- Zilka Grogan
A chat with Nali
The Patterns of Perception record label most likely wouldn’t have come into being if it weren’t for our friendship with Nali. Based in Melbourne/Naarm, Nali is an extremely talented producer who has previously released on Australian labels including Steeplejack and Pure Space. Although the distance has meant it’s often been a long time between drinks, Nali has become a close friend of our collective over the years, making our collaboration on the first Patterns of Perception release a natural one.
Touching on the friendship that brought this release to life, his motivations for making music and how he’s honed his craft, this special edition of our interview series is a conversation between Nali and two of the Patterns of Perception crew members behind the record label project, Steve Duncan and Kim Bergstrand.
Nali’s Chance Encounters EP is out now on vinyl and digitally. Grab your copy here.
Zilka: How did you all meet? Take me back.
Nali: You guys can tell me if I’ve romanticised any of this story, it was actually quite a long time ago now (in 2014). The gist of it is, I was 20 years old and I had spent most of that year saving up money to go to Europe for a holiday with a few friends of mine from Melbourne who I had met through music. The story starts in Melbourne, because the week before we were going to fly to Berlin I was DJing at a venue called New Guernica with those same friends, and I was the last to play. I was doing the closing set and I was pretty tired. As I stepped up, my intention was to keep the energy of the night going in a nice positive way. As my first track, I went to play a song off Tin Man’s LP Ode called Vertigo. The reason the story is funny is that Vertigo is quite a bright, upbeat, deep acid tune. However, due to lack of concentration I actually played the title track which is a really dark, brooding, ominous song. I remember it just not being right for the moment at all, at least in my mind. I was a bit embarrassed. Still this moment is a strong memory for me.
A week or so later we had arrived in Berlin. It was a Friday night and I was eager to go out. My friend who had been working in town for a while had heard about your party Thai and Techno. It sounded a bit unusual and everybody’s mood was a bit low, but I was desperate to go out, so we headed down. I remember going up the elevator to the gig, and the elevator opening, and someone was DJing and playing the song I had accidentally played … but at 8.30pm on a Friday night. I thought, who the hell would play such a dark track while people are seated and eating Thai food? And it was Kim! Later I saw Kim picking up bottles so I went to say hi and to chat about his set. Once we start speaking we quickly realised there was this very personal Melbourne connection, even going so far as having lived in the same suburb. It was very surreal. And the rest is history.
Kim: Very quickly after that we caught up, we had dinner with everyone and then we had quite a few good nights out during that time. I think from the beginning you told me you were releasing music and the first vinyl that you did with Steeplejack was about to come out. Already at that point, you started to share some of your music with us and we were playing some of your very early and unreleased music. Already then there was an idea that we should do something together at some point. It just maybe took a bit longer than anticipated.
Nali: I think it took the perfect amount of time. Good things take time.
Zilka: What is it about all of your approaches to music that aligns so well? Is it purely taste or is it something more?
Steve: I think there are two things that draw me to both Kim and to Nic’s musical approaches. One is curiosity. Every time I mix or share music with either of you, it’s always a surprise. I always feel like I’m going to hear music that I have never heard before or music presented in a surprising new context which always impresses me. When I have these really fulfilling sessions with both of you, it gives me energy and motivation to go and keep digging myself. And in terms of the feeling of the music that you both play and connect with, I feel like there is a warm quality to it. Even though there was that dark Tin Man track that you both played - and there’s elements of darkness to what we all play sometimes - when I think about your sounds I think of positivity and warmth.
Nic: 100 percent. It’s also very communal. I don’t listen to as much club music on my own these days but in the context of being with friends it makes perfect sense. One reason I am spurred to make this music is because it’s so profound when you experience it with other people – it creates such a strong memory. We’ve had so many good times together and that’s part of the inspiration to do it.
Kim: That’s also what I love about your music Nic, that it is kind of curious and there’s always a little cheeky vibe to it. There’s always a surprising element. And the sound is influenced a lot by first getting exposed to it in Australia, where the setting is often festivals and stuff like that. Still when I listen to your tracks, I can really imagine them being played at these outdoor events. It has this Aussie festival vibe to it and I think that’s maybe one reason for us connecting so much.
