It all started with a knock on the door in the middle of the night - the pivotal moment that Nicky Valentino was exposed to acid house music as a child in the 90's. As the 21st century turned towards hip-hop and rap, Nicky explored the realms of underground dance music, experimented with turntable effects and DJed house parties. Along with playing multiple instruments, he has studied music for the past three decades, and watched in awe as electronic music gradually took over the airwaves.
With strong influences from his older brother, memorable experiences at music events all over the world, and by playing shows in the past few years in San Diego, Nicky shared his unique story with me, as well as his educated perspective on the future of dance music.
As told to by Molly Sinclair
It was New Year's Eve in 1997 when I heard a knock on my front door...
I was 12 years old at the time. I grew up in a small farm town in the Central Valley, essentially the middle of nowhere. My older brother who was in his twenties was a huge influence in me. He had moved up to Fresno, CA about an hour and a half north of me.
So, even though he had moved upstate with his kid, my older brother shows up at our house one night, knocking on our door.
My mom swung open the door. "What the hell are you doing here this late?" she asked him, perplexed.
My younger siblings and I were startled by the noise, so we peered towards the front door. My brother looked really wide-eyed, happy, a bit antsy.
"I just want to see my little brothers," he told my mom. "I just want to see my brothers and tell them I love them, and how much I appreciate them."
The night before, my brother had just gotten back from a Carl Cox show in San Francisco. It was an underground event, which I guess was in a mall. And they were all high on acid; they were doing the acid rave thing back then.
Anyhow, they decided to keep it going. So my brother was on a bender for two or three days, and had decided to drive down and just tell his little brothers he loved them. Of course, my siblings and I thought this was really funny, because we didn't know what was going on or that he was on drugs.
Up until that point, we pretty much had no experience with anything outside a little cotton field. There was no McDonalds, no 7-11, no nothing. Absolutely nothing.
We immediately ran to the door. My brother was standing there with CDs. "Hey Nick!" he exclaimed, and handed me the CDs. He knew I loved music; I was really really into hip hop. I was studying percussion, and listening to all different kinds of music, everything from Sade to Jermaine Dupri. But this was the first time that my brother had ever showed me anything outside that circle.
So he threw these CDs at me while my mom's yelling at him to leave. "Get the hell out of here!" she shouted. "It's 12 o clock at night, the boys are trying to sleep!"
I quickly grabbed the CDs and took them back to the room. One CD that stood out was called Mixed, Not Stirred, Vol 2, which I found out was by the acid house legend Terry Mullan.
That album changed my life. I couldn't believe how much could be explored with just a turntable. It was the first time I had heard true, genuine dance music. The way that Terry Mullan was doing it, he was scratching all over the place, playing Chicago ghetto house classics like "Work This Motherfucker" by DJ Deeon and DJ Puff, and all these classic, classic tracks like juke house and all these house labels from the 80's. The way he made it sound though, was like a spaceship or something! But in reality, he was hitting all these notes and doing crazy effects on the turntables.
I had only experienced that turntable style in hiphop. So when I heard someone playing it over what I found out later to be Acid House, I was really really amazed.
That's pretty much how I got into electronic music. I started discovering all the different elements of dance music, like house, disco, things like that. That all came later, but it was that CD, Mixed Not Stirred, Vol 2, that started it all. It was really odd... but at the same time, really satisfying.
Since I was young I played drums. I taught myself how to play piano and guitar. I didn't understand the concept of acid house until I was around eighteen years old. I was like, "You cant make those kinds of noises with that instrument, so what the hell is that?"
That bass line is actually created by a Roland synthesizer called a TB- 303. Ohhh... I finally realized. This is what that noise is. Because there's a certain noise to acid house, and it was all over that album. It just fascinated me.
My brother would bring me classic records - Frankie Knuckles, DJ Pierre, things like that. I would play records, and my mom would also play records on the record player. I remember listening to early, early, early Justin Martin and Claude VonStroke's "Deepthroat" circa 2005 on vinyl."
