Sunday 27 September 2009

After an extended break, the Lifetracks series is back to add a little joie de vivre to your Sunday leisure activities. This time we've only gone and bagged ourselves a bonafide Bristol legend in the form of one Nick Harris. Nick just so happens to run one of the most consistent and downright awesome record labels in the UK, NRK Music. With over a decade of quality releases behind them, this fiercely independent imprint is still going strong, providing the world with timeless electronic music. Nick has very kindly taken time out of his busy schedule to offer up a stunning mix of absolute classics that have influenced and inspired him across the years, as well as a fascinating interview to boot. Enjoy!

B: Good Evening Mr.Harris. How the devil are you?

NH: Very well thanks, and thanks for inviting me onto Lifetracks. I like the concept of this, it was quite challenging putting down an influences mix, because I didn’t want to necessarily do a beat mix, but wanted to get a nice flow of all the differing sounds that have twisted my melons over the years. Hopefully your listeners will enjoy the mix.

B: I'm sure they will! Whereabouts are you right now?

NH: I’m in my office right now, I work in the same building as Optimum Mastering, who cut lacquers and master music for a whole bunch of top labels and artists.

B: So what's new in the world of Nick Harris right now?

NH: Plenty going on at Harris HQ, it’s a very busy time rebuilding the label after a few months out the game, I’ve just signed up a number of single releases from the likes of Scope, Spencer Parker, Kris Wadsworth and David Durango, all of which will see the light of day before the end of this year. Also I’m ready to drop the new Steve Bug The Lab 02 compilation next week, so plenty going on with that, it’s a superb double mix compilation of contemporary deep techno house.

I’m also super busy remixing and producing myself, I’ve got some remixes coming out on NRK, and working on a debut single release. Also always doing my monthly DJ mixes which I post on Soundcloud and the blog, compiling monthly charts, just really getting behind the music and enjoying it. Hopefully club work will pick up for me soon - I used to DJ weekly all over Europe, but took some time out for my family, and I’m eager to get back out there!

B: 2010 will see NRK 14 years deep in the music industry. Did you ever think it would get this far?

NH: To be honest, I have never really thought about it. Obviously looking back, yeah, I would have had no idea that the label would still be running 14 years down the line, but I never had any doubt that I would still be involved with the music industry in some way, shape or form. I’ve been involved with music since a very early age, so even though the label is 14 years, prior to that NRK ran as a promotions and ents agency since around 1993, and prior to that I was running club nights and gigs since about 1988…now that makes me feel old!

B: With such a plethora of quality music released through the label, do you feel excited by the state of dance music as it is today?

NH: I feel excited about the climate in which the music is coming out in, yes. The whole way that digital has flipped to become the main medium in which music is consumed, and the way that the Internet is used to promote and market the music….of course, from a label perspective, it has been disappointing to see a major downturn in physical sales, and hence a major downturn in revenue; digital sales no way replace the kind of incomes artists and labels were achieving a few years back, but hey, these are new times, and you’ve either gotta keep up with it or lag behind.

Musically, dance is still fresh, there’s always a new angle on the sounds, always new producers pushing things, new software and more accessibility for people to get involved with making music. Time will tell whether this current decade will throw out some of the timeless classics that electronic music brought us in the 80s and 90s...but music is music, whatever the times. When the Stones and The Beatles were kicking it back in the 60s, who would have thought that 40 years later there’s a bunch of bands replicating that same sound for their own generation.

B: What's been some of your most cherished memories from the first decade of NRK?

NH: I think the whole learning process, and being so young and involved right at the heart of the dance scene. Getting involved with names like Richie Hawtin, Armand Van Helden, Derrick Carter, Carl Craig, Larry Heard, well early in the game, I’m talking mid-90s.

I’m always asked what my biggest regrets are, and whilst I don’t really have any, I always chuckle when I think about the phone call I had from a friend at Soma label, asking me whether I wanted to do DJ bookings for a new act called Daft Punk, I had no heard of them at the time, and was too busy working with a whole bunch of other artists, I turned them down!

But you’ll always miss opportunities like that, my friend got sent a demo from an act called The Prodigy, and swiftly binned it! I’ve just got good memories of so many great parties and awesome music, the bad experiences quickly pale when remembering the good times.

B: And some of your favourite NRK releases from that time?

