Posted June 30, 2014 by Jeff in Tunes

Nightmares on Wax: Trip-hop before trip-hop was cool

Nightmares on Wax
Nightmares on Wax

The Nightmares on Wax story is one that spans decades and genres. For 25 years now, George Evelyn, a former B-boy turned DJ and producer, has toured and recorded under the moniker Nightmares on Wax. The guy was producing trip-hop beats before it was cool to produce trip-hop beats. To celebrate the quarter century mark, he’s just issued N.O.W. Is The Time, a two-disc “best of” release featuring the greatest hits. He’s also put out the special edition box set Deep Down: Remixes & Rarities which features unreleased material, new and classic remixes, and a book of memorabilia and interviews. And you can hear him tell his life story in the short N.O.W. Is The Time Documentary. Currently on his largest U.S. tour to date, Eveyln phoned us form the Grand Canyon, where had stopped after a date in Phoenix.

The current tour celebrates your 25th year in the music business. What was it that initially got you started?
I had friends at school who were into music and had boom boxes. I was fascinated with electronics. I remember one particular afternoon going to a classroom where there was an electronic drum machine we could use. Basically, I was fascinated by a thing with big speaker boxes. I was like a scientist, exploring all the manuals. That was my first recollection of being slightly fanatical about anything. That was around 1978 or ‘79, something like that.

Early on, you were a breakdance champion?
Yeah, that was with the local breakdancing crew. We used to compete all over my region, which is Yorkshire. That’s how I met my original partner, Kevin Harper. He was the first person I saw scratch. He taught me how to scratch. I was interested in this hip-hop culture that was happening. We found a passion and something that gave us a voice and a way to express ourselves. On that level, the whole hip-hop thing was automatic. The breakdancing thing, we were performing three times a week and practicing several times a week too.

What was it like to put together the two-disc “best of” and accompanying documentary?
It’s been emotional. It’s been enlightening. Most of your career, you usually just go forward and think about what you’re doing to do next. You don’t spend a lot of time looking back. When you do it, you realize that the music reflects where you’re at as a person at different times of your life. You have things going on in your life, like being a father or experiencing success outside. It all affects your music. It’s an interesting process. It might be the emotional part is clouded because you’re not in touch with that anymore, but you can hear the music for what it is.

How much has the technology changed over the years?
It has changed massively, but I don’t find that my process has changed massively. I’ve been down all those paths on those technical journeys. I feel like I have my elements that work so why change that? I’m not making music in a way that I feel like I’m missing something or that I need an instrument. I engineer and mix all of music. If I have massive orchestration and I’m going beyond 32 tracks. Then I just sit back and mentally produce it.

I feel like I’ve come full circle. My approach is the same; I just have higher quality equipment. I have not gone so far away from what I’ve always done.

Smokers Delight established you in the UK didn’t it?
We had massive success with the first two twelves. We weren’t even prepared for that. We just wanted to get DJs to play our songs. We never thought beyond that. It was never career-based on that level it was all about the music. That was difficult to deal with it in hindsight. We were being measured. That never happened before. To get reviewed, it makes you self-conscious. That was never in the deal before. That was an interesting journey. I was working on Smokers Delight as a separate project. It was a process that went on where a lot of the songs developed over time because we were listening to tracks after hours. The songs were developed over time. When the guys at Warp heard the tracks we were performing after hours, they wanted to release them. I finished in ’93, but it took a year to get the samples cleared. We thought we’d do 4000 and I wanted to take it live. It just kind of blew up. It was all word of mouth. The album changed my life and it really opened up my horizons as a producer. I was working live on stage with musicians. It allowed me to see another way of making music. I could sample my own musicians. It’s still selling well now even though that was almost 20 years ago.

Was Carboot Soul a breakthrough in the States for you?
The thing is that when we did the Feelin’ Good tour in the States last year there were people who discovered us from In a Space Outta Sound in 2006 and people who had discovered us from all along even though we had rarely come to the US. I had been naïve. You don’t know how far your music goes. You don’t understand how it affects people. You have that naiveté and then you get a response at the shows and it’s mind-blowing.

What was it like working with De La Soul?
It was an incredible experience. I was 28 at the time. When it finally came to happen, I was like a kid in a treat shop. When I was getting into hip-hop and working at the studios in New York, I remember seeing my reflection in the glass and going, “Shit, I’m in New York doing hip-hop — fuckin’ hell.” I was star struck. They’re like the John Coltrane of rap to me. They’re like a mark in history. They turned the direction of hip-hop. It was an incredible honor and a great experience for me. I look back on it and see myself as a kid in all that.

I though Feeling Good was great. Sounds like you’ve been listing to lots of jazz lately.
It’s always been there really. With The Jazz Crusaders and Joe Sample and Bob James and Quincy Jones. It’s always been there. With Feelin’ Good I got the opportunity to work with the crème de la crème. I feel like I’m working with people who are upping my game and I’m aware of the caliber of musicians I have around me. It’s such a pleasure to have that at my fingertips.


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected]