NOLAN BROWN (formerly known as charlie choke) is a deep-minimal-tech DJ based out of montreal. nolan’s sound is simultaneously deep, dark and funky - hers is the kind of bounce you don’t always know how to handle, the kind of sound that makes you groove no matter what kind of mood you’re in. there’s something incredibly passionate and, moreover, incredibly intelligent about the way that nolan speaks about music, and about life in general, that resonates with me in the best possible way. there’s no sound that quite compares to hers - - at times it vibes slink and sex appeal, while at others it’s pure funk, bursting with as much life and passion as the DJ herself. i’m very, very honoured that miss nolan brown took the time to answer some questions for me! we chat about music, montreal and the progression of her career, exclusively here at littlecity! whoever said good things come in tiny packages was definitely telling the truth.
listen to one of my favourite nolan brown mixes, a little night music, while you read! xx
let’s start by talking a bit about your DJ/producing style - tell me how you would define “deep minimal”
i think defining categorically defining edm is probably one of the most difficult tasks in the whole bidness. everyone has their own ideas of what makes a track deep versus tech versus minimal. that being said, i think my music always begins in a minimal place. now, minimal doesn’t mean it’s any less complex or interesting than any other type of dance music necessarily, but simply that fewer sounds are arranged in intricate ways with subtle variations. i think minimal is music for music lovers - the type of music that makes you flip over a minor pattern change or rhythmic variation. my sound is also very influenced by the deeper elements of house music. you can expect sexy sounds with a groove that gets at you somewhere deep inside.
where/how did you get your start?
i was introduced to dance music in 2008, when I moved to montreal from the states. my first love was electro, which was at its peak popularity when i came onto the scene. i started playing electro parties in early 2009, my debut was at the local electro hotspot bluedog motel. after a couple of months, i very quickly realized that i’d taken bangin electro about as far as i could and began to explore other genres of dance music. my love affair with minimal began when i really started getting involved with the afterhours scene in montreal. at that point, i teamed up with my ex and we did sets together as the duo creature and the rest is pretty much history.
nolan’s first show at bluedog motel
which artists, styles of music, bands, DJs, whatever, were your greatest influences?
my turn to minimal was really impacted by the minimal sounds coming out of a small but powerful movement in toronto. my first real dj crush was toronto hero alicia hush. she makes music that is at once thoughtful and deliberate as well as extremely danceable. the first track that i ever obsessed over was an unreleased single by miss hush called einstrive, which used a choppy albert einstein sample and featured an unbelievably dirty, driving bassline. alicia co-founded hushlamb productions in toronto with sarah lamb and together, they’ve been spearheading the minimal movement in their home city; featuring quality locals like zaid edgeham and ana+one. in fact one of montreal’s fast rising minimal stars, zeina, got her start with this crew. on top of that, i’ve really been influenced by the montreal label archipel founded by local legend pheek, as well as the berlin label supdub
it’s a well known fact that alicia hush is my dj crush, too. the first time i saw her spin was at CZ in toronto, and musically, i haven’t been the same since! you’ve only been making music for a couple years, how do you think you’ve evolved as an artist since then?
in a word - refinement! at the beginning of my musical journey, i was really able to find something to like in pretty much everything i was listening to. over time, i’ve become far more selective and the result is, i think, a far more consistent sound.
what was your most memorable show?
there are two contenders for this one. last year, i was privileged to be able to go and play in the pacha NYC basement. the cherry on top of that evening was when a busload of montrealers surprised us by magically appearing on the dancefloor as we started our set! however, the top spot really belongs to the set i did at the first annual panorama festival, about an hour north of montreal. picture this - the venue is an entire mountain top, with one outdoor stage complete with natural rock swimming pool and panoramic view of the mountains as well as an indoor cabin stage. we opened the festival on the first night with a three hour set in the cabin, just as everyone was arriving and psyched to party. truly one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
sounds incredible! i’m wondering about the change from charlie choke to nolan brown. i loved your old handle, and i was adamantly against the switch, but i have to admit, i really dig nolan brown. tell me about the transition!
ha! good question. here’s the thing that you have to remember, when i was first considering a dj name, i was playing electro parties. the electro scene is as much about having a persona as it is the music (something i loved at first, but quickly grew to dislike as quality of music became my main focus). i knew i wanted an androgynous name because, well, look at me. i chose charlie because it was a nickname in gradeschool that stemmed from the fact that my last name is brown. from there, I got to the choke for the purposes of alliteration and because, well, choking is sexy. also, i have this nasty habit of running away when i get stressed, i.e. i choke. after the creature duo disbanded, i really wanted to rebrand myself with something a little more mature and less gimmicky. nolan is my mom’s last name and brown is my dad’s - i really like the idea of respecting where you come from. on top of that, i feel nolan brown retains that mysterious and andro quality that speaks to my general style.
awesome. i love a name with a good story! so, music aside, where do you aspire to be in life, career wise?
