TSC Behind The Decks | Christian Nielsen
Danish DJ and producer Christian Nielsen, is a rare commodity in the world of House and Techno. While other producers might pander to the masses, Nielsen, never opts for a novelty approach, instead carving his own successful niche in a constant jostle for dance floor play. Danish producer, Christian Nielsen is an artist who has seemed to come out of nowhere. Working in an office by day and developing his musical craft by night.
A firm advocate of dance-floor ready house, Nielsen is one of the most interesting producers to arrive on our radar for some time, and if you’re a fan of electronic music, then you’ll no doubt be aware that we’re dealing with a man who’s stock is firmly on the rise.
Hello Christian Nielsen and thanks for taking the time to do this interview with us. Where are we catching you and what are you up to?
Thanks for having me, I actually just came from work. Right now I am getting ready to release my latest EP on Skream’s label Of Unsound Mind, called ‘Rising Sun’ and then in February I have another EP coming out on Exploited Ghetto Records, called ‘Never Been To Detroit’. I am also getting a single ready on my own label Eastbrigde which I’m really looking forward too. I am also continuously working on a lot of new tracks of my own, remixes which unfortunately I cannot tell you more about right now.
You have Danish roots and you are based in Copenhagen. How did your djing career start, and what made you do it in the first place?
Many years ago back in 2006 I got a job at a nightclub as a busboy, where there was a cocktail bar next door called ‘The Dive’. I am not a big drinker, but I really wanted to become a bartender back then. However, the owner of the bar told me he admired my desire to work there, but I was too short for the job. Regardless of that, he said that when he saw that I seemed really interested in music, and was always hanging around the resident DJ of the place – Tony M, asking him what he’s playing. So he offered me to try and DJ at the bar!? And this is how I got a job there, being an apprentice DJ. I sat with Tony M, writing down what he is playing, learning the techniques, learning how to read the room and the vibe, and how to put the music into context with that.
Back then I started playing Nu Soul, Jazz, Funk, which I played for about two years, before Deep House slowly came in. Until then I didn’t even know what House Music was. I have heard Daft Punk, Basement Jaxx and many other electronic acts on the radio, but I never put it into context as, this is a genre, and within this genre there are other sub-genres.
One night Tony M played ‘Kerry Chandler – Oblivion’, and it completely blew my mind!
I just couldn’t get my head around, how he could make a track that was so long, so monotone, and so cool. I just wanted to dance! After that moment everything slowly took off in a new direction for me.
Back then the internet was not as good, in fact it was pretty shitty, so I used to look on Amazon and figure out what the different genres were. Looking for Kerry Chandler, led me to Trentemøller, who then led me to Gui Boratto, who led me to Kompakt Records, and so and so on. But I still did not understand it was all part of a scene, not until I visited Culture Box for the first time.
Some guys, who visited The Dive bar invited me to go with them to Culture Box. That night Matthias Tanzmann was playing together with Reboot and other. I was amazed by what I saw and heard that night, and started going every weekend, making friends and getting into the scene. Then I was told that if I want to play at these clubs, I would have to start producing my own music, so I bought a new computer, and started making music on Garageband under my old name – Chris Minus.
What was your first release, and which label released it?
My first release actually got signed through Myspace! Some guy wrote me, ‘Hey I want your tracks, can you get them mixed and mastered’? At that time I had absolutely no idea what that meant, but I was young and green so I just said YES, I’ll do that! It was some Columbian label I had never heard of ‘Music Taste Records’ (laughter fills the room).
How did the artists, who inspired you shaped your sound? Furthermore, when your DJ footsteps were starting out, did you try to emulate any artists?
In the beginning it was Matthias Tanzmann, because he was the first DJ I ever saw live. Then it evolved to Kerry Chandler and Skream, especially the moment he dropped from Dubstep and started doing House and Techno! For me he opened up for artists like Jackmaster, Denis Sulta, he started that vibe that we can play a stupid 90’s track in a Techno set, be a bit silly, be a bit ironic, a bit emotional about it all. It’s so inspiring to me, because those are tracks that are part of our past and our history.
My inspirations are DJs, people who dare put up a crazy track on and wait for the reaction. I still believe in DJing.
Similarly to another talented and globally known DJ like Kölsch, to surprise to some you are actually more famous outside of Denmark?! Why is that? Can you share more light on that phenomenon happening in Denmark, and why do you think it’s happening?
