One of dance music's finest ever producers. Period.
Nick, welcome back to DMCWORLD. Another colossal track out this week in 'TREZZZ', this time a collaboration with John Digweed and Guy J - tell us about the history of this little gem…
"Well, I think the suggestion came from John - he knows that I will always listen to any ideas that he has for productions and when you have talented people such as Guy working closely with you it seems an obvious thing to try. Guy has a great sound which we love and he's very consistent with it, so we were pretty confident that if we gave him an idea to develop it would be on the money. So we wrote a tune with a rough arrangement and ideas for sounds and riffs, ran off the stems and sent them to him. Then he sent his own reading of this back to us, kind of remix style, then we went back into that and developed it a bit more. That happened three or four times until we had a finished version. Then John had a meltdown, sacked us off, wiped the hard drive and started again! (Not really - but I wouldn't put it past him)."
How easy was it to create this tune with three artists always in different parts of the world?
"It went amazingly well - the key to it was that we all understood what each other meant when they made a suggestion. We were singing from the same 'hymn sheet' as it were. So it was just a question of swapping files, sending the stems back and forward to each other via the cloud until we were all ok with it. Luckily we were loving what we got back from Guy so it was just a question of tweaking really until everybody was happy. What was great was that it felt like a genuine collaboration, we were incorporating each others ideas, not just doing versions of someone else's track."
Are there future plans for you three to bring out more music?
"Not as far as I know, but who knows what's going through Diggers' mind at any one time…"
Back in the late 80s whilst working as a session musician, you were living on a houseboat and very much living the travellers lifestyle which is where you stumbled upon the rave scene. Who introduced you to the technology that has enabled you to become one of the most important producers in EDM history?
"Well the very first person who told me I was missing a trick with the changing technology was a mix engineer and producer called Kenny Jones. I was playing with a band called Fire Next Time, we were signed to Polydor, I was playing piano and organ with the band on a session basis and Kenny was producing. We were recording at the old Matrix studio in Holborn - what a den of iniquity that was - and I remember Kenny saying to me, 'Nick, you're a keyboard player, you should get yourself a (Roland) d110 and an Atari computer - the Roland is multi-timbral and can play 8 parts at once.' I had no idea what he was talking about but I bought the kit anyway. I remember hooking it up for the first time and thinking "that's me, that is' and I've been doing it ever since. This was 1988. It wasn't until I met the producer Pat Collier who had his own studio and a load of Akai S1000 samplers that I started working in anger, so to speak. I owe Pat a lot - it was at his studio that I met John and we made all the early Bedrock tracks and remixes there."
Who are some of the characters from that whole traveller world who went on to make a name for themselves in dance music?
"It was a funny old time, the late 80s, early 90's, fantastic fun (I don't need to tell YOU that, Dan) and a lot of worlds collided around then. A lot of the punk attitude got co-opted into the rave scene, but also some of the hippy ideals were in there too because of the psychedelic aspect of it all. As far as people who made a name for themselves, well if you were a traveller you weren't really into doing that, but we all remember the sound systems from those days, Spiral Tribe, Bedlam, DIY etc. I think the influence of those systems has been massive over the years and is largely unsung, but I know for a fact that companies like Funktion One understood the ethos of what was going on, matched that with technological know-how and came up with world-beating systems which you will hear all over the world at festival and in clubs. The sound of modern dance music was forged at those early parties."
When and where did the hook up with future Bedrock partner John Digweed take place?
"We met through a mutual friend of ours, the sax player Simeon Jones. In the early days John used to DJ at some of the ski resorts in the Austrian alps ( I think he did it for the free ski-ing) and he met Simeon there who was playing in one of the bands there." Simeon and I used to play together in a touring band (we backed Take That in '93 - CLANG - sorry for dropping that), Simmy knew I was into the dance thing and introduced me to John. Little did I know that John was insanely driven and ambitious enough to become a future world-beater and one of the original superstar DJs…"
Whilst John set off chasing his DJing dream around the world, you decided the endless planes and motorways wasn't for you and opted to create the music for the DJs rather than be a DJ. Why was that…
"Well I just didn't regard myself as a DJ - at the time if you wanted to be a DJ (and get anywhere) you had to devote a large amount of time and money to it and thats presupposing you had what it took to do well in that field; a great ear for tunes, a sense of pacing, loads of bottle, immaculate beat-matching skills, effortless networking ability. All those things I didn't really think I could hold a candle to John and Sasha: they took the DJ mix to another level, really. Even practiced professional DJs struggled to get to where they set the bar. But I DID think I had the playing and arranging skills to complement what John was doing as a DJ and felt confident in that, so thats what I stuck to."
What one piece of studio kit could you not do without?
"It's all 'in the box' these days so I would have to say the computer as far as hardware goes - Mac pro for me, thanks. I use Logic as my main software platform and Native Instruments for most of the synth work - my new Pioneer monitors are doing a great job as well, solid as a rock they are. You need something fairly hefty and tough when you're writing electronic music because you occasionally dial up a noise which sounds like the world's about to end. Puny speakers disintegrate under the pressure."
What, if any, are the biggest barriers new producers face today?
"The sheer number of people producing and dj-ing; and to a reasonable standard; makes it really hard to get noticed these days. It was always the case, but now its especially hard. It's great in many ways, the technology is so affordable and so good that anybody who feels the inclination can have a go without having to be bankrolled by record companies and come up with a professional sounding finished product. But it does mean that there are an awful lot of people having a bash."