I didn't go to a big event until I joined the navy when I was eighteen, and went to MSTRKFRT in Virginia. It was awesome. I was really into rock music when I joined the Navy, metal and everything. My friend told me, "Come to this show with MSTRKRFT, it's electronic music with a rock n roll flair." And I was like, I gotta hear this! It blew my mind..
I kind of went with the waves sometimes. I think one of the most exciting periods in electronic music for me was around 2007 when Justice and Dim Mak were on fire, Crookers was banging shit out, Harvard Bass had just signed with Sound Pelligrino. That was a good ass time for me. I thought to myself, I might want to do this sometime, you know?
Early Days of DJing
I used to DJ at little houses, nothing major. My friends went to all this hardcore hip hop shows and I was playing these weird tracks, old Jodeci remixes and all that. Real groovy stuff, and this was during the days of DMX and Eminem and stuff.
Later on I started making music in 2010. I mixed everything; by default you had to be into hip-hop though, because everyone was into hip-hop back then, just like everyone is into EDM now. Back then, music used to be more like a family. It wasn't so aggressive how it is now, nothing was negative. It was like a family, having fun.
I see the music scene differently. I see what's happening to EDM, with how they created this umbrella term and bundle it with garage, other types of house music.
Honestly though, I think we are being victims of ghost producing, to tell you the truth. It's like Milli Vanilli. We're seeing huge business models with these DJ teams, with the Hardwells, the Aviciis, etc. That's just the way that I feel, I'm sorry. The reason I say that is because I recognize melodies, studying music my whole life. When I hear this crap, I'm like damn, it just makes me feel like some people aren't in it for the music. They just want to take pictures, sell Budweiser, get women, etc.
I guess you got more underground labels like Dirtybird carrying the flag, making some super dope stuff. I just don't like the EDM umbrella because most people in society don't understand what's going on in the business and that they're being victimized. It's very comparable to the way they marketed 80's rock bands, like Whitesnake and Poison. These musicians are going to pass and we're gonna look back and be like, that's what we supported back then? Naaa!
You got people on record like Maceo Plex, Julio Bashmore, saying Man, I produced this shit. I'm not a ghost writer anymore. Check out my catalog. You would be surprised how many people have written for the entire EDM community. You know how simple it is to create a bounce line? All you have to do is cut and paste now! There's no soul in it... there's no soul in it.
Its supposed to be something you feel. We're at a state where something needs me be done. It's like what Sinbad was saying... Sometimes you just gotta sit back and watch the fad die. So that's what I'm doing, sitting back and chilling.
The coolest show I went to was the White Vortex out in the desert. We were watching one of my buddies, Divinity, he played the absolute best DJ set I have ever heard in my fucking life. I have never seen a better DJ be able to capture the moment at that perfect time. It was like a burner rave, a campout. He was dropping jazz, motown, new wave burner bass, it was incredible.
I've been to a lot of shows. I've been to Palma De Mallorca in Spain. I've seen Steve Aoki kill it at Identity festival. I've seen DJ Sneak play undergrounds, I've been to a lot of places. But that little ass set was crazy.
The future of dance music? There's these kids who created Jersey Club, like DJ Sliink, DJ Rell, a bunch of 'em, and it's going to go back to the underground. Think think of dubstep, think of house, techno. It's like they combined 4 decades into one type of music. There's big influences from ghetto house pioneers. It's finally coming to fruition and they're getting big money. It's international, on Ultra Records, BBC radio 1 remixes. Its unique though, they sample old school hip hop and combine it with 140 BPM. They are on top of it. Its' gonna hit us like a goddamn earthquake.
Nowadays, I'm going to school for music. I'll be going to San Diego State in January for the Recording Arts and Technology music program there. This is what I've been fighting for my whole life.
A lot of people can say different things, but I think music is about talking through instruments, and it's the best thing in the world.
That's the point - having a message, having something to say, taking you through a journey with music.
What are your thoughts on Nicky Valentino's story or perspective on the music scene? Let us know in the comments below.
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