Coming to terms with your relationship with originality isn’t at the top of an artist’s to-do list, and cross-referencing ideas against everything that’s come before will likely provide one answer: shit, back to the drawing board. But does it matter if something’s been done before if you haven’t experienced it?
No, it doesn’t - at least that’s how you feel after speaking to DJ, pace setter and founder of NANG Ralph Hardy. A few weeks after meeting Ralph at one of his club nights we caught up at the bottom of his Mum’s garden in his newly-erected studio. ‘It was a shed like 2 months ago. I had a lot of time on my hands and I said, nah, this should not be a storage space anymore, so I dedicated some sleepless nights into painting and putting boards up and really honing into my want for music’.
Ralph is a relaxed and warm, speaking with bright eyes and eloquence when discussing the finer details of his work, though I’m not sure he’d call it that. ‘Then I bought another shed, that’s what the little one is for. I had to make a compromise somewhere, I couldn’t just throw everything out.’
The idea that nothing is original doesn’t faze him. ‘I have a strong affinity for being original - but that’s just based on how I want things to be in terms of how it’s received… as long as whatever’s been done – whether it’s you, whether it’s her whether it’s them - as long as I can look at it and think this is exactly what you wanted to do, and it comes from a somewhat genuine place, then run with it.’
It might not break new ground, but the feelings are real.
On the process, he muses ‘there’s no middle ground for it. Its either I didn’t think about what just happened, or I spent hours, days and months honing in on how it’s going to look. When it comes to authenticity, the formula is to not have one.’ It’s either too spontaneous for cynicism, or it’s a comprehensive reproduction of the soul. ‘I hope I’m not being too elusive with these answers… I can talk some more?’
At times caught unprepared by the line of questioning, Ralph laughs ‘maybe I should think about myself more than I actually do. These questions have been making me think, like, raah have I just been operating on a wave?’ He has – a wave created from experiences enjoys and recreates. His club night and radio show, New Alternative Nice Grooves (NANG) has been going for 6 years now, and provides everything it promises.
‘I want NANG to be remembered for what its intentions were: to highlight music and people and moments that otherwise would’ve been slept on because it’s not mainstream, because it’s not the trend of today.’ He reminisces about going to raves underage before adding ‘all the music that’s played, it’s not going to be on any playlist. I want people to remember that even if it’s popular or mainstream, it doesn’t mean that’s all you have to digest in that space. I took from Benji B and Deviation, I took from Plastic People, I took from Visions, and everything I liked from these places, I brought to where NANG was. I want someone - whether they’re young or old, late to the party, whoever takes from NANG - to be like: I like what the intentions were, and I’m going to do this with this sound, or these types of people.’
‘I want you to lose your breath and then step out into the smoking section and think – oh shit, this is actually gwarnin’.
Anyone who’s experienced NANG has glimpsed the inside of Hardy’s head. A music fan in the truest sense of the word, after welcoming us down to shoot in his shed-cum-studio, Ralph told us he’d invited some friends along for an impromptu session - the next few hours vanished into the slightly dusty air to good conversation and the sound of 4stringsz electric violin. Hardy had a brief discussion with Roll Deep MC Manga Saint Hilare, and in the 10 minutes that would make us miss our train, he laid down bars in 2 takes. It was worth it.
‘It’s a feeling that 9 times out of 10 I can’t even explain it to you, when I feel something that is authentic and it moves me, to put it into words is almost an insult. You had to have been there. If I write down how NANG was, it’s never going to match up to whoever was there when that reload happened. A recording session for Growing Pains – I can write about it all day but unless you were there and heard the violins or heard the MC structure words based on a conversation, you’re not going to get it. It’s about being in the moment, at the moment. ‘
It doesn’t matter how many other shed-studios are out there, how many other philosophers of music (how many other masquerading music writers) - when you’re part of creating a feeling, nothing else matters.
‘I just want people to move. Whether it’s funk from 20 years ago, 30 years ago; whether it’s James Blake to Queen or whatever, as long as you’re celebrating something that means something to you, authenticity is going to grow. Feelings are going to grow. The movement will grow.’
Follow Ralph Hardy here, and get tickets for the next NANG night here. See you there.