Nightmares On Wax, otherwise known as George Evelyn, is not your average DJ. Unlike most of the musicians you see in electronic music today, Evelyn has been a part of the industry for the last 25 years, and he’s celebrating with a massive European and U.S. tour that started earlier this year. Born in England but currently residing in Ibiza, Evelyn has seen the evolution of music into what we know and love (or hate) today. With such an expansive career, he has surely played a role in this progression.
Photo by Jake Pierce
Creativity spews out of every pore of his body every chance it gets. As one of the musical innovators of our time, Evelyn took a look on the past 25 years of making music, something he rarely does due to the fact that he is always looking forward, always looking to create something new.
“If you’re going to say something, say something good because you just don’t know how you are affecting people. And you are affecting people. For me, it’s not about preaching. It’s about putting good vibrations out into this world because the world needs it,” Evelyn said in a recent interview with Joonbug.com.
The N.O.W. is the Time tour gave the audience a taste of Evelyn’s musical past and present. Instead of performing solely as a DJ, he managed to effortlessly merge that with an intimate live performance. There was a drummer and two other live singers, including former Zero 7 vocalist Moses. Evelyn carefully divided his time between the decks and smoothly rapping along with his beats.
The band started the set with his more recent hits “Be, I Do” and “Now Is The Time,” but quickly, as he put it, transported the audience back to 1987.
“I’m performing songs I’ve never performed live before, performing songs that I haven’t performed for maybe 20 years. I’ve added an interesting twist to it because you can’t expect the same songs. It was a really long time ago, and I’m reliving it again,” Evelyn said about this most recent tour.
The large crowd started dancing immediately and didn’t stop until the very last song. The energy from the room radiated off every performer and attendee. The band made the performance personal and profound; it was almost like we were at a jam session in Evelyn’s Ibiza studio. “I feel it’s important to be connected to the people that support [the music],” Evelyn said. They were able to prove that you don’t need much more than a couple of singers, a drummer and a computer to make good music for a good time.
Evelyn’s mixture of infused funk, reggae and downtempo provided the chillest of vibes. The band knew when to bring high and low energy. You could sway to the rhythm of “Give Thx” and “You Wish” or rock out to “African Pirates” and “70s 80s.”
Musically, everyone one was on point throughout the entirety of the show. It was nothing short of soulful. Towards the end of the night, the band got the crowd to sing along with them for a couple of songs, including “Flip Ya Lid.” They played a five-song encore that went longer than expected, but nobody was complaining. This was the last stop on their North American tour, and no one wanted the night to end.
You can hear past and present influences in all aspects of Evelyn’s productions. He may be continuously looking forward, in life and his music, but he’s also building on top of his past to create new and interesting sounds.
Read the full interview below:
You’re smack dab in the middle of your “N.O.W. is the Time” tour. You’ve traveled Europe and the U.S. How has it been so far? Have there been any highlights?
I think every gig and every town has had a different edge to it. I’ve always felt really, really good and got wonderful customers come out, lots of fans and people who have been listening for the last 20 years. It’s been great. I can’t pick out one highlight, if you know what I’m saying.
Tell us a little bit about your new live show and how it compares to what you’ve done in the past.
I’m performing songs I’ve never performed live before, performing songs that I haven’t performed for maybe 20 years. I’ve added an interesting twist to it because you can’t expect the same songs. It was a really long time ago, and I’m reliving it again. When I pull them from the carton, it’s like, “Wow,” because most of my career is looking forward and going forward. This sheer good amount is definitely the journey.
Yeah, your sound is always progressing and evolving. How do you combine your past music with your present music in these shows?
The thing that we do that we highlight and also turns out to be awesome is the energy, the pocket of the energy field, good throughout the music. Also showing some of the stories that go with some of the songs to the audience as well because I think it’s kind of an important thing to bring to the picture. The people who just got into it [Evelyn’s music] don’t really know about the last 20-25 years, so there are some people who don’t really know the story to it. We kind of grew up with a bit of the story, but with the story there it won. Anything to escalate the bass really. So, it’s definitely a different way of doing a show than I’ve done before.
We’ve heard you do a lot of live rapping in this tour. What made you shift away from spinning records?
When I started out years ago, I was MCing and DJing, break dancing and everything. The more I got into producing and things like that, I kind of took a backseat from the microphone and worked with singers and all kinds of musicians. I’ve been working to cop up feelings of my past that I’ve kind of gone back there again. This is my foundation. This is where I’m from. It’s been a gift in doing it. It’s felt great doing it. There’s a song I perform that I wrote when I was 18, which was back 1988. To be performing a song from when I was 18 is kind of surreal.
We like how you are still able to maintain your own signature sound, but also make it something new as your career moves on.