NH: I think I could highlight some pivotal releases from the last 14 years, Dimitri from Paris Jazzin The House, Francois K Time & Space, Nick Holder Summer Daze, Peace Division Beatz In Peacez 03, Quentin Harris Let’s Be Young, Kerri Chandler Bar A Thym...

B: NRK is arguably one of the most consistent labels in the UK, and is still going strong. What's the secret?

NH: It’s not been an easy ride. The last 12 months have been extremely hard for the label, and some could say we’ve been a victim of our own success and longevity. But saying that, it’s just been a simple case of keeping heads down and believing in the music that the label promotes, not pandering to where the money is, not trying to be overtly commercial, as trends come and go and take plenty of prisoners with them. NRK has always stuck by quality underground music, and will continue to do so for as long as possible. You need the utmost passion for what you do, and you need to put in stupidly long and unsociable hours, but for me, it’s been worth it.

B: Looking at the mix I want to start off by flipping it completely and taking a look at the last track first, Straight to Hell. You were immersed in the punk scene of the 1980s, so where does this track place you in that era? The Clash were a pivotal band for many, many people...

NH: Yep, for sure…I got into the Clash after they had split, I picked up on Combat Rock around 1986 and then worked my way through the catalogue, at the same time being totally blown away by the sounds and imagery of punk rock. Before this, I just loved music since an early age, but punk brought through a whole agenda and message that you just didn’t find in the pop charts….punk really gave me my cue to go out and “do it yourself” definitely, after getting hooked on the music I formed my own band, put on our own gigs, designed posters, published fanzines, wrote for magazines…

I ended up working on BBC Radio Bristol’s “yoof” programme, which was a Sunday afternoon show split into dance music (Tristan B) and indie/alternative (Caz Ford), and have many cherished memories of my time there, meeting artists as diverse as The Ramones, EPMD, Inner City, and PJ Harvey.

I picked out Straight To Hell from The Clash on my Lifetracks, really as this track sums up what first captured my fascination with this band, and this alternative music and lifestyle…such a haunting, memorable record…it sounds like no other act, it’s one of the quintessential Clash songs

B: Did The Clash's overt utilisation of dub and reggae influences in their work inspire you? Punk and Reggae in the 1980s were completely intrinsic to each other, were you also a fan of soundsystem and roots culture?

NH: Yes, massively, it was the punk bands that turned me onto roots music, bands like The Clash and P.I.L opened up the musical floodgates for me, and turned me onto, not just dub and reggae, but jazz and blues….especially in the case of The Clash. I got seriously into the whole On-u Sound thing in the late 80s, with Adrian Sherwood, Dub Syndicate, African Headcharge, Tackhead etc.

I remember the first time I went to Glastonbury, the On-U crew were hosting a night on the world stage, and that particular year (1990) there were loads of roots soundsystems there, seriously heavy music going through awesome speaker stacks….it’s a shame really, I haven’t seen systems like that at Glastonbury since that year.

B: You've retained control of NRK from day one - is this is a reflection of the DIY culture of the punk ethic, did you feel aligned with the more political and philosophical ethos of the movement - or was it more about the music for you? How does your experience in that scene manifest itself in NRK today?

NH: I wouldn’t say that I run NRK from any particular political standpoint, no. NRK is a business and a lifestyle, but I have certain morals and think I run the label respectfully to the artists and to the scene. Certainly I do pride myself on starting a label from scratch, with nothing, and making a success of it. NRK is a pure independent label, there has never been any cash injections of mergers from major labels, but that said, no offers have ever been made, so it’s great to be staunchly indie, but I would defy anyone to be seduced by big money offers…..but I think that’s a thing of the past, so many dance labels jumped into bed with majors in the 90s, but the major labels now are having an awful time, and in fact it’s never been so good as now to be an indie.

I enjoy working in a cottage industry, whereby you just surround yourself with like minded people, artists, marketing people, designers, promoters etc. and you work with each other to make something greater. It’s hardly big business, this ain't U2, multi-million, global touring shit, but it’s a scene that props each other up and chips away doing its thing, and that’s what U am comfortable with. Anarchic capitalism? Don’t get me started on Thatcher, but really it’s not far off what she was promoting, people getting off their backsides and doing it for themselves….

B: The early dub and house tracks here - Fingers Inc, Speedy J, Dub Syndicate, the remix of Killing Joke - all represent the playful, experimental time of this music's embryonic stage. Where did the entry point for you into house music begin, and where do these tracks sit in that evolution for you?

