Monday, Mar 14 2005 | 12:00

It’s August 1995, and Dan Gresham is sitting on a toilet in New York, contemplating his future and trying to come up with a clever musical moniker for himself. Gazing around the cubicle, the extractor fan attached to the wall catches his attention. In small, blue letters is the brand name. Dan looks closer. It says, ‘Nu Tone’.

This source of inspiration may seem rather inappropriate, given the situation, but one listen to Dan’s music will confirm that he is indeed a breath of fresh air. Combining the musicality of his heroes Jimmy Smith, Grant Green and Masters At Work, with a tough, rolling dancefloor edge means that Nu:Tone is one of the most exciting producers in d’n’b today.

Gresham was born in Manchester, but moved to Cambridge when he was six. On the journey down from the north, and for the early part of his childhood, the sounds of his dad’s favourite band, west-coast jazz nerds Steely Dan filled the air. Dan had already been subjected to regular bouts of low-end musical frequency treatment, when in his mum’s womb his parents would play a good hour of music to him every day. This early indoctrination into soulful grooves and deep subs would prove to be very fruitful in the future.

Nu:Tone’s mum and dad were fairly musical sorts, and when they inherited an old, battered upright piano from some friends, Dan immediately took up lessons. The fascination with creating music would eventually take him to Durham University, where he enrolled on a music degree.

Before the move to Durham, Dan was building up a serious collection of funk and soul, his music of choice, DJing in and around Cambridge. But once at University, two pivitol moments changed his musical direction forever. The first was hearing Roni Size’s proto-liquid funk benchmark “Music Box” for the first time. Dan had been aware of hardcore and breakbeat since the heady days of the Prodigy, but this was the first time he heard the music done is such a way that inspired the musician inside him. A few months later he befriended a fellow student who resembled a young Einstein and went by the name of John B. John was already heavily into the sound, and very soon, they were linking up, making tunes, and playing early drum ‘n’ bass at events at University. (It should also be noted that Dan also inherited John B’s love of abstract haircuts, and spent much of uni calling himself ‘Le Tigre’ and sporting orange tiger stripes in his hair).

Being enrolled on a music course means you have instant access to a serious amount of studio equipment, so it was inevitable that drum ‘n’ bass would be Nu:Tone’s composition project of choice. When he finally left university, with a music degree and grade 8 standards at the piano and organ, he managed to secure a job as a music technology teacher at a college in Cambridge. So with more access to more equipment, Dan’s studio knowledge continued to prosper.

It wasn’t long before people started taking note of the Nu:Tone sound. Dan started pushing his new material into the scene, reaching every d’n’b event in Cambridge, handing freshly burnt CDRs to all the big dogs. The trick paid off, as shortly after the mighty Grooverider started rinsing his efforts on Radio 1. With this seal of approval, serious label interest predictably built up. Subsequent releases on John B’s Beta Recordings, Soul:R, New Identity, and Dan’s own fledgling imprint Brand:Nu, confirmed him as name to watch. During this period, Dan had also sent two CDs to High Contrast and to the Hospital Records offices in London. Head honchos Tony and Chris were immediately impressed by the Nu:Tone groove, and when Contrast himself turned up at the office, preaching about an amazing CD he had recently been sent, the Hospital A&R machine cranked into motion.

Dan was invited down to the offices, hands were shook and deals were done. Nu:Tone was a new Hospital patient.

Every great artist has a particular composition that defines them. The tune that will go with them to the grave, a slice of their soul, laid down onto vinyl. Nu:Tone’s opportunity to make such a record came in 2003, shortly after his hook up with Hospital, when the label were given the original music parts to Lenny Fontana’s remake of Al Hudson and The Partners’ soul-disco classic “Spread Love”. Fellow heads Zero Tolerance had already created a drum ‘n’ bass stormer with an accapella to great success, but with the complete studio session now at his fingertips, Nu:Tone had the opportunity to create something extra special. He didn’t dissapoint. Although the remix took an hour to construct (with3 days of serious tinkering afterward), it was a instant hit. Not only rocking every d’n’b dancefloor it touched that year, the tune also found it’s way onto the playlists of Radio 1’s more clued-up DJs, and finding massive favour with the likes of Norman Jay and Tom Middleton. A fast soul music classic, no question.

Since “Spread Love”, Nu:Tone has continued to shine. Consistently heavy releases on Hospital, and a string of high profile remixes (his reworking of Roni Size’s “Strictly Social” was one of 2004’s d’n’b highlights) mean that Nu:Tone can definitely be placed in the higher echelons of the ‘new breed’ of d’n’b artists, taking the music ever forward. His debut LP “Brave Nu World” released in March 2005, is the pinnacle of his achievements thus far. Evocative, emotional music that also tests soundsystems to the limit. Like Steely Dan and basslines in the womb, it’s the perfect combination.

– Peter Rogers Mixmag, Knowledge

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