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Nastia: "Techno has become very predictable"

The Ukrainian producer was talking to Goldie for our Back 2 Back series

  • Words: Dave Jenkins
  • 4 November 2019

After several turbulent years teetering on the edge of DJ burn-out, Nastia is in an inspired place. The techno heavyweight has joined BBC Radio 1 for a residency and last month won the hearts of the d’n’b cognoscenti as one of the standout sets at breakbeat mecca Sun And Bass. She’s also launching a new label, Nechto. Winding down operations on her Propaganda imprint, she’s taken inspiration and cues from one of her favourite labels, Metalheadz. Founded 25 years ago by Goldie, it’s regarded as one of the most agenda-setting labels for d’n’b. We connected the two to talk labels, nurturing new talent and creating balance in life.

Nastia: I’m a big fan. Thank you for what you’re doing and what you have contributed to music with Metalheadz.

Goldie: Thank you. I don’t think there are many other labels that have the integrity and the kind of catalogue we have. It’s funny: the people I associate with techno – Derrick May, Mad Mike, the Detroit OGs – they have respect for the label in terms of how future-thinking we are sonically. They know we don’t make drum ’n’ bass to try to provide a platform for a formula, maybe get some girl singing over it for a Top 10 record. That isn’t going to work for us – that music’s disposable. It won’t last. I’d much rather people find the music in 20 years’ time.

N: How many people work at Metalheadz?

G: Just a handful! It’s like The Wizard Of Oz. You get to the end of the rainbow and there’s a guy behind the curtain. I have a strong label manager, though: Anthony Crook. We A&R between us both.

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N: It’s very small compared to the size of the brand.

G: We did that stuff in the 90s when I blew up and got offices and had people working [for us] who didn’t understand the music. You lose your integrity that way. That can’t work for me.

N: My previous label, Propaganda, was all high-quality design with gatefold sleeves and 180-gram vinyl. My new label’s for DJs rather than collectors, with cheap covers and no designs. Plus it’s easier– fewer people to ask what’s going on!

G: Technology helps. But just look at the new artists coming through. We’ve got Phase about to drop an album. We’ve got Grey Code, this incredible 21-year-old kid who’s remixed my record ‘The Mirrored River’. That kid is my protégé. He’ll become so much more powerful because he’s learning from something that isn’t about us crunching numbers. He’ll make what he wants to make when he wants to make it. And we’ll let him.

N: I love how [Metalheadz] is so open to new talent. How do people send you music?

G: The demo email door is always open. But there’s a certain way, a certain integrity. The label has a certain sound. You could be an electronic genius and emulate the sound but it won’t have the soul. I’ll give you an analogy. You go to art school and do foundation one and two. I give you 50 cans of paint and you couldn’t paint a graffiti piece. That’s the difference. Metalheadz is about style and how you lay it down.

N: My new label Nechto is mainly to help push Ukrainian artists and represent our culture around the world. It’s dark and experimental, but mainly made for DJs. Is it true that you call every artist and give them your personal opinions?

G: Sure! To make it better for both parties. Stronger for all of us. The ego is what crushes the record. The music has to be the music itself. It’s bigger than all of us. It has to have a spiritual sense about it. That’s why it’s important to me.

N: Do you make all the decisions about what comes out on the label?

G: Anthony comes out to Thailand and does kickboxing. I live out here most of the time. We sit around a fire and work out what we’re going to release, we schedule and balance things out between new and established artists. I’m blessed I have so much choice. I came off a two-hour set [recently] and still had things left to play. I could have played for five hours. So we’re in a great position with the label. The weirdest thing is that we’re 25 years old but we’re at the strongest point we’ve ever been, with more releases, artists and albums. How does that happen?

N: It’s your teamwork, and your gut decisions. This is the result. How many releases do you plan ahead?

G: At least a year and a half. [Work on] Grey Code’s album is starting now – that’s a year away. Even with EP releases we’re 18 months, two years ahead. But we’re not saturating things. We have Metalheadz XX and Metalheadz Platinum sub-labels. We need major arteries, not veins for this talent. That’s important for us. So anyway, when are you going to let me play a techno set with you and I can show you some old-skool Detroit shit?

N: Ha! Well one of my questions was going to be what your perspective of drum ’n’ bass is? Because personally I feel techno has become very predictable, it’s become a formula. That’s why I’m digging through the 90s because that music to me is much more exciting and futuristic.

G: That’s what I’m talking about. But did you hear Biz ‘Don’t Stop’ on Derrick May’s Transmat? Killer tune. There’s some great stuff coming out now as well. Martyn and I played an eight-hour set at Berghain. We started with old four-to-the-floor drum ’n’ bass: Nookie, Doc Scott. People forget that era. It was breakbeat, it was jungle, it was techno. You can go from there into Detroit stuff and take them on a journey they didn’t expect.

N: I do the same in techno – I’ll finish with a drum ’n’ bass tune. It always gets interesting reactions.

Goldie: It’s the energy!

N: The techno community doesn’t know drum ’n’ bass much. Sometimes they don’t know how to dance to it. It’s funny, but it’s cool to mix everything into the set to educate. That’s part of our job.

G: That’s what we need to do. Whenever you want to play a set we’ll roll out and do a big techno/d’n’b mash-up.

Nastia: I wish! I just came back from playing at Sun And Bass, actually.

G: That’s a great place to play drum ’n’ bass music. They really appreciate it there.

N: I was nervous – it was an interesting experience which I couldn’t have handled until now. It was very different playing d’n’b instead of techno. The next night I played Amnesia and it felt like slowed-down music.

G: Ha. Yeah, d’n’b will do that. But when you release it at the end it’s a good pay-off. It works better that way; you hold it back, you play them through the Detroit stuff, you tease it with the old stuff. When you let it out they love it even more.

N: Yeah, you’re showing you know something about the culture!

G: It’s a very powerful culture. It’s changed the world, but you play it at 5:AM and it’s still so pure. They’ll never understand it on mainstream radio. They’ll never get it. It’s not compromised. Every other genre’s been compromised, but not this one.

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N: I think so too. This next question is important for me. What’s the situation for female d’n’b producers at the moment?

G: I don’t care if you’re female or male, if you’re making music then you’re making music. The doors are always open. Kemi, for example, would roll you out. She’d take people apart and make people step up their game. If you’re a female producer keep doing what you’re doing and people will pay attention. I think the idea of them [female producers] being alienated is incorrect, but I agree there need to be more. Things are definitely changing, which is really important.

N: What do you do to restore your own balance? Do you meditate?

G: Hot yoga has been the main thing for me. Eleven years, four times a week without fail. I’ve been travelling for the last few days. I have hot yoga tomorrow and I can’t fucking wait. You know when you were a teenager and you couldn’t wait for the weekend to drop an E? That’s how I feel about it.

N: I did Vipassana meditation. Have you heard of it? It’s 10 days of silence.

G: Yes! How was that?

N: I had so many things I was worried about, I wasn’t happy at all. It saved my life.

Goldie: I’ll definitely be doing that. Imagine that, 10 days of Goldie being silent? Wow.

N: So what about the next 25 years of Metalheadz?

G: I say this every time people ask me about the future. What we do today creates tomorrow. There is no future; it’s what we do now. That’s it.

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