After nearly 20 years out of the limelight, this giant of the rave era is back once again...
Let's be brutally honest... there's a very good chance you've never heard of DJ Nipper, particularly if you A) weren't going out raving during the early 90s, or B) weren't based in the north of England. But if you were, then you'll know just how excited we are to have bagged this exclusive interview for iDJ.
Because whether you were there or not, if you think back to those days, if you name the DJs that were big back then, you'll be thinking of people like Sasha, Graeme Park, Fabio & Grooverider or Carl Cox. Well, trust me when I say that, to those of us raving up north at least, Nipper and his unofficial partner-in-crime Moggy were easily on a level with those names... and then, suddenly, you never heard of them again.
Sure, Nipper - real name Paul Fitzpatrick - had managed to rack up a couple of releases on a then-fledgling Sheffield label called Warp Records under his Kid Unknown alias before disappearing, but that was seemingly that. Until very recently, when we got a Twitter notification saying "DJ Nipper is following you". It surely couldn't be... could it? Yes, it was!
Following the trail of digital crumbs, we discovered that the DJ whose radio shows (on third- or fourth-generation C90 copies) soundtracked so many messy 'back to mine' sessions in those heady Manchester days of 91/92 is now back in the game, dropping a series of re-edits and original productions via his website and Soundcloud. We also learned, much to our surprise, that he was one of the men behind late 90s trance label LCD Records.
Clearly, we didn't have the whole story. And there was only one way to rectify that... ask the man himself!
Let's start with the obvious. Back in the day, for us ravers in the northwest at least, Nipper and Moggy were right up there. Then you just seemed to disappear...
"The reason I vanished in 1993 was because I suffer badly from bipolar disorder, and at the time I was self-medicating with drug abuse that in the end got too much for me. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to realise this, so I sold up to go travelling in southeast Asia for a year to get my health and head back together. "
... though you did manage to be one of the first 20 artists to release a record on Warp, which is pretty cool! Are those Kid Unknown records something you're particularly proud of?
"I'm very proud of the fact they came out on Warp Records, which was my favourite label at that time. In Muzik magazine's Classic Hardcore chart, Devastating Beat Creator was number three. Which was nice."
There was also a spell running the trance label LCD Records in the late 90s. That was quite short-lived, though - what's the story there?
"LCD Records was a label set up by Ian Bland (Dream Frequency, Dancing Divas etc) and myself in 1999, so we could release more commercial-sounding hard house and trance, which was the big sound at the time. All of LCD's nine releases were me and Blandy under different pseudonyms. Red - Heaven & Earth [Dejure Vocal Mix] featured vocals by Kim Marsh before she went on to become famous in Hear'Say and Coronation Street!"
Rewinding a bit, you used to have a residency at Thunderdome in north Manchester, which I keep reading now was "dodgy as fuck". Living southside, I never went - was it really that bad?
"I didn't actually have a residency at the Thunderdome, but I played there a couple of times with Steve Williams due to the fact I was resident at The Man Alive on the other side of Manchester.
"As for it being rough... I grew up on a council estate in Little Hulton, a suburb on the edge of Salford, and once you hit 18 you started going out in places like Swinton, Walkden, Eccles, Bolton etc. You'd always stumble on other crews and more often than not it would kick off. So yes, Thunderdome was probably dodgy to other people, but to us and other lads who grew up in Manchester it was just normal!
"In August, while I was back in the UK DJing, I did an interview for a independent documentary that's being made, focusing on the Manchester scene in the late 80s/early 90s that wasn't associated with The Haçienda. The Haç always takes the accolades but it was really only part of what was happening in Manchester at that time."
You also played regularly at Bowlers, a spot that seems to have acquired almost mythical status in people's memories! In fact you played pretty much all of the famous venues of that era - Shellys, Eclipse, Quadrant Park etc - as well as many of the big megaraves. What were your favourites - and which are you glad you never have to go back to again?
1. The Man Alive, Manchester
My first residency, with Fizz and Eric Powell, was at this small, dirty, underground Jamaican club. Very dodgy and not a club you entered without knowing someone in there, but it had a wicked atmosphere and tunes. It was small, dark, sweaty and intimate, with a low ceiling and a wicked soundsystem. How I like my clubs!
2. The Eclipse, Coventry
I loved driving down to DJ at this night because the atmosphere was so special. It was a big venue that was always packed, with an electric atmosphere, the best DJs of that time from the north and south, and it went on all night.
3. Quadrant Park, Liverpool
The Quad All-Nighter with 3,000 people was a truly amazing experience to DJ at. I can remember dropping FPI Project - Everybody (All Over The World) with 3,000 people throwing their arms towards the DJ box! The only problem was that it was in Liverpool, so none of my mates would come with me in case they got taxed, and I always ended up going on me own. Suits you sir!
