DJ Nipper hails from Manchester, UK and started DJing inspired by his love of Hip Hop and Electro-Funk. In the latter half of the 1980’s, he was one of the pioneers of the Manchester House Music Scene along with Sasha, Laurent Garnier, Justin Robertson, Graeme Park, Mike Pickering, Steve Williams, 808 State DJs and Jon De Silva.
DJing at many clubs in the North-West including the Man Alive and The Hacienda and then onto DJing at clubs around the UK like Shelley’s, Hackett’s, Shadoo, Konspiracy, Thunderdome, Quadrant Park, Eclipse, Turnmills, Cream, Sterns Rain Dance, Spectrum, Perception, Energy and many more.. We tracked the man down in his Hong Kong hideaway to get it first-hand….
Mike Mannix: Nice one DJ Nipper, for talking to us at iconic underground a real honour mate… so straight to it, how’d it all kick off for you, what were your influences from music and social demographic, what eventually gave you the itch to mix.
DJ Nipper: Once upon a time when I was young, my family and I lived on a farm in Castlebar, County Mayo and I grew up listening to my Mum playing Brendan Shine, Wolfe Tones, Foster and Alan, Buddy Holly, Charlie Pride, Kenny Rodgers and lots of Country and Western. Of course back then it was all on vinyl. I was fascinated with the vinyl – and so as soon as my mum would ago out, I would just grab the records and play them over and over again stacking them on top of each other, on her old wooden record player. The smell and the feel. I loved it. I was hooked.
When I started secondary school in the UK I got into bands like The Specials (the whole Two-Tone sound), The Jam, Spizzenergi, Buzzcocks, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Booker T & The MG’s – I guess I was still trying to find myself as I went searching through many different genres to find my sound.
I remember being a huge Sex Pistols fan and managed to save up enough cash to go out and buy ‘Never Mind The Bollox’ This was me being a rebellious teenager which was quickly squashed by my Mum who snapped the vinyl, ripped up the cover and threw it in the bin. Not the appropriate listening material being brought up in a strict catholic family. Rebellion over!
Growing up in a very strict Irish Catholic family it was inevitable – I became an altar boy at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Little Hulton, Manchester from the age of 7 to 17 where I met an older altar boy called, “Bob Longworth” who was, and still is, a music guru. I looked up to him, especially when it came to music and him introducing me to The Stranglers! One Sunday I asked him would he make me a tape cassette of the latest new tracks he was listening too, so the next Sunday at mass he handed over the cassette that without doubt, changed my life. I legged it home after Mass with eager anticipation drooling to hear what was on it. I sat down, put the tape into the cassette player, pressed play and listened. New Order, Joy Division, A Certain Ratio which Bob’s mate had mixed using 2 turntables making a phasing effect (WTF! That in itself blew my mind) and then I heard it! Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. I couldn’t stop playing this one track, I hadn’t a scooby what it was and I’d never heard anything like it before. I’d found my sound.
The next Sunday at mass I simply couldn’t wait to see Bob to ask him who and what this track was. When we met he could see my face was brimming with excitement and he smiled and simply said “It’s called, Adventures On The Wheels Of Steel by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5″ – Bob Longworth, the tape cassette and Grandmaster Flash are the reasons why I became a DJ. I remember during the fifth year at school, the teacher asked us to bring in any music that influenced us. I duly turned up with Man Parrish’s – Hip Hop Be Bop. I’d truly found my sound.
MM: You were a massive DJ in the late 80’s and 90’s and signed to the huge Sheffield label ‘Warp Records’ under the moniker ‘Kid Unknown’, was it in a way an alter ego to escape the limelight at the time, what was the reason behind your name?
DJN: Kid Unknown was actually made up of the names of two of my favourite Electro Funk artists at the time, and I thought it was fitting because of the samples I used were heavily influenced by my love of Electro Funk.
In a way yes you are right in what you suggest, I was (and still am) trying to escape the limelight because at the time I was struggling massively with huge drug use and mental health issues, and although my DJ’ing and the music was what was keeping me, the adulation and exposure that went along with it was (and is) something I feel uncomfortable with and don’t understand. It was easier to hide behind the DJ Nipper pseudonym back then than deal with what would come with people knowing it was me. If I’m honest being signed to such a pioneering and influential such as Warp Records I do regret that I hadn’t put my own name to it, but at the time it was the best choice given the desperate personal circumstances I was dealing with.
MM: Walk us through the usual process of when you were in the studio creating tracks like ‘Devastating Beat Creator’, ‘Nightmare’ and ‘Mayhem’ from the analogue outboard, midi, samples and DAW you used and why. What was key in the whole production process?