I’ve always got ideas. That’s why this kind of journey has been different because it’s the first time anybody has really been able to look back. I’ve spent so much time thinking of new ideas and stuff that looking back, it’s the first time you go, “Oh, actually yeah, I think I did it.” [Laughs] And I spent most of the time thinking that it’s not been enough. For me, that, musically, and going to new places was exciting because there’s always stuff I want to do. There’s always something else, somewhere I want to go. I think it’s that fact that I’m like that and the fact that this journey has been like that is a testament to what matters most about me.
Has it been a challenge to work with vinyl in this modern music world?
Eh, It is challenging. I have to buy vinyls at that concert to DJ with, just so I can cleverly do the show that day. Unless I’m on the island of Ibiza where I live, and I’m going to DJ somewhere locally and I’ve got an opportunity to take a box seven inch vinyls up just like that, then I’ll do that. But traveling with them in public transport creates all forms of concerns. It’s just a no-no in the vinyl community. I’ve just really never took the risk and ever felt comfortable doing that nowadays anyways.
With streaming and downloading being the main medium for people to listen to music now, what do you think the future of vinyl recording is?
I think the future of vinyl recording is strong. I think we’ve been going through this phase of going, “Oh, vinyl is over. I’m not interested anymore.” But that’s not true. Even at my concerts, the majority of merchandise that is selling is vinyl. Everybody wants vinyl. I think it’s the fact that it’s something tangible. The fact that we do have streaming and the fact that we do have downloadable things; they’re just other options. They might be good, and for some people, it could complete their lifestyles. Then, you have to buy a record that compensates well. Those kind of deep collections, likes to have a record collection, likes to have a library of music. I think it’s coffees for coffees really.
You’re doing a free DJ set at Sweat Records before your performance at Grand Central. Is this something you’ve been doing on every stop of your tour?
No, I don’t think so. I think it was something like eight record stores on the whole tour. There’s only a select few stores that I’m doing it in. I would advise everybody to come down because there’s a little surprise there when I’m DJing I’ve fixed up. Come and join me.
Why did you decide to do this? Was this another chance for people to see you in a different environment? What was the driving force behind this decision?
There are a number of reasons. One is we got to get close to these fans, the people who go out of their way and actually go to a record store to buy our music, who show the respect to the record stores that are supporting that music. I feel it’s important to be connected to the people that support. There are record stores that have been selling my music for years that I’ve never been to. I think it’s good to connect to those people as well because these are the people that are supporting our music. Whether it’s a concert, whether it’s a festival, whether it’s in-store, whether it’s a DJ or a live show, I think they’re all really relevant and really important because all of these elements are what is important in my music. When I was anxious to go be in a store and do a record store, but I was like, “Yes. Yes,” because I knew that was closer to the point, the real outlet of where my music was going.
We think it’s a great idea. You’ve just been nominated in the electronica category for the 2014 DJ Awards that is held in Ibiza. You won the downtempo category in 2011 and 2012, and you’ve been nominated since 2009. How does that feel? Has it become a commonplace thing for you, or is this a validation of making good music?
I appreciate that at least I’ve been recognized for all the hard work I’m doing. That’s how I feel. It’s not just about winning. I do what I do because I love it. From another arena, the recognition comes for what you’re doing, especially when it comes to DJing because that’s the backbone of what I do and what really got me into making music. I’m just grateful that people are listening and really, really recognizing me as a DJ, especially in the mix of the DJs I’m in the category with, which we can go into all types of subjects on that one. Just to be recognized as a DJ is a great honor.
You’ve lived in Ibiza for over seven years now. How has your environment there, especially your Wax Da Jam party, influenced your sound?
Massively, massively. I moved to Ibiza for the quality of life. I wanted to get out of the UK just for a bit of a newer life. Living in Ibiza, for me, was not based on the music industry at all. That’s the first point. The second point was that once I got to Ibiza, my life had changed. My environment had changed, and there was one person to look at, which was me, looking at me. I had to look at my music. I had to look at my DJing. I had to really get back to the blank canvas of what that was about. Then I developed a platform called Wax Da Jam and Wax Da Beach, which then really opened me back up to how I interact with music, how I interact with making beats. I think it really gave me a blank canvas, a fresh look at myself – I don’t want to say reinvent myself. I would say really reconnect with myself. The island has been really special for me in that way. Being able to do Wax Da Jam and incorporate live musicians, which when your jamming and playing together, you realize ideas come about, which includes coming up with new songs. That’s how it started out. Back in the day when I was making my first demo, I was playing at my own crib, packing demos down there. I always had a residency. Once I started touring and releasing albums, I didn’t have a residency for years because I was always touring all over the world, always playing different venues. Now I have Wax Da Jam that is my home base. This is our sixth season this year. This is how I started, so it feels like it’s gone full circle, and I got all this welcome experience and longevity along the way. But I’ve gone back to the essence of me DJing my own night. DJing that night not only just to be sure of those tracks, but also to get the inspiration and the influence into the studio to make new songs.
Would you say that Ibiza has been the biggest influence on your music thus far?
I would say the biggest influence on my music has definitely been my lifting up and where I come from in my hometown, Leeds. The last eight years have been massive for me. It’s not just a massive change in music as it were. I would say it’s a massive change in me personally, as a person, how interact with my music, how I interact with the world, everything really. It’s been an amazing gift in my life.
Definitely. Ibiza is paradise.
It is. I can’t wait to get back there. I’ve been enjoying the tour as well, but I’ve got that to look forward to at the end of the tour.
Exactly. New influences on the road and then you can go back to a great influence in your life. You said that “Smoker’s Delight” is your baby, the album that changed your life. Has your latest album, “N.O.W. Is The Time,” changed your life in any way?
I think that’s a question you would have to ask me at the end of the year. Every day there’s something happening with this journey. From being at some of these shows and hearing some of the testaments of some of the fans – People that have heard my baby or people that watch the show and then listened to my album or my album reminded them of something. You know? These really big and meaningful testaments that come from fans are really, really affecting me right now. People are telling me that this album has been the soundtrack to their life. It’s been a page in their life, whether it’s helped them through troubles or dark notes or whether it’s helped them through beaten counts, all kinds of crazy stories. And I’m like, “Shit, you don’t really know what you’re doing,” until you get these testaments and connections to people. I would say my answer to that question is this is ongoing right now. It’s still like I don’t know what the next testament is going to be. Right now, I’m really, really humbled by it. I’m really, really blown away by it. As musicians, I don’t think we really, really know what we’re doing as far as thinking about fans until you get that kind of testament. That, to me, has been really, like I said, humbling.
It’s that feeling that artists feel when their art affects other people.
Yes, especially when you unearth new music. You’re not making it with any conscious. I’m not making it with any condition. I’m making it because I’m expressing myself. But once that expression is put out for the world, you don’t know how that perception can be related. This is why music matters. If you’re going to say something, say something good because you just don’t know how you are affecting people. And you are affecting people. For me, it’s not about preaching. It’s about putting good vibrations out into this world because the world needs it.
Definitely, especially now. So you’re primarily known for Nightmares On Wax, but can you tell us a little more about your alter ego DJ E.A.S.E and why that was created?
Just because I come from a hip-hop and a B-boy background. When you’re trying to start out as a DJ, you always have a DJ name. The actual name, that’s been around for years, since 1985. It’s just that cool thing; you always have a DJ name or a producer name. Originally, my name was DJ EZE (pronounced Easy E). And then N.W.A. came about. I think that was at the end of 1988. There’s an Eazy-E in N.W.A. and I was like, “I can’t be EZE.” A good friend of mine said, “You should just call yourself Ease, just like that.” I was like, “Yeah, but what could that mean?” He came up with the actual meaning of the name and it stood for “experience a sample expert.” I said I would go with that because it was something that was easy sounding and what I was going for. I’ve gone under that name ever since and used it as a DJ name. It’s all connected really. It’s all the same thing, but that comes from more of a hip-hop background that what I grew up on.
Yeah. You have a huge catalog. What has been the one track that you’ve made that has personally influenced you the most?
The track that has influenced or changed my life – I would say it had a massive influence on my life because it changed my life and also because I’m still amazed how it came about when the song was made and what I cover originally with Kevin Harper and a guy called Robin Taylor-Firth. It was a song called “Nights Interlude.” I remember writing that song and coming out of the studio that day thinking, “Wow. We just made a baby. I don’t know where that baby came from, but we made a baby.” That song grew and I did a rendition on it. That’s when I got the song “Les Nuits,” which you get with a 52-piece orchestra. That was when my whole world opened up to production. My whole world opened up to what was possible. To this day, performing that song, I still can’t believe it. I still don’t know where it came from. There are two versions of the song. On the first album, “A Word of Science,” there’s a song called “Nights Interlude.” On the “Smoker’s Delight” album, there’s “Night Introlude.” Then when I did the “Carboot Soul” album, becuase of the success of “Smoker’s Delight,” we were able to invest in the 52-piece orchestra and perform that song. What stemmed from “Nights Interlude” to “Les Nuits,” there’s a clear connection. That was the song that really, really changed my life.
It’s probably one of your most famous songs too. Do you prefer producing or performing?
You can’t have one without the other. I produce first. If I don’t produce, I can’t perform. [Laughs]
Finish this sentence: “Now is the time to…”
Live your life to the highest point possible because you have the right to.