Hi, can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about where you are from?
My name's Nick Maxwell and I currently live in Brighton, where I've been living for the last 3 years. Before that I was living in Nottingham for about 5 years.
Back in the day, what was it that made you turn to Hip Hop? What would you bump in your walkman?
I first started listening to Hip Hop when I hit my teens in the late 1980's, although I didn't start buying it on vinyl until around 1995. I guess the stuff I used to listen to back then was fairly mainstream stuff, like Public Enemy, Ice-T,
NWA, Ice Cube, etc.
Were there any particular DJs who inspired you, or whom you based your style on?
Not really when I first started - I just kind of found my own way, although it was probably DJ Hype who got me into scratching. When I started getting properly into cutting up
Hip Hop tracks I was inspired mainly by people like DJ Noize, Prime Cuts, and Peter Parka of
Fingathing. When I got good enough to start recording mix-tapes I found inspiration in the likes of
Babu, Crossphader and DJ Yoda.
OK, so to give us a bigger perspective - Are you affiliated with any MC's or are you part of a larger crew or collective?
Yeah, more recently I've been doing some live shows with a couple of MC's called Elemental and Dr Syntax. I first met Elemental a couple of years ago and we've grown to be good friends through our love of
Hip Hop and dirty, low-budget horror films. Syntax recently moved to Brighton and we all teamed up to do some live tracks together. Tom Caruana makes the beats for us and we also get other MC's involved, so collectively we're known as 'The Menagerie'.
What have you done together so far? Do you have any wax out?
So far we've just been doing a few shows around the country, but nothing major yet. Caruana has been working hard on putting his album together, which will be ready for release later this month. I think the album is only out on CD, but there will also be a single coming out on vinyl pretty soon.
Right, so are there any plans for future releases from you lot? Are you signed to a label or looking for a deal or what?
None of us are signed yet and so far we've just been releasing our own stuff on a 'non-official' label called Dug Out Records. So yeah, we'd be pretty stoked to get a deal - Caruana has already collaborated with some big names and I reckon he's gonna be hot property when more people start to hear his beats.
Let's now talk about you as a DJ - Did you always know you were going to be a DJ, or did it take a while for you to decide or build up to it?
I've loved music since I was a little kid but I didn't always want to be a DJ - It was just something I got into through hanging out with other guys who
So, when would it have been that you started spinning records? Did you start strictly as a bedroom DJ?
Yeah, I started DJing in 1994, when I was 19 and the whole dance scene was properly kicking off in this country, so I've been playing for around 9 years now. I used to live in a quiet country town and a lot of us were into jungle at that time, so that's what I learned to mix first. When I started at Nottingham Uni later that year, I spent most of my spare time buying records and learning how to mix on other people's decks. I soon started playing out at parties and clubs around Nottingham and the Midlands and, after a while, I started to get paid for it and was usually playing out 2 or 3 nights a week.
I eventually started to get bored of playing the same type of tunes and so started experimenting with other beats and learning how to scratch over my jungle tunes.
Hip Hop is obviously very much related to jungle in terms of the origins of the beats and samples, etc, so I started mixing
Hip Hop accapella's over drum & bass tracks. Eventually, I stopped buying jungle altogether and concentrated solely on learning how to mix
Hip Hop, which I've been doing for the past 6 or 7 years.
What set-up did you start out with?
For ages I just used to practice on other peoples decks because I was a poor student and couldn't afford my own. Eventually, I bought one Technics 1210 and I managed to persuade my brother to buy the other - We used to take it in turns at having the two together. My first mixer was a Kam GM25.
Would you agree that starting out on shitty equipment would help a budding DJ learn light touch and stand them in good stead for the future, or would you recommend that they just get on a pro set-up from day one?
I guess there's something to be said for learning not to be heavy-handed with a wobbly set-up, but I used to find it SO frustrating playing on decks that would just skip all the time. It was such a joy to finally get myself some 1210's, and even more satisfying to get myself a Vestax mixer, so I guess I wouldn't have appreciated having good equipment so much if I hadn't had to start out on my mate's crappy Citronic belt-drives!
Over the years have you had many different set ups or did you quickly settle on what you liked? Was it a money issue?