Zilka: How did this particular release come about?
Steve: From my side, the thing that got me really excited about this idea was the live set you did for us at OHM back in December 2018 Nic, and enjoying your music on that kind of sound system. I still remember clearly the contrasting delicacy and punch of Nic’s set. It felt very detailed and emotional, yet with proper groove and rhythm. I think that Nic has managed to bring these qualities over to the release perfectly, and it was fun to go back together to relive and dissect that live set to try to understand and extract those special elements.
Nali: Yeah that live set was sort of the culmination of a lot of practice over three or so years of doing live sets and trying to really do something that I thought was good, to just play well and provide a show for people that was of quality. The reason I’m happy it took so long is because at least two of the songs were probably started before we met, one of them just after. If we had decided to do the record maybe two years after meeting, I don’t think I would have been ready. I think I needed to work on my craft a bit longer.
Kim: I think that is one of the best sets I have heard at one of our parties. When we heard this set and found out that it was pretty much all unreleased music, it was almost hard to decide what we wanted to release from there because there was just so much good material. It was also a process of us being able to narrow it down. There were enough tracks to make multiple releases.
Nali: There is sort of a theme to the relationship, and it is definitely time, waiting, being patient and distance. Distance being the reason why we had to be patient because a friendship at the end of the day relies on interaction and being able to see each other. For example, the live set might have happened three years earlier if I had lived in Berlin. And then conversely, the performance itself was the culmination of 20 different live sets that I had done over these years. It was almost like the optimum time for me to play that show.
Steve: And it made such an impact. It gave us the energy to start thinking about the label.
Kim: You gave us the confidence that we were sitting on something pretty cool and special, and someone needs to release this. I’m already excited about planning another one.
Zilka: Nic, do you agree with the characterisation of the music as Australian in sound?
Nali: Probably when I met you guys I was going to a lot of outdoor events in Australia and was very much inspired by the landscape. Those formative years leave a pretty strong influence on your musical character so even if it’s maybe not something I am conscious of, it is probably there. And it makes me happy to think that it evokes that feeling for people. That can only be a good thing.
Steve: You said you haven’t been going to so many outdoor events at the moment because of COVID and you also said that you’re sort of sitting on some new music now, do you feel like your sound has changed now because of that?
Nali: Yeah I think my sound has changed or what I am making has changed. My biggest source of inspiration is actually a friend’s basement, a communal space we have in Melbourne where people hang out and play records. A big part of the sound there is probably housier styles but still quite deep. That’s been the biggest influence for me recently. So the next stuff I send to you might have that influence, but still in a Patterns of Perception way. It still comes back to the people fundamentally.
Zilka: It sounds like this communal element is a big part of what motivates you to make music.
Nali: What’s so amazing about the music that we do is that you make these 5 minute, 8 minute tracks and for almost everyone who hears it played out, they most likely haven’t heard it before. They hear it once. They might hear it again, if they go out another time and it is played.
But realistically they will only hear it once in their lives. And if they’re having a good time, the specialness of that moment, you can’t really compare it to much else in life. That brings me a lot of joy: to play a small part in that one little moment in a set. All the work and all the time that goes into it, all the relationships, the effort, and then it’s just this one moment. That’s why you do it, I think.
Steve: It is so unquantifiable, the effect music has on people and the way it triggers these emotions. When I think about playing a DJ set and setting the kind of environment, hopefully, to bring people joy, it’s great, and it can be profound, but as an artist it can only take you so far. But if you’re playing your own music that you have developed over time and have crafted yourself and put your own blood, sweat and tears into, it must be such a satisfying feeling. To imagine it being played at festivals or parties and seeing everyone getting so much enjoyment from something you created must be kind of mind-melting.
Kim: You also can’t deny that somewhere like Labyrinth has had an inspiration both for Nic and for us. I can hear it in this release. And if I could listen to it someplace, it would be somewhere in the mountains on a sick soundsystem. That’s where it is best played.
