Balkans contemporary culture guide

Into the World Of The Infamous Player: Interview with Jon Nuccle

Jon Nuccle is one of the pioneers of the underground techno scene, coming from the early 90s with roots from Leeds in the UK. As a resident of the groundbreaking Microdot club, the first club to play techno exclusively in the UK him alongside Mike Humphrey kick-started the label Player (then becoming Infamous Player) and later on Red Seal Records.

Read about his very starts in techno and producing, stories connected with the name change of the label and a glimpse of the music industry while at it, opinions about the scene today, what’s wrong and what’s right. Also more about Krimewave, his hip-hop project and tunes that he plays and likes lately.

So, tell me first a very brief introduction about you, who are you Jon?
Me? I’m just an everyday music lover who got lucky. An existentialist and annoyer of neighbours.

You still annoy them? What was the first style of music you got into, and from a listener, how did you evolve into the music making side of things?
Nah. I ain’t got no neighbours any more and for that I feel like the luckiest man in the world. Especially at a time like this. My first music love was Hard Rock.
AC/DC, Motorhead, Black Sabbath and suchlike. That led me into Punk music, which was what led me into having a go at making music myself and I was lucky enough to be introduced to Crass as a young teenager and their DIY ethic struck a chord with me.
My parents weren’t rich, but could afford to buy me an electric guitar, so I formed a band with some school friends and went from there. We were really really shit, but I just kept at it until eventually people started to take me seriously.

I wasn’t the best player, so when Acid House music came along, it was the perfect vehicle for someone like me to start to express myself coherently. I begged, borrowed and stole enough equipment to start making my own trax. From there I eventually hooked up with Mike Humphries who was doing a similar thing, so we set a studio up in the cellar of a house we were squatting in Leeds at the time. That’s when we began annoying the neighbours.

We sent a demo to Frank De Wulf, some trax we’d done with a fella called Brandon Spivey. Frank released it, which gave us the impetus to go on and do it full time.

Jon Nuccle pictured at Microdot West Indian Centre 1991

I found out about the Player records through a friend who has an almost complete collection. To me the mysterious aspect was very interesting, and the thing that each record was banging and groovy – a very distinct signature sound. But since the records aren’t credited, I was left in a bit of an awe. Is the Infamous Player your moniker you use when releasing for the Player label, or I got it wrong? Can you tell me more about that, and how did the idea came to start the label?

Long story how Player came about… A friend of ours, Kev Walsh had persuaded our local Techno club, The Orbit, to invest in a studio on the top floor of the club. And run a label for them. Radius Records. We helped run and contributed to Radius, but it soon dissipated unfortunately.
Mikey and I were still working in the studio, producing trax for our Red Seal label, and had been given a monthly residency at the club, sometimes playing live, sometimes DJing.
One of their long term weekly residents, Mark Turner had just lost the premises to his own studio, so the club’s management suggested he set up there with us.

Mark and I had a shared love of Hip Hop music and the three of us were all Techno crazy, so we came up with the idea of trying to fuse these elements to try and come up with a new sound. The Orbit were looking to have a new label to represent the club and liked our idea of taking things back to a time when the music was more important than the names and faces behind it. So, we came up with the concept of having no artist or track details on the records. And not cashing in on the club’s name to promote it, just letting the trax speak for themselves. It was also a reaction against Techno getting too purist at the time, and the same old ideas being repeated, so we fused elements of other genres to create the label’s sound.

Friends of ours, Ignition Technician, also got involved. We gave them the sample library we’d built up over the years, and so a collective was formed.

The name Infamous Player came about when a local house label trademarked our name “Player Records” even though we’d been using it for some time before them.
They stole it and sent us a cease and desist notice. I was a big fan of the hip-hop group Mobb Deep at the time. They used to put the prefix “Infamous” in front of their name, so, we trademarked “Infamous Player” to get around the cease and desist notice. That way, people would still refer to us as “Player”, but we’d be “the Infamous Player”. It worked exactly as planned. Dunno what happened to the house label that stole our name. Who cares tho? Fuck em, hahaha.

The label has existed since around 1999, if I am right. How much artists have been released under the Infamous Player moniker? And what is the status of the label today?
Yeah, around 99 I think. Off the top of my head, I’d say about 7 or 8 people contributed in all, but the bulk of it coming from just 2 or 3 of us. If you count folks who’ve remixed for us and suchlike, it’s a lot more of course. Over the years, people started to go their own separate ways, one or two at a time, so for the past 7 or 8 years it’s been just me. Most of that time though I haven’t been writing or releasing Techno. Just the occasional track or remix for someone else. I had some hip-hop projects I wanted to concentrate on and did the family thing too. Started releasing again last year and decided to start releasing in the more traditional way of having track and artist names, etc.

Also, have started releasing stuff from other artists. Recently released an EP from The Divide and that’s the first time Player has put something out by another artist with their own moniker. The anoymous thing seemed more relevant to a time when we were a collective. I’m now in a position when I can do everything myself through Bandcamp without going through middlemen, brokers, mp3 sites, etc.