well, i just got my BA in history, religion and poli sci from mcgill. my true passion is education, i think so much of who we are and how we think comes from how we are educated. for now, I’m interning with two really exciting education startups in montreal. i fully intend to go on to grad school and do a doctorate in education policy and reform. one day, i hope to be a small part in the solution to the massive problem that is our modern education system.
big dreams! :) okay, let’s switch it up a bit - which artists or bands would be on the soundtrack to your life?
outside of edm, i trip on everything from jazz to indie to classic motown. most recently, i’ve been obsessed with the post-dub movement - favorites include james blake and mount kimbie. i’m currently listening to jacques greene’s remix of motivation on repeat during nearly all of my waking hours.
absoluuuutely, kelly rowland’s vocals are so sexy. that jacques greene remix is one of the few good edits of that song! okay, if you were a superhero, what would your powers be?
tough question! i think i’d probably have to say the ability to breathe under water - though teleportation or flying would be pretty neat too. i’ve always had a special connection with water, i love its power to both restore and destroy. also, i love the idea of being submerged! in a lot of ways being submerged in water feels almost like being submerged in the sweet spot of a dancefloor.
good answer! what has been your biggest achievement so far, personally or in work?
hard to say! i think my biggest achievement is an amalgamation of many small achievements. i’m really proud of the life i’ve established for myself here in montreal and the person i’ve become by doing so. coming to monty was the first time i’ve really been on my own in my life and i feel i’ve carved out a wonderful little space for myself here. i’m so passionately in love with my friends, my work, and my music. i try to live every day with a genuine sense of positivity, respect for the beauty in others and love in my heart. the proof is, as they say, in the pudding.
montreal is really incredible in that way. somehow, it’s the kind of place that changes you, just by living in it, more so than anywhere else i’ve been. tell me something most people don’t know about you?
something that often surprises people is that i’m horribly OCD. i think people don’t expect it from me, because i’m extremely laid back in social spaces. but come to my apartment and you’ll see, all of the items have their own little spot and everything is at a right angle. the biggest manifestation, though, is my obsession with making sure my front door is locked. if i’m out of the house and i can’t remember if i’ve locked the door, i absolutely have to go back and check - i call it my own special brand of crazy.
how do you feel about montreal’s music scene? is there something you wish you could change?
montreal’s music scene is really interesting! here, partiers go out with a zeal that you just don’t find in most places. there is also an unbelievable wealth of local talent not to mention that some of the best internationals always make a point to stop here, so in a lot of ways we’re really lucky. however, there are some serious issues that prevent the scene from realizing its true potential. first off, in planning parties there is always the issue of venue. there is a serious lack of professional venue space with good sound and professional owners. all too often, venue owners want you to do all the work of promotion on top of providing the music. the general lack of respect for the djs in montreal is also symptomatic of the other main issue with the scene, the oversaturation of talent. with the proliferation of traktor’s sync feature, you can learn the basics of mixing in a few hours. now i want to be clear, i dj with traktor and i think it’s an amazing program - it enables you to focus on the finer points of assembling truly intricate sets. the pitfall really comes with djs who use the program to simplify the mixing process but don’t capitalize on the fact that it can be used to elevate the quality of sets. end rant.
i definitely know where you’re coming from - everyone’s a DJ, something that’s both wonderful and truly unfortunate. so, what can we expect from you as a DJ/producer in the future?
as with most things in life, i’m going to let the fates decide. i’ll keep making music for the rest of my life and the rest is essentially left up to chance. i’m so grateful for any chance i get to perform and i’m just as curious to see where things go from here.
while we’re on the subject of change, you’ve also recently started a collab with montreal local, and newcomer to the scene, michael armstrong aka M4CR0! you guys played a pretty dope set on our fave online radio show, montreal/toronto network rebelmix! tell me about supply+demand, and about your set on rebelmix!
M4CR0 and I met about two years ago and he started DJing a little over six months ago. in that short span of time, this boy has exhibited more natural talent than some show through their entire careers - in short i’m SO excited to be working with him as supply+demand. while we both have our own distinct styles, we meet in a deep yet dark place. our recent debut was on the techno.fm radio show rebelmix, which features a range of local talent on the weekly. our energy throughout the set was really great and i can’t wait to see where this collab takes us.
let’s wrap things up with my favourite question - what does music mean to you?
oh please forgive me for the cheese to follow. music has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. my dad is a musician and i grew up in a house literally bursting with any instrument you can imagine. i’m in awe of music’s ability to connect people. in many ways, music is the most universal language that exists, because music doesn’t care who you are or where you come from. take for example the exponential growth of soundcloud, where artists from literally every corner of the earth can connect through a shared appreciation of music. on a more personal level, music permeates every area of my life - whether it’s going out to dance, walking home from the metro, gettin busy or even just a night in with friends, there is always music -that’s not just fitting but creating the mood. music is tied to every major event in my life because, more than anything, music speaks to the soul.