Sentience goes psychedelic
Reported by Tara
Submitted 24-04-08 06:11
Nick Sentience needs no introduction. One of the most diverse producers of our times, his two artist albums ‘Universal Language’ (2004) and ‘Dance Planet’ (2007) were released to critical acclaim, while his many hard dance tracks helped define the genre. In more recent times however his music has started to follow a decidedly psychedelic trail. With his first live psychedelic set at Psychedelic Academy 005 on Bank Holiday Sunday 4 May @Brixton Academy, playing back to back with DJ, producer and wife Nicki S alongside psy stars Infected Mushroom and Astrix, and another album on the way, we managed to drag him out of the studio long enough to answer a few questions...
Nick @Fevah’s 10th birthday: Wellington, New Zealand
Hi Nick, thanks for taking some time out from the studio to answer some questions for the HarderFaster massive, it’s an honour. I’ve been a huge fan of your work for a good few years now, starting when a friend gave me a tape of one of your mixes when I lived in Japan many moons ago. That would’ve been around 2001 so you would’ve just have started DJing hard dance then! Can you remember the first time you ever played out as a DJ or is that but a twinkle on a very highly-powered LED board these days?
Yep, my first gig was at a club called House Heaven near Portsmouth. I went to college with a girl whose brother ran that night, and I pestered him with mix tapes until he gave me a set. It was wicked actually — a load of my college mates turned up and the place was rammed. I was so nervous, but a lot of my mates had helped me out by lending me records and I’d practiced it pretty well.
The only trouble was in those days I only had a set of belt drive record decks at home and the club had Technics, so I had to wing it on the night. My set ended up being sort of stapled together on the fly, but somehow I rocked it and took the roof off the place. The fact that it went well inspired me to keep at it.
You’ve been working on a new album, which has a definite psy lean and certainly goes in a more experimental direction. How’s it all going? Have you got much work left and do you have a label lined up to release it?
Yep the album is about halfway there I think, and there is a definite influence from the psy scene on there. But it’s not going to be an album of purely hard and fast psy trance, as I want the album experience to be about more than that. I’m looking at having quite a range of styles, possibly over a couple of discs, so that alongside the more clubby and uptempo stuff there will be some ups and downs with tempo variation.
There’s still a lot of work to do, and I’m just in the process of getting the artwork done, but I’m just about to release an EP which will give a taster of what’s coming. Watch my MySpace page for the info on the EP as my website’s still being built.
This will be your third album, after ‘Universal Language’ (2004) and ‘Dance Planet’ (2007). Third albums are notorious in the music industry for being difficult, especially when the previous two are as successful as yours. Are you finding it stressful in the studio to match the high standards of your first two albums, or is it a case of third time even luckier?
With each album comes a massive learning experience and some things go well and others not so well. This third album is definitely about taking the good and bad things of what I did on the last two and trying to improve on that.
The amount of effort that goes into these projects is massive, and it’s only by doing it that you can really learn how things can be done better the next time around.
I think that sometimes the mistakes we make are the best learning experiences, and the trick is to just try it and give it your best shot.
I read a good phrase which was that success is just getting up again after each time you trip up, and I think that’s a good way of looking at things.
In recent years your DJ sets and overall sound has become more and more influenced by psy trance. How did you first get into psy trance and what key DJs and producers have helped lure you down the psy trail?
I’ve actually been into psy trance since I was about 15, except it was called Goa then. When I was still at college in Portsmouth I was into a really wide range of music — everything from dance to metal and all in between. I used to buy records from labels like Tip, Dragonfly, Transient, Return to the Source, Matsuri and loads more.
After the Goa thing faded a bit I didn’t really get much of it, apart from the odd Transient album. But then the scene re-invented itself gradually and in about 2004 I was given a Dragonfly album by Ed at Trackitdown called ‘Absolute Threshold’ and when I heard it, I realised that everything had moved on and I got back into it again.
A big influence after that was funnily enough the first Psy Academy CD, which I was sent to review when I did some press for Notion magazine, and I put that CD on in the car on a long motorway trip back from a gig in Leeds and it was that CD that really did it for me. I thought all the tracks were so imaginative and were energetic without being formulaic. At the time I was running out of ideas on the sound I had been doing from my Nukleuz era, and I was looking for something fresh and exciting, and psy trance was just the ticket.
