The Sound Of: Nervous Horizon
Hackney-based Nervous Horizon has established itself as one of the most exciting and forward-thinking club labels in London. For this month’s The Sound Of, two of its three founders, Wallwork and TSVI, record a 100% NH mix, and chat to Joe Roberts about how experimentalism and friendship are woven into its story
It was in 2012 that Tommy Wallwork and Guglielmo Barzacchini, aka TSVI, met in the queue of Fabric. Having both grown up in Pisa, Italy, before moving to England in 2008 and 2010 respectively, mutual friends had suggested they meet.
“You’ve both got MIDI keyboards, you’ll get on,” recalls Tommy on their logic. Expecting a “random” techno producer, it turned out instead that Guglielmo shared his passion for UK bass music. So when Tommy’s girlfriend went to Italy, he moved into the Hackney Wick warehouse where Guglielmo lived. Both bass fanboys, “staying up all night listening to the releases that were coming out and hoping one day we’d be involved,” they deconstructed their favourite tracks, then poured everything they’d learned into their own productions. “Gradually we realised we needed a label to put music out on vinyl.”
Nervous Horizon, set up with third founder Federico Ciampolini, was born out of this and six years down the line is repping the new wave of club talent, artists such as object blue, Tzusing and DJ Plead all recently gracing the label. Next up is a new EP, ‘Sogno’, from TSVI, featuring collaborations with Randomer and Seven Orbits, the latter another Italian producer and an audio-visual artist who started out producing artwork for the label.
It was Ciampolini, currently in Tuscany, who commissioned Nervous Horizon’s distinctive four bar logo, designed by an old school friend, and came up with its abstract name, the inspiration arriving after a trip to the seaside. Launching with Wallwork & RZR’s ‘Don’t Panic’ EP in 2015, a heavy blend of grime and breakbeat influences, it took all the label’s savings to press it — an email recommendation from Scratcha DVA helping get it mastered by former jungle producer and renowned engineer Beau Thomas. It was a statement of intent. “We put the effort in from the beginning, and I think it paid off,” says Tommy, who also works for two big UK labels producing up-and-coming young artists.
Their latest EP marks Guglielmo’s first solo TSVI release since 2018’s debut album ‘Inner Worlds’, a 13-track showcase of his roving, percussive club sound. In the meantime, however, he’s been turning heads under another alias: Anunaku. “I wanted to make some festival bangers,” he smiles on this side project — which has seen him venture onto labels like 3024 and AD 93.
“With TSVI I’m trying to be experimental, every release has sounded different. Anunaku is fixed-bpm functional music, so you know what you’re going to get.” This harks back to the duo’s teenage years and a schooling in techno that still seems to inform Nervous Horizon, even at its most slow and broken.
“In Italy you start going clubbing when you’re 15, so we’d go see people like Villalobos,” says Tommy, who’d grown bored of this scene by the time he was 18 — his cousins, who lived in Ilford, telling him to come to the UK, where grime was being followed up by dubstep. While at school, he and Guglielmo had both been involved in putting on parties, and in the early days of the label they returned to Italy to do so again, inviting artists including Lone, Mount Kimbie, Tom Trago, Bambounou and Mosca.
TSVI’s ‘Sogno’ EP was written over three weeks last summer, a period when Guglielmo was reading lots about altered states and in a strange headspace himself, both his girlfriend and Tommy having gone away.
“I was relying on ASMR to calm down and came across lots of Italian channels. I was also reading a lot of Italian poetry. I thought it would be interesting to incorporate these into the music.” But this desire to add whispered phrases and spoken words in his native language also reminded him of another formative influence: Italian techno legend Donato Dozzy. “He was one of the first I heard to put Italian vocals over a techno track.”
If this sounds like an explicit embracing of the label’s Italian roots, a growing self-confidence, “There does seem to be a renaissance,” observes Guglielmo. “A lot of my friends are experimenting with traditional Italian rhythms and spoken words. I can feel something going on.”
“Maybe because there’s been nothing going on for 10 years,” interjects Tommy, mentioning the dubious exception of fidget house in the 2000s. “We’re one of the only Italian labels doing what we do,” he says, recalling how a previous label profile on Nervous Horizon could only find the stadium techno of Life & Death as an equivalent. “When we started, all our demos were from America and Berlin. Now there are loads from Italians.” Despite this, embracing their identity is still slow going in some ways. The duo have played Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo, yet never Rome — Italian promoters, they believe, only being interested in huge acts who bring in lots of money.
‘Sogno’ opener ‘Modulatrum’ captures the label’s current mood and pace — its dancehall thump, dark, droning bass and technoid stabs giving it a paranoid restlessness. The lithe, wiggling ‘Sospiro Sospirando’ and industrial-clank of ‘Sogno’ continue this orbit around 100bpm. “That tempo is kind of unexplored,” explains Guglielmo on its current fascination, “so making it peak-time is challenging. I was partly inspired by a conversation I had with Joy O. He said, ‘Imagine if at a big techno festival, like Time Warp, Villalobos starts playing 95bpm in the middle of the night. I thought it would be cool, really different.”
His Randomer collab, the menacing ‘Reflex’, came from offering mutual respect online, as did TSVI’s ‘Hyperaesthesia’ EP with object blue — Tommy and Guglielmo were invited to her wedding, where they also met Loraine James, who did a remix on the EP. Seven Orbits, meanwhile, lived with the duo, which is also how they got their 2016 release from Second Storey, formerly known as Al Tourettes, the pair asking for the tracks on his ‘Spin Cycle’ EP after hearing them pumping out of his room. “The difference between us and most other labels is that we all live in the same neighbourhood, go to dinner together,” says Tommy, name-checking DJ JM and girlfriend Ehua, whose six-track ‘Aquamarine’ EP dropped in April, as further close members of their crew. “It’s more a family in that sense.”
It’s a spirit that has found a home in Hackney Wick. Notorious for its party scene, from acid techno squat raves to tech-house carry-ons, half the label’s success, Tommy believes, comes
from putting on their own all-nighters in their early days. Using the now infamous warehouse they lived in as the venue, it saw moments such as Basement Jaxx turning up to check it out. More importantly, though, it forged a community on the dancefloor and helped create friendships with established artists such as Scratcha DVA, Ikonika, who appeared on the second of the label’s three comps, and Hyperdub boss Kode9.
The next comp is being plotted, drawing from among the label’s now many admirers. But having put out three EPs in quick succession this year — starting with SIM’s deadly digi-dancehall- flavoured ‘Terminate’ EP in March, they’re waiting, like all of us, to see how 2021 unfolds. “For me, the priority has been to have a label that everybody knows about,” says Tommy. Having built their name organically through hard work and reputation, that dream is no longer beyond the horizon.
Listen to Nervous Horizon’s 100% label mix, and check the tracklist, below.
DJ JM ‘Original Taste’
DJ Missdevana ‘Third Eye’
TSVI ‘Sospiro Sospirando’
DJ Missdevana ‘Chakra’
DJ Plead ‘Ruby’
TSVI & Wallwork ‘Paradise 660’
LR Groove ‘Device’
Lokane ‘Body Double’
DJ Missdevana ‘Brass’
Second Storey ‘Sludge 3D’
DJ JM ‘Ray Mound’
Lloyd SB 'Boida Flare'
object blue & TSVI ‘Syntax’
Want more? Revisit TSVI's 2019 DJ Mag Recognise mix and interviw here
Joe Roberts is a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter @corporealface
Copyright Thrust Publishing Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.djmag.com as the source.