Birthplace: Toronto, Canada
Favourite food: Carne Asada
Number of countries traveled to: 32
Number of tattoos: 0
Years working at RAC: 2
Zodiac sign: Pisces Sun / Aquarius Moon
RAC: How long have you been working in the audio engineering world? How did you get your start?
Nico: Throughout my late teens and early 20s, I spent a lot of time in studios and on stages as a vocalist, emcee, musician, beatmaker, etc. But it was only out of necessity that I really started to look at audio engineering as a fundamental skill set that I needed.
This need stemmed from doing local shows or working on projects with other artists and feeling the marked lack of respect towards hip hop music I noticed as I was coming up in Montreal in the late 90s and early 2000s.
From live shows to preproduction and postproduction, the aesthetic and production value of the genre was left in the hands of more rock- and metal-oriented engineers who just couldn’t wrap their heads around why we were doing things, or how we wanted to do them. That brought conflict and frustration to any project or performance. So I got some books and did a deep dive with colleagues, and we learnt how to do our own live sound, and record and mix our demos, EPs, and mixtapes.
RAC: Do you have an area that you’re an expert in or a position that you particularly like (i.e.: audio engineer, producer, beat maker, instructor, etc.)?
Nico: Production is really where my heart is at. Because the genre that I gravitate towards incorporates beatmaking, live instrumentation, and lyric writing, those have become the three core elements of my musical expression. However, because of some of the ethos that the culture taught me, education and community outreach have always run parallel with everything I’ve done artistically. Can I say all of the above? LOL
RAC: What is your favorite memory at RAC?
Nico: Any time I hear a student’s completed project out there in the world that I heard when it was still in its infancy at RAC.
RAC: You’re very big on community building and mentorship. What got you interested in working with young artists? What are some of the things you do as a community builder/mentor?
Nico: Access is the keyword that is a recurring factor in my outlook on education and why I got involved in community work in the first place. I didn’t have that when I was young. The architects of the culture didn’t either. What they gave me was access to the width and expansiveness of what hip hop was and could be before it entered into the popular culture atmosphere.
Once I got heavily involved, teach-one, reach-one became the focus. I’ve worked on creating, funding, building, and operating free recording studio spaces in youth centers and high schools.
I’ll help with live performances and workshops in youth and adult prisons, and work with marginalized communities locally and nationally. My work with the community also involves front line youth advocacy that pushes me into conversations and circles that are beyond the music, and therefore demand resilience, thick skin, resourcefulness, and patience.
RAC: You also play drums, rap and act as producer in your band Nomadic Massive. Could you share how long you all have been playing as a group and how you came together?
Nico: Definitely need to give you the short version, ‘cause Nomadic Massive has been around since 2004. At that time (early 2000s), the Anglo/Franco split was quite pronounced in the local scene, but I lived in a multicultural, multilingual backdrop. There were, however, a lot of little local spots and club nights where the communities would intersect.
Myself and the other acts (future Nomadic Massive members) started to gravitate towards each other because we celebrated our otherness. For example, I rap in English and Spanish. Another member raps in French, English, and Haitian Creole, etc.
After our group took a celebrated trip to Cuba to represent Montreal at the Festival Internacional de Rap Cubano, we put out a mixtape combining all of our solo tracks. From that we built a local scene from the ground up and started to incorporate live instrumentation to enhance the dynamics and musical possibilities. That’s when rapping took a backseat for me (we were already 5 rappers!), and I picked up some drums at a pawnshop and taught myself how to play.
By 2007 we were a 10-piece band and got our first big break doing the closing show at Montreal’s Jazz Fest. We destroyed and then started pivoting between doing regular local gigs and touring Europe, the States, and Latin America. We’ve lost some members along the way but are still active, and currently working on a new EP slated for release next Spring/Summer.
RAC: As Butta Beats, what’s your favourite genre to produce? Your least favourite? Why?
Nico: I only do what I like as a principle. That’s a luxury some other producers that are affiliated with labels or studios don’t have. It’s a harder hustle, but you feel better about going in for those 10-12 hour days. That being said, my go-to is hip hop and R&B.
RAC: What’s a memorable experience you’ve had working as a beatmaker & producer?
Nico: Walking into a club, and the Dj recognises you and cuts into one of your songs, and you see the crowd go bananas.
RAC: Are you currently working on any new projects? Can you share some details?
Nico: Nomadic has a new EP coming out where I’ve stepped off the drums and am playing a more vocal role. I’ve got some projects in production right now as Butta Beats in English and as my alter ego Mantecoso in Spanish. I’ve also gotten heavy into sound design and loop creation with the idea of linking with A-list producers… Either way, stay tuned to all my shenanigans and follow me @mr.buttabeats.
RAC: Would you rather wear only one pair of shoes for the rest of your life or never be able to wear a hat of any kind again?
Nico: I see you trying to play with my emotions. I love my tools and fitteds, but definitely kicks over everything. Nothing like a fresh pair of kicks to make you feel good about yourself.