I always listen to loads of different music though. I have lived and breathed music since I was 13 and been a fully professional producer since I was 18, so it takes all sorts to float my boat. The reason I enjoy doing gigs in the psy scene is because of the massive effort that always goes into the décor and sound on the night. The production is always mind blowing, and everyone on the dancefloor gets on with the job of dancing for hours. You can really take them with you, as they are a very patient audience.
Psy trance is generally considered more difficult to produce then other genres as there’s so many levels to it. Do you think that’s indeed the case? If so, has it taken you long to get your head around it?
Yes, it is very challenging to produce, and that is what really draws me to it, as I always want to challenge myself when I work on music. I appreciate music that sounds like it has loads of effort put into it, and psy definitely delivers that.
There are so many different styles in the psy scene, and it can be slow, fast, deep or full on, and people also do breaks as well. It offers so many opportunities to be creative.
You’ve already produced over 30 tracks this year— that’s one hell of a lot of music! What style(s) predominate and is there any style you find easier to produce than others? Does what constitutes a great track vary between genres and if so, how?
Yes I’ve been really busy this year. A lot of those tracks have been engineering for other people. I work pretty quickly and do a track mostly in a day, so I can fit quite a few jobs in a week.
I’ve been doing all sorts genres, from hard house, trance, electro, hardstyle and anything in between.
A few of the people I’ve been engineering for are D4RK Records, Ben Townsend, Chris Comben, Dave Curtis, Marc Johnson, Vinylgroover, Anne Savage, Rob Tissera and BK, so it’s kept me pretty busy.
I enjoy any music which is well done, and I do electro under the name Fake Hero, and a load of those tracks on Fakt records were played by James Zabeila, Tim Sheridan and Nic Fanculli.
So as well as that in my spare time I’m working on my third artist album for release at the end of Summer, as when I’m not producing for other people I work on music that I want to produce for myself.
I’m also working with Lez from Lab 4 on a track for his album which I’m enjoying.
Nick @Extreme Euphoria vs Tidy Closing Party: Es Paradis, Ibiza
You’ve always been one of my favourite hard dance DJs and producers and still keep one foot in the hard dance camp, having worked with the likes of BK, Anne Savage, Vinyl Groover, Lez Lab 4, Marc Johnson, Rob Tissera and many more. Do you have much coming up in the hard dance pipeline or are you focussing more on psy trance and other genres for the time being?
The work I do for the hard dance scene is mainly toward the engineering side of things these days. I do the odd gig at Polysexual etc, so I am still around, but everyone these days know that my sound has been very psy influenced. Eskimo has been firing out some mad hard house crossover stuff, but with the production and energy of psy trance, so that’s the tip I normally play on in those clubs.
Spending so much time in the studio, your kit is pretty damn important. What software and hardware are you using at the moment and are there any special pieces of gear you’d recommend to the many up and coming producers reading this — or would you prefer to keep that a secret!
I am always trying to improve my studio setup, and have just got Logic 8 and Mac Osx 10.5, but upgrading takes a while as I have so much work on that I can’t afford for an upgrade to mess up my settings, so I’m doing it slowly. I’ve got right into Logic 8 now as well though, and that’s my main sequencer, but I have a JP8000 and Virus TI for the lead sounds, as well as I like Nexus and Predator plugs best. I’m looking at getting a PC with Cubase onboard so people who use that can feel at home in my room, but for me it’s Apple Mac and Logic all the way. They are a good team, and I recommend them to anyone who is serious about production.
You paid your production dues at the Nukleuz record factory — creating such masterpieces as ‘Digital Dialogue’, ‘Purple Twilight’ and ‘Intoxicate’ — and your remixes like Storm’s ‘Time to Burn’ (Data Records/2000) and Marco Picotto’s ‘Lizard’ (VC Recordings/2000) are now considered timeless classics. Is there any key factor that you know now about producing music that you wish you’d known back then? Or was learning to produce and developing your own style all part of the fun?
Producing music is dependent on so many things such as the studio you’re in and the kit that is available at the time. Back then it was all about the Akai S3200 sampler, and you needed a room with a full mixing desk and loads of outboard gear and FX. You can only do the best you can with the gear you’ve got at the time, but we found ways to use that kit to get the best out of it.
