The Toronto DJ and producer shares a new mix of the tracks that influenced his euphoric, high concept new album Blue Spring
Toronto’s Nathan Micay first rose to prominence under the alias Bwana, where he released everything from of-the-moment post-dubstep like 2011’s “Baby, Let Me Finish” to anthemic progressive house tracks like 2014’s “Flute Dreams”, gradually leading to more ambitious, concept-driven releases like the Akira-inspired 2016 mini-album Capsule’s Pride. But it was with last year’s “First Casualty” that Micay’s work took on a new dimension. Tellingly released under his own name, “First Casualty” was a euphoric, melodic club record that became an underground anthem, sitting somewhere between progressive house, trance, and techno, but ultimately just sounded like – well, like Nathan Micay.
With his debut album Blue Spring, Micay takes the sound and ideas from “First Casualty” and expands them into a full-length album format, adding ambient, IDM, and hardcore rave styles into the mix. Released by LuckyMe (who’ve previously worked with Hudson Mohawke, Jacques Greene and more), the album is a bold, big-picture record based around a sci-fi narrative involving clashes between rebel ravers and police; accompanying the album is a comic based on a story by Micay, adapted by Peter Marsden, and illustrated by LuckyMe’s Dominic Flannigan, that draws its inspiration from Katsuhiro Otomo, creator of the original Akira manga.
Following Blue Spring’s release, Micay put together our latest Dazed Mix, featuring tracks that influenced Blue Spring (as well as a famous bit of rave broadcasting history), and spoke about the ideas that went into the album and its accompanying comic.
Tell us about Blue Spring. Was there a catalyst for what started it? When did you start working on it in earnest?
Nathan Micay: Truth be told, Blue Spring was the third attempt at an album for LuckyMe. I did the first two in 2017, and neither felt right for the moment or what I was trying to achieve with a debut album. I’m really thankful to LuckyMe for pushing me to try a third. I particularly love the second album I put together, and perhaps one day it will feel right to release it. The final product started to come together in early 2018. Once I decided on the theme of a Blue Spring and a sound palette, things really came together quite quickly – granted, I also stopped sleeping for about two weeks, and later paid the price for it. Suffer for your art, etc etc.
Where did you get your ideas for the album from?
Nathan Micay: All over the place. Sci-fi movies, anime, manga, 90s rave zines. Once I decided to make the Castlemorton Common Festival of 1993 a major theme, I spent so much time watching news broadcasts and interviews with attendees. From there I started to research political similarities between that time and where we are now. Being a young person in the current political climate of global politics also became a major influence. Musically, I took a lot from film scores and the more cinematic electronic albums of the 90s. I’m hoping that level of effort in a concept starts to come back more in 2019. I love feeling immersed in a project.
What’s the idea for the comic that comes with it?
Nathan Micay: It’s meant to provide a visual story to go with the music. There’s a small bit of dialogue from a radio broadcast in the first track to describe the state of things in the little world we’ve created here. There’s a full illustrated page for each track, and this way there can be more context for everything. The main story takes place in an alternate 1993 where technology has far surpassed our current world. People no longer live in the real world, everything is done through a digital sphere controlled by an all-powerful government. However, a small group of young people have been throwing raves in a forest to fight this, rebuilding the real life human connection. Our story is the night where the police force finally take action on these ravers, resulting in the first real physical confrontation in decades.
How has your creative process changed over the past few years?
Nathan Micay: It really hasn’t, to be honest! I still just spend hours and hours searching for random and obscure samples on records and YouTube. I throw everything into Ableton and fit it all together until I think it works. I’d say the biggest leap for me on this album was starting to use Max for Live sequencers, letting go and allowing the patterns to build themselves. The title track, “Blue Spring”, is really just three or four arpeggios that are not even in time layering over each other. The drums give the illusion of a 4/4 beat, but in reality it’s not in any real time signature, which I think is really cool. This album was definitely an opportunity to escape the trappings of making dancefloor music.
What was the first music you discovered that you felt you could call your own?
