Since leaving school in the mid 90s Andrew Ferguson has known no other career than music: from his years of contributions to drum & bass as Outrage (known previously as Rage) to his more recent activities as freestyle genreless bass conjurer Nomine, he has immersed himself in beats far beyond the point of no return.
Like any extensive creative career, it’s not always been plain sailing. In fact, it seldom has; not just in terms of the constant challenges the industry imposes on those who are driven to pursue uncompromised, underground creativity but also because Andrew suffers chronic anxiety… Something that he’s learnt to use as a positive forced to achieve his ambitions.
I’m not sure I’d do half the things I’d do without the anxiety. It’s a weird vicious circle – I’ll get anxious because I’m not busy enough then take on things to the point I’m anxious because I’ve got a to-do list as long as my arm
Fine-channelling his anxiety into a hype-efficient productive signature, the last few years Andrew has released more music than ever before (including last year’s album Inside Nomine on Tempa), he’s successfully achieved a masters degree (having left school with no qualifications) and has become a university lecturer and qualified teacher.
Not content with teaching within standard institutions, he’s also taking his knowledge to the club with Education & Bass, a monthly event that comprises seminars with soundclashes and serious rave-ups where fans and producers of all levels and unite and learn, share tips and help each other progress. Currently based in Café 1001, Shoreditch, he’s currently arranging an Education & Bass world tour.
This is only one aspect of his activities: this year has also seen him release a label (Nomine Sound), launch a podcast series and re-release his and Digital’s timeless jungle album from 2009 Red Letter. Currently working on a three-hour jungle/drum & bass video tutorial series and creating his first ever sample packs, we caught a rare moment of his time….
You seem to have a lot going on.
It’s crazy. I take on more every day. I feel I have to be so full on all the time or I don’t feel like I’m doing anything. I suffer from chronic anxiety and I think that’s part of it in a way – it makes things struggle but I try to channel as much of it as possible into a form of motivation. I’m not sure I’d do half the things I’d do without the anxiety. It’s a weird vicious circle – I’ll get anxious because I’m not busy enough then take on things to the point I’m anxious because I’ve got a to-do list as long as my arm.
How long have you experienced chronic anxiety and what do you do to tackle it?
It’s kinda been there forever in one form or another. I’ve consulted various doctors and therapists. Counselling, psychotherapy, on and off medication. With anxiety comes depression, too. But I’ve learnt to work with it and it’s been a driving force in my music career for 20 years.
There’s been a lot more discussion about it this year. Is it being dealt with properly now in the industry or do we have a way to go?
We’ve got a long way to go but at least we’re talking about it. I’ve had a lot of people thanking me for discussing it publicly – which I have been for years – because it’s made them realise they’re not alone and they can have goals and ambitions and work things around their condition. That is such a rewarding feeling. Sadly I think the creative arts and mental illness come hand in hand. Maybe humans and mental illness come hand in hand? We all get depressed and anxious in our lives, just some more than others and everyone deals with it differently.
You deal with it with busyness… This year especially – the label, the podcast, the Education & Bass sessions have all launched within the last six months. What came first?
I’m not sure – I have so many things going on all the time! It started with my album last year. It was an amazing experience but I’d decided during the whole album promotion process that I would set up my own label as I wasn’t completely happy being pigeonholed as just dubstep which I felt was happening. I make a lot of 140 music but I don’t want to be categorised in such a confining way. That was why I put my Outrage project on a backburner because I was confined to a very particular style of D&B. Nomine was always about doing any style I feel I want to try. So the label was the first thing for me this year – being able to do what I want, release what I want and just support great music.
How about the Education & Bass events?
Well that came about because I’m a lecturer at a university so when I was planning lessons I’d put some of the tips up on social media and people appreciated them. From that came the Education & Bass nights. It’s a deep subject and it made me realise that pretty much all of us making it now came in self-taught. None of us are business men, a lot of us stumbled into this by mistake.
How did you stumble into lecturing? Were you always academic?
I’m far from academic! I guess I am now because I’ve got some paperwork but I left school with no qualifications. By 16 I was touring Europe, by 19 I was touring America. I thought ‘yeah this is it I’m a superstar DJ I don’t need anything!’ For 15 years that’s what I did with occasional bouts in sales and marketing.
Anyway, I lived in Thailand for a while and was setting up a music school over there. We had a private investor and were about to build the school but the world economy crashed in 2008 and he pulled out. I came back to the UK after a year of writing a curriculum and building the school then after a few more years of touring I realised I had nothing besides the gigs I was hustling for. If you’re not DJing every weekend there’s not a lot of money so I wanted to sort something out as an investment for the future. It was actually Amit who suggested it as he’d done his masters the year before. I was like ‘mate, the last thing I wrote about was the Big Friendly Giant!’ but I applied and got onto a masters. It was the hardest thing in my life, with no previous qualifications and I was two percent away from a scholarship to a phd. It blew my mind. From that I dabbled with teaching and have developed the music tech foundation degree in Bedford. I also did a PGCE so I’m a qualified teacher as well.
And that’s before we get to the music you’ve released during that time!
The day I got signed to Tempa I got my first teaching job and I got accepted onto my masters – talk about anxiety overdrive! But musically I have to work fast – there’s no pissing around now. I don’t get stuck into the parties any more, I haven’t touched a drink in years. I only lived for the party before, more than the music, which was a shame. But it’s not new to be working in this way. When I was signed to Metalheadz I had a full time as well – more seems to happen when I have a structure and routine.
Detboi mentioned this too… When you have that structure and job safety you have freedom with your music and no pressure.
Totally agree. I was going to quit music in 2011. I hated the hustle, the back stabbing, the egos. So I set up Nomine – the first year of that was great because no one knew who I was. I didn’t have to live up to any expectations. The pressure of having to make money from your music can drive you crazy – it ruins a lot of good men. I say to my students that they should get their education, get a good job and just have fun with the music. They think I’m bursting their bubble but I’m being real and honest. I hate seeing these big superstars telling people to follow their dreams and not have a back-up plan. How irresponsible is that? Bollocks! Have a plan B. Especially at our level – you can be flavour of the month then suddenly have to sell your assets and move back in with your parents. I’ve seen it – guys in their 40s now. By all means have goals but have a good grounding and something to back up with.
Amen. Let’s talk about the label Nomine Sound then – are the artists students of yours?
No but I would never rule that out: if the music is good, the music is good! I just put out a request for new artists on Facebook and I listen to every demo and give feedback. I’m able to take risks too… I used to have a manager and agency and distro but I’ve taken it all on myself. So I manufacture everything myself, sell it on Bandcamp and deal direct with the record stores and can control everything. I can put out music I believe in – I think people play it safe because they have to, I don’t have to do that.
And I’m introducing new artists with productions of mine: On these initial releases I’m using half the space with my own productions and the other half with new artists so established fans of mine will pick up on the release and find these new guys as well. Hopefully they’ll like the new artist as much as my stuff or even more than my stuff?
Cocktail Party Effect has an interesting sound…
Yeah he came through on facebook. I speak to my followers a lot – they’re the guys who have supported me and I get better feedback from them than I do in the industry! So yeah I asked for demos, spoke to him and could hear the quality in his sounds straight away – he’s on R&S as Kasket.
On a techno tip?
Kinda but a bit more musical and future bass-esque tip. His Cocktail Party Effect is the counter to that – it’s all modular, just him jamming out and recording it. All very rough and exciting. He’s also in a band called Tomislav who sound a bit like Massive Attack, Portishead and I love their music… Hopefully next year I’ll be putting out their album.
Sounds like you’re ramping it up and up and up…
There’s a lot lined up. Myself and Digital are working on something together which is a mixture of 120/140/170 stuff. I’ve got some grime tracks coming with Macabre Unit. I’ve also got music from Sonar Circle from Reinforced who is coming out of retirement with a few tracks for the label. Plus drum & bass collaborations with both Amit and Appleblim, loads of solo stuff and remixes of Toddla T and Suns Of Dub. There’s no set release schedule… I just want to get it all out as soon as I can.
And the re-release of the Red Letter album!
This came about after I came back from Thailand and was completely broke. The artwork is the pile of red letters I came back home to. I was a sign of the times. I didn’t have a pot to piss in so we made an album. The problem was that it landed at the peak of minimal drum & bass. So everything was minimal and we were playing with breakbeats. No one was playing breakbeats at the time. It’s weird – it’s getting more support and interest now than it did seven years ago.
Digital’s the man isn’t he?
He fucking is mate. He was a massive mentor for me – he and Spirit tore drum & bass a new arsehole in the late 90s and split the scene in half. It was so inspiring and we’ve kept in touch since I met him at Music House in the late 90s.
Any chance of a Red Letter Two?
Without a doubt. Watch this space…
Red Letter is available on Function Records. Support
Education & Bass 6 @ Cafe 1001 : October 7 2016. Tickets