Saturday Session 053: Nicky Romero opens up about his new purpose and direction after 12 years on the road
Few moments are more sacred than the reprieve Saturday night provides from the daily grind of school and work. Its importance is meant to be emphasized, and thus, a feature dedicated to “doing the night right” was born. Saturday Night Sessions are set around energizing mixes meant to get the party started. New or old, each episode has one cornerstone thing in similarity: they serve as the perfect backdrop for the weekend pregame.
It’s March of 2020, and Nick Rotteveel is sitting in his home in the Netherlands, a sanctuary away from the chaos of his life as a touring artist. Instead of ‘home’ being a momentary reprieve between trips to switch out suitcases and catch up on sleep, home is starting to look more permanent to him as the world grapples with what is now known as the beginning of a still ongoing pandemic. March of 2020 is the beginning, for many, of a complete life transformation. How people were touched and changed by the past two years, and how priorities may or may not have shifted is all distinct. As Rotteveel sits in a New York cafe in February of 2022, it is clear that his personal journey and transformation is all encompassing. Who he is today is different from who he was in March of 2020. Back then, he was Nicky Romero almost all of the time – letting his life as a musician influence him as a person off stage. Today, he is Nicky Romero sometimes while being connected to Nick Rotteveel at all times.
He shares, “I realized how disconnected I actually really was. Without knowing it, I got further and further disconnected from the person I actually am. I’m a family guy. There was all of this pressure of social media, needing to play shows here, there, parties, and pulling strings. It’s just not me. I’m not made for it. I’m too sensitive of a person.”
After this realization, Rotteveel set out to redefine his priorities and reconnect with the things that mattered most to him. Fortunately for Nicky Romero fans, reprioritizing never meant stepping away from music. It means building a better foundation for himself to continue building his empire, of which music is only a part.
Rotteveel started out in music the old fashioned way, as the drummer in a band. After wanting more control of the musical output, he used his ability to play piano and aptitude for technical computer programs to start experimenting with music production, which he found to be more fulfilling. He channeled his energy into producing music, and he eventually learned to DJ because he wanted to have the ability to play out the music he created.
He explains, “When I started doing music, it was because I wanted to be a music producer. It was not because I wanted to be the biggest DJ in the world or whatever. Then I got more popular, started getting booked a lot, and suddenly it’s like 12 years later when COVID happened in 2020.”
While Rotteveel may have fallen into the heavy touring schedule by accident, his ability to stay true to himself as a producer, despite the current industry trends, enabled him to stay a Mainstage act throughout it all. He explains that hot genres and hot artists come and go in electronic music, similarly to fashion trends. To him the key is understanding that just because a style is hot, it isn’t an invitation to jump on the bandwagon and make it a part of his productions or shows. Progressive house will always be the core of what Rotteveel loves to produce, so while he may experiment stylistically at times, the genre is always going to be what ‘gets him going’ in the studio.
Ironically, the return to touring inspired Rotteveel’s newest venture musically. While playing a small show in an abandoned airplane in Hungary, he became inspired by the thematic of the scenery and the deeper and more laid back set he could play because of it. His alias Monocule was born. Rotteveel shares, “Nicky Romero songs are like a film with a beginning and an end. Monocule songs are each a chapter of a larger story… how the crowd reacts is also a factor. I don’t need a massive reaction with every drop because it is more about the entire story.”
The artist has continued this experimentation through his start of 2022. His Nicky Romero releases have featured groovy and upbeat house music, like on his recent EP See You On The Dancefloor with Low Blow. His newest single “So Much Love” with Almero also builds on this same sound, inducing happiness from the track’s first note. Vocals illuminate the euphoric house backdrop, and the energy of the single is high.
He explains that this style is what he is connecting with right now, explaining, “it is fun if a song streams well, but it’s not always as fun of a process to be in because it is really about numbers and not about what gets you going.” He continues, “That is what it needs to be about in the studio- what gets you going.” His current challenge is determining which of his releases will go out under Monocule as opposed to Nicky Romero. He has a mountain of unreleased music, and he divulges that the Nicky Romero sound might shift a little bit towards Monocule in the future.
2022 will also be a big year for the artist outside of his own productions. What many may not know is that Nicky Romero is a household name within the industry for more than just his own music thanks to his plugin Kickstart. Kickstart was so transformative that it has been used across the wider music industry from top tier DJ’s to bands like 30 Seconds to Mars, Coldplay, and even one of Rotteveel’s own musical idols, Timbaland. He will be releasing Kickstart 2 this year, which he believes will be equally as impactful as the original.
An entrepreneur at heart, Kickstart is just one of the many ventures, outside of his own music and touring, that Rotteveel has pursued. He has also been able to channel his love for gaming through a variety of different verticals. Years ago he saw an opportunity to run and rent out game servers for video games, resulting in the creation of his own company, Creative Hosting. Since then, he has been able to hold onto this passion by actively streaming on Twitch in addition to taking a co-ownership role in esports/gaming entertainment company, ReKTGlobal, the ownership group of professional esports teams Team Rogue and London Royal Ravens.
