After a few years' absence from the scene, Freq Nasty returns - but for this perpetual innovator, there's definitely no looking back...
Freq Nasty is back. Just as his 1997 breakout breakbeat hit foretold, this month sees the New Zealand bass pioneer "boomin' back atcha" with a brand new single. Released yesterday (21 January, which was Martin Luther King Day), #LoveIsTheOnlyAnswer is his first single since 2014. It marks an exciting new chapter for a man who’s spent his entire career exploring, foraging and pushing the sonic frontiers, a task he's been involved in since his earliest chapters as one of the head chefs behind the subversive UK breakbeat melting pot of the mid-90s.
His most recent endeavours have perhaps been some his most innovative. Taking a break from the studio and his role as an artist, Nasty (real name Darin McFayden) spent the last four years developing and building the company that makes the unique tactile speaker SubPac - wearable and seatback tech that allows you to palpably feel bass frequencies, Becoming a partner in the SubPac company took him way beyond the studios he’d been familiar with for many years.
"We did a whole bunch of amazing things," explains Darin, who's now based in the US but currently on tour in New Zealand. "We were working in studios with Timbaland and A$AP Rocky, right through to super-underground dudes and all things in-between, but some of the most exciting projects involved integrating the technology into non-music areas: the VR and AR world. We also worked with Amon Tobin on Peugeot’s music-based concept car, and shared music for the deaf community! It was a crazy time."
Now exploring the capabilities of tactile audio with his Human Exploratorium project, an organisation dedicated to exploring the effect of music on the mind and body, he’s also found time to return to the studio and start up a new musical chapter… #LoveIsTheOnlyAnswer is the start of a new flow of fresh designs with more new material, the reissue of his 20-year-old debut album Freq’s Geeks & Mutilations and further frontier-bound projects all lined up on the horizon. And it all comes with a very positive message…
We called him up for some good vibrations.
I was just remembering how banging your and B.L.I.M’s remix of Métisse's Sousoundé was!
"Thanks! I went back over that a while ago myself. When I found it, I thought ‘I’d love to do a remix of that.’ The parts were beautiful, and that vocal had such a hypnotic quality to it."
Can you remember when you last dropped it?
"Oh, not for a very long time. When I stepped back into music, I decided to re-explore 128/130 tempo vibes for the first time in a long time. There’s some great stuff around like that now. Some of it’s breaks, some of it’s garage and grime. There’s a whole bunch of interesting broken beat stuff around that tempo, so I went back over a lot of older tracks and wondered what might work in today’s context, what can I remaster or remix?"
That period is so relevant with what’s happening now...
"Yeah, there’s an interesting resurgence of that breakbeat sound and dub and reggae, especially in the jungle scene in the UK. And in the US you have a lot of people who’ve come out of the most obvious EDM stuff and they’re looking for something maybe deeper or darker or more obscure. So in the States there are millions of kids all hearing breaks, garage and drum & bass for the first time."
There’s also an interesting movement around the halftime/beat-y side of bass like G Jones and Bleep Bloop, a sound which your new tune fits in with...
"Yeah, it seems to. The way I see it, that whole leftfield bass movement has some roots in the UK breaks and bass scene. Eprom was making some breaks, most of Glitch Mob came through breaks and there was a great fusion of US rap and UK bass fusion which became the 'West Coast Bass' sound in the early noughties.
"Breaks was the first big shift away from house-based genres in the US, and much of the first exposure in the US was through the Burning Man scene, where we'd play breaks, 2-step and early dubstep to crowds of up to 8,000 people while these genres would only fill small clubs out in the default world. In the early 2000s you had guys like Dave Tipper living over here in the US moving from breaks to hip-hop tempo weird bass music, and the Chopped & Screwed stuff was also influencing the US electronic underground scene just because hip-hop was so big.
"Then dubstep collided with this mix! It’s why dubstep made so much sense to US audiences: because they were already used to that really slowed-down, Atlanta-style hip-hop, and electronic music was starting to take hold. So there is a lineage from the leftfield beat movement happening now in the States to the electronic music from the UK that took root in the early to mid-2000s on the West Coast. It’s amazing to see the current blossoming and to see more leftfield sounds getting respect.
"But in answer to your question, although it sits well in that leftfield bass movement , #LoveIsTheOnlyAnswer wasn’t made with that sound in mind. It was more something I wrote looking for a simple sub and drums flex with great sound design. But I love that it fits in with that."
Speaking of love, I believe congratulations are in order – you’ve just got married! I’m getting strong ‘new chapter’ vibes here…
"Absolutely, and thank you. I’m full of love and it is exactly that, a new chapter. Musically I spent the last year working out what I want to do. Four years without a release is a long time in electronic music. At first I thought I’d step back in quickly with what I had. I already had some great vocals, I had some projects I thought I’d finish them up and bang them out. Then I had a rethink. I realised I had to be careful with what I put out. Did I want to just finish something I’d started five years ago? Not really.
