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Nathan 'Tugg' Curran

Nathan 'Tugg' Curran

Musician, Producer
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Nathan Tugg Curran

Nathan ‘Tugg’ Curran, aka Tugg the Drummer, built his career by blending his passions for electronic music, DJing, vintage drum machines and synths and, of course, drumming. He has become go-to for some of the most successful artists around, both as a live performer and a recording artist. He is also a producer and records his own and others’ projects in his own facility, using his full-suite of Aston Microphones…

Basement Jaxx, Gorgon City, Reef, Elton John, Pnau, Lewis Capaldi, Lady Sovereign, Kano, Lily Allen, Roots Manuva
Beautiful people

“My Mum had every single Queen album and used to play them all the time so at nine years old I was thinking ‘I want to be in a band, I want to be like Roger Taylor’ so I started playing on ice cream cartons with knitting needles. For my tenth birthday my parents bought me my first drum kit. I was obsessed with it and became quite good, so my Dad started driving me every two weeks from our Norwich home to London for lessons at Drum Tech, with [founder] Francis Seriau.

When I was going to leave school I applied for the first ever Contemporary Music School, which was set up with Drum Tech and this guy called Norton York [later of Rockschool]. There was a really high standard of musicianship so it was hard to get in, but I managed to get a scholarship. So aged sixteen I left home and went to London to do a two-year course there.

Towards the end of the course, in 1993, I answered an ad in the Melody Maker for a touring band called Beautiful People. I got the offer, asked the course director what I should do and he said; “This is your golden ticket, go on tour.” So I didn’t do my exams and, at 18, I was on my first tour, supporting people like Hawkwind and Oasis.

That lasted for quite a few years but then when the band wasn’t really going anywhere I started doing session work instead, getting myself out there, doing jam nights and meeting people. I was in a heavy metal band with Fraser T. Smith for a while, which was quite mad.”

The Basement gig

“I got my first session with Basement Jaxx by recording on their third album, Kish Kash. Because I was living in Brixton at the time. I knew the boys, I was into house music and I used to go clubbing a lot. Felix [Buxton] told me they were doing this more rocky album. So I did the track ‘Cish Cash’, with Siouxie Sioux on vocals, and ‘Good Luck’ which was the main track on the album. I asked them if they were going to take a drummer on tour and they said they’d never done that, so I said “You need to do it, and I’m your man!” So I spent the next fifteen years touring with them!

Between tours I used to go off and do other sessions. I worked with Lady Sovereign, Kano, Lily Allen, and I was with this Australian band, Pnau. They were signed to Elton John’s management company. He absolutely fell in love with them and gave them all the reels from Yellow Brick Road and other albums to do sample-based mixes of. It took them years to do but it got to no.1 in the album chart.

Elton asked us to do a few a gigs with him, which was a really good vibe for me, as he’s someone I’ve always respected. I played with Reef for a couple of years. I went to college with Jack and Dominic, the bass player and drummer, Around 2001 Dominic left so they called me up. It was just after my Dad had died so I was in a bit of a weird one, but they asked me to go on tour and told me I had five albums to learn in ten days! There’s a DVD of one of the tours we did, ‘Reef Live’. I was also in another band with Jack and the singer, Gary Stringer, called Them Is Me, which you’ll love if you like rock music!”

Good sub

“After Basement Jaxx stopped touring Andy Gangadeen [drummer and musician] told me he was MDing this new act called Gorgon City, a dance act who wanted to do some live shows, so I said ‘Great!’ and spent the next 6 years touring round the world with them. Johnny Dodkin, their FOH engineer, was using Astons on the live shows. He told me they were great mics, and arranged an introduction. So I ended up getting a Spirit and a pair of Starlights and did some home recordings of a vintage Premier kit I’d just bought. They sounded so good, I thought ‘I could do with a couple more…’ So I got a Stealth and an Origin too, and I just fell in love with Aston mics.