I think it’s because we are not raised with the scene. Electronic Music scene came as a movement in the United Kingdom, Germany, Holland, while here in Denmark we never really had that wave. We are not raised with Electronic Music, we are raised with Danish music.
Here we are raised with Danish music, and it’s incredible how much we love it.
So for me the reason why guys like me, Kölsch and others became more famous abroad, is because there is no scene at home like there is in some of these other countries. The only movement that there was, was around Kjeld Tolstrup and Kenneth Bager. Kjeld Tolstrup became so big, he played for the Royal family, that’s how famous he was. During his weekly national radio show he was able to define names, he would say who to listen to and people would do it. He was the one who called out Rune RK, Morten Breum and many other back then, who eventually became famous. That was at least how I was introduced to them. I would find out about other local DJs through his show ‘Unga Bunga’, and then go out and try to find them.
He was also the first person to recognize me as an artist, and to call me out, while I was still under my Chris Minus alias. I would send him tracks and he would tell me ‘This is good stuff, you’ve got talent’, really simple like that. Back then I was in my early 20s and that was the biggest recognition I could get, and it kept me going. I get a bit emotional about right now, also because he was such a godfather, in the sense that there was no one else above him at that point.
When he died the scene lost its group feeling, because before everybody came together around Kjeld. With him gone I think the whole thing fell apart and everybody started doing their own thing. And nobody really worked together, nobody really co-existed, and nobody made sure that the mainstream group of the listeners got to hear what us producers could do.
We got no recognition now in Denmark, so why would we even try and send it to a Danish label? We all got it from abroad so we kept it there.
Speaking of Kjeld Tolstrup and what national airplay used to be in Denmark back then, fast forward to today, on the radio in Denmark you hear pretty much the same stuff – EDM, Pop and Rap. Why do you think Danish radio is not supporting and promoting more diversity and subgenres as it did before?
One would argue that they do not get enough funding to do it. I would say it’s laziness, no knowledge and nobody works towards getting them to get that knowledge. I think as I said before, most of the people who work in the scene right now they do their own thing, they are focused on that only, and because it’s so hard to do that here, nobody really puts their heads together and say ‘let’s do something together’! Although a new show has come to my attention on Danish radio called ‘Vidundergrunden’. They’ve been playing quite a lot of underground stuff from Denmark and even played some of my music recently.
Who do you think are the clubs and promoters that are most influential in the local scene, and who are the DJs who are the best ambassadors of Danish Electronic Music to the world?
You can always put Culture Box at its absolute highest. They’ve always been there, doing their best to bring artists to Copenhagen, and they are the ones bringing young djs together, so they can get connected, get to know each other and network.
CPH Deep are doing great with their party concept, and are throwing amazing events for awhile now. Andrea and Relevance Festival are also doing something great for Denmark and the local scene.
I love Strom Festival, because they have a purely music oriented approach to their events.
In terms of DJs, Kölsch, Noir and Denis Horvat, because they are inspiration to me and many other young DJs for what they are doing.
You are a father to a little boy, how does having a DJ career, a family and a full-time job work out for you? How do you make it all work?
It was really hard for me in the beginning because my family, my full-time job and of course djing are all super important to me, and I had to make it all co-exist and work together. The one thing I had to learn is to be present. When I come back from my daily job, it’s all about my family. When my kid is off to sleep, I go down to my basement and I am the producer. When I am on the road gigging, I’m the DJ.
It seems as for you it’s easy to switch on and off between these roles part of your daily life?
It wasn’t easy to get to that point, but Julie, my girlfriend definitely helped me get here. It’s true in my case that my family keeps me grounded, but with her it’s also the other way around. Julie would tuck me up before a gig, and tell me to go out there, be a star, be amazing or encourage me to go to the basement and make something I really love! She is very aware of what kind of feelings go through my body in these different scenarios. She is the one, who would push me to produce, and even more she is the one, who would discover my biggest hits. The story of ‘Do You Mind’, I was having a Skype meeting with Jesse Rose, but he didn’t like it. Julie heard that and was like ‘Jesse…Jesse this is the track, just give it a try’. He eventually played it to his assistant and his girlfriend, and they loved it! So he agreed to release it, and it went viral – #2 on Beatport!
