Monday, October 13, 2008
Interview With Desy Balmer (Nice & Nasty)
Old time is a flying, and I've been very remiss with my posting. Anyway, here's something that I should have published a week or two ago. It's an interview with one of Irish techno's prime movers Mr Desy Balmer. Desy got in touch with Nice and Nasty label me through Resident Advisor and started sending me music, both on his own and Dublin Xpress. Ireland seems to be nurturing a good few artists at the moment. It's fertile over there on the Emerald Ile.
House & techno are, more than most comparitive genres, particularly suited to the current and ongoing proclivities of the digital revolution. Bearing this in mind do you regard this as compatible tha tvinyl is still so important regarding the sales, identity and status of a label?
To be honest I was a vinyl junkie, a wee bit of a record collector but I have definitely slowed down. Is that the fault of MP3s I don’t know. MP3s and the ease of sharing suits the technology or is linked to the technology that makes most house music and techno but for me a record label must have a physical product. Maybe I am a dinosaur. I love records, I love sleeves and sleeve art. I love the fact that blemishes on such things can make the record more valuable, but with digital products its erase and re-do, or cut, copy and paste. Interestingly the same is being said about books that digital books, book downloads will kill the book.
The facts are both music and stories will always exist their platform will change but essentially the narrative and the artform will continue. Times change, things change. That’s life. The changes can be fast and often daunting but its not a case of change or die, my generation will cling to vinyl but maybe not the next generation but definitely the one after may not know what a record is or was. That could be good for the environment in the same way not printing books will be. I think it is nothing more than an interesting artifact of the world we live in and the wonderful contradictions that divide and glue us together with equal vigor. Without these little tests of faith or prejudice life would be boring, which doesn’t really answer your question - ha ha ha
I think if you look at people like Richie Hawtin you see just how the technology driven music has either been a catalyst of or a willing companion for the digital revolution of music. Would the MP3 exist without house and techno? The answer is yes. Its not genre that drives technology its sales and digital sales are easier, quicker and more far reaching than vinyl or tape could dream of. It’s neither good nor bad, just the way it is or as derrick may prophesized all those years ago, ‘it is what it is’.
Is there a nostalgic aspect to this or is it some sort of retrofuturism?
Honestly, I’d say it’s a large meal combo of Nostalgia and Ludditism, with a little spicy fear sauce on the side.
Actually is sheer snobbery on the part of people like me. People stuck in their ways. Labels should release records but releasing mp3s allows you to take more risks and try more fresh artists, include more remixes and get the music to people around the world instantly and cheaply.
Vinyl is so expensive to make but even more expensive to transport and the bottom line is what drives change. You almost have to be sure to be sure that its going to sell. People may say that means every wanker puts out loads of shite music but so what, filter thru it, stock, aiken and waterman put out tons of tripe on wax but it didn’t stop us finding joy division or bomb the bass or bassomatic or a certain ratio. The thing is, if online retailers put out hundreds of new releases people wont have the time to sift thru the detritus, and that retailer wil become less important as buyers search the web fo the retailer that suits them. I think, like I did, go to the cool shops and know that they don’t take just any release and trust the shop keeper. Online shops are under a decade old so we cant expect them to be perfect yet. Already you get pressure from online retailers to keep releases coming regularly and if they aint selling then bye bye, they dump your ass as they’ll tell you they aint a storage space. Toa certain degree I hate this as it means a poor selling label or few releases label could easily disappear without a trace. Its not like they have the vinyl, the physical record to prove they existed. All very Orwellian.
Whilst the likes of beatport, juno and so on become the online versions of HMV the boutique back st store like zero-inch, wasabeat will suddenly be more appealing to the discerning customer. All that said though labels that do continue with vinyl will be seen as having a bit more class, a bit more respect for the past, whilst not forgetting the future. Does that make sense? I hope so. My label does both. There aren’t enough sales of either to just do vinyl and I like records, so I’ll continue to do that as its what makes me happy. Not rich nor famous, but happy and that’s what counts.
We make music we like or for ourselves to play and then we take risks to put it out to get a response. Fingers crossed the responses from any direction is good. The responses can also lead you down a path. If the vinyl sales pay for themselves then its considered a success.
How varied a species is techno and where do its roots lie in Ireland? which seems, superficially at least, to be a perfect example of a country severely lacking a technological heritage.