Nathan Micay: First finding dubstep early on really felt like, “Yes, this is mine and I’m part of a small community.” However, once I started making music myself, I started to feel that no music is ever yours unless you make it. I feel incredibly strongly about this now. When I hear a DJ that does not make music refers to “their music”, I can’t help but point out that, no, that is other people’s music you’re lucky enough to use as a DJ.
“There is no rush to any of this. Do things at your own pace and just because someone else is having a big tour announcement or something else on Instagram, it doesn’t mean you suddenly have to keep up” – Nathan Micay
Why are you using your own name for music nowadays?
Nathan Micay: I turned 27 and realised that the music I was about to start releasing in 2018 was very different to anything I had made to that point. Things felt more cohesive. So, the time felt right to try something new, and you can never go wrong with your own name. I also have been going into the world of film scoring and obviously have been using my own name. I just want to look back in 20-30 years and be able to have everything under one umbrella. People like Mica Levi that just have their name in so many different projects – that’s so cool to me. I’d love to build towards a career like hers.
Who’s your biggest inspiration in life?
Nathan Micay: Buff Correll. Dude just does his own thing day in and day out and doesn’t let the haters get him down. He’s been going so long that you just have to kinda respect that level of confidence. Stay in your own lane. Whenever I let other people’s careers or whatever start to stress me out, I just remember him and why I do what I do.
Who do you turn to for advice when you’re in a creative rut?
Nathan Micay: I have my inner circle of music friends that can offer new pieces of kit or techniques to try. Doing this album a third time, LuckyMe offered a ton of advice. I was thinking about it more as a collection of songs and they were adamant I look at the bigger picture. Honestly though, the best thing for me is to just turn it all off and do something completely different. Getting advice can sometimes make me overthink what I’m doing. In this game, it can be nice to take a break for a few hours and remember you’ve done it before and you’ll be able to do it again.
Who’s your dream collaboration?
Nathan Micay: Living: Junkie XL. Dead: Lou Reed.
What’s been the most difficult lesson you’ve learned since first launching your career?
Nathan Micay: Sleep is more important than anything else. A remix or finishing a track can always wait. There is no rush to any of this. Do things at your own pace and just because someone else is having a big tour announcement or something else on Instagram, it doesn’t mean you suddenly have to keep up, or that there’s a time limit. Rest, slow down, and do things precisely in your own time. With writing this album, I straight-up just stopped getting more than a few hours of sleep a night for almost two weeks. It hit me very hard, eventually.
Have you changed your approach to DJing at all recently?
Nathan Micay: Yes, completely. I’ve taken full advantage of everything the CDJ has to offer. I used to be confined to the outdated belief that DJing was playing one record, and then another. Now I’m open to using all the crazy hidden features on a CDJ. If a club has four of them, even more possibilities. It’s been a gradual process, but I’ve gotten more comfortable with radical changes in tempo and even time signatures once in a while.
I’ve also decided I no longer will only go the typical Discogs route for finding rare music. I refuse to pay sharks that hike up prices. I’ve started to track down artists, even those that haven’t made music in years, and offer them €10 for a digital of their old record. It’s been surprisingly effective, and I’m happier knowing money is going straight to an artist as opposed to some ‘selector’ or ‘digger DJ’.
What’s going on in this Dazed Mix?
Nathan Micay: Rather than just doing a typical run-of-the-mill DJ mix, I decided to try and do an ‘influences mix’. I loaded up everything from random rave vocal samples, ambient interludes, to an interview with Otomo speaking about Akira, and threw it all in between trance, jungle, and anything else I felt was a major influence on this album. The opening is an old ambient track I love, layered with the YouTube video that I feel pushed the entire Blue Spring concept to begin with. It then ends with a Future Sound of London mashup I’ve always wanted to try – a tad cheeky. This mix was really fun to make.
What are you doing post-album release?
Nathan Micay: About to head off on tour in Asia, Australia, and various dates across the EU/UK. Hoping to get to the Americas in the fall. More music coming out this year and the third edition of my vinyl label, Schvitz Edits. I’ve decided to make the entire label a 100-per-cent-of-profits fundraising project. I’m really excited about it.