I’ve been doing recording sessions, with people like Fraser T. Smith, Lewis Capaldi and up-and-coming producer Mark Ralph. At the moment in the studio I’m using a Spirit 12 inches away from the kick, which I’m getting a really good sub from, a Starlight on the hi-hat - It depends what vibe you’re going for but for me playing quite lightly on the top of the hi-hat works really well with the Starlight – I have another Starlight as an overhead and a Stealth on the snare. For me, the Stealth is the best mic Aston do, just for the versatility and those sounds you get from it. On the snare I use the ‘D’ (Dark) setting for that ribbon sound. It just sounds really good.

Engineer Tom Stanley lives round the corner - he used to mic up Elton John’s drummer’s kit – he comes round here a lot and gives me advice, and he just told me to keep everything flat. It’s old school but it works for me. I can just manipulate everything in the mix.”

Electronic and acoustic

“When I joined Basement Jaxx in 2003 they only really had Roland SPD pads and they didn’t want to change anything, just to have me play acoustic drums over the top of the tracks, so that’s what I did for many years. I’d sometimes add a bit of electronic stuff using my own collection of vintage drum machines and drum synths – I’ve managed to collect loads over the years.

Then when I joined Gorgon City Andy (Gangadeen.MD) wanted me to play everything electro from pads. So on that gig I have a real bass drum but I don’t hit it, it’s just for the banner, and I have a Roland KT-10 trigger foot pedal. I use a Roland TR-8S as a drum module and I play all the individual drum hits from that. I think it looks a bit naff just having an electronic kit on stage. I do mix in hi-hats, cymbals and acoustic toms and I have a real snare but I have it on the side of the rack, which is really odd.

I don’t still have the knitting needles I started playing with but I do have the original stick bag my mum made for me when I was 12. It’s a really cool denim bag and I’ve had it on the road with me ever since!

Recently I’ve been doing some teaching at the Rhythm Studios, which is a really cool music school in Notting Hill, I do master classes there and also teach Logic [DAW] and DJing. I’ve been DJing for the past 20 years when I’m not touring. I had a bit of name when I was into house music, under the name Wafa, doing pretty big club gigs.”

Planet Battagon

“A couple of friends of mine, Steve Barney (Annie Lennox, Sugarbabes, Anastasia) and Luke Bullen (Joe Strummer, K.T. Tunstall, Bryan Ferry), are also drummers and we all grew up near to each other in Norfolk and went on to do pretty well. A year ago we made a documentary called ‘Three drummers’ about how we left Norfolk to pursue our dreams.

I also have my own project, called Planet Battagon – Gilles Peterson [BBC Radio 6] has been supporting it – I’d describe it as a cross between John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock, but with Aphex Twin; it’s really f****** out there. The first EP sold out and there’s an album being released later this year.

We did a festival in Denmark last summer which was so cool. There’s a big jazz scene in London at the moment it’s hard to break it, and it can be a bit up itself. I tend to like the darker side of it all and places like Denmark are more accepting of what I’m doing. I don’t actually play drums in it, which is a bit mad, I have a really good jazz

drummer called Jack Baker, Mickey Ball on trumpet, also people like Martin Slattery, who used to be in joe Strummer’s band. He’s been a major influence in this project too. Then I’ve got Ollie Saville, the percussionist who used to play in Basement Jaxx with me. I make it all, then when we do it live I do all the bass lines and drum synths, all the weird elements of it, and the others basically paint on top. It’s very experimental but that’s what I like.”

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Tugg has a sample pack out on Loopmasters. They describe it as: ‘a powerful collection of Live Disco and Electro drum chops ready to drop into your House, Disco, Electro productions.’ Check it out here.

Out-takes

Q. Who are your favourite artists?
A. Prince, Queen – one of the best ever rock bands and a major influence on how I started - Herbie Hancock, Lee Scratch Perry and Aphex Twin. I’m into lots of different things.

Q. If you weren’t working in music what would you be doing?
A. I’d be a postman or a car valeter lol

Q. What would your fantasy mic be?
A. A mic that automatically transcribes and gives you MIDI, pulling out all the hits from the bass, snare and so on.

Q. What are the 4 words you’d chose to describe Aston, or your experience with the brand?
A. Friendly, amazing, well-built and great, for what I'm doing with recording drums

Q. What is the first song that made you cry?
A. Stevie Wonder’s ‘Visions’

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