Monday, 29 November 2010

Part 1: The Niallist - He came, He played, He conquered

In the run-up to the release of his new 12” - ‘I Came’ - on Monday 29th November (today), Lo-Quality delved into the mind - past, present and future - of The Niallist, an Irish-born and Manchester-based electronic producer, remixer and vocalist. And Scottish label owner, club resident, and music writer!

Keen to keep numerous projects on the go, on top of his latest release, the electro-disco / house / techno / acid / quirky electronic producer has just finished a Metatron EP for Black Lantern Music, and contributed lead vocals to ‘Infinite Capacity (For Love)’, the debut single from Ben Butler & Mousepad on digital download from Loaf Recordings. In between his production work, he appears as resident for Glasgow’s Menergy club, which returns in February 2011 at the School of Art’s Vic Bar: he helpfully advises that you can always download guest mixes from the Menergy blog, such as the recently compiled Hi-NRG mix by Frenchbloke, of music he was hearing at Glasgow’s Bennets venue in 1985 and 1986.

To tie the many strands together, the Niallist has launched new blog NIALLISM, which now acts as a replacement for his Myspace, Muxtape, and Live Journal accounts, concentrating his music, event announcements and writings in one central space. One of his aliases is House Machine, and certainly the rate at which he likes to work suggests some sort of momentum apparatus at play. With that, we ask; who is the Niallist? Where does he come from, where is he going, and where does he buy his hats?

“The Niallist is me, and he is not me at the same time. I am from Ireland, but he is from outer space. In all honesty, I had been working on loads of different music projects and needed a good catch-all name for my stuff. I had been thinking of using that name, and when a friend brought it up in conversations independently, I decided to go with it. Over time it has developed and changed; right now it's going in an electro-disco direction. It's like a drag act I suppose really - the Niallist is an exaggeration of me and some of my traits. And if I told you where I get my hats I would have to kill you.”
"It's like a drag act I suppose really - the Niallist is an exaggeration of me and some of my traits."
When did you start DJing, and when did you start music production? What was the thing which made you say 'I want to do this'? Was there ever a moment when you thought, 'I can't do this'?

“Hah, every day I think "I can't do this"! Music is such a huge mountain to climb, and the peak is always out of reach. To overplay this metaphor, looking back can be really scary, but it's only then that you notice the milestones you have passed.

“I started DJing originally on my school's radio station back in the 90s when I was about 14 or 15. It only had a radius of about a mile or so, and the equipment wasn't great, but I would play alt rock and dance music of the day, and read out conspiracy theory material over the top. I still have the tapes somewhere. I'd always been obsessed with music, so I can't think of a particular time when I didn't want to make or be involved with it - I'd always been day dreaming about those things.

“I guess moving to Glasgow was a bit of a turning point, as I could now explore musical avenues that didn't exist in my home town, like deep house at the Sub Club. I remember finding a flyer for Subculture before I moved over, that featured both Basement Jaxx and Dimitri From Paris playing the club in the space of a fortnight. I knew I had to be there! Also, I bought a set of decks, like practically everyone else I knew, and I started hanging out with some burgeoning music producers. Then my mum won a small amount on the lottery, she gave me some money, and I decided to buy some music equipment with it. That was in 1999. When I first started it was a real bitch, because I was wanting to make these crazy epic disco productions with just an Akai S-20(!) an MC-303 and a four track. Thank God for Ableton, is all I can say now.”
"It's the main reason people go to clubs isn't it? To cop off. So I see my mission as being to help facilitate that."
Perhaps it's just my dirty mind, but there is sometimes a sexual undertone to your material, for example, your next release is entitled ‘I Came', but that could be a reference to Caeser - are you out to conquer or seduce the dancefloor?

“It's all in your head dear - now go and give yourself 50 lashes under a cold, cold shower! No, of course, there is a huge sexual element to my music. It's the main reason people go to clubs isn't it? To cop off. So I see my mission as being to help facilitate that. You don't get slow dances anymore in night clubs so there needs to be a moment where you can connect with someone on a dancefloor, and the music takes the place of words. And no matter what euphemisms those words are couched in, they generally express sexual attraction.

“There came a point about ten years ago when I was listening to ‘Parade’ by Prince, and I realised that ALL his songs are about sex, in one way or another. Even ‘When Doves Cry’. It suddenly validated sex as a topic in music for me, and also gave me something to sing about as I was really not wanting to do your standard romantic clichéd bullshit like you get in pop, or the whiny, moany ‘issues’ crap you get in rock. It chimed more with the kind of outré hip-hop I was listening to. Also, sexual desire is a universal thing - we may not all want the same kind of person, but we all want. And through certain universal feelings like that I can then explore other issues, either in or related to the field of sex. So think of me as like a cross between Prince and Dr. Ruth. Or more likely Dr Phil.”

The track itself is a crazy mix of beats with a few unexpected turns - juddery yet syncopated, with swaggering vocals; what kind of mood were you in when you made it?

