Gamer musician ready to impress at Leroyfest
Five hours playing video games? The time can pass in a millisecond for Derek Simmons if he has the controls in hand.
The 26-year-old is a hardcore gamer who loves battlefield shooters and football simulators.
He believes it's opened doors for him with his only competing passion, music.
“I wrote my first song, Excellence, as a teenager,” he said.
“That was inspired by the music in computer games. I did that with the rapper Kase.
“If you play computer games you know that the tunes in them often get into your head, especially if you've listened to them for hours. Excellence had influences of games like Street Fighter and Super Mario Bros that give it extra spice. It has a very rap/hip-hop vibe, but is very game-y.”
He's loved music since he was “in the womb”.
The influence comes from his father, Derek Simmons, who he describes as “one of Bermuda's best jazz guitarists”.
“From the time I was little people have been saying, 'When are you going to play like your dad? You look just like him'.”
His mother, Nan, also a music lover, packed him off to drumming lessons when he was seven.
“I was a bit reluctant at first,” he said. “The lessons were at 9am on a Saturday morning, when cartoons were on. But after a couple of weeks I loved it.”
At 17, he tried to take up his father's instrument, but it didn't work out.
“My fingers were too big for the electric guitar,” he said, “because I was having trouble with the technique. I dropped it and tried the bass guitar. That seemed to suit my vibe a lot better and that is the instrument I play to this day.”
He admits the realities of the industry mean he's facing an uphill battle if he wants a career in music. He has a day job in a grocery store warehouse, and does sound engineering for concerts and events.
“It's not me personally, as I have everything at my disposal,” he said. “It's the music industry in Bermuda. It was basically dead since before I got here.”
He said it doesn't help that some musicians can be cut-throat, closely guarding territory, and not making much of an effort to help others.
“I really believe local musicians need to be a little less king of the hill, a little more team death match,” he said.
That's gamer speak for “work together, people”!
It's one of the reasons he was drawn to Taylor Rankin's Leroyfest a multi-sensory series of events.
“It is very inclusive,” he said. “It brings together chefs, artists, musicians, poets, all kinds of people.
“The main attraction for me was the idea that Taylor had of creating this avenue that has not been explored yet.
“It is really about opening doors, breaking boundaries and bringing down walls.”
As one of the event's curators, his mission is to forge connections between vendors, artists and spectators.
“It's like there are ropes everywhere overlapping,” Mr Simmons said. “They are overlapping but not really talking to one other.
“Taylor wants the ropes to tie to each other. They can still do their own thing but they are connected at some point.”
He's on the Leroyfest stage on Thursday and Friday, performing at Grotto Bay Hotel.
Mr Simmons has a band, DIA. He is disappointed by the lack of opportunities for Bermudian artists here.
He often hears promoters saying they can't organise a concert unless there's an international artist on the bill.
“Leroyfest is all Bermudian artists and tickets are selling,” he said.
“Sometimes people are a bit reluctant to commit to coming, but when they do they ask, 'When is the next one?'
He's hoping the event will inspire similar productions.
“There has never been anything in Bermuda like this” he said. “I am hoping a lot of people come to this and get the vibe.
“I feel like my generation is in the trenches. We are making things happen; if this doesn't work we have to fix it.
“The youth coming behind us are looking around and saying, 'My older brother/sister/friend has a master's degree and they don't have a job, they are not making enough money to live. What is going on?' I'm hoping that an event like Leroyfest will give them hope.”
As for computer games, he's had to put them aside for the moment to concentrate on Leroyfest.
“The biggest challenge I have is just finding the time for everything,” he said.
• Leroyfest shows are on now in various locations until June 25. See leroyfest.com