Launched by German producer Tim Engelhardt and US-based, French technologist Dr. Nicolas Pinto in November 2023, nascent record label LIFEFORMS has been going from strength to strength over the past few months. Following a brace of successful releases from label co-founder Tim Engelhardt and esteemed electronic duo Solique in November and December respectively, the burgeoning, technology-focussed imprint now looks to open its 2024 tally in style, as it welcomes co-founder Pinto for his first release on the label, under his ‘Nicoleo’ moniker.
Out now, Nicoleo lands on LIFEFORMS with his remarkable new house cut ‘Chemin’ ft. Bou. Bringing the listener into his own realm of tripped-out, sonic exploration, Nicoleo’s label debut is a masterclass from the off. With a hazy modular introduction and stripped-back instrumentation making way for a whimsical, dreamlike topline from his wife Bou, Nicoleo’s forward-thinking sound experiment merges with the technological spirit of his musical quest to create a euphoric journey that captivates from the outset. Constructing an impressive assortment of rolling drum loops, ethereal chords progressions and stripped back samples, ‘Chemin’ is a truly spirited offering, with Nicoleo’s deep and rhythmic house grooves providing the perfect tonic to those January blues.
WWD: Hi Nico! Welcome to When We Dip. So lovely to have you with us for the first time. How are you?
Thanks for having me! I’m truly grateful to be here and excited about what 2024 has in store for all of us.
WWD: We’re at the beginning of another year. What goals and aspirations do you have for 2024?
In 2024, my focus is on laying strong and creative foundations. I aim to establish solid groundwork and infrastructure in various aspects of my life, setting the stage for future growth.
WWD: Starting at the beginning, can you tell us how you got into music?
Like many growing up, there was always some music around, and my dad’s old turntable was like a playground to me. It was a cool mix of music and technology wizardry that totally drew me in. I was that curious kid, always pressing buttons, playing with starts and stops, and figuring out how it all worked. Getting my fingers on those records and hearing the wild sounds I could make? That was just awesome. It felt like having superpowers at my fingertips, manipulating any sound to my will.
In high school during the late 90s, I developed a passion for guitar and “turntablism”, trying to master the art of using turntables as musical instruments. This path led me to compete in various scratching and beat juggling competitions, eventually steering me towards hip-hop production. In the early 2000s, shortly after high school, I, along with a few friends, founded our own independent music label. As the founder and lead producer, I was deeply involved in the creative and technical aspects of music production. It seems that integrating technology with creative endeavors has always been an integral part of my DNA.
WWD: How would you best describe your sound to those who may not be familiar?
Soulful, multicultural, technical and detailed.
WWD: Who or what were your biggest musical inspirations growing up?
Jean-Michel Jarre, Georges Brassens, Jean-Jacques Goldman, Q-Bert, DJ Premier, Dr. Dre, J-Dilla.
WWD: You launched your new label LIFEFORMS together with Tim Engelhardt last year. Can you tell us more about the concept behind the label, and why you decided to set it up?
The concept behind the label is a unique blend of our individual strengths and passions. Tim’s deep expertise in music, at such a young age, and my early involvement in cutting-edge technology, along with our shared enthusiasm for each other’s fields, really forms the DNA of our label. It’s this fusion of music and tech that defines us.
The choice of the name ‘LIFEFORMS’ was quite deliberate. It reflects our belief that at the core of every artistic journey is the human element. We see our music as a living, evolving entity – it’s organic yet adaptable, much like life itself. The name embodies our ambition to produce music that is not only vibrant and soulful, adapted to its environment, but also reflects the dynamic nature of art, and its continuous evolution driven by modern tools.
In essence, LIFEFORMS isn’t just a label – it’s a platform where music meets technology in a deeply human context. Our goal is to be innovative and distinctive while being collaborative and constructive within the ecosystem. We’re excited about the journey ahead and the potential of LIFEFORMS to create a subtle but enduring influence in the world of electronic music.
WWD: How did you connect with Tim for this?
Setting up the label was a natural progression of our original collaborations, which grew during the early days of the Covid pandemic. I reconnected with music production after a decade-long break and sought Tim’s guidance for mixing tracks. This collaboration quickly evolved into a deeper connection. We realized that we shared a vision for how technologies like AI and blockchain could intersect with and enrich the artistic journey and especially in the music industry. Tim had always aspired to start a music label, and I have a passion for building things and nurturing talent. So, it felt like the perfect opportunity to combine our skills and passions.
WWD: You have a background in AI and blockchain technology. Does this manifest itself in the label’s output at all? And if so, how?
