Nachtbraker is a Dutch word, its pair of hard, clicking consonants rolling beautifully off the tongue in quick succession. Literally translated it means “Night Hawk,” but with the added sense of the English term “Night Owl,” meaning someone who comes to life at night. However, we meet Maurits Verwoerd who records under the pseudonym of Nachtbraker on a bright morning, for coffee in the sunshine and a chat about his debut album, his production style, and his own personal circadian rhythms.
Recently turned 27, Amsterdam resident Nachtbraker has been DJing and producing for around 10 years, beginning his production career at around 16 and DJing at 18.
“I always loved music,” he says. “I started out with super commercial music, but I never played any instruments, it just came out of playing around on a computer with different sounds and that’s also where my production process came from. I first started making mixtapes of tracks I liked then I went from that into making mash-ups and remixing tracks that I really liked, and then from there, that’s how I started working with samples. My music is very much sample based even though I like to use synths, and drum computers or samples of drum computers.”
Maurits was christened Nachtbraker by his friends in honour of his nocturnal nature. He’s the proverbial night owl, coming to life when the sun goes down, heading to the studio after dark to create more of his original funk-filled productions. His distinctive take on the house music template and disregard for tight genre restraints have resulted in a string of top quality EPs on Heist, Dirt Crew and Hudd Traxx. In October he released his first full-length album, the warm, wandering collection of simultaneously hazy-but-detailed house and electronica When You Find A Stranger In The Alps. The album languidly takes in a few different genres, is full of tasty little production touches and it’s one of the warmest, densest albums you’ll hear this year; even on little computer speakers, it positively glows.
“I don’t use many analogue instruments… but I had my album mixed and mastered at a studio in Switzerland called Q-Lab,” he says. “It’s part of a club called Elysia, and they this amazing sound system that’s way too big for the small room. I went there to mix down some of the tracks and master it with the engineer there. And the nice thing was we could listen to the album then go and check it in the club. The reason it sounds so warm is that we routed the whole album through a Studer 24 track tape machine.”
When You Find A Stranger In The Alps is a confident and distinctive production, which often abandons club conventions to pursue more idiosyncratic musical backwaters, and is all the richer for it. Hints of the warm sample cut-ups of DJ Koze and the pristine deep dub disco of Ron Basejam mingle with fuzzy electronica, dreamy downtempo and idiosyncratic tech disco. Classic drum breaks are flipped and bolted onto layers of gauzy samples, in songs that are thick with atmosphere.
“First and foremost, it’s my 10th proper release and I really felt the urge to make something bigger than just an EP, to make a more complete story. With an EP you can do it, and I tried to sometimes and it worked, but it’s still very limited and you cannot go in different directions. With the album, I finally cut loose from the normal club experience and could go a bit deeper. It wasn’t just about creating ambient tracks or anything … but just to be able to make something that wasn’t for the floor, and was more for listening purposes, that’s something I really enjoyed.”
But dance music albums are notoriously difficult to pull off successfully…
“That’s the thing,” he says. “If I were to make a dance music album it would feel like basically two EPs. And this really feels like an album. So maybe if I’m going to do a second album then I think I would rather do more experimental direction on the album and stick to EPs for club music because it’s more interesting that way.
“The whole process took two and a half years. If I would have released the version from one and a half years ago it would be a completely different album. I tried to release it then, but I knew it wasn’t ready. At least half of the album I made within the last eight months.”
How did he know when a track or indeed the whole album was “ready”?
“I think when I just listen to the whole album from start to finish non-stop and I was satisfied and I wasn’t skipping,” he says. “It’s a feeling in the end, it’s hard to say, there are no parameters, there’s no checklist for an album. When it feels right it feels right.”
Nachtbraker has pursued a parallel DJing career with a residency at his hometown Amsterdam’s ZeeZout festival as well as regular international club and festival dates.
