Red Bull Music Academy grad Mr. Beatnick has tips for the Class of '14

by Mike Sunda

Special To The Japan Times

Londoner Nick Wilson took part in one of the early editions of the Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA) in Cape Town in 2003. The ensuing years have seen him heavily involved in the city’s underground scene, whether it is producing genre-hopping electronic music as Mr Beatnick or writing for publications such as Fact Magazine. The Japan Times figures he’s the perfect person to give us an appraisal of the academy’s evolution over the past decade.

What was RBMA like back in 2003? Did it follow the same format we’re currently familiar with?

Indeed it did, the format hasn’t changed in a decade, which must be testament to the fact that it works. The 2003 edition was held in Cape Town and it was early days for the academy back then — I’ve visited a few sessions over the years, be it Seattle, London or Madrid, the flavor and vibe of the event is always dictated to a certain extent by the location, but the core concept remains the same — informal musical information exchange for two weeks, peer to peer.

How have you seen RBMA change over the years?

The obvious change is that the academy is on a much larger scale these days — the musical events have grown in size, presence and visibility, and the cultural weight it carries has increased substantially in a decade. Also in the last 10 years a significant number of participants have grown and evolved from being debutants to successful and well-known DJs and producers, myself included — the academy is now a worldwide network of alumni who support each other’s endeavors. I think the seeds they began to plant all those years ago have blossomed into something unique in the field of underground music tuition — that was always their vision for the long term and I’m glad they succeeded with it. A hell of a lot of music has been made thanks to the project, as well as a lot of new friends finding each other on the planet.

How would you describe your relationship with RBMA over the subsequent years?

To be clear, the academy doesn’t formally sponsor artists in the way that Red Bull sponsors a Formula One team, but they are there for moral support in the way a teacher supports a pupil. Like many of their alumni, I keep them up to date with my projects from time to time — they kindly invited me to play their stage at Sónar festival this year in recognition of my work over the last few years. We should also be clear that they don’t have a magic wand they can wave that transforms a budding artist into a touring musician — lots of hard work is still required — in my case it took 10 years of very hard work. Clearly, some expert tuition and peer support helps enormously when you’re trying to nail a signature sound of your own, and that’s what the academy provides in my view.

Do you have any fond memories from your term at RBMA?

A great deal, I think one of my favorite moments of my time there was having breakfast with the late, great Dr. Robert Moog (1934-2005). I had just bought a Micromoog synth — the 1976 model — a few weeks before heading to Cape Town, and we spent a wonderful morning talking about that particular model, aircraft wire, artificial intelligence in synthesizers and ladder filter designs. Such a wonderful, inspirational man, when he died I was heartbroken — fortunately the legend lives on in his wonderful machines that so many of us continue to use, they sound like nothing else on Earth.

If you had one piece of advice for someone thinking of applying for RBMA 2014, what would it be?

There are only two bits of advice, and they are probably good bits of advice full stop: 1) Leave your ego at the door; and 2) Be as honest with yourself and others as you can. Both of those are crucial when it comes to filling out the all-important application form, which is what will take you there. And make sure to enjoy yourself whilst we’re at it, because music is about celebrating life, isn’t it?

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