"And also living in the States is very tumultuous right now. There’s tension in the air. There’s a lot of fractious opinions being voiced and I want to put out a positive message. There’s a lot of bullshit and negativity out there. A message of connection and love is the message I want to put out. To make people think differently about ourselves and each other, how we live together…"
Sounds like this might be a theme in the future work. Do you have more stuff planned?
"Yeah, this one was quite spontaneous. I enjoyed it. I felt there was a vibe so wanted to get this out. There’s another EP that’s almost finished with quite a lot of vocal tracks. I always shied away from vocals before. And I’ve got the rights back to my first album, so I’m excited about re-releasing that."
What memories does Freq’s Geek & Mutilations bring back for you?
"Whether it was through lack of integration with the industry or blissful naivety, that record was just me making a record of music I wanted to hear. The influences were pretty broad: I was going to out to the Moving Shadow nights and hanging out with the SOUR crew. It was artists like me, Shy FX, MJ Cole, Potential Badboy, MC Det and Raw Deal all working out of the same studio. We were all influencing each other, it was an exciting place to be.
"That album was a reflection of that. It was bass music of different types. That was the thread but it was diverse. And it’s interesting because that’s how I feel now again: there aren’t so many restrictions now and it feels like you can play anything."
Yeah, definitely more so now. So when you worked with SubPac and moved away from the studio, was that a conscious decision to stop writing or did you stop writing as the job took up more of your life?
"It was a conscious decision. The whole concept thrilled me. Tactile audio technology is something that can be applied anywhere and it was amazing to explore a new mode of musical expression. Understanding and evolving the physical dimensions of sound really excited me. It was almost like a new genre. I was pushing music forward in new areas that hadn’t been explored before, which seems to have been a theme for me throughout my career."
Where are the next boundaries you’d like to push now you’re back making music?
"Right now I’m looking to explore musicianship and incorporating my own live playing into my music, which I feel I hadn’t done before as much as I could have. Maybe even bring it into a live or semi-live show…"
I remember a live A/V show at Glastonbury years ago!
"That was the Video Nasty project. The guys who did those visuals were working on Lord Of The Rings. Jamie Hewlett of Gorrillaz fame as well. The New Zealand-based crew created the models and animations and we set the political and consciousness-expanding themes. I was using a very early beta model Pioneer DVJ to jam with them."
Exploring new boundaries again, eh?
"Right, yeah. That was a lot of fun, working with Pioneer using those early beta machines and giving feedback based on my shows and watching those machines develop and change DJ culture. I remember me and Sander Kleinenberg were the first DJs to have the DVJs. Mine had bits of tape and wire coming out of it! So yeah, that has been a theme and I think it extends to the Human Exploratorium project me and my wife Gabriella are working on."
Tell us about that…
"It’s about using music and sound to understand ourselves and humans. To optimise humans, really. Music and sound have a long affect on humans; there’s a lengthy history of examples in rituals, marriages, deaths. Singing, dancing, rhythm. It gives us utility and moves us as a species and the project is about exploring that through multi-sensory music-based feedback experiences.
"We’re using tactile audio interfaces, we’re using physiology, we’ll take feedback from heart rates and spit it back out into the musical, tactile and visual domain. So people can see, hear and feel what their body is doing in response to the music."
Wow, so like a physical feedback loop?
"Yeah. The idea was to create a musical experience based on how we feel and hear music. The mind and body are interdependent. You hear it through your ears and you feel it through the mechanoreceptors in your skin. Those two avenues change the state of your mind. There’s plenty of data on the aural stimuli, but not a lot on the tactile reception of music through mechanoreceptors. So we’re creating programs of music and experiences so you hear and feel the music, and we measure how the body responds to that which gives us an idea of their mental state.
"That response then goes back into the musical, visual and tactile mix. So you can experience each other’s hearts in the tactile aspect, visual domain and aural domain as it changes in response to the music. These types of experiences connect us all in a very intimate and powerful way. I think this is what we crave as humans – a deeper connection with ourselves and with the people around us. Music has the ability to do that and the Exploratorium project is allowing us to understand what we can do with it."
I want to try this!
"Our last few projects have had a great reception. What’s inspiring is that big corporations are looking into different types of innovative tech and have big marketing budgets. They change and influence culture for better or for worse.
"So we’re working with some of the world’s biggest companies and really trying push this positive message of connection and understanding, and asking them to invest in something that connects us all and taps into our innate positive desires… instead of investing that money into marketing that makes us feel insecure about ourselves. If you look around at the world and on social media, that’s what we’re missing and craving deep down: real connection and meaning."
"Exactly. This isn’t just some hippy shit: Dr Martin Luther King changed the world! The MLK sample on the new single expresses a fundamental truth: that when we love and are deeply connected to ourselves and others, we start to treat others very differently. We make other people’s interests and wellness as important as our own, and this is reflected in our politics, our economy, on social media and in our interpersonal and international relationships. When you have authentic connection you find love there, too… and our world needs this right now! Thanks for listening, man."
Words: Dave Jenkins Main pic: Jazzwall
#LoveIsTheOnlyAnswer is out now on Muti Music