It’s not a stretch to refer to NIGHTMARES ON WAX aka George Evelyn aka DJ EASE as a legend. Currently a master of chill out and downtempo electronica, this producer’s beginnings lie in the early nineties ascendancy of Warp Records, the legendary UK label that brought techno to the masses. After a five year hiatus, he is poised to release his latest record, Feeling Good, which features collaborations with jazzanova composer Steve Studnitsky and vocalist KATY GRAY. Apart from raising a family, NIGHTMARES ON WAX regularly hosts Wax da Jam dance nights in his adopted island home of Ibiza. He’s collaborated with DE LA SOUL. He’s been a judge at the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam. On top of all that, he is also an unusually happy and gregarious guy who can deftly expand on deeper philosophical topics: let no one say George Evelyn is afraid to talk it out. Nothing But Hope and Passion caught up with him at Tegel Airport during his promo day in Berlin to talk about creative plateaus, what it really means to be a DJ, and knowing who you are.
Tell me about the new album.
Tell you about it? This is probably the most truest, most honest album I’ve ever made. I just wanted to go a little bit deeper, just realizing the connection to music that I have and recognizing my craft. Going internally and asking myself: “what is it that I’m trying to say?” and not expecting an immediate answer mentally but an answer that comes from within, from the heart. What is this thing? From going on the adventure and while the music has been evolving…being able to say something that’s unquestionable for me. What I’ve discovered with it is that any magic moments I’ve had, within my music or any magic moments I’ve had within my life, or being on the dance floor or playing records or just being with somebody, have all been moments of feeling good. And realizing it’s everyone’s sovereign right to feel good, everybody, doesn’t matter how you are where you come from, we all have the ability to feel good and we all have the memory to feel good. Just highlighting that experience or that moment. If I asked you “Do you remember the last time you felt good?” the moment that you start thinking about it, you are going to a space of feeling good. That’s how far away it is from us, feeling good. I’ve got the opportunity to highlight that, musically and expressing it, whether it’s doing an interview or just being who I am.
NIGHTMARES ON WAX: “I don’t think it’s a case of giving up, I think it’s more a case of losing the connection to myself and what it is that I do.”
Which brings me to my next question. Looking at your biography, from the outside, it looks like one long party, but there must have been obstacles that you faced. Was there ever a point you wanted to give up?
I don’t think it’s a case of giving up, I think it’s more of a case of losing the connection to myself and what it is that I do. I don’t think I ever wanted to give up. Any space that you go into and you have discomfort or no joy or no happiness is a space of forgetfulness. Any space that you go in that is the opposite of that, i.e. being at your highest joy, being super connected to whatever it is you’re doing, being inspired, you’ve remembered. It really is that simple. The only thing you can possibly disconnect yourself from is yourself.
I read that you were a judge at the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam. What does a judge have to do? How do you get this honor?
Well, when the original offer came in, it was to try 28 samples. When you work out 28 samples, that’s 28 grams, 28 grams is an ounce. My agent was like “I’m going to have to not be involved in this George because you are talking about bringing an ounce of cannabis to England to sample.” Plus I had a month to sample it and I was like “That’s a lot of weed to smoke in a month.” So then what happened it was then suggested that I would judge the semi-finals. I ended up performing at the Cannabis Cup with DE LA SOUL, which was amazing. And then I got to sample the last four. The thing is most of the Cup was all in Dutch so I didn’t really know what was going on. And I was too stoned to care. [laughs]
What would be your best “intro album”? If someone had never heard of you, what album, besides this new album, what would you tell him or her to pick up?
Wow. Possibly…that’s a good question, because if I choose one it’s almost like that’s my favorite, and I don’t have a favorite. I have two defining albums in my career, obviously Smokers Delight and Carboot Soul. Any of those two really.
NIGHTMARES ON WAX: “We can all have musical snobbery and we can all have our opinions because we might have a traditional background to the essence of what the art form is but the general populace, I’m not really sure if they care.”
Let’s talk about live musicianship. What about turntablists versus DJs who have it all digital? What about the digital revolution and how it’s become so easy for someone to just go and become a DJ if they have the right software? Not necessarily be a good DJ, just be one.
I don’t think the question is about the equipment, the question is whether it’s DJing. I’ve experienced watching DJs play who were really really good. Then I’ve also watched DJs play, and asked myself “Is that DJing?” and gone home then next day wondering if that was DJing. That’s taking it to a place of “Yeah, but who cares?” And that’s the difference: we can all have musical snobbery and we can all have our opinions because we might have a traditional background to the essence of what the art form is, but to the general populace, I’m not really sure if they care. You’ve got reports and video footage of DJs playing pre-recorded CDs and crowds going crazy. Know what I mean? I care about the art form, I’m not saying these people don’t, what I’m saying is what’s the importance in the question. It’s like, I can ask myself that question, “Is that DJing?” I’m not sure if it is. Then I could also see a turntablist do what he does, but he can’t rock a dance floor. It’s a real gray area.
For me, I don’t blame technology at all. There’s so many advantages now, in that, I believe personally, that I see DJing going into a realm of producing on the spot, improvising, being in the moment. That is where I find it exciting, I look forward to adventuring into that realm.
So music that’s a lot more improvised and of the moment?
I mean, I DJ in that way anyway. When a sax player picks up a sax, he doesn’t read music, he plays. I see the turntables in the same way, I just play. I mean obviously you have to know your music but not know what order or anything I’m going to play something. What is this moment going to bring out in me, and the people that are there? Let’s have this adventure together, this unknown, that’s what I love about DJing. Also, because I can loop on the spot and stuff like that, and because I work with musicians and singers coming to play, we are making a song live in the moment. I’m really excited with how far I can go with that: producing on the spot.
Do you have a country or a continent or a culture that really inspires you?
Yeah, definitely, it all goes back to Africa, isn’t it? It’s all about the beat. And I love Latin America as well.
I know you mentioned DE LA SOUL. What have been some of your favorite collaborations? Anybody that you really clicked with?
Well there’s so many really. Obviously working with SEBASTIAN STUDNITSKY, great composer, he’s been a real eye-opener and a massive massive influence. Working with vocalists like RICKY RANKIN, MOZEZ. One that’s really been interesting has been working with a girl called KATY GRAY on this new album, because we’ve never actually met. She’s coming on tour with us in the US, and we just had this connection on the cyber plain. We’ve just, even outside of the music we have this connection. It’s been going on for the last five years, she’s actually coming on tour. We feel like we already know each other and we’ve never even met. We did our first face-to-face call maybe six months ago. I’m really excited about actually getting on stage with Katy. That’s kinda special.
Okay, now we are coming up on the big question I hinted at earlier. You ready? You in a mental space?
I’m always in a mental space.
What do hope and passion mean to you?
Hope means believing the good, to me. Passion means coming from your heart.
Do you believe in your career you’ve been able to stay true to those?
I believe I’m on the journey to it. I believe I’ve been evolving all along even times when I’ve been stagnated in my creativity, that’s all been necessary to hit a plateau and not be able to ascend from that plateau because there’s things you need to execute, dissolve, unravel about yourself. If anything I’m in a state where I’m deciding that I don’t know who I am but I’m going to enjoy finding out.