JM#182 – Nan

For the last few years DJ Nan has become a familiar face in DJ booths in Oslo, including Jaeger’ sauna. Making regular appearances, often in the thankless position of opening DJ, she has mesmerised and captivated with sets that traverse oblique trajectories. As a DJ, Nan’s sounds exists between a well-traveled aesthetic and a primordial groove, touching on a broad spectrum of music, before dissolving back into the quiet.

With sets that are built on some vague rhythmic foundation, she explores the absolute limits of musical connections, like she does here on this edition of the Jaeger mix. Moving through some abstract narrative, Nan uses elements of House and Disco as a template to move all over the world with her selection. From Asha Puthli’s version of Smooth Criminal, to Altin Gün and even Breaka, she weaves an eclectic approach that never veers too far from a central mood.

It’s a set that works as well on a set of headphones as it did on the night of the recording in what is a trademark of her approach to the decks. While we’ve come to know her for her work in our booth over the last few years, we know little else of Nan. We were eager to send her some questions after her appearance at the last Jaeger mix sessions and find an eager subject whose musical influences are vast and curious.

Hello Nan and thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Shall we start at the beginning; what’s your earliest memory of music?

Hello! I guess my earliest memory is of songs from Division Bell by Pink Floyd that my parents listened a lot to while driving. I have to admit that I still get a bit car sick when I hear that slow guitar and piano intro. 

What kind of music informed your formative years and how have your tastes developed since them?

That must be soul and rhythm and blues, which my dad listened to a lot while I was growing up.

However, I was a sucker for classical music and metal at high school, which evolved into being a big Mr. Bungle and Mike Patton fan. I especially loved how the former band could switch genres around 7 times during one song and that you’d never know what to expect. 

When did you come across electronic music for the first time and what was it about the music that attracted you to it?

When it comes to electronic music, I was a late bloomer. While Mr. Bungle and metal satisfied my need for something experimental, maximalist and eclectic as a teenager, electronic music was more like a calm sanctuary for me. 

The first album I really fell in love with was James Blake’s debut album. I especially fell for how he uses total silence in the middle of songs and just breaks up everything with it, which also allows small details to take much more space. There are also some sections where you lose track of the beat and have to stop expecting the rhythm but just take it as it comes. I also liked the use of atonal sounds to build up tension before they are released into something soft and vulnerable. Lastly, the touch of soulful vocal and calm gospel piano didn’t hurt either.

How did your own discerning tastes develop from there?

I think the DJ-seed was planted when I threw parties in my dad’s garage at high school. The setup in the garage was somewhat primitive, so we could only use CD’s or mixtapes. The guests were mostly my classmates with whom I studied music together at high school. We were different but like-minded and could therefore appreciate music from Vivaldi to Slayer. 

However, the house- and techno culture in Haugesund at that time was basically nonexistent. The clubs usually played basic pop songs, which always made me feel like an awkward party pooper. So I started to avoid those places and replaced them with events like Saturday jazz concerts, string quartets and balkan beat parties at my favourite café/pub (Café Moody).

So I think my taste has developed through both knowing what I do and don’t like, but also through not excluding something before I’ve tried it. 

What eventually encouraged you to start DJing properly?

I started DJing while studying informatics. I started because there were few DJs at the student bar, and I didn’t agree with the bar’s music profile to put it mildly. 

It seemed to me that out of obscurity, you started playing quite regularly around Oslo and often at Jaeger over the course of the last two years. What or who encouraged you to play out more?

I started to play out in Oslo because of a series of coincidences. It started with me getting kicked out of the student house I lived in, because I realised too late that I wasn’t allowed to sublet my dorm room while living abroad for exchange studies. So I had to find a new place in 11 days. That led me to this creative collective at Grünerløkka, and let’s just say that the hygiene in that place was pretty “creative” as well. We were two people in that collective that appreciated toilet seats that were not sticky, and showers that didn’t smell like urine, so we became friends. This guy – Pål Wold – happened to DJ in Oslo, and we bonded over records and cleanliness. 

