Stefan Nicu aka Sublee, has long been heralded as one of Romania’s finest DJs. And in a country that’s become known the world over for its house and techno scene, that of course is no mean feat. Arguably at the busiest stage of his career right now, the Density Records boss is chatting to us off the back of a seriously busy summer, with gigs in Italy, Paris, Bucharest and many more behind him. Heavily influenced early in his career by international DJs such as Zip and Ricardo Villalobos, these days it’s Sublee himself who’s influencing an entire new generation. What’s more, we’re also incredibly excited to announce that he’s mixed Nightclubber 188 (a live mix from the ever-influential Sunwaves festival) which showcases a tantalising insight into his DJing prowess. No doubt a DJ at the top of his time! We also caught up with Stefan recently to chat about his early beginnings, his long-time influences and his future plans…
Can you start by telling us about your alias, Sublee. Where does this come from?
It started as a word play and its root in the word ‘subliminal’. I was thinking that every piece of music and art in general has a subliminal message underneath, existing below the surface as a feeling rather than as a clear concept or idea.
How did you get your start in electronic music? Who gave you your big break?
Started step by step, at first is was music coming my way, holding my attention for more and more time, I was more curious everyday, started searching, then learning how to play in my hometown club Karma where I was a resident at the time, then started attending Sunwaves, more music, more artists touching my ears, started digging for old school, then thought of trying to make music myself, self-teaching in every aspect. Times changed, the scene changed every now and again, but music remains.
I think the moment I moved to Bucharest in 2009 and started Marsomatic700 with Mihai Popescu was the first milestone, then others came, each as rewarding as the other.
Can you tell us about your early influences, producer and party-wise? What made them so great and why did they make such an impression?
Arpiar, Ricardo Villalobos and Zip were the first I saw playing in my teens, they connected me with this music forever. They inspired me to dig deeper and to take the leap of faith. An earlier influence is the 90s music I grew up with, subconsciously still there, but looking back now, there are far too many musicians and artists in so many genres that inspired me over time to name them here.
Why did the music make an immediate impression on you? Did it give you a sense of freedom in a way?
I always felt close to music because it got me through some hard periods of my life and gave me hope, while composing gives me the freedom I need and also the safe space to express myself fully. When I was a kid I always had the belief that I am gonna be a big singer someday, seems like the voice wasn’t my trait after all. However, some tracks have recordings of my voice I did over time.
At what stage did you feel you were ready to take it on full-time? What made you confident enough to do so?
I sometimes say I was born ready, nevertheless confidence isn’t my virtue so I think I still don’t know if it’s gonna be full time or for how long. Seeing people dancing and smiling and sending light, moving together like one big giant being makes me confident every time.
What do you see as the next stage of your career? What would you like to do – DJ and production wise – that you haven’t already?
I am gonna focus more on creating ambient music and music for movies, sort of a dream I have and also audio engineering. Already started learning, never gonna stop. For the near future I am preparing a live act, a different approach than the music I usually play.
Tell us a bit about your summer: what were the highlights? What were the standout memories?
Moving out of Bucharest is for sure the core memory of my summer. Every place I’ve been was amazing and inspiring in its own way. Party wise I had a great time at Pisica, in Paris, the boat party in Budapest was something else, 3 Smoked Olives has its unique feeling, Vuiet fest in Piatra Craiului Mountains was a big surprise and I felt like home at Red Dot near Cluj. What stayed the most in my heart though was the spring edition of Sunwaves, both Holiday Mood and Picnic Fonic were simply top shelf.
Is playing back in your native Romania always special for you? Do you prepare differently when going home?
I feel very welcomed everywhere I play in Romania and it is always special, not preparing differently but always something else 🙂 In and outside Romania, I consider mostly the line-up, the venue and the time slot when preparing the music, but always the set flows driven by the energy building up there.
Where do you think the scene is at in Romania now? Is it as exciting as ever?
I think the scene is going through some big changes right now, we are all adapting in this process, Djs, producers, promoters, clubs and clubbers. For sure we feel the reset over the last two years, a good time to search, discover, reconnect, put past aside, find new inspiration, get used to delivering not only direct content, but also online. I feel this is the challenge of our time, to keep the dance alive and people together, when so much of our lives happen screen-faced. Musically, the scene is more diversified than ever, a lot of great talent out there!
Tell us a bit about your new label, Density Records. What’s the thinking with that one?
Consciousness on Earth is now expanding, while shifting from the space-time continuum inward, to love-light frequencies. This process is creating a lot of change and turmoil in the world we know.
Sound and music are supporting this journey of ascension for ages now.
Density usually refers to how much energy exists in an amount of space and consciousness is said to manifest in 7 different densities connected by resonance, frequency and vibration.
The first density holds the primal expression and crystallisation of energy structures (atoms and other tight forms of light) we know as elements of nature – water, air, fire, minerals and so on. The second density holds the vegetal and animal worlds thriving towards light and growth upon intuition and instincts, having not yet integrated spirit. The 3rd one has the potential of complete self-awareness and self-consciousness, where the being is a mind-body-spirit complex, the human experience. It is a place of great mixed frequencies and has an infinite number of levels, seeking to activate all energy centres and learn the understandings of love. The 4th, 5th, 6th are those refining the higher energy centres, learning the lessons of wisdom, unity and timelessness, while the 7th is a density of completion and existing in the all.
We exist in all at the same time, so you can think of each density as concentric circles happening right now, as is the logo. It represents the present moment and the power of sound connecting your being to these levels.
At Density, we are trying to contain all these different kinds of energy and lessons on wax but also visually, thus curating music or series of dances to inspire this journey of ascension we all go through. Is a place for people and ideas to grow together.
Where are you based now? Can you talk to us through your studio a bit?
Right now I am living close to the mountains, a bit over an hour from Bucharest in a peaceful place, at a slower pace. I recently put up my studio and started working more. I have some drum machines and 2 synthesisers, an old mixer and a lot of samples and recordings, I like to keep some secrecy on what I use in the studio.
Do you find crowds outside of Romania to be as receptive and open-minded to what you play? Is that one of the great things about playing at home?
If the music is played in a certain way that makes people dance and feel, I think wherever you play you and the people there can have an amazing moment together. Music should not have borders.
Outside of music, how do you relax? Do you find it important to strike a balance between music and other activities?
I love playing with my son, I love cooking, learning about sound in general and I take trips with my family as much as I can. I am gonna try gardening when spring comes. I will be a total house dad!
What else is coming up for you musically and personally that you’re really excited about?
Right now I am preparing a release for [Cristi Cons and Vlad Caia’s] Amphia and in the near future I will release my first album at Metereze. Also, Density 2 is now available on all major vinyl stores with three tracks by my good friends Charlie and Arapu – which you can listen to here.
Lastly, if you were to introduce yourself in three records – yours or other people’s – what ones would you pick?
Mad Mike – The Illuminator – Underground Resistance
Massive Attack feat. Mos Def – I Against I
Keep up with Sublee on Bandcamp, Instagram and Soundcloud
Listen to Nightclubber 188, Sublee (live from Sunwaves) here