We are very fortunate this week to have the talents of NIcolaas Black joining us. Settle in for an journey that will set your eardrums on a great adventure. Really taking his time to craft this mix, “Colors” (the title he has given this mix) really explores the different bandwidths of house, techno and classical themes, with flawless transitions that easily tell a story worth listening to for an hour and a half. Having several releases under his name and other monikers over the years he is someone who is greatly respected in the Los Angeles underground scene and you can often find him randomly at different festivals, clubs, and late night soires throughout Southern California and beyond. We had a chance to ask Nicolaas a few questions so sit back and enjoy the mix while we get to know more about Nicolaas Black.
PZB: Hi Nicolaas and thank you for putting together this weeks mix for us. We don’t very often get mixes with titles and I love the extended format. Give us some insight into “Colors” what our audience can expect when they listen to it please.
Nocolaas Black: Thanks Josh, I appreciate your support and in depth approach! My love of music in general and underground house & techno runs deep and way way back, so it’s hard for me to stick to only one genre. When I dJ it’s always situational, within what I love I adjust to the space, crowd, time slot. The sets are always an intersection of many different styles. But the truth is, there are always tracks that I don’t get a chance to play, and wish I could – like huge tracks that only belong in a festival, or certain kinds of house tracks that I’d pull off only in a crowd full of heads. So when I go to make a mix, I often want to dive into those tunes that I’ve collected, consider gems, but rarely have gotten a chance to play.. and so my mixes tend to be explorative musical themes that have accumulated in my psyche. “Colors”, which is also the name of my mix series on soundcloud, is definitely on the deeper side of house music, soulful but mostly modern, with a classic vibe and touches of ethnic flavors without going overboard, and marked with a lot of proper basslines. I feel bass lines are lacking in many tracks that are techy and currently rocking dancefloors all over the world. I have nothing against one note basslines, they are a mainstay in dance music and I both make and play stuff like that.. but for this mix I wanted to really highlight proper bass programming, which is something I feel young producers are lacking these days and why deep music, in my opinion, will trend-wise give way to funkier sounds that have taken a backseat in recent years.
PZB: We have known each other for a couple of years now through our affiliations in the Los Angeles underground scene but I feel like I have only barely gotten to know you both as a person and musically. I know you are extremely talented musician and an incredibly nice and wonderful person to talk with, but that is about it. I am very interested to know more about your background growing up. Where you are from originally and how much was music a part of your life when you were younger?
NB: Im originally from Kiev, Ukraine … but grew up in the midwest since I was 7. Iv lived in many cities here .. Louisville, Toledo, Chicago,
St Louis, Cleveland, Charlotte, Nashville, Ann Arbor. Definitely a weird mix of European and American hahaha. My mom was a concert violinist, so I was exposed to music at a very young age. I got to attend many symphonies, and saw some legendary musicians like Yitzak Perlman play. But other kinds of music were missing from the house.
PZB: Piggybacking off of that at what age did music start calling to you? What instruments have you played (Synthesizers and computers count ;), and who were some of your musical inspirations that have led you to where you are today?
NB: Well I started piano and violin lessons very young, but could never sit still so lessons were impossible. I never learned to read music. Maybe I was supposed to be a drummer, and thats why Im good at making beats and dance music ?? who knows. But later, when I was in college that’s when my friends introduced me to everything else, starting with rock n roll, and it was a crash course in a matter of months. From the Beatles to Led Zeppelin to Queen all the way to the 80s and into the 90s with NWA, Ministry and NIN. Industrial music was my first exposure to experimental electronic sounds, this gave me the freedom to imagine what could be done with computers way before I’d even heard of house music. I played guitar and wrote songs in a few bands, but after becoming a hippy and mellowing out, I discovered more hip hop, funk, soul, reggae, dub, disco, world music and jazz .. which changed my life completely. I learned how to play percussion and began to have a personal relationship with polyrhythms. After that house music and techno came into my life and nothing was the same.
After moving to Chicago, I became involved with the house music scene, did an internship and assisted at Slang Music Group, Vince Lawrence’s production company. It was housed within the building of legendary Trax Studio, which was owned by R Kelly and Ministry
( I came full circle !! NIN Pretty Hate Machine was recorded there too !! What a geek I am.) There, I was lucky to watch many old school house legends work on sessions .. Frankie Knuckles, Ron Carroll, Joe Smooth, Craig Loftus, were some of the names I was able to observe working on tracks. I learned Pro Tools watching Tom Carlisle mix and my good friend Kris Anderson work. I bought a Mac and haven’t looked back. Since then it’s been a very interesting evolution, most recently a re-commitment to analog and vintage synthesizers.