You’ve recently been offered a sample CD deal. Can you tell us a bit more about what this involves?
The people from Loopmasters have asked me to put together a pack for them and I am looking at it putting it together. They have got lots of good ones done by Aquasky and Marshall Jefferson, so I’ll be in good company. Go to www.loopmasters.com for more info. It will involve a lot of hard work, and their sample packs are full of everything in all formats for Logic, Reason, Kontakt etc so it’s a pretty concise pack. I’ll be making sure I put some awesome stuff on there.
I’ve done a couple of other sample packs before for Trackitdown which include a Nick Sentience hard dance one, which has a load of crazy sounds and fx for all types of hard dance and psy and techno, and a Fake Hero — Trackitdown Electro House Essentials pack.
The sample pack for Loopmasters will be a much bigger affair though, it’s gigabytes worth of data and in all formats, so it will take a bit of time.
I think it will be great fun to put together and I’ll hopefully learn a lot in the process of doing it.
As the ‘Universal Language’ DVD more than illustrates, you’ve always been interested in combining visuals with music. Do you think you’d ever be up for combining the two and using the new technology to DVJ as the likes of Sander van Doorn and Marco V now do? Or do you prefer to focus on the music when on stage?
I think a good visual setup can really add dimension and flavour to the whole night, and good artwork and graphics makes for a good CD or DVD product. How something looks is just as important as how it sounds as a good club atmosphere is created by the ambience of the décor and the quality of the sound.
You’ve said before on here that London is “a hub of creativity.” Do you still feel that way and why do you think that’s the case? Do you ever have problems getting creative in the studio and if so, how do you deal with it?
London is a place which has so much going on that it possible to do just about anything you like, whether it’s day or night, so it’s a great place to live and work.
I think every artist will have periods of time where creativity is low and others where it’s high. I felt a lot better about down periods when I saw the making of ‘Gladiator’, and Hans Zimmer — who is one of the best film score composers ever — said that at first he sat there staring at his screen for two days as was going to tell Ridley Scott that he couldn’t do it, and to find someone else to do it, but he managed to get on a flow and then pulled it together.
Creativity comes and goes in waves, and when you’re on a big wave you have to try and surf it as long as you can, because there are times when that wave comes down and everything is flat again.
What can be hard in the clubbing lifestyle is balancing the fact that you have to work late nights and often travel the country, sometimes doing 2- 3 gigs a weekend, and then also work hard all week in the studio as well.
The best way around it is to try and have some downtime to relax and get healthy. I eat good food and I live next to a massive park so I try and go out there and do some exercise to keep myself fit, as I found it’s so much easier to deal with the clubbing lifestyle if you are physically strong.
Not only that, but over Christmas and New Year I put on loads of weight and needed to lose it or I’d have a beer gut by now!
Hearing so much new music on a regular basis makes you extremely well qualified to comment on the current crop of noobies coming through. Who’s impressed you the most lately out of the up and coming DJs and producers you’ve heard? And which of the more established artists keep you coming back for more?
The new guys I think are hot are people like Technikal, Ashley James, Jim Wild at Zoology and the MDA and Spherical guys who are all starting up some really good things.
Alf Technikal is doing a new artist album and I’m doing a track with him next week for that, so that should be really good.
You’re playing a live set at Psychedelic Academy with your wife, the gorgeous and very talented Nicki S What can we expect from your set with Nikki S at Psy Academy?
We’ll be playing a lot of new tracks that we have done recently. Nikki’s career has been going full on lately after DJmag made her a top tip for the year and she has been working a lot with James Lawson on her forthcoming album. With all the new tracks I have ready for my next album, it will be a bit of a showcase for our new material and a chance to see how our new tracks sound on a big system.
Some of the new tunes we have done are on my Psy Academy promo mix and they are:
Nikki S and James Lawson — ‘Towards the Light’
Nick Sentience — ‘Intelligence’
Nick Sentience — ‘Sub Atomic’
Nick Sentience — ‘Move Your Body’
It must be one hell of a buzz to now be on the line-up on the main stage at Psy Academy. Is there any danger of you getting stage fright playing before Infected Mushroom and Astrix?
These days, I don’t really get stage fright, as I’ve done about 500 gigs and some up to 20,000 people, so I’m totally comfortable on stage most of the time. There’s the odd occasion where it’s stressful, but usually I’m up for it and try and vibe up the crowd.
