Formerly one half of Thunderheist, Toronto producer Graham Bertie is on the cusp of superstardom with his darker and heavier new project Nautiluss.
Who: Toronto producer Graham Bertie a.k.a. Nautiluss has crammed a great deal of growth into his past six years of making music full-time.
The former Montrealer once held a high-paying programmer job at gaming company Ubisoft while DJing and making J Dilla-inspired hip-hop tracks under the alias of Metrix on the side. Also known as Grahmzilla, he’s since undergone many a musical transformation.
In 2006, Bertie began to collaborate with T.O. hip-hop emcee Isis Salam. In an era of blog house, Baltimore club and electro-charged party rap, the two of them fused all of those influences and more into a project that was prime for its time: Thunderheist. The dance music duo’s fast rise led to loads of press coverage (hello, Perez Hilton), an album deal with Ninja Tune subsidiary Big Dada, and the inclusion of their underground smash “Jerk It” in 2008 film The Wrestler. Thunderheist toured much of the globe and was on the precipice of mainstream success when, in 2010, Bertie quit.
“After the four-year pub crawl that was Thunderheist, I decided I wanted to go back to the drawing board,” explains the producer. “I knew that I didn’t want to make disposable party music and that I wanted to define my own sound, which I didn’t feel I had the chance or know-how to do while in the band.
“So I bought a bunch of outboard gear that would give me a starting point for a sonic identity, and just got to writing music—a lot of music—and to improving my sound design and music theory. Pretty much any day that I was home, I tried to get something done. At a certain point, I realized that I do not want to be someone who limits themself to a certain BPM [tempo] and/or genre. I just want to make good music.”
Bertie has since explored a great deal of sonic territory, for a while as half of Bassanovva, a collab with Miami-based producer Jubilee. Most recently, he completed a metamorphosis into solo artist Nautiluss.
What: Nautiluss is Bertie at his deepest, darkest and heaviest. The project also finds him handily avoiding any pigeonholing, as each release sounds different than the last.
Nautiluss’ debut single, released last September on London’s Hemlock Recordings, set the pace. Its exploratory and emotive A-side, “Ultraviolet,” featured the vocals of Black Ghosts’ Simon Lord (also ex-frontman of Simian) while the instrumental flip, “Bleu Monday,” came ready to rumble. This was UK bass music as filtered through the ears of a Canadian producer determined to craft his own identity. Influential British radio hosts including Gilles Peterson, Rob Da Bank, and Mary-Anne Hobbs gave the single support.
Bertie has further surprised with vastly diverse remixes, including of Grimes’ “Crystal Ball,” U-Tern’s “Style, Class, Flair,” The-Dream’s “Walking on the Moon,” and Humans’ “Horizon.” In February, he tipped his hand with the driving Nautiluss remix of ZZT’s “Work,” which also announced Nautiluss’ signing to Montreal’s Turbo Recordings.
Last month, Turbo unleashed Nautiluss’ heavy-hitting Alpha EP. All four tracks are rooted in techno and bass, but cover much musical terrain. Bertie has never sounded so confident, aggressive or ready to play the big room.
“I tend to try different things all the time,” he says. “Generally, the music reflects my mood at the time of creating it. Sometimes it’s light, sometimes it’s dark. Sometimes it’s music to dance to, sometimes it’s music to listen to at home. Obviously, the Turbo record is on the darker and dancier side of things.”
Why: Bertie has long been one to watch, but is especially so now as he expands his skills, outlook and reach. As the UK’s FACT put it in their preview of Alpha track “Spidercrawl,” “Toronto technohead Grahmzilla, alias Nautiluss, is on the way up.”
Response to the Alpha EP has been strong and positive. Influential electronic music site Resident Advisor granted it a 4/5 review, SPIN.com posted a lengthy (and very good) feature interview, and prominent international DJ/producers including Sinden, Sasha, Martyn and Gesaffelstein have given the thumbs up. Popular duo Groove Armada also started their recent BBC Essential Mix with Nautiluss’ “Mixed Numbers.”
The heavily visited XLR8R.com site not only posted Alpha for early streaming, a reviewer raved about the EP, concluding that the release “serves to show that Nautiluss is a producer with a grander vision than some of the current up-and-comers, and, given his output so far, also appears to be one with the chops to back it up.”
When & Where: Bertie flies to Europe this weekend, where he will perform two high-profile Nautiluss sets: Friday at The Arches in Glasgow and Saturday at Berlin’s famed Panorama Bar.
“I’m pretty honored to play Panorama Bar,” he enthuses. “That’s a bucket list-type gig for me.”
The following weekend, Bertie performs at an Alpha release party in Toronto. Friday May 25, he joins Montreal producer Jacques Greene and local Mr. Charlton at Loft 161 (161 Spadina, #QNW). $10 advance tickets can be purchased at Soundscapes, Rotate This, Play De Record, and Ticketweb.com.
“People will have to come to the party to find out,” says a coy Bertie when asked what his release party set might hold. “I will say that I have a few surprises in the works, and that it will be magical and intense. I look most forward to playing new music for an enthusiastic crowd.
“The live thing is a work in progress. I haven’t done it the same way twice, so we’ll see where it goes.”
Bertie and fellow DJ/producers Kevin McPhee, Andrew Ross and Ronnie MF Falcon will also launch a new monthly DJ night, largely devoted to vinyl, on Thursday, June 14 at The Red Light (1185 Dundas W., #DNW).
T.O Pros/Cons: While dozens of top Toronto electronic music producers have relocated to Europe for a variety of reasons, others choose to remain here. It’s inevitable that they consider the pros and cons. Here, Bertie weighs in:
“Pros: You can pretty much see a good act every night of the week; there’s a vast appreciation for electronic music in general; there’s plenty of talented people to collaborate with, and the second-hand market for gear is second only to L.A.”
“Cons: the lack of decent small and mid-sized venues with good sound systems; the sheer number of shows going on every night makes it hard to ensure a good turnout at any one event; the scene is very fragmented, and the 2am liquor cut-off.”
What’s Next: Nautiluss performs Friday June 1 as part of Montreal’s MUTEK Festival, which will be followed by more tour dates. Future EPs are expected on Turbo throughout this year, with an album planned for early 2013.
“I would like to someday make music that has popular appeal without being corny and/or disingenuous in the process,” says Bertie, as he looks ahead. “I think the window of opportunity is open right now given the kinds of collaborations we’ve seen lately [eg. Drake and SBTRKT].
“But to be honest, I try not to think too far in the future. Things change so fast, and so I believe that being able to adapt in a rapidly changing industry is very important. I’ll just be happy if I can keep doing things I am passionate about until I’m old and grey.”
Nautiluss’ Alpha release party in Toronto happens Friday, May 25. With Jacques Greene and Mr. Charlton. Loft 161, 161 Spadina Avenue. #QNW $10 advance tickets at Soundscapes, Rotate This, Play De Record, and Ticketweb.com.