For our sixth installment of InTheLab, our guest is well known to New York and the international music scene in general. Nearing 20 years already, he gained his roots on the influential WNUR89.3FM Streetbeat Radio, and also launched the careers of many of his peers in the process. Presently he's associated with well-known promoters such as Listed and Cityfox, where he is a resident, and also has recently made some incredible releases on labels such as Chapter 24. Moreover, Naveen is John Digweed’s top pick as his opener whenever he comes to New York, and last year had his debut on Digweed’s world renowned Transitions. With such considerable experience, it’s no surprise that he’s opened for many of the top DJs in the music scene today, including Ame, Dixon, Tale of Us, Mano Le Tough, to name just a few.
You seem to try to find a unique balance of performing as a DJ in the classical sense, at clubs, etc., but you also make an effort to perform and curate unique musical events - one that comes to mind is Concept SF, where discussion, sitting, etc. is encouraged. What were your thoughts on this, and events with different ideas behind what a DJ experience is in general?
Concept SF was a really unique opportunity in that the goal was to challenge the idea that DJs in clubs play only dance music. There is such a wide rich world of music that is electronic and not necessarily dance music that doesn’t get nearly as much as exposure and I felt it was a great opportunity to wrap all these unexplored artists and their work into a soundtrack of sorts, presenting a narrative arc and present it to an audience in the context of a solid club sound system. Most were tunes that you would just never get to hear on a system of that size it really changed the experience of hearing those songs for me and for the people there. It was at once really challenging since you lack the usual feedback or cues from the crowd but also freeing in a way, as I felt I had the control of a room willing to wait for the longer payoff which allowed room for experimentation.
I take it that you’re a fan of hardware synths based on the impressive setup I’ve seen in your studio. What draws you to hardware, and what do you see as the benefits of hardware modular synths compared to using just software?
They’re all just tools, but the immediacy of knobs and tangible ways of interacting with sound creation just beats anything for me. It is a definite distraction at times from actual songwriting and does initially lend itself to more sound design, but it leads to way more happy accidents, and that’s a great feeling along with the fleeting nature of working with a setup that you can’t save in the same way as software. It forces me to commit to audio and move on, so it’s at once limiting and liberating.
What allows you to finally converge to a finished product?
It’s never really done. It just gets to a point where it’s done enough, and someone has to pry it from my hands to get it out there.
Lately you’ve done mostly remixes, in particular, you had a big release on Chapter 24 records. But we heard a great production of yours on your Transitions mix. When can we expect to have that come out?
I made that especially for that mix to fit head into a specific direction to which I needed to steer the mix. I’m not sure that it’ll fit with the stuff I'm working on now as I'm trying to go in a different direction, but we’ll see. Ideally, I'll come back around to finish some stuff similar to it so that it’ll make a cohesive EP but I'm extraordinarily slow in the studio so that's a long ways off.
You recently opened for these two Italian guys “telling stories about each other” - you seem to have been pleasantly surprised with that set and that your set struck a great balance between the darker techno style of Tale of Us and your more proggy sets associated with Digweed. How did you feel about that night overall, and how does it compare to when you open for John?
I’m a total polyglot when it comes to buying music, so I never have enough opportunities to fit all the music I'd like either into mixes, podcasts or DJ sets so getting to play with a variety of styles in these opening sets is perfect for me. With just a headliner after me, there’s room to explore tracks with more dynamics, ambient or beatless interludes, or somewhat atypical arrangements since people don’t walk in the door looking to blow it out as they know ToU has 5 hours to play or John has a full night ahead of him.
As for the different approach to each of them, I tailor what I play to their sound as best I can, as I like to keep the transition as seamless as possible. So that means trying to capture the Afterlife sound in my way before I hand it off to them. Or with John Digweed, it's a bit easier since I come from that similar background of a progressive sound without playing necessarily “progressive” records. It's a good amount of guesswork trying to figure out what vibe they are going for when they start but you do your homework, remain flexible, and these things eventually become easier to nail down. And it's something I take great pride in, as it is an underrecognized aspect of the art as so many nights become about quantity of DJs rather than quality of the sets.
Here's two and half hours of Naveen G's opening set for John Digweed at Output's NYE 2017 party: