Mellow Gold: Nick Catchdubs on “EDM fatigue”, Danny Brown and Night Shift

Fool’s Gold visionary Nick Catchdubs has always had a stronghold on how to engage his audience.

And with the upcoming release of the label’s massive dance music compilation Night Shift, FACT caught up with the New Jersey native to discuss how his outlook on music has evolved since releasing his debut full-length Smoke Machine almost one year ago, how he and A-Trak maintain their vision without losing sight of the democratic music landscape’s ever-changing sound and what the label has coming up next.

Night Shift is out on April 1 and features tracks from both the label heads, Tommy Trash, Brenmar and more. Hear Nick’s contribution ‘Typo’ below.

You’re just about a year out from the release of Smoke Machine. Can you tell me a little how things have changed from having a hand in so many roles to being the artist?

For me, the biggest thing with this record is that it was kind of like my first proper project after being involved in all of this stuff in a bunch of different capacities. It was, “This is where my head is at musically right now,” just for me. The people who heard it seemed to react positively to it. All you want for you art is for people to engage with it honestly and I felt like I got that from people. Do I want the next project to spread further? Of course. We’ll deal with that when it comes.

[Smoke Machine] was the most enjoyable album that I was able to make at the time that I made it. When I listen back to it, I can remember the sessions with these different artists kind of spread over the course of several months. But for the next thing, which I’m actually going through demos for now, I wanna try and condense that. I want to sit in really knowing what I want it to sound like and feel like and then just knock it out quickly. That’s what I’m just sort of leading into now. I did a bunch of production for other artists since Smoke Machine came out. And the track that I have on this Night Shift compilation is a little bit of a tease of the stuff I’m messing with now: a little bit dancier, a little bit less rap guest-kind of music.

What pointed you in that direction?

As a DJ, I’ve always been heavy in both those worlds. Sometimes they dovetail nicely — Fool’s Gold is clearly a platform for putting both of those things together — but other times it’s like: “This is the rap night. We’re gonna hit ’em with all the Future songs you love and the one Desiigner song you love” and that’s the vibe we’re at. For me, I get a lot of enjoyment from dancier stuff and having more material that’s squarely in that lane, with its own kind of Nick-twist to it, will be a new challenge. It’s one of those things where it’s not contingent on working with collaborators. This last album, it was cool because I worked with people who are my actual friends. It wasn’t like I had to call in favors or was up in DMs thirsty for verses. It was people I’ve known for years from doing events and from being involved in music and being like, “Let’s get up and make a song together.” I’m proud of all the music that we made, but the end results always kind of went in a direction that maybe I couldn’t have foreseen. It always shape-shifts based on where the collaborator wants to take it, which is the definition of collaboration, in and of itself.

So, having done that, I don’t really feel the need to do a V2 version. It’s not like I’m putting out an upgraded app. I wanna try something more purely electronic music. Stuff that’s just going in a dancier lane. It’s just all me and it’s more unfiltered. From a vision standpoint, there’s things I want to express that I don’t have to worry about someone else helping me do that. Even just with vocals, being able to just take snippets of my own voice and tweak it and put it through filters. I think it’s a good time for electronic music that isn’t quote unquote dancey but is part of that lane. I really love listening to the Baauer record that just came out, even though there are some guests — at the end of the day, it sounds like [him]. I think that that’s great. I wanna make a record that sounds, to me, like 100% Nick. That’s what my goals are for the next project, which I’m hoping to finish up in the next month or two and get out by the end of the summer.

That’s great that you’re moving quickly, because it Smoke Machine felt like a long time coming.

People are still discovering Smoke Machine at their own pace. The music has made its way to a bunch of movies and TV shows and stuff. It kind of renews interest every time there’s attention in that regard. We’re gonna do a limited edition CD at the end of the April to mark the one year thing because when the record came out, I really just wanted it out. I wasn’t tripping on a physical component, but people asked me for it and as much as Kanye wants to proclaim the CD being dead, it’s still the easiest way to kind of give things to people. They might have to dig around for a drive to play it on, but I wanna be able to have something for the summer.

Nick-Catchdubs-2-3-28-16
Photography by: Josh Wehle

You get this sense of EDM fatigue. Amongst the bigger names in that world, it’s almost like a self-parody

You guys have already done a few compilations, including the rap-centric Loosie. What pointed you in the direction to do something more dance-involved this time out?

Every year leading up to the festivals in Austin and Miami, which kind of kick off festival season, in general, everyone stops hibernating. Every year we would do a blast to our DJ list, which is pretty substantial and just be like, “Fool’s Gold Spring 2014 zip!” and kind of base it around the artwork for our showcases that were coming up. We’ve always done that and it’s kind of been a mix of music from projects that people have been working on and have been slotted in the release schedules and also big DJ songs of recent months.

