From the pop remix payroll to chart success in his own right, Norwich’s Bruce Fielder, aka Sigala, has had an interesting path to Indiependence Festival this August. Mike McGrath-Bryan gets caught up.
The pop myth of the “overnight sensation”, breaking out from nowhere with an inescapable earworm that suddenly lands on daytime playlisting or Spotify’s Viral 50, is oftentimes a fallacy, with even the most commercially-viable performers’ progress dependent on a number of external factors. From “the right song”, to the office politics of major-label deals and the people that broker them, pop is a minefield. All of which is why the rise to commercial stardom of tropical house producer and remix specialist Bruce Fielder, aka Sigala, is a bit of an anomaly. After grafting away as a working songwriter and producer for the majors, Fielder struck commercial oil with ‘Easy Love’, a track he simply put together after a few drinks between commissions, driven by sheer boredom, and the rest has fallen as it has: chart placement, superstar collaborations and festival headline slots, including this August’s Indiependence festival in Mitchelstown.
His path to the songwriting mill that frustrated him in the first place came, via academia, settling into the role after graduating with honours from a degree in commercial music. Fielder explains how his musical background stood to him when sitting down and working with others. “My parents pushed me to learn an instrument when I was younger, I didn’t really want to sit down and practice, but they made sure I played about an hour every day, and I’m so glad they did. I went to London to university, and then went straight into songwriting for people. I do everything on the piano, writing chords and taking the music from there (so my background has informed that). My music is very melodic, and without being able to play, I wouldn’t be able (to compose).”
For a number of years, assisted by the rise of YouTube more so than any other streaming service, pop-inflected house, specifically the more accessible tropical house subgenre, entered a huge boom period, but with that wider audience came restrictions on sound and form, specifically with artists and management demanding rearrangements of clients’ music on spec. “When I started doing remixes, dubstep was a big thing, and I was just copying other people and doing what they were doing. My heart wasn’t really in it, I was doing it because I felt that was what was going on, maybe six or seven years ago. But my heart really lies in dance music, specifically house music, which is what I grew up listening to. I do experiment and make other things but house music’s the one that comes naturally to me, and doesn’t seem focused. So when there was a big boom in tropical house, three or four years ago, I stood back and went, ‘wow, I feel like I’ve been doing this in my own time and not sharing it, maybe it’s time to show the world what I’m doing’. It felt natural for me.”
Debut solo single ‘Easy Love’ was a spur-of-the-moment affair borne of the frustrations inherent to the commercial production grind, and ironically became a smash success under the watch of Ministry of Sound, whose media empire saw the track well-positioned and primed for platinum status. Its spot atop the UK charts came as a surprise to all concerned. “Massively surprised. It was around the time when I was songwriting and working on a different genre of music every day. I was confined to very specific tasks each day, with a brief of what each person wants. When you’re pitching music as a songwriter, there’ll be briefs going around, every top artist, looking for music to sound like ‘this’, and a little bit like ‘this artist’. So, it’s very formulaic, and not very creative. So, I got a bit sick of it, and just said I’d do something for myself, not really planning on sending it to anyone. Just wanted to get it out of my system, making something without any rules or regulations. I sent it to my manager, he sent it to Ministry of Sound, and they signed it, it went straight to number one. This all happened in a very short timeframe, like a month or six weeks, from writing the song to the charts. When we met (Ministry), they said, ‘y’know, we really believe in this, we believe in you as an artist’. And it’s something as a kid, I’d wanted to be an artist, but it was something I’d given up on. Then suddenly this other door opened up. I was a bit hesistant to believe it, actually.”
Most recent single ‘Lullaby’, a collaboration with blue-eyed soul singer Paloma Faith, has gone gold this past week, the latest in a long line of industry accolades and milestones. In an age where single sales and radio airplay have begun giving way to streaming figures, playlist placement and social media reach, Fielder eschews awards and prizes for live reactions. “I try not to base success of a song on numbers. It’s more just the reaction I get from people when I play a piece of music live, and how proud of it I am. But, yeah, those statistics, I try not to chase them. I’ve been fortunate, and I keep doing what I did with that first song, trust my instincts and do what comes naturally.”
Another milestone that awaits Fielder along the shifting tectonic plates of commercial music signifiers is his debut album ‘Brighter Days’, on the way in September via Columbia. Releasing solely across digital services with no physical press planned for launch, it points to the humble pop long-player’s future as another streaming format, an artist-focused playlist more so than a cogent listening experience. Regardless, Fielder’s first full-length is a chance for him to stretch his legs musically. “It’s very exciting, and slightly terrifying. It’s something that, when I was starting, I said, ‘why would I ever want to put out an album?’. Singles were working so well, but now I have so many songs that I can’t release them all, I can only do one single at a time. I just want to get this music out and show people the bigger picture of what I do, the music I can make, and to give people that are really into my music more to get stuck into. It’s an opportunity to show more sides of what I can do production-wise, so it’s exciting.”
Fielder is playing Indiependence Festival this August, ahead of the album’s launch. A jog around the summer festival circuit provides ample preparation for a solo headlining tour of the UK and Ireland in October, and Fielder is measuring his thoughts heading into it. “Festival season is the most fun time of year. I’m looking forward to sharing new music and seeing the reactions. I’ve been stuck in the studio for nearly six months now. It’s nice to have a balance, perform to people, and I’m really looking forward to Indiependence Festival. There’s some awesome acts there.”