Thank you for taking the time to get grilled by us goats, it is an honour to chat to someone who has been involved with the UK bass scene from, what was almost, the very beginning.
So let us take it back to your roots. It is common knowledge, to the heads at least, that at the age of 15 you started your very own pirate radio station, Shock FM, in Bedford.
Prior to this, what kick-started your passion?
I guess it was the first wave of everybody wanting to be a DJ. So 89/90’s, when rave music had worked its way into the UK, I was at school and getting hold of the early rave tapes like Dreamscape 1 & 2. We would blag our drama teacher that we needed the cassette player to use in improvisation and would just sit there and listen to rave tapes.
People were getting hold of pirate radio tapes from London and bringing them into school and from there, everybody got into buying vinyl. I would save my dinner money to be able to go and buy vinyl instead of eating food which was quite a commitment. We were doing small raves at village halls and hand-drawing our own flyers. We then got in contact with somebody who could build radio transmitters and we bought our first transmitter to launch our own station. It was the cool thing for teenagers then. Most of my mates didn’t stick at it and I did. I’m still here 25 plus years later.
Have you still got all of your old vinyl?
I have never got rid of a piece of vinyl. I’ve lost a couple of bits lending them out and maybe being drunk in a club and leaving it but I am looking at my vinyl right now, it’s all there. It’s a diary of my life really because music has been there since the beginning and it’s still there now.
Well, it’s certainly better to be hoarding vinyl rather than toilet roll.
Ha ha yeah true!
By the age of 18, you had landed shows on Perception FM and Rinse FM while playing out all over Europe. Do you think there were any negative effects of living that life at such a young age?
I think there were. I wasn’t very academic. I was told that I was probably intelligent but never concentrated or listened. Later, I realised I suffered from chronic anxiety. I didn’t learn in the same way as others and didn’t get much support at home. I did go to college to try electrical installation but I ended up going down the pub every lunchtime. I didn’t pass the first year but they gave you a diploma for being there. I didn’t have much else going on and was always a bit of a drinker, aged 13/14, drinking cider in the park. I think to be in that world so early on, travelling the world getting free alcohol and whatever else was probably a negative thing for me. My dad was an alcoholic and I have alcoholics in the family. Later, I realised that I had my own drinking problems. I wasn’t dependent but ended up being a binger. It’s my 7th year now of not touching alcohol.
I was always a hard worker. I had set up a vinyl mail-order company at 17/18. I had an office in the middle of Bedford town and was sending out vinyl on behalf of Renegade Hardware, Virus, Bad Company, V Recordings. I was helping labels promote their releases around the world, when promos were actually promos. The purpose was for active DJs to play the music and help promote the release. That is how I was fortunate enough to be touring so early. I was just a DJ, so I wasn’t known for my productions. So really, my first in was through those contacts. So to answer the question, I think being shoved into that world where everything was on a plate…
So you had that work ethic, but I suppose at that age, it is easy to feel invincible isn’t it?
If anything back then, just falling into bad habits and the party life but everyone experiments to a certain degree and I probably would have done it regardless. Whether it’s a negative thing, I don’t know. Maybe I was a bit delusional thinking that would be it for the rest of my life which is why I have returned to education and done the things that I’ve done.
Makes sense. What would you say, in your personal experience, has been the starkest change within the scene over the past 20 years you have been involved with it?
Obviously the online thing. It helped the birth of dubstep. Dubstep is the internet’s baby in regards to music genres, it literally grew with the rise of the internet. Accessibility too… when I got into it you had to have a 20 grand studio to make music and then the whole thing became possible in the box! Reason was the first to come about where it allowed you to just have a computer. Reason 1 came about and I was able to use an old PC and a set of headphones. I did my first 5-7 Outrage releases on that, it was a game-changer. Then again, that comes with positives and negatives because there’s a lot of shit out there. Anybody can put music together and it’s hard to find what’s good. Actually some people don’t know what’s good because they’re being told what’s good. So yeah, massive changes. Ultimately, I think they have been positive for the scene but it is definitely up for debate.
In the early 2000’s you gained recognition from Digital, one of the UK’s leading inspirations in D&B. How did this shape you as an artist and how has your friendship developed?
