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In A Space Outta Sound, a luxurious blend of soul, hip-hop, dub, and jazz-fusion is a signature George Evelyn release. On this, his fifth album on Warp under the Nightmares On Wax moniker, Evelyn’s love of analogue over digital and his willingness to embrace the accidental in the recording process is very much to the fore. One track, Deepdown, for example features vocals from random passers by whom Evelyn dragged off the street and into the studio. “If it was all too perfect it wouldn’t have had that kind of rough and ready atmosphere to it that gives it its magic,” explains Evelyn. The track also features his 4-year old daughter. “She was the most awkward artist to work with on this album” he laughs. In the 16 years since his first releases, the seminal tracks Dextrous and Aftermath, Evelyn has come a very long way indeed. He talks to Stuart Aitken about first meeting Warp’s Steve Beckett, breaking with the Soul City Rockers back in the mid-eightiess and why he was always preferred Warp to James Lavelle’s Mo’ Wax.

You are Warp’s longest serving artist. Can you explain how you got involved with the label?
The first encounter was meeting Steve Beckett who was the co-founder of the label. I was taking around this white label [Dextrous] that we had. We’d tried to get a record deal before but nobody was interested. I met Steve in a record shop called Fon Records in Sheffield and he said to me that he’d heard our track and they were thinking about setting up a label and he took my number. He rang me up three months later when they had Forgemasters’ Track With No Name out and asked us if we’d release Dextrous on their label and they’d mix it. We agreed to do that. We’d done our release – the white label - on July 14th 1989 and then we remixed the track off that EP and brought that out in November of 1989. It got into the top 75 of the national charts which was kind of unheard of for a dance 12”.

That one single deal became a three single deal. Aftermath the following year went into the top 40. Then after that we signed a one-album deal – Warp basically asked us if we’d do an album. At the age of 19, all I was going to do was experiment, put in a bit of everything that had ever influenced me. At this point people were saying there will never be any dance albums, there will never be anything more out of this music, there was all this sort of bullshit that was in the press at the time. So me and Kevin “Boy Wonder” Harper - my partner at the time - said you know what we’re just going to put anything and everything that’s ever influenced us into this one album. Because it was an experiment we called it A Word Of Science. Because it was going to be the first of its kind and the last of its kind we called it The First And Final Chapter - we knew there was never ever going to be another album like it. It went completely over people’s heads and then me and Kevin kind of parted ways – we did another couple of house tracks and stuff like that. In the meantime though when we were making A Word of Science I was already making Smoker’s Delight as a separate project.

I’d set up Nightmares On Wax originally back in 1985 just doing these bedroom mix tapes with this other guy called John Halnon. I hooked up with Kevin after that and he became part of Nightmares On Wax. So Nightmares On Wax has always been my name so I carried it on. I had been working on Smoker’s Delight for five years and then things kind of took off from there really once that album came out.

What happened to Kevin Harper after you split? Did he make any more music?
We’re still really good friends. Any time I throw a house party or anything like that he DJs because he’s just such a wicked DJ. We DJed together last year in Scotland at a street rave. We realised it was our fifteen year anniversary which is just bizarre. We hadn’t played together in probably thirteen years. He’s knocking tracks together and trying to get an album together at the moment. He’s still plugging away and doing his thing. He came out of it for a little while, he had personal things going on, but now he’s got the hunger back.

You talked about chucking every influence you had into the first album. What kind of things were you influenced by at that stage?
We were influenced by electro, hip-hop, house music, jazz-funk, reggae, everything really. That album inspired people like James Lavelle to set up Mo’ Wax. Loads of people now talk about that album and go “shit man there’s drum and bass on there, there’s this on there and there’s that on there”. But we never even looked at it like that. It was almost like vomiting up everything you’ve ever heard on a record. We weren’t even about genres or any of that stuff, we were just doing our thing, because we DJed like that as well. That was how we played back in the day, that was the background we came from. When you ran a club you didn’t just play one particular kind of music.

