To launch our new series on Creatives about Music, we decided to interview well-known Berliner Nomad. One of the world‘s best-known and longest serving urban artists, Nomad has been leaving his creative mark on Europe’s cities – from Paris to Berlin – since the 1980s. Nevertheless, Nomad does not consider himself part of the street art context: over the years he has developed a style that is as recognisable as it is versatile, brimming with original concepts and provocative statements, to carve his distinct niche between the genres of street and high art. Nowadays, he gets as much kudos from the graffiti scene as from Hollywood stars like Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher who asked him to share their home for a month while he added his distinct artistic touches.
In this spirit, Nomad prefers to call himself an "in-betweener", someone who skirts the frontiers of different realms. Out on the streets, he is probably best known for his Mr. Friendly series: whenever a bulky and discarded item caught his eye, he would embellish it with his iconic characters, yet leave it in place – thus turning ostensibly worthless refuse into a series of coveted collector’s items. In the meantime, he has expanded his range of expressive means by interactive projects, fusing writing and street art with poetry and traditional painting, as part of actual exhibitions. Always inquisitive, Nomad also likes to explore the realm between art and music. To him, music is far more than a welcome source of inspiration – for the avid record collector and active DJ it has become an integral part of his everyday existence. Against this background, Mixed Tape Music decided to interview the free-thinker and lateral artist Nomad on his musical preferences and the records that have shaped his life.
Could you name a particular artist, album or song that has left a huge mark on your own artistic output?
There are literally dozens of examples – and new ones join the list every year. I once did a series called 9 Records That Changed My Life featuring paintings of eight of my favourite record covers plus one that I made up on the spot (The Nomades – Kicked Out Of Hell For Bad Behaviour) and simply sneaked that one into the mix.
If I had to pick just one song, that simply wouldn’t be precise. Life is far too multi-faceted for a single song or album.
Name a record that conjures up the best summer of your life. What kind of memories do you associate with this album – and how important is it to you?
See above (laughs): I have experienced too many great summers to mention, but there are certain moments where you can gauge your level of freedom by how it feels to drive down Highway 101 at night when you’re twenty years old and listening to American Beauty by The Greatful Dead on repeat twenty times.
What about a record that reminds you of your first ever love?
The first record, bought by my mum for my tenth birthday after plenty of nagging, was Blondie – Parallel Lines. I had been infatuated with Debbie Harry since the first time I saw a picture of her. My sister loved to tease me about it because she thought I had only fallen for Debbie Harry because she looked like my mum. Which wasn’t too far from the truth.
If you could choose: Which song or album would you have loved to have composed yourself – and why?
Octet, Music For A Large Ensemble and Violin Phase by Steve Reich. This record has been sending shivers of joy down my spine for the last twenty years. The interplay of strings and brass as well as its polyrhythmic shifts simply take my breath – and mind – away. He truly is the benchmark for all things avant-garde.
Do you have a song that signifies liberation and release to you? And, if so, liberation from what?
Hundreds! For heartache and depression I always recommend early Jamaican rock steady: Alton Ellis, The Ethiopians, The Congos, Justin Hinds & the Dominoes – they will bring you back down to earth. And the same is true for deep soul. My current sure-fire emotional quick fix is Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum & Durr’s You Can’t Blame Me. Anyone still in pain after this track needs to see a real doctor.
What is your soundtrack for …
That’s never really the case – I’d be listening to see above.
All sorts of stuff. Right now, a lot of modern soul and, of course, afro music.
I tend to switch on Radio Funkhaus Europa, a Cologne-based broadcaster. They play plenty of multi-cultural stuff and don’t talk rubbish – just what I like.
Any tips or recommendations for up-and-coming artists in 2012?
Someone who truly bowled me over lately was DAPHNI, a house and techno producer (editor’s note: and the alter ego of Canadian producer Caribou). He manages to splice afro and tribal elements with straight-forward techno without any embarrassing clichés. And his tracks really pack a punch.
While your art is very distinct and highly recognisable, your DJing tends to be really experimental and feature ever new styles and genres. How come?
Well, I like variety. Music comes in countless of styles and facets. And I collect anything from avant-garde to reggae, disco and krautrock. While I enjoy playing "listening music" in bars, I also love to whip the dance floor crowd into a frenzy with a solid three to four hour club set. In art, I also adjust to the setting, but there is simply no way I can escape my own style and stroke. When I DJ, I spin the sounds of other artists, so there isn’t quite the same personal connection.
At the moment, most of your DJing in Berlin’s clubs tends to be of the Vulkandance/Africaine 808 variety. What is the concept behind this series and how does it link to Africa?
I have been collecting African music for as long as I can remember. It’s all rooted in my fascination with rhythm and percussion. When my parents asked me what instrument I would like to learn, I said drums – and got a shitty Bontempi organ instead. And this love of African music – in turn the birthplace and cradle of blues/jazz/funk and thus, in a way, the true foundation of modern popular music – prompted me to launch this event series. It was all about sharing the beauty of this music and introducing it to a wider audience.
While street art and music are a pretty good fit, outsiders might expect hip hop to provide the obvious missing link? Or is that just another cliché or myth?
Those are all media clichés. I am no street artist. And if I was one I would have to deny many other self-confessed street artists this particular label. Music and art go hand in hand – they only differ in their physical wave length. Every time I stage a Vulcandance event, I devise an elaborate design concept including customised booking, location and musical concept. To me, that’s what makes an event worthwhile. Visuals, music, guests and host should be in perfect harmony.
We should also mention one of your personal highlights: You often DJ and paint a picture simultaneously. What brought this idea about?
Well, it all started out as a gag at a solo show in a gallery in Sofia. While DJing for three-and-a-half days, I also painted a 2×4-metre image and cooked a two-course menu for 200 guests. The exhibition, entitled CREATION 2.0, was about reinventing the world. So, I tried to restage the creation myth in three-and-a-half days, i. e. half the time it took God to get it done.
So, what’s on your schedule for the future? Any events (parties, exhibitions) in the planning or places where we could catch you in action as an artist or DJ?
Right now, some friends from London and I are planning a Vulkandance special sometime around the Olympics in London. Tonight, I am DJing at a Berlinale party, then, on the 18th of February, I am off to Paris to attend the opening of a Berlin exhibition featuring one of my installations.