|Playing favourites: Nick Curly
The Mannheim DJ/producer opens up about the hip-hop, pop and dance music that has shaped his career.
Mannheim may not be the most well-known city in Germany, but it has certainly produced its share of talented artists. Over the past few years Nick Curly has taken his place among them, and become one of the biggest names in house as a result. Curly started as a DJ in the mid-'90s, quickly securing his first residency at club Vibration in Karlsruhe. Later on, he became a fixture in his hometown, playing in clubs such as Loft and SoHo, throwing parties along with his friends Ray Okpara and Johnny D under the name of RAJO and starting his own label 8bit Records.
Curly's career, both as DJ and producer, became a more international concern right around the launch of Cécille Records, which Curly founded with Marc Scholl in 2007. Originally intended merely as an outlet for a group of friends such as SiS, Ray Okpara and Johnny D, it brought Mannheim back onto Germany's ever-changing techno map. These days, Curly is an internationally sought-after DJ, a regular guest at Cocoon and a resident in Ibiza at Space's Kahakuma event. He'll be releasing his debut album, Between the Lines, in March on Cécille, and he'll be making his latest hometown appearance at this year's Time Warp festival on March 31st.
I was about 13 when this album came out. That was the time when I started listening to music more actively and The Chronic certainly played a part in my musical socialization. I wouldn't call myself a hip-hop expert, and I don't really own all that many rap albums, but I regularly come back to this. It's all about the beats, because it is surprisingly "musical" for a rap album, if you know what I mean. Obviously I didn't know that back then, but it's nice to see how it withstood the test of time.
You grew up near Mannheim, a part of Germany that had been shaped by the presence of the US troops stationed there. Did you notice this influence as you grew up?
Yes, I had quite a few American schoolmates, and one of my neighbor's fathers had been a GI over here as well. Of course those kids brought "their" music along to school and later to our youth clubs. It also showed in the local club scene. There were a couple of clubs playing early house and techno, such as the Milk in Mannheim, but generally speaking, most clubs were probably built around R&B and hip-hop. When we were a bit older, we occasionally used to go out in a place named Nachtschicht in nearby Heidelberg, which had a regular night on Thursdays, where they played a lot of hip-hop. It wasn't the coolest place to go, but you know, being young and such, we took whatever there was.
Now, most men I know either listen to this album because they are depressed or because they want to get it on with some girl. What about you? Be honest.
[laughs] Neither. I mostly listen to Sade when I'm waking up; she kind of lifts me up, as strange as this may sound. But I know what you mean—me and my girlfriend often listen to this album together. Only recently, we caught Sade playing live in Mannheim. She not only has a great voice, but a great personality as well. I actually read a bit into her history the other day, and apparently she has had some emotional ups and downs over the years, which make her shows and the drive she presents on stage even more remarkable.
Can you imagine a singer such as Sade providing her vocals to a house track?
If we are just speaking theoretically, sure, why not? Especially over the past few years, many producers began to create edits of pop songs, putting more focus on the vocals itself. An example that comes to my mind would be the Solomun edit of Jamie Woon's "Night Air." The most important thing about it is that it maintains the proper verses. It is not just a single line looped over and over, and thanks to this, people in clubs slowly rediscover the power of vocals and full verses. So yeah, I'd buy a house track with Sade singing on top of it.
Enjoy It Now
You may call it pop, but for me, this is a proper "hand-made" house music, which you hardly hear (and see) in clubs anymore these days. I think it's something different if you have a DJ playing in his booth or if you have a full band putting on a show. It's a pity you don't really get to see them live over here.
Why do you think this is the case?
I guess lots of promoters and clubs are under the impression that a band is a major hassle and that it costs a lot of money to bring them from one country to another. But with the budgets some bigger clubs are working with these days, I don't think it would be too much of a problem. The main problem is supply and demand, really. Promoters don't think bands such as Tortured Soul will be worth booking, because the people don't want to see a live show in a club, but on the other hand, hardly anyone knows that such bands exist at all.
And in Germany, there aren't too many of this kind...
That's true. Maybe there is some sort of history missing.
Herbert & Dani Siciliano
I'm a huge Herbert fan. I like almost everything he has ever done and most of the people he recorded with. I know some of his stuff requires a bit of effort on behalf of the listener, as he can be quite spacey. That's why I chose this track, because it shows his connection to the club scene more than anything. I still occasionally play this in my sets, especially during a warm-up or after hour session.
