Joe Nice is a name you may have come across or heard whispered in the corners of raves, if you have any interest in one of the fast growing dance music genres; dubstep. Hailing from Baltimore, Joe’s the man with bounds of energy, charisma and presence behind the decks. Patrolling the cult hub Dubstepforum since day dot, he was the first DJ from the states to play at DMZ and is highly regarded for bringing the sound to the States like no other. Holding his own radio show every 1st Tuesday of the month on Gourmetbeats.com, more often than not you’ll find him spinning the freshest dubs straight from the studio.
Joe also runs one of the States’ premier dubstep nights, Dubwar, at Love Club in New York City. With past guests including everyone from Mala, Loefah and Coki to Kode 9, Scuba, Pinch and Skream, next month they celebrate their 5th year and we thought it was about time we caught up with one of our favourite stateside DJs.
Hometown: Baltimore, MD, USA
So I’ve read that you were born in UK, how familiar are you with the UK, how often do you come back?
Actually, I was born in Southampton, I came to America when I was 2. I try to get to London twice a year, I love the city.
What were you listening to growing up as a kid?
The cliché answer would be, “I listened to everything when I was a kid,” but that’s not true. I had a box full of tapes The Police, Bob Marley, Whitney Houston, The Mighty Sparrow, Michael Jackson, Van Halen, Al Green, The Jones Girls, Prince. I was all over the map but I can’t say I listened to ‘everything.’
Did you always want to become a DJ or was that something that happened organically?
Being a DJ interested me, but it wasn’t really an ambition. I was a child of the 80’s where the DJ and the MC were on equal levels and equal billing: DJ Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince, Eric B and Rakim, Kool G Rap & DJ Polo… see what I mean? The MC was always in the spotlight, but the DJ was the one holding things together – the glue. I listened to a lot of radio when I was a kid and Baltimore is a house music town, soulful house, we also love our Baltimore Club. You’re 15, looking for a hobby and music was mine. You get decks; you get a cheap mixer with ‘HI’ and ‘LOW’ (no mid). Life is great. You start buying records. You start imagining what could be. You become what you’ve imagined.
When was the first time you remember hearing the ‘dubstep’ sound? Do you remember what your initial thoughts were?
I heard the sound in 2001 and my initial thoughts were, “WTF is this?” Not to sound melodramatic, but hearing dubstep for the first time was a sonic epiphany.
You reside Baltimore, how do they react to the sound out there, is there a following?
There’s a following here, but just like a lot of other cities, it takes time for a sound to catch on. It takes time for change. Granted, there are some followings that are bigger than others. Part of that is the size of the city. Part of it is enthusiasm and interest from those in the city/market.
I know you are a huge fan of DMZ, what does the night and music mean to you?
When I went to the first party, it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. For those that are reading and remember 3rd Base, you know what I’m talking about: Turbosound 12k rig with no limiters. Basslines were running through you. Their night was the inspiration for Dubwar.
You were the first DJ from the US play at DMZ, what’s your memory of your very first and the last session you played. (I saw you at the 5th Birthday, which was one of my favourite sets)
Thanks for the good words. I had a great time there. Feels like home. Yeah – I was the first [US DJ]. My first time playing there, in September 2005, my first thought was, “Joe, don’t screw this up.” My second thought was, “You didn’t come this far to fail.”
The soundsystem and amount of people didn’t intimidate me. I was in my element. The other memories include the people. There wasn’t nearly the hype with the music as there is now. People were there for the sound, the heads, the community. There was also a feeling that everyone there was going to be a part of something that would grow.
For those who don’t to know about Dubwar, tell us about it…
Dubwar is the longest running dubstep night on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Dave Q and I run the night and our 5 year anniversary is in June 2010.
The very first show was June 2005. Dave Q and I kept in contact via the dubplate.net messageboard. We chose to start a dubstep night in NYC and plans were made. The first night, 30 people showed up, but we didn’t look around and say, “damn, 30 people came through”, it was “Whoa! Thirty people came through!” Seckle was also there that night. He’s been crucial to our success, he does the pics and the videos that make their way to Youtube. Dubwar wouldn’t be known worldwide if it wasn’t for him and believe me, we’re thankful.
