Back To The Future: Nightmares On Wax Interviewed

"I’ve always represented all kinds of music..."

You may know him best as the man behind Nightmares on Wax, but George Evlyn has recently resurrected his original moniker of DJ E.A.S.E for a club-focused EP.

With a string of dates behind the decks lined up in the coming months, the man from Leeds – who now resides in Ibiza – will have plenty of opportunities to test out the new tracks, which blend his original influences of soul, funk, hip hop and house music.

We caught up with him over the phone from his Balearic base to talk about his northern roots, his long-standing label relationship, the changing sound of Nightmares on Wax and what the future holds. 

I’m told you’re the artist that’s been with Warp the longest – can you take me back to when you signed and what was going on in those Dextrous days?

It all happened naturally, because me and Kevin [Harper] had made an EP which had a rave track called Let It Roll, a hip hop track called Stating A Fact, and alo Dextrous. 

In 1989 we managed to save up enough money to fly to New York on a crate-digging expedition. All inspired, on the way back I said we should put the record out ourselves, so I borrowed £400 to press it and used my brother’s car to drive round all the best record shops in England.

It was when we stopped into FON in Sheffield, the guy behind the counter said he’d said he’d heard Dextrous being played out at a local club called Occasions, so we exchanged details as he said he was planning to set up a record label. Anyway, that was July and we’d managed to sell the 2,000 copies that we pressed in a couple of weeks, then in September Steve Beckett called me up to say that his new label had released Track With No Name by Forgemasters and would we like to remaster and rerelease Dextrous.

So we went to Rob Gordon’s studio, where he had all this equipment and set about remaking the track. That then came out in December and really kick started our career – it went on to sell 30,000 copies. 

It’s funny, because at the time it felt like it was never a question of it not happening, there was so much amazing music coming out, A Guy Called Gerald had just released Voodoo Ray, there was House Arrest by Krush coming from Huddersfield, people we knew from these local crews were representing where they were from, so we just wanted to represent Leeds.

We ran a club night called Downbeat, playing hip hop, rare groove, house, jazz, all kinds of stuff. Then at afterparties it was always me and Kevin running things and playing behind the decks, while what we called ‘townies’ – the cool guys in the nice clothes bringing the people, the fashionable types. So that was all bubbling along before we knew about the rave scene, it was just funky music to us, we didn’t yet have the language of house and techno, but it worked for the breakdancers and really connected with the sound system culture we came from.

I saw your retweeted a photo of the Warp roster in the early 90s, what’s it been like developing your sound around such an inspiring group of artists, and with the support of such a legendary label?

I think it’s testament to Warp for recognising the talent of these artists and then letting them experiment, it’s never been about steering them, that’s what makes them so successful. Same with the film offshoot, it’s all about going against what is the standard in the industry. So we’ve grown together. 

I’ve certainly had crossroads in my career, with major labels approaching us, but it never felt right, I never wanted to be part of a machine. Steve’s not even at the forefront of the label anymore, but we’re still friends. 

Your sound has gone in lots of different directions over the years, but I reckon most would have you down as a more downtempo kind of producer – what sparked the switch back to club music for these latest releases?

I’ve always represented all kinds of music, and I’ve always been a DJ, as far as producing and releasing as Nightmares on Wax, it’s always been about dreaming bigger – who I could work with, what new sounds I like; expanding constantly. 

Then as my DJing has evolved, I liked the idea of trying to define what house music means to me and where I’m from. 

I’m afraid I haven’t had the chance to see your E.A.S.E alias in person – can you give me a flavour of what a set sounds like – and is there any deeper meaning to the acronym?

That name was coined in 1989 by Todd 180, a rapper and co-writer in Leeds, because the year before I was playing out as DJ EZE, but then when N.W.A got big it felt like that clashed with Easy-E, so we changed it to E.A.S.E which stands for experienced and sample expert. 

As for what I play these days, it’s a real mixture of things, mainly funk, soul, disco, but I’m really into things that are flipped, I always like to come from an edgy angle, with records that have a real raw essence, using drum machines and then looping things, blending bits together.

As for the setup, in the last five to six years I’ve moved to CDJs. I was so anti them before, I moved from vinyl to Serato, but you turn up to gigs and the turntables don’t work, or there’s technical problems at festivals, I realised it wasn’t that bad. There’s also the constant paranoia about travelling with records and them getting lost. I’m not that precious really, I’m more interested in the selection of music. It’s not about the tool, it’s about the journey, especially for those on the dance floor.

It’s clear that these new E.A.S.E tracks are influenced by that glorious era where hip hop sampling techniques merged with early house music in New York – can you expand on that and how your relationship with the dancefloor has evolved?

It’s the same way that hip hop excited me in the beginning, I just wanted to know where the sound came from, so that influenced my digging and expanded my knowledge. So with house, I also wanted to know where it came from, which turned me on to the likes of Todd Terry and Kenny Dope. The sound was both futuristic, but with the essence of classic jazz, funk and soul, all reinvented in a club environment. Very modern music, but not forgetting the lineage.

I see you’ve got a few UK shows before a North American tour in the autumn – can you share what follows on into next year?

Next year’s looking busy already, once all the E.A.S.E stuff is released in May it will be the 25th anniversary of Carboot Soul, so we’ll be doing a special edition and a few parties in the UK, Europe and America. Then towards the back end of next year I’ve got another Nightmares on Wax album project coming out, with a lot of collaborators.

Your last album was also notable for the variety of people you worked with – how do these collaborations come about?

Usually it’s just people I meet and get along with, or those who I get connected with by other people or the label, it’s very organic, if the planets are aligned then it’s meant to happen.

I’m really excited about this next record, the people I’m getting to work with are so talented.

Finally, given the miserable summer we’ve been having in the UK, can you make me jealous of your Ibizan idyll – when did you move there and what’s your base like?

I can’t quite believe it’s my 18th year here, I’m a local by this point, my Spanish is good, although my Catalan’s not quite there yet, so perhaps not. I’m based out in the countryside, proper peace and quiet – I could drive 15 mins and be in the chaos normally associated with the island – but I like to be able to come back to the house and get in the zone, relax and make music.

‘CLUB E.A.S.E. #1’ is out now.

Words: Peter Walker

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