Once an elusive, Sine Nomine (“without a name”) producer, Nomine now readily shares his musical knowledge with students and fans via social media and pop-up events across the world, but hasn’t let production take a back seat. Since hitting the airwaves on shows such as Youngsta’s Rinse FM slot earlier this year, Nomine’s menacing “Stomp” has been one of 2017’s most sought-after 140bpm tracks. Along with “Slip”, an absorbing, bass-heavy tune laced with Eastern melodies and hard-edged guitar riffs – or as Nomine puts it, “similar to Stomp, but with a bit more attitude” – the tracks mark the second release from Youngsta’s recently founded imprint, Sentry. And with his years of A&R experience and perfectionist tendencies, it comes as no surprise that Youngsta snapped up the brilliant “Stomp/Slip” for his label, not long after the release of dBridge’s weighty future-classic “Fashion Dread/Digital Dread”. We spoke to Nomine just over 3 years ago, and were honoured with the opportunity to meet once again to discuss his latest release. Prior to his Radar Radio set with Macabre Unit back in March, TRUSIK sat down with the DJ, producer and lecturer to talk Sentry, the importance of education and creating without limitations.
How did you and Youngsta cross paths? I heard Amit was involved.
While I was living in Florida, I was just doing my thing at 140 and did a release [Jahpan EP] for a friend of mine, Dubzilla. It was just a digital release, but from that alone I got onto DJ Nihal’s Radio 1 show because it was Asian influenced. Straight away Nihal was all over it and invited me up for an interview. Amit opened his first guest show for Youngsta with one of the tracks off the EP, and everyone was asking what it was including Youngsta. Amit introduced me to Youngsta, and then Youngsta was like, “keep sending me stuff”. Within 3 months I’d signed a single and album deal with Tempa, so it all happened really quickly.
Did you send Youngsta these tracks and he immediately thought, “I want that for Sentry”?
I went onto Youngsta’s show, and he takes note of what you play if he likes it, and he’s like “what’s that tune?”, and then he asked me for it and I was like, “uhhh…” [laughs] because I love it! He’s got a good ear. I thought, “hmm, I could put that on my label, it would be a strong release”, but it’s Youngsta, and he’s done a lot for me. I’m really happy that he’s got it. I sent “Slip” to him as a one-minute demo, and he signed it before I’d even finished it – it was literally a rough demo. I finished it off that day, and we got it mastered. I know Youngsta can be very particular, so I’m honoured for us to have wrapped this release up so quickly.
You mentioned on Facebook that both “Stomp” and “Blind Man” were tracks you’d made within 2 hours. For you, does the fact that you’ve done it in such a short space of time indicate that it’s a great track?
For me, that magic two hours… it doesn’t happen all the time. Yeah, you’re gonna go back and tweak it, and make changes to the arrangement or mix, but with any studio session the main idea usually unfolds within the first two hours. Those two tracks are an example of that happening.
How did you handle the reaction to “Blind Man”? Everyone went crazy for it after Mala used it to open his Boiler Room set in 2015.
That gave it second life, because it came out long before that. We’ve just repressed it – I’ve got 300 copies getting delivered tomorrow to my house, that’s just me doing 300 copies, and all the other shops have sold loads as well, so the repress has gone nuts. That’s due to Mala playing it at that Boiler Room set, and for about a year he opened his sets with it all around the world. I was getting people hitting me up on Facebook with video clips from all over the world; Japan, Switzerland, Canada… literally every other day I was getting videos, so he gave that track second life. That’s the power of when Mala gets behind something. Reception-wise, “Stomp” is up there with “Blind Man”. Spooky, who’s nothing to do with dubstep, is playing it, Slimzee’s playing it, Youngsta’s playing it, Amit’s playing it, so really across-the-board artists are playing it. That is an achievement for me, because I certainly didn’t think Slimzee would play something like that, because it’s just sub bass, it’s not grime at all.
You make so many different types of music, is there a particular tempo or genre you prefer? How do you choose what goes on a release?
Obviously drum and bass was my thing for so many years, but I like the 140 [bpm] tempo… I just like the space in 140. More recently, I’ve been doing some grimier stuff, because it’s the next level up with regard to energy in 140. I like 140, but because I come from drum and bass, I sometimes need that bit extra and I don’t want to turn it into wobbly dubstep because I’m not into that. The riffier stuff of grime I can get into, because it’s still reminiscent of drum and bass, but with the weight of dubstep.
Would you say you get bored easily with one particular genre?
Yeah, I do get bored now – I’ve been doing this for a long time now, nearly 20 years. I did the same thing for 15 years, and it got to the point where it felt like I was making the same track over and over again, and I need stimulating. If I’m gonna sit in the studio for 20 years, I need to challenge myself, and from doing stuff in other genres, you learn so much more about the production. Every genre has got something different to offer with regards to how it’s made, how it’s mixed, the elements, so if you can take things from different places and put them into your music, it’s more exciting. I never get writer’s block anymore; I’ve got so many options. I can wake up and make whatever I want, I can release what I want, and it’s just a lot more fun. If I’m not having fun, what’s it all about? I think I started to get a bit stagnant when I was doing drum and bass because I wasn’t enjoying it. People feel your energy, and if it’s not positive then they’re not gonna engage with what you’re doing.