Despite everything he is involved in and the return to touring, Rotteveel exudes a sense of calm, radiating a certain centeredness. He reflects, “the last two years have been about redefining who I am and what I do…outside of work I am just Nick. I just got a puppy named Ravi– he is a Pomski and contributes a lot of happiness to my life…I do a lot of meditation, and I started reading books. This is something that before I would not have the patience for before- to actually turn the page.” He continues, “If I can say I’m happier right now, I’d say I’m in the process where I feel connected to myself again and towards balance.”
The artist’s sweeping changes have not impacted his ability to craft an addictive mix, and he takes listeners on an hour-long ride united by the theme of nostalgia during his Saturday Night Session. When asked what kind of a Saturday night his Saturday Night Session is going to get listeners ready for, he shares, “it is going to be a mix of nostalgic sounds and what the future might bring for me. This will be mixed in with the fact that the festival season is coming, so there will definitely be festival music here too.”
Featured Image: Kevin Anthony Canales
Read the full Nicky Romero interview below
Let’s start off with something outside of music. I know you are a part owner of Rogue through RektGlobal and that you are big into esports and gaming. What are you playing these days and/or streaming?
What is really funny about the last two years is, because we couldn’t travel as much as we normally do, I think it reset the industry a little bit, especially on the DJ side with genres. It also reset my own life a little bit. It used to be that as soon as I got back in my own house and started being adjusted to being in my own environment again, I had to leave. And that repeated itself for the last 10 years. And without knowing, I got further and further disconnected from the person I actually am. I’m a family guy. I don’t have a family, but my own family, you know, and I just got a puppy, which changed my life. When I started doing music, it was because I wanted to be a music producer. It was not because I wanted to be some biggest DJ in the world or whatever. I just wanted to play out my own records. I was in a band before, and I was a drummer, but as a drummer, it’s not just your music. I also played piano and then I started making songs because I just wanted to form my own music. Then I got more popular, started getting booked a lot, and suddenly it’s like 12 years later when COVID happened in 2020, and I realized how disconnected I actually really was. There was all of this pressure of social media, needing to play shows here, there, parties and pulling strings, and it’s just not me. I’m not made for it. I’m too sensitive of a person. Now back to the root of your question- before I started making music one of my hobbies was playing games.
Since I was 5-years old, I would play games like Counter-Strike and Half-Life. I also started a company called Creative Hosting that was running game servers. I was scripting things, and I wrote the code for the servers to run game servers for games like Counter-Strike. I set up my own rack in server hosting companies and was just selling game servers and renting it out. I started using a platform called MIRC which was the predecessor of Twitch and the Twitch chat technology with administrators, moderators, etc. Twitch chat was based upon the same code as MIRC, which was innovative. That was the beginning of this all. I started using voice applications like teamspeak and I was like, okay this is a crazy world. I started going to LAN events like DreamHack. I attended all of those things and started learning about the technology for all of those game services. Also I was playing games, and there was this rollercoaster with music given COVID. Then there was Twitch, and I got invited to play on Twitch to stream music and stream games. I was like, wait a minute- I’ve done this before. Let’s see what it is like now. Now I have gotten back into that industry a little bit, and I’m trying to balance it out with music. I do streams about games in addition to streams about music. I started building a whole Nintendo which is a lot of fun. The last two years have been about redefining who I am and what I do. I will still be making music for as long as I can, which is my main focus. But the gaming/Twitch world is such a fun world to be in.
Now that you have spent the past few years redefining who you are and finding yourself even more, would you say that you are happier now?
Um to be really honest with you, I think the restless energy that I built up over the last 10 years is still coming out, if you know what I mean. Sometimes I’ll wake up at night at 3am with this restless feeling in my body, like a need to do something. It’s like my body absorbs a lot of the energy around me- the festivals, the pressure, the traveling, living on the clock, and now since I haven’t had that in two years, my body is trying to get the energy out. It basically needs to run out until the energy dies out. If I can say I’m happier right now, I’d say I’m in the process where I feel connected to myself again and towards balance. I am starting to feel happier and happier. I’m not there yet, but it’s just because those 12 years were so insane.
That is something I wanted to talk to you about. The longevity of your career, and the fact that you have remained relevant, had amazing collaborators, own your own record label, and you’re still getting booked around the world as a top artist- so few people can do that over the length of time you have been able to do this. What are your goals moving forward especially with the amount you have already achieved?
