Neil Parnell aka Tronik Youth and his label Nein Records are a staple part of our festival. They’ve been involved since the beginning, and next year celebrate nine years of Nein with two stage takeovers across the festival weekend. The first party will take place in the Cowbell Tent on the Friday night, before a big finale at the brand new Bunker stage, on the Sunday evening. Neil & co will be bringing some extra special guests to mark the occasion! Ahead of the parties, Harry had a chat with Neil about his first foray into the world of electronic music, memorable parties he’s played at, artists that have his attention at the moment, and balancing the label around DJing and producing. 

Harry: At next year’s Alfresco we celebrate nine years of Nein! Take us back to where it all began… What was your way into the world of electronic music? 

Neil: As a kid growing up, I was very into 80s Synth Pop. I liked rock, pop, and disco as a kid, but never really loved any of that. Synth Pop was the first music I loved because it sounded futuristic, it was different and interesting. I was part of that generation of kids who saw Star Wars when it first came out, and it absolutely blew my mind. So, anything with futuristic connotations really caught my attention. Early electro, like Kraftwerk and Afrika Bambaataa’s Planet Rock, all sounded like music from the future. I guess that was it really, after that, anything with a guitar in it just sounded a bit boring for me. 

Harry: Were you hearing the spacey sounding, Synth Pop and Kraftwerk type records from your parents, or were you getting your musical education from the radio?

Neil: My parents were kids of the 60s. They played more funk & soul from the likes of Stevie Wonder and  Barry White, so I didn’t hear a lot of the music I was into from them. But, they’d buy these disco compilation records and there would always be a couple on those that stood out for me. These would be the records on the edge of disco by Cerrone, Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Patrick Cowley etc. I particularly remember ‘Magic Fly’ by Space being a big influence. But yeah, I mostly found this music from the radio really; John Peel, late night on radio 1, that’s the only place I could hear it really.

Harry: When did you start mixing records together?

Neil: I’ve been DJing since 1987! Now it’s a career thing and everyone wants to be a DJ, but for me, it just started back in 85/86 when I started buying loads of hip hop imports. I used to get the train down from the midlands and head to the record shops in Soho where I would pick up music from Eric B and Rakim, Public Enemy etc. Also, pre-house there was a lot of rare groove – James Brown, and other rare funk, soul records that people like Norman Jay were pushing. So, I was into that, and used to go and hunt for rare old disco tunes. When the town I lived in had a party, the kids would want someone to play music. But, it wasn’t like you could just download shit, so it was always me – you’ve got the records, why don’t you do it? That’s how I started learning really, doing people’s parties. There was never a plan, but eventually it just got to the point where when Acid House turned up, I was one of the people that had all the records, and I would do the parties.

Harry: So you kind of fell into it then?

Neil: Yeah I fell into it really, when I was a kid, DJing was corny, it was people on a mic saying things like ‘girls get free drinks’ or announcing people’s birthdays and shit. – it wasn’t a cool thing to be a DJ. It was a bit cringe. I’d do those parties and they’d ask if I wanted a mic and I’d be like no thanks!

Harry: Tell us about some memorable parties you’ve played at.

Neil: I worked for a company which used to do a lot of fashion work with celebrities. I remember one Monday evening, I got a phone call from someone there asking if I would go and DJ at The Ritz. I turned up and it was a load of Oscar winners that were throwing a party there, like Billy Zane and Cuba Gooding Jr, that was a weird memorable party! Me and a mate playing hip hop to the rich and famous for about 4 hours.

There’s been loads over the years… we did a Nein night in Berlin a few years ago which was nuts. We had the whole Nein family there, and I ended up playing for about five hours. It was in a little club called Johnny Knupfell which has shut down now, which was on the river, just behind Chalet. A friend owned it, it was like a mad junkyard. They’d built this giant club room in front of a shipping container. They were really good parties.

Harry: So when did you start producing music? 

In terms of making music, it took a long time. I didn’t start making music until some twenty years later in the mid-2000s. I never really had the opportunity before and studios were super expensive. I’d been to the studio with a few mates before, but nothing significant ever happened. I worked for a record label called Back Yard Recordings, which had names like The Gossip and Chromeo on the roster. I was doing A&R for them and thought, you know what, I might do a remix myself. So, they got me some studio time, and I did one, and it was really successful!

