It wasn’t really a change in direction. That’s because there wasn’t anything to change in the first place. For Nightmares On Wax, soul was always a latent force. It was just that it was buried within a bleeping MIDI interface. But there comes a time when raw energies like this can no longer be smothered by technological trickery. They reach eruption point. Eventually after a four year hiatus, NOW’s soul blasted through their synthetic sediment.
On their second album Smoker’s Delight released in 1995, Leeds-based Waxer George Evelyn (aka EASE – ‘Experimental Sample Expert’) makes no apologies about his soul background. Weaned by his father and sister on soul staples from the likes of Quincy Jones and Curtis Mayfield, he later became mesmerised by the first wave of hip hop tracks like Rappers Delight and Buffalo Gals. This infatuation with hip hop enticed him to join a local breakdance crew where he forged an alliance with fellow b-boy Kevin Harper. At that point NOW was born and they released the single Dextrous in 1990. But what caused a stir was their invasion of the charts with their No.38 hit Aftermath. The track signalled the presence of ‘Northern Bleep’ – a homebrewed, North-East digital-break sound masterminded by The Forgemasters, LFO and Unique 3, to name some. Yet underlining those successive bleep blares were solid hip hop beats. George emphasises this point about their 1991 album A Word Of Science: The First And Final Chapter. “The album had to be something that identified with the b-boys. We wanted to do tracks that had hip hop beats but experimented with ideas”.
After that there was nothing. NOW just disappeared. No 12″,no album. But that didn’t mean they were reclining in the doldrums. In between co-running The Headz Club in Leeds, George was amassing samples. This sound library was recorded onto two sets of tapes: the Poverty tapes, (named after his own label) which contained finished tracks and EASE tapes that featured prototype ideas. George remarks, “I just built the tracks around these ideas that I’ve had for the last four years. The only thing that changed was bringing in live musicians and editing.”
What culminated from NOW’s personal ‘Ultimate Breaks and Beats’ series was the slo’mo, soulistic long player Smoker’s Delight. Each track nonchalantly sojourns down crisp Philly Soul production, pulsating ho-down medleys, heavy Barry White pant tones, and nerve shivering chord shimmers found in all the classic soul. This development annihilates the fallacy that NOW are first and foremost a techno group.
George argues, “although a lot of people labelled NOW as an early techno group or bleep group, we never did. As far as A Word Of Science went, there were so many different elements of music in there. It’s an evolution from that album to this album. Everything was always about being funky. That’s why the idea for Smoker’s Delight is nothing new. I just wanted to do something with hip hop. When KLF bought out their Chill Out album at the end of the eighties, I thought to myself, that I’d like to do a hip hop chill out album.”
One aspect which has definitely changed is NOW’s use of live musicians. Although no longer working with Kevin, George is now joined by a guitarist, bassist, keyboardist, singer and rapper. It is all part of his plan for NOW to operate like a band rather than a studio act. Yet in spite of this, the drum machine still remains.
George elaborates, “Doing the live side proves there is more to the music. People have something more tangible to relate the music to and it gives us the chance to connect with the audience. Also I’ve always had this idea of creating a big band – which is what we call our sound. The main priority for NOW is to prove that we can perform music. But we’re not ignoring the fact that we come from a studio, technical background. We just want to mix the old with the new. That’s why, at the moment, I don’t have a live drummer. The sound of the beats is what makes Nightmares.”
Producing the genuine article is the prime motivation behind Nightmares’ music. That’s why is can’t be classed as trip hop, dope beats, or be included with any of those fakers regurgitating and abusing classics. It’s all about staying true, but taking the sounds of soul innovators to the new sound plateaux. George has a realistic outlook about the way his music is developing.
“Today’s music is inspired by whatever has gone on before. That’s what fascinates me. Soul music is the earliest form of hip hop. That’s why I want to create it. It might seem like recreating what was done in the past, but what I want to do is merge soul and hip hop together. That’s why I’ll bring in the live aspect of what happened back then into current hip hop trends. That’s the angle I’m arriving at.”
This is the reasoning behind Keep On, NOW’s collaboration with rap royalty De La Soul and the album Carboot Soul, which commemorates the time George would hunt for dusty 12″s and albums in car boot sales. It’s another indication that NOW’s true sound was there from the beginning. All they’ve done is come full circle – 360.