Your hip-hop project is Krimewave. What are the plans for that? And your biggest hip-hop influences for both creating your mastery and while listening at home? Also while at it, last rap concert you’ve been that surprised you in a positive way?

Krimewave has a lot in the pipeline. Been working with close Wu Tang affiliate Timbo King for quite a while now. We were supposed to drop an album a few years ago, but all kindsa shit got it the way, so it’s been coming out as singles in the meantime, while I bring the project up to date. Luckily the trax still sound fresh, mostly because Timbo’s lyrics and flow are timeless.

The album is still coming out, but it’s very different to what it originally was, beats wise. Also working on an album with Grim Moses who’s an underground legend in his own right. And prolific as fuck. Major influences are obviously Wu Tang, Public Enemy, Mobb Deep, Gangstarr… all that east coast boom bap, but also more experimental dudes like El P, and even more mainstream acts like Clipse, Neptunes, etc.

Last Hip Hop show that surprised me positively?

That’ll be a long time ago unfortunately. Probably Clipse or De La Soul. Clipse were just straight up no bullshit beats and rhymes delivered with venom. De La Soul were a surprise because they came hard as hell and I’d never thought of them in that way, but Clipse have impressed me most of the two. No hype man on stage. No bullshit getting the crowd to sing half their lyrics or getting loads of girls on stage.

All about the real thing: the lyrics and rhymes, I guess. Its a long time since I’ve been to a rap show like that… What do you think about the way hip-hop culture went with trap? Overall of course, and do you like anything from that style? Perhaps not the completely mainstream shit, but still very well known acts like Travis Scott and alike…

I like the occasional trap track. I like the way they use 808 kicks and such. Not such a fan of the rap style but it works on occasion. I like the “fuck you, we do what we want” attitude, but I still prefer the boom bap though, or new sounding shit like Tribe Called Red. There’s so many interesting developments now, especially with mainstream acts like Gorillaz embracing the culture.

I like Grime more than Trap.

I must admit that I know the Quest, but not Red. I will check it for sure tho.

Yeah, red ain’t purist Hip Hop, but some of its defo worth checking out. I’m back to listening to real grimy underground shit again. Twin Perils, Grim Moses, Westside Gun, etc. Recently discovered a dude called Bob Vylan from the UK. Punk, grime and hip-hop fusion. His shit has made me rethink my approach to making beats.

Reminds me of Slowthai’s Doorman track, the first one I discovered that could be described that it had used the punk elements correctly, in the style of delivery. Bob Vylan sounds sick! Similar approach, but much more refined and precise in the punk ethics.

Yeah, defo. And yeah, Slowthai is the real shit. Really pleased to see him getting some attention after the work he’s put in. Hopefully Gorillaz will pick up on both these dudes hahaha…

A little bit back to the electronic part, if I may…
Of course, that’s what we’re here to talk about.

Do you think those techno purists you’ve mentioned before were an inspiration to use the anonymous method for the Players are existing today in other ways or forms? What do you think are the worst side of techno, coming from the artists and the audience themselves, and of course, the industry?
Yeah, most definitely. I’m not slagging off producers who stick to their guns regardless of trends, but there’s just too many artists who seem happy to sound the same as their peers. The worst side of techno? Probably the artists I just mentioned. Happy to play the game by the rules rather than express their individuality and also the need to put the DJ as a focal point in front of the crowd which has led to a lot of DJs doing the pretend twiddling of knobs that’s so prevalent right now.

Yeah, that “worm in the ass” thing is so cringy to me…
Most definitely, but it’s a result of the way the scene has gone.

I like the idea of a DJ in the booth and the crowd reacting purely to the beats from the system. DJs feel they need to look like they’re doing something because they’re under the spotlight.

Well Jon, one more question and I think I’m not gonna bother you more. I wanted to know, you being both, which one do you enjoy more? The DJ part or crafting music as a producer? Or can’t compare?
Good question. I love making beats and feel more comfortable in that scenario, but you can’t beat the buzz of getting a reaction from a crowd, especially when it comes from something you haven’t planned or rehearsed to any degree. Seeing and hearing your own music in it’s natural environment, enjoying the fruits of your labour. I also buzz off meeting new people, especially like minded people. Made a lot of good friends through doing this over the years, and that mostly comes from playing out.

I’ve been moving more towards live sets recently rather than DJing though, playing less and less of other people’s music, but using loops and shit mixed with my own shit to create something new for the club environment. Stuff I can’t release as records, but works in the club. Hopefully people will enjoy that when I next get out to play.

Thank you for these in-depth words about yourself and the Player side, I truly hope that we’ll have a chance to bring you in the Balkans for a live set once this virus situation ends.
Yeah man, me too, that’d be great.

People here have spent lots of years in wars and stupid political shit, that they’re wild now and full of raw energy! I think you’ll like it.
No doubt. People coming through struggle deserve that release of tension.

Andrijan Apostoloski

Founder of frekvencii and self-proclaimed professional non-professional gonzo journalist of techno. Imagine that.