Home Interviews Adam Nathan [Interview]

Adam Nathan [Interview]

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London–born, Toronto–raised DJ & Producer, Artist & Environmental Activist, Adam has been an A&R, promoter, record shop owner, radio show host, resident DJ in some of Toronto’s landmark nightclubs, and performed in cities from London to New York, Toronto to Tokyo. Adam has been featured on labels such as: Viva Recordings, Magician On Duty, The Purr, Sound Avenue, Rynth, One of a Kind and False Face Music. This week finds Adam making a return to Madloch's 3rd Avenue with a spirited take on 'Humanity' by La Vue.

Progressive Astronaut caught up with Adam to learn more about his 'Humanity' remix, his musical history, studio process, future plans, and more. Enjoy.

Hi Adam, thanks for joining us. What is your current mood and what was the last piece of music you listened to?

Interesting first question…well, I’m in an Air Canada lounge on my way from Toronto to London so my current mood is excited as I love London…but it’s a little bit eclipsed by some mild stress being on a plane as it’s the first time flying such long distance since Covid. But on a happier note, the last piece of music I believe I listened to was ‘Bad’ by U2. Or it might have been one of those “Best Britain’s Got Talent Auditions”. Man, I just find those so emotional.

How has your start to the year been and what are your plans for the week?

This year has been full on since Jan 1 and hasn’t let up for a moment. I finished up my remix of LaVue’s ‘Humanity’, started preproduction on a series of music videos I’m co-directing with up-and-coming artist Pārvatī. She’s also the founder of the non-profit I donate most of my time to. I’m on my way to London now to meet her and her husband (a childhood friend) as we’re looking to move the global flagship to the UK.

Your bio states that outside of being an Artist and DJ, you are an Environmental Activist, tell us a bit about that, what kind of work do you do?

I know that’s term that most would use about the work, but I don’t really consider myself as much an activist as someone who just wants the best for every living thing on earth. When you know that things are happening that are putting humanity in grave danger you just have to do something. As I started to speak about earlier, the organization is called Parvati Foundation, and the focus is creating a healthy world and the upliftment of humanity. The most immediate focus is establishing the largest humanitarian and ecological initiative in history by protecting the entire Arctic Ocean north of the Arctic Circle with the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary, MAPS. A lot of people tend to feel that the Arctic is such a remote place and what happens there has no effect on their lives, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Our world is changing from human choices and that region is warming faster than anywhere on the planet and our survival as a species depends on it. But it’s melting much faster than was predicted and the melt is felt all around the planet. Knowing this makes me feel that I have to do what I can to help. I could talk about this for hours as I’m passionate about the health of our planet and all life.

Do you consider yourself a DJ or producer first? And which do you enjoy more and why?

I used to consider myself a DJ first but now I’d say I’m a producer first. They’re both enjoyable for different reasons. Producing is like building a DJ set but in a compressed timeline. It’s creative and total discovery and you can do anything you want. It’s a time where you can get inspired by one sound of a vocal that a sonic narrative can be born from and built on. It’s a very intimate and insular experience where you’re listening to and giving voice to the creative energy where all things come from. While DJing I’ve always loved. It’s more of a living and breathing experience that is about precision and timing while being present, paying attention to how a track feels and curating unique experiences and stories. I’m also so inspired by other artists and love sharing their music with people and I always want every track to sound the best that it can. To honour the energy and vibe of the piece. That means how it blends to and from other tracks is so important. To be honest, it’s an endangered artform that, sadly, has been compromised by the technology. Having started DJing on vinyl I feel there was something in the process of mixing that you had to learn. Don’t get me wrong, I love what you can do with technology as it has opened up brilliant ways to help tell your story and create a vibe.

Can you name five tracks that were important in your musical development and why they are so significant for you.

Ok, this isn’t fair. I’ve loved music as long as I can remember so there’s no way I could just keep this to 5 so I have to break the rules on this question and I’m going to be all over the place on this one. Sorry.

‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’ by The Temptations was one of the earliest songs that I really felt in terms of rhythm and likely where I fell in love with baselines. It’s minimal, perfectly balanced, and a great arrangement.

As a former drummer I’ve loved Phil Collins ever since I was a kid. His drumming style for me was second to none as I feel he was the Michael Jordan of drumming. I was really into progressive rock when I was younger and loved 70s and some 80s Genesis but ‘In the Air Tonight’ was legendary. I know it’s cliché now, but it is an incredibly produced song that is minimal, progresses perfectly, has fantastic pads, electronic drums, and has one of the best crescendos in music history. Come on, it’s epic.

