Montreal-raised producer and DJ, Nautiluss, aka Graham Douglas Bertie, has produced music under many aliases, varying between dance music, hip hop and bass music. With Nautiluss, however, he focuses on a darker techno sound, experimenting with the realms of consciousness and dreams, blurring the lines between organic and synthesized, between UK bass music, techno, and house. A DJ and a producer since the mid-90s, Graham also hosts the The Borderland State, a monthly podcast on Toronto Radio Project (TRP). In the past year he also joined a Toronto-based VR start-up, namely Occupied VR, to which he contributes in the audio, visual and programming departments. Driven by all that is tech, Nautiluss masters the science of using gears, and applies his knowledge in intricate live sets. We asked him about his experience at Mutek and other projects he’s working on.
You’ve worked on a lot of different projects since you started producing music. Why have you chosen to focus on Nautiluss in the last years?
Well aside from in my earliest work, I had not really established a project of my own. I produced for toured with someone else for years and while it was a good experience, I wanted to give it a try on my own terms where I didn’t have to compromise. Don’t get me wrong, I like collaborating with other people when it feels right, but I would rather not be dependent on it.
When you first launched Nautiluss, did you have a specific idea of what you wanted to do with it?
I was more concerned with carving a sound for myself rather than painting myself into a specific genre. I figured that if I created enough material, my sound would make itself known. I don’t want to repeat myself ad infinitum and I like keeping people on their toes.
After your first release on the UK label Hemlock Recordings. You have signed Habitat and Alpha on Turbo. In both EPs it seems that you try to aim towards the darker sides of house and techno. Something changed between Ultraviolet and this EP. At this time did you feel the need to experience something new? Something maybe more techno and dark?
I think that it was more reflective of the environment in which I was when I made them. I had a basement studio with no windows and a 6 foot ceiling, sort of like a little cave, and so I was making darker material. Habitat was written in a very short time frame and that probably explains why it is probably my most cohesive record.
With Solstice and Aerochrome more recently on The Nite Owl Diner, we can feel that your Nautiluss footprint is starting to assert itself. However, we also hear your old UK bass influence on Pyramid Lake, which I personally love! Did you finally find the perfect balance between your past influence and what you want to do with Nautiluss?
Pyramid lake reflects the first music I heard when I discovered electronic music in the 90s. I feel lucky to have first heard UK Hardcore and early jungle and so I wanted to pay tribute to it.
I don’t know if I will ever find the perfect balance and there are always old records that I’ve never heard before that inspire me. I think that it’s a learning process that lasts for your whole life.
Back in 2012, you were invited to play at the Mutek festival for the first time, how do you recall your experience? How have you changed as an artist in 4 years and how do you approach this edition of the Mutek festival?
I didn’t really know what I was doing back in 2012, I put the live set together as well as I could. I think it was a bit premature for me. I didn’t want to say no, obviously, because it’s an honor to be asked to play. I remember it being very “on rails” and it didn’t have much improvisation.
I haven’t done a lot of live shows, maybe 9 or 10 – but now I leave a lot of room for improvisation. I jump between parts, so the track length is dictated by me, it’s definitely a lot more free-flowing. I also have more music than I have time to play, so I can also change directions if I’m feeling one way or another.
What differentiates Mutek compared to other festivals, according to you?
Definitely the curation, which is very well done, I haven’t played a lot of festivals though, but generally the shows at Mutek are really great. I also like the fact that there aren’t just the concerts, but also the panels. I love that there’s more of an all encompassing offer. The whole festival is really meant to strengthen the electronic music community.
What is your creative process when you work on a live set? You seems to love gear, what is your live setup this year?
I try to stop posting pictures of my gear, because I don’t want people to feel like they need all this stuff, because they don’t. I might be a victim of it myself, they call it Gear Acquisition Syndrome, where you just want to buy stuff all the time. I feel like the more I buy, the less productive I am with each piece of gear.
So for my live set, I usually just pick the songs that I want to play – which is actually the hardest part. I have like 40 songs, and not much time to play them. And like I said, I might switch it up anyway, so I usually just try to have a general idea, in order to rehearse the set. But basically, my live sets are a mix of some old material that has already come out, some of the new stuff that is coming out soon and some of is original content written for the performance.
Live performances are really important, especially because everybody is a DJ now, so the ability to play live is really good way to distinguish yourself from others. It’s hard, but I think that it’s worth it. I normally neglect to play my own songs when I DJ so it’s really nice to make people dance to an hour of my own original material. I’m trying to have more fun with it, and I know that if I do it more often, it will feel better.
I read that you used to be a video game programmer. One of your tracks was recently featured on a dystopian sci-fi thriller VR game for Oculus Rift, can you tell us more about it? Do you like to combine technology, video game and music? Is it something that you want to do more in the future?
I believe that most people that get into electronic music have an interest in other forms of technology. I know a lot of people in Toronto that have a computer background, either as programmers or visual artists. I was introduced to computers very early. I used sharewares or softwares to make music in the 90s. This VR stuff I’m involved with is very similar to my approach of music. It’s like telling a story, with different tools sure, but the result is all about the story. There’s definitely a lot of common ground between game making and music.
It’s really fun and it’s a wonderful new creative medium and I can’t wait to demonstrate my own unique VR experiences for Nautiluss.
I recently discovered The Borderland State show. Can you tell us more about this radio show and why you have created it? Did you feel the need to share your musical vision with the community?
When Frazer and Michael started TRP, they reached out to me and other established DJs and I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to help strengthen the electronic music community in Toronto and I firmly believed that TRP would be instrumental in achieving that. And time has proven that to be true. At first it was really hard to find the motivation to make the show every month with the awareness that very few people were listening and it is quite a bit of work to put together. But in the last year I’ve really started to enjoy the routine of making it regardless of whether anyone else is tuning in. It’s been slow building, but whenever people tell me that they like the show, it justifies the effort. It is also a great way to document whatever music I am enjoying at any given time.
On your website your may update mentions that your next EP is mastered and that the design has been completed, what more are we allowed to know?
I don’t really want to do make any official announcements before the label does. But it is coming this fall and I’m very excited about it. :)
Interview by Alexandre G
Photo by: Sarah-Marie