Herbert is one of the producers that often employ the technique of "micro-sampling." Did this approach influence your production work by any chance?
On my upcoming album, I tried to avoid sampling at all. I worked with three vocalists, two guys and a woman, and I recorded a lot of live instruments. Even before I started with the production, I had some drums recorded, just to be able to use them in case I need them, whether it's just a hi-hat track or a simple snare drum. Herbert would probably have used his kitchen for this [laughs]. Anyway, I like to tell myself that you are able to hear whether it is sampled from another record or recorded on your own.
The Man with the Red Face
This came out in 2000. When did you start DJing?
I started around 1995, but back then I mostly played breakbeats. Mannheim is pretty much situated in between Stuttgart and Frankfurt, so first we went out in Mannheim and Stuttgart, where breakbeat and house were more popular. Later, I found myself more and more connected with the music scene in Frankfurt, you know, Dorian Gray, Omen and Sven Väth. That's probably when I heard this the first time. There is a reason a lot of DJs mention this as one of their favorites. It creates an energy that is basically unchallenged. But it also provides a glimpse into Laurent's colorful personality. If you ever happened to see him DJ, you know what I mean—the way he switches between funk, soul and techno. He loves to present himself as a man that can't be pinned down. And you can hear that in this track as well.
I find that saxophone quite irritating to be honest.
Ah, but you aren't supposed to listen to this at home. This is made for a club, where it creates a dynamic on its own if you play it at the right time. I still go crazy when I'm out and some DJ plays this.
Entrada De Sol
Markus had never had a release before this came out. In fact, he didn't even produce all that many tracks before. When I first heard the demo, it didn't strike me as a necessarily "strong" track. It certainly wasn't a proper club hit. But it had something else, a very unique, very emotional build-up in its ten minutes. So me and my label partner Marc [Scholl] decided to take a leap and launch Cécille with "Entrade de Sol" on the B-Side. Maybe it was just to prove a point, to make a statement that it doesn't need to be all about the dance floor all the time. And, quite surprisingly, it was very well received, which is why I decided to include it. Looking back, I don't think Cécille would have been that successful if we hadn't taken some risk from the start.
With 8bit Records, you already ran a label before Cécille. Why did you decide to launch another one?
We basically started Cécille out of the blue. Once I heard the tracks from Markus and some new ones by SiS, who had a release on 8bit before, I felt like they needed to be heard. However, 8bit had a more established, deeper and probably a bit more focused sound and I didn't see those tracks on 8bit—and neither did my partner. Marc did, however, and so we decided to launch Cécille for tracks that are a bit more "experimental" and playful, so to say.
As you just mentioned the difference between Cécille and 8bit—this is quite different compared to Johnny's later output.
Exactly, that's what I just said: The music on 8bit tends to be a bit deeper and less driven by percussion. Some people were not convinced about "Walkman" at first, but I like its mellow, laid-back groove. I was also impressed about the way Johnny handled the whole production, up to him singing on top of it. It's still my favorite track of his, and given his later success, especially after the release of "Orbitalife" on OSLO, that means something.
How long have you known Johnny?
I think we first met somewhere around the turn of the century. We also used to work together before we both started making music professionally. Back then, Ray [Okpara] and Johnny were throwing parties in and around Mannheim and I joined them shortly after. It was an interesting mix, because Johnny has his roots in drum & bass, Ray used to be involved in hip-hop and I brought these house influences along with me. Our parties became quite successful, maybe because they attracted all these different crowds.
Metro Area is something different. Again, as with Herbert, it's one of those records in which you need to dive in before you really get it. They have a couple of tracks that work very well on the dance floor, but it's also a lesson in history. The way they took in all these influences, from house to disco and, of course, New York. And yet they made something completely else out of it, which I find really impressive. Just sounding "retro" doesn't do it for me.
Speaking of, lots of producers seem to have rediscovered disco over the past two years, not unlike Metro Area did ten years ago.
Yeah, I quite often play in England these days and I had a residency over at Space in Ibiza last summer, where a lot of that stuff got played as well. I like some of it, but it doesn't really fit my personal style. You know, I prefer to play a bit more forward or, if it happens to be an after hour, I prefer deep house rather than disco. But some guys do and some do it very well, so that's cool. However, I wouldn't necessarily compare it to Metro Area. You can pick out a Metro Area track from a hundred others.