Nightmares on Wax interview: How the pandemic and a cancer scare inspired the Leeds DJ's deepest album yet

Nightmares on Wax has released his most profound record yet, after what has been an eye-opening two years for the Leeds DJ and producer.

By Abbey Maclure
Sunday, 20th March 2022, 4:45 pm

Recorded during the pandemic, and while undergoing treatment for a suspected brain tumour, the album took on a whole new importance - amid fears it could be his last.

Shout Out! To Freedom is inspired by much more than life after Covid restrictions.

For Nightmares on Wax, real name George Evelyn, the album represents the internal transformation that many people went through during the pandemic.

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Leeds DJ George Evelyn, better known as Nightmares on Wax, has enjoyed an illustrious career spanning more than three decades

“Freedom is such a valuable subject," George told the Yorkshire Evening Post.

"We can dawdle along in life without paying attention to that. The only thing you can really spend and never get back is time.

"Now I’m aware of that, it’s changed everything for me.”

Thankfully, Nightmares on Wax got the all-clear following an operation and his album was released at the end of last year to critical acclaim.

George has lived in Ibiza for 16 years, but it was in Leeds that he built his foundations as a musician

The 52-year-old added: “I came up with a subject matter and then I was really being questioned about my freedom.

"I wanted to be free of it, but there could also have been other outcomes - it could have been the last record I was ever going to write.

"It was a crazy blessing, when your mortality is being questioned and your fears rise up. That really inspired the record."

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While the last two years have presented some big challenges, including a cancer scare, it has given him more space for reflection

George has lived in Ibiza for 16 years, but it was in Leeds that he built his foundations as a musician.

He grew up in LS6 when soundsystem culture was booming, sneaking into a basement when he was a young child to watch his friend's older brother building speaker boxes and playing a collection of reggae and dub.

George said: “Growing up there was pretty amazing for me, it was always super multicultural and I grew up in that melting pot in my neighbourhood.

"I was heavily into fashion - being a rude boy, being a mod - and that created a nice segway from reggae to ska to rocksteady.

Nightmares on Wax is coming back to Leeds for a show in June

“Then hip hop happened. It blew my world apart."

Nightmares on Wax was initially formed as a group project with George and John Halnon in the mid 1980s, then later with Kevin Harper.

George fondly recalls scouring Hyde Park with Kevin to find student parties where they could take over the decks.

It was at one of those parties that they got their big break, after impressing the DJ who ran Downbeat club night in the city centre.

A 20-minute trial turned into a guest spot - and soon they were running the night before they'd turned 18.

"It was unheard of," George added.

"And there were only about four or five people of colour who would DJ in town.

"There was Roy at Warehouse who was well-respected back in the day, but we were only 17 and dropping all this underground stuff."

“At the time, we were seen as outcasts," he added.

"It was difficult to go anywhere and hear the music we wanted to, apart from at The Warehouse. There would always be half an hour in the night where you’d get to hear alternative music.

“And alternative music back then was house music, hip-hop, soul and funk. The majority of music was new-wave, goth, all that indie stuff - Leeds was known as the goth capital at the time."

After the release of their debut studio album, A Word of Science: The First and Final Chapter in 1991, George left the group to go out on his own.

He's enjoyed an illustrious career spanning more than more than three decades and his debut solo album Smokers Delight was placed at number 15 on Fact's '50 Best Trip-Hop Albums of All Time' list.

“Leeds has a fire in its belly," George said.

"Because we had minimal means, there's this desire to make things happen. The most important thing was representing where I’m from.

"When people talk about building a career or having success, those words didn’t mean much to me.

"The idea of success was somebody else playing our song. It wasn’t chart positions or how many records you sold, the music was more important.

“Even though I don’t live there now, Leeds has played a major role in everything I’ve done. I still feel like I’m representing Leeds. My heart is still there.”

Moving to the White Island

After starting a family, a relentless touring schedule had left George at the edge of burnout and he made the move to Ibiza with his wife Amanda and their daughter 16 years ago.

He said: "I’d got all this inspiration and amazing foundation from the city of Leeds, but I felt like I needed to go out in the world and get it from somewhere else.

“I don’t know what happened to the George and Amanda that left Leeds, but everything changed.

"This place helped me become aware of space, time and what I invest my energy in. It took about three years to find balance after moving here.

"It was one of the most important changes in my life and I’m still super grateful for it.”

Pandemic reflections

Prior to the pandemic, George had been on the road again for a large part of a decade.

While the last two years have presented some big challenges, including his cancer scare, it has given him more space for reflection, as well as quality time with his daughter who had been studying in Barcelona for two years.

George said: “[Touring] was amazing and the adventure was fantastic, but I lost my connection to home and my family.

“It was valuable to stop and take stock and recollect about what I’d been doing. It was like a wheel going round, I got off and thought - hang on a minute, it’s not all about work.

“I reevaluated everything. I’ve had time to work on music on a level that I haven't had for a long time.

“I was in the moment with everything, which is why I feel like I’ve written the deepest record I’ve ever written.”

While he won't be overloading his schedule this summer, George is looking forward to performing at Glastonbury and starting a residency in London.

He's coming back to Leeds for a show in June and is working on a new album, the second he recorded during the pandemic.

"This summer feels different," George added.

"I see all kinds of narratives collapsing and new ones being born and that's exciting.

"I'll be doing shows but I'm not getting back on the wheel, making sure I'm keeping the balance of creativity with music and sleep!"

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