I don’t know of many other producers that have run the gamut of sounds like this man has. From early breakbeat techno, rave and hardcore jams as Wishdokta (among others) to pushing 2 Step to the forefront of dance music on in international level, not to mention being heralded as the Godfather of UK Garage or UKG – Grant Nelson (facebook, gnhousecall.com, twitter, discogs) has been at the forefront of electronic dance music since the beginning. He has remixed countless mainstream acts, adding his signature sounds for artists ranging from James Brown to Kelis. And he’s the man responsible for reproducing and remixing Cada Vez by Negrocan, arguably the biggest selling Latin House song of all time, selling over 2 million copies!
How did you go from your early sounds, which were breakbeat/hardcore and happy hardcore, to a soulful sound? They are quite opposite ends of the spectrum.
It just happened really. I bought my first House record in 1985 and like many other people in the UK at the time I followed that through as the scene moved to acid and then into rave and eventually hardcore. Everything was so exciting back then, every time you heard a new sound on a track it was the most incredible thing you’d ever heard. Genres weren’t so important back then, and if a track was fresh and exciting it didn’t matter what tempo it was or what drum machine was used to program the beats. There was no snobbery; it was all just great music.
Because I grew up during that era is the reason that I’ve never really pigeon-holed myself as a genre-specific producer. I try not to sit in the studio and think, “I shouldn’t try and make this genre of music as it’s not what people will expect from me”. Obviously that can be tricky these days but luckily I’ve managed to get away with it my entire career. For example, I had UKG tracks in the Top 10 of the UK national chart at the same time my remix of Negrocan’s “Cada Vez”, which was firmly in the Latin House genre, was cementing itself as a worldwide club smash. Plus I’ve always been a House DJ regardless of what genre of music I produce in the studio.
Who and what has inspired you and your garage sound – especially early on?
Without a doubt it was producers like MAW, MK & Eddie Perez. These guys were bringing something to the table that was different. It had soul & dirt in equal amounts. Without those guys I don’t know if House would have appealed to me as it had become pretty stale by the early ’90s.
Just recently you’ve started releasing stuff again on Nice ‘N’ Ripe, which has been dormant for six years. What are you planning for the label?
The plan for Nice ‘N’ Ripe is to try and bring back some of those old vibes. Maybe this is a bit anal but I’m only using synths and sounds that were available to me back in the mid ’90s when I produce new stuff now.
There are really only two differences: Firstly, back then everything was sequenced on an Atari 1040ST with Cubase and recorded to 1/4″ tape or DAT. These days I’m using a Mac Pro with Logic and recording right inside the computer.
The second thing is the hardest part – I know too much! I am trying to unlearn what I’ve learned over the past 17 years in terms of production sound, arrangement, programming and instrumentation. This is pretty tough though as I used to write, arrange, mix and record an entire four track EP in a single one night studio session back in the day. That isn’t the case anymore as I’m way too critical of anything I make these days which prevents me from “just going with it”.
Every few years there’s a new off-shoot of the UK sound, from speed garage, 2 Step, new skool breaks, grime, bassline, dubstep etc. What’s your take on that and why have you chosen to not venture off too far away from the UKG roots?
Music is always evolving which is an important thing for the audience in terms of keeping their attention. I think one of the main reasons for the decline in Deep or Soulful House in recent years is the fact that it hasn’t moved on for the most part – same sounds, same songs, and same arrangements. There are people trying to push the boundaries but they are few and far between.
The UKG sound has evolved but I don’t think it’s kept its followers. It changed too much and found a new audience altogether. I think you’ll probably find that most of the people that were listening to UKG back in the ’90s are these days listening to UKG from back in the ’90s! There are a lot of “Back to…” parties over here and a lot of the pirate stations only play classic tracks from that era as there is nothing new to replace them.
Where do you see the sound going and what’s next?
I certainly see a Disco/Sample House revival happening right now and if enough producers un-polish their productions and bring some more filth to the party I can see a very bright future for old skool style US/UK Garage on the horizon. Dirty beats for jumping feets!
Do you think there will be a resurgence in 2 Step and will you use the Bump & Flex name for future productions?
2 Step opened so many doors for so many people; it was such a breath of fresh air for everybody concerned from the producers to the clubbers and launched the careers of quite a few modern day pop stars and celebrities. In a word, it was exciting. No borders or boundaries, anything went and everyone was welcome. It allowed people to be creative without the fear of “not fitting in”. I miss that about it and it’s for these reasons that I would love to see it make a comeback.
I have toyed with the idea of recording new Bump & Flex material for the past few years but just haven’t had the space in my schedule to dedicate to it. If I do end up recording new Bump & Flex jams it will be a natural process, not a pre-meditated one, so impossible to say when and if it will happen.
Your Housecall radio show is widely popular and syndicated on many shows throughout the world. How did you manage to build such a fanbase, especially with the overabundance of internet radio shows these days?
Housecall was a bit of an experiment for me really. The airwaves and clubs were being overrun with bullshit pop music (calling it “House”) and I really wanted to find out if there were people out there that still wanted to hear real House Music. So much good stuff wasn’t getting a look and I was hoping that if I threw together a show that aired some of it maybe a couple of thousand people around the world would get to hear that there are still great records being made. I had absolutely no idea that it was going to take off the way it did. From the second or third show I was getting emails from people all over the world. Over a year on, the amount of daily podcast downloads from my web server forced me to upgrade my hosting plan 3 times now, and the show now reaches millions of people all over the planet via the syndicated radio stations.
There are a zillion internet radio shows out there these days and it’s not really my place to say why Housecall stands out in the crowd but according to the feedback I get its success seems to be largely due to the format; it’s not stuffy, elitist or pretentious and it showcases both brand new and classic records. I’m just a guy having a tremendous amount of fun playing music that I’m passionate about and I think that comes across to the listeners.
Share a crazy story about working with one the amazing diva vocalists you have produced over the years!
Haha! I’m not gonna name names but one of them was consistently late for studio sessions due to an overly excessive sexual appetite that eventually resulted in them getting kicked out of the car by their agent at a service station half way up the M1 motorway on the way to a gig.
What’s on the Grant Nelson agenda for the future and anything else you’d like to say?
Lots of touring coming up this year, North and South America, South Africa, Europe and Asia and plenty of new releases and remixes in the pipeline. There are also plans to take Housecall on tour!