“This year I had some really good experiences,” he says. “One I was playing for ZeeZout – really cold, minus 2 degrees, you could see people were moving together for heat and I played the second last slot on the main stage. It kind of gave me the opportunity – because usually as a local I tend to warm up – I mean I play the good clubs outside of Amsterdam but because you’re a local artist you tend to do the warm-up for international guests – which is fine by the way, but it was really nice to finally have the opportunity to play for my home town in a good slot.”
Nachtbraker by his own admission spends “too much money on vinyl. Because a lot of the music I like is only on vinyl and I just love playing vinyl. I’m basically addicted to it… I play digital as well but that’s mainly my own music or promos. It’s always through Discogs, I go through from seller to seller, I see he has a nice record, ah he must have other nice records, click through, click on the label, click on the artist…
“Lately, I’m buying a lot of minimal house and tech house – early 2000s/late ’90s tech house. I love that kind of stuff. My DJ sets are really aimed more in this direction now… you know, your taste constantly changes, nowadays I’m even playing some Drum & Bass every now and then or electro breaks. My BPM if I play a headline slot, usually it’s around 130 BPM whereas two years ago it would have been 120 BPM. The style and tempo of music changes a lot… I love switching [genres] around in my sets.
“I love that steady pace in Detroit Techno… that hypnotic vibe. I mainly play house music, it’s the cornerstone of what I do, and then I like to go places, go different directions, change tempos.”
It’s an approach mirrored by Nachtbraker’s label Quartet Series, which has become synonymous with highly original house releases, from the quirky to the seriously deep, sometimes jazzy, sometimes techy, always interesting.
“I’ve been running it for three years now,” he says. “The first year it’s new, it’s fresh, you get a lot of eyes on you and people are buying your music a lot. That kind of wore off! The concept I try to reach with it is to keep it fresh by working with new quartets all the time and being able to reset the label every now and then. With the album, I’m trying to give a new impulse to the label and next year I’m going to start a new quartet. I’m talking to more established artists to reach a new audience as well. But so far I really can’t complain because a lot of people see the label as a fundamental part of the label scene – there’s a lot of people who use it as a benchmark and a lot of people who know the label. And sometimes people think it’s been around for years when it’s only been three… it’s something I’m really proud of.”
Does he have a favorite production from his own back catalog?
“It’s hard to say. I actually like all my productions! But one I’m really happy with is from 2017, I did an EP on Heist, and did one track with Sam Proper [the Talking Heads-esque “Elegy – M.m.m.”] He walked into my studio – I have a studio here in Amsterdam and he has a studio there as well; my door was open and I was playing the track that was eventually released and he just kind of walked in and started singing nonsense. I basically kicked him in the vocal booth and recorded 30 minutes of bullshit and then chopped it up. But it was a nice collaboration, he made lots of ad-libs so I could layer them. It’s a track I’m really happy with because I normally don’t work with vocals because I find it very tricky. Usually, like 9 out of 10 vocals for me kind of ruin a track, and I’m like ‘I wish they didn’t put it in there.’ But this was the first time that I was really happy [with a vocal] and that it was a really fundamental part of the track – complimented the whole thing and took it to the next level.”
And finally, what does the future hold for Nachtbraker the DJ and producer?
“From the perspective of my own taste, I’m really getting in the more minimal and techy vibe again, still house, still groovy but a bit more electronic, bit more fast-paced, stripped-down maybe. I can see here in Amsterdam a lot, the minimal house stuff is reviving again, and a lot of people who are proper crate diggers, they’re playing a lot of this right now. I see the whole more ‘ravey’ kind of sounds especially in the UK, is popping up right now too, guys like Dennis Sulta who are playing these old rave tracks.
“I’m planning to do a couple of remix EPs with Quartet Series artists, and then I’m also talking to a couple more established artists to do maybe two remix EPs next year. For now my aim is to get people to listen to the album! Try to see if I can get it to a different audience who haven’t heard of my music before.”
A new audience who’ve not yet heard Nachtbraker’s music? They’re in for a treat.
When You Find A Stranger In The Alps is out now from Quartet Series.