Across all of today’s interconnected scenes, one thing is constant: Bass is king. That low-end that we enjoy on any given night out that involves cutting up a dance floor is the result of the inroads that dubstep has made in not just club culture but in the collective consciousness of clubland. And though he presides over the cutting-edge transmissions of the underground, it’s Baltimore’s Joe Nice who is responsible for the gloriously wide blast radius of the wobble. With his arsenal of dubplates and his label GourmetBeats, Nice has helped speed up the evolutionary process of dance music, expanding the heady physicality of the pulse to emotional and cerebral terrain. This Friday, he’ll bless the decks right here in Singapore, thanks to ATTAGIRL!‘s A/K/A Sounds and DuriO‘s bass-forward incarnation BAOW BAOW and Collective Minds – lucky us. In what is a deeply enlightening interview with us, he outlines why dubstep is experiencing a second golden age.
Hey Joe! Thanks for your time. You’re midway through your Asian tour. How has it been so far and what’s been the single best highlight of the tour until now?
Thank you so much for this opportunity. Much appreciated. The Asian tour has been incredible. I truly enjoy coming to Asia and spreading vibes. Every night delivered on every level. Tough to single out one specific highlight because every night has its own meaning. Every show is a chance to connect or reconnect with people who support the sound, the culture and me. That matters to me. However, on a personal level, the show in Shanghai was the best, so far. Pure love and magic all the way around. I cannot explain that night any other way. This past weekend in Bangkok….wow! I am still wrapping my mind and heart around Saturday, Sunday, and Monday morning. Truly unforgettable.
When you heard dubstep for the first time in 2002, what did you like about the sound – how did you realise that it was the path for you?
I enjoyed the variety and the freshness of the sound. Nothing sounded like dubstep and honestly, nothing does now. I realised this was the path for me because I wanted to play a different genre of music when I decided to start DJing again. My first love was Baltimore Club music, but I did not want to play Club music again because I wanted to separate myself from the other DJs in Baltimore. Also, at the time, Baltimore Club was not how I wanted to musically express myself. I still listen to Baltimore Club to this day. I am firmly convinced that DJ Boobie is the greatest DJ of all time. That brother is an absolute machine. Seriously. The greatest.
“After dubstep returned to its underground roots, the music improved. Becoming less popular was best for everyone involved.”
Baltimore has been through a lot lately. How do you feel about your city’s ability to bounce back from hardship?
Full disclosure, I moved from Baltimore in June 2017. I have visited once since then. I have been to nearly 150 cities in my lifetime. No city in the world is like Baltimore. Nowhere in the world do affluence and abject poverty coexist that closely. The event that (unfortunately) put Baltimore on the forefront of conversation was the riots in April 2015. National and international news media glorified the violence but never took the time to learn the systemic and institutional problems that created the environment for conflict. In short, everyone looked at the symptoms without examining the disease.
For all the talk from after the riots, I am not sure the city has improved. In fact, the city is probably in worse shape. I read reports of Baltimore City Public Schools not having working heat in the buildings. How are kids supposed to focus and learn when the first concern is keeping warm? I also learned that 2017 was the most violent year in Baltimore’s history. Even though I do not live there anymore, I grew up there. I know what growing up in and around Baltimore means and how that work ethic shaped my life. I want Baltimore to live up to its slogan as “The Greatest City in America”.
Given everything I just shared, Baltimore has a long way to go. However, I know there is a groundswell of activism and action focused on creating positive change. Hopefully, the movement can become the elected leadership in Baltimore City’s government. Baltimore needs fresh and innovative leadership. Baltimore needs leadership that is not going to use Baltimore as a stepping-stone to higher aspirations. Baltimore needs a champion and advocate. I hope that happens soon.
How does it feel to carry the ‘American Dubstep Ambassador’ moniker?
Honestly, a bit crazy. Kode9 gave me that moniker during a chat at a bar in London nearly a decade ago. I never gave any real thought to that name. Someone read another interview and put the words “Dubstep Ambassador” on a flyer and that was that. There are times in life when you stop asking questions and go with what works. For some reason, that worked!
What is the philosophy behind your record label GourmetBeats?
The philosophy behind GourmetBeats: Continually deliver fresh and vibrant music to the world. Also, I want to push music from producers who might not be well known. Dubstep has loads of talent that deserves to have their music heard and presented on vinyl. I believe in the producers that are part of the family. I also have faith in the producers as human beings. Each of them are incredibly talented in other aspects of their lives. I am so honoured that each of them trust me with their music. Their art is an extension of them and I take that duty with all the responsibility in the world. Nearly half the artists on the label had their first vinyl release on GourmetBeats. I am incredibly proud of that.
Lastly, where do you think dubstep is at 2017? Does what’s happening in the EDM mainstream affect how you feel about your sound?
Now, dubstep in 2017 (and 2018) has never been better. So much talent and so many quality labels really propelled the sound to new levels. Part of the reason why involves a divorce from the mainstream. After dubstep returned to its underground roots, the music improved. Becoming less popular was best for everyone involved.
Catch Joe Nice live along with DuriO, A/K/A SOUNDS, Eden YC on Friday, January 19 at Piedra Negra. Get your tickets here.