My brother needed some money to go away travelling so I bought his 1210 off him, and I've still got those same decks. When I got properly into cutting and scratching I treated myself to a Vestax 06. Yeah, it was a money issue coz all that shit's expensive, especially when you're spending all your beans on records.
So do you do anything special to your set up, like have it hamster style, or do something funny with the cartridges in the head shells?
Not really. I wouldn't class myself as a full-on turntablist, but I do use my own needles and slip-mats whenever I play out. I mainly use the cross-fader in its normal position and I use Ortofon cartridges because I find them easier to drop the needle on the record in the right spot.
How would you best describe your style? Do you edge towards a particular style of scratching/cutting or mixing, or would you say that you don't specialise and try to cover everything?
I do tend to beat-match quite a lot and often like to blend the tunes like you would with dance records, which comes from my initial days as a jungle DJ, I guess. I like cutting up 2 copies of a good tune and with my scratching I try to beef the track up as best I can, usually by laying some well-placed cuts over a nice instrumental. Without wanting to disappear too far up my own
arse, I reckon it's pretty important to make sure that the scratching complements the track rather than ruins it (kind of like picking the right wine to go with the right food - ha ha ha! - yeah, whatever).
Have you invented/discovered any scratches or special techniques of your own that you have or expect to be credited with? I know when I was DJing I invented everything I did for myself, but someone had already got there first!!
Yeah, I did invent the 'Lobster Scratch' - It's kind of like the crab, but different. Only kidding - The real answer is no, not really. I've never really learnt my skills directly from anyone else and have mainly just found my own way, but like you say, it's pretty much all been done before and it's getting harder and harder to come up with new techniques.
What are your thoughts on the whole turntablism thing? Do you think that it is getting too elitist and maybe going up its own arse, or do you think that it is simply healthy competition and people going deep into a subject they love? Would you class yourself as a turntablist or would you prefer to be seen as a straightforward DJ?
I'm definitely down with the turntablism thing and I do think it's healthy to have competition. The DJ's that are into it obviously love it and get a kick out of it, and it's always good to push each other forward through competition - That's one of the main undercurrents of
Hip Hop. Although I do incorporate scratching and beat juggling into my sets, I'm only really touching the periphery of turntablism - People are doing some crazy shit out there these days! I guess you're always gonna get your ponces who chat shit about something they reckon they're into - You get that in any walk of life. I just enjoy playing
Hip Hop and I like playing quite long sets, so I'm mainly into finding fat tunes and breaks for people to listen to, and putting them together in a smooth and coherent way, with a few tricks thrown in somewhere in the middle.
So we know you can scratch and get busy on the cross-fader, but can you rock a crowd for an extended period? Do you play out at any club nights on the regular, and if you do where are they?
Probably the main reason I DJ is to try and get people rocking - There's nothing more satisfying than seeing a crowd of people bugging out to the beats you're playing. I've played at some pretty big clubs lately and, when you're playing
Hip Hop, it's a bit of a challenge to maintain people's interest and to try and get them dancing, rather than just nodding their heads. I played at an 800-capacity club out in Graz in southern Austria last month and I don't think they get exposed to all that much
Hip Hop out there. The club night was an all-nighter (from 9pm - 9am) and the promoters put me on at prime-time (from 2am - 3:30am), so I dug out my best party-rocking breaks and managed to get the crowd jumping. They even gave me a round of applause when I finished my set, which I'm told doesn't usually happen at clubs nights out in Austria, so that was pretty satisfying.
My main residency at the moment is at the Public Address System nights at the Pressure Point in Brighton. They've only done a few so far, but they're going pretty well and they've been showcasing some decent up-and-coming British
Hip Hop acts lately, so it's all good. Other than that, I play out wherever I'm asked to, either playing solo or as DJ for the Menagerie crew.
Would you agree that perhaps the UK punches above its weight in terms of numbers of world class DJs for the size of the population? Why do you think that is?
Yeah, I reckon that's true. As you know, a lot of the best new music comes out of the UK and the same goes for the artists and performers. Considering the size of our country, I reckon we're pretty damn productive. Music seems to play a pretty big part in most people's lives and a lot of people devote their lives to it, which is cool.
Which DJs do you feel are really on top of their form at the moment and are progressing the artform? Could you say why you rate them?
