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Feature: Nick Muir [Interview + Podcast]

20 min read

Nick Muir is a producer and DJ of the highest order, he is also a musician and composer, and is widely recognised as one scene’s most respected creative mavericks. To mark the release of his new solo project on Bedrock, John Digweed’s long time studio partner has created this exclusive podcast mix for Progressive Astronaut, and we also caught up with the great man to find out what he’s up to…

Hi Nick, its an honour to have you here at Progressive Astronaut. Your podcast mix features a superb selection of exciting new music. How are you feeling about the electronic music scene at the moment? How inspired are you by what you’re hearing?
Thanks for having me! I think that in many ways this is a golden era for electronic music. When I first started out in my music career electronic music was kind of on the sidelines, but now it is absolutely front and centre of the musical landscape. The tools we have available are mind-blowing and because these means of production are so accessible, a lot of people are making music with them. This in turn means that some of those people are getting amazingly good at using them and making great music as a result. As always, this not so much inspires me as scares the pants off me to up my game!

You’ve featured your tracks ‘Mirror Walk’ and ‘In The Room’ in your podcast mix – what were the inspirations and themes behind this new Bedrock EP?
So… these two tracks are 2 sides of a coin really, at least in my mind at any rate. ‘Mirror Walk’ is the hypnotic end of the scale, the sort of track that you’d hear as part of a mix without really knowing where it’s gonna go, if anywhere… One of the things I love about dance music is that it can sound great just looping out (as long as you’re using the right elements). The impulse as a producer is to leap in and start changing stuff but sometimes you just don’t need to do that. The first part of ‘Mirror Walk’ uses this idea - but then I do the happy drop and take it up. ‘In The Room’ is all about the energy. That’s another aspect of dance music that I love, the drive and power you can invest in it. Once you put driving machine beats through a decent system it’s a real thrill, it carries you along and pushes you up to new heights. It’s the sort of track that you might throw on later in a set to keep everyone moving - to maintain the energy that’s In The Room.

What else have you been up to so far this year?
All sorts... John Digweed and I have written a new track for a major Bedrock project; we finished off a collab with the very talented Eagles and Butterflies; I scored a short film for an arts project; did a great little underground gig for Frisky Radio in Orlando, Florida, last week; revamped all the station IDs for John’s ‘Transitions’ radio show; did a club edit of a track by the British band Wolf Alice… And… it’s still only February! Busy is good!!

What is the feeling like when you play in front of a crowd and drop one of your new tracks for the first time? How much can you learn from the crowd’s reaction?
Good question. It’s a funny old thing, playing your own tracks - you necessarily have a different relationship with your own music than you do with other people’s. I remember being out at club nights, dancing, listening to a set and occasionally one of our tracks would come on. I found it a slightly uncomfortable experience because I stopped enjoying the music and started worrying about whether the hi-hat was loud enough or something! So, playing a new track out can be a nerve-wracking experience. Again though, it’s really about the energy in the room and you can instantly feel if things go flat which is not what you want. As long as that doesn’t happen then I’m happy. Anything else is a bonus!

A DJ is in a very interesting position if he or she can harness the power of music to transport people to a different state of mind – what are your thoughts on this?
Another good question! It depends I suppose, on what you mean by ‘a different state of mind’. Also how it is that you ‘harness the power’, as you put it, to make the change that you’re talking about. So for me, the feeling when I’m writing or playing, is that I’m trying to ‘get out of the way’ of the music. I’m trying to remove obstacles to the good stuff coming through. I always had a bit of a problem when I perceived that the music I was making sounded too much like ‘me’. If I could get to the point where it just sounded, to my ears, like music and not so much like music I had personally made, then I knew I was getting closer to something worth listening to. So, ‘harnessing the power’ of music is, to me, more about letting go, but this also involves spending a lot of time getting good with your chosen instrument or software platform (which are the same thing, in reality) because that can also be an obstacle to your creativity. It’s about feeling it more than thinking about it and I believe this is the change in state of mind that you’re referring to. If you spend a few hours in front of a sound system listening to some great head music that has been well put together, that’s what happens. You end up in a frame of mind that is more about feeling than thinking. Sorry about the lengthy reply!

Where in the world are you most excited to play right now?
Well, I do a lot of gigs in South America, particularly Argentina, which, as any DJ who plays our sort of style will tell you, is a fantastic scene. But traditionally Europe has always been great - Germany - what an incredibly important contribution has come out of there over the years. Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Stockhausen, Klaus Schulze - these people are largely responsible for the electronic sounds we hear today. Berlin is a fantastic city for this scene. There are great parties in the UK - John played in Dublin recently and it was complete madness! I would like to get over to the States and Canada more, but also watch out for India and Pakistan, they so completely and utterly ‘get it’ - a great party crowd.

How important is a deep-rooted love of what you do when you spend so much of your time in the studio?
I feel like I need another lifetime to get through all that I feel is inside me, musically speaking. I have been drawn to music, or more accurately the means for making music, instruments and so forth, for as long as I can possibly remember. I used to read the Bells guitar catalogue under the desk at school when I was supposed to be doing geography or something… It’s not a problem for me to spend hours, days, or years doing this. It’s slightly embarrassing really! It’s not so much a deep-rooted love, it’s more like a physical necessity. Maybe I have a problem? Lol

The dance music scene has evolved in so many ways since you started out – what elements do you find most exciting now and for the future?
What’s most fascinating is that a lot of what I thought was going to happen with electronic music (and music in general) has now happened, albeit not always in the way that I thought it would. What happens to movements and trends in music tends to go hand in hand with what’s happening culturally and socially, as well as technologically. I’m starting to hear about algorithms and AI, which will write music with no human intervention whatsoever. This is undoubtedly viable but it will up to us as to what we make of it. We are going to have to define, or clarify, what music actually is and what we want our relationship to it to be. It’s the old question - if music is being made by robots, for robots, is it actually music?

So where it goes from here is anybody’s guess. I know this much though, I’m enjoying music, all music, more now than I ever did. Also, great music is as much about ideas as it is about rhythm and frequency. I’m excited by original and brilliant ideas. Stuff that works when you never expected it would.

What new projects are you working on to be unveiled in 2018?
It’s the Bedrock Records 20th Anniversary this year. Bedrock and my work with John has been a huge part of my career in music so we will be working to mark that in the appropriate fashion. Also, I intend to write as much original music as I can - and to try and get that damn kick drum sounding right!

Nick Muir - Mirror Walk / In The Room (Bedrock) Is out now:
Beatport: https://www.beatport.com/label/bedrock-records/63

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