To say Ireland has no techno heritage is like saying Ireland has no football heritage. Our local leagues are second rate compared to La Liga and the Premiership but the top leagues, especially England is full of Irish players and the same applies to techno and electronic music regardless if its trance or drum&bass.
Firstly our clubs are regarded as some of the best in the world, unfortunately cold wet weekends in Cork or Derry aren’t as glamorous as Saturday nights in New York and Barcelona and with such a small population and lack of competition our clubs don’t compete on advertising with the likes of Fabric or Cream.
Musically are heritage has been robbed by the UK. So many of the UK pioneers and global DJs have Irish roots. From the Aphex Twin to Judge Jules to Morrisey - Irish blood surges through English hearts – We don’t have the huge student scene that the UK has so we miss out there but to say we severly lack a technological heritage is just wrong.
Secondly, our pedigree is starting to show its teeth. There are tons of local labels, many DJs and more new preoducers each week than you could shake a stick at and the few that manage to make it become superstars in their own field.
Sian, Chymera, Agnelli & Nelson, Decal, Phil Kieran, David Holmes, Donnacha Costello and Mark O’Sullivan are all part of the premier league DJ/Producer set. David Holmes scores Hollwood movies these days as well as DJ in local pubs of Belfast; Agnelli & Nelson have had chart hits both sides of the Atlantic; whilst, Sian, Chymera and Costello are arguably among the current trend setters of dance music, eating at the table with Hawtin, Vath and Slam.
New boys such as Tr-One, Magnetize, Jamie Behan, Derek Carr, Hystereo, Celtec Twinz, Japanese Popstars and Lerosa are all promising. You want to hear some of the quality demos I get and we are only starting to make waves after 15 years, so I only assume labels like D1, Bastardo Electrico, Elevation, Mode Music and so on must be getting music to rival the best labels in the world. Jamie Behan is signed with Subject Detroit; The Japanese Popstars remixed the Ting Tings; and, Dave Clarke’s White Noise radio show frequently has new music from Ireland. We just don’t fly the irish flag that much or make music with a big shamrock and green streamers on it, we leave that to Others.
When it comes to music and art Ireland kicks ass and before I sound like some mad arsed republican the English have laid claim to many of our gems, GB Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Undertones, Des Lynham!!! Yeah Des is one of us. For our artists to make a career – U2 aside - they have to make it in UK or USA. Ireland is too small to make real money so as we tend to look alike and speak the same lingo we get assimilated into British pop culture.
What we lack is the ability to side step the UK shadow. Sharing a language and an interwoven history, culture and economy has held us back in more ways in one but in respect to techno music it has given the world the perception that the UK or others are better or doing longer when in truth its pretty much the same, you just either have more media to exploit or own the means of media production.
How easy is it to approach the synthetic side from the spiritual side?
I aint got a clue Ted. All life is carbon based and molecularly speaking silicon is the closet thing to carbon (I Think according to early X Files) so maybe thru the manipulation of Silicon we will fully understand carbon and therefore lifes answers, real and imagined will be found in science and as science and art collide in some kind of super collision the synthetic and the spiritual will show themselves to be two sides of the same coin and as one their sum parts will be greater than the individual parts.
The only spiritual side to clubbing I have witnessed is the rants and raves of people mad out of it or doing drugs for too long and believing the bull shit. Music does hold many keys to emotions but when played in a club to people pissed its hardly the same as some tribal dance with a shamen and rites of passage. But then maybe I am just an old cynic.
What is it about Ireland that encourages the growth of techno? Do you see any contradictions in the music’s austerity and Catholicism?
No – Ireland is uniquely catholic in that Catholicism to many is merely a badge of identity. The steretyope of the austere techno lover fits well with some irish techno. Famously a mag here once said ‘No Fun D1’ implying that Ireland’s biggest techno label and then top techno promoter was so serious about their music that they lost sight of the shamanic, ritual of dancing and loosing yourself in the groove and that may be true but I suspect it is more to do with living up to perceived notions of techno. Techno is fun. Kraftwerk are hilarious. Recently I heard a joke that to German’s Dusseldorf’s accent is akin to the Brummie accent in England and when kraftwerk sing it cracks Germans up. Imagine Noddy Holder with a vocoder. Priceless.
