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Interview: Nick Warren - Rebalancing, remixing, rethinking

Martin G-H speaks to the compilation expert ahead of his Balance 18 release.

Club land is a different place in this digital age. We've seen big rooms downsized, and a movement towards subtler sounds emerge, while superclubs decline and laptops replace turntables as the equipment of choice.

Some names have managed to ride the waves of change, adapting while maintaining an individuality and dedicated following. Bristolian Nick Warren has done just that, and with 15 years of mix albums behind him, his compilation oeuvre provides us with plenty of reference points with which to chart this progression of dance music.

Now the Cream legend, international progressive house don, and original Massive Attack tour DJ is ready to reveal the next Balance mix. But, despite releasing on a contemporary techno series, the unmistakable melodies and atmospherics that first helped forge his reputation remain clear for all ears. The result is a journey that's less fashionable, and more forward thinking.

This year will also see new work from Way Out West arrive, Warren's live project with Jody Wisternoff, while his role as A&R of Hope Recordings continues. Which means he had plenty to talk about when we called, not least sampling Timmy Mallet, why the prog train ran out of fuel, and that new CD. Despite a bad line we managed to hear everything, so here's what was said...

Ibiza Spotlight: Hi Nick, how are you today?
Nick Warren: “Fine, thanks mate, you?”

Great, thanks. The weather's beautiful in Britain today.
“Yeah, I just missed it all! Petra, my Mrs, is from Finland, and she's working out here at the moment, so I left England yesterday and could see the good weather coming in. Never mind though!”

That's a shame. Whereabouts in Finland are you then?
“Turku. I spend quite a lot of time here.”

And you're still Bristol based in the UK?
“Yeah, I moved out of the city to a village nearby, so it's nice and chilled but I'll always be a West Country boy at heart.”

And how are things in Bristol at the moment?
“Good, it's got a really cool scene right now. I'm playing in a couple of weeks, and it will be the first time in a few years, so I'm looking forward to that. It's got a healthy little house scene now, with Jamie Jones and people like that in town a lot, and, of course, there's the whole dubstep thing too.”

So has 2011 been a good year so far?
“Yeah, it just never stops. Things just roll on and roll on, I think it's been a good year for me because I've really felt I need to step up on the production side. In the past I've loved doing the Way Out West stuff, but I've also cracked on with solo work as well now.

“I'm still working with Jody, we're working on a new EP at the moment. But it's nice to have my own thing too. On top of that I've changed agencies, so I'm now being looked after by the same people as John Digweed and Carl Cox, so that's nice as it has brought some new vibes in.”

What's the new Way Out West release all about then?
“Well, we started one track, and I felt it was all going into a more commercial sound than I really felt comfortable with. So we're going back underground. Still very musical, spacey and trippy, but then I wanted it to be more darkroom than stadium. So we've done one long record that's almost like an old Eye-Q release- slightly trancey, but more like techno. And that's the vibe we're going for, while making it as weird as possible. We even sampled Boney M.

'Buenos Aires' - May 2011 release from Nick

How did that work out for you?
“Ha! Yeah, it was alright actually. I got all these old records of my parents, and basically took it from there. Our weirdest was a drum fill from Timmy Mallet's version of Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, so it will be interesting to see if anyone spots that.”

And when can we expect to be listening out for it?
“Later this year, after summer. We want three tracks, and only have one at the moment so it's going to take a little while. In the meantime I have some solo stuff, and the new Balance mix.”

On the Balance album, what was the mindset behind that?
“Compilations are weird. It's great to be asked to do it, but then the thought if it is just like ‘shit'. You have to find all that music, and there's so much pressure for it to be perfect, and for nobody to have heard the tracks, blah blah blah...

“Balance has got a really good rep, especially with Joris Voorn's, and James Holden before that. It's the cool one with Fabric I think, so I was pleased to do it but the last thing I wanted was to feel I had just made a trendy album, and chose stuff that's not really me. But then I feel, as someone who has always been seen as progressive, that whole sound has gone pretty cheesy, while techno and deeper stuff has gone where prog was.

“So it suited me, and I wanted to find these young producers from around the world, because when I started out it was, comparatively, easy. You got a record or publishing deal, and people gave you money knowing they would make it back when the record sold. That meant as a producer you got paid.

“These days no-one is buying, and nobody is paying for it. Labels aren't likely to give you money up front, so I think it's up to DJs like me and people in my position, who play on the radio and around the world; it's our job to promote these people. A compilation is a great way to get these producers out there.

And you're happy with the results?
“Yeah, I am. I was worried, as it's sort of moving onto a cool techno label. So I was primed for slating but I'm really happy as everyone's been really positive so far.”

We enjoyed it, especially the proggy accents. What do you think happened with that whole scene?
“It's like all things really, not meant to last that long. No music is, whether dance or rock. Things are meant to evolve, change and move on. I think there was a split, with the whole big room, near-stadium, Twilo vibe, which was great back in the day. But it caused people to go in two directions. The trance acts blew it up to arena size, that Jean Michelle Jarre, Barry Manilow on acid, big show kind of thing where breakdowns never f*cking stop.

“And it just got so pompous. Don't get me wrong, those that went down that route have done really well, and are hugely popular. But for a lot of us we just started to think ‘yeah, I'm not really sure this is for me any more'. So I think guys like Sasha, myself and so on would rather play a room of 200 people. That's certainly where I want to be, everything just got a bit too Starbucks.”

Arguably the whole mix album thing has changed too, for the quieter. Do you think we're forgetting about DJs?
“Yeah, maybe, to an extent. I was looking at the festivals last year and, apart from hitmakers like your Guettas, the DJs were all really far down the bill. Audiences don't want to stand listening to DJs for three hours, starting from deep and ending at a particular point. They'd much rather get a producer they know come on and play their six big tunes. That's very much the festival vibe, while the DJ scene has dived back into small venues.”

As an original member of the global fraternity then, where's going off right now?
Russia's really strong right now. But the best place for me still is South America, because they had it right from day one. They go out late, arriving at the club about 3am. The clubs are really dark, and play underground music as they don't have radio support for all the commercial nonsense. The result is that all the clubbers are proper, late night people.

View over BO18 club in Beirut

“On top of that Eastern Europe is still great, and Greece- it always seems to be the places with conflict or economic worries that have the best parties. People still want to go out. If you go to Beirut there's this club called BO18, which is maybe my favourite place in the world right now.

“There are no lights, apart from two in the booth for the CD players, and the bar, so you can't see any faces, just a sea of moving shapes. It's also underground, but they can open the roof to let the heat and smoke out- you can still smoke inside. The last time I was there it was raining, and they opened the ceiling so everyone got wet, before it closed up and the crowd got back to it again. Pretty special.”

Sounds it. So, finally, what else have you got coming up?
“Well, there's a new solo single on Hope Recordings next month, with remixes from Terry Lee Brown Jnr, who I am a big fan of, Applescal, and a guy called Mike Griego. Then I've remixed an old tune for KC Taylor's label, which will be out in the summer.

“After that I'll be in Ibiza, which I can't say much about other than I'm playing an opening party full of secret guests, on a Tuesday night, at the best club on the island, which should make it pretty obvious. I'm also really looking forward to Glastonbury, I'm playing twice this year.

“I've moved away from the main dance stage as I didn't really enjoy it last time, so on Thursday I'm playing The Rabbithole, which is a club for about 200 people in the side of a hill, like something from Alice In Wonderland. Then on Friday I'm playing a cosmic disco set in the Pussy Parlour, so it will be nice to do that kind of thing too.”

Nick Warren releases Balance:018 on April 25th

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