Nikolaos Raptis aka Quell is what many would call a DJ’s DJ - a rich depth of knowledge when it comes music and immersed in a journey of discovery taking him from his native Greece to the underground throngs of London, now to the creative hub of Berlin.
Not confined to genres, his DJ sets span diverse corners of the musical spectrum whilst his productions have featured on some of the finest imprints out there - Ibadan, These Days and soon-to-be Tsuba.
Sometimes you hit a gem of an interview subject, Quell is just that…
Hi Nikolaos, is that a Greek name? Tell us a little about your background…
Yes it is a Greek name indeed. I come from Athens, I am fully Greek, my family still all live there but I have been living abroad for almost thirteen years now after first moving to the UK to study and then work, which is also where I started producing my own music. Then later on in 2006 I moved to Berlin. In reality one could say that I became an adult, spent my formative years and sort of grew up away from Greece.
That’s how it started for me if we’re talking about musical background. I didn’t get in touch with a real dance club or dance music consciously until 2000 when I moved to Surrey for studies, which is a short train ride to the centre of London coincidentally. I was listening to a lot of UK-produced and French Electronica and some US Electro acts, a lot of which was straight up Techno or House. I just didn’t know that at the time!
How was your musical upbringing? You lived in London from your late teens right? Did that affect your migration towards more deeper sounds?
My musical upbringing was one of Punk/Indie/Rock ‘n’ Roll/EBM/Industrial in my early adolescence. I thought, before I moved to England, that everyone would be into the same sort of thing, that I would go out and listen to underground music everywhere. I will never forget the cultural shock I was in the first few weeks of my life in Britain; UK Garage, Grime, Drum ‘n’ Bass and a whole amalgamation of all sorts of things. It took me a while to come back from that one!
Unfortunately in Athens there was always huge segregation between genres and ‘scenes’, mainly due to the fact that there was never too much happening in the country from a producing music kind of perspective.
So the rockers were the rockers and despised the (actually cool) Techno clubs of the time and vice versa. I said this before in an interview, but in a city where you have Sister Ray/Selectadisc, Vinyl Junkies, Phonica and Black Market and in a country that has spawned Factory Records, Creation Records, tons and tons of small indie labels, Warp, Ministry of Sound, the M25 raves and so many other important things for music universally, it’s hard not to receive a certain “message”.
My migration towards the deeper sounds started because on the same street, in the same club I would listen to Broken Beat, Deep House, Garage, Minimal Techno and Click House and Indie. I was a guitar music lover who was just thrown in the eye of a multi-cultural monsoon of music from all over the board.
I started mixing “dance” records around the age of eighteen. One could find almost anything in my bag, from Smiths 7” singles, to Masters At Work EPs, Inspiral Carpets and New Order 12”s, Roule records all the way to Electro/Disco things of the time (around 2000-2002) like City Rockers, International Deejay Gigolo etc.
It was an amazing time for me because it was the first time in my life that I realised that there were bridges among all these examples mentioned above. At first it was a more subliminal realisation, but now, with time I know very well the reasons why or the history behind each thing. In general, as a person, I tend to show enormous amounts of interest in almost all musical aspects and that has helped me learn and understand tons and tons of music throughout the past fifteen years of my life as a music lover and a professional.
You’ve amassed a strong discography on some big labels in your relatively short career, where did you get your first break and why do you think your music appeals to many?
If you think about artists who have been around for two years maximum and are already praised by everyone, then my career hasn’t really been that short. I just happened to release very specific style of House Music music that reflected massively and almost exclusively to a relatively small scene in the United States. It is sad but true, but today’s House Music is not as universal as it used to be around the beginning of the last decade, when there used to be the term US House and that included the West Coast, East Coast and everything inbetween.
The reason why my music appeals to so many people has to do with two things mainly although it is sometimes a sweet mystery to me; first is the fact that I maintained my pop sensibilities throughout time, in the very wide meaning of the word, so I like to put something memorable or catchy or something that shows something about my personality in my music. The second reason is because as a person I often fall in love with music that is really placed underground but at the same time I will listen to and love something more mainstream and “easy” on the ears and please excuse “underground” and “mainstream”. One of my best friends always used to say that there is nothing more tragic than a single-dimensional human being.
