Ireland and her music is really what this story is about. When I think of Irish music, I think of Belfast and seminal artists like U2, Stiff Little Fingers, and Van Morrison who all weave a rich tapestry of the romantic poet traditions as old as the Emerald Isle itself and the modern problems that plague all divided nations. But Northern Ireland and Belfast are also part of the UK as well as being Irish so when acid house came sweeping across Britain it also came across the Irish Sea as well. Us Yanks may not know it but Ireland does have a proud techno heritage rooted firmly in the Motor City as well and has spawned and nurtured a few of it's own DJ heroes along the way. However at no time have Irish producers enjoyed such a high profile as Belfast has developed. The city now has its own sound which is finding deep kinship with us California techno heads (witness the genius of the new Timmy Stewart release on SF imprint Utensil to get thy bearings) and suddenly discovering love and open arms all over the world. Desy Balmer, owner of Nice & Nasty, has been there since the very beginning and has amazing perspective on this newish phenomenon. He hit it right on the head in our recent conversation-the Irish like it hard but not fast and with lots of melody. I cannot think of a better way to describe the best releases coming out of Ireland (and therefore more favorite releases period) right now than that. With out further ado I turn things over to Desy...
Give us a brief history of Nice & Nasty, the label has been around for a long time so please share a little background info first.
Nice & Nasty is 15 years old this year.
It was a dream of mine. At the age of 19 I got a local enterprise grant, some money from Prices’ Youth Trust and got a few heads together and decided to set up a label. Today I carry it around my neck like a cross. One day it will bring me salvation though. The label was also a club promoter up until last year. We have released the first bits of music from Ubiquity (who went on to form Agnelli & Nelson); we released the first ever remix by Matthew B who then, with Layo Paskin, became Layo & Bushwacka; and alongside Dee Lynch’s Blue records, Mark Kavanagh’s Red imprint, and Holmes & McCready’s Sugar Sweet were the first labels to emerge from the Ireland post-rave scene. I think that as Red, Sugar Sweet and Blue disappeared or morphed into something different we stuck around and until Eamon Doyle’s D1 and a few others that have since went off my radar. Today though we are just the old man of the Irish sea. I have helped Richie Parker set up KKD and Diarmaid O’Meara set up Gobsmacked and through a deal with EPM got many local labels digital distribution, such as Acii Tone, Static, Skream Science, 0x3 so I think we deserve a little mention in the history of Irish electronic music.
As a DJ and promoter that’s a whole story for a different day involving touring with the Prodigy, fighting with Keith from the Prodigy (ten years later), going from acid house to drum & bass to techno. Playing techno and the odd back room session of funk and soul. Claiming to be a house DJ but playing techno. Supporting Garnier, Billy Nasty, Alex Smoke, Shades of Rhythm, DJ Sneak and Derrick Carter, N-Joi, Richie Hawtin, Octogen, and Nick Warren. Writing for various publications. Stalking Richie Hawtin (interviewed him 4 times now). Getting far too drunk. Being obnoxious and yeah getting more drunk, among other things.
Today, however, I am focused on the label 100%. I still DJ and yes I’ll play at your gig, but I no longer focus on my career as such as I really would like to have a label with a legacy of good music that fostered new artists, acts as a platform for Irish artists and stayed true to certain punk ethics, D.I.Y. traditions, and some good old fashioned parties.
Any time I got the chance of an interview I used to roll out the past achievements but I intend on celebrating the bits we have done and concentrating on the next release, the next remix. It’s the only way, just keep moving forward, no real plan other than just find good music, get it together, maybe a remix and release it. See what the reaction is and move on to the next and the next and the next. One day I’ll stop but until then watch this space.
You have had a slew of releases come out in 2008, what is the focus in terms of sound when putting out a new release as you have had recent re-works of 80s classics ("Tainted Love") as well as minimal Detroit techno and electro from Terrence Dixon with a little bit of everything else on the other releases? Is there a formula?
We have no formula other than if I like it then bingo! As a DJ I like to mix it up. As a punter I hate perfect DJ sets of the one mono-toned style. BORING!!! Garnier, Xpress 2, Hawtin, Derrick Carter, DJ Sneak, Layo & Bushwacka, and Kenny Larkin would be some of my favourite DJs, but my all time heroes are Andy Weatherall, Slam, David Holmes and a few locals- David Hales, Iain McCready, Billy Scurry, and Glenn Molloy who would deviate from style and genre really imposing themselves and their taste upon you and simply give you a great night and that’s what I think a DJ and a label should do. Why should we be pigeon-holed or stuck in a genre? Why can't labels and DJs evolve? The simple answer is that DJs milk it for the money and while its good they stick to that. I have never been in a position where by I have had to make a decision to milk it or change, I always like to change. Sometimes you change back but so what that’s the privilege of owning a label. I don’t want a 2-3 year brand. If I had a dream Nice & Nasty would be to dance music or techno what the like of Staxx was to soul, that is to say, we are representative of good genre defining and genre defying music that made people dance and challenged peoples minds. I have no time for chin-stroking po-faced puritanical DJs and labels. What’s the point if you don’t enjoy it? The closest formula is that I would not release music that I simply wouldn’t play in a club. I like De La Soul, Jurassic 5, and Public Enemy. I also like the Jam, the Beatles, and Primal Scream. I love the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. Look at Factory Records and the late, great Tony Wilson, there is a proper label, driven by good music, great vibes and some stylish artwork. That’s my dream actually fuck Staxx and Motown. I want to be Factory Records! I wish I’d met Tony Wilson. I communicate with Peter Hook via Myspace and if he reads this no doubt I’ll be blocked but Wilson , Factory, and a few others in Manchester at that time really shone the light for me and I continue to carry that torch. I’d love to have sleeves as collectible as Peter Saville’s or as funky as Mo' Wax. Also look at Warp – Aphex Twin to Plastic Man to Nightmares on Wax. Need I say more. Good labels release good music. Good labels work with interesting artists. Too many labels don’t take enough risks. (maybe I take too many).