As we were putting together this year’s batch, I said to our label manager: “This is a really strong lineup. Let’s do this as a proper compilation.” The reality is, we as a label, we do a handful of albums every year, but our bread and butter is the singles and EPs. As much as the way fans experience [of] music has become a daily broadcast — you get stuff when you get stuff — the kind of media and press world at large is still based around a very traditional album model.

When we do singles from somebody, the first response from a lot of editors and writers when it comes to covering it is: “OK, cool — what comes next?” And it’s like, “What do you mean, what comes next? This is the song and it’s awesome. If you like it, talk about it!” So we also look at it like, we need to build more of a context around it. The cool thing about Fool’s Gold, in general, is that we’re not forcing that context. We’re not trying to build something up that isn’t actually there. The artists who we work with, there’s a reason for it. There’s a method to the madness to the variety of things that we’ve put out. Having done a pure hip-hop compilation a few years back with Loosies, that was very much kind of a snapshot of this new underground hip-hop wave that was happening and it was a reflection of things our friends were doing. Now with this Night Shift compilation, in a lot of ways, it’s the DJ version.

Now is kind of the moment for an American audience to get something more comprehensive and artist-spanning, as far as new electronic music goes.

As much as it’s the current Fool’s Gold roster of people who have releases that have just come out or are about to come out, it’s also a testament to the health of dance music. I think that people have been bombarded with this air quotes EDM concept for the last several years. The forces in that world that have jumped in to make money and sort of put some teeth into the neck of festivals around the world, that has gotten to the point where you get this sense of EDM fatigue. Amongst the bigger names in that world, it’s almost like a self-parody.

So, if you’re a complete outsider and you think about this, you might say to yourself: “This is corny”. If you don’t necessarily dig for new things that are happening in dance music — maybe the only dance music you hear about over the course of the year [comes from] Ultra in Miami. You look at the tracklists of the guys playing the mainstage at Ultra and it’s super wack. It’s very homogenous, it’s very generic, it’s very big, hands-in-the-air bangers and Red Hot Chili Peppers remixes. It’s the lowest common denominator side of that world. But the reality is, there is so much cool stuff happening elsewhere, you just have to look a little bit to the left. It’s not even some crazy underground thing. It’s happening right there, it’s just a question of whether or not you want to engage with it.

How do you find people who do work with those biggers sounds but also work on a more conceptual level?

The Night Shift compilation is us engaging with dance music from a Fool’s Gold perspective. I think that it shows, over the course of 17 tracks, the diversity that’s at play, even at the larger, festival levels of this music. Just because a song has a big drop that makes people freak out, that doesn’t mean it has to be stupid. There’s ways to be creative with this concept of the drop. There’s these young kids called GLD and they did a remix of Man Man Savage ‘Takin’ Shots’. There’s a lot of people that do muscular electronic, trap-influenced stuff and in the wrong hands, it sounds like the music in the anti-smoking commercials. It sounds like anti-smoking commercial trap — it’s the same tropes, it’s the same laser beams, it’s the same heavy bass — but you can be muscular and interesting. You can say, “Hey, you know what? I wanna make something that makes kids freak the fuck out, but also be interesting.”

And with their remix, there’s elements of crazy metal, there’s drum fill that sounds like it could be from a Mudvayne song instead of using the [imitates stereotypical EDM fills], it almost sounds like the sampled dolphins or some shit. It’s really warped, it’s playful, but at the same time, it’s big enough to be played at the mainstage at these things. We wanna argue for the validity of that kind of stuff as much as the deeper, housier sounds and other hybrids. I like that this comp is more than diverse than a stage lineup at any festival. We’re able to put our spin on it and we’re able to say: “All of these people are doing interesting shit in their own right. Stand up and take notice.”

I like that it’s a mix of brand new signings who people may have never heard of or associated with Fool’s Gold and then guys like A-Trak and Tommy Trash that play all of these massive raves. Everyone, I think, is showing their best side and also maybe a side that people might not expect from them.

If you have substance underneath what you’re doing, it creates a degree of timelessness. You have to trust your gut

That’s one of the things that’s always made Fool’s Gold so vibrant as a label: you guys have a decade of staying completely to your guns, but always being able to find people who are creating the newest and most interesting sound without compromising your own vision. How do you maintain that?