We are honest about it: it is an experiment. Our hope is that this background in AI and blockchain technology will play a pivotal role in the long-term direction and output of our label. It might however be more subtle than the typical hype-heavy attention-grabbing headlines you may see in the press or on socials.
My deep involvement in the GenAI NFT launch for Innervisions’ 100th release in 2021 was a significant step in proving that this could be done. This ahead-of-the-curve experience with influential veterans in the space (Dixon & Ame) has been instrumental in shaping our approach at LIFEFORMS. We’re dedicated to integrating technology in ways that genuinely enhance the music experience and strengthen the connection between artists and their audience, while staying in the background.
Tools from AI (which I like to refer to as “Intelligence Augmentation”, IA), have the potential to significantly enhance the capabilities of our artists, if they chose to use them. Steve Jobs said that the computer was the bicycle for the mind. To paraphrase a dear friend of mine, AI tools can clearly be the rocket ships for the mind. They can simplify and streamline the production process. Sometimes certain tasks are tedious and time-consuming, and we want to remove those obstacles to keep artists in their creative flow. Whether an artist excels in composition, sound design, production, instrumentation, performance, arrangement or other aspects, these tools can bridge the gap where they may not be as inspired at that moment. They can also be invaluable in the final engineering stages of the music process, such as polishing, mixing, and mastering (especially for newer complex formats like Dolby Atmos), allowing for professional-quality output without the prohibitive costs. The democratization of these tools is crucial for independent artists, leveling the playing field to compete with higher-budget productions.
Concrete examples in our past and future releases include generative synthesizer sound-design trained on the artist’s preferences, advanced macro- and micro-sampling using audio understanding and source separation, advanced audio restoration, advanced generative vocals (like for our GenAI project with Innervisions in 2021), mixing co-pilot, friction-less immersive spatial audio mastering (e.g. all of our spatial audio masters at LIFEFORMS use this technology developed in-house, drastically reducing the cost of this expensive part of the release process), cover art generation with artist-preferences, etc. We have a lot of other ideas cooking, and we’ll see how they get picked up by our artists. We won’t force anything.
Blockchain tools have the potential to remove intermediaries between artists and their audiences, ensuring that artists fully capture the value they create. This technology brings transparency to the value chain. By utilizing digital scarcity through NFTs, artists can offer exclusive content, paving the way for more personal connections and valuable experiences (as I’ve done with the Innervisions’ 100th release as NFTs). Emerging artists, in particular, often struggle financially. Blockchain could facilitate smoother and more timely payments, potentially providing greater financial stability. These tools are still in their nascent stages, and many are subject to unhealthy speculation. We are here to navigate our artists through this complex landscape, offering clear guidance amidst the overwhelming noise. While we can’t reveal much about our upcoming plans with Tim, we are very excited about them and look forward to sharing with our audience as soon as they are ready for the spotlight. We’re just getting started 😉
WWD: We understand you have a new release coming up at the end of January. Can you talk to us about the record?
Our upcoming release is quite meaningful to us: it marks not only my debut on our own label but also represents a significant personal and artistic milestone. The record, titled ‘Chemin’ under my artist name “Nicoleo”, is particularly special because it features spoken vocals from my wife, Bouchra, known as “Bou”, who planted the original seed of the idea behind the music.
‘Chemin’ is a reflection of my own journey in music – one that has taken me from my roots as a hip-hop producer and turntablist in the late 90s to my current exploration in electronic music, particularly in the realms of synthesizer sound design. The two tracks encapsulate this evolution, blending rolling drum loops, ethereal chord progressions, and stripped-back sampling to create a sound that I hope is both innovative and deeply soulful.
In this record, each element is carefully crafted to narrate a tale of personal and artistic growth. It speaks to the journey we all navigate in life and art, defined by our distinct experiences and the ongoing evolution that drives our creativity. ‘Chemin’ is more than just a two-sided release; it’s a reflection of my past and a hint at my future, intricately weaving a puzzle path for a future cryptic treasure hunt.
WWD: Beyond your own release, what can we expect from LIFEFORMS over the coming months? Any artists we should be watching out for?
We have a lot of exciting music cooking. I can’t tell everything but you can expect Tim to make a comeback and our dear friend Enamour to drop a special one this year.
WWD: Before we sign off, do you have any final words for our When We Dip readers?
Always be aware of the “Bias-Variance Tradeoff”, not only with AI but also in life 😉
WWD: Thanks Nico, appreciate your time and wishing you all the best for 2024!
Thanks to you for doing such a great job at covering our music scene, and thanks again for having me. All the best to all of you at When We Dip for 2024 !
Nicoleo – Chemin feat. Bou is out now via LIFEFORMS. Listen here.