Hawtin didn’t help with his shaven headed, head-nodding rather than dancing Plastikman persona that for a few years loads of people copied. Now look at him. Snogging Vath and villalobos. Growing is hair and partying like it was 1999.
Now in Ireland we don’t really do austere or maybe, to throw out another racist stereotype, we consume that much alcohol the inhibitions are locked away. For the past 20 years we have also been one of not the youngest populations in Europe and from the late 80s and throughout the 90s successive church related scandals shocked and made people turn away from the church. That and the fact the 90s celtic tiger boom most people have had too much disposable income meant that techno’s growth coincided with an unprecedented changes to Irish culture.
What has always fascinated me is that in northern Ireland progressive house and trance predominates whereas in Dublin and Cork deep house and techno are kings. Is that similar to the UK? Sasha and Digweed up north and the trendy tech heads of London? Whats that all about? Its hardly religious. Plus I know so little about Catholocism I should comment for fear of sounding like a prat (to late! Doh!!!).
"Nice & Nasty" doesn't sound like "Transmat" or "R & S." Was this a conscious decision?
Nice & nasty is simply my poor vocabulary trying to hint at Yin and Yang, Black and White, good and Bad. It actually comes from a Mixmag article on the old hardcore band The Messiah (20,000 hardcore members and all that) and I thought it sounded great for a name of a club and bingo! With the internet though it sounds more like a porn site than a record label but I never went for the whole Detroit pseudo-marxist, pseudo-scientist bullshit. Some of the UR, Mike Banks Robert Hood sleeve notes make me laungh. This is supposedly serious music for adults and its as if it is marketed to Kids, but then the Yanks love that. You watch CSI or MacGyver and they narrate and expain everything as the audience is either stupid or they producers think the audience is stupid.
If it floats your boat cool but Red Planet, Sonic Adventures, Assualt DJs and all that always seemed a little geeky, over the top to me, but then so does the antics of Aphex Twin so its not necessarily an anti-Detroit thing. I love Star Dancer, Jupiter Jazz, etc. just don’t need the silly details. I find labels quite arbitrary and more to do with marketing than anything else.
I love the music just didn’t fall in love with the packaging. I like the Mo Wax style. I also hated that bull shit the Aphex Twin does by not naming trax and so on. Maybe I don’t get it but it sounds like a marketing ploy to attract a certain demographic that will possibly dig his music or be some up their own arse to frightened to say its bad and some of the Aphex Twin music is bad, no one I buy goes from the ridiculous to the sublime so often and gets away with it.
R & S is just Renat and Sabines initials, it could easily have been a launderette so there is nothing clever or remarkable about a labels name. Plu they employed the Ferrari horse, for God’s sake how crap is that. It’s purely arbitrary, something for the owner to giggle at with himself, something for the media to use to review it, nothing more, like my catalogue number for vinyl and Cds starts with DB3 which is nothing more than indication that my dad and granda were also called desy balmer whilst the online cat no is NANO for Nice & Nasty Online and NANO as in the small particles. Might sound cool or smart but nothing more than identity or childish word games for my own gratification and amusement.
If I am being a knob I often say I got the name from an early album by Salsoul Orchestra. Sounds great for PR sheets but load of old twat. I now own that album courtesy of eBay but simply an article I read had a cool title that allowed me to use to state the fact that music is a matter of taste and opinion. Some is nice and some is nasty, in fact all music is either nice or nasty thus all music is Nice & Nasty. It depends upon you – not the labels name not, the music maker – the listener, the dancer, the buyer.
Who is currently coming through in Ireland and how united is the scene?
There is no scene so to speak. There is a collection of clubs that would cut their own grannys throat for profit rather than take a chance of new djs. There are a group of promoters that tickle each others balls patiently waiting in the long grass to chop their comrades off.
Tons of people are making music and there are more labels than pubs these days. Some are good and some are very good, but there is still little cooperation and no indigenous industry that together you could call a scene. There are a few people trying to forge a network, a collective but the pie is small and people get reluctant to fear starving or they just fit nicely into their clique.
My only worry is that the media here is so small and media from UK and further couldn’t give a toss about us so not much is being written and I truly believe that ‘scenes’ are mediated fabrications.
