On new album 'Silenciety', the veteran UK producer pays homage to ALL the music he has loved
There are some things you do every day, like brushing your teeth or walking the dog. There are some things you do once every few months; there are some things you do just once a year. And in this writer's case, there are some things you do about every eight to ten years… like pick up the phone and call Omid Nourizadeh, better known as Omid 16B (or sometimes just 16B).
The first time we spoke was for a Bubblin' Under feature in iDJ, some time around 2000 or so, back when he was still the hot new kid (or at least the hot-ish, new-ish kid) on the deep house block. The second time was in 2008, by which time he'd become a darling of the progressive scene, and had just formed the "DJ supergroup" S.O.S alongside Desyn Masiello and Demi [Hajigeorgiou]. And the third time was a couple of weeks ago, to talk about his new album Silenciety.
There was certainly plenty to talk about, because Silenciety really isn't like anything we've heard from the affable South Londoner before. Opening with over 15 minutes of pure ambience, the album goes on present a veritable smorgasbord of the different types of music that have inspired Omid over the years, from electro (Changing Shape) to indie-rock (Every Day After School). There are 4/4 beats in there, sure, but not many of 'em… far from being a hastily cobbled-together collection of club tracks, Silenciety is the closest thing we have so far to Omid's masterpiece, a long-player that's been a long time in the making, and that really needs to be heard in full to be truly appreciated.
Obviously we wanted to know what had inspired this shift in musical focus, but – given our long, if intermittent shared history! – we also wanted to get some thoughts from Omid on how the club scene and the dance music industry have changed over the 20+ years he's been involved.
Here's how it went down…
Let's start in the present day, with Silenciety… it's your first long-player in 11 years, so what took so long, and why has it come out the way it has?
"Well, I've never stopped making music… even for a month. So all through that time I've been working in the studio, putting out singles and EPs, doing remixes, working on different projects. I've been very productive, but during those years the whole scene has tipped upside down, and we're not really in a place where you can simply churn out an album every year or every two years.
"An album needs to be a bigger statement than that now, because people's attention spans are so much shorter than they were in the late 90s when I started out. Downloading has made music so much more disposable. So I felt it wasn't a good idea just to put out an album for the sake of it: better to just release singles, because I didn't want to rush it.
"It wasn't like I was ever making a trendy, of-the-minute record that I had to get out before fashions changed – it was always meant to be something a bit deeper, a bit more timeless. So I'd make tracks and listen to them on-and-off, and things that were a bit more immediate and dancefloor-oriented would get a single release, and things that had a deeper edge got put aside for the album.
"And what I ended up with was a collection of tracks that didn't really fit in quite so well with the dancefloor stuff. And then when it started to feel like the world was just going to pieces, I thought, 'There has to be a body of work that represents the history of the past 30 years', because there seemed to be this big sense of nostalgia, with people buying vinyl again and stuff – it seemed like people were ready for something with a bit more substance again."
"Spotify has changed everything, because now people just listen to the tracks they like and don't really bother with the album as a whole. Whereas in the old days, an album might have had eight tracks you liked and four you didn't, but you had to buy the whole thing, you pretty much had to listen to the whole thing, and quite often those four tracks that you didn't like would end up being your favourites! Spotify lets listeners choose what they hear, rather than an artist presenting a body of work from beginning to end.
"That's why the album's coming out physically: I want people to listen to the whole thing. Because convenience is good, but I think more artists are going to go back to presenting a body of work that's got some kind of longevity. The album's a bit of a risk, because people are used to me making dancefloor tracks the majority of the time, and people might say I've gone off the rails or whatever. But I wasn't doing this album to please a certain crowd: I was doing it as a statement of what I love and what I've grown up with, and what kind of music I'd like to be remembered for if this is the last record I ever make."
So in a nutshell, changes in the industry took the time pressure off, and that gave you the freedom to create something a bit more substantial?
"Yeah, that's pretty much it! I do feel, though, we've still got some way to go. There's a lot of great music coming out that's not getting the attention it deserves, and equally there are a lot of records that get a lot of hype just because of what label they're on or who they're affiliated with. But some of those bubbles will burst eventually, and when they do hopefully we'll see artists getting more credit for what they actually do again, rather than for their branding expertise or who their mates are."
If you've been putting the album together over a long period of time, how old is the oldest track on there?
"There's actually one track on there that I did on a four-track when I was 15 years old! I was in a band called The Reunion, and we originally did Every Day After School as a demo on a Tascam four-track we'd borrowed for a couple of nights. When it came to putting it on this album, the drums and the bassline on that four-track recording weren't really up to scratch quality-wise, so I reprogrammed/replayed those parts, but the rest is off the original demo so it still has that rough 'n' ready, demo feel."
When you're working with material from different eras like that, is there quite a lot of work involved in making it all sound coherent?
"There is. The first thing you have to pay attention to is whether the track still feels relevant: should the music perhaps have stayed in that time, or does it reference something from that time that's relevant today?
"Every Day After School is a good example. For me that refers to the indie music I was listening to at the time, and a lot of the cooler indie bands today still have some of those similar sounds and elements. So I wanted to capture that.
"And then, if you've decided that it's still relevant, you've got to be quite critical: does the track really still stand up, or does it need a little more work? You might find you need to add something or lose something or change something, so that people today can accept it – but without losing that nostalgic element. So it's a bit of a balancing act, but hopefully you can pull that off and create something that's truly timeless.
"Music has that power where it can take you into the past, or it can take you into the future. A classical piece, for instance, can make you think of castles and chateaus and ballgowns and horse-drawn carriages – the era it was from – or its themes can stir up emotions like fear or apprehension or excitement or joy that are 100 per cent relevant today. So the tracks you're looking for are the ones that can do that."
