Oliver Nickels Bridges the Gap Between Vancouver and Berlin

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While the global stage of DJ-Producers is a podium of endless talent, one doesn’t have to look across the sea to find skilled, musical tastemakers. Canada is home to many incredible artists who continue to push boundaries and explore remote path-ways where their music can blossom. Today, we have the pleasure of featuring Canadian export, eclectic tastemaker and label owner Oliver Nickels. Known for his spaced out sounds and weirdly wonderful groove, we chatted with this avid-crate digger to uncover more about his Rhombus label and life in Vancouver…

We’re loving the new Rhombus release. How did you come to set up the label with Stefan Z? 

Glad to hear you like the new music! The concept for the label started with Stefan and I in Berlin actually.  We were sitting in a cafe and felt that we wanted to take charge of our music, and decide how to get this sound we were making out to an audience.  The Rhombus concept was formed in the most classic of ways – just writing down ideas on a napkin! Haha. Stefan got the ball rolling by himself in 2011 and then we teamed up for the second release and have been exploring what inspires us ever since. 

How does the story of you two meeting go? Tell us about the all night Rhombus parties you throw in Vancouver.

Stefan and I have been friends for over 20 years actually! We met in the band program at our high school – cracking jokes and blasting on our trumpets.  I’ve always been involved in playing music, whether it’s been trumpet or playing guitar in a metal band, so when I started getting really excited about electronic music in 2001 I had a natural desire to get involved. Stefan and I started throwing events because we saw a gap in what was being offered in Vancouver music-wise and we wanted to explore our vision of what an event could be – focusing on the great music we had been hearing internationally and then creating a really immersive vibe through experimental lighting and visuals. Ah yes, the Rhombus parties, they were a blast! 🙂 We’re not planning any Vancouver events at this very moment, as Stefan relocated to Europe a few years ago and I’ve decided to spend some time in the Berlin scene as well, as of this spring!

We saw a gap in what was being offered in Vancouver music-wise and we wanted to explore our vision of what an event could be…

You’re from Vancouver, but we understand you spent a lot of time in Asia. Why was that? When it comes to your music, do your draw any inspiration from the culture over there – how so?

In 2003 I had an opportunity to move to Beijing with a DJ friend of mine from Vancouver, and was able to get a job teaching English – which was a fantastic experience!  The scene there was just a huge mix of promoters and DJs throwing everything at the wall and seeing what would stick!  Between the new audiences and the non-stop deconstruction and modernizing of the city itself, things were always changing very quickly.  

Pretty soon after arriving in China I was offered a residency at Club Cinderella after a gig and then started playing 6 nights a week, mostly vinyl. I’d say that’s what took my playing to the next level, where I *really* learned to DJ. How to read the crowd and play night after night in the same venue, always keeping it fresh and balancing between what the crowd needs and what you’re excited about.  The music manager there had spent years building up a following for house music at this particular club, but the whole dance music scene in China was very fresh and just felt wide open.

Having a residency is completely different than just playing one-off gigs because you have a home base to develop your sound, experiment with transitions and different energy, and bring the crowd along with you every step of the way. At the same time, I was coming home from the club at 5am every morning, spending a few hours making music, then testing it out in the club the next night… which was really useful as a producer.  And actually, I recently released a tune of mine called “Tough City” on a Chinese label called Wulongzu Records, run by the former DJ manager at Cinderella (and my old flatmate), Aldwin Macapagal. 

Having a residency is completely different than just playing one-off gigs because you have a home base to develop your sound, experiment with transitions and different energy, and bring the crowd along with you every step of the way.

Living in Tokyo was a completely different experience!  The caliber of experienced Japanese DJs from the country’s long history of electronic music and the attention to detail in the club experience were pure inspiration. I took a lot of time there just listening to what the different crews in Tokyo were playing and really had my eyes opened in terms of genre and what was possible – both from an events standpoint and also how to challenge an audience.  The Japanese audiences are so tuned into listening, and trusting where a DJ is going to take them.  It seemed like it was possible to play much more experimental and deep music and everyone was willing to stay along for the ride!

The caliber of experienced Japanese DJs from the country’s long history of electronic music and the attention to detail in the club experience were pure inspiration.

We hear you’re an avid crate digger? What the best places to pick up wax in Vancouver?

I mostly dig the digital crates these days for dance music, but for your vinyl needs: Beatstreet, Vinyl, and Selectors’ Records in Chinatown.

How would you describe you’re sound? Which artists do you feel the most sonically inspired by?

It’s dark, funky, layered and musical.  Usually rooted in 4/4 house and techno.  I feel like my sound is always in flux though, and I always like to allow the music to take me wherever it’s pulling.  At the end of the day, I want to take people on a journey – and stir up a visual, textural, and emotional experience.

I draw inspiration from everywhere, but Bowie is a constant for me.  Throw in healthy doses of Depeche Mode, Little Dragon, Chairlift, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra and I’m happy! When I’m making electronic music, I’m drawing more from an emotion or personal experience than any particular artist.  I’m looking at architecture, art, nature… really, the mood and atmosphere of the place I’m in.

Looking ahead to summer 2017 – what projects have you got coming up for yourself and the label?

Well, I’m onto my next chapter here in Germany – Berlin and Vancouver have a pretty significant history of musical exchange in the dance music world, so I’m excited to be here in Berlin these days and keep the musical conversation between the cities going! 

As for Rhombus, we have some great releases coming up with EPs from Jesse Bru and Iain Howie, as well as more from Stefan and I.  Thanks for the chat! 🙂


Oliver Nickels’ ‘Everything Is Already A Memory’ EP is out now! Grab it here.

Oliver Nickels is on Facebook// Soundcloud