Chaka Khan ‘Ain’t Nobody’ is just another one of Quincy Jones’ brilliant contributions to music that I loved growing up. The layering of sounds and basslines is amazing.

Michael Jackson’s ‘PYT’ and ‘Rock with You’ helped form the smooth and soulful component of dance music. I love the rich production quality of 70s soft rock such as Michael McDonald’s ‘What A Fool Believes’. New Order’s ‘Thieves Like Us’ was a big one. 1980s Hip Hop such as Eric B & Rakim’s ‘Paid in Full’, EPMD ‘Strictly Business’, Marvin Gaye’s whole album ‘What’s Going On’ was a huge record for me.

But more recently, Jimpster has a ton of tracks and remixes that I loved including ‘Dangly Panther’ and ‘Momma’s Groove’. Trentmøller’s ‘Le Champagne’ is one of my all-time fave house tracks. And Sander Klienenberg’s ‘My Lexicon’ and ‘Frog Dancing’ were big tracks for me back in the vinyl days and they were special tracks from a production point of view.

You were born in London but spent most of your youth in Canada I believe, so how did growing up in Toronto influence your music taste and direction? Or did it at all?

The last answer was so long so I’m not sure anyone’s even reading anymore, but Toronto was a huge influence on me musically. The underground house scene in the late 80s and 90s was incredible. It wasn’t mainstream at all and clubs such as Industry, Focus, and The Twilight Zone, and The Guvernment were just transcendent experiences that I wouldn’t change for anything. Toronto had its own sound that was a marriage of Detroit techno, Chicago house, and European house and then progressive house and trance. It’s hard to describe what the scene was like musically, but it was fresh and totally unique in the way DJs played music.

What are some of your best memories from first going to clubs? Were there specific nights or sets that really made you feel you wanted to pursue electronic music?

There were so many nights that were legendary, and I really fell in love with house music at a very young age when the genre was just starting. I started clubbing at the age of 15 but it wasn’t until going to Toronto’s legendary Industry and London’s Ministry of Sound was when I saw myself as a DJ. There were A LOT of amazing memories at clubs, but a few are: Daft Punk with DJ Sneak at Industry (Toronto); David Morales at Industry; Danny Tenaglia at Twilo (NYC); Sasha & Digweed’s Delta Heavy show at The Warehouse (Toronto); Nick Warren at Meow (Toronto); Steve Lawler at System Soundbar (Toronto).

If you were a tour-guide for nightlife in Toronto, what would be the clubs you’d take the people to see and what local DJs do they need to hear?

I think I’d want to take people in a time machine to some of the best clubs and DJs that I really loved from the city. You’d want to see Mark Oliver at the Guvernment in the early 2000s; Evil P (RIP) at System Soundbar on a Saturday night was amazing tribal funky house music; Peter & Tyrone on 4 turntables at Industry in the late 90s was legendary; Kenny Glasgow and Mario J. at Industry on 4 decks at Industry (after Peter & Tyrone) was so avant garde at the time.

What have been some of your favourite venues to perform at in Toronto over the years, and why?

I’d say my two favourite venues I’ve played in the city were the residencies I had at System Soundbar and BOA. System was a great clubbers club. It wasn’t glam but it had a great vibe. The crowd was pretty open and were locked into the sets. I love intimate venues for like 500 people, so it was a special scene. BOA was a totally different experience but was great to play there. The booth was amazing, and the sound system was a solid Dynacore kit. Even though you’re a bit separated from the crowd, the attention to sound quality was important to me. There’s nothing like hearing exceptional music on an incredible system. I also really liked playing Coda. It’s an awesome room when you’ve got a good crowd.

If you are not DJing or socializing at clubs, where do we find you? And doing what?

I work a lot so I’m either on music, music videos, or other creative projects for Parvati Foundation or freelance work.

When you were first getting started in production did you have someone help you or are you completely self-taught? And what would you recommend new producers do to help with the learning curve of production?

