The Brooklyn-based producer Nick Dawson, aka Bookworms, has been turning heads in the city with his psychedelic techno since the late aughts, but until now he has not released a proper LP. After years of trickling out 12" records, and after being pressured by fellow producers, DJs, and friends, Dawson has finally announced his debut Xenophobe.
The seven-track, 58-minute LP, which gathers unreleased material dating back to 2008, is like listening to a techno or house record that's been doped up on tabs of acid and having one revelatory experience after another. To celebrate its arrival on March 19 as the second release of the newly formed Bank Records, Dawson is performing a couple of shows, including opening tonight for British avant-garde producer and cultural provocateur Dean Blunt at the Brooklyn venue Market Hotel.
Dawson shared with THUMP an exclusive stream to his track "You Say So," in which a march of percussion is contrasted with soft-bell melodies that progress like a train building speed, and pique with a silky female voice chanting the tracks title over and over. Despite its age ("it's the oldest track on the record," he told THUMP), the cut sounds surprisingly current, as if it was ahead of its time then, and is now able to fully hit its stride.
THUMP spoke to Dawson over email about the making of Xenophobe, his longtime residency at the Brooklyn techno establishment Bossa Nova Civic Club, and how Graffiti wars inspired his album art.
THUMP: You've been performing for years now, yet Xenophobe is your debut LP. What made you decide to put together an album after all these years?
Bookworms: I've been playing live and producing music as Bookworms, or Bookworm, since I was a teenager in California. I guess after doing the project for so long, releasing an album just kind of made sense—it was expected. I've been somewhat aimlessly working on one for L.I.E.S. Records for over three years, and that still isn't done. This Xenophobe project wasn't originally meant to be an LP either. It was started as a single 12" inch EP of mostly archival tracks.
And how did you come to work with Bank Records?
I met Jon Beall (who performs as Entro Senestre and who started Bank Records) through my buddy Steve Summers. All three of us are on L.I.E.S., and we all get along. A lot of our comrades, including Summers, have left NYC for Europe, and since Beall and I kept meeting new talented folks here, Beall really wanted to branch out and have his own lil' franchise. He asked me to be involved and when I sent him some of my older material he encouraged me to make it a double 12" because I was sitting on so much of it. As we assembled it, a love/horror story narrative emerged and the theme was kind of solidified with the cover art. It's pretty simple really.
How does Bank differentiate itself from the other techno labels out there?
Bank Records reminds me of one of those classic mid/late 90s off shoot skate board companies, like ATM Click or Blind or 101. Something in that vein. Your gonna want these folks on your side. Lovable tramps. Bank is going to put out a lot of very interesting music this year in a wide range of styles. It's exciting.
Can you talk a bit about "You Say So"? Is it something you worked on as you played out or did you develop it at your studio?
It's the oldest track on the album dating back to like 2008. I made it on the MPC 1000, I think that's all I used. It's really just rhythmic sequencing—a psycho disco drum track with a twist at the end. The song is kind of about reluctantly losing an argument. I've never performed it live. Most of my live sets consist of music composed only meant to be played out and never to be recorded or released.
You are concurrently releasing a 12" with the label Anomia. Can you talk a bit about that?
It's this rad label from Barcelona run by the producer Arnau Sala who makes music as Ex Con (as well as multiple variations of words that start with ex and con.) The 12" is called Standards of Beauty and it's all newer, more synth-based compositions, but it kind of works as a companion piece to the Xenophobe album. It's all about various perspectives in the struggle for self worth. Ways of trying to deal with the bullshit.
How has the Brooklyn techno scene and being resident of Bossa Nova Civic Club shaped your sound?
Personally its hard to say how much the Brooklyn scene has influenced me. Water to a fish I guess. I love it. I need it. But I'm just in it—as much as I have my own weird world going on inside my head, some of my best friends are DJs. I even live with the producers Huerco S and Hank Jackson! So I'm very influenced by my friends and a lot of what is happening here.
Bossa Nova has been a huge inspiration since it opened a few years ago. I was there by chance on opening night when Steve Summers dragged me out there to see him and Lauren Flax play the first party. I've been hooked since. A month after the opening, Summers and I were invited to have a residency at Bossa, and our Confused House nights have been going pretty much every month since, and it's been 98% great, with maybe only one bad night. A lot of the tracks on my second L.I.E.S. 12" were made with Bossa's system/room in mind. The residency has also given me a chance to experiment and stretch out. I might play stuff that's not house or techno, or even anything with hi-hats or a kick. If you work it in right you can get folks to dance to strange beautiful shit. I like seeing how far I can push it.
You mentioned a bad night, but have their been any particularly outstanding ones?
Yeah, one memorable moment I can actually remember: me and DJ Wey were in the middle of an improv live set at like 3.45AM and Wey gets his friend Carl (who I hadn't met prior to that night, but is a trained jazz person) to join us for the last song with a live flute solo over the gear we had cramped in the DJ booth. You can't always play industrial techno all night, sometimes you need a flute solo. Well, just that one time. Never again.
What inspired the album art?
That's a picture I took a long time ago when I was drunk at some tagger bar in San Francisco; Pete Leonord did the layout and formatted it. The image is just a meditation on the graffiti /hip hop /DJ/drugdealer culture I came up in. People try to cross out each other's names, out do and or ignore each other, till there is just nothing recognizable is left, and it just becomes something else. In a way it's just the language of the culture. Progress. The passage of time. And then taking a step back and looking at it all for a moment. It's sad, but beautiful. That competitive streak. Style Wars.
What are your plans for this album? A tour, maybe?
I'm performing tonight in a duo with Via App at Market Hotel here in Brooklyn. We are opening for Dean Blunt. Then I'm playing this Psychic TV after party thing at Trans Pecos on sunday the 13th. That's kind of the tour, ha. I'm doing Confused House at Bossa Nova Civic Club on the 19th of this month with Steve Summers, and this new industrial techno kind of group called Lunch with Carol and Stewart from the No Tech crew. That will be the album release for me, I'm thinking. The album should be out by then.