We had the pleasure to interview the international DJ, remixer and producer Grant Nelson at our HQ. During the chat, we talked about his career, D3EP radio, next projects and much more!
Hello and welcome to House of Frankie, Underground Radio in Milan, Italy. Today, I have the pleasure to be here with a great DJ, remixer and producer Grant Nelson. Thank you for being here! Hi, how are you Grant? Nice to have you here in Milan.
Thank you for having me, but can I pull you up on something? Straight away… you said Milan… Milano! C’mon, say it properly! (laugh)
So, welcome to Milano, Italia. It’s a big pleasure to have you here!
It’s an absolute pleasure to be here! It is wonderful what you guys keeps going on here. It’s great.
So, let’s start with our interview. What’s on your agenda for the future? Are you currently working on new projects?
I am working on a lot of different projects at the moment. There’s a lot of new music coming out. I took a bit of a break from music for a couple of years. It wasn’t really intentional, I hadn’t plan to do it and I kept DJing and I kept touring through the whole period. I also created a a radio station, but I don’t really run it and seriously, I kinda underguessed how much work it was gonna take so, that really took over a good year of my life. So, there was a lot of working involved in that, which kinda kept me out of the studio.
There’s a lot of projects coming out this year, I don’t know, even sure if I’m aloud to talk about, but yeah, there’s a couple, a very special, a big one for the UK. I can’t really talk about that, but there’s something special happening around kinda March time, but I can’t really talk about it.
Ok, then we will wait!
You have been on the music scene for a very long time, but how did you start your career as a DJ and producer? I mean, I know back then, you were at first in love with the cinema… why did you changed idea?
I blagged it. I think, probably a lot of guys… I just kinda blagged my way into it. I’ve always been buying music from a really young age. I was buying records from the ages of 8 or 9. I loved the stuff my mama was listening to a lot of disco, stuff, so I grew up in the 70’s listening to a lot of that music… pocket money to go and buy records. All I did was buying music, so, I was really obsessed with music as I kept buy. I never thought it was gonna be something I did as a job. No intentional, no training as a musician or anything like that. Yeah, and my dream was to go to RADA, which is the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and I was gonna study to become an actor and hopefully I ended up doing some big parts on TV shows. Then, one day when I was about 15 years old I was working in a superstore, just some holiday job, and a manager of the store said to me “I’ve got a birthday party coming up”, cause I used to always coming with a Sony Walkman, I was always listening to music. He said to me “You, musical, do you know anyone as a DJ?” And I went “Yeahhh, I’m a DJ, man!” and he was “Really??” and I said “Yeah! I’ve been DJing…” but I had never played for anyone. I had some turntables in my bedroom and I used to play and make mixtapes for myself but I never played in front of people before. So, he said “Would you wanna do my birthday?” and I said “Yeah!”
I had no clue, I had to go out and hire all the gear, did the whole thing. I think I could pay 15 pounds for it at the time, which it was really good but, you know, it was costing me so much to hire all the gear. But from that party, which went really well, there was a few other people there that said to me “Could you do my party as well?” and I replied “Ok!”. Then, I had a meeting with a guy and we ended up – it’s a kind long story short – we ended up doing a few kind of illegal raves at the time. I gotta little bit in trouble from the authorities, few places gone a bit smashed-up. And then I ended up just getting a summer contract DJing in Jersey, in the Channel Islands and that’s where it all started. And to before I knew it, I become a DJ and it was my full-time job. It was properly a few years after that. Well, I think, when I first started making records I actually thought “Wow, this is my job now! And how come it didn’t really occurred to me while I was doing it?”. Today I’m still thinking “Is this my job?”, ’cause I’m still not sure!
That’s great I guess, that’s really great! So, did you have any inspirational figure in your life, someone who has inspired you?
I mean, there’s been people I have looked up to for a lot of different reasons. But musically wise, I think I was heavily influenced by Arthur Baker back in the day. I used to listen to all he was doing like edits, records and remixes. That’s the first time I actually said to myself “I could do this for a job”, ‘cause I liked these remixes and sound! Vivid memories of watching Paul Hardcastle on Top of The Pops, with his “19” single, surrounded by keyboards and I thought to myself “Wow, I quite like that!”. But musically people likes Stevie Wonder and so on, all the usual aspects… I was heavily influenced by them, I wouldn’t be doing it without all those guys.