You’ve also got a set coming up for Cream at the awesome Amnesia in Ibiza. Aside from the fact you’ll be playing solo, how will your set at Cream differ to that at Brixton Academy?
My set at Cream will be more downtempo as I already know I’ll be on earlier in the night, but my Psy Academy set will be one to raise the roof!
As resident and part of the promotional team of Innovate you’ve thrown some amazing parties and brought some great artists to the UK. Is there any hope for Innovate fans for any more events on the horizon?
We have plans for an Innovate reunion in Ibiza with the Ibizian Heat week, so watch this space for more info.
What else can we expect from you in 2008?
I have a new EP just about ready to go, so that should be available within the next couple of days on Trackitdown, and I’m working on a brand new website which will be launched soon.
I’ve got some good gigs coming up including Polysexual, Escape in Swansea, Cream in Ibiza and of course Psy Academy!
You can keep up to date on my DSI group and on Myspace.
You’re certainly no stranger to collaborating on stage — in fact your live set with James Lawson at last November’s HeatUK birthday party was one of the sets of last year for me. What do you think the secret is to a good b2b live set?
The most important thing is that you work well together musically and the set flows. James and I go back a long way and were able to revamp a lot of our previous collaborations, so that worked really well. Nikki and I enjoy a lot of the same music, and she has worked really hard to get where she is. I really respect the fact that she built her DJ career herself and never used my name to promote herself. She always rocks a club and her mixing is spot on, so I’m happy to be doing a set with her. We are pretty lucky that we get along and can work and also do music together.
Many thanks Nick. Now best you get back in the studio to tweak those tracks for Psychedelic Academy! See you there!
Nick & James Lawson live @Koko: HeatUK's birthday Nov 2007
Psychedelic Academy 005
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Trance. Acid Trance. Euro Trance. Hard Trance. Tech Trance. Psy Trance. Nu NRG. Hi NRG. HardStyle. House. Deep House. Funky House. Hard House. Prog House. Tribal House. Vocal House. Electro House. Acid House. Tech House. Acid Techno. Deep Techno. Funky Techno. Minimal Techno. Techno. Breaks. Commercial Dance. Electro. Chillout / Leftfield. Rock.
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The views and opinions expressed in this review are strictly those of the author only for which HarderFaster will not be held responsible or liable.
| From: Mizz_behavin on 24th Apr 2008 11:55.36|
Wicked interview, will be interesting to hear your set!!
Psytrance rocks and is such a varied sound... from quite dark and hard to nice and light and fluffy
Roll on Bank Hol Weekend
From: Hannah Wild on 24th Apr 2008 15:17.45
I havent seen Nick or Nicki for years no
I miss u guys and I miss getting stuck in ur car at Escape to the Park ......... hahahahaha!! xx
From: antiworld on 24th Apr 2008 15:46.36
it will be amazing i am soo looking forward to it
see you ALL there....
From: TONY DUZZIT on 26th Apr 2008 08:39.48
Sentience = Legend....... They don't come any more diverse than this fella, see on the dance floor!!!!!
From: voodoobass on 27th Apr 2008 04:56.05
Aaaah, didn't know Fake Hero was you, Nick... Makes sense though! Fakt! is a great label, loving the output on there.
From: Anja on 27th Apr 2008 11:50.54
"I’ve been doing all sorts genres, from hard house, trance, electro, hardstyle and anything in between"??
?? Hardstyle, Nick? tell me it aint so!
From: Nikki S on 27th Apr 2008 18:08.10
Anja .. never fear ... those were engineering jobs for other producers
Looking forward to the 4th May!!
From: jFrantik on 27th Apr 2008 21:44.05
From: Anja on 28th Apr 2008 02:39.27
Thanks Nicki, lol and Nick of course
From: ~deleted1390 on 29th Apr 2008 09:17.17
Rah! Loving your work.
From: Nikki S on 29th Apr 2008 13:55.37
Here's Nick's 'Antiworld Promo Mix' - http://www.nicksentience.net/audio/NickSentience_AntiworldMix.mp3
From: Ashley James on 30th Apr 2008 18:51.36
Cheers for the mention Nick. Love ya.
From: onthebass on 4th May 2008 11:01.32
Great read and have it right off during your set tonight