A Beginner's Guide to Nicholas, the Best Producer You've Probably Never Heard Of
Nicholas has the singular ability to look into the house precedent of years past, and produce his own subtle rulings and judgements.
This post ran originally on THUMP UK.
Alongside the Clinton and Podesta emails there's been another enormous release this month, yet mysteriously this one's largely gone unnoticed by Wikileaks, the FBI and the global media conglomerate. Italian crown-prince of the underground Nicholas Iammateo—or just plain Nicholas to his devoted subjects—has collaborated once again with Mahogani Records siren Nikki-O on their two-track release You Can't Hide/Black Sugar, which you can stream to your heart's content below:
Another release on elusive Dutch white-label series X-Masters, this sultry house homage to the Detroit underground is one more example of what Nicholas' tracks do best—elevate the dancefloor to a completely different time and place. "You Can't Hide" is a deep searching groove with a kick straight out of the King Street basement, and the deep edit brings Nikki-O's soulful diva vocals right to the front of the room for you to get lost in. The B-side goes even deeper with some tight Larry Heard handclaps and ethereal synths, while Nikki-O soars high above everything: "Open your arms/and belieeeve."
"So why haven't I heard of him then?!" "Where's his Boiler Room?!" "When was the last time he played in London?!" Stuff it in a sack mate. The distinctive Nicholas' sound is more than just Juno charts fodder, some cardboard cut-out nostalgic house throwback with all the taste of a milkless, knock-off Weetabix; Nicholas is the fucking nuclear submarine of deep house. Whether you've seen him or not, he's there, making it happen in the undercurrents, surfacing every six months with a new weapon. Despite having only recently turned thirty, his productions have an echoing maturity way beyond his years. Having lived former lives as a lawyer and as a close-up magician, perhaps these influences give Nicholas' the ability to look into the house precedent of years past, and without fabricating cheap copies, produce his own subtle rulings and judgements.
His sleight-of-hand releases are endlessly inventive, yet whether it's a chugging 70s disco rework, minimal low-tempo groove workouts, or some dried-out filter edit of some Nervous-era house, they remain so faithful to their original influences they trick you into believing they could be long-lost dubplates recovered from the dusty basement of some forgotten pioneer. There's is a real sense with a Nicholas' record that we aren't just re-experiencing a plastic playlist version of the past, but surrendering ourselves to a hybrid world of the authentic late-80s underground sound he's studied and perfected, weaved with his own visions and interpretations of this time, the time we're living in and through.
It's the difference between listening to Ron Trent in a Motor City sweatbox, and going to one of those BACK TO THE OLD SKOOL 4 VALENTINES DAY events you see on adverts tie-wrapped to traffic lights; going to Wigan Casino in 1976 with a pocketful of prescription speed or going to Manchester Printworks today with Fred Perry polo and a Paul Weller haircut; riding over the Niagara Falls in a barrel or hitting the log flume at Hull Fair. It's the power to avoid the muséal, the easy-sell Keep Calm and Deep House, and to testify to the historical transcendent power of your art without shitting all over history through exploiting and denigrating your influences. With that in mind, let's have a look over some a short selection of this heinously neglected producer's imperial output.
Nowhere is this transportive sense of mood and place more expressive than in his reworks of the Nu Groove tapes, Back on Track, a 2011 release on Needwant. Outstanding on this album are the heavily sampled brothers Burrell—Rheji and Rhano—the New York underground avant-garde artists and producers whose voices reverberate with a profound poetry on the Nicholas edits. Treating both the original Burrell talent and the trademark lo-fi production with respect, every single track on this Nicholas release is exceptional, especially the rework of Rheji's moniker N.Y. House'n Authority's ground-breaking, "Apt. 1A"
A year earlier Nicholas had already put out Depth of My Soul, an exhibition of his deeply-dug disco and a foray in groove and funk. Like Back on Track, the samples sound as if they've been meticulously recorded straight from vinyl rather than reassembled from master tracks. You probably remember the wildly popular tropical house rework of Sade's "Couldn't Love You More" from a few years back. It was the Vin Sola and MATRiXXMAN smash gracing pastures everywhere, from HNNY's Stockholm Boiler Room set to worn-out aux cables at house-parties the world over. But "Feels Like," the final track on Depth of My Soul is just something else. It has to be the finest Sade cut available. His treatment of "Paradise" is the crucial difference between Croatian Festival Permutation #0192 boat-party-house and the careful white cotton gloves treatment Nicholas gives Sade, as if her vocals were some forbidden manuscript.
Look again to Nicholas' D-Vote EP on his own No More Hits label. How to go about remixing the Kathy Brown house classic "Turn Me Out," a track so heavily sampled (Tessela's "Hackney Parrot VIP" the first that comes to mind) that reinvention seems impossible. But as always, Nicholas abides with a care and total respect usually reserved for the old and infirm—with "On My Mind" he attends to the weather-beaten "Turn Me Out" like Jacob Husley with two elderly Polish ravers.
Working with Nikki-O on his new release is no coincidence. Her self-titled 2005 LP on Mahogani is super-tight, Nikki-O's dreamy lyricism and honeyed voice alongside Moodyman's production is an evocative portrait of Detroit and perfect for Nicholas' reverential attention to the moods and desires of the dancefloor. You just have to get hypnotized by her on "Give u something more" to understand the kind of talent Nicholas has to work with.
After Nicholas' third issue on X-Masters and the second with Nikki-O, if you can focus for all the smoke, sweat and slowly blinking red lights, this really is the label and artist to keep an eye out for new releases. A master of mood with a deep understanding of music and its connection to place, there truly is no other producer like Nicholas.
Tom Glencross is a writer without a Twitter account.