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Nick Curly
Photograph: www.kevinlakephotography Nick Curly

After-dark inquiry: Nick Curly

The German house and techno producer fetes his new album at Cielo.

By Bruce Tantum
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Nick Curly’s new album, Between the Lines (released on his own Cécille label) is a collection of subtly soulful house gems, brimming with graceful vocals and restrained instrumentation. The Mannheim, Germany producer celebrates the album’s release with a set at Cielo on Thursday, May 3.

Mannheim isn’t a dance-music wilderness—there was much talk about the “Mannheim sound” a few years back—but it’s no Berlin. Is there an advantage to being a bit away from the center of activity?

I enjoy living in Mannheim, and when I first started going out, it was very much a cool city. When I first started going out, There was a small club called Milk, which was a very good place. Also, Mannheim is located between Stuttgart and Frankfurt; for a while I was going out to Stuttgart a lot, which had a lot of house. And at that point, Mannheim itself was probably the biggest city in Germany for drum ’n’ bass and breakbeat. Later on, we started going to Frankfurt, which had clubs like the Dorian Gray and the Omen, which was run by Sven Väth. At that point, 12 or 15 years ago, Frankfurt was as big in electronic music as Berlin. Of course, now Berlin is the world capitol of electronic music.

I guess nowadays, you aren’t even in Mannheim that much anyway; you seem to be on perpetual tour.

Yes, it does seem that way. I’m touring right now to promote the album. I just got back from Japan, and now I’m about to leave again. Everyone says how much they enjoy deejaying in Japan. Japan is perhaps my favorite place to play. I also played in China for the second time on this trip; I did Beijing and it was really good, which was a really nice surprise. China is such an important place right now. There are a lot of clubs opening now.

You're involved with running two respected electronic-dance-music labels, 8bit and Cécille. Is there any stylistic difference between the two?

I would say 8bit is more deep- and tech-house focused, and Cécille is maybe a little more open, with a bit of everything. And within Cécille, there’s Cécille Numbers, with Cécille being a bit more techno and Cécille Numbers for releasing new things. For instance, Cécille Numbers recently signed an EP from H2, which is a couple of young guys from Manchester, England. They are really good; you should check them out! They are doing some really good stuff.

You recently were interviewed in Resident Advisor about your listening habits, and you name-checked everyone from Dr. Dre and Sade to Metro Area and Herbert. Do you feel that this wide range of sounds works its way into your own music?

Yes, definitely. I would say that everything I listen to inspires me somehow. It might not be very obvious, but it all opens horizons and helps me to understand music somehow. I’m interested in listening to everything, and I enjoy listening to everything.

So your not one of those house and techno producers who listens to nothing but house and techno?

No way!

What’s the significance of the new album’s name, Between the Lines?

The message is that you really have to listen to the music on the album—I mean really listen—to understand it. Don’t listen to it just one time and say, “Oh, it’s shit. I don’t like it!” You really should listen a couple of times to understand it. Also, the “between” part has something to do with the difference between the two labels, or the difference between the German scene and the U.K. scene. There are lots of possible meanings.

The album’s sound is rooted in house, but it still includes a fairly wide range of sounds. Some of the tracks, like “Wrong Hands,” for instance, have a dubby, Detroit-techno feel; other cuts veer toward soulful house. But very little of them are what could be called bangers.

I wanted to make an album that you could listen to anywhere, like in your car or in your home. I don’t really like to listen to DJ sets in those environments. I didn’t want to make anything too clubby. But [Detroit techno godfather] Kevin Saunderson will be doing the remix for “Wrong Hands”—and I hope he is taking care of the club part of things! I think he will understand that track. The plan is to release club versions of a few of the tracks, actually.

It’s a very emotive album, most obviously on the vocal tracks, but also on the instrumental cuts.; there’s a deepness throughout. Was that difficult for you to achieve?

The album took almost half a year to make. I wanted to get the sound quality just right; we worked hard on that. We recorded live drums, some live bass and, of course the vocals—no loops. That was a big change for me, and it was quite difficult. I think it sounds very good, and I think that’s where the feeling of depth comes from.

Worthy Davis is the vocalist on three of the LP’s tracks. I really like his voice, but I have to admit that I’m not familiar with him.

He’s a soul singer, and he really hasn’t done electronic music before. He’s usually singing in a cover band here in Germany. He has a wonderful voice, and I’m very happy with the way his songs came out. You haven’t worked much with live vocals before, have you? Only once or twice. And that was a long time ago. But it was very important for me to have some vocals on the album. It really adds a whole new layer to the music.

And now you are coming to New York to celebrate the album’s release.

Yes, and I’m really excited to be playing at Cielo. That’s one of your oldest clubs, right?

You are correct!

I’ve known about it for years, and have been hearing good things about it for so long.

What can we expect at the gig?

I can never really say; it depends on the club and the night. I like to show up, check out the atmosphere and the people, and then decide how I will start my set. But one thing is always the same: For me, the groove is everything. So…you can expect a good groove!

Endless: Nick Curly is at Cielo on Thursday, May 3.

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