After I’d DJ’d for a year, Pål put me in contact with a friend of his (Kent Horne) that played more frequently. We met up and played an impromptu B2B-set. He seemed to like my style and invited me to more gigs. Through those gigs I got to know other DJs, which led me to get booked more places. So it kind of just happened, but it wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t for the support and opportunities I’ve gotten from Kent. 

You can say that Pål kicked me out of the nest, and Kent taught me to fly. 

How would you define the music you play out?

That’s a hard question. My comprehension of sub-genres is somewhat limited, but I also think that allows me to flow more freely between genres. When I curate a setlist, I usually use BPM and the key to glue different moods together. 

However, I think there are some keywords that might define my sets, which are: syncopated rhythms with some sprinkle of jazz, low-pitched but tender guys and last but not least; determined and unapologetic women. 

Your Jaeger mix is quite deep and ephemeral. What was it that you particularly wanted to convey through your approach to this jaeger mix?

When I prepared for the gig, I didn’t know if people would be sitting or dancing, so I wanted to put together a setlist that could work for both. I tend to have frequent transitions between tracks when I’m playing short sets, because I think quick transitions create a momentum that makes it easier to shift between different musical concepts when time is limited.

It unfolds like a story, from the opening dialogue, with an even progression throughout. What ties all these songs together for you?

For this mix I wanted to present my DJ-evolution up until today. So the set consists of tracks that I’ve played since the beginning (which is a lot of house) along with fixations I’ve had over the years, such as drum tracks, ballroom and “non-western” funk. Also, I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts the last years, so why not start with one?

I think the Indian version of MJ’s smooth criminal stands out for me, but what songs were some of your favourites in this mix?

Haha, yes. Asha Puthli’s version stands out indeed and I love it. 

The songs that emotionally stand out the most for me must be Detroit Part II by Shigeto and oVahReAcTion by Byrell the Great. 

Detroit Part II because this song ticks so many boxes for me. It has the low-pitched vocal with a reverb that makes the room feel bigger, which takes me back to this sanctuary that was mentioned earlier. And it demonstrates how well jazz and house fits together. If my set was longer, I would’ve most likely followed up this song with a Galcher Lustwerk track.

The second one – oVahReAcTion – stands out for me because it combines two opposites and doesn’t fill the space in the middle. On one side you have the sharp ballroom snares, but on the other side there’s a soft bass drum and a mellow tremolo synth. And if you heard the two parts separately, it’s easy to conclude that they wouldn’t be a good match in the same song, but they surprisingly are. And that’s cool. Also, I really like ballroom music. 

There’s the moment when transition from this heavy Breaka track, and slow it down into a kind of habibi – disco track. How do you connect these distant dots through your own tastes?

I think the Breaka track builds up a tension with the chopped up vocal that seems to stutter and never get to the point. The tension is finally released in Kirsehirin Gulleri by Altin Gün, where the vocal finally knows what to say, and says it loud and clear. Also, the latter song marks the beginning of the second and last segment of the set. 

Is it something you planned specifically for this mix?

The first hour of the set was planned, while for the last 30 minutes, I wanted to break it up a bit with my latest obsessions and take it from there. I know the genre transition is very abrupt, and I still have a lot to explore and learn when it comes to playing with dissimilar genres. However, I like the idea of having wildcards in a set and I think that as long as you keep the flow, using contrasts can wake up the listeners and possibly encourage them to listen to the music more actively. 

Did the nature of the event and the crowd change your approach at all?

Both yes and no. When I prepare for gigs, I take the venue and its crowd into consideration. On the other side, if I try to adapt too much to requesters, I tend to lose the intuition and playfulness around it all. Therefore I aim to mostly play for myself and people who open-mindedly grooves to whatever I serve them. 

People seem to appreciate these unapologetic sets, and if I still feel any doubt, I like to picture Kent giving me a thumbs up while nodding supportingly to whatever I’m doing.