Out of your various influences, such as grime, far Eastern music and 20th century serialism, what’s the weirdest or most surprising place you’ve found inspiration?
I’d say those sorts of areas, like the Avant-Garde. I went through a phase of listening and following Avant-Garde, Musique Concrète, Pierre Schaeffer. There are tastes of that all through my music. If you listen to some of my tracks, in the middle 8 or middle 16 there’ll be a quirky little sound design, avant-garde bit, then it’ll go back into the normal track, or you’ll get an atonal or non-linear drone throughout the whole track tucked underneath. I take big inspiration from Avant-Garde, not to the point where I’m making something people can’t relate to, but there are hints of it tucked in different places.
You’ve spoken previously about your interest in Zen Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies. How, if at all, do these feed into your music-making?
I was very angry before I lived in Thailand – I was called Outrage for 15 years, and if you knew me back then, you’d know exactly why, I was running around like a maniac. I was having a hard time with anxiety and depression, and going to Thailand made me realise that I’ve got nothing to be angry about, seeing those people with smiles on their faces when they had nothing. That led me into finding a love for Zen. Karlheinz Stockhausen, Alan Watts – people like that are big advocates of Zen. It’s about open-mindedness, just letting things be what they are and not necessarily making plans, going with the flow. It might not be in my music necessarily all the time – although there are hints of Asian instrumentation and scales – but I guess it’s in the way I flow while I’m working. I’ll wake up and try to not think too much about it, just make a track, and wherever it ends up, it ends up. The Nomine thing started off being very Eastern influenced – every track had Eastern scales and instrumentation, but now there’s less of it. I’ll never lose it, but at the same time I’m not restricting myself because otherwise I’m doing what I didn’t want to do, and that’s being pigeon-holed as “meditative bass music”, which is great, but I don’t want to restrict myself.
You were an elusive, anonymous producer when you created your Nomine alias back in 2011, but now you have a strong social media presence and share your tips regularly. What changed?
I was about to give up on music before I started Nomine, and the reason it was anonymous was because I didn’t want anyone to judge me on what I did, and didn’t want anyone to have any expectation. I wanted to do it undercover and not have any pressure, to the point where Tempa, even when they signed me, they didn’t know who I was. I wanted to start with a clean state and not have the pressure of having to answer to anyone. So I did that, then I realised I’m not getting any gigs. I need to be seen because music these days, you’re seen before you’re heard, that’s the world we live in. People see you first, then they hear your music. I wasn’t seen, so there was a little bit of a buzz with the people that heard me, but it wasn’t going anywhere. DJing is my first love – I came in as a DJ at 13, then started to produce a few years afterwards. If I’m not DJing and testing my music out, then I’m not having fun. I also put a lot of energy into planning for my students every week, and felt like people could benefit from it, so I started to share it. People seem to want more and more of it; if I see that dwindle then I won’t share as much, but at the moment people are relating to the content that I’m sharing.
As well as your “60-second tip” videos, you’re a university lecturer and have your Education & Bass events. Clearly teaching is very important to you – what would you have told your younger self when you were starting out?
Get that education, because I didn’t, partly because I didn’t know I had chronic anxiety and I always wondered why I couldn’t do what everyone else was doing, but back then you were just labelled “the kid that couldn’t do it” or “disruptive”. I was taught at 16 and thought that was it for the rest of my life, ‘I’m a superstar DJ’, but you have to have a backup plan. I know DJs who have been flavour of the month, playing out 4 or 5 times a week, but in the end that stops, usually after about a decade. Things slow down unless you reinvent yourself, and then they’ve got nothing, they haven’t invested their money, they haven’t saved, they move back in with their parents. I know 40+ year olds that have had to sell everything because they haven’t done things properly, they’ve got no work experience. Some people do invest wisely, but a lot of people don’t, because we’re not business people. We were never business people. Most of the people in the industry fell into it by accident, didn’t learn to manage their money, most not educated, and just having one big party.
Is education something you see yourself doing for the rest of your life, even if you stop DJing or producing?
It could be because I’m a fully qualified teacher, but when I teach, I teach from my mistakes, my experience, and it’s important for me to be doing what I’m teaching. I don’t know how I’d feel if I stood up there and I was talking past tense, or if I’m not actually doing it myself. This was actually part of my teaching degree, the value of having a teacher that’s doing what they are teaching. It’s a no-brainer that it’s more beneficial if you’re actually doing it. You’ll get more respect from the students if you’re doing it yourself. Obviously if I was at the age when I’m not going to be running around the world, teaching is definitely something I want to be doing.
To round things off, could you tell us what you’ve got planned in the near-future?
I’m setting up an online school soon, so keep an eye out for that. I’m currently getting a website built, and it’ll be online courses, bespoke, long- and short-running courses, genre specific, general music tech. I’m also currently planning different things for Education & Bass. We had a club, we were doing it monthly and the feedback was great, but it was hard work. The venue wasn’t really working with me and it wasn’t growing, so we’re taking it on the road this year. There’ll be some news in the next couple of months about how exactly we’re gonna do that, but it’s gonna involve a big sound system, me and a lot of the artists and university lecturers that were on board with it taking it on an international tour. We’ve already taken it to France, America and other places, but I think it could be a cool year for Education & Bass.