And how was it to adjust DJing and travelling for gigs on weekends, with family time?
It was very hard in the beginning and I didn’t enjoy gigs actually. I felt stressed out and I used to drink at gigs, because I was insecure and I felt the pressure. What made it more difficult is that I am a terrible drinker! Coming home to my family after a gig with a huge hangover was not working out. Today I am aware of what I am doing, and as mentioned I am trying to always be present, and to enjoy every moment of it! And now I am having such a good time travelling and gigging, and I’m so grateful for every single chance I get to DJ around the world!
DJs often admit their parents and relatives don’t take their job seriously, or at least until the point they make it? How is it in your case?
When I was growing up, my brother was the musician in the family, while I was the sporty one, playing sports and running 10km when I was 10. That’s what I thought was cool as a kid! My parents didn’t recognize that I was creative, and nobody exploited my musical interests, the focus with me was more on sports. My parents still don’t really get it. In our family my brother is the musician and Christian is the one making money out of it (laughs).
You have a full-time job in sales. Why do you still have it after the success you have had with DJing?
You know many people ask me that question, and I tell them financial reasons and the freedom. I can go home and produce whatever I want! I don’t have to make techno, I don’t have to make cross-over, I can do whatever I want. My managers hate it, they want me to stick to one specific thing because it’s easier for everyone. For instance my last two EPs on Exploited Ghetto and Of Unsound Mind, there are 6 tracks and they are all different from each other!
Speaking of production, what is your production process? How do you work on new music?
I am scatterbrain, I have gazillion thoughts every moment. When I produce I produce 8 tracks at once. I start one track I work on it for a while and at some point my brain says ‘this track is dead for you right now, go to the next one’. I come back to the tracks after a while and if I still dig what I’ve done I complete it. That’s why I normally finish 8 to 10 tracks at once.
Normally I start off a track with my main idea for it. While many DJs start with drums, I don’t like doing that, because they will then dictate what the track is becoming. I always start with the base and the harp, then I loop the vocals and the general melody with the breaks, and at the end I add the drums and effects. Then at the very end I add the ‘spark session’, as I like to call it.
Skream’s label, ‘Rising Sun’ EP. Tell us more about the EP, and how the release happened on Skream’s label?
I have released a lot on Skream’s label before. His approach is not about genres, but if he likes the tracks, they don’t have to be put together he just releases them. When I was making the main track ‘Rising Sun’, I had this idea of a sunset and I just build on that vibe. It was supposed to be more of a balearic thing, but it ended up being super techno-ey. It wasn’t supposed to sound like that, but that’s how I produce. I start with one part and it develops from there.
Let’s talk more about your latest release on Exploited Ghetto ‘Never Been To Detroit’. I reckon it’s called that because you’ve never been there?
Yes, it’s so much of a dream of mine to go there one day, it’s like a mysteryland to me! I want to go see and feel the vibe it has.
This EP is my tribute to Detroit, no one from Detroit is probably gonna say ‘this is a Detroit techno release’, but in my eyes and heart it is.
I first made the leading track ‘Never Been To Detroit’, which is a different track from what I usually do, it’s a very gritty techno tune. It was picked up by Exploited and put together with Sin and Riot.
Both releases on Exploited Ghetto and Of Unsound Mind are going to be interesting, because they are very different from what I have put out. I want to see how people will react to it.
You also recorded a special guest mix for our Podcast series! What did you want to tell to the listeners with this mix, and what is the motivation behind this track selection?
To be honest it’s a mix to kind of show that genres mean nothing to me. I’ll start with afro house and end up with something weird from Marc Houle. I actually find mixes hard to do because a DJ set is always a mix of what I want to play/hear and how the crowd reacts. But the main thing is energy! I always try and DJ as if I’m part of the crowd. And I don’t know about you guys, but I love to dance and lose my shit!
2019 is just starting out now, what have you planned for this year in terms of releases, any new projects/collaborations, and where across the globe can your fans see you play?
I have many more techno, tech-house and cross-over productions coming up, and hopefully start working on an album in 2019!
What do you wish for yourself in 2019?
Finishing an album, going to Detroit, and lots of amazing gigs!
Thank you for the interview Christian Nielsen!
Thank you for having me!
Stream or download Christian Nielsen’s latest EP ‘Never Been To Detroit’ on Exploited Records here.