Donnacha Costello, Sian, Chymera, Phil Kieran are flying, literally to gigs all over the world and their tunes are hot cakes on vinyl and MP3. D1 is still a stalwart of the labels but labels like Mode Music, Elevation, Static are making waves. Producers like Derek Carr, Produse, Aruba, Timmy Stewart, Decal, Tr-One and Lerosa are getting noticed and maybe, just maybe a scene is developing right now as we speak, but look at labels and see how many of them remix for each other, very few. It would be great and it will happen. Ireland is the land of the creative – poets, writers, actors, rock stars. Its in our blood but we have to trust each other and believe in ourselves a bit more and I don’t just mean the music makers and labels but the punters. To have a scene we need them to come and see us play and buy our tunes. We are definitely making quality music and some of our DJs are among the best so trust and belief and who knows. Throw in some gravity and voila!
For better or for worse Ireland has often looked across the puddle to Britain for inspiration. Do any British artists currently fit the Nice & Nasty techno bill?
Yeah, right now Nasty Bobby is producing some of the best acid house inspired techno I have heard and he is a true ‘cant give baby booze, give em babysham’ northerner from Yorkshire and my long time cohort in DJing Dave Ingham is also a Yorkshireman. Probably even has some racing pigeons and a grey hound. From the beginning I worked with a lad from somewhere near Brighton, Jon Russell aka Teknik and just recently Matt Chester did us a remix and another long time cohort is Matthew B from Layo & Bushwacka.
Obviously our big non-irish artist is Marco Bernardi from Glasgow but despite his name he could possibly be more Irish than me. Controversially Nice & nasty has always ‘swung both ways’ as it were in respect to the Irish sea. A birth in Belfast and adult life in Dublin has allowed me to forge lots of strong links. Music doesn’t have boundaries or borders. During the Troubles in Norn Iron music was a positive force for change and probably the one thing that took me away from the madness and hatred.
I do consider Nice & Nasty an Irish label, thru-and-thru but the fact is my passport is GB & NI so I don’t really see much of a difference with respect to the label. For example how are Phil Kieran, Celtec Twinz, Fergie, Agnelli & Nelson and David Holmes pigeon-holed? I suppose there is no specific Irish sound, like there hasn’t been a major scene like there was in Sheffield or Manchester for us to really differentiate ourselves and because the whole social milieu between the two islands is so interwoven and complex it is a little futile and a tad incendiary to claim that real difference exist.
In saying that the reverence crowds hold UK DJs in compared to their own local heroes pisses me off. There are DJs in Ireland that, in my opinion, eat and shite many of the so called top jocks or global DJs. Cox, Oakenfold and whoever have serious reputations but there are DJs here that really do make them pale in comparison. Billy Scurry, Jamie Behan, Arveene, Glen Molloy and the list goes on. What really pisses me off is not the Djs reputations as they have earned them to some degree but the crowds, the punters blind following of a brand dj. No one wants to see and hear eddie richards or steve Bicknell or billy scurry if richie Hawtin is in town or god forbid but sven vath is here. Actually that’s not fair on Hawtin. Richie is a genius but there are some chancers trading on false reputations and big egos and the gullibility of punters.
If I could persuade some Brits to join the fold, do the odd remix, then I’d love Vince Watson to do something, Weatherall of course, Black Dog and Xpress 2. yeah, Xpress 2 make the best club music. Others that spring to mind include 808 state, Danny Breaks (used to Love Sonz of a Loop), Njoi, Radioslave, Crispin J Glover, jaysus the list is endless but we are an Irish label so I am happy working with Chymera, Derek Carr, Tr-One and Mark O’Sullivan. Equally though I am deligted to be linked with Katsuhiko and Tomi Chair from Japan; Kenny Black and Thoverstam from Sweden; Lackluster from Finland; Arne Weinberg from Germany; Fabrice Lig from Belgium; and Tomas Jirku from Canada. Right now we really do represent the wide reaching impact of the Irish Diaspora. Everybody wants a little irish ;-)
But apart from being a label Nice & Nasty has been a promoter for over a decade and worked with Space DJz, Colin Dale, Alan Oldham, Billy Nasty, Percy X, Nipper/Kid Unknown, Jim Hutchison, Ignition Technician and Alex Smoke and are always up for doing something, with anyone. Once the music is good and they like to party, we’re there with big bells on!
Do you regard the UK as a source of techno insight? Why/Why not?
