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Back in the day, the idea of the faceless DJ was sort of a reaction against the rock star and the rock lifestyle," says Darin McFadyen, better known as Freq Nasty. "The raves of the late '80s and early '90s were about people coming together and dancing and enjoying one another's company, and it didn't matter who the DJ was. He was just providing the soundtrack to people connecting. But as more DJs started doing that, it became a little boring. So what I try to do is to give people something to identify with."
The thirty-something McFadyen, who uses London as his home base, is hard to miss. He's among the most immediately recognizable figures on the current dance scene, thanks to his hairstyle, which seems to feature half the dreadlocks in Jamaica, and a fondness for shades that are only slightly smaller than a Miata's windshield. Such flamboyance comes naturally, since McFadyen considers himself to be a music-maker first and a DJ second -- and Bring Me the Head of Freq Nasty, a thoroughly entertaining full-length produced for Skint Records, backs up this belief. Tracks such as "Come Let Me Know," co-starring MC Rodney P, may be compulsively danceable, but they're more than mere grooves. Rather, they're actual songs designed by McFadyen with the CD format in mind.
"Making an album gives me more scope," he notes. "The dance-floor aesthetic is great, because it's very functional. When I'm making club tunes, I work on a sonic level that makes people dance, and I enjoy the simplicity of that. But it's nice to work on an album, where you don't have to focus on just those functional aspects. It gives you more colors to work with."
Not that McFadyen feels handcuffed by having to operate within the constraints of the dance medium. "The word 'limiting' can be sort of deceptive," he maintains. "Think about a Renaissance master painter who could only paint in two dimensions. If you look at things in terms of what we can do today with film and 3-D animation, you might think the painter was limited. But the parameters only made those painters better. You have a certain palette, and when you twist that up in ever more subtle ways, it's still very creative. You might even say the limitations force you to become more creative."
A native of Fiji who moved with his family to New Zealand when he was a toddler, McFadyen developed a love of music with a little help from his father, an accomplished guitarist. After studying the drums during his early teens, McFadyen added his dad's instrument of choice to his repertoire; he soon found himself in a cover combo specializing in "stuff by Eric Clapton right through to Duran Duran and things in the '80s." Only after borrowing a primitive sampler from the group's keyboard player did he begin to find his own musical voice.
"He just used it for strings and horns and things like that," McFadyen recalls. "But I was listening to a lot of hip-hop at the time, and even though it had a very tiny amount of sampling time on it, I'd spend my weekends trying to work out how Public Enemy made all those sounds on their records." After a year or so of fiddling about, he purchased his own sampler and realized that "I could make up my own tunes. And from then on, it was open season."
Unfortunately, the local scene didn't provide a lot of opportunities for a budding beat-master. "Now, New Zealand is amazing," he allows. "There's so much good stuff: hip-hop, reggae, deep house music, and breaks as well. But back then, it was mostly just shitty pub-rock music." For that reason, McFadyen relocated to Australia before landing in London shortly after the dawn of the '90s. He soon immersed himself in breakbeat, a nascent movement that took the spare feel of drum-and-bass and upped its accessibility for club consumption. Breakbeat pioneer Gervase Cooke, aka B.L.I.M., was a kindred spirit, and in 1995, a collaborative effort they dubbed "Jeamland" made waves in England and beyond. McFadyen's profile rose as a result, and he soon found himself awash in offers to man the control boards at assorted venues. "I kept telling them, 'I'm not a DJ. I'm not a DJ,'" he points out. "But after a while, I thought, I might as well."
Before long, he learned that such gigs aren't as easy as they might seem to the uninitiated. "I just jumped into the deep end," he says. "Making records is the fast track to getting good DJ gigs, so all of a sudden, I was deejaying with people who'd spent ten years slowly building up to where they could play the good clubs in London, because they hadn't been making records. I was dropped in beside them, and I couldn't deejay at all. I was terrible when I started, so I had to learn very, very quickly."
As his skills developed, he became a sought-after mixologist. Long before the release of 2002's Y4K: Next Level Breaks, a well-regarded comp issued under his name, he was chosen to remix cuts like "Sound of Da Police," by KRS-One. His approach to this assignment was to "keep it simple and let the vocal shine. It's a classic tune, so for me, the job was just to give the beats a new spin, speed them up to the tempo of my genre, and let the essence of the vocal come through. I wouldn't have wanted to use a tiny little loop and a few little noises."