Nali: Yeah even the way it has been made, certain stylistic choices have been made to make it sound like you’re in front of a giant set of speakers. That’s not necessarily consciously done but because that is my happy place. If I was ever going to be in a situation where that music was put on me, that’s the way I would want it to sound.
Steve: I can’t wait til we get a chance to play it in the garden at ://about blank or play it at an outdoor festival. That’s the perfect place for it.
Zilka: Your approach for working together on the record has been very collaborative – can you tell me a bit more about that?
Kim: Actually it wasn’t like we had a super-strong vision that this is exactly the type of label we want to create. I think it’s been quite organic, and it’s a reflection of the friendships and the connections we’ve made over the years through parties and the mix series. We already have a very well-defined sound through the mix series and the bookings so of course that gives the label a specific direction, but otherwise it has been quite an organic process. We also had in mind that we want to find talent that isn’t necessarily fully exposed yet, and Nic is perfect for that.
Nali: In my mind, even though this is my second release, I still feel like I’m a newcomer.
Kim: And I think that was the level of collaboration and the kind of process we want. And it’s a similar process that we follow now with the upcoming releases. I don’t know if this is always going to be the case but it is kind of nice to have this type of exchange where you have an artist who is really excited about releasing with us and who is willing to do these exchanges with us to make sure that we are both 100 percent happy with the product in the end. And with Nic, it was easy because we knew each other for a long time so it was very natural for us. Steve, do you agree that this is a little bit the ethos of the label, that we want to make it very collaborative?
Steve: It’s actually the way that we work as a collective, and why we use the word ‘collective’ to describe us as a group of friends working together. We share everything, we make decisions together and we have some heated discussions but in the end it is very important that we all stay aligned and are all happy with the direction that our different projects take. The label is the natural continuation of that. It flowed on very naturally from how we have done the events, the mix series and the zine. Everyone’s input is valued. That’s why it’s been so special to work with Nic for the first release, he’s been so open and so up for collaborating and sharing thoughts and hearing our thoughts. This collaborative approach has really worked well for us.
Zilka: How was this on your side Nic?
Nali: Definitely, I have my job and with what’s happened in the world with the pandemic and isolation, my focus has been elsewhere. So with the creation of the music, I don’t make a song on the weekend and go and share it with 10 people and say, what do you think? This is why the structure of deadlines and others to hold you accountable is a positive for me. It means not only do I get it done but I also share it, and there’s feedback on it, and the ball keeps moving.
The way I like working is to think about the people who run or are behind the label. That’s not just Kim and Steve, it’s you and everybody else in Patterns of Perception. And then I workshopped the music towards the sound of what I perceive Patterns of Perception to be from a long way away but also quite intimately too. Physically I’m a long way away but emotionally quite close.
Kim: Do you have any ideas what you want to do with music going forward? Do you have a specific direction in mind already for stuff you want to do or will you just let it come naturally?
Nali: I think if someone asks me to do something I will try. When I do have time for music these days, it makes it special. It is really nice to have a Saturday morning to just sit down with my gear and make music.
Zilka: For the Patterns of Perception label, what are the next steps?
Steve: Our goal is to find artists like Nic to work with, who are open, who we have a good connection with and who have a very unique and personal sound. We already have the next two or three releases in different stages of development, and we are learning more all the time working with each artist and challenging our sound. The label puts a totally different challenge in front of us in terms of defining and redefining our sound.
Zilka: How do you feel listening back to the release now?
Nali: There were times when it seemed like the tracks would never get finished or there were creative roadblocks. When it came to finalising the music for the record, I had finally arrived at a nice place of contentment about the songs. The title track ‘Chance Encounters’ is maybe the 50th version of the first electronic song I ever made on my laptop as an 18-year-old. I’m glad that I took my time with them and that they found their way onto Patterns of Perception. It was a true collaboration and I feel grateful to have been able to have worked on this with all of you.
Head over to Bandcamp to grab your copy of Nali's Chance Encounters EP.