A LEGEND, NERVOUS RECORDS MAIN MAN MIKE WEISS...
Hi Mike, welcome to the DMC World and thank you for talking to us. You launched in 1991, a great time for proper house music labels, nestled amongst the likes of Strictly Rhythm, Nugroove, Emotive and Maxi... exciting times?
"Epic times for sure! The New York night life industry and music industry was thriving. It took just three stops to break a house track worldwide, Wednesday night at the Sound Factory Bar with Louie Vega, Saturday night at Redzone with David Morales, and then late Saturday at Zanzibar with Tony Humphries. If they all jammed your track peaktime, you knew it was gonna be a winner in Europe as well. Plus we had five hot 12" stores around Manhattan. We used to drive around in the "Nervous van" on Friday and drop off close to 1,000 pieces of vinyl to those shops each week."
How did you get into the music business in the first place?
"Totally in my blood. My father and Uncle had started one of New York's great early independent street R&B labels - Old Town Records in the 50's. Then my Dad went on to start one of New York's hottest disco labels Sam Records in the 70's. So I really grew up in and around the business. Went to my first nightclub in the late 60's as a little child - The Electric Circus in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. As a teen I was lucky enough to get the chance to watch Larry Levan work his magic at the Paradise Garage."
Your early hits on the label included dancefloor smashes such as Sandy B's 'Feel Like Singing', Loni Clark's Rushing' and the amazing Nuyorcian Soul 'The Nervous Track'. What were your favourite tracks from the early years, what tunes still send tingles down your spine when you hear them?
"The Swing Kids/Good Feeling produced by Kenny Dope has great memories for me. When I came to Ministry of Sound in 1992 for the first London-based Nervous NYC party, that was the track playing in the club when I first walked in. 'The Nervous Track' is a favorite as much for the way I signed it. Louie Vega called me at 3:30 am on a Tuesday night and said "Yo get your ass over to the Studio, Kenny and I have to play you something." I told him I would see them at 9:00 and they could play it for me at breakfast. He told me if I wanted it, I had to get there now. I knew it was a special track of course as soon as I heard it. And figured if there was ever a track that should be linked forever with the label, that was it. Thus 'The Nervous Track'. I love all the early Wayne Gardiner tracks on Nervous, and the Frankie Feliciano stuff. Josh Wink's 'Don't Laugh' has special memories. He had released two 12"s on Nervous. More serious, tech house type stuff. He called me to play me a track and said, "hey don't laugh when you hear this..." I heard what ultimately became 'Don't Laugh' and also knew he had just then given it the right title!"
So discovering Funkmaster Flex in the mid 90s before he joined playing on Hot 97... how did you find him? At one point he was the most famous hip hop DJ in the world...?
"There was a well-known DJ/MC in the late 80's NYC hip hop scene called Chuck Chillout. I knew him from going to some hip hop parties and Flex at first carried his records and then went on to be his DJ when Chuck got a radio show at WBLS. After having some solid success on the house side with Nervous, I decided to branch into hip hop. At that point Flex was DJing on Sunday nghts at a spot called Club 2000 on 148th Street and Broadway in the area called Washington Heights. This was early 1993 and Washington Heights was like out an outpost of Dominican Republic and a major drug den in NYC. Undercover cops were all over the place and there had bee a series of undercover cop shootings with drug runners taking pot shots from rooftops. I remember I used to park the Nervous Van and then get out and sprint down Broadway to avoid any possible incidents. The club was filled with Latin kids getting down to Flex's hip hop joints. After a couple months, Flex got hired at Hot 97 and then he was off and running. Now he sells out 100,000 capacity stadiums for his car shows. Incredible."
There are seminal hip hop albums out there for sure, your 'Enta Da Stage' by Black Moon and 'Dah Shinin' by Smif-n-Wessun are considered two of the biggest and best hip hop albums OF ALL TIME. As a label, how much input do you have when your artists are making these pieces of musical art?
"The best thing I feel I can do is delicately push things along to completion. When those albums were being made, the groups were already red-hot. There was so much going on with touring, radio appearances, and video productions that it was easy for them to get sidetracked. I just tried to keep everyone focused on the goal of completing an album we would all be proud of."
Your artist Mad Lion, a pioneer in the Reggae Hip Hop scene, what was he like to work with?
"I met Mad Lion through KRS-one, who was always one to stay on top of what was hot in the streets. 1993, 1994 Nervous pretty much was on top of the underground. So he wanted to get involved with the label, and he brought us Mad Lion. 'Shoot to Kill' was the first single and an immediate street classic. Lion's growlly rap was so distinctive and 'ruff. Fitted perfectly with the vibe of NYC back then. And then the second single was 'Take It Easy' and that just was a monster."
Nervous has had some incredible producers working with you since you brought happiness to the dancefloor, Victor Calderone, Tom Stephan and Oscar G amongst dozens of others... who has really stood out for you?
"To me what makes a DJ special is when he can play a track and it will be huge for his crowd, but then that same track played by somebody else will fall flat. Oscar G is a classic example of that. He can play an amazing 6 hour set at Space in Miami, all with records that in different circumstances would just not work. As a producer it is great to watch Oscar progress. He has that commercial side to him of course (he co-wrote and produced 'Fired Up'!), but at the same time now he is one of the ultimate purveyors of deep, tribally house music. So the result of these competing influences is some compelling tunes! Which people shall hear on upcoming Nervous album release in May 2009. Tom and Vic have a similar vibe as well. Tom has that special energy in his music that still has a nod to America's long gone Circuit scene, which is interesting. I have been releasing tracks by Chris Lake over the past couple years, and I'm really excited about releasing his upcoming album on Nervous. Chris is progressive in terms of the sounds he uses, but at the same time he has a soulful side that comes through in the melodies of his tunes that makes them probably more accessible to the USA than to Europe. Working with Rlaph Falcon is a unique experience. Some of his music comes from such a dark place. Both I Need Someone and Break You were initially received as being too dark to work in a big way. But look what happens? Both became huge in their own right."
