Nightmares on Wax is an institution, albeit a delightfully different one. The man behind the moniker, George Evelyn, just keeps reinventing, not in a wilful Bowie way, but flowing along, going at whatever speed he fancies to wherever his ideas carry him. For the last seven years he’s lived in an Ibizan farmhouse and, while he’s Warp Records’ longest serving artist – ‘the granddaddy,’ as he puts it – he overwhelmingly focuses on his current projects, letting them revitalize his music.
Perhaps best known in Europe for his ground-breaking ’90s albums ‘Smokers Delight’ and ‘Carboot Soul’ – although in America the cinematic lo-funk of 2006’s ‘In A Space Outta Sound’ is better known – Evelyn’s pride and joy these days is his four year old underground party on the white island. Wax Da Jam at Las Dalias, Ibiza’s oldest nightclub, 50 this summer, has become a go-to haunt for locals, for promoters and insiders, the place where George explains, ‘Everyone turns up as individuals but everybody leaves as one.’ Here he soundtracks a night of groove, experimentation, percussion and improvisation, alongside guests such as DJ Shadow and Roots Manuva. It’s all fun, though, all for kicks. It’s all about ‘Feelin’ Good’, hence the name of his new album.
If that sounds a bit hippy dippy, forget it, ‘Feelin’ Good’ is zesty with funk, soul, even the throbbing low slung house tune ‘Tapestry’. Of the latter he says, ‘House was always about fun to me. There was a period when it didn’t sound like it was made by people who could dance but now it feels like the groove is back.’
He should know, he was there at the start, delivering those seismic 1989/90 bleep classics ‘Dextrous’ and ‘Aftermath’, but it was his KLF-influenced, five-years-in-the-making dissection of hip hop to its stoned component parts, ‘Smokers Delight’, that proved he was about more than the dancefloor. He followed this with 1999’s ‘Carboot Soul’, ten tracks that had a more organic funk feel.
Both albums, in fact all George’s recording career, alongside his contemporary Balearic vision, filter into the genial bounce and contagiousness of his seventh studio outing. ‘Masterplan’ is bracing trip hop soul featuring Californian folk singer Katy Gray, ‘Now Is The Time’ is a squidgy funk assault that George reckons is marinated in Wax Da Jam flavour, ‘Give Thx’ bleeds ’70s Motown vibes, ‘Eye (Can’t See)’is a gripping, glitched, Latin groove, the latter pair both featuring ex-Zero 7 singer Moses, while ‘Om Sweet H(om)e’ finds M People percussionist Shovel and George himself revving up to the sounds of chanting Tibetan monks.
It’s an album that’s sonically rich, with orchestration and strings created in Berlin by Jazzanova arranger Sebastian Studnitzky, keyboard by George’s long-term collaborator Robin Taylor-Firth, drums by virtuoso German jazzer Wolfgang Haffner and bass by Paul Powell, who used to be at the heart of Mica Paris’s rhythm section.
Ah yes, the bass, that’s where it all started for George Evelyn. Raised in Leeds’ inner-city (Hyde Park, Burley), the son of a bingo hall accountant mum and engineer dad, a childhood friend’s older brother was don of the local Messiah sound system. George embraced dub and reggae from nine years old. The first artist he became a fan of was dub remixer Scientist – ‘It wasn’t just the music, it was the cartoon sleeves,’ he laughs, ‘I was nine years old, after all!’ Picking up his father’s appreciation of everything from Duke Ellington to Isaac Hayes to Shalamar, he also built his own home system from shoeboxes and discarded speaker units purloined from a nearby television factory, all attached to a Fidelity record player.
‘I come from the city but sunshine is in my music,’ he explains, ‘It was always a natural dream to make music in the sun like I do now. Not to take away from any of my previous music but ‘Feelin’ Good’ is what I’ve always been trying to do. For instance, on ‘Give Thx’ I wanted the message to be a universal thank you for everything. I wanted to get it across in a way that was happy but wasn’t preachy, wasn’t cheesy. I had to manifest it, to genuinely mean it with energy. That’s how I went through the process of making the whole album, really feeling it.’
As well as working with Warp, George had his own label for five years, Wax On, but he ceased involvement in 2010 to concentrate on his increasingly popular Wax Da Jam nights, which grew out of his Wax Da Beach parties in San Antonio Bay.
‘It’s been pivotal to my music making,’ he says, ‘and also made me think about the new concept of my live show. I’ve done the full band thing and the sound system thing and now I really want to marry the two and to do so with a real live percussive edge.’
With tours coming this Autumn, Europe and the US will be able to see these ideas come to fruition. In the meantime, there are the ten tracks of ‘Feelin’ Good’, the same number as ‘Carboot Soul’, a good omen according to George, a man positively overflowing with good omens.
‘The album initially had many possible names,’ he ventures, ‘But I got on the mic at Wax Da Jam and talked about how music shifted the energy to make people feel good. It’s everbody’s sovereign right to feel good, so I want the album to remind people of that, a soundscape to feeling good, that’s my aim.’
Setting his sights high, as ever, with a cheery, unpretentious sincerity, George Evelyn continues to carry the original flame of acid house and late ’80s Balearica, pushing it alive’n’kicking into 2013. His new album will surprise many, as bubbly, warm and lively a thing as will be heard all year. Nightmares on Wax are back. Then again, like the underground itself, they never really went away.