Translation catches up with Nitrox and Kay from The Untouchables, the deep dub scientists who brought you the “Dem All Pirates” EP, which is currently available at digital music retailers worldwide.
1. Tell us about your roots and musical background, and how The Untouchables came about?
Nitrox: I started liking music quite late, must have been 15 or 16 years old. I got into techno & hip-hop at the time, but as I lived in Southeast Asia, didn’t have access to all the latest trends. I discovered jungle in ’93 and it sounded so futuristic to me. I’ve been hooked ever since. I also discovered ragga and dub through jungle, and that vibe has not left me as well.
Kay and I met in ‘96 while I was visiting family in Belgium. At the time, I was just starting my sound engineering degree at Kingston University and living in England where I hooked up with Keaton and some friends, and started The Universal Project. But really, it all kicked off when I moved to Belgium in ‘99. Kay was spinning and throwing nights here in Brussels.
What really motivated me to work with her was the music that she played. Most of the local DJs, including myself, were following the trends and charts, but Kay had her own dubby vibe going. She was a rebel who didn’t care whether or not people liked what she was playing. She just did her own thing and it had pure vibes written all over it. We started mixing and making music together around 2000 and haven’t stopped ever since then.
Kay: It all started really early for me. My mum was against TV when I was young, and we didn’t own one until really late, so all we had was music! One of my earliest childhood memories is sitting in front of a portable record player with my 10-inch 78s. I saved my allowance for months so that when we visited my grandparents in England or Scotland, I could load up on music. My main influence has always been dub, percussion, and heavy bass but I listen to loads of different music: jazz, funk, reggae, hip hop, and everything in between—as long as it has soul—but always seem to go back to dub.
When I was 16, I went to school with some techno DJs who got me into it. They used to hang out at Djack’s Place, where I also met up with the BWP crew and helped run nights. They had all the big artists over and I would hang out in the studio, watching them play with 303s, 505s, 808s, Moogs, Korgs.
I remember seeing Jeff Mills, Mike DMA, Derrick May, and UR playing that cutting edge techno sound and thinking to myself, “I want to do that—take two tunes and mix them into something new.” So I would follow my friends around and watch them DJ. In ’91 we went to a night in London with rooms playing different styles of music. When I entered the jungle room, I was immediately hooked. That was it. I knew then and there, that’s what I wanted to DJ and create. It took time though, because back then you needed more than a computer and headphones!
I met Nitrox running nights with my best friend Carole AKA Miss Elorak and Propane, a Miami Bass DJ. We wanted to do something different, where all styles of music collided, as long as it was bass-driven.
Back then, he was working with Universal Project while studying in England, but would come back to see his family here in Belgium. My crew would book him and we would chat for hours about music. One time he played me “The Craft” without even telling me he made it, and I was like, “What is this? This is so sick!” The truth still hurts me deep down, to this very day.
I used to be a lone wolf, but he corrupted me! I wanted to know how things in the studio worked and he slowly convinced me that an alliance would kill it, so we started building a studio in 2000, playing out as a duo, and have not stopped feeding off of each other’s energy since then.
2. Your sound has progressed over the years from the dark, breaks-oriented b-boy style to the more tribal, dub-influenced rhythms. “Dem All Pirates” EP is like a merging of the two. Was this the natural progression of things?
Nitrox: Yes it’s definitely a natural progression. The “Dem All Pirates” EP really reflects the sound we are pushing. This music has always been about recycling. Back in the day, the two producers who influenced me the most were Loxy and Keaton. Loxy had the breaks down to a “T” and was already bass-driven from the start. Keaton pushed the dark stabs to the limit. If you add ‘dem mad vibes and recycle them with the half-step vibe of today, you end up with some pretty nasty riddims.
Kay: I think so because we’ve grown as people. We’ve evolved and so has our music. Life has its way on you and for me, it’s reflected in our sound. We make what we feel and right now it’s what I’ve always wanted to do.
3. What’s the division of labor like in the studio? When collaborating with other artists, do you prefer to work virtually or in-person?
Nitrox: Hah! Sometimes I feel like I’m Kay’s slave… or a tool of some sort. Most of the time I just mess around with sounds and ask Kay if she’s into it. If she is, it’s usually on point but we do take turns behind the controls.
Kay: Haha Nitrox you joker! I think we get along so well that it just happens regardless of who is ‘pon di control. We’re always listening to each other and the main goal is to hurt one another with what we come up with. As for collabs, I always find them interesting. You feed off each other. But it doesn’t really matter for me who’s where, as long as the vibe is there!
Nitrox: Same, I don’t mind either way. I love having people over to making tunes.
4. What’s your favorite piece of gear in the studio? How about essential plug-ins?
Nitrox: I’d have to say my E-6400 Ultra Sampler. We rarely ever use it, but I know its got more potential than any of the software program out there. As for plugins, we basically use the ones in Logic. Keeps things simple.
Kay: For me, I have to say its the King Tuby Space Expander, the Mecca of all reverbs; an old valve spring reverb, and our Space Echo.
5. As DJs, you’ve played out extensively in the UK and in Europe. What has been your favorite location/event to date and why?
Nitrox: Oh this is a hard one, there are so many places that I’ve enjoyed playing over the years:
Batofar – on a Boat – Paris, France
Le Gazon – open-air Royal Park – Brussels, Belgium
Massive Tunes – a real military Bunker – Aachen, Germany
Kay: Oh my! So many really. For the sound, I think Limburg, Belgium (2002). It was in old mine, and it looked like a cave from prehistoric times. The acoustics were amazing! Rupture (2008) in London was a sick one, and last December we played Deep Cast in Holland at a skate park—it was brilliant!
6. What about the music/scene/culture keeps you inspired to push harder ever day?
Kay: It’s all about the music. Loxy–he’s always stayed true over the years and keeps pushing it with his labels Cylon, CX, and Xtinction, and just keeps bringing the heat. Dubmonger, Flatliners, and Theory are amazing producers who definitely feed my hunger for dub. Gremlinz for his ruffage. Double 0 and Mantra keep the oldskool breaks vibe alive with their Rupture nights and label. The new generation that are coming in with fresh energy: Ruffhouse, Clarity, Sam KDC, Overlook, and Pessimist… But mainly, I would say people that stay true to the craft and keep pushing the music!
Nitrox: What inspires me the most is the people that make the scene what it is today. I think everyone feeds off each other…
7. Is there any particular advice or lesson that has stuck with you throughout the years?
Kay: Stay true to what you do and don’t sell out for any one because at the end of the day, it’s all about the music. Not the money or the fame. They will fade in time, but good music is there forever, inspiring others, so just do your own thing!
Nitrox: Stay true to you roots and strive to inspire others.