Nelson, you are often referred to as the Godfather of UK Garage. And talking about music style, your musical style blends disparate cultural influences and genres. What do you think about this title?
Oh, it’s nice! I know why I got the title… it wasn’t just me, there were lots of people involved in that. All the UK DJs that built it actually, you know, it was everyone, but I guess I was maybe the prominent UK guy that stood out, producer wise. By the way, I’m absolutely flatter by this! Frankie is the Godfather of House, and I’m the Godfather of UK Garage, I’ll take that!
You have made a huge career over the years… it would take too much time to mention all your collaborations, works and so on… Do you remember a specific episode or event that has paved the way for your success? I mean, when you realized you were about to achieve success…
Absolutely! And there’s no way you could know this when you wrote this question before I even arrived. But it has actually all to do with Frankie. In 1995, Frankie and I, we were both signed to Virgin Records at that time. Frankie was signed to Virgin America, and if I’m not wrong, I was signed to Virgin UK at that time. Anyway, someone from the American division said “Look, we want Grant Nelson to do remix of the track”. Frankie Knuckles was walking with a diva, and I was like “Wow, this is great!”, so I did it. And there was something as I was doing the remixes as well, different about… I can’t really tell what it is, no clue… something that kinda switched in my own mind. And I thought “Wow, I feel like something has changed.” I kinda matured as a producer and remixer during this part doing this project. Anyway, the record went out, Frankie told me “Man, I really liked the remix. You killed it!” and it was amazing to hear that from someone like that! Years later, I think maybe 5 or 6 years later, I was with a friend of mine, Brian Tappert from Jazz-N-Groove and Traxsource. We were in my studio, in London, and we were having a conversation about this similar kind of topic, like “When you think you got your break?”, and all that and more. We were having this chat and just said to me “Bro, you know when you got your break” and I was like “What are you talking about?” and he’s like “Come here!”. He took me into the studio and pull out a copy of my remix of Frankie Knuckles. He played it and it started at a loop with Diva vocals which says “since then I have been blessed”. And he just played it while looking to me. I was like “Oh my God, I mean, it’s true since then I have been blessed!” Since that record came out, that changed everything for me (that record). It was a pretty powerful moment as well. I even told Frankie about that and he loved that as well.
Let’s talk about the past, when we talk about the rise of house music we always think of NYC and Chicago… you started your career pretty much around that time. What was the underground scene in London back then? How did the American scene differ from the UK one?
I think the American scene has always been different to every other scene around the world. It’s funny because we were talking about this in the car on the way here today. Apart from obviously the strong scenes like NYC (back in the day they were smashing it), New Jersey, Chicago, Detroit, (these 2 obviously techno), I think that generally as a whole country America has never really embraced house music, like the rest of the world has. I think they missed out on the excitement that we all went through back then as well. It took over everything, wherever you went…I mean, even back in Italy during the 90’s was incredible over it, you had every major DJ in the world playing every weekend. It was huge, massive piles of people really into the music. Now it’s a different scene, it’s still good, but it’s different. Back then it was passion, true passion. And I don’t think America has ever really experienced that, I mean, the closest they have come to it is recently with the EDM. But, you know, that’s just all nonsense. Can I say that? (Laughing). I don’t mean that obviously, but it’s a different kinda thing. The EDM thing is obviously built to excite and make noise, while, you know, this other kind of music, the house music, is organic, real. People catch onto it, they just do that thing. So, again, I think America not really supported that from the start, but I talk about the general population. I think it’s a weirdest thing because it all came from that country. And that’s a weirdest thing for non-Americans and maybe for American too. It must be weird to know you’re the country that gave this to the world, but the country that supported it the least, which is why the Americans have spent the whole career travelling the world. All over Asia, the Europe… everywhere, more so that they play in their own country which is weird! They should be smashing it in their own country! But, yeah, strange, because again they are completely responsible for it. I don’t know what it is, maybe there’s too much country music in America.
You’re the owner of D3EP radio, which was launched in 2014. Could you tell us something about it? What was the idea behind this project?