Who are the producers from around the world that you are giving high fives to at the moment?
"John has got Pig&Dan doing some bits for Bedrock and I have to say I love what they do. I would say its understated, but the elements are dead right. They manage to make pretty minimal techno that at the same time is soulful and groovy which is tricky, but they make it sound easy and natural. Olly Lieb is making great stuff, loving Agoria, Robert Babicz, Umek, Denis A - I could go on and on - and on…"
What do you believe is the secret to your success as a producer?
"That fact that I can play or reproduce what the person I'm working with (John, basically) has in mind is a lot to do with it. I am lucky enough to have a decent musical ear and can translate pretty much anything into an arrangement. Also I think to produce quality tracks you have to go the extra mile. Make it so that it really does the business if you can - anything thats not up to the mark, get rid of it, or replace with something that IS up to the mark."
What is the Nick Muir produced Alltime Top 10?
"Well here's 10 tunes that I'm proud to be involved with - not necessarily a 'top' 10…"
1. Bedrock - For What You Dream Of
2. Bedrock - Heaven Scent
3. Floorjam - Stoneage
4. Nick Muir - Airtight
5. Danny Tenaglia - Turn Me On (Bedrock remix)
6. John Digweed & Nick Muir - Gridlock
7. John Digweed & Nick Muir - Tangent
8. Archive - Numb (Nick Muir remix)
9. Bedrock - Set In Stone
10.Underworld - Cowgirl (Bedrock remix)
What are the other studio projects on the go for Nick Muir at the moment?
"I enjoy doing a bit of soundtrack when I get the opportunity; I do some work with The Rural Media Company run by Adrian and Rachel Lambert. They write and direct short
films sometimes in conjunction with the BBC and other broadcast networks and I've provided a number of scores for them now. Its really rewarding work, refreshing. I provide material for some music libraries now and then, again this is great because it forces you into directions that you wouldn't normally go and it has to be done properly or you just won't place it. Also John and I have completed a very special project which means a lot to us and which I can't say anything about -
not even what i've just said, in fact, so forget it immediately."
Outside of EDM, who are the artists you like to listen to at home?
"These days I listen to a LOT of different music of all different types; indie bands like Animal Collective and Tame Impala; I'm a big fan of Brian Eno, loved the album he did with Jon Hopkins, some old rock music like MC5, love a bit of Primal Scream, some contemporary classical we get into like Xenakis, Messaien - bit of pop music, I like listening to Dr Lukes productions, he's clever - I like trying to spot what is good about a piece of music even if it's something I wouldn't normally listen to. The list is, of course, endless."
What genre of dance music can't you abide?
"The type you can't really dance to."
Looking at the career of John Digweed, he has managed to stand the test of the time and stay true to his sound and vision. What are his qualities that has enabled him to stay at the top of the tree for so long…?
"Wow now there's a question. I don't want to bang on too long about what a force of nature John is; obviously I'm biased because he's a mate as well as an artist that I'm a fan of - but I would say it boils down to two things really, First, he has an unceasing passion for the music he plays. This has never diminished one jot in all the time I have known him - he is completely confident about the music he likes and has an unnatural ability to spot tunes that will work in one of his sets and do the job that he wants them to do. That is something you just can't fake and if you don't have that passion you're in the wrong business. Second, John works incredibly hard and consistently so. He hates letting people down and loves exceeding peoples expectations. It's like that Woody Allen quote '90% of success is showing up' - John will always show up unless he physically can't move."
Back in 2008 you said…"the last couple of years have been a reality check especially for producers like myself who don’t venture behind the decks" - have the last 4 years been easier?
"Well I would say it's not easier as such, but people who work in music are getting used to the change in circumstances that have come about as a result of the internet ande-union tour was the biggest grossing tour ever. It wasn't what I was into though and was doing those gigs to fund my career in danc the availability of technology. I think the net makes a lot of sense when it comes to dance music because of the sheer volume of material around - if we were still dealing in vinyl then the world would be completely covered with shelves full of 12"s by now! You have to use the new media rather than work against it - it's an amazing tool and people are working out strategies that make the internet work for them, thats the way forward. The pirates are becoming a bit more marginalised - I guess you won't get rid of them any time soon but you can bear down on them."
You once toured with Take That as a musician, that must have been a very surreal experience…
"Indeed. I mentioned this above; what they've done is truly amazing. The re music production basically. When we were playing with them I put together an intro tape which got played just as we took the stage, the place used to go absolutely nuts; so the first thing anyone heard at a Take That gig was a piece of my work. I figure that means they owe me at least a million quid. Pay up Gary!"
And finally, other than making sure your sound is amazing, what advice can you offer to the thousands of aspiring producers reading this wishing to follow in your footsteps?
You have to have some kind of aptitude for making music, obviously, but given that, I find that aspiring producers tend to be too easily satisfied with what they turn out. Be hyper critical when you're listening to what you've done - try to listen objectively and compare what you're doing to other producers whose material you like. Don't fall into the trap of thinking it doesn't matter if its not as good - if someone's surfing around for material and yours is not up to the mark then they'll move on. Take the bad bits out - improve the good bits - search for an even better groove, use your imagination to find a different and better way of making a track special. Produce!!"