In Conversation, Nickodemus

People make the world go round. Why should music stray away from that? Nickodemus, the prolific New Yorker DJ and producer, makes sure the human element  is upfront in every track he works on. His fifth album, ‘Soul & Science‘, via Wonderwheel Recordings, feels true to himself and his love for unexpected collaborations.

Currently on his European Summer tour, we caught with him in-between cities and soundchecks in order to discuss his latest work, his approach to production and prioritazing human connection in his craft.

¿#AQuéSuena Nickodemus?

I’ve always had trouble with that, to not use the world music label. I would say it’s funky, rhythmic, and characteristic. I like the way it rhymes (laughs). This album is very collaborative, it’s also rooted in African music, music of the African diaspora and the Caribbean, from Hip-Hop to house music to dub. Just about every song has some sort of African reference to it. I don’t know what to call the music, I never do. 

It’s harmful for categorizing in Spotify and all these other platforms. It’s always been a problem. If you get my album, what are you gonna say? Electronic? But, it’s very organic. You wouldn’t say it’s Hip-Hop because there’s only one Hip-Hop song. It’s dance music, I guess (laughs).

Is all about the dance floor. Even though you incorporate different cultures, languages, tempos, it seems, to me, that that’s the common denominator. Chat a bit about your approach to production. What has changed through the years?

There was a point where most of my music was very live-oriented. I wanted it to sound almost like a live band made it, but with some nice extra electronic sub-bass. That’s been a very consistent thing with me until I reached my third album, ‘Moon People’. I really wanted to try to change that and go more electronic and be in the solitude of my own studio without as much collaboration. It didn’t work.

I still, every time, would add more human elements. I’ve always loved that. Sometimes, it’s even harder to cut the human elements that I record to small loops or samples. I like the parts that they do, their musicianship. It is very impressive to me, always, ‘oh, I can’t cut that‘.

A lot of my music tends to be very full and very live. I have a problem editing it down for it to be really tight. 

Coming up to this album, one of the inspirations for it was collaboration and to make it sound and feel human. I was getting a little bit scared of all the artificial intelligence, AI in music. Seeing how easy it was for someone to just, literally, make a song in two seconds with an algorithm… I wanted to make sure that we kept alive the importance of human collaboration and the fun that we have doing it. How much fun is it to put out some AI music, release it and tour it?

How much more fun is it to make music with somebody and have something to share? First of all, you have a song. If it does well, you have money. Who are you gonna share the financial gains with? Your computer? No. You want to share it with your friends and have a drink and laugh about it. That’s why this album turned out to have a lot of that concept. ‘Soul and Science,’ the title track, expands on it. The science being the music, instruments, key and scales and arrangements. The soul being the people who put theirs into making it. 

Let’s talk about ‘Soul & Science’ for a minute. Why an album? Why now? You could release short EPs, remixes, reworks and call it a day. What compelled you to put in a piece of work that has a beginning and an end?

That’s a good question and you kind of answered it as well. I love a story. I grew up collecting records and when I was collecting them, they told me a story. It made me dream and fantasize. It taught me the rhythm: how to start a story with an intro, make a dance track, make a twist and then come back with a finish. Basically, every record I’ve made has a clear outline. I know, for sure, what’s going to be the intro and the outro.

In these times, it might be easier to put out single after single to remain in the public eye and very relevant. That’s the new game, it’s just single, single, single.

You’re constantly on people’s feeds. That’s one way. If people are doing it, that’s fine too. I still love the art of having a book and reading the book versus just putting out one article. ‘Here’s my one article on this subject. Goodbye’. I want to put all the articles into one big book, every time. I won’t stop doing that. Of course, I’ll release singles. This one was a whole picture. 

This is a feature heavy album. Really happy to see Barzo featured. What was the decision making like for this album? What made the cut? 

Collaborations have to really happen organically. I explained it in another interview, and it just came to my head: it is as if I was the director. Tarantino has all his key actors and he works with them as the director. Pedro Almodóvar does that in his films too. For me, it’s comfortable. I know I have an idea, ‘ok, who can be part of that?

With Barzo was different. I met him when I went to Costa Rica to DJ. After one minute hanging out with him, I knew he was going to be my friend, he was super nice. I didn’t even know his music until the next day. He’s really good, so versatile. We jump in the studio and I thought, ‘I can make a whole album with this guy. It can be fun’. We both know how to use the equipment really well, have a similar versatility with house music, techno, fun, cumbia. We could do anything. To work with him was quite easy. I gave him two songs that were almost finished. He really did a great job on ‘No Puedo Parar’.

Some other collaborations are with people who are on my other albums, like Alsarah. She’s from Sudan and this is the first song she ever wrote in English. Her lyrics were always in Arabic and it was really interesting to hear her singing in English. I like that. Huaira, from Ecuador, has been featured on songs with Nicola Cruz. She is so imaginative and the minute I gave her the concept of a Tarantella song, which is a folkloric song from South Italy, based on an araña: a spider bites you and you dance out the poison until it leaves. There’s a typical sound with that type of music. I was trying to make it modern and different. She understood the concept fast and wrote a beautiful song. 

I’m just eager to hear something from Brazil. I want a deep dive from the diaspora. Maybe for the next album? 

Yeah. I’ve only done one or two Brazilian songs, which is strange. I DJ so much Brazilian music. That’s a good request. 

Tour is next. Any residencies coming up? More music on the way?

I’m gonna tour for the next few months. I’m playing in Europe for the Summer. Just moving around, there’s no residencies. When I come home in September, I have a big 25 anniversary party of ‘Turntables on the Hudson’. That’s going to be quite a good party. Then, we have ‘Turntables on the Caribbean,’ which is the 15th anniversary in Tulúm, México. I will do a little tour in October there. 

Si estás enfrente de una puerta, tocás el timbre, ¿quién te abre?

I have knocked on the door and orishas of music have answered it. They let me in and I’m so grateful for that. They allow me to experiment,try new things and take whatever I do in my music all over the world. I would say ‘thank you’ to the music gods for letting me in and all my friends.

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Martha Elisa Estrada Cortez

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