DJN: All of these tracks were sample based, involving delving and digging into my luscious collection of Electro Funk & Hip Hop – did I mention I love break beats? The whole process consisted of gathering the samples, layering the breaks and juggling the beats around at my little home studio until an idea came to fruition. Both Nightmare and Devastating Beat Creator were both incredibly dark tracks, probably down to the Dark Place I was in.
I remember I got home from the studio after finishing it off and instantly regretted it, telling my mates I’d wasted my money in the studio. I remember walking to Eastern Bloc Records with a mate, hearing my track blasting out with heads dancing to it and John E Bloc telling me it was gonna be massive. Shortly after Warp signed it they called me saying Tommy Boy Records was interested in signing Nightmare. Tommy Boy Records. My favourite Electro Funk label. YES, was obviously my response?
Holy Shit! I began planning my life ahead of me as a recording artist/producer for a huge American record label, The Parties, The Hip Hop Gangster Lifestyle, The women, The Tanqueray, The drop Top Caddies, The gold chains and Platinum Grills on my teeth, This was it – USA here I come!
Then they called me back a few weeks later to tell me Ice-T said a big fat NO to his sample being used in the track. That was the end of that. Cheers Homie!
MM: Everyone outside of Manc knows of ‘The Hacienda’ where you played for a number of years, through Factory Records and Tony Wilson, but tell us about the real Manc underground club scene outside of the Hac, and the impact it had.
DJN: I like this question.
For anyone who never went I can guarantee it wasn’t a club as you think, or as you see documented today. In fact to begin with it was a club come live venue and being into breakdancing combined with Funk & Soul music I’d go there to listen to either the music, the bands, watch Soul Patrol strut their stuff or have a boogie myself to a not very busy venue.
It was nothing special until drugs, House Music and MP2’s came along. I always found a large slice of unnecessary snobbery exuded from The Hacienda once it had exploded into life and proclaimed itself the bastion of all that was House Music with its irritating tendency to look down its nose at other clubs and heads in Manchester that didn’t adhere to its principals.
Don’t get me wrong it was a wicked club and venue with a few amazing DJ’s and many shit ones too and incredible music but, to put claim that it was THEE club that brought House Music to Manchester is rather self-indulgent and wrong. I was going to the Gallery way before I was going to the Hac where I would listen to Tomlin with his selection of unbelievable tunes that were to me the precursor to the House Music sound. And let’s not forget what Stu Allen did on Piccadilly Radio.
The Man Alive was also a very uniquely special club in Manchester at the same time. Grimy, dark, moody, not for the faint hearted and with serious tunes. Exactly my kind of club. Ultimately drugs and the gangs brought an end to the Hac but, you cannot deny that it was, and still is, a huge part of many people’s lives leaving them with unforgettable memories of this once palatial iconic club.
Hats off to Tony Wilson, New Order, Paul Cons, Rob Gretton, Ang Matthews, Billy Idle and the rest of the crew because what they did with the venue and the nights they promoted made an everlasting impact on Manchester’s club land History.
For me it was the less spoken about venues, the darker side of the scene that interested me injecting me with a passion to DJ and where I could show off my skills. I was incredibly lucky and fortunate to be able to do something I loved at this very special time in music culture. The buzz and the energy in Manchester was simply infectious you could feel the power it was a truly magical experience.
But as they say, “Winners dictate history.”
MM: Manchester is quite unique in the UK in the abundance of massive bands it produces and the crossover of the Indie and Dance scene, why do you think this is?
DJN: Yes, I agree, Manchester and Liverpool back then seemed to be an extremely creative place with a major collective of people residing there that went on to do extremely well in the industry. I don’t know how we all came together as we did, but when talented people with a real passion for music come together it just seems to breed more talent.
Growing up on a council estate back then, we had only a few choices – we could be in a gang, turn to crime, get fucked up, stand on the footie terraces or immerse yourself in music.
I choose music, and so did most of my mates, along with the drugs too of course Oh! Chips and gravy, casuals, footie and Adidas trainers too.
MM: You were the tour DJ for the massive Manc band ‘808 State’ in the early 90’s and spent a lot of time on the road together, and also played on their ‘Spinmasters’ ‘Sunset’ radio show many many times. What was life like surrounded by so many creative heads and how did it inspire you?
DJN: Bipolar and the baggage that came with it meant it all past me by too quickly whereas now I sadly struggle to remember a lot of what went on around that time. I wished I’d taken more notice, but it was impossible for me as there was just too much going on in my own head to even realise what was happening or be in awe of anyone else or take much notice of their talent.
I honestly can say however that without these people and the love we shared of the music, things could have ended up a lot different for me.
I am forever thankful to have been a part of it all, accepted into these amazing artists’ studios, for them believing in me and what I had to offer. We were all young doing our thing and loving every second of it.
