Fade To Mind’s Leonce Nelson hails from Atlanta’s thriving underground
Leonce Nelson is an Atlanta-based artist who creates percussive, leftfield music that’s emotionally inspired by the daily struggle and resistance of his life in America. Over the years the producer and DJ has co-founded the experimental label Hexagon, hosted open-minded clubnights in ATL and dropped a bunch of remixes and bounce edits alongside his own productions. Leonce is signed to LA-based label Fade To Mind – which has also been home to Fatima Al Qadiri, Total Freedom, MikeQ and Dawn Richard – and back in March he dropped Insurgency, his first official EP.
Last weekend, Leonce DJ’d at the Berlin fashion event Bread and Butter by Zalando, where he joined an adventurous music bill which included FKA twigs, M.I.A. and Brooklyn rapper Junglepussy plus sets from the likes of Serbian footwork artist Feloneezy, Príncipe producer Nidia and London grime/hip-hop DJ Amy Becker. We caught up with Leonce after his set to discuss the diversity of Atlanta’s music scene, the free-spirited vibe of Berlin and the Fade to Mind family.
I’d like to ask you about Atlanta. How long have you been there?
I’m from New Orleans, Louisiana. But I’ve been living in the Atlanta area like ten years, so that’s like my second home.
In recent years, Atlanta has become particularly famous for its music scene. Has it always been a good place to be as a producer?
Yeah, especially for black artists. A lot of black people live in Atlanta, so it’s a very natural environment for us I feel. Not as many cities have such a large black population, such a strong black culture. It’s definitely like a city which has, like, different classes of black people, a lot of young artists of colour. So, yeah, I love it. I don’t think I’d move anywhere else, except maybe LA. Very into LA.
Obviously there’s a certain hip-hop sound which is widely associated with ATL. Your music isn’t like that, but to what extent is the influence of Atlanta in your sound?
Well, in Atlanta, there’s not just rap at all. There’s house music. DJs live there. Richard Devine, I’m not sure if you know of him, but he’s a well-known sound designer. He designs a lot of like presets and patches, a lot of different software and stuff like that. To have someone like him live in ATL is, like, crazy. I definitely try to make sure people know and understand that about Atlanta – it’s not just rap. Artists like me live there, and people like Kai Alcé and Stefan Ringer – those are like two really good black house producers and DJs. There’s a very young, vibrant queer community. Atlanta rap as, like, the mainstream kind of overshadows a lot of that. I hope releases like mine show people that’s not always the case.
There seems to be a lot of events for rap and garage rock out there, but if you want hear house and techno, where do you go?
You should go to this place called The Sound Table. That’s one of the spots that’s usually playing house. It’s actually a very intimate venue, maybe 50 or 60 people. Some nights it’s like slam-packed. They own a place next to it called Space 2 and they have events in there also. Omar S is playing there tonight.
And how do you feel about Berlin?
I love it. It definitely has a certain culture that’s like very free and very laid-back. It’s not very common to experience a city like this in America, because America is kind of, like, edgy sometimes. Some Europeans are very intimidated by America, because you know there are guns and some shit happens. But it’s not always that crazy, it’s not how people think it is.
Let’s talk about the Fade to Mind label. What’s it like being part of that crew?
Everybody is always working really hard on different projects, everybody’s just trying to get to the next level. And maybe we all don’t like communicate as often as we should because we’re all spread out across America. Some of us are on the East Coast, the rest of us are like in LA. David [Quam, aka Massacooramaan] is in Portland. So we’re pretty spread out, but everyone is still cool with each other. It’s a cool team to be a part of, everyone’s been really supportive of me.
On the Insurgency EP, your sound is pretty hard to define. How would you describe your music?
I would just say me personally just trying to come up with something different every time. I’m not afraid to try different shit. Everything I make is very natural. I don’t try to force something out that’s not me.