4. The Orbit, Morley, Leeds
Techno sanctuary whose resident DJ was my boss from Eastern Bloc Records, the great John Berry.
5. The Kitchen, Manchester
Filthy, naughty, dark, decadent, hedonistic, illegal! The Kitchen was two flats in the Hulme crescents knocked into one underground party that attracted Manchester's best DJs, partygoers and nutters. For those that knew it was an iconic club at the time.
"Ones I'm glad I never have to go back to...
1. The Haçienda, Manchester
I did a two-year residency at The Haçienda up until it was shut down in 1997, and watched its sad demise and decline due to gang trouble. There were some truly horrific incidents that I witnessed.
2. Any Sharon & Tracy club that tried to jump on the house music bandwagon and that I was unlucky enough to have DJ'd at!
3. I've had too many bad experiences in China. Then I got me coat!"
Didn't you also have a show on [legendary Manchester pirate station] Sunset around that time as well, or did I dream that?
"The show on Sunset was actually The Spinmasters, AKA Darren and Andy from 808 State, but I appeared on it many times cos we're good mates - I was the tour DJ for 808 State in 1990 so we spent a lot of time together. I was actually on another Manchester radio show that ran every Wednesday on Key 103, David Dunne's Isometric Dance Show, where I would do a 30-minute live mix."
There's a tape I've had for years - 'Nipper at Wigan Pier 1991'. What surprised me, listening back now, is that as well as hardcore it's got plenty of house-y bits, and early hints of prog. You also started out DJing hip-hop and electro, so do you think you got unfairly labelled with the rave/hardcore tag?
"I hate tags or having to conform. When I first started DJing there were no restrictions: I played whatever I wanted, from hip-hop, funk and soul to techno and piano house. Nobody cared as long as it all worked and they had a great night. So the rave/hardcore tag is something I pay no attention to - I'm a DJ that plays music I like."
On that note, I've never seen your name crop up on flyers for 'back to '91' nights and suchlike. Was that a deliberate decision to move on, or were you just not around?
"I do a certain amount of old skool gigs each year, but I turn many down, simply because it was beginning to drive me and Ted bananas. I wanted to get away from always spinning old skool, so I got my coat and left the UK."
You're based in Hong Kong these days - how long have you been there, and what took you there in the first place?
"In 2000, I was with Blandy in his studio one day when I read an article about a new digital format called MP3. We didn't take much notice, but eight months later vinyl sales started plummeting and I was made bankrupt. I lost my house, my studio, my car - everything, basically. It got that desperate I had to sell two-thirds of my record collection, which wasn't nice.
"I then lost heart in DJing and producing, so in 2001 I moved to Jersey for a year, working in the post room at HSBC. Then in 2002 I wanted an adventure, so I boarded a plane for China where I spent 1.5 years travelling the country on my own, working as an English teacher. It was madness! Eventually I had to get out of China after having all my possessions stolen, so I moved to Hong Kong where a few of my mates from Manchester were living.
"I returned to the UK in 2006 to study for my coaching certificates in football, basketball, badminton and sports for special needs, which I passed, then I came back to Hong Kong to work as a sports coach with Ron Manager, jumpers for goal posts, marvellous..."
THE REBIRTH OF A LEGEND
What was the impetus behind your return to music-making in the past couple of years?
"I've battled with drug addiction, alcoholism and bipolar since I was a teenager. At the height of my DJing career in the early 1990s I tried to commit suicide several times, ending up in hospital, which culminated in me becoming seriously ill and being told I had six months to live because my liver and kidney were going to shut down. I took heed and in 1993 I sold up and left the UK.
"About 10 years ago, I got back into DJing in Hong Kong, but with it came more drug abuse and alcohol. Each year it was getting worse: family and close friends tried desperately but in vain to help me, as I embarked on a mission to try and kill myself, brought on by my bipolar and the sadness from my dysfunctional childhood. Then on 17 February 2013, I awoke on a bench after a four-day bender. I was at rock bottom, and for the first time I realised it. The next day I went to AA and CA [Alcoholics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous] and I've been clean and sober ever since.
"Being clean and sober has changed my life for the better, giving me the power to gain control over my bipolar with the help of medication and the support and guidance of my Mum, who I put through absolute hell. This in turn has given me the desire and drive to once again try to do what I feel most passionate about - my DJing and music production."
What's in your studio these days?
"I have two Technics 1210s and the incredible Pioneer DJM S9 mixer, in conjunction with Serato and vinyl. I use Logic Pro as my main DAW but also use Ableton which is great for time-stretching, doing re-edits and getting ideas together quickly.
"For all my beatmaking I use Maschine 2 Studio. My favourite plugins are the Arturia V Collection, Native Instruments Massive and FM8, Rob Papen's SubBoomBass, Slate Digital VCC & VBC, Fab Filter, a packet of wine gums, a couple of Wagon Wheels and WAVES."