Originally, I had a radio show called Housecall every two weeks and at that time the station where I was live streaming it was having trouble, because the streaming kept dropping out. So, I spoke to a friend of mine saying “Bro, can we just build a streaming platform so I can still stream both to that station and on the House Call website as well? We can get more people listening to the show” and he agreed. We kinda rustled something up that would go together and that’s when I had the idea of creating a radio. I just approached a few friends, inviting them to joining this. I put the whole thing on Facebook, and now I must have listened to about 2500 – maybe more than that – mixtapes from people. I picked 70 or 80 people and we kinda built up the station and now few years later there are new DJs joined. We have got I think 125 DJs from all over the world. I think we pretty much got every continent representing like Australia, South Africa, North and South America, maybe China, Singapore, and more. And that’s a wonderful thing! We have built this really amazing community and these guys are just fantastic! 100% dedicated, fond of music… they are all really great, and the show is brilliant as well. Such a family we have a created! And that kinda spills over to the listeners as well, so the listener is really loyal and supportive. It’s a beautiful thing! I never imagined that it would become what it has become.
Every time I look ahead it just brings the smile to my face. It’s a lovely thing. Since I was 18 years old I have been producing records and that’s have been my life, producing and DJing, producing and DJing, so to get me out of the studio it had to be something special!
How do you organise your music? Describe your technical set-up.
It depends on what I’m playing, there’s not really any fix form. It also depends on what kind of a crowd you’re going to play too. I honestly don’t believe you can plan fully anyway. 25% of the DJ jobs origins in the crowd. 25% is knowing what’s good music and 25% is knowing when to play and should you play. And if you got a predesigned set you’re just following that and you’re not paying attention to the crowd, which is the most important part, what goes around there. I mean, there’s not really any magical mystery thing for me. I try to mix different styles, music, I play soulful stuff, techy stuff and just kind keep it lively. I’m a quite energetic DJ so I like to mix a lot, I try to use at least 2/3 turntables, and most of the time you would even never realize that, which is great. People kinda compliment me about it over the years. I remember a DJ saying to me “Geez man! Until I actually saw you doing it, I didn’t realised how much you were doing!”, because I try too do not things subtly. Some DJs are quite brutal when they play, like if you look at them they’re like “I’ve just smashed that mix!” and I’m the opposite of that. If I play acapella over something it will blend as part of the record, that’s what I try to do. That’s why my DJ set is like I’m remixing records live. So that’s a little method.
Our digital platform, House of Frankie, was born as a project dedicated to Frankie Knuckles, and more in general, as a tribute to house music. I know you remixed some of his tracks. Do you have any memories of him?
There’s quite a lot of special memories of Frankie but I think probably the one that sticks out the most is the first time I met him. This probably doesn’t sound very strange to people these days because people work remotely and is just done now with the Internet. Vocalists, producers may never meet… someone is in one part of the world, someone is in another part and they work, record comes out, years can pass and they never meet. But back in the day it was quite unusual that we hadn’t bumped into each other, so I hadn’t seen Frankie anyway. I’d never been anywhere where he was and vice versa. I did the remix for him, we spoke a lot, so we were kinda in touch but we never actually met. Few years later I was playing at Cielo, I was just doing my thing when I felt a tap on my back. I turned around and it was just Frankie! He just grabbed me and I was like “Boy, what are you doin?? We’re men!”. He was just playing and I said “Calm down man! Because we have never met!” and that meant so much to me, that was a really nice thing! I know everyone who know Frankie say over and over again how a lovely guy he was but he really was one of the loveliest guy you will ever meet! He was such a big heart, so humble… considering he is regarded as the Godfather of this whole thing we are doing in here, if someone is that humble it is just so incredible.
Tonight, you will perform at Circle, here in Milan, one of the Italian city that is becoming really preeminent in the underground scene. What do you think about the European underground music scene?
I think it starts to become a big come back. It went very commercial a few years ago, but it brought a lot of new people in. A lot of DJs say all the EDM thing ruined it and I some regards it did but in other regards it brought in a whole new generation of people. There’s someone of those people came in through EDM and all of a sudden, they are actually looking for something else, moving often to new genres, whatever is hip hop, deep, techno… even the disco revival is going on at the moment! It’s absolutely smashing it right now. So, I think the European scene is good at the moment, is working its way back to be great again and it was always great. I think for anyone wasn’t alive especially during the 90’s, they really don’t know how great Europe was for house music, I mean it was the centre of the world basically the house music, Italy especially was incredible, Japan as well. I would love to see that passion, that vibe, that style come back again.
Thank you, Grant for all your inspirational ideas! It was a great pleasure to have you here! And thank you for all your memories you have shared with us and we wait for you for join us the next time!
Watch a clip of Grant performing at Circle below!
Listen to Grant Nelson’s latest releases on Traxsource