As you've already said, the album's a bit more downtempo/non-dancefloor than your usual output, but was that always the plan or did that come about because those were the unreleased tracks you ended up with?
"You know what? It's actually very hard to have an idea for an album and then make an album that sounds like that. To do that, you've basically got to come up with 15 tracks that are all true to the same concept. In fact, I don't think artists even make concept albums, not really: I think they make it up afterwards! I think they finish the album and then go, 'I know, we'll say it's about war and peace!" or whatever. I don't think many people actually say, 'Let's make an album about colours', I think they finish the album then decide that for marketing purposes.
"With this album there was zero concept, it was just about creating something that would make you stop and listen. That's why I put Love as the first track, because that's one of the least electronic, least dancefloor-oriented tracks I've ever made. I wanted to surprise those listeners who were expecting a typical Omid 16B house beat: I wanted them to sit up and take notice, to think 'Okay, where's he going here?'.
"So there was no real plan: just to create an hour's worth of music that referenced all the music I've loved over the years. It's not quite house, it's not quite hip-hop, it's not quite indie: it's a mish-mash of all those influences and more, my love letter to all the music I've enjoyed over the past 30 years or so."
What about the title, Silenciety – where did that come from?
"Silenciety is a word I made up, basically, and to me it means… I guess something like staying quiet and expressing yourself through art. Instead of everyone shouting at each other and arguing about their different opinions, I wanted to create something that people could sit quietly and appreciate, and hopefully stop arguing and all enjoy it together because there's so many different elements in there. It's like a fantasy word, really, but the basic idea is about bringing back a little bit of harmony to the world."
The album's coming out on your Alola label, rather than Sex On Wax, which is yours and Desyn's label and which has put out the lion's share of your recent work… why's that?
"Well, we brought Alola back round about 2012, because it had been a bit on-hold during the SOS years. But we took a bit of time out and that gave me a chance to restart Alola: for instance, it was a vinyl-only label originally so we digitised some of the releases.
"With this album, if it had been a bit more dancefloor-oriented I would probably have put it out on Sex On Wax. But because it has that more listening aspect, it felt more like an Alola release.
"But it definitely had to be on one of my own labels, because I didn't want to compromise in any way. I did speak to a couple of other labels, but they wanted me to put vocals on some of the tracks, and I didn't want to do that. There's one vocal on there but it's almost hidden, it's so subtle, and I didn't want to overload the album with words, I wanted the focus to be on the music. Ultimately, record labels are always going to be looking for that commercial edge, but doing it on my own label meant I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted."
Are there any downsides to that approach?
"There certainly are: in fact, in a way you're shooting yourself in the foot, because you're denying yourself the help and support and creative input you'd get from all those other people working on it. But doing it on your own label gives you more freedom, and it was important for me not to compromise on this project.
"It's harder, but if it works it's brilliant. And of course, if you do then go on to make an album for someone else's label, you've got that much bargaining power, because you've got proof that your ideas do actually work!"
Moving on to talking about your career more generally… you've been in the game 20+ years now. What are the best and worst changes you've seen in that time?
[long pause] "I think the worst change has probably been social media. It's supposed to bring people together but I think it's sowed more divisions than anything, and from a music business point of view it puts you under constant pressure. You've got to be on there all the time, demanding people's attention, or you get forgotten. But at the same time, it's made some things easier: it's made it easier for people to contact each other, and it's enabled young DJs, musicians and producers to build their fanbases.
"So there are pros and cons to it, but I'm not sure we weren't better off when people actually picked up the phone and talked. I think we were, to be honest, because it left you a lot more time to actually be a musician! These days, if you're doing social media properly, and if you do it all yourself, you could be spending up to 50, 70 per cent of your time on there, and obviously that leaves less time to actually get into the studio."
"The best change – and social media has played a part in this, too, along with cheaper software – is that we really do have equality of opportunity now. Anyone can make a track, upload it on Soundcloud and start sharing it on social media and getting their name known. That has its own drawbacks, of course: not least because with so many people taking that opportunity, you've got so much more competition. But the fact that it's so much easier now for people to get into making music has to be a good thing."
"Overall, as you say the industry has changed a lot, and sometimes it feels like the dark forces are winning! No one seems to know quite what's going on, but I honestly think we're heading for a time when we move on from that, where people start doing their own thing a bit more again and hopefully things will improve."
Finally, what else is going on for you right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"Well, now the album's finished, I can get back to a load of projects I'd had to put on hold! There's quite a few of them: there's some soundtrack work for movies and ads, there's a project I've been working on with a few friends which is like, music for meditating, music for sleep, that sort of thing. And then there's a long list of dance tracks I need to get stuck back into!
"But the album's not over yet: there are still a few surprises to come. Oh, and I'm playing Burning Man for the first time at the end of August, which I'm a bit worried about. Partly because I've never played there before, but also because a massive heatwave's predicted and I might melt!"
You still get nervous before a big gig, then?
"I do, but I've learned to kind of zone it out a bit more. Plus you get nervous about different things: like, I don't get nervous about fucking up a mix, as I might have done when I started, because I know how to deal with that now. It's things I have no control over, like, what if the sound goes wrong, or someone spills their drink over the mixer?
"In fact, to be honest, I still get a little bit nervous before every gig – and I think that's a good thing, because it means you're not becoming complacent or just going through the motions. It means there's still a little bit of innocence there, a little bit of honesty… and after all these years in the music industry, that has to be a good thing!"
Words: Russell Deeks
Silenciety is out now digitally on Alola Records, with the physical release to follow in September