I met Digital down at Music House where we all used to go and cut dubplates. I would work in a factory 9-5 then spend my wages on cutting dubplates for Rinse FM. He became a mentor and, 20 years later, a good friend. I loved what he was doing at that time because it was at the peak of the Virus years – Bad Company, Ed Rush, Optical. Their whole Neurofunk thing got really big. I also loved when Digital and Spirit came along with a track called ‘Phantom Force’. It was sub-bass and beats where everything else was mid-range and growly. It sliced the scene in half and I gravitated towards that sound. DJ Fresh gave me some good advice too as I knew him from my mail order service, but it was Digital that really took me under his wing. It was important as I went on to do an album with him and am still working with him now. He didn’t always like my music though, in fact, a lot of the time he didn’t!
It became quite frustrating to the point where I was like you know what, I can’t expect him to like everything. Digital didn’t really like my release on Metalheadz. I had to let go of that in order to move forwards as well because if I became too dependent on it; it could have held me back.
But even the whole Metalheadz thing, Digital played a part in it. I had given a track to Spirit who was playing after Goldie, in Switzerland I believe, and he said: “look I’m going to play it last because that’s how Goldie works, he hears something in the club and he goes mad for it and I think he’s gonna like this track”. Spirit played the track last and it got 3 rewinds. I got a text saying “Don’t send this to anyone, Goldie wants it for Metalheadz, he’s gonna call you”. Come Monday, I didn’t get a phone call. I phoned Digital, Digital phoned Goldie for me. Two minutes later I got that call from Goldie.
Digital has always played a part in my journey regardless and the good thing about him is that even if he doesn’t love it, he’s happy to support and sees the good in it. He has been a great mentor.
Amazing. Moving on, your first solo vinyl release as Outrage was Time Check/Buzz on L-Plates in 2003 before you released a string on almighty labels including Inneractive Music and Metalheadz. During this time did you feel restricted to D&B as a producer?
I didn’t want to know anything else. I was a genre snob. I was into a bit of hip hop but when that whole rave thing came in… that was me! I was in it from happy hardcore to hardcore to jungle techno to jungle into D&B. That was it.
D&B til I die?
Exactly. I didn’t believe in anything else. I was cool with that.
It became a religion?
Yeah, literally yep.
In 2007 you curated Backlash Records in an attempt to dissolve various constraints. What were these constraints and how did you tackle them?
Backlash was my solo label off the back of my D&B success. I had just done some stuff for Metalheadz and thought it would be nice to have my own label. To be honest, it was a cool name and in fact the flip of ‘Phantom Force’ was called Backlash so maybe it was a subliminal name in my head at the time. I had grown some confidence and I didn’t want to sit and worry about whether Digital or Goldie liked it, as much as all the advice and quality control had been valuable. I know what I think is a good track and I want to share that with people without restrictions… so that was Backlash.
J-Tek Records with the likes of Modular, Digital and Randall was also 2007…
Yep, J-Tek was an abbreviation for Jungle Techno, kind-of when happy hardcore went dark. People put it down to when ecstasy came out originally and everyone was happy, then it all went a bit moody and dark due to whatever, cocaine, too much alcohol. I think it was evolution and technology. It was four-to-the-floor breakbeat orientated rave sounds. It was a cool sound that didn’t last too long, a few years. We wanted to bring jungle techno back slowed down to around 140-150 but with those rave elements and better production. Randall and I went to Asia to tour. We did events in the UK, London but unfortunately, it was at the peak of dubstep so people didn’t really want to entertain a genre at a similar tempo to dubstep.
People stuck in their religion as we were saying earlier?
Yeah exactly, literally that. We did well though, we had a forum that had 10,000 people on it. Online stores were calling the music J-Tek. A lot of people were making it. It actually became almost a genre but it was a timing thing that crippled that in the end.
Ah, what a shame…
As well, lots of people jumped on the sound and got it a bit wrong. They were trying to make music that sounded like it was made in 1991 when our thing was to borrow from that nostalgia but make it sound fresher. The whole scene got saturated with stuff that we weren’t feeling. Dubstep kids only ever saw it as something that their dad might have listened to. They saw it as old school and that wasn’t the point. It was an old-school vibe with a new-school twist. A lot of people got it twisted.