I was reading your biog and it mentions you’ll play anything if it fits the scene - a DJ’s DJ - what is your favourite style to go down? Do you prefer a bit of House over Pop or is it a bit of everything?
To put it in a short as possible sentence, my favourite style to play out is the style that each club/venue I will play at will “dictate”.
I generally have a lot of ego when it comes to proving that I can play an Indie-Dance/Disco set as well as I could play a full three hours downstairs at the Batterie Room in Tresor club, which means relentless Techno, Industrial and EBM. It’s a kind of competition I have with myself. Ideally I would like there to be a place where I could pass through all of my favourite styles of music that people could dance and/or fall in love/sing along to. It is not a matter of musical preference so much, it’s most important for me to feel that the people I’m playing for are “getting” my set. Truth be told, these days I get booked to play because of the music I’m best known for through my production so far. I love playing deep house sets, with a New York/Chicago edge and lots of energy but people can also always expect some surprises.
Picking up on the last point, do you feel restricted in what you play sometimes if the surroundings scream one thing rather than another?
Never and for no reason, I always carry enough music with me to be able to weather almost any situation and this is the biggest buzz I get out of DJing, seeing people happy and dancing because of what I’m playing for them, but without them having to show me what they want to hear. It is possible sometimes, especially in the dance music underground, to be expected and to expect to play a certain kind of set and then because of the majority of the crowd that showed up to have to diversify until I am on the same level with the room I’m playing in.
I want to be sensitive to peoples’ needs without that meaning that I am a human juke-box or an iPod. I respect that people have paid or will pay their earned money at the door and at the bar to come hear me play and enjoy themselves and I must tune in and read the crowd at any given time, on any dance-floor as much as I humanly can.
I also, contrary to what some people believe or say, don’t think it limits my artistry, or an artist’s nature who should face the dilemma of entertaining vs educating while DJing. I don’t see why the two should be separate or opposite. If I am worth my salt as a DJ I will entertain while educating or vice versa.
What’s the next release for you?
There’s a lot coming up. first off, my release with the lovely Tsuba Records people from London who are going form strength to strength right now - in danger of becoming one of England’s highest quality house labels. Next up is my collaboration with Jerome Sydenham for an upcoming LP he has coming out on Ibadan Records in the summer and later on in the year, my personal EP for the label. Other than that I have remixes and releases coming up on These Days, Skylax Records, a remix for Nicholas on 4Lux, Amplified and the Italian Back And Forth Recordings imprint.
Finally, you head to Manchester this weekend - first time in the city? Looking forward to it?
Running the risk of using a horribly overused phrase, England in general is like a spiritual/second home to me, so I feel very much on a pulse with the English ethos and tradition in dance music and like I said earlier I share a lot of it with them. That and the fact that I miss living there terribly have made me feel very excited to be going to Manchester to share my stories and music with Tristan Da Cunha and everybody who is coming down to dance and have a deeply joyful time on Friday night.
"Noise" is a series of interviews with those making BIG noises in the scene.
The emergence of Disco back onto the scene a few years back has revitalised House music as a whole. Whether or not it ever went in the first place is another debate but it’s repackaging - leaning towards the deeper side of House music - has been supported heavily by Sean Brosnan and his “Future Disco" brand.
Now on their fifth compilation, Brosnan has developed the CD series into a must have and turned it into a thriving club night - they take over Space on Tuesdays this summer. Add to the mix his separate imprint Needwant, it’s been a hectic few years for the former Azuli promo man. We caught up with him to discuss the rise of Future Disco and the future of Disco itself…
Hi Sean, you’re on Vol.5 now, suppose the best place to start is at the start… Needwant/Future Disco has come a long way in a relatively short space of time, where and why did it all begin?