MM: When you first started DJing there were no restrictions on what a DJ could play it wasn’t genre specific you played whatever you wanted, how do you feel about how the scene today has coalesced into a sort of pigeon coup, and does it need the cat throwing in there?
DJN: DJing needs to change as there isn’t any need or recognition for the true skill of the DJ – the art is sadly fading away. Nowadays DJ’s show up at a gig press the sync button and hey presto. An instantaneous beat matched mix with a model looking DJ stood behind the decks throwing love hearts with his hands to a rapturous crowd.
Turntablism is definitely pushing the art of DJing forward and breaking new boundaries with the amazing technology and toys we have around today. I get obnoxious when I hear the repetitive tiresome moaning that circulates from certain parts of the Dance Scene saying “It’s not vinyl. It’s not analogue. It’s digital. It’s cheating. That ain’t real DJ’s!” Who gives a fuck? I find it funny with irony oozing out in buckets coz when House Music came along its main weapon was a drum machine! Try telling John Bonham fans that it’s not cheating.
I embrace technology like DJ’s did with the Technics SL-1200’s followed by CD Decks along with mixers as they evolved with time. So if you wanna lambast DJ’s for embracing technology pushing and propelling the art of DJing forward with the times, sweet, but if this attitude had been taken at the advent of House Music and DJing it wouldn’t have had a very long life span.
Good DJ’s can DJ in a toilet and make the bath dance coz in the era where I grew up once you got on the decks it was time to battle, and you had to be good or else you got your coat.
MM: As one of the original pioneering DJs in the UK, what advice would you give the aspiring DJ today / Producer on how to be creatively original in an already saturated market?
Learn your history – Study the music – Leave your ego in the bin – Always be open to learning new skillz – Never think you know everything – Be sincere. Be yourself. Believe in your talents. Have your own style and sound. Embrace the amazing and endlessly evolving technology. Finally practice practice practice and more practice.
MM: As you know only too well back in the day, a DJ really had to put in some seriously long hours and dedication to learning the beautiful art and skills of using their ears to beat match and mix vinyl. Now with the advent of digital decks and beat matching software, are today’s electronic DJ’s at an advantage or disadvantage?
DJN: The art of DJing is still alive and there are some seriously talented DJs and Turntablists with some outstanding skills out there, although you won’t always see them in front of the camera performing, dancing and lip syncing along to the tracks with their hands in the air. I grew up as a Hip Hop/Battle DJ scratching, beat juggling and seeing how creative I could be with vinyl.
I remember when Sasha, Laurent and myself used to DJ we were recognised by our talents on the decks and we all had a lot of mutual respect for each other’s unique skills. If you were shit then you simply just wouldn’t have made it coz DJing with vinyl is unforgiving and a true art.
Sadly money and the celebrity DJ status together with social media changed everything. Everyone suddenly wanted to be a DJ for all the wrong reasons and with the new technology it gave talentless DJ’s the ability to cheat and make themselves appear much better than they actually are. Strip it all back to the basics and most ‘so called’ DJ’s nowadays would not have a clue where to start.
A DJ is an entertainer so if you can make the crowd happy and dance, then jobs a good un. Who cares what medium a DJ uses.
MM: Why did you move to Hong Kong?
DJN: The birth of mp3’s unfortunately instigated the death of LCD Records that I ran with my partner and good mate, Ian Bland, (Dream Frequency) which in turn lead to bankruptcy. After that I decided I’d had enough of the UK and needed a fresh start so I packed a rucksack and set off on an adventure traveling around China on my own for the next 18 months. Next stop in 2004 was Hong Kong where I had close mates from Manchester living and I’ve been here ever since living on Lamma Island. It’s a little paradise especially coming from Little Hulton in Manchester coz it is a stone’s throw from the beach, I’m living a clean and sober happier life, I have my studio in my gaff in the jungle, the local cobra I call Gregory is sound, I loathe the very large centipedes but I simply adore the breath-taking beauty that surrounds me! Oh and it’s hot with not much rain.
MM: How do you see the underground scene today progressing and where do you see it evolving?
DJN: Most of the Dance music I listen to with help from DJ Mag that I still get every month unfortunately sounds regurgitated and stale. Turntablism is definitely introducing and producing some mad shit that is sounding fresh. Peanut Butter Wolf’s “Stone Throw Records” is wicked. I absolutely love all that is Houndstooth Records and I’m a big fan of Mall Grab and Kaytranada too.
Music is always evolving but it is getting harder and harder to sell your original compositions in this digital era and with music software becoming much more affordable to more people far too many talentless idiots are making music that the oversaturated Beatport tries to palm off on customers as the next big thing. Dance music will prevail and evolve with talented pioneers and innovators lurking in the shadows.