We saw the birth of Nomine in 2012 when you released Japhan EP on Dubzilla Records. Was this decision representative of a change in your lifestyle outside of your music career?
I was seeing a girl in America and was back and forward because of restraints and visa implications. I had another project, TEMAH with Raiden, 2Shy, Meth, myself and Digital. We did an event in London for a year in a basement down at what is now Phonix, AKA Plan B. We did a free monthly, 300 people down there going nuts on a Sunday night to D&B. We started a label, an agency. I have always liked collectives, it’s the hip hop mentality. I was born into that and I’ve always wanted to be a part of a solid crew. I felt like I wasn’t feeling the people in the scene, the egos and the backstabbing. Later I realised that’s just life but at the time I was blaming the genre. I was partying too hard and things started to slow. I started getting booked for old school events and I was like I’m not old school! D&B in America also started to slow down because of dubstep. Dubstep went massive when Skrillex won the Grammy’s and dubstep raves were putting D&B in room 2 calling it fast dubstep.
Yeah I was like, wow, this is strange. I was scratching my head. Outrage became a sound that was cool but I felt like I was making the same track over and over. I was either gonna quit music altogether or I was going to start this secret alias which is what I did and that was what Nomine was, for 2 years.
It was secret at first, wasn’t it?
Yeah, nobody knew who I was and there was this thread on a dubstep forum that had thousands of hits and messages. Is it Burial? Is it Zombie? Who is Nomine?
That must have been quite fun in a way?
It was fun to watch but I was like, hang on I’m a DJ and no-one is booking me because no-one knows who I am. Youngsta booked me for the first Contact party at Brixton Electric. I bought a ninja mask and was like, I’m gonna wear this mask, got there and bottled it. The next day on that thread it got clocked immediately. Oh it’s Outrage!
It was a good idea, a good concept?
Yeah, the ambition was there but I didn’t follow through. I still get messages to this day saying “oh I didn’t know you were Nomine” and vice versa. “I didn’t know you were Outrage”. It’s really nice to link the two. I got booked at a festival in Canada on the same stage for an Outrage and a Nomine set. I can be two different entities and represent two different things.
Embracing them both… I know you have experimented with many genres but would you say you have been especially drawn to 140bpm as Nomine?
Yeah, it is a nice tempo to work at. I think people know me more for that as Nomine. I went through a phase of doing 120-130 stuff, but haven’t done so much recently.
I really like that stuff!
Yeah me too, I miss it. After so many years I like to keep myself entertained. I think that’s important. The label went through phases of doing grime, 120-130, dubstep, D&B, trip-hop and now I’m bang back on the whole Outrage D&B. I’ve got an EP coming out on Metalheadz Platinum with Digital soon and I’m working on a little project for Outrage this year.
A lot of your Nomine productions have a Middle Eastern twang or a tribal vibe. Were these sounds developed from visiting different parts of the world, while you were touring or on any personal trips?
I moved to Thailand for about a year to set up a music school with a business partner but it was at the time when the economy crashed so our investor pulled out. We were half-way through constructing the premises. We had this three-story building, the whole front was soundproof glass so you could literally see into the building. We piloted a few courses, had some students and I wrote all of the curriculums. I loved the culture over there, the fact that they can smile no matter what and we can cry over the rain. At the time, I was outraged by nature. I was still lairy when I was there but by the time I came back I had chilled. I had looked into the whole Zen philosophy. I loved hand drums and ethnic scales, it’s got a lot of character. It feels a bit more human to me.
So your album Inside Nomine on Tempa Records… I find it quite a journey. Is it meant to be read like that or are the tracks separate entities?
I was at the peak of discovering the Nomine Sound at that point so I think the relationships were natural. I didn’t consciously write a story with the music. I definitely wanted to experiment with tempos, which I did. When I got signed for Tempa, I hadn’t ever even been to a dubstep rave, I didn’t own a dubstep record. The first time I went to a dubstep club was when I got booked to play at Smog in LA. I didn’t even know much about the dubstep scene. I was just making music at 140.
So you were your own inspiration in a way?