Well many moons ago I worked at Azuli records. When I was there someone mentioned about putting together a compilation of the music I was playing. I was happy to be asked to select and mix a compilation, as for four years I had worked promoting other peoples. So I came up with the name, artwork and tracklist. I spent a few days mixing and editing it in a studio and Future Disco was born.
Needwant came a little time after. It had been a fanzine I ran, all sounds very seventies but this was in fact 2009. I worked up a few releases and off we went. I guess it all has come a long way, I don’t often stop to think about it. You are only as good as your last release as they say.
Million dollar question, what would you put down as the main reason for the reemergence of Disco a few years back?
If you are into the more soulful and deeper house you tend to have a long affair with Disco too. I don’t think many people are exclusive disco fans it tends to be across a lot of connected genres. I think it started to happen with re-edits, maybe it was the cheaper software or the internet allowing people to discover all these old Disco tracks on blogs but it was those edits I think that drove it all - but like any scene, if a few factors all combine then it starts to take off. London was and still is at the centre of it.
The whole Disco scene has been around a while now and shows no sign of letting up like other trends have, why has Disco got staying power? And do you ever see it leaving?
Disco has been around longer than I’ve been alive so I don’t think it will ever go away. If you are quite deeply into House music, you appreciate where the samples come from and the earlier beginnings of club music, so I think forever more people will discover Disco and then want to interpret it in their own way. When you search back you start to realise just how creative those early days were.
It must be quite interesting looking back at the first volume of Future Disco and the latest one, what are the differences and do they reflect the scene as a whole?
In some ways they are completely different. The first one was much slower, maybe my life was slower then or at least that’s how it feels! The music for me has moved away from the big vocal Disco sound and it’s merged more with house.
If you look at The Revenge or Todd Terje four or five years ago they were more likely to play the back room, now they are firmly in the peak room slots and the music mirrors that but the essence is the same. Hopefully that’s what listeners get across the whole series; it’s all from the same place but it’s always slightly different. It would be a bit boring to do five compilations pretty much exactly the same so I always want to create the next chapter, even if not everyone wants to move with me.
How do you see the “sound” evolving in years to come, hypothetically, how different would Vol.10 compare to Vol.5 for example?
I know I claim the title Future Disco but predicting volume ten is a tough measure. I hope it still has the passion in the music.
Going back to Future Disco Vol.5 - if there was one record to seduce your girlfriend, one to play at the pre-party and one to play at the after-party - what would they be?
Seduce your girlfriend I think “Something Special”, nice slinky vocal and bumping bass line. Pre-party or party starter would be the Classixx remix of Cosmic Kids, I’ve played it many times and it’s like dynamite in the early stages of a night. The after party I’ll opt for the Revenge remix of “In My System” has an old school jacking feel and is a good heads down track.
This album is titled “Downtown Express”, what’s the thinking behind it?
It’s all a bit more late night and housier tempos. When I started the whole selection I wanted it to be more 2am than 2pm. Obviously it’s not like that all the way through, but has a slightly more intense edge to it.
Do you have a favourite Disco?
I just like amazing parties rather than a specific club and great parties can be found in all kinds of places and unexpected nights out. London feels really healthy right now in terms of a good party.
Finally, what’s coming up for Needwant/Future Disco in 2012?
More singles on Needwant with a hot release from a brand new French duo called The Mekanism. Future Disco will be on the terrace at Space in Ibiza every Tuesday, so that’s a big and exciting step up for us. I’ll probably be out there for at least two months. I’ll send an SOS if I go missing in action, wish me luck.
For more info, head to www.futuredisco.net.
"Noise" is a series of interviews with those making BIG noises in the scene.
The intriguingly named Mano Le Tough aka Niall Mannion hails from the small coastal village of Greystones in Ireland. Now residing in Berlin, Mannion has developed a highly-respected catalogue of music in a short space of time - working with some of the best underground labels out there.
With an album out this year, a first appearance at Panorama Bar this weekend and a biog reads “Mano likes eating vegetables and reading Ernest Hemingway”, we thought it was well worth catching up with the Irishman…
Hi Niall, where do we find you today?
