Credited with inventing the "chillout" genre of electronic music, the group headed by George Evelyn has stayed on the scene in one form or another since releasing its debut singles "Dextrous" and "Aftermath" in 1990. Although Nightmares on Wax has never achieved the wide popularity that many music critics have felt it has deserved, it has maintained a steady following on the club scene and released a steady, if infrequent, progression of genre-defining albums.
Nightmares on Wax's first album, A World of Science, made waves in 1991 with a soul-infused techno sound that established it as a leader in the electronic dance music arena. Featuring Evelyn along with Kevin Harper and others, the album set the tone for later efforts as an eclectic mix of electronic, hip-hop, and soul. It proved a popular as well as critical success, with the Independent 's Tim de Lisle calling it a "strangely addictive" and "warm-hearted" brew.
Nightmares on Wax frontman Evelyn grew up listening to soul and R&B favorites such as Quincy Jones and Curtis Mayfield. These along with popular reggae artists were to number among Evelyn's most important musical influences, to be joined in later years by pioneering hip hop and rap artists. Evelyn came to see soul and hip-hop as part of the same musical continuum and he has said that he seeks the perfect blend of the two genres in his own music.
Nightmares on Wax was formed at the end of the 1980s in West Yorkshire, England, by two members of the group Soul City Rockers, George Evelyn and Kevin Harper. Both men hailed from Leeds, England. Evelyn headed up the group then as in later years, guiding it through its debut single releases in 1990. These were "Dextrous" and "Aftermath," both of which were well received as groundbreaking fusions of soul and hiphop. "Aftermath" in particular gave the group momentum, propelling it onto the pop singles Top 40 chart.
The singles also paved the way for the group's debut album and established it as a leader in the field of downtempo, funk- and soul-influenced electronica, a genre that later spawned such groups as Groove Armada and Zero 7. Nevertheless, Nightmare on Wax's original lineup fell apart after the release of its first album when Harper split to pursue a solo career as a DJ.
Evelyn stayed on the scene for a time with work on a series of house tracks for the Nucleus label and by co-managing a dance club in Leeds called Headz before dropping out of sight. He reemerged four years later with a track on a compilation album, and then in 1995 released the second Nightmares on Wax album, Smoker's Delight, a hip-hop-influenced genre-bender which at least one music critic described as an anthem to the use of marijuana.
Smoker's Delight also marked Nightmare on Wax's first American release, and it proved to be one of the group's most influential, setting the standard for a raft of subsequent releases by other artists seeking to build on Evelyn's dreamy, laid-back sound.
Carboot Soul, released on the American label Matador, followed in 1999. The title harkens back to Evelyn's youth, during which he would search for soul records among albums being sold from the backs of cars. With the title, Evelyn played homage to his musical roots, drawing a clear line between straight-on soul and the hip-hop mixes that make up the album's 11 tracks. By all accounts he succeeded in his mission to find the right balance of traditional soul and DJ wizardry; Jim Carroll of the Irish Times, for instance, raved about grooves that sounded like hit-spinning soul man Marvin Gaye updated for 1999.
Carboot Soul marked a shift in direction for Evelyn and Nightmares on Wax. Introducing live musicians into his act, Evelyn sought to bring his group out of the studio and onto the stage. Concerts featured Evelyn alongside a guitarist, bass player, keyboardist, a singer, and a rapper, but the group continued to rely on synthetic drumbeats.
Evelyn saw the new, live focus for his group as a way to better connect with his audiences, and, as he explained on the Matador website, "to prove that we can perform music." But, said Evelyn, he felt it that electronic drums were an essential part of the Nightmares on Wax sound. The concerts did indeed succeed in bringing Nightmares on Wax a fresh following for the new decade.
A Nightmares on Wax EP called The Sound of N.O.W. hit shelves in 2000, distinguishing itself by including the first music from classic hip-hop act De La Soul to be released in a few years. Nightmares on Wax also produced a Studio K7 compilation album called DJ Kicks, and followed that in 2002 with the fourth Nightmares on Wax album, Mind Elevation.
With Mind Elevation, Nightmares on Wax took a step closer toward the mainstream with a soulful sound Billboard 's Maggie Stein called "bouncy and infectious." The album features contributions from guests Chyna B. and LSK, and samples from reggae act Third World and French pop star Paul Muriat. It continued in Nightmare on Wax's signature vein of referencing soul music from the 1970s and 1980s in chilled-out loops and mixes.
Evelyn described his process for making this album, and indeed much of his work, to Ken Micallef in Remix. "I will sample a record, build the tracks around it, add the musicians and have them replay the sample and then remove the original sample." The result, said Evelyn, is a piece that, while it is inspired by the original sample, may sound completely unlike it.
Micallef, like Billboard's Stein, considered Mind Elevation to be among Evelyn's most mainstream work. It was an observation Evelyn himself shrugged off, saying that he considered his muse his only guide while making music. Whether or not broad popularity would ever revisit him, he intimated, was out of his control. "I don't know where it is going," he told Micallef of his work. "I just go with it."
Evelyn was also philosophical about the typically slow pace of his group's releases, telling the Sunday Times's Dan Cairns in 2002, "If you mention the word schedule to me, I come out in a rash. To get the best results out of Nightmares on Wax, you have to let it happen in its own way."
A World of Science, Warp, 1991.
The Sound of N.O.W. (EP), Hypnotic, 1995; rereleased, Matador, 2000.
Smoker's Delight, Warp, 1995.
Carboot Soul, Matador, 1999.
DJ Kicks, K7, 2000.
Mind Elevation, Warp, 2002.
Billboard, September 21, 2002, p. 29.
Gazette (Montreal, Canada), May 27, 1999, p. B9.
Guardian (London, England), August 30, 2002, p. 16.
Independent (London, England), October 13, 1991, p. 29.
Irish Times, May 1, 1999, p. 72.
Observer September 1, 2002, p. 14.
Remix, September 2002, p. 9.
Sunday Times (London, England), August 4, 2002, p. 10.
Times (London, England), October 23, 1999; March 29, 2003.
"Biography," Nightmares on Wax Official Website, http://www.nightmaresonwax.net (August 24, 2004).
"Nightmares on Wax," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (August 23, 2004).
"Nightmares on Wax Biography," Matador Records, http://www.matadorrecords.com/nightmares_on_wax/biography.h... (August 24, 2004).
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