Nipper, if you ended up trapped on a godforsaken island with only your decks, a crate of spirits and your vinyl fly case to your name, what would be the top 10 essential cuts that you must have to survive and why?
DJN: As a recovering alcoholic and drug addict I have now been clean and sober for the past four years so I’ll pass on the crate of spirits unless they are of the spooky kind who can keep me company whilst alone on the godforsaken island!
Let me see…Top Ten Cuts that I’m feeling right now coz this list would change every day dependent on my mood… Hmmmm!
- Spiegel I’m Spiegel – Avro Part (A truly beautiful piece of contempory classical music which has been a huge influence and help to me on my route to getting clean and sober.)
- Danny Pearson – Say it Again
- FBI Crew – Rockin’ It
- Anglo Saxon Brown – Straighten It Out
- Klaps – All The Way You Move (Extended Dubb)
- 10 City – Devotion
- UBQ Project – When I Fell In Love
- Nas – Memory Lane
- Schoolly D – Saturday Night
- Little Anthony & The Imperials – Going Out Of My Head
MM: With your successful DJ career bringing you to clubs and studios all over the world are there any sneaky bits of ‘What happens on tour’, craziness you can hint at, what were your stand out moments??
DJN: Hahaha! I don’t know where to start. I must point out I was an altar boy so I never ever got up to any mischief. I was an angel. That’s not what my Mum will tell you though! There was this one time in DJ camp in the mid 1990’s when I was asked to play in Romania for the King at some big event followed by a banquet at his palace. There was some guy who absolutely loved himself floating around the tables thinking he was the best thing since sliced bread. After a couple of hours of painfully having to put up with the irritating dickhead and his shit jokes he made the fateful mistake of sitting right in front of me at the table. Before he could start anymore of his annoying patter I leant over and told him
“Hey mate! I think I saw your twin brother over there, so does us a big favour and fuck off.”
He got up threw his chair back and stormed off and as I looked around the table at everyone with a look of shock on their faces, I asked “What?” Pete sat next to me burst out laughing and said “You don’t know who that is, do you? “No!” I replied. “That’s Haddaway” Pete told me with tears in his eyes. Haddaway – Who?
Finally to top it all off when we got back to our hotel the King had sent us a gift. Happily waiting in the foyer was the ugliest looking Brass (polish your knob kind) and it was a whole load of them – “looked like the Romanian Shot put Team”.
Even Jabba the Hut would have said no.
MM: What DJ’s / Artists / Producers are behind your ever driving passion for the scene, and who would you like to work with in the studio?
DJN: Akkord, Soft As Snow, Mall Grab, Avro Part, DJ Q-Bert, DJ D-Styles, Madlib, 9th Wonder, Kaytranada, Marquis Hawkes, Alan Fitzpatrick, Guy Andrews, Kendrick Lamar, Clams Casino and Childish Gambino.
MM: What or WHO drives and motivates you, and how do you maintain your balance with your hectic lifestyle and schedule, do you do this alone?
DJN: Without doubt it’s My Mum. I put her through hell when I was an addict and alcoholic I now want her to be proud of me. My son Conor for being amazing, very intelligent, my mate and who I like to spank regularly on Fifa, even though he’d tell you otherwise. Haha! My girlfriend Cassie for believing in me.
Kathryn Smith whose incredible help over the last year with my social media and PR has been nothing short of boombastic-super-fantastic. TiC for being a chicken.
Myself – I lost my DJing and music career in the 1990’s to drugs and my bipolar never achieving what I knew I could. After turning my life around four years ago by getting clean and sober I can finally achieve what I know I can.
I’ve been practicing Stoicism for the last 2 years and Wing Chun too, which have both brought balance to my life. I also meditate. My one true passion in life that continuously drives me to do better, music.
MM: What’s next for DJ Nipper?
DJN: 1. I have my own two hour radio show starting at the end of May on the awesome Housemasters Radio. It’s gonna be bonkers and I can’t wait. You can catch my first live show – ‘Down with the programme’, along with a whole bunch other Fantastic DJ’s and their shows on there too. http://housemasters-radio.com/
- Expanding more with the www.djnipperoldskool.co.ukproject.
- In the summer we will be releasing limited edition vinyl of some of my Old Skool remixes.
- In a couple of months I will launch my own on line label called “No Fakerz Records” to showcase my Hip Hop, Breaks and Soul Funk productions.
- 4 of my new House productions will be coming out on the awesome Substance Records soon with more to follow throughout the year.
- I will be focusing more on releasing videos of me scratching and other silliness.
- And finally as The Brain said in the fantastic Pinky & The Brain cartoon, “Try to take over the world!” Hahaha!
Social media account links
Hip hop album – new release http://djnipperoldskool.bandcamp.com/album/itchin-4-lost-wax-volume-one
interview Design Editing – Mike Mannix