I’m pretty much self-taught. When I first started producing it was before YouTube, so you were pretty much on your own. I know, can you imagine? I started out with Cubase and Reason and pretty much fiddled my way through it via trial and error. I stress the word error. I don’t always have the patience to read manuals, so I mostly just try to figure things out. Probably not efficient. Ableton really changed the game for me though. As an artist I loved the speed that you can work. For new producers I would definitely recommend Ableton Live. There’s so much online support and tutorials that it’s pretty hard not to find out how to do things. I also recommend throwing out the idea of perfectionism. Your first few tracks are likely going to suck but it’s about the process which is what you should really aim to enjoy. If you’re so focused on making something perfect and only care about the final product you could miss the magic of the creative process. Be curious. Be fearless. Also, copying isn’t bad when you’re learning. I remember once taking a track that I loved, and reverse engineered it. I used it as a reference and followed the exact structure to see how it was made. With the technology today and the online help there’s no excuse to not make something. The only limitation now is your creativity so have fun. If you feel you’re not having fun but you’re beating yourself up, like I used to do, just take a step back, go to your decks and dj for an hour, take a walk, hug a tree (not kidding), and be gentle with yourself. If the desire is there then success, to whatever degree, will follow. Not everyone is destined for superstardom, but joy is free and it’s available to everybody.

You have a new remix of La Vue’s ‘Humanity’ out now via 3rd Avenue, tell us a bit about how you approached the production and what was it about the original track which made you want to remix it?

I’ve loved that Charlie Chaplin monologue for years, so it really spoke to me. I also love humanity, the planet, and want the best for all living things so it felt like a track I should remix. Plus, I love the label. I was a little reticent to take it on at first as the original was so good, so I decided to not use too much from the original. I tend to do this a lot. I’m not one to do an edit of an original but more of a reimagining. I like to find the parts that speak to me, listen to them in isolation and then allow the sounds to then listen to how they want to be expressed. I love doing this with vocals as I often hear a completely different vibe to the original. It’s more liberating that way. It’s a nice relationship with the creative spirit and the energy of sounds. I didn’t have much of an intention at first other than feeling that it wanted to have a smooth ride. But I kept hearing an afrofunk/tribal woodblock sound, so I had to just use it and push it up front in the mix.

Let our readers inside your studio for a moment, what is your current setup and what studio tools are featured heavily in your recent productions and more specifically the ‘Humanity’ remix?

I have a very humble studio setup for starters. I’ll probably get back to more of a hardware-centric kit but for now I used a lot of VST synths. I used a Diva and Korg M1 a lot on this remix.

What does writing a track look like for you? Could you walk us through the production process on your ‘Humanity’ remix?

I listened to each of the parts that the label, 3rd Avenue, provided and dropped the ones that spoke to me the most into Ableton. There were some synth leads, pads and swells that I really liked from the original, and of course the vocal. I like to cut parts up to differentiate from the original sounds to keep it interesting. I then got a 30 second loop going with a synth line and starting building sounds around them. I like to find the kick and some percussion that fit with the sounds that I’ve chosen to use so it all feels harmonious. I know producers have their own way of doing things which is great that people do things differently. Once I had a nice loop going, I start arranging, but it’s usually only enough for the first couple of minutes of the track so I start building the track as I go. It’s a bit more like DJing that way and I don’t get stuck with a loop that I have to make a whole song out of. In the case of ‘Humanity’ as I started to arrange and produce as I was going things changed. The track started taking on a life of its own and the mood of the original track was transformed. Then there’s the break. The vocal is so good and so meaningful and full of emotion that I wanted it to have its own space, so I stripped things down to let the vocal breathe over one of the piano lines that I loved from the original. Since the content of the vocal is quite intense, I wanted people to feel positive, so I cut up the piano part and rearranged it into a new pattern which gave it a more uplifting vibe before the kick comes back in. Then a new baseline comes in as well so there’s evolution. And of course, growing panning synths to get a little mini crescendo.

Let’s talk about production a bit more for a moment, where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play in writing music for you?

Excellent question. I can definitely be inspired by other artist’s work even though my productions don’t sound anything like what I’m inspired by. With house music I can only write when I’m happy. I don’t find any inspiration if I’m upset or stressed or any emotion other than being joyful. That being said, you wouldn’t guess that I’m in a state of joy all the time when writing because I’m so focused and concentrating but being in a state of wonder and being open to accept what is happening is a joyful experience. I have written a few pieces in reaction to a scenario I gave myself. For example, years ago I was picturing a scene where a woman was walking home on a warm summer day at golden hour. It ended up being a light, positive, upbeat piece. It’s fun to give yourself projects like this to really get into the mood of the scene and play it out. It resulted in a 2:15 track called ‘Sunkissed Road’ that I didn’t do anything with but just quietly posted it one day. Barely anyone’s heard it but here it is https://on.soundcloud.com/bB3ib. I don’t get the time to do this as much as I’d like to but every piece I’ve done where I’ve had an intention to sonically paint a scene it’s had the vibe, I wanted it to have and often turns out better than I had hoped.

Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practice? And who is someone you share your new music with first for feedback?

This is something that I often wish I did more of. I definitely have to “walk away from the canvas” often to come back to it with a fresh perspective but I don’t do that enough. Sometimes there just isn’t enough time if there’s a tight deadline but I try to always listen to the piece in different environments and on different devices like I’ll play it on a pair of headphones as I’m flossing and brushing my teeth or walking through nature⁠—as best as I can in downtown Toronto. Most times I hear the most issues in a track AFTER the track has been mastered and sometimes when it’s already released. Most times the things I wish I could change are small but they’re significant enough to me. I usually only share my productions with my partner, Katie. Once she’s feeling the track then I know it’s there. I might tweak it a bit more after that but when she reacts to it then we’re there.

What is the task you enjoy the most when producing and what would you prefer someone else to do?

I love the creative part of playing and producing the music, building and arranging. I really do love all aspects of producing except mixing and mastering – that part gets tedious for me as I’d like someone who really knows their stuff to do that part of the project.

What would be a musical extravagance for your studio you would pay for, if you were very wealthy?

I’m totally fine with a humble set up but since you asked, I’d like to have more outboard gear as I got rid of some things but would like some other pieces like some vintage Roland synths such as a Juno 6, Jupiter 8, Waldorf Blofeld, and a Moog Subsequent to start.

Now let’s talk about DJing for a moment, it’s a unique discipline at the border between presenting great music and creating something new with it, between composition and improvisation to an extent. How would you describe your approach to it?

Great definition of the artform. For me it’s all about the flow and vibe. I love the many possibilities that DJing brings. One song can take on completely different moods depending what you play before it and where it goes after. I love creating new moments and do that through looping at times where you need to extend the transition as it helps the narrative of a set. Modern music has become a bit restless in that it’s harder to find music with long intros and outros so the DJ can spend more time blending. You have to be fluid and read a room, but I really like my sets to evolve through the hills and valleys of house.

Can you tell me a bit about how your work as a DJ has influenced your view of music, your way of listening to tracks and perhaps also, your work as a producer?

By starting off my career as a DJ was the best route I could have taken, and it definitely helped me feel how tracks are made and how they evolve. Having been on the DJ side for the longest time I was so conscious of giving DJs some space to mix in and out of a track. I pass on so many tracks because the track didn’t leave any room for mixing. There’s also the buildup, break and drop that you really get to understand from DJing. I don’t produce as many “bomb” type tracks anymore as it can become too cliché at times but just being conscious of how something might sound on a dancefloor is a definite consideration at times.

If you could set up an event with a line-up of five artists of your choice, who would you book and what set times would you ascribe to the artists?

Addex: 9-11pm
Atish: 11pm-1am
Lee Burridge: 1am-3am
Adam Port: 3am-4:30am
&Me: 4:30am-6am

What’s a book you’ve read or film you watched that has left an impact on you, and why?

For books, Eckhart Tolle ‘A New Earth’ was a phenomenal book that anyone on a spiritual journey should read. You could take a university course on this book it’s so deep. And when I was a teenager, I read ‘Black Like Me’ which was a very important book for me. It helped understand empathy by reading what it’s like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and how reality can be which is important to know so it can be changed. Films are a tough one because I love cinema so much. Wes Anderson’s ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ really satisfied my creative side as I know it does for many people.

You’ve got one meal left on earth, what are you having and where is the meal taking place?

Interesting question. I might have a light dinner of steamed veggies with some quinoa. Something that’s super charged with light positive energy to transition from this life, so my soul is light and clean.

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

Nature. Being in nature is a huge reset button for me. Whether it’s being around trees, or the water, or flowers and birds, there’s something that’s so soothing about nature that helps me remember who I really am. Not someone who makes music, or creates art or who wears certain clothes, but that I’m of nature. When I align with that, I’m at my most natural, balanced self.

What does the remainder of 2023 hold for you? Anything you can share with us?

2023 is looking like it could potentially be one of the most interesting years of my life…but it’s nothing I can talk about just yet.

Adam's remix of La Vue 'Humanity' is available now via 3rd Avenue: https://bit.ly/3o1zn2c

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