PZB: You have a handful of successful release over the last couple of years from Wulfpack, Elevated, Disco Kicks, Motek and most recently on Minimal Sessions. Take us into your mind for a minute. What process do you go through when you get into the studio to make music. Do you usually have something already in mind before you set out to start crafting the song? When you sit down to make a track, what are some initial things you always do before getting started?
NB: To me it’s become more of an issue of keeping the juice flowing and doing everything necessary to keep the door to creativity open, which isn’t easy on a daily basis. To keep things serving that steady flow, I try to streamline certain tasks, in order to create shortcuts to the fun creative elements, like basslines and melodies, in order to not slow down the process when I’m really feeling it. Like drums for example, I start a track with beats I’ve constructed from an earlier session and never used, so that getting going is quick and painless. The drums are sequenced in midi anyway so I can change them later very easily. But the point is to accelerate the production.
Workflow is something that sounds boring but took me many years to learn. It’s the most important thing to me, beyond an actual process.If I feel I should sit down to work but don’t feel like it, then I watch a film to make myself feel more emotional. I choose the film based on the vibe Id like to explore .. work myself up a bit. To me film is the most powerful medium, and its a huge influence on everything I do. I watch all sorts of movies .. sometimes really bad ones, with the sound on mute. Just follow the visuals and let my brain react.
PZB: If we were sitting in your studio with you what sort of setup would we be looking at? Do you have any particular pieces of hardware or software that you really love to work with?
NB: Yes I do ! My setup “The Pod” is based around my analog synth collection, Ableton and my old school Mackie HR824 monitors.
I can’t live without my Juno 6, which doesn’t have midi or ability to save sounds. It’s incredibly musical, immediate, robust, gorgeous, and just indispensable, from bass to pads to leads.. I’ve used it on almost every track I’ve worked on in the last 3 years. The Korg Mono/Poly is a standout, unpredictable and unique. I also absolutely love the Oberheim OB8, tough to program, sensitive, but such a pure and beautiful sound, I purchased it from Earth Wind & Fire!! I feel my original Dreadbox Erebus is one of the most incredible tones I’ve ever heard, so buttery.. And the Prophet 6 is just a beast, I’m just beginning to tap into its monster powers.
PZB: Let’s say you’re working on a new tune and you’ve got the chance to program some remixes for the EP. If you could have your pick and money, time etc were no object who are some of you favorite producers right now that you’d want to have a go at reworking your tracks?
NB: Lindstrom, Red Axes, Peggy Gou, Tiefschwarz
PZB: To be constantly making art is a difficult and taxing endeavor. When you’re stuck and cannot seem to get out of a creative rut, what do you do to get inspired?
NB: I sort of inadvertently answered that question above ! But Id add, nature usually also does the trick for me, especially the ocean. I go for a surf.
PZB: What do you enjoy listening to most when trying to get away from the house and techno worlds?
NB: Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, alot of reggae, dub, jazz .. Nils Frahm made a big impact this year after I saw his show in a church. And have been revisiting Burial alot.
PZB: A couple more just for fun. Help us understand your obsession with random breakfast please and if you could pick only one beach in the world to build a shack on and live in comfort forever where would it be?
NB: Ah .. I love that feeling of going to a diner after a great night out with your friends or partner .. you know, at like 3am in the morning. That feeling … Though in truth at this point, breakfast is comfort food for me and I can eat it at any hour of the day ! hahahaha
Its hard to choose one beach, especially one where it actually possible to build a shack, but I truly bonded with Uluwatu in Bali. That entire coastline is pure magic to me. And some serious surf.
PZB: Thank you so much for your time and the incredible mix you put together. Please keep us posted on future releases and when we can catch you again here in Los Angeles or elsewhere.
NB: Thank you Josh, love what you do and appreciate the love. I will be shortly self releasing my finished album “Chrysalis” on my new imprint Closer. It’s a full LP, 4 on the floor, a range of deeper sounds. Keep an ear out for that and some subsequent house/techno singles and collabs that are in the works. Finally I’m working on two more full length albums, one is mostly ambient with some experimental beats and the other a song oriented project ala Bonobo. Both something new, I like to keep things fresh in the studio : )