The music industry, dance music landscape and club scene have all changed massively. As you return to the scene, what are the main changes you've noticed - for better or for worse?
"The main thing for me is the amazing technological advances from analogue to digital. We now have Serato and Traktor, with Serato being my weapon of choice. I can do some many creative things with this DJ set-up that you can't do with simply vinyl alone.
"I know there are all the vinyl purists who claim it's not the same as DJing with vinyl and it's cheating, but technology advances and so will DJing. It's a natural and inevitable progression. But if you're a talented DJ you should be able to DJ on pots and pans as long as you can mix music and make people happy.
"The negative side to all this, in my opinion, is that to DJ with purely vinyl is a limited medium and is thus a uniquely skilled art form, whereas the digital platforms of Serato and Traktor have made the art form of DJing more simplistic. That's made it accessible to many talentless DJs (if I can call them that) who have greatly brought the standard of DJing down.
"These days DJs focus more on marketing and looking good than on the actual skills or talent. Maybe in a few years it will revert back to the skill and talent aspect, or then again, something entirely different might come along, like reel-to-reel telepathic digilogue mindmixing using the new DJ Serato Google goggles. Which will be nice!"
You were known more as DJ than a producer, back when being 'just' a DJ was still allowed! Do you think we've lost something, today, by insisting that everyone has to be a jack of all trades?
"It's progression, which I embrace. It's dance music evolving and surviving. Back in the 1990s, DJs wanted to produce music because that was where the money was, whereas now everybody wants to be a DJ because *that's where all the money is now that the internet, MP3s and file sharing have made it much harder to make money as an artist or record label. So being a jack of all trades is now a necessity."
Your new material covers quite a range of styles across the soul-funk-hip-hop-electro spectrum. Is it possible these days to be so eclectic and still find an audience, do you think?
"As I said, I don't like tags or conforming so when I go into the studio I write and produce what I feel like. It's really dependent on what mood I am in, although my preference is definitely for J Dilla, Madlib and 9th Wonder-inspired tracks.
...or is 'finding an audience' even an issue these days? Would you like to ascend the giddy heights again or is it more about doing it for the love of the music now?
"Oh! I'm scared of heights. Social media has completely changed how the music industry works now. You get these disposable songs gaining popularity because a dance associated with them has gone viral on YouTube. I would simply like to be respected and appreciated for my DJ and production talents while earning enough to live a contented lifestyle."
What current artists or labels have you been digging lately?
"Artists I'm feeling right now include Akkord, Guy Andrews, Soft As Snow, Detboi, Markus Intalex, Kaytranada, Mall Grab, Dam Funk, Homeboy Sandman, Tessela, Marquis Hawkes, Marcelus, Alan Fitzpatrick, J Rocc, Chrome Canyon and Bunty Beats.
"A few labels I'm into right now... Stones Throw, Houndstooth, Thud Rumble, Jamla Records, Drumcode, Unknown To The Unknown, Cheap Thrills, Suits You Sir!"
Any plans to make faster beats again? Did I hear there were some rave re-edits coming up?
"There are some more house, techno and breaks tracks in the pipeline for 2017. I've been uploading lots of edits and remixes of classic old skool tunes on my Soundcloud page over the last two years. That's been getting a bit of attention so I've teamed up with a social media guru, Kathryn Smith, who's helping me launch DJ Nipper Old Skool in November, which will focus solely on my old skool house edits and remixes as well as trying to build up a small old skool DJ hub/community."
Are you getting back out there as a DJ as well, or is it all studio work these days? And what releases and/or gigs have you got coming up that iDJ readers need to know about?
"Above all my DJing/turntablism comes first, and is definitely my main focus with my hip-hop/beats productions. DJs like Qbert, Craze, Vekked, Shortkut, D Styles, Melo D, Shmix, JFB and Jon 1st are what I buzz off when I jump on my decks to practise. I have a new house EP coming out on Substance Records at the beginning of November called U Wanna Freak, with more to come. And then I will be launching my own hip-hop label called No Fakerz Records, with an album to come.
"I'm also Music Director for a new bar and club my good friend Cathal Kiely is opening here in Hong Kong called Halcyon. It'll be dedicated to classic old school hip-hop and house, with a chic urban design and a Funktion One soundsystem."
And finally... whatever happened to Moggy?
"I last saw Moggy at an old skool gig in Wigan in 1999. He's a very talented DJ, and a lovely guy with a wicked sense of humour. He has a great taste in music too. Which is nice!
"By the way, I've been watching lots of The Fast Show recently, so apologies for the many references! And finally, I'd like to give a huge thank you my Mum who's always stuck by me, my son Conor and my very special Cassie Danielle."
Words: Russell Deeks
The U Wanna Freak EP by DJ Nipper is out now on Substance Records, and available on Traxsource