A Q&A with Joe Nice
by Kyle Risley (Marketing), published January 12th 2012
photos by Nick Minieri (Beantown Boogie Down)
On paper, Joe Nice and dubstep are a bit of an odd couple. While dubstep has found success in understatement – bare percussion, minimalist sub-bass, and a squinty, red-eyed gaze – Joe Nice thrives on a bold personality, off-beat catchphrases, and a contagious enthusiasm for music. Sporting an easy demeanor, a bald head glistening with sweat, and a steady stream of conversation, he helps fill in the blanks left between dubstep’s sub-bass pulses. Based out of Baltimore, Nice has been the leading American dubstep DJ since he co-founded GourmetBeats Radio in 2003, where he has broadcasted the best in dubstep over the Internet ever since. On December 9, Joe Nice brought these sounds to Good Life Bar as part of Boston’s longest running dubstep party, Bassic.
Following his tradition of beginning his sets with an old school tune, Joe Nice kicked things off in Good Life’s basement with MTume’s 1982 funk hit “Juicy Fruit” to a crowd evenly split between young professionals and dreaded glow stick twirlers. Tucked inside the exposed brick DJ booth, Nice sifted through his bag of records for the next plate to throw onto his turntables, most of which were unreleased and bore a simple white label with a handwritten ID tag. Indeed, much of his appeal stems from his extraordinary access to songs that either will not be released for a while or will never see an official release. These exclusive tracks, both old and new, help distinguish Joe Nice from other DJs and reinforce the idea of going to a club to hear music you can’t enjoy anywhere else.
As advertised, Joe Nice delivered the goods. Fresh cuts from Mala (“Brazil Electronica,” “Harvest”), DJG (“Melon”), Goth Trad (“Seeker”), and Pinch (“Grump”) were interwoven with established rarities such as Mala’s “2 Much Chat” and “DMZ vs. MZN.” Out of the 30 tracks played over the course of an hour and a half, I only recognized nine and could take a guess at the producer credit for a few more. This wasn’t a problem though, as Nice’s selection was consistently on-point and interesting, mixing tribal drum rollers, peppy 4/4 grooves, staggering wall shakers, and everything in between to great effect. Joe Nice’s exclusive dubplates may place his record bag head and shoulders above the rest, but it’s his taste, timing, and personality that set him apart as a DJ. The night was another huge win for Bassic and a testament to dubstep’s ongoing evolution.
Tastemakers Magazine (TMM): You usually start your sets with an old school track. Why is that?
Joe Nice (JN): I want to let people know the sounds I grew up on and the tunes that influenced me. Plus, I enjoy easing the crowd into dubstep. You always dip your toes in the water…you never dive in head first. The same goes for me and my sets.
TMM: How has your new night, Reconstrvct, been going?
JN: Reconstrvct has been excellent. V.I.V.E.K., GothTrad, Lost, DJG, BunZer0, CDubs and a few others have played the event. The show takes place at The Morgan in Bushwick, Brooklyn. We decided to go back to basics: a room with big sound, top notch talent and tunes. In my opinion, that’s always been the way to experience dubstep and we want to uphold that tradition. Reconstrvct isn’t a substitute for DubWar, another party I helped create. [DubWar NYC, started by Joe Nice and Dave Q, was the first dubstep club night in the US]. DubWar was a separate experience and a separate time and place. It can’t ever be duplicated. Reconstrvct is a new chapter, the next chapter.
TMM: Is “Low Frequency with Decency” the “Meditate on Bass Weight” of the United States?
JN: Yeah…I’ll agree with that. It’s funny, at DubWar, we always had a “slogan of the night.” It was something silly that we’d all say, like “save your receipts” or “blame Dubwar” or “tell your friends.” One of those slogans was “I AM NOT OK.” I’ll say this much, that slogan had legs. Buttons were created. After a while it became a mantra.
TMM: You have been a vocal opponent of brostep’s rise in popularity and deep saturation into the dubstep scene, especially in the United States. Do you feel pressured to play more aggressive tracks in America versus the UK and other parts of Europe?
JN: I never feel pressured to play more aggressive tracks. I play what I feel to play. I’ve been involved with dubstep for ten years. I believe I have reached a certain level of consistency with the tunes I play and how I present the music to the audience. I’ve been doing GourmetBeats Radio for eight years. When you see my name on a flyer, promoters and partygoers know what to expect.
TMM: You’ve famously held onto using dubplates [pressings of songs in the 10" acetate format] even as many DJs have moved towards CDJs out of practicality. Aside from your preference for exclusive and unreleased tracks, what leads to your preference for the dubplate?
JN: I am a DJ. Disc. Jockey. A disc has 3 characteristics: it’s flat, circular and resembles a plate. A jockey: someone that operates a specific machine, vehicle or object. It’s also someone that rides a horse. In either example, the operator is in control. Stop. Start. Fast. Slow. Dubplates are the truest representation of that disc jockey ethos. When you play a record, there is rotation. With rotation comes vibration. Vibration equals physicality. Dubstep is a physical sound. In my opinion, dubstep is best heard in that format. Vibration is also a feeling. Vibes. Dubstep is vibes. Dubstep is also emotional.
TMM: How did you start receiving so many exclusive dubplates? Is there a large degree of trust involved between you and the producer?
JN: Honestly, all I did was ask. If you don’t ask the question, the answer is always no. Plastician was the first to send me tunes on the MSN Messenger (yeah….remember that?!). Old bits like “White Gloves” and “Pump Up The Jam.” From there, other producers started sending me tunes. There’s a large degree of trust because these tunes are their work. They value their work, as do I.
TMM: Despite being involved in the dubstep scene since the early days, you haven’t really expanded outside of your role as a DJ. I know you’ve experimented with production, but is there any interest on your end to form a label and release records? It seems like it would be the natural extension of your taste as a DJ and ambassador of the dubstep sound to America.
JN: I am dabbling in production, but my passion is playing and performing dubstep. If I did create a record label, easy…GourmetBeats Music. When you see a gourmet meal, you instantly recognize that a level of quality has to be attained in order to be called “gourmet.” Same for what I would need to do with the label. Cream of the crop tunes. Best of the best. Nothing else will do. Quality control is a must.
TMM: Dubstep seems to be headed in many different directions in 2011. You have James Blake and Darkstar making the more melancholy, vocal tracks, Addison Groove and Ramadanman bringing in strong Chicago house influences, and others like LX One only getting deeper and more submersive. Who are your favorite producers that are shaking things up and keeping the sounds fresh?
JN: There are so many talented producers that are making fresh beats, but I’d rather focus on labels that are continually breaking boundaries. Deep Medi. For me, they’re the best going. There’s a focus on the sound the label wants to represent and the target is always hit every time. Chestplate, Get Darker, Hessle Audio, Hyperdub, Tempa, Keysound Recordings, Swamp 81 are some other labels that are consistently making moves.
Joe Nice hosts a monthly radio show at GourmetBeats.com, with all past shows dating back to 2005 archived and available for free download at JoeNice.net. Follow him on Twitter @JoeNiceDJ for the latest updates.