Harry: What remix was that?

Neil: There were two actually, one for The Gossip’s ‘Standing In The Way Of Control‘ – Soulwax did the big remix, but mine was on the B side. Then, one for the first record they did, which weirdly I found out was being played over some competition on GMTV, and I remember thinking wtf! So they were my first remixes and then I carried on. Once I’d had the chance to do it, I thought, I’m gonna keep going now.

Harry: Is this when the Tronik Youth moniker began? 

Neil: Yeah it was! I needed a remix name. It originally started with a couple other people, then they just dropped out of the project after the first release. Whenever I’ve remixed bands before, or worked with multiple people to produce something, it’s always a pain in the ass because someone wants to make something more tech housey, or keep changing it up, so I find it easier to work on my own most the time.

Harry: What other aliases have you released under?

Neil: In the early days of Nein I had a few bits coming out under Nite-rate, which was more techno focused. There’s quite a few remixes under that name on the label. Also, the ambient stuff I’ve put out is all under Neil Parnell, just so people don’t get confused… You could be expecting a club track and get 15 minutes of ambience!

Harry: What motivated you to start the label?

Neil: In the early 2010 period, I used to go and see Andrew Weatherall and Sean Johnston play a lot; I was very into the slower, spacey sound they were playing. Me and my friend Steve would go back to each other’s houses after being at a club where the music was more up-tempo techno, and listen to the slower, chuggier stuff at the afters. I started searching more and more for music like that, and making my own slow-tempo edits of old house tracks. At the same time, my friend Ian was asked by a band called ‘Decibels‘ to put their record out. So, together we decided to start a label up and do it, as it would also allow me to start putting out my own tracks, and push the music I was finding. The first two years we did a release every five or six weeks and then, because we were one of the only labels pushing this kind of sound, everyone who was into it, including many artists from Mexico or Spain, would send us demos. A lot of those guys have now gone on to be quite successful / known in this genre. This meant that we just started getting bombarded with stuff, and it was really good as well. Now we have a system where we release music every week.

Harry: Cool, and how have you found running the label over the years? Is it hard to manage around DJing and producing?

Neil: It’s a lot to do, especially with DJing and making music, but yeah it is satisfying and the label is thriving at the moment with regular releases every week. It can be hard to juggle the label, DJing and producing though, one of them normally takes a hit. Pre-covid, I’d spend the weekend DJing, then come home, the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, go through the label, then before you know it, it’s Thursday, so you have to prep for the weekend gigs again! In 2018 and 2019, I made about two tunes per year, whereas, in lockdown, it’s been the other way round, and all I’ve done is make tracks. 

Harry: Does it all crossover? Are you mostly playing music from the label?

Neil: No… I know some people who play 90% of their own stuff, or music from their label. I’d say I’m getting better at signing tracks because I want to play them out myself, but you do have to think outside of that. It’s important to cater to different people and different vibes. I’d say probably 30/40% of what I play is label related, but in terms of the amount we put out, that’s not a lot. I wouldn’t want to just restrict myself to that anyway, there’s so much good music from other artists and labels.

Harry: Which artists have your interest these days?

Neil: There’s a lot of artists actually. I’ve just signed this artist called Eliezer who I’ve wanted to work with for ages. You’ve got Alvee from Mexico – everything he produces seems to be an absolute weapon. There’s a guy called Rina as well. Most the people we’ve worked with at the label have gone on to do really good stuff, like Zillas On Acid.

Harry: Thanks Neil! To finish, can you share a memorable moment from Alfresco? 

Neil: There’s been loads of good memories! I really enjoyed playing with Curses in the Woods, 2018. Then, the following year after Soulwax, I was handing out all of their unwanted rider, which was really funny. Bawrut was playing and we were giving out ham, chocolate, red wine to everyone during the rave… There was also that night when there was a mad storm in 2018. We were in the trees where Ghost Culture was playing, and it felt like it was just a bit of a light shower. When we came out it was like Stranger Things! 

Nein Records take over the Cowbell Radio tent for some late night clubbing action on the Friday, before stage-hosting the brand new Bunker stage at Alfresco Festival 2022 on the Sunday, with some very special guests tba soon. Day and weekend tickets are available via the link below, including some special discount for families and single parents. 

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