The reality is that if you want to do something at the level that we’ve done it at for the last nine years, you really have to care. And the reality is that caring is exhausting. You can really take a laissez-faire attitude toward it or you can say to yourself: “Is this project the absolute best version of it that it can be? And, if it’s not, what do we have to do?” If someone sends us a crazy demo, how can we convince them to do these three little tweaks that take it from a good song to a great song? And that’s challenging and it’s definitely less time-consuming to not put that effort into it, but we’re just wired that way.

For us, to do a compilation like Night Shift, it’s not like we’re saying: “Hey, we’re bored with hip-hop stuff now — here’s our dance thing. Here’s the sound of tomorrow!” We just put put this Rome Fortune album that is some of the most forward-thinking rap stuff that is going to come out this year. We’re saying all of these things can co-exist — it’s about building unique context around everything. I always talk about it as putting it on a platform. Night Shift is a platform for Fool’s Gold’s DJ and producers. As much as it’s a snapshot of what’s happening right now, we feel like this is music that will still be cool next year and you can look back on it.

Even if you go back to our bloggiest days in 2007, there’s stuff that when you hear it, it’s like when you see someone wearing a BAPE sweatshirt, you can place the era it happened in. And allover prints came back! I think that if you have substance underneath what you’re doing, it creates a degree of timelessness. It sounds really pretentious to say: “Oh, we’re making timeless music.” You can’t predict that, but you have to trust your gut and go into these kind of projects as honestly as possible.

What else should we be expecting from Fool’s Gold this year?

BOSCO and Speakerfoxxx have a really awesome tape coming out called Girls in the Yard. A-Trak has a single coming out this summer that is going to be really huge called ‘Parallel Lines’. When I talk about people continuing to challenge themselves, somebody like A-Trak, he’s one of my best friends and obviously my business partner with this label, but just as an artist, he’s a very inspiring guy in the fact that he holds himself to the highest of standards and constantly evolves as a DJ and producer. When you’ve done all of this stuff, what’s the next frontier? Pop music. Doing something that sort of goes beyond this underground world, but is still interesting. No matter what level you operate on, there’s a way to make it as dope as possible. I feel like all of us take that attitude that even if [we’re working on] a song that’s gonna be a in a movie commercial, let’s make it the coolest song that could be in a trailer. So, he’s working on his stuff. I’m delving into my next release.

Are there things you’re working on outside of Fool’s Gold?

There’s been a bunch of projects on the production tip that I’m excited about. I did an EP with Black Dave called Party Animal and we’re gonna put that out for the summer. It’s nice because he’s as much in the New York young rapper world and is literally a pro-skateboarder. I like the fact that culturally is in the mix and is bringing that perspective to it and is psyched. I can just fall back because we’re not putting it out on the label, we’re just gonna do it as a cool, free thing, so I can just be producer-guy, DJ-guy and make sure that everything’s mixed and mastered awesomely. I’ve [also] been working a bunch more with B.I.C., who were on the Smoke Machine album. They’re dope because they’re like Cypress Hill of the Bronx. They’re just good-hearted dudes into knucklehead shit. Every time I record with them, I feel like I learn something new about weed. Like, developments in weed technology. It’s a subject they’re very enthusiastic about.

I also have a couple remixes coming out and a song I did with BOY/FRIEND, which is more on the R&B tip because that’s the lane that he’s in. The nicest thing with the Smoke Machine album is that it let people know that I’m here and I’m working. People know what I do from a lot of different perspectives, but the thing I’m most excited about is that these are cool tracks and interesting beats, if this is what you want for your project, get at me. That’s what I like — it’s as much an album and little bookend for where I was at at the time, but now it’s sort of a calling card.

I do have to ask — are we going to hear new music from Danny Brown any time soon?

Danny is in the captain’s chair with his music. He’s recorded his album. I feel like people are so excited for him to return, but the default setting for the modern rapper is to constantly be out there. If you’re not releasing your own music, you’re popping up on other people’s records. And if you’re not on other people’s music, you’re in interviews or you’re getting into a fight with somebody on the internet. You’re just sorta being a celebrity as much as an artist. Like everything he’s done in life, Danny’s gone a different route. He’s gone in a direction that suits him. I think that when he feels like it’s time to unleash this shit, people are gonna be excited. That’s the best place you can be in. The kind of stuff that he’s dropped leading up to it — weird little guest appearances, like, he’s on the Westside Gunn album. It’s under, underground, but that’s so dope.

If he wanted to, he could do things that were calculated moves, but he’s just gonna follow his album. The fact that he was on the DonMonique album a few months back, that’s so dope because he’s not out there whoring it. He’s just like: man, this is me, fuck with it or don’t. We gravitate artists who share that attitude. You need to be true to yourself and you need to say, this is my voice, this is the way I want to get my shit out there, you’re operating on your own timeline. I find that very, very respectable.

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