DHA Profiles: Nasser Baker
I met Nasser Baker a couple of weeks ago on one of the first truly nice days of the Amsterdam season (which just happened to follow the day long national celebration that is Kingsday). Despite a mild touch of the post party blues, it was still the perfect day for a musical stroll through some of Amsterdam’s best record shops, and with one of the dance industry’s freshest faces.
I knew a bit about Nasser beforehand, especially that he was the latest protege of Objektivity boss Dennis Ferrer, the dance music icon who can boast a similar title when referencing The Martinez Brothers and Andre Hommen. Via Objektivity, Nasser’s brand of vocal ready and groove-based House has featured on a handful of releases since 2013, most notably (perhaps) being last year’s ‘Future Primitive’ EP. Nasser has also showcased his Techier side on Coyu‘s Suara imprint with the ambitious ‘Gramercy’ EP, one that comes complete with Doctor Dru and Huxley remixes. Now, with his latest Objektivity release recently hitting shelves both digital and analog, Ferrer’s Misfits Society Blue Marlin Ibiza residency in full swing, and a globe trotting solo DJ schedule to boot, the young man from New Jersey with the mile long smile, infectious soul and dedicated ambition seems situated at the forefront of Tech-House’s new breed.
We had agreed to meet at the world famous Rush Hour Records where the post Kingsday feels definitely resulted in a quieter than usual atmosphere. Perfect for create digging and chit chatting, to where we kicked things off from any such conversations natural beginning. Explaining to me about a background growing up outside of New York City in North Plainfield, New Jersey, Nasser first expounds on his ambitions within the sports world – boxing to be precise. It makes sense given the 23 year old’s solid frame, although his mild mannered attitude, not so much. “Originally, My dad and I said I was going to be a boxer, and that’s it, but one day a co worker of his was selling his turntables for $120. He gave me some records with it and I thought it was interesting. I thought it was cool. Before that moment I wasn’t necessarily “into” music. When I got the turntables it changed everything”.
Now, with a musical education coming from both mom and dad, the former being a prominent local DJ & battle rapper; the latter once scouted by Whitney Houston’s representatives, and the blessing of a 1000+ collection of (mostly Disco) vinyl classics bestowed upon him, Nasser’s attention quickly moved from sport to music, taking early steps in the same humble beginnings so many of the determined do – local events, sweet 16 parties, basketball games, school dances, etc. “I was a mobile DJ for a while. I made decent money and it was also very interesting. For example, I’d play for semi pro basketball games and drop tracks whenever the home team scored. That was fun”. Needless to say, these events didn’t necessarily bang out the rolling basslines and soaring vocals, but they were enough to lay the foundation for things to come, all while staying grounded in the now. Interestingly enough, much like a previous conversation I had with Steve Martinez, Nasser’s grounding also comes from his parents direct association with his career. “They keep me grounded,” he says. “My dad was the guy who made it out of the streets and he told me all the stories. He told me to live the life I could enjoy, which I do!”
Of those foundational things, the studio introduction to Ferrer by way of The Martinez Brothers can arguably be considered the most important. “The Martinez Brothers played a radio show about half an hour from my house and I wanted to go. My dad really didn’t but I told him I had to go see them. So, we went and we met up. All of a sudden, I went over to their house and they just told me I needed to meet Dennis. We went over to his place, straight to the studio, and that’s how it started. Now, how I got my first EP, Dennis told me to send me something similar to names like Subb-an and Jamie Jones. At the time I was still searching for my sound, so I kept sending him music until something fit”. The result being the expert tutelage and sculpting of a young artist, ever honing production polish and performance poise. I asked Nasser about his working relationship with Ferrer and how the development of his sound, both artistically and practically, have developed from 2013’s debut ‘Salutations’ EP to 2017’s ‘Just Like That’. Nasser says, “At first, Dennis would mostly criticize my music from a technical standpoint…like mixing and arrangement, even until this day he tells me to tighten stuff up. Musically, he’ll tell me it’s up to me and give me some sound examples. It’s difficult but necessary. I was really searching for that sound up until about a month or two ago”. Going on, speaking specifically on the latest EP Nasser explains the constant process to find the right combination of release-ready tracks, “I was going for this Tech-House sound where I was always having trouble with. There was always something not right. As a result, I was making more melodic deep house, then I was making some Techno. Ultimately, there was a lot that led me to my current sound, though. My dad asked me what I was going for, for example. Then my DJ friends kept asking me and I realized I need to make the decision. So, after three years of trying, I knew exactly what to do so I made a track that ended up with a real bounce and groove to it and I breathed a sigh of relief. I can just make music now!”
At this point, we decide to head across town toward the city’s infamous Red Light District and off to Mary Go Wild. During the walk over, we casually discussed Nasser’s time in Amsterdam, which to my surprise was something around 2 weeks even before we had met. Surely in that time he had navigated a bit of the city’s dance music scene so I was curious about who (if anyone) he had run into. “I met Carlos Valdes who played with Margaret Dygas at De School. That was a dope club! It reminded me of Output in Brooklyn…after that I was so inspired with energy that I spent the next day working on music, which I hadn’t really done while being here.” It’s obvious at this point that travel already makes up a big part of Nasser’s life, so I wondered how such a young person was dealing with its rigor. “After Ibiza I get to go home for a little while,” he said. “The travel is just starting to pick up. I don’t mind it even though you don’t get to see much while you are going. I’ve actually been to Amsterdam four times, so I get to see the most when I’m here. But, I was just in and out of London, Dominican Republic, Turkey, and all kinds of places”.
Contrary to the vinyl-centric, crate digging approach of Rush Hour, Mary Go Wild has amore mixed platform approach with clothes and books making up the foreground and its listening area in the back. Unlike Rush Hour’s standing only booths, Mary Go Wild allowed us to sit and enjoy its air conditioned comfort (and quiet) for a much more relaxed conclusion to our day. Here, Nasser joyfully mentions how as a young child, even before the boxing, something told him music was in his bones with anecdotes of creative sound effect overlays during intense toy battles. “I used to make mad noise with my action figures back in the day. My grandmother called me the sound effect man”. Here, he also mentions how the film 2002 film Drumline may have laid the foundation for his innate draw to percussion, snare, and beat. “Man, that movie completely changed me. I loved the snare drum so i bought one and practiced all the time. It was great but I lived in apartment building so may not have been that great for anyone else”. That image brought me back to my suburban US days, where the marching band was huge in High School, but Nasser never actually joined his school’s…which, in my opinion, was probably for the best. “I was already a DJ by the time I was in High School” Nasser says proudly.
As the day drew to a close, Nasser was headed off to Ibiza for the Blue Marlin opening event (residency kicked off 14 May) and I was headed off to bed (did I mention it was Kingsday the day before ;) It’s always refreshing to see a young person remain humbled in this industry, but it’s even more refreshing to see a young person excited, and that is what I most noticed about Nasser – excitement for what he has accomplished and excitement for the road ahead.
“Just Like That” is NOW AVAILABLE on Objektivity