Craze has been pretty active after his 3 previous DMC world championship wins and he's been touring extensively over the past few months.
A-Trak is killing it at the moment as well and has got the potential to be a long-standing member of the top of the pile. Q-Bert has got to be rated amongst the best in terms of progressing the
artform, but Babu has got to be my favourite, just coz he's so damn fast for a fat guy! Over in this country, Richie Ruftone and Daredevil are doing well in the competition stakes, and Skully seems to be pretty much running things after his DMC win last year and his new LP out this year.
Who should we be on the look out for? What DJ that no-one has heard of yet do you think will be the next one to break through, or come with something original?
I played with DJ IQ lately and he's pretty good already, considering he's only 17, so I reckon he'll be one to watch for the future.
What do you make of all the attempts to invent a notation for scratches, i.e. to try and represent them written down? Have you tried to invent one yourself, or ever seen a system that you thought came close to working?
Yeah, I saw that on the film Scratch last year. Personally, I think it's taking it bit far, but then I've never really learned how to read music, so it could be beneficial for people wanting to lean how to scratch. I prefer to think of scratching as an improvised
artform, though, rather than something that's written and set. So no, I wouldn't ever bother trying to invent a notation myself.
Do you have plans to broaden your horizons as so many DJ's do and step into production? If you have made beats already, what equipment are you using?
I haven't done so yet, but I've recently got myself a PC and some music software
(Syntrillium's Cool Edit Pro) to play around with and to help me out when putting together my mix-tapes. Until now, I've been recording my mixes onto minidisc and editing the samples in live, which can be pretty painstaking, so the main reason I got the computer was so that I can put decent intro's together with multiple samples laid over a beat. Who knows, though - I may get the bug and start putting some full tracks together…
Where can people hear your stuff?
I've been putting Hip Hop mix-tapes together for the last 5 years or so and I tend to try and put a decent one out about once a year. My latest mix-tape is "Adventures in
Hip Hop #5", which I released in October 2002, and you can get yourself a copy through Suspect Packages. I'm currently piecing some bits together for Adventures #6 and it should be out on CD later this year, so watch this space...
What is going to be keeping you busy over the next few months?
I'll mainly be working on Adventures #6, but other than that I'll be practicing with Elemental and Syntax for our live shows and laying down scratches for Caruana up at the studio in London.
What are your plans for the longer term?
Just to broaden our horizons and to try and take our stuff a bit further afield. Going out to Austia last month was pretty sweet and we've got a gig lined up in Amsterdam this August. If we make it back from Amsterdam alive, we'll be working collectively on some new tracks and I'll be continuing my Adventures in
Hip Hop series of mix-tapes…
What is the most memorable thing you remember from this recent period?
Meeting Jazzy Jeff.
I ask everyone about politics, because I think it's important that we have knowledge of what's going on, but most current
Hip Hop heads decline to answer. I guess they don't want to upset anyone. Do you have anything to say on that? Any issues you think people need to open their eyes to?
Hmmm - I'm pretty bad at keeping up with current affairs and I'm not really into politics to be honest. One thing I am concerned about, though, is bad food. There's SO MUCH rubbish around these days and it's pretty hard to buy decent food that hasn't had loads of crap added to it, unless you're willing to pay an arm and a leg for it. It's important to eat healthy and I think people should be better educated about what to eat, and what not to eat, and there should be stronger laws to make it more difficult for people to sell dodgy food. There's too many people out there getting away with selling dirty stuff which just shouldn't be eaten - That's why we end up with all these dark diseases.
Now that it's over, do you think that the war in Iraq was justified?
That's a tough one. I definitely think that Saddam needed taking out of the game, but I don't know if Bush and Blair were the right ones to do it. To be honest, I did have quite a lot of faith in Blair because I reckon he's pretty on point, but I was worried for a while, knowing that Bush was calling the shots. I guess it's just a good thing that it didn't go on for any longer than it did.
Is there anything else you would like to mention?
Not really. Just look out for The Menagerie coz we'll be sneaking up on you pretty soon…
Is there anyone else you would like to mention?
Everyone who's been supporting me over the past few years and all the true Hip Hop
heads out there - Y'all keeps it real…
Thank you very much for finding the time to let the readers know a bit more about yourself. Best wishes and good luck for the future.