The next show, Juakali (the resident MC at Dubwar) came thru. His flow was different than the MCs that were on top of dubstep and that’s exactly what we needed and wanted. It works. He has a sense of when to rhyme, when to host, when to toast and when to let the tune breathe. He just gets it. Later that year, we changed venues, brought Kode 9 over and the place was packed. We’ve had just about everyone play Dubwar: Mala, Loefah, Skream, Kode 9, Breakage, Pinch, Distance, Cyrus, Headhunter, Chef, 2562, Vaccine, Mary Anne Hobbs, Hatcha, Youngsta, Scuba you name it, they’ve played. We’ve changed venues several times, but our home is Club Love. The soundsystem in there is Gary Stewart Audio. It thumps.
For someone who’s never been there (like me), what could they expect at a Dub War night? Do you feel the crowd and energy differ to the UK?
Ah c’mon! You’ve gotta come to Dubwar! What to expect at Dubwar… fun, a thumping soundsystem, a community, vibes, energy, and a dance experience second to none. I’m not really sure there is a significant difference between the UK crowds and the US crowds. If you bring quality, no matter where you are, you’re gonna get a positive reaction from the crowd.
For an outsider looking in, it’s the first Dubstep night I think of in the US. How much of an affect do you think the club has had on spreading the sound in the US?
Other parties stateside/Canada look at Dubwar as the main dubstep night. Juakali said this a while back, “We’re the flagship” and I believe it. Other parties in other cities look to Dubwar and believe they can start an event in their own city and achieve success. “If they can do it in New York, I can do it in (insert city here).” We don’t always book the hottest DJ/producer; our bookings are forward-thinking. We don’t want to be what’s now; we want to be what’s next. We gotta be ahead of the curve. By the time you’re talking about it, we’ve already done it. That’s what we strive for.
What would be your dream line up for a Dub War night?
The dream lineup for a Dubwar night… oh, wait until we announce the 5 Year anniversary show, that’s the one. If there are any promoters in the UK that want Dubwar, our bags are packed. We’re there. And – that’s not just the UK, its Europe too. If Amsterdam wants a piece, we’re there. If Paris is looking for action, get at us. If Brussels wants the business, find us.
It’s fair to say that most dubstep artists are from the UK, and being in the US, what means do you use to keep up with the sound emerging? You always seem to have the latest dubs in your mixes.
I listen to a couple of radio shows here and there, but honestly, I usually stick with the producers I trust. At the same time, I have two ears and they both work. I listen to a lot of tunes that are sent to me. I’m a harsh critic and I don’t have time for tunes that are ‘ok.’ I need to be excited when I hear a tune. I need to hear ‘it’ and feel ‘it.’ If ‘it’ isn’t there, I can’t play your tune.
Now, I know you’re gonna ask what that ‘it’ is. ‘It’ is that excitement from hearing something fresh, something overwhelmingly creative. Something that has you saying, “how in the hell did he/she think of this?” That’s ‘it.’
From an outsiders point of view, it seems like the US are getting a lot more open to bass music from the UK, magazines such as XLR8R, The Fader and I even remember seeing quite an extensive piece in Interview magazine about dubstep and the surrounding genres. What do you think has changed in the last year?
There have been a few changes. Now, first things first – bass music isn’t dubstep. I think in recent years, there are more and more artists that have been categorised as ‘dubstep’ that aren’t really dubstep. Theres nothing wrong with that, it is just an observation. Secondly, there are more producers from other genres that have left what they once knew and decided to make music with “more bass”. I believe there are a few that make dubstep (as I know it) but the majority of them are making bass music. A lot are making brostep, but that’s another conversation altogether...
Radio is still imperative to the sounds progression; as such do you listen to any UK radio shows? If so which are your favourites?
UK radio shows: I’ll catch Distance’s show, Skream’s (every once in a while, not always home when he’s on) and Blackdown’s show. Non UK shows, BunZero’s FOB show.
And a question I have to ask you is which producers are exciting you at the moment and why?
There are a few: Mala, Skream, Distance, Cyrus, Kutz, Ramadanman, Untold, DJG, Lost, Jakes, Tunnidge, Truth, Kito. Honestly, they make music I enjoy playing. Ultimately, that’s what it’s about for me.
Are there any US producers that we should be looking out for?
US producers: DJG, Moldy, FaltyDL, Djunya.
Anything else you would like to add?
Thanks for this interview and thanks for the good words about my set in March @ Mass. Loved every minute of it.