Hello! Today I am at home in my apartment in Berlin.
You grew up in a seaside village in Ireland, what were your musical roots?
I guess my musical roots were pretty normal and varied, parents record collection, taping stuff from the radio, friends older brothers’ music. I have always had a very broad taste in music and I think that is a product of my youth.
When did you discover more electronic sounds and begin dabbling in playing records and making them?
I was always aware of electronic music since I was a kid, one of the first CD’s I had was The Prodigy “Experience” but I was more into Indie music until my late teens. Then I got interested in electronic music again and I started DJing in Dublin. When I first started making electronic music I fell in love with it immediately, I felt I had a found a way to express myself musically that I hadn’t previously experienced. I moved to Berlin shortly after and have been making music full time ever since.
They all came about in different ways really but I am happy to say that I’ve made some great relationships with the people I have worked with. This year I will be working a lot more with Permanent Vacation, two EPs and my debut album are scheduled for release starting with my Mountains EP which will be out in March.
As you mentioned, you now reside in Berlin, when did you make that switch and is it a hub of creativity for you as a producer?
I moved to Berlin in 2007 and I think it was a great decision to move here. I was exposed to lots of music when I first got here by going to the clubs a lot etc but since my DJ schedule is so busy these days I rarely get to check out other DJs. I love the creative atmosphere in Berlin and the great record stores in my area. It is also cool that a lot of my friends here are producers, it is inspiring to have an extended group of friends from different countries who are into the same kind of music and art. I like my life here and find it inspiring, I think that’s conducive to making good music. If that changes then I will move somewhere else.
Under “genre”, your Facebook reads “cool songs/ folkal house/ futurist” - is that a hint towards your inspirations or personality when it comes to making music?
I guess it is. I don’t really like the idea of genres but I guess it’s fun to make up your own weird descriptions of your music. I find it hard or ridiculous to generally classify my music as house or as disco (even more inappropriate) which it normally is. Like a lot of people, I like cool songs. The “Folkal House” thing is a play on words about “Vocal House”, my singing is pretty far removed from what is normally classified as Vocal House and has some Folk and Irish elements I think. The Futurist thing is a comment on the tendency in electronic music, particularly in “House Music” or whatever to recreate its past. For me it is more important to try and develop music that while inescapably is a product of the past is not just rehashing ideas people had ten or twenty years ago.
We read you’re into traditional songwriting - “cool songs” hints at that - is that how you prefer to go about things rather than typical processes of making dance music?
Yeah I guess “the song” is what is most important for me, it is what carries the message or the emotion to the listener. Saying that though my production techniques are based in dance music so i guess it’s a mix of the two. It is important for me to find the core of the song and build around it although that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes start with a beat.
You’ve got your debut album dropping this year - how’s that coming along?
There was a bit of a change of plan with the album release and it is now coming out on Permanent Vacation a bit later in 2012. I’ve written a lot of music for it and I am super excited to be working with the Permanent Vacation guys on it.
You run a party called “Passion Beat” in Berlin, how long has that been running and who have you had to play?
Passion Beat has been running for two years, it was our birthday recently and we had Uncanny Valley in the house with Jacob Korn and Albrecht Wasserleben playing alongside my partner The Drifter and I. We have had tons of amazing guests over the last two years including John Talabot, Nicolas Jaar, Ripperton, Erdbeerschnitzel, Christopher Rau, The Mole, Adam Marshall, Aera, Mark August, Hauke Freer and many more. We basically just ask friends whose music we love to play and have a party. Its been great vibes and we have a loyal following of dolphins who we love.
Finally, what does 2012 hold for you?
Well the album is happening a bit later but the year has already an extremely busy start. Release wise, my Mountains EP is out on Permanent Vacation in March followed by another EP and then the album. Also, a remix of Aera on his Aleph music label should be out soon too. I am also happy to announce my first gig in Panorama Bar will take place on the 12th February and I am mega excited about that! Apart from that it will just be tons more DJ sets internationally and making lots of music!! I am excited!
"Noise" is a series of interviews with those making BIG noises in the scene.