Locally Grown: Nautiluss
After amassing critical kudos for all three EPs released thus far under the Nautiluss moniker (for the Hemlock and Turbo imprints), it finally feels like producer Graham Bertie has found his post-Thunderheist groove.
The Montreal-bred, Toronto-based funk maven got to play at Berlin’s illustrious Panorama Bar in May, “which was a dream of mine and was actually the best gig I ever got!” gushes Bertie when reached by phone. In November, he and friends such as Exeter and Linus Booth launched Neighbourhood Watch, a new electronic night at Parts & Labour aimed at strengthening ties in the local beat community. And he’s especially proud of Turbo’s fledgling talent roster, of which he now belongs to, alongside guys like Duke Dumont, Gingy & Bordello, Locked Groove and Sei A. “The people who were all signed around the same time, we have mutual respect for one another. Turbo has been around for so long and has been all over the map style-wise, but I think right now the roster is really strong, so it’s great to be part of that.”
Laying Thunderheist to rest
Turbo has allowed Bertie to entirely break away from his booty-bass track record as Grahmzilla, one half of Canadian electro-crunk duo Thunderheist. Looking back on that time, Bertie remains quite critical of his then-nascent production skills and party anthems. “Thunderheist didn’t really have any depth to it. I think people are finally understanding that was just a phase in my career and that I can do a lot deeper things than that,” he says in reference to cuts like the ubiquitous (yet irresistible) “Jerk It”.
Nevertheless, Bertie opted for honesty in treading all subsequent musical territory, beginning with his collab with Miami-based producer Jubilee, under the Bassanovva name. “I didn’t go the anonymous, secret producer route, which probably would have helped me out a lot more in the beginning, just because the music is so far gone from the previous stuff. But I probably wouldn’t be where I’m at now if it wasn’t for that time. Things happen for a reason, and Nautiluss has basically been funded by those [Thunderheist] years, as it’s still kind of an art project.”
Berties Per Minute
And what a stellar art project it is. His Nautiluss output is made up of raw slices of ominous beats piled over one other in a propulsive pressure cooker with atmospheric, playful bass hits thrown in as slow-burning seasoning. Bertie took his time to figure out where he wanted to take his sound next – and it turns out it all revolved around the BPM count.
“If you have the technical ability to do whatever genre you want, you have to pick a direction,” he stresses. “So I kept it a predominantly dancefloor-oriented kind of thing. For me, that tempo is what’s always spoken to me. I think 120 to 130 BPM is an ideal dancing tempo, so it just made the most sense to me. I don’t even think about it as “making house or techno” because I don’t even know what quantifies the two.”
That tempo, coupled with natural percussion samples (whether kick drums or hi-hats), have been key to his funky sound, giving listeners the time to properly savour the mood. “Even the Thunderheist stuff was in that tempo. I don’t really want stuff at 160 or 140 BPM, because I can’t really mix it with other tracks… So it comes back to a long career of DJing, where I think about it in the sense of playing it with other records that I like.”
Orbital, Warp and Trance Europe Express
Asked about early influences that would have shaped his musical tastes, Graham considers that a hard thing to pin down. “I really have trouble selecting a couple of artists that were particularly defining. It’s more particular tracks sometimes. There are obviously some producers though – like the second Orbital (The Brown Album)… I think that was the first full-length electronic record – or cassette! – that I bought before DJing. So that was a big influence.”
“I also bought a lot of compilations back then. There was this series called Trance Europe Express, which was not really trance at all! (laughs) It was more on the techno side of things. I definitely had a strong affinity for the early Warp stuff, Boards of Canada was my shit in the late ‘90s, Autechre too, Aphex Twin – I almost don’t say it because it’s such an obvious influence for everybody – Kraftwerk, Herbie Hancock… And also, I think, just going to a lot of raves in the ‘90s.”
Appetite for Pop
Besides his commitment to the rapidly growing Nautiluss project – with his latest EP, Habitat (see album artwork), the most cohesive and infectious release to date – Bertie is also pursuing production for pop artists, like his recent “Hotel Amour” remix for Quebec musician Ariane Moffatt and his dedication to ALX (a.k.a. Allie Hughes), a Toronto singer-songwriter on the cusp of breaking out. “I still have an interest in making more accessible music that doesn’t suck,” he quips. “I’m not anti-pop at all. I think it’s such a challenge, so it’s something that I’ll probably pursue in my life. With Thunderheist, we almost went pop. So I still have this desire to do stuff that can reach a bigger audience. As much as I love doing Nautiluss, I’ve made a decision to not go for the jugular with it. That’s the kind of project it’s turned out to be.”
Nautiluss 'Habitat' EP / Hemlock Recordings Chapter One compilation dual release party on Saturday, December 8 at Bambi's (1265 Dundas West).