NH: I got aware of electronic music through the early 90s raves, not that I went to that many as I was still immersed in the punk/indie scene…and it was stuff like Aphex Twin, early Orbital, Warp stuff that hooked me onto machine music. I had moved up to London in 1992 and the techno scene was really kicking off around that time.

I used to go to clubs like Andy Weatherall’s Sabresonic, The Drum Club, Final Frontier at Club UK, Ministry’s Open nights…so that’s where the nod to Sabres Of Paradise, Speedy J, Killing Joke come from. Techno and chill out went hand in hand, and to an extent, Dub reggae would feature in chill out rooms…that’s why the Killing Joke track is on there…Kiss FM was instrumental in the techno scene around that time, with Colin Dale and Colin Favour on the air, Future Sound Of London etc.

B: The majority of the tracks here represent a later period from 1993 to 1996, the latter year being the time NRK came into being. Do you see that time as a golden age for the creativity in house music? Some of these choices are hugely influential tracks - Smokebelch, Alabama Blues, Ezio...

NH: Well, for me, this is the era that opened up all the doors, there weren’t such rigid genre definitions back them, techno, house, experimental, chill, garage, it seemed like most people were just getting off on the influx of all these new sounds and records, and all these fresh new clubs. I do see it as a golden age, but I would like to hope that 18 years old kids think that 2009 is their golden age, I think it can be harmful to decree that music stopped being great after a particular era.

But all these tracks on my Lifetracks mix are there for one reason only, for me, they are stone cold classics…that Alabama Blues record is f*cking brilliant, I met Ludociv a couple of times back then, didn’t speak any English, classically trained musician, very quiet and studious, yet he makes such amazing house and techno music, and then he disappears, don’t know what he’s been doing for the last 10 years…ditto Motorbass, they came along, did one totally groundbreaking album, hip-hop techno house raw jackin shit, then went their separate ways, no need to carry it on or repeat it; I think from that era, there wasn’t the agenda of having a career, out of it , people just made these great records for a few years then went off did something else.

B: Did you consciously choose to omit more recent tracks or does your selection here represent the basic core of styles in house music that have gone on to continually inspire you?

NH: For me, this Lifetracks was about delving into the records that formed the building blocks of my involvement in this scene, so really it wasn’t about picking out anything current. When I do my monthly DJ mixes, I always stick in a couple of oldies in there, just to revive a particular tune, or just to doff a cap to a certain producer or style…I’m not one of these DJs who has to play unreleased upfront promo for the sake of it, as long as a tune is right for me, it doesn’t matter if it was made last week or ten/twenty years ago.

B: Very true! Who is inspiring you now? Any artists that you'd love to feature on the label but that have slipped through the net?

NH: I like a whole bunch of stuff right now, some of which I am lucky enough to get onto the label, some that I don’t feel I need to chase, maybe coz they just don’t fit on the label but certainly fit into my personal tastes. Artists are too long to mention, but I love producers and labels like Radio Slave, DJ Koze, DJ Sneak, Mountain People, Ame, Dixon, Carl Craig, Paul Woolford, Charles Webster, Kerri Chandler, Steve Bug, Loco Dice…just good straight up house/techno, the right amount of deepness, the right amount of jackin groove…

B: What's next for NRK then, what does the future hold?

NH: I just take things in small steps always, just signing up few singles here and there, working on albums (which always seem to take up too much time). There will be another Lab album next year, and another Back In The Box compilation, and just keeps things moving onwards and upwards.

B: Thanks for chatting Nick!

Lifetracks #06 - Nick Harris

01 - Sabres Of Paradise - Smokebelch (Beatless)
02 - Plastikman - Koma
03 - Model 500 - Pick Up the Flow
04 - Saint Germain - Alabama Blues
05 - Stacey Pullen - Forever Mona
06 - Fingers Inc. - Distant Planet
07 - Rhythim Is Rhythim - Icon
08 - Motorbass - Ezio
09 - Speedy J - De-Orbit
10 - Killing Joke - Requiem (A Floating Leaf Always Reaches The Sea Dub)
11 - Dub Syndicate - Hey Ho
12 - The Clash - Straight To Hell

Download : Lifetracks 06 - Nick Harris

Ffi : Nick Harris Website
Ffi : NRK Website


Anonymous said...

Nicely done andy!