Dextrous and Aftermath placed you in that Northern bleep movement alongside people like Unique 3, LFO and Forgemasters…
And A Guy Called Gerald and all that… it was a movement at the time but if you talk to any of those people out of those groups I can guarantee you they were breakers or body poppers and they all came through the whole electro era and all that. They were also connected to the funk era as well and the street soul that was around in the eighties. So we’ve all got similar backgrounds. I was in Unique 3 before they brought a record out – so was Kevin [Nitemares On Wax (sic) are thanked in the sleeve notes of Unique 3’s 1990 album Jus' Unique].

Unique 3 was part of the same break crew as us. We were all in a break crew called Soul City Rockers at the time. Even L Double [DJ and producer who set up Flex Records] was part of our crew.

In hindsight, the scenes in places like Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford and Manchester seemed to be strong and mutually nurturing. Is that how it was for you?
There’s no doubt about it there was a movement at that time. Looking back on it now it came out of things that we’d gone through, like that whole breaking scene. Then we started doing after-hours parties and things like that but they weren’t really warehouse parties. We were just doing them anyway and then the next thing we knew was that these parties we were doing were starting to last longer than they used to. And then you found out people were doing drugs and shit.

We were just innocent kids just throwing down beats, we weren’t into any of that shit, so we were kind of naïve really on that level. That’s why I think if you listen to a lot of the music back then there’s not that much drugs in the actual music, these were just people just doing things because they were inspired so much by their surroundings and their upbringing. I think that you can actually hear the difference in that after 1987-era onwards, the shift, especially in dance music, when it got a bit more psychedelic.

Since the early days of Dextrous and Aftermath your music has moved more in a hip-hop / soul direction. Why did you move away from the more techno elements?
There’s a couple of tracks on A Word of Science like the first track [Nights Interlude], that was originally meant for Smoker’s Delight. Kevin really liked it as well so we were like OK let’s put it on the album. That’s why I re-did it again for Smoker’s. To me it was more about exaggerating where I’d come from. I was already making Smoker’s in the background. I was still into what we were doing with the early stuff but Smoker’s was what I was about as well. Now it’s not even a case of me sitting down and going OK I’m only making this type of music. I’m just making what I feel now. I’d never say I wouldn’t ever make a house track again. I would never say never. It’ll happen when it’s meant to happen.

James Lavelle is quoted as saying that Nights Interlude was the inspiration for setting up Mo’ Wax. Warp has often seemed to be moving in a somewhat different direction to you. Did you ever feel that there were other labels like Mo’ Wax that were doing stuff that was more linked to what you were doing?
Well there were different things happening at those other labels. For me I think when the label’s bigger than the artists then there’s a bit of a problem there. If you’re promoting an act then that’s all you should be promoting, it’s not the label. It’s funny because when you get into collecting music and you start collecting one particular label, then all you know is stuff on that label but you don’t necessarily know the individual artists. You could pick out a lot of people in the nineties who were buying records, and how many of them could actually name the artists that were on Mo’ Wax?

It’s a fantastic label. I thought that what James Lavelle did was wicked, but I just thought that the label got bigger than the artists. I don’t think there was enough attention paid to pushing the actual artists.

I always get people saying: “What’s it feel like being on a techno label.” This year it’s people saying: “What’s it feel like being on a guitar label?” I don’t make music thinking about what other people are making, whether they’re on our label or not. You know, we don’t all sleep together. You’ve just got to laugh at people that think we’re one big family. Nightmares On Wax has been good for the label and the label has been good for Nightmares On Wax.

You're now involved in a new label Wax On Records. Can you tell us about this?
I launched it quietly last October. I’m trying to build the label organically. It’s just really a platform label because I know so many people making music, I get so many CDs off people, local people, people I’ve met on my travels, wherever I go DJing… I just get music all the time. I actually decided about five or six years ago that I wouldn’t do a label because the business side of it kind of just pisses me off really. But then I got to the point where I thought actually I’ve got a great platform here and a great fan base, maybe I should be sharing this. So it’d be great to make it an addition for people who venture into Nightmares On Wax to discover unknown people. The aim is to create the vibe of the label as something that is to be discovered rather than kind of rammed down your throat. The slogan for the label is “For those that know”. We’re not going to play any marketing games, we’re not going to do any of that stuff, we’re just going to put the stuff out, and just have fun with it and let it build organically. It should be more about making music rather than all the games that people want to play putting records out. A lot of that stuff is just pointless really.

In ASpace Outta Sound is out now on Warp Records

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