“Hello, thanks for the interview. Pardon my long responses as I’m on a 30-hour flight to Oz, and I have a lot of time to talk.”
A champion of dance music emanating from all corners all over the world, it’s no surprise that New York City DJ/producer/promoter/indie label mogul Nickodemus is answering questions from Big Shot on a transatlantic flight bound for Down Under.
With a discography full of releases on Thievery Corporation’s ESL imprint, assorted remixes and a litany of projects on his Wonderwheel Recordings label, the forward-thinking, Brooklyn-based bon vivant has been reflecting on the past decade of his musical life. It’s all captured on his splendid DJ mix, Nickodemus Wonderworld: 10 Years of Painting Outside the Lines, which he released in February.
From his early days throwing down on the decks as a resident DJ at Giant Step’s weekly shindigs in Manhattan to co-founding the long-running Turntables on the Hudson club night, Nickodemus has built his reputation on playing funky music, from Afrobeat, Asian and Latin styles to everything and anywhere in between.
If a track will get people moving on the dance floor, Nickodemus will play it.
Musical fads have come and gone over the past decade. But if you’re Nickodemus, wavering from the musical ideals you hold true isn’t an option.
It’s amazing how a decade can fly by in the blink of an eye. What are your memories of recording Endangered Species? How do look back on the album ten years after its release?
Yes, ten years flew by, especially when the songs keep popping up in your life time and time again. I recall recording most of the songs on an ASR 10, MPC 2000 and a VS880 8-track in a very small room with speakers I found on the street. People such as The Real Live Show, Apani B, Carol C (Si Se), Andrea Monteiro, Jay Rodriguez, Josh Roseman [have] all been in the best of the best studios, yet they were happy to collaborate despite the circumstances. Sometimes they would bring their own mic and say, hey let’s try mine, okay? But some of the best memories are after that getting the song on vinyl and playing it out at the parties.
What prompted you to reflect on the past ten years with 10 Years of Painting Outside the Lines? When did you come up with the idea for the mix and how long did it take to put it together?
I’m pretty nostalgic and cherish the experiences that went into making the music. From the collaborations in various studios all over the world, ranging from Red Bull Studios to a hotel room with the mattress up against the door, to touring city to city and all the friends you make along the way, I see this as a time capsule all of our ten years collaborating. I’m happy to reflect and continue to feed the larger network of music, parties and friendship this all helped facilitate. The mix took me a day with a pen and a piece of paper, two CDJ 2000s and two Technic 1200s. Then another day to harass all the friends on the digital and cassette mixes for vocal drops.
“I have to say that this city teaches the art of survival. Staying diverse by throwing parties, owning my own label and publishing company come with a lot of risks, but the rewards have helped keep me on solid ground in the city as well.”
I’m sure there’s significance to title of the mix. How exactly do you see yourself as an outsider?
I guess the Painting Outside the Lines part of the title is really just the fact that nothing’s perfect in these songs and the mix. I never took any classes for composing music or for the technical side. We grew up in the DJ school of spinning at clubs and house parties with friends who also DJ’ed and played instruments since we were 14. Then later sampling and recordings in our bedrooms. That school is like the after-school “painting outside the lines” experience which later was shared with the dance floor and then with DJs and listeners internationally. That’s when you start worrying about what you made and released haha.
Tracks of yours like “Sun Children” still sound amazing and timeless. What would you say is the secret to its longevity?
Thank you. I’m glad you feel that way. I think the raw energy and uplifting nature of that songs tempo, lyrics & horns keep it moving forward. The video is a good representation of the song’s purpose and effect as we filmed it live at the Sundae party in Philly. I played the song and we caught everything with two cameras.
New York in 2005 is a lot different than New York in 2015. While I don’t want to lead your answer, I’m sure you’ll agree that the city has gentrified greatly in the past decade and, as evidenced by condos rising everywhere, NYC has become a much different city. How have you been able to stay afloat as an artist and sticking to your creative guns amid all of this upheaval?
Sure, I’ve seen it since the ’90s, but been much more aware of the drastic changes around the millennium. Trying to survive in a ruthlessly gentrifying city is difficult for so many. As a non-commercial DJ and producer, it would have been a lot easier to get paid by playing what the major U.S. labels and the mafia controlled radio tells us to play, but that never happened. I’ve seen so many friends stick to their guns and lose the battle, but some are hanging on and doing very well, and I have to say that this city teaches the art of survival. Staying diverse by throwing parties, owning my own label and publishing company come with a lot of risks, but the rewards have helped keep me on solid ground in the city as well. Otherwise, my Mom said I can always move back in my old room [laughs] and that’s reassuring.
While you’ve done your share of international touring, you’re playing all over Australia and New Zealand as well as Cairo and Dubai in the coming weeks. Do you ever think of living elsewhere?
At this point I feel like I can live in another city. I love Cairo, but I need to be by the sea, so San Sebastian, Barcelona and Beirut are all tempting, but I’m the most productive when I’m home in my jam-packed dusty record and CD surrounded studio with everything at my fingertips.
What’s the one thing you miss about the Big Apple when you’re traveling?
My family, friends and the pizza! Want to hear my top three pizza spots? All for great taste, vibe and time it takes a pizza to get to your plate. There’s Houdini Kitchen Laboratory (out in Ridgewood). I’ve never seen an oven so big and evenly heated, so you know no matter how packed, you’ll get your pizza quick and perfectly cooked. Giuseppina’s (South Slope) for that straight-up consistent pie with the spicy sauce and thin crisp crust. And not because I helped start the place or that I still have money tied up in it, but Louie and Chan (Chinatown) has really perfected most of their pizzas and takes risks with interesting quality ingredients. I could give a top 20 worldwide?
Where is the musical path forward for you? Are there styles of music you’d like to explore?
I probably said this for the last two albums, but I’ve been constantly stripping down my sound from live instrumentation and organic to electronic. I play more deep electronic sounding music in my sets, so I’m just trying to reflect a bit more of the sound you would get when you come out to hear me spin. Saying that, it comes in all styles from house to hip-hop, dub and whatever else I’m feeling conveys what I want to express.
What’s next for you and your label, Wonderwheel Recordings?
Wonderwheel’s been on a roll with big releases such as Alsarah and the Nubatones (Sudan/USA), Tremor & Chancha via Circuito (Argentina), Sorceress (New Zealand), and we have just signed Novalima (Peru), The Brooklyn Gypsies (Brooklyn by way of Russia, Italy, Andalusia, Japan) and DJ Khalab & Baba Sissoko (Italy/Mali) all with albums dropping this year. I hope to finish my fourth album and release it by October/November.
It’s been a difficult winter for many but summer will be here before we know it. What’s the plan for Turntables on the Hudson this year?
We’re scheduling a daytime outdoor Saturday party uptown in Inwood Manhattan at La Marina as well as a monthly backyard parties at Houdini in Ridgewood. I’m traveling all along so I’ll be needing lots of help to keep the NYC parties going. We also are continuing our Turntables on Las Ramblas, The Nile and other places all year round.
Any final thoughts?
Please check the 10 year mix as well as all the music on our very diverse label. THANK YOU!