The reason I got into it… I was on a severe comedown on the way back from NZ. I was on the aeroplane for a long time and they had Burial’s album. I really loved what he was doing… borrowing from jungle, D&B, garage, and putting it in this dark experimental form. That was about the extent of my dubstep experience. As time went on, I got more bookings and got to know people in the scene. I became more familiar with how it progressed technically.
You are embracing both at the moment, Outrage and Nomine… What ended Outrage’s hiatus for you?
I’ll always be a jungle kid. I missed the energy. That first gig in LA as Nomine, I didn’t know what was going on. Don’t get me wrong people get down to dubstep, but that particular experience – they would dance for a few bars, start half time chilling then would go nuts again for the drop. There’s a reason why dubstep DJ’s started to mix faster. And that’s why a lot of the Nomine stuff has the syncopation, the hand drums, the bongos and the energy. A lot of my stuff has a bit more pace to it or it’s got that percussion. D&B is the boot camp of production, I don’t care what anyone says. A D&B producer can turn their hand to most genres. It’s not the case for everybody but I do know a lot of producers that wanted to make D&B but didn’t have the technical ability and found it easier to make dubstep and grime. Grime was made on PlayStation, that’s how accessible it was. Music 2000 and a PlayStation!
It’s in every grime track!
That’s it, that’s the reality. D&B is quicker, there’s less space for things to breathe, to get it sounding big and heavy is so hard compared to the slower stuff, it is. Now, I’m listening to all the stuff that I loved and understanding how it was made and for me that’s a whole new inspiration. It’s a haven of ideas for me right now.
What does the future hold for both Outrage and Nomine, are you going to embrace both?
Yeah, 100%. Last year was really slow, but we did put the Boylan album out. The Boylan album was good for Nomine Sound because it straddles grime, breakbeat, dubstep, we had a bunch of vocalists on there like Flowdan, Devlin, Riko. I put a lot of energy into that but Education and Bass has taken up a lot of my time. This year, I’m bang bang on it. I’ve got about 10 or 15 Outrage tracks in the works. I’ve got the release coming out on Goldie’s Metalheadz, I’ve done some jungle, I’ve done a remix of Maya Jane Coles for her Nocturnal Sunshine project. She had an album out a couple of months ago and has asked me to do a remix so I have done that.
Nice, you mentioned your teaching… It has obviously become a huge part of your life but what do you think teaching has taught you?
Every time I teach I learn something. I was self-taught like most people but didn’t know the hows and the whys. I went back to education to do a Masters degree and it nearly killed me. I got accepted onto that for my industry experience which helped fill in a lot of gaps. It taught me to apply myself even more, work to deadlines, research, all the transferable skills. Then I did a teaching degree. My whole experience as a teacher was just a desire to want to help people. Education and Bass was born off the back of my teaching experience. I’m really passionate about handing down knowledge and supporting the next generation.
You have been a huge advocate for mental health awareness and extremely open about your struggle with anxiety. Since facing mental awareness head-on, has your approach to music changed?
All of the stuff that I was doing to support my anxiety was reflected in my music. There is a whole Zen vibe around the whole Nomine Sound… Nomine’s Chant, Nomine’s Mantra. It did have a big impact on my music and it was cool because I would get people meditating to it, say Nomine’s Chant. I would also play Nomine’s chant at Outlook Festival 1000’s of people and see them going mental to it. The fact that one track you can meditate to or rave to, I thought was amazing. I think people could relate to it because it was real. It had a big impact on how I was making my music, positive as well because I think it helped other people through tough times.
It must be a mad feeling…
Yeah, the funny thing is I get dancers, pole dancers, belly dancers, street dancers, you name it, dancing to my music. It’s crazy. The track ‘To The Sky’, the flip of Blind Man has become an anthem in the pole dancing world. It’s crazy.
You never know where your energies are gonna go.Whilst you are Djing, producing, teaching, touring, do you have time for any other hobbies at all which help maintain a balanced lifestyle?
I have always been sporty, never amazing but I latched onto the gym. I have done that all my life and have always been conscious of what I eat. I have recently taken up Muay Thai, which is cool because I was getting bored of the gym. It became a thing where I would still get time to think. Often thinking on my own is not good. Muay Thai, you are focused on the moves otherwise you are gonna get a foot in your mouth, or a fist. I love that, I run my dog and I still do weights. If I don’t go, I’m moody; something is missing. It really does help balance me.