Miami 1997, you took over Denny's, a party people I know still talk about. You blacked out the windows, installed a soundsystem and ordered 'Grand Slam' breakfasts for all the artists that spun some sweet house music. What do you remember about that party?
"I just could not believe we were able to pull it off. We had set up all the DJs, rented the sound system and arranged for a 3am delivery, and printed and distributed flyers, but still the whole thing was contingent on the night manager letting this happen. I remember her well. Older women named Gloria. She said at 4am she did not mind a little music being played in the restaurant. Meanwhile we brought in a big sound system for a proper club! I remember we covered the windows with Nervous posters so police would not happen to notice it and find out what was going on. My distinct memory is watching Teddy Douglas dancing while DJing surrounded by the horrible Denny's fluorescent lighting, waiters running all over the place, Nervous staff pouring vodka in everyone's drink. Classic stuff! The best was when I was flying to London later that year and saw an article in the British Airways magazine about great things do in Miami. And they had a full page photo of DJ Paulette playing the Nervous party at Dennys!"
Who are the NYC kings for you?
"I am a born and bred New Yorker and even though I know from a media and popularity standpoint the New York club scene and sound is not on top right now, I still always have a feel for the guys who are on top in this town. In the early 90's that meant Louie Vega, Kenny Dope, Todd Terry, David Morales, Frankie Knuckles and Tony Humphries, all of whom I was fortunate enough to work with. In the past year I've had albums from Oscar G, Behrouz, Tom Stephan, all of whom have heavy fanbases here. On deck for 2009 are albums from Mind Control (Peter Bailey and Richie Santana, and Danny Krivit. It is not an easy time to release DJ comps in the US, but those are the kinds of album I like. So as long as there is an outlet somewhere, we will continue to blast them out."
You have a new album coming out, Armand Pena's debut mix for you 'Nervous Nitelife"Miami 2009, officially launched at WMC And what a week you have in store for us. The Nikki Beach album launch on March 25th with guest DJs Murk, Tom Novy, Dirty Vegas's Paul Harris, George Morel, the Flash Brothers, Chris Lake and many others. Then onto the Score club on Thursday with your Future Anthems event with the likes of Kim English, Daniella and Anana, a party now renowned for being the best vocal night of the week and then Friday at Nocturnal with Cevin Fisher, Steve Mac, Kenny Dope and many, many more. Quite a week! What have been your best Miami moments over the years?
"Live performances from Nervous artists are always great moments. Sandy B performing 'Feel Like Singing' at the old Warsaw Ballroom in 1992. Charlotte performing the New York club classic 'Skin' at the Albion pool in 1999. Byron Stingily performing 'Get Up Everybody' at the Nervous/AX street festival in 1997. And last year, Inaya Day and Joi Cardwell performing at Score was tremendous. This year Tamara Wallace is going to debut the New Oscar G single 'Right Back To You' at 8am on the Nocturnal Terrace. That is going to be a huge moment for sure!"
What is the current state of record sales in the US, has the whole download thing effected the market as much as the UK?
"Yes the physical sales side is abysmal. We can all see where this is leading… ultimately this will be a digital game. And physical CD's will just a specialty item. Digital is good, but now anyone staying in this business truly is in it for the love. There are very few big paydays. Even the big tracks don't generate nearly the same kind of revenue that they would have a few years back."
What new Nervous artists are you about to bring to us all?
"The Chris Lake album 'Crazy', is amazing. We have some great upcoming vocal projects from Sophia May with whom we had the second most played dance track at radio last year with 'I Can't Help Myself' by Bellatrax featuring Sophia May. There is a hot underground DJ/producer from New York named Chriss Vargas whom we are debuting."
What do you think about your new President?
"Amazing dude of course. And seems inclined to appreciate the creative community. Who knows. Maybe he will help lift off the corporate and creative strangle-hold that has inflicted the US radio industry during the past few years."
What has been the best EVER Nervous event?
"Sorry not sure if I can narrow it down like that… for me it is always a matter of "the bigger the better." In 1995 I had an event at Twilo with Josh Wink, Armand Van Helden and Louie Vega! Triple HEADLINER for sure! I I love the Nocturnal WMC events we do cause it is so long. From midnight to 1:00 pm. 13 hour Nervous event… nice! 2011 is our 20 year anniversary. I'm already thinking about the venue, line-up for that. Will be insane!"
What is the worst thing about living in New York?
"There is no "worst thing" in my book. A city that rolls for 24 hours, always a spot somewhere playing music, always new ways to get into good trouble and bad trouble… that's what it's all about!"
What is your favourite Nervous track of all time?
"I'm fickle. At any given time my favorite track is the one that helps me to pay my staff and office rent. Right now Chris Lake 'If You Knew' is doing decent beatport and itunes numbers, so that's my favorite track today!"
And when did you last have a holiday!!!
"A holiday to me is that rare night when I get more than my usual 3 or 4 hours sleep."