Uuummmmm . . . yes, No, maybe, I don’t know – can you repeat the question?. Once but not now. I really don’t know.
Altern 8 were bangin on about Detroit, Acid and some top drawer tunes and producers before they were truly fashionable and I don’t think people listened or maybe took them seriously. You cant hide from the fact, however, that Neil Rushton at Network, Warp records, Nova Mute and a few others have been instrumental in putting techno music where it is. Even Pete Tong deserves a little bit of credit despite the fact he has many, many other crimes against music, art and culture.
Actually yes, the UK is a source of techno insight. Its hard to be precise but do you think techno as it is would be anything without the UK & Ireland and the same is for house music. Lest we forget the added influence of happy pills.
The label seems to be enjoying a period of relatively sustained creativity. How ambitious are you concerning its future? How easy or difficult is it to spot quality in the swelling sea of digital mediocrity?
The label has never been so busy and for a little Irish label we are working with absolutely fantastic music makers from Japan (Katsuhiko and Tomi Chair); Sweden (Mark O’Sullivan, Andres Cabrera and thöverstam); Detroit’s Terrence Dixon, Tomas Jirku from Canada and we have strong ties to Fabrice Lig and CJ Bolland so I am over the moon of where we are right now.
People are enjoying making music for me and the label so once the standard remains high and the feelings are mutual it wont stop. I love this shit man. I wish I could produce more, I wish I was out there playing more in clubs, but I am actually proud of the label and how it is developing, almost as if it was my third kid – so be careful what ye say or I’ll send the boys round (they haven’t gone away you know).
We are currently processing online releases 41 and 42 as we speak. Our 13th bit of vinyl is out in October and the 14th maybe before the end of 08. We turn 15 years old this November and since 2006 we have just found a momentum that has surprised me.
The online release has allowed us to release more that is true but it’s a tough nut to crack and after 12 years of promoting clubs and selling records it’s a new way of thinking and doing tings to adjust too so it’s a learning curve. Sales do better each time. Promotions work better each time and one day we’ll work it out and the bastards will move the goal posts and we’ll start again and that’s what its all about.
The important thing Is the music is good and I am having fun. We have a sister label to take more risks or go with styles and sounds Nice & nasty wouldn’t touch with a barge pole and that is interesting too.
I have always wanted the label to remain focused on the music. Simply if I’ll play it out then I’ll consider it for release so that covers quite a wide spectrum, but there is a lot of bad music being released and it can be hard to get yours heard among the many voices. Luckily I can shout really loud!
I think that the cost of vinyl put people off releasing both good and bad music and ironically the low cost and easy distribution of Mp3s allows people to release more good and much worse music so like you did for vinyl you need to find the right shop. I don’t buy that many MP3s as I still play vinyl (considering Ableton or Serato Scratch) so I wouldn’t be the best placed person to tell you how kids are buying new music or what kind of filters are on. I know distributors and shops will drop your label in a flash if it aint selling ‘they’re not storage spaces you know’ wankers. If it wasn’t for the low selling, creative techno there’d be no MP3 or Beatport etc. It is the pioneering DJ and music maker that helped forge this revolution and unfortunately market forces may exclude them. Shame but typical.
If I am honest with you and myself and this is a little therapeutic right now I’d say my ambition would be to sell enough Mp3s to produce a small limited run of vinyl to pay the artist, the designer and the record maker plus give me a few bucks for a load of beers. I work full time so I am not dependant upon it and I don’t want it to provide me with a huge salary as without fear of contradiction sooner than later you’d be releasing music you didn’t like to make sure the bills are paid and I just don’t want to do that; however I’d go on top of the pops in a heart beat! There is no shame in selling your music. You don’t have to sell out to be a hit.
I aim to get to 100 download releases and maybe 20 vinyl and then see how’s it going. I don’t fancy being the oldest swinger in town and remember techno is relatively young so now that we are seeing older, middle aged DJs and clubbers its only natural.
It’s not like its one release at a time because now we have a solid backline of producers working with the label. We have plenty of interest in our music and as I said once its not too much of a chore then I’ll keep doing it. What elese will I do? The football isn’t on al the time.
This interview was conducted by email, like the one with A Guy Called Gerald. It's not an ideal medium. I hope to be doing one or two by Skype before the end of the year, starting with Mark Henning soonio.