DJ and Producer Nick Dagger on Making “Yoga With a Knife” Music and His New EP Right From Wrong

DJ Nick Dagger’s sound incorporates influences from his youth living in a beach town, the time he spent as a battle DJ in Las Vegas, and his study of production in San Francisco. When questioned about his style that fuses elements of reggae, hip-hop, drum & bass, and electronica, the producer says, “the sound I hear in my head is a combination of synthetic, digital, and organic sounds.”

Growing up in Huntington Beach and listening to sounds of reggae and hip-hop, Dagger dabbled in graffiti, break dancing, and photography in his youth. Moving to Las Vegas for college, he began familiarizing himself with the party-rock scene, but it wasn’t until he attended a drum & bass party that he knew he wanted to learn the art of DJing. Learning to scratch and mix under the guidance of DJ Presto One, Dagger soon became regular on the battle DJ circuit. In 2008, he moved to the Bay Area and began pursuing his production career, which has leaned heavily towards a dub reggae sound.

We spoke with Dagger about his musical style, moniker, and local influences that pushed him in the dub direction. He makes his Dub Mission debut at Elbo Room this Sunday, May 3, to celebrate the release of his EP Right From Wrong.

[jump] Describe your sound and style of music to us.
A friend of mine called it “yoga with a knife” [laughs]. In a way that's kind of what it is. It can be chill but it has an edge to it. It's the kind of music you can listen to while you do the dishes and clean your house. But it's also the kind of music you can listen to while speeding on the freeway or painting on trains. I mean, most of my music is set to a medium tempo but it has heavy bass lines and back beats with leads and distorted guitar riffs. At the moment I'm doing my best to take elements like reggae, drum & bass, hip-hop, and keep pushing them into the future with new sounds and ideas. I love the old sounds but I believe in progress over tradition.

As a kid, how did you go from playing trumpet to being attracted to hip-hop?
After the introduction of hip-hop I just wanted to get into music so I enrolled in the school band. I randomly chose the trumpet! It just seemed like a cool and obscure instrument. With all the reggae I've been getting into lately I think I'm going to pick it up again.

You previously spent some time living in Las Vegas, where you learned to scratch and battle. Give us a little background of that story.
Las Vegas is ill! So yeah, I decided I wanted to start DJing after a wild night at some drum & bass party. A good friend of mine, Joe Millet, was selling me a stack of jungle records and he had this DMC video sitting out and I was like, ‘what's this?’ Yo, that video changed my life [laughs]. I knew about scratching a little bit but I had no idea that guys were doing these kinds of things with turntables. I linked up this Las Vegas DJ Presto One from Rock Steady Crew since he had a DJ school called the Fresh Foundation [now called Blend-DJ Institute] and he taught me to scratch and showed me some routines. I was really confident in my ability to manipulate records so I decided to start battling. I did that for a few years and before moving on to producing my own music.

How did you get the moniker Nick Dagger?
It was the same DJ Presto One who gave me the name. I couldn't think of a name that I liked and he just threw it out there. I didn't really like that one at first but I decided that I would use it as a metaphor to guide my music and DJing. Being “sharp” or “on point” or “stabbing up the track…” I just let those sorts of ideas be a staple of my sound. I think those attributes come through in my music and DJ sets. Also, I was in the culinary world for many years and sharp knives were huge testament to your skills as a cook so it just fit. Better sharpen those knives…mise en place!

Moving to the Bay to start your production career, who has been some of your local influences?
Oh wow, that's tough. I've met so many people that really took the time to contribute to my journey so far. Dub Gabriel's sound really changed my whole perspective on reggae. The F.A.M.E crew also, when I saw what they were doing it inspired me to take my music and DJing to another level. Jamal Abdo too. Before him, I had never met any one who was actually producing drum & bass and what he showed me just really set it in my head that real people were making this music and that I could do this for myself. Oh, and Qbert. After meeting him randomly at Whole Foods across the street from my apartment, he ended up coming over and we cut it up a little bit. It was kind of trippy because I had been listening to his music for a long time and then he was at my home. But it was also very inspiring and showed me again that real people were making music.

Do you still incorporate your turntable skills into your production?
There is always some sort of cutting or scratching going on in my songs. I use samples from records and hip-hop acapellas and to me that's a way of translating turntablism into my music. It's important to me that hip-hop/turntablism is represented in some form within the sounds I create.

This Sunday, we'll be celebrating the release of your EP at Dub Mission. Tell us a little about Right From Wrong.
Yes! I'm stoked on this music. It's two songs plus a DJ mix and is out now on Avocaudio music. You can find it on all major digital distributors and streaming services like Beatport, Spotify, etc. 
What's the significance of the title of the EP and how does it reflect your career?
These songs are a defining moment for sure. I wanted to emulate a sound that's been done before but put my own spin on it as to define where I'm at in my productions and pay homage to a sound that's had such an impact on me. “Right From Wrong” is a lyric in the sample I used from “Your Teeth in My Neck” by The Scientist. This song has been covered and sampled a ton, but I wanted to take a well-known dub song and add on. For me, sampling and music as a whole is just adding on; rarely are we doing any thing original. We are only adding on to what those before us did and I just want to do my part. Adding on, contributing, and doing your part is knowing “right from wrong.”

What are you most looking forward to on Sunday?
The vibes, the beats, and the bass!

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