shouting crazy things at me all night while I was playing and all I could think was, ‘Oh hell, he hates me.’ Little did I know these things he was shouting were all compliments.
What was he shouting? He was speaking very gay Chicago. I would drop a beat and he would yell ‘Bitch, fuck you! You bitch!” <laughs> Ralphie’s friends are all Puerto Rican and they just kept shouting “bitch” and “fuck you”. When the promoter asked me if I wanted to meet Ralphie, I didn’t really want to. I thought he didn’t like me. Of course, I did meet him and he was quite lovely. He said, “I was being nice.” <laughs> He has a great laugh and energy around him.
You decided to work together that night? Sorta. He said, “I’d like to come to London to record, do you know any good studios?” I use my own studio to record, but when I mix, I use my friends studio, “ The Shop Boys”. Ralphie was like “OMG you know The Shop Boys? ” I said, “Yeah, I use their engineer.” He asked if I could introduce him and I did. He was working in the studio and asked me to come over and record vocals on a track. I said “I haven’t sang in 14 years, I ain’t singing on a track!” <laughs> Ralphie said, “Bitch you are fucking coming in the studio with me. ” I told him I could talk; I know how to talk on a track. I know how to get away without singing. <laughs>
Did you guys collaborate well together? He had this rough idea for a track. I came in and had James Brown ‘s Sex Machine stuck in my head and I started taking the best parts out of it and putting them together with things that rhymed in my head. He turned my voice down so I sounded like a big black man, like Barry White. The lyrics are hysterical. Ralphie seems to think there is some deeper meaning there, but there really wasn’t ; I was just having fun with it and making it up on the spot. He came back to the states and cut it all together. He asked me about the music on the track and I said, ‘It’s your track. ‘ He said ‘No, it’s “our” track. We are going to make it together; and I was like ‘Well, in that case, let’s fix this and tune that and turn this down and blend this…’ <laughs> Together we turned it into a singular track that we can both be proud of. We are actually making an animated video for Sex Machine — it’s got a Robotic/SciFi sort of vibe to it. I think it will be a lot of fun.
You are also working on an album? It’s the first album I’ve recorded in over 15 years. I didn’t want to just do a single. Instead I wanted to do something different. I decided to do an entire album where every track has a guest vocalist.
It’s a dance album? No, not exactly. It’s a pretty diverse piece of work. I was trying to get it out this summer but I was killing myself trying to make that happen. I wanted to give myself more time to finish it.
Well, you are working with some pretty big names, so it’s worth waiting for. Not really. They are not all big names.
Crystal Waters, Dajae and Celeda are pretty big names! <laughs> I guess you’re right! I forget! I don’t want it to be all dance artists; I want it to be a mix of all sorts of things. And it is.
Did you write everything? Yes, the music. Lyrics are all written by the artists. Every track in this album has taken a life of its own. This was supposed to support the Hi Fi Sean as a DJ – but the musician came out in me. This project really brought the writer out in me. There isn’t a lot of music out there like my sound so I thought ‘why shouldn’t I try to make an album with that structure?’ It makes sense.
Don’t you think that the record business is just a nasty business? Oh, yes. I never got a dime from I’m Free which was a huge hit around the world. We just made it up and used a piece of the Stones song. But we made most of it up. The record company went crazy for it so we released it. However, we approached the Rolling Stones to ask them what they wanted. They said ‘100% of everything.” Of course, we didn’t know that it was going to be a huge hit – but it was. It was a massive hit. We didn’t see any money from it but the Rolling Stones made about $2M. <laughs> These days it would be different. Back then, it was new to use a piece of someone else’s records as a sample . If this had happened today we’d get a percentage. Back then, the Stones wanted all of it – and they got it. Divine Thing bought me a house – but I gave that to my wife when I left. I left with a bag of clothes. I have no regrets about any of it, though. It’s all a part of life’s journey.
What inspires you to keep making music? Some of these DJ’s today are careerist. I don’t give a fuck if I don’t get booked again. I just like to play my favorite records really loud <laughs>. I still get that buzz from when I was a kid and I just wanted to play a record for my friends. Mike says, “you’re different because you’re good at mixing all sorts of styles.” I do feel like I always have a clock inside me, always had that flow when it comes to putting things together. I hate some DJs and the EDM stuff – there’s just too much information. I can’t take it . House music is sexy, soulful, and should have some kind of emotion. A lot of house music right now has no emotion. Another big inspiration for me was John Peel. He was a seminal character on Channel One BBC. If it wasn’t for him my band would have not done anything. He took a chance on us many years ago. He championed The Smiths, New Order, and a lot of big names. He even gave me money to get to London to record for his show when I had nothing. He’s an amazing man. I asked him “How the hell , at the age of 70, do you have the energy to still do this?!”(he was sifting through a stack of over a hundred records) His answer still sits with me today. He said “The next record may be the best record I ever hear – if you really love music, you will keep going until you die because you are hoping to get that drug — that best record – and maybe it’s just one moment away.”
HiFi Sean lives in London with his husband and two dogs. He is a resident at some of London’s biggest clubs. | visit HifiSean.com