“Well, the track itself is directly inspired by Rio favela funk, which is quite obvious from the stabby horn riff and the 808 beats. I was given a compilation CD of that stuff by Craig from Mungo's Hi Fi and it blew me away, especially as it was something I could quite easily make myself with my set-up. It helps that I couldn't understand what they were rapping about, as it seems pretty base. To add to that I thought "what would Timbaland do?" - well he'd put a sultry, sexy female vocal over the top to appeal to his R&B/pop market. Then he would lay down some ad libs and grunts in the background through a headphone.

“For the vocal I already had the melody, and I remember it clearly - our studio in the Chateau, on one of the rare occasions I was tidying up, and the phrase just popped into my head. Initially I was nervous of using it because of the double entendre, but at the same time it was just too strong to ignore. And also with the double entendre, it is very easy to deny the second meaning. That was the clincher, as it's only a rude phrase if you read that into it - there's no cursing in there, it could be taken completely at face value, so technically there is no reason not to play it on the radio. But it had to have a woman singing it to soften that blow, that is why I got Ms Mac D involved. She brings a restrained, classy vibe to the whole thing too. In a nutshell; I guess I was feeling cheeky and ambitious!”

How did you hook up with Miss Mac D, and is that a collaboration you would like to do again?

“Ms Mac D is an old friend of mine - I've known her since I started going to Glasgow Uni, and we bonded quickly over a love of disco and R&B / soul. Everyone has always known she has a great voice, it really seems to touch people, and even though she has sung in bands over the years singing is not her main focus. I knew she would be good choice to sing ‘I Came’ and even though we had like two hours in a studio to get it done, working with her was easy and straight forward. And yes, I would absolutely love to work with her again - ‘I Came’ was a bit of a challenge for her as it is not in her natural range, but some of the newer material I have been writing is, so I would love to hear her take a crack at that.”

You've done remixes with DFRNT and Brassica for the release - are there any plans to join them in a live context in the future?

“There's not really been any plans in that direction - to be honest my live show is on the back burner at the moment anyway, as I have moved city and am concentrating more on writing and recording rather than playing live. Having said that, I did perform ‘Infinite Capacity (For Love)’ live with Ben Butler & Mousepad a couple of months ago and that was great! That's just come out as a single, and he's up for doing more live spots with me involved, it's just a matter of when and where.”

It's all very well to talk influences, but rather than reeling off a list, what is the music which has touched your heart; the kind that has stayed with you for years? The kind which still sends a spine tingle no matter how naffly it is regarded!

“Well, again back when I was in school in the mid-90s I watched Saturday Night Fever and it had a huge impact on me. I loved it and the music straight away, even though it was seen as the height of naffness. Since then I have been obsessed with disco; it's my primary musical love affair, and I have seen the genre be rehabilitated from complete cheese to the height of cool. Also, the definition of disco has expanded too. That's something we aimed to do when we started the Discopia website, to explore the bits of dance music which are heavily influenced by disco but are not it, such as post-punk, electro, house, boogie and hip-hop.

"Disco is my primary musical love affair, and I have seen the genre be rehabilitated from complete cheese to the height of cool."
“At some point around the year 2001 I went back to my mate Dave's flat after a party and he put on a CD set of old school Chicago house classics. It blew me away - especially because I remembered owning some of the tracks on cassette when I was about 8 or 9. I had asked my family for some ‘house music’ for Christmas one year and my brother and sister got me a 2 tape collection called ‘Hitmasters of House’ or something. There were tracks like ‘House Nation’ by the House Master Boys and ‘Six Gun’ by Decadent Dub Team on there. Looking back now that's some pretty heavy shit to be laying on a child! But it's ok guys, I turned out just fine.

“Also, the Pet Shop Boys were a huge band for me as a kid - I remember two girls in my primary school class setting up a fan club for them, and I joined, being rewarded handsomely with home made PSB posters and badges. My mum even joined it!”

Tell us about your involvement with Little Rock Records and how you met the crew?

“Well, folk would come round to our studio in the Chateau (art and music space) to jam or to just hang out, so it progressed from there really. Also some folks were working at The Skinny at the time, so that's got a bit to do with it. It has been quite an organic process really, there's not been any kind of strict masterplan behind it. I started the label out of necessity, to get my music out there as quickly, directly and cheaply as possible. Originally it was going to be a physical label, but all that changed when I discovered Since then loads of independent net labels have sprung up, forming their own net-labels network, and this is a good thing.”

What have been your proudest achievements with the label?

“Well, I can't speak for the other guys, but I'd say our greatest achievement has been the NORAVE and FUCKNO compilation albums, which have given exposure to some pretty awesome Scottish leftfield acts, like Tayside Mental Health, Fox Gut Daata & Gatr.”

Until you get your hands on the official 'I Came' release, you can check out a special mixtape featuring guest MCs Shunda K, Cindy Wonderful and Rel$ for that favela funk fix. Check back on Lo-Quality for the second parter in this feature, published this week.

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