Well I feel like this industry is changing all of the time and certain genres are hot for a year, two years, and then they aren’t for two years, and then they come back again. It’s like fashion. I’m pretty sure if I tell you there was a moment in your life with your parents where you saw what they were wearing, and you were like ‘what the hell are you wearing?’ until you realize a few years later, you want to grab that same jacket and wear it yourself. That’s how fashion works and music doesn’t work any differently. Without jumping on all of the hype trains, I just kind of try to let go. Is there tech house or deep house that is hot right now? That is not an invitation for me to suddenly be a deep house DJ. I want to make and produce the music that I love, and if I feel that the industry is embracing it and it is getting hyped, then that is great. If it doesn’t, that is fine too because I would still be representing the things that I do. I want
The most fun part right now is that I like to make music that I connect with very much. Like the more groovy, not deep house, but the groovy vocalish happy sort of a house thing without losing a connection to progressive house because I still do that. That sound makes me really happy. I did an EP See You on the Dancefloor with Low Blow, which was so much fun to make. It made me feel like, ‘okay, this is really what I want to play out right now.’ And that is a different process than being in the studio and being like, ‘Okay, I need a song that does well on Spotify.’ Because it is fun if a song streams well, but it’s not always as fun of a process to be in because it is really about numbers and not about what gets you going. And that is what it needs to be about in the studio- what gets you going. Other than that, I am about to release a new version of Kickstart. For people who don’t know what that is, for production there’s a couple of different software packages that people can use to produce music. Ableton, Logic, FL Studio, etc to name a couple. Within those packages, you can use samples for your drums or synths, for whatever, and you use virtual instruments, which are called Plugins. Roughly 10 years ago, we came up with a plug in called Kickstart that helps you process your sounds to get the sidechains and add a certain sound to the kick. It might sound very far away from what you can imagine, but if I played you an example, you would know exactly what I mean. So that plugin became so popular that everyone started using it, like from top tier DJ’s to bands – 30 Seconds to Mars, Coldplay, even Timbaland, who is a hero to me, started using it in a MasterClass of his and sharing it online, which to me was the greatest compliment. We have a follow up to it called Kickstart 2, and it is about to come out in March. David Guetta used it already in one of his songs, a remake of “Titanium.” I think that is going to be a mindblowing update for the industry.
It’s interesting- I didn’t realize you were doing all of these things on the side like coding, and servers and Kickstart, it’s awesome. So I know you recently signed with Universal Music/Virgin Records, which is exciting. What was behind that decision and how does that impact Protocol Recordings?
It’s a good question because it’s honestly a question that is keeping me busy sometimes as well. In all honesty, I think the reason we were open to work with Universal Germany is because I think it was great to have a partner that knows how to approach the streaming world. So Protocol Recordings is really focused, and has always been focused, on the club world. I think with Protocol we know quite well how to serve the club industry. Now the streaming platforms are there, I think Universal has a whole different view on how to approach songs on streaming services. I would love to be educated by people that know exactly how Spotify algorithms work, and I think that Universal is just a really good partner. They know how to bring a song at the right moment with the right promotion. I feel like they have really quality people working, and they give great feedback on the songs that are not just made for the clubs. Basically there is a difference for club tracks and Spotify songs. They give me good feedback on songs, and they are a really great partner. I don’t think it is in the way of Protocol because the club-focused records will always be on Protocol. Once there is an actual song, we will consider doing it on Protocol or Universal.
So you have the freedom to choose where a song goes?
Yes, Universal is not forcing me in any way. They are really a good partner for me. For example, I am not great at lyrics, which I know. I am the person who makes the melodies and the chords, and they give me great feedback. Sometimes I’ll send him a demo thinking it’s great, and he is like- ‘did you listen to the lyrics?’ and I’m like, ‘Oh wait, haha.’
In terms of Monocule versus Nicky Romero can you tell me your vision for the next year for both of those projects?
Monocule came about as a deeper alias. It started for this festival called SAGA festival where I was playing a set in this abandoned plane, and it was a deeper set. I was like, this setting gives me the idea for an alter ego. So this is where it started- I wanted to focus more on this kind of music and not put it out under Nicky Romero because I didn’t want fans to think I changed my sound. At first it was a more laid back version of Nicky Romero, but now because the industry has changed so much, we may need to slow down Monocule because the Nicky Romero sound might shift a little bit more towards Monocule in terms of a little bit of the darker side. There are a couple of songs that are coming up that are in the middle, and I still don’t know how to figure out what it will be put out under.
Do you go into creating a song knowing whether it is Monocule or Nicky Romoro? Or do you make the song and decide afterwards?
Whenever it is happy or really clubby then I will go for Nicky Romero. Whenever it is darker with a theme or a story to tell, it is Monocule. I think how the crowd reacts is also a factor. I don’t need a massive reaction with every drop because it is more about the entire story. It is a chapter. Nicky Romero songs are like a film with a beginning and an end. Monocule songs are each a chapter of a larger story.
When you think about this year, what gets you excited outside of work/music?
Well, that’s interesting. Outside of work I’m not Nicky- I’m just Nick. I just got a puppy named Ravi. He is a Pomski. My dog is contributing a lot of happiness to my life. It is like the unconditional love that you get from your family. Obviously it’s a lot of work when you first get a puppy, but it has really made me happy. I do a lot of meditation, and I started reading books. This is something that before I would not have the patience for- to actually turn the page. So not reading on a screen- reading actual books. I started going to a Sauna because I like to be amongst other people and not isolated all of the time. It’s a little scary when people recognize you, but it’s whatever.
What kind of a Saturday night will your Saturday Night Session get listener’s ready for?
It is going to be a mix of nostalgic sounds and what the future might bring for me. This will be mixed in with the fact that the festival season is coming, so there will definitely be festival music here too.