We have had some major pioneers of the UK bass scene sadly pass away in recent years. Do you think there is a link to the hectic and socially demanding lifestyle of an artist? Do we have a lot of work to do to improve this?
Mental health goes hand in hand with the creative arts. Most of us are always seeking approval, that’s what we do, no matter how much you say “I make music for myself”. Ok yes, primarily you make it for yourself but seeking approval, the whole social media thing… It’s tough and life in general, many people suffer, just differently. There is also a lot that we can do with the health aspect of it. We recently did a master class with DJ Yoda who has been around for years. He is mindful of his drinking, he doesn’t take drugs and he’s healthy. It’s not easy but I do wish people would take a lot more responsibility for their health because you do have control over that. It’s not always gonna be a party, you need to get some sleep, eat correctly and exercise. I had to stop drinking because my therapist said to me “I’m not even gonna see you unless you stop drinking, I can’t even work on you because you are just self-inflicting. You are on a comedown and telling me you have got anxiety, you have been drinking for 13 days straight”. It’s a vicious circle.
Masking the problem rather than sorting it out?
Yeah, I was doing the same with booze, I was getting into these binges. It started off at 2-3 days and then it ended up being 1-2 week binges. I was like hang on, this is a problem, I‘m drinking because I don’t wanna face reality again. When I stopped drinking, there were 2 weeks of having withdrawal symptoms feeling depressed and suicidal. Yes there’s gonna be anxiety. I had on my rider a bottle of vodka and ten beers, most DJ’s have stupid shit like that. Get a grip! I have been on both sides of it so it makes me angry, the choices I see people make.
So it’s basically about spreading awareness and encouraging people to look after themselves and some of the younger DJ’s and producers especially… let them know?
There is unfortunate stuff, there are people that have gone due to heart issues and there are certain things that you can’t control but there is a lot of self-inflicted shit going on. The problem is, people need to realise that there is an issue and ask for help. That is the thing that is not easy. I just wish it was normalised and it is happening. I don’t think I would have achieved half the things I have achieved without my anxiety. It has actually been my fuel. I don’t want it to go away. I suffer and I am in pain every day because of it but if it goes away, I’m fearful that I won’t be as hungry or as passionate.
Well, you are definitely doing your bit…!
Let’s skip to a lighter note anyway. What’s the craziest thing you have seen whilst playing a set?
All sorts. I played at the last ever Berlin Loce Parade and there were people having sex up against a tree. I’ve done crazy shit, I moonied in the middle of my set to 2000 people.
I think people having sex during your set is pretty up there…
TBF, I didn’t see much of many gigs for many years, it was all a blur. It’s really interesting now doing it sober, it’s much better.
If your dog Bronx were a DJ, what would he play?
I think he would play drum and bass, he’s lairy!
What would his rider be?
Any food, he loves to eat!Anything he can get his teeth around.
You have a day left on earth, how are you spending it?
Family and loved ones. I think that is the only way to spend it, isn’t it!
And what are you spreading on your toast?
Peanut butter, standard! I used to hate peanut butter but I was on tour on Asia, at Singapore airport and they had this toast shack… doorstep toast where it’s really crunchy but soft and you get it with syrup and all different kinds of jam. I had it with soft spread peanut butter, nicely melted with a really strong hot coffee in a cup with a half-boiled half-fried egg. Quite random. They cut it into soldiers and you got the peanut butter toast, you dip it, you kinda break it and it gets all yolky and you take a bite.
Yeah, that sounds interesting.You know, I might have to try that one because I don’t like peanut butter but I wish I did.
Get the smooth one! It’s a nice combo because it gets gammy in your mouth and then you drink the coffee and it melts. It’s the same vibe with peanut butter.
Lovely, thanks for that. Definitely gonna try that.
Just to round things off, what should we keep our eyes peeled for in 2020?
Loads of music, I have already started more music than I have in the past year. Plus Education and Bass… sharing the knowledge and helping the next generation. So more of that really!
Check out the latest release from Nomine out now on E&B Records.