Is there an Irish sound of techno right now? There seems to be a buzz, especially out west here in the US , is this true and are there artists we should be keeping an eye on or is it all just rubbish?
Ireland has a really vibrant club scene and club sounds tend to mirror the productions so you can expect different points in the techno spectrum to be in-and-out of fashion so to speak. To be honest though minimal has been the big sound in Ireland for a couple of years, however, Detroit techno was the king before the minimal explosion and there is definitely a movement toward the melodic hi tech soul sounds from the Motor City. I have been running my label for 15 years and yes you are dead on, Irish producers are really making waves right now. Don’t get me wrong some people like David Holmes have made a pretty big impact, not to mention on Sian, Japanese Popstars, Donnacha Costello, Phil Kieran, Mark O’Sullivan, and Chymera are hotter than hell. Look out, however, for Tr-One, Aruba, Jamie Behan, Magnetize, Derek Carr, and Lerosa. Other people I’d personally recommend are thatboytim, Soul AD, Timmy Stewart, Indo Phunqe, Sourcecode, Hystereo, and Paul Hughes. Some of these guys have been around longer than others but now as certain attention is focused on Ireland their quality is being noticed. There is some rubbish but it’s a small country and many people still have connections to people who could harm me so we’ll stay positive for the time being ;-)
The one thing they all have in common is electronic or dance music pedigree. I haven’t mentioned any of the trance music makers and some of them are biting at the heels of Tiesto and Van Dyk- Gordon Couts, Paul Prior, John O’Callghan are following in the footsteps of Agnelli & Nelson but to be honest I can't comment too much as I don’t really dig them sounds. Nice guys but just ain't my thing. Apart from Aruba and Fish Go Deep though the deep side of house is very much under represented. Ireland does seem to be quite techno orientated or at least the proactive are techno mad. I cant get enough of Chymera, Sian, Aruba, Tr-One and Derek Carr and they would represent one side of the Irish coin that is techno – soulful, melodic, DJ friendly; however, Sourcecode, Donnacha go deep and minimal, Hystereo and Japanese Popstars pretend to be a cross between Daft Punk and Chemical Brothers the other lads like Phil Kieran, Jamie Behan and even Rob and Julian of Static Records, Sunil Sharpe of Mantrap or Mike McCoy keep it simple, keep it hard and rock the dance floor and I must say Irish crowds do like it hard, not fast, but we like an old boogie.
Something I would like people to know is a long time cohort Dave Ingham is arguably the most underrated DJ in the world. Personally I think he is in the top 5 in the world, ever, but other than me few people have experienced him and I find that a shame. for example, but fresh young turks like
Which DJs have been the biggest champions of Nice & Nasty by playing and charting your releases?
All of them J Seriously though, not enough so Mr. DJ if you're listening check us out!!! Dave Clarke and his White Noise show have really championed us which is just fantastic. If Kris Needs (Secret Cinema, DMC Update, NME) writes any more superfluous-heavy reviews about us people will start to think its me under a pseudonym. We couldn’t pay him to write better things which is lovely. Since the beginning Mark E G of M8 magazine and Blackout Audio has always wrote kind words whilst we have had some good consistent support from Fabrice Lig, Colin Dale, Dan Curtin, DJ 3000, Carl Cox, Dave Mothersole, Layo & Bushwacka, Eddie Richards, DJinxx, Andy Cato, Alex Smoke, Matt Chester, and more. We have also had some much appreciated support from local lads here in Ireland – Sean Galvin, Dean Sherry, Gavin Feeney, Sunil Sharpe, Jamie Behan, Mr. Spring, and Mark Kavanagh.
What are some of the essential tracks on Nice & Nasty and what's coming up in terms of future releases?
Our first release is a classic in Ireland , and I don’t say that lightly. Ubiquity’s "Bolivian Angel" still pops up in the odd set 15 years later. Personally I like "The Tanzmusik EP" by Tekink, I think Spearchukka’s "Exposure Means Addiction" is sublime and Derek Carr’s album Science & Soul, but from the current crop the remixes from Thoverstam are out of this world. Mark O’Sullivan has produced arguably his best solo efforts with us whilst I will continue to argue with all and sundry that "Eldar Lane" is by far the best thing Chymera has done or may ever do. I like it that much. Plus I think his "My Love" track is ace. Also the Aruba remix of "EF,NG" for Marco Bernardi is top drawer. For the forthcoming stuff there are some fancy Swedish remixes of Celtec Twinz by Mark O’Sullivan and Thoverstam, the Tyhco’s Comet remix of Tr-One’s "Mystery Train" and the follow up bits from Analog Porcupine Specialist are awesome, more indie and experimental rock-dance hybrid than our normal bits but so what. If it’s good it's good. Also keep an ear to the ground for Rabid Romancer. Who knows I may even do some more bits myself, one day.
10 Free Nice & Nasty [ ] Trax for Download-including Marco Bernardi, Kenny Black, Terrence Dixon, and more: