“Just Close Your Eyes And Dream With Me / You’ll Hear The Sound Of Music”
Instantly recognisable thanks to its vocal hook, Nookie’s classic tune ‘Gonna Be Alright (Cloud 9 Remix)’ captures the inventiveness and excitement of early UK rave culture — and foreshadows hardcore’s evolution into the technologically advanced jungle sound.
Released in 1993 just as the genre was morphing into a new form, its cascading pianos, sweeping strings and exultant sung sample struck a familiar euphoric chord, while its rolling dub bassline and dismembered Amen break signalled a new direction. An enormous club and rave hit, it put Nookie (real name: Gavin Cheung) in the spotlight, kickstarting a career as one of the most innovative jungle/drum & bass producers.
Releasing on Reinforced, Moving Shadow, Metalheadz, Labello Blanco and Good Looking through his long discography, Nookie has brought a unique jazz and soul sensibility to the genre since the start — but ‘Gonna Be Alright’ is where everything first fell into place. “The chords, the strings, it just worked,” Nookie says over Zoom. “I didn’t realise how big a tune it was gonna be.”
Nookie grew up in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, and got hooked on electro and hip-hop. While still in school, he was into breakdancing and listening to artists like Ultramagnetic MCs and Captain Rock, but getting a job in South London’s Red Records changed his life.
“They offered me a job in Peckham,” Nookie says. “To get there, it was like a two-and-a-half-hour journey, changing four times on the train. But I took it, because I really wanted to get into the dance scene and the business. At the time it was the dance record shop to go to — Black Market wasn’t around back then, I think. There was Groove Records, Bluebird, Hitman, and Red. I eventually moved to the West End branch of Red Records, and met a lot of DJs and producers through the shop.”
As a result, Nookie soaked up all the different styles of music that were coming through the shop, both new and old. “There were a lot of Kiss FM DJs working there, so they introduced me to the soul and jazz-funk sound,” he says. He witnessed the rave scene blow up firsthand and remembers the sense of elation when the first producers began to combine different beats to create a distinctly UK sound.
“It was just a natural progression. I was into my house and techno, and hip-hop, but put them together, and wow! We used to do that all the time in the shop — we’d get hip-hop records from the States, they were imports so they were always 33, and we used to speed them up to 45, the instrumentals. We’d get this nice breakbeat vibe going on, mixed with a house beat. The music started to get a bit harder and darker, the techno element came in, and the Belgians took over that side of things. It grew from there. But in the UK, we had our own more dubby style, with lots of reggae basslines.”
Already dabbling in beat-making, Nookie’s first production was actually a hip-hop remix of Ninjaman & Flourgon’s dancehall track ‘Zig It Up’, made under the name Main Attraction with Red’s general manager, and released on Jet Star. But when he started to make hardcore, his studio skills were quickly noticed. ‘The Love Is…’ EP, self-released as a white label (“the catalogue number was GAV001,” Nookie laughs), caused a stir in the underground, especially the track ‘Give A Little Love’.
With its rolling Think break, lush pianos, clever melodies and various vocal snippets, it already had the classic Nookie characteristics, and became a rave anthem when it was re-released on Simon ‘Bassline’ Smith’s Absolute 2 label. Already well-known by other DJs for working in Red Records, ‘Give A Little Love’ made Nookie a hot property. One night at a London club, the wheels were set in motion for his next release.
"I was down at Rage one week, and Goldie was there. I knew of him but I didn’t know him properly, and I knew he had a connection with Reinforced. He put his arm around me and took me to a corner and said, ‘Right, your next EP is coming out on Reinforced’. You don’t argue with Goldie!"
“I’d known the Reinforced boys since the record shop days ’cause they used to come in and bring white labels for us,” Nookie says. “I was down at Rage one week, and Goldie was there. I knew of him but I didn’t know him properly, and I knew he had a connection with Reinforced. He put his arm around me and took me to a corner and said, ‘Right, your next EP is coming out on Reinforced’. You don’t argue with Goldie! I said, ‘Alright mate, no worries, I’ll sort it out’. That’s when I did the remix of ‘Gonna Be Alright’, commonly known as ‘Sound Of Music’, and I put it out on Reinforced on the ‘Return Of Nookie’ EP.”
While the original of ‘Gonna Be Alright' (released on the ‘Back To Detroit’ EP under the name Cloud 9) already had the soulful pianos and Amen breaks, in its remixed form for Reinforced, Nookie added the vocal sample that tied the whole thing together and provided its unforgettable hook. Its invitation to “Close your eyes and dream with me” summed up the sense of escape and discovery present in the best hardcore and jungle, while on this version, Nookie sliced up the breaks into a nimble, ever unfolding rhythm: one of the earliest examples of the beat chopping that would become an essential component of jungle.
“I’ve always been quite technically minded, especially when producing,” Nookie says. “I don’t just like to write a few loops and repeat them. I was more into breaking up each individual sound of a breakbeat and transforming it into something different.”
The piano riff was inspired by a Latin dance track on a compilation Nookie found in Reckless Records (another Soho record shop), but played on a Korg M1, and the soulfulness it imparts to ‘Gonna Be Alright’ has remained a feature throughout most of his music since. Influenced by his appreciation for producers like Kevin Saunderson and Juan Atkins, the track draws a line between the Chicago and Detroit innovators and the UK’s more breakbeatdriven styles. “The Detroit aspect was always quite musical,” he says, “and I always loved pianos and melodies, chord progressions.”
In addition to the M1, Nookie used the Akai S950 sampler beloved of junglists, a Studiomaster 16-channel mixing desk and an Atari ST running the Cubase production program to make the track. “The strings, the samples and everything were coming out of the Akai. I didn’t have any effects machines back then, so if you listen carefully, it’s very ‘dry’. There’s no reverb or other effects on there. Then I recorded it straight onto a Tascam DA-20 DAT machine.”
“I was still living at my mum and dad’s at that time, and they had a little extension out the back. I set up my little studio in there. Ray Keith used to come round all the time."
‘Gonna Be Alright’ was made in the same place where Nookie engineered some of Ray Keith’s early material, including seminal tracks like Renegade ‘Terrorist’. “I was still living at my mum and dad’s at that time, and they had a little extension out the back,” he says. “I set up my little studio in there. Ray Keith used to come round all the time, and we used to do a lot of remixes, ‘Sing Time’, all the early Dread stuff.”
The Cloud 9 alias, under which Nookie made killer tracks like ‘You Got Me Burnin’’ for Moving Shadow, was reserved for his most cutting-edge material, and he enjoyed the idea of using different names to explore other aspects of his production.
“I wanted the Cloud 9 stuff to be a bit more experimental. And also because I was doing all the Nookie stuff with Reinforced, I had to think up another name for the Moving Shadow project. I’ve always been a massive fan of Todd Terry, and I loved the way he would use different names, like Royal House, Black Riot. It was quite refreshing when you found out who was actually behind those tracks, you’re like, ‘Ah, ok’. It gives it another edge.”
When ‘Gonna Be Alright’ started to circulate in key DJs’ sets, it was an instant hit, detonating raves and clubs alike with its ear-worm vocal, melodic nous and steamroller beats.
“I gave it to a few people, like Randall, Ray Keith and Fabio,” Nookie says. “Randall used to play it all the time at Paradise club, and then when people heard it, they all loved it. I sorted out the main players. Hearing the reaction in the big raves as well, Fantazia, World Dance, it was a good feeling.”
Afterwards, Nookie had a long line of hit singles, and made five albums, including 1998’s ‘Paradise’ with Chicago deep house pioneer Larry Heard (aka Mr. Fingers). His ear for a snapping beat and gift for a musical arrangement made his music stand out from the rest, and the jazziness he brought to the scene had an impact on ambient jungle and liquid funk producers.
“I’ve definitely got my own kind of sound,” he says. “A lot of people, when they hear my tracks, they can hear it’s a Nookie production. Obviously you take influences from other people and other genres, different aspects of your life, but having your own sound and trying to be as original as possible I think is really important.”
Though his production output slowed down through the 2010s, lately he’s been very active again. After releasing an EP on DJ Marky’s Innerground in 2018, last year, more music started to appear, including the incredible jungle tekno cut ‘Kaeya’ on Metalheadz, especially potent in its ‘Rage Mix’ iteration.
“Lockdown happened and I wanted to take something positive out of it,” Nookie says. “I thought, ‘I’ll get in the studio, I’ve got time now, and I can write whatever I want’. With ‘Kaeya’, I wanted to make a tune that was really personal to me, that had no boundaries. It’s my daughter’s name. I think it came out well.”
In addition to his Detroit techno-focused Binary State project, Nookie has also started working with a vocalist. ‘Love Less Chaos’, a single on Over/Shadow (a new venture from Moving Shadow’s Simon Colebrooke and Sean O’Keeffe), features Ruth Royall, and is a gloriously soulful, subtle drum & bass cut with warm piano chords and mellifluous harmonies. It’s the first of many tracks Nookie has recorded with Royall.
“We started doing some tracks together and she was so easy to work with, so professional,” he says. “She was sending the vocals back and I didn’t have to do anything to them. Her harmonies were amazing and the arrangement was really good, it just fitted with what I was doing. ‘Love Less Chaos’, that’s the first track we’re releasing together, but I’ve written about nine or 10 other tracks with her prior to that, and most of them are forthcoming on the Nookie album for Metalheadz. That’s all scheduled in.” The flip side, meanwhile, ‘Got Soul’, repurposes an original funk vocal snippet, and embeds it with a crisp Think break and classic piano chord progression: a modern update of his distinctive sound.
“I was mucking about with some new software where you can separate vocals from a full track, that’s always been something people have tried to accomplish. I know it’s quite a popular track that people have sampled already, but to my mind not many people have just used the vocal, they’ve used it with the original track. Everyone seems to be digging it at the moment, and I love the promo video Over/Shadow did for it, it had that kind of old school B-boy New York vibe to it that really worked.”
With a Binary State album forthcoming in addition to the Metalheadz Nookie album, it’s fair to say that he’s reinvigorated, but that’s not all. As well as vinyl reissues on Kniteforce, fans of his old school material will also want to pay attention to another upcoming project.
“Last year on 1st April, on social media I posted that I’d found an old DAT in the archives, and it had old tracks on there that had been released. On the other side it was blank, so I thought I’d play a little April Fool’s joke. I started writing down tracks that had never been released, VIP mixes and stuff like that. I just did it as a joke, but not one person got it as a joke. I had loads of people phone me up about the ‘Only You’ VIP mix, and I thought, ‘This has gone too far now, I’m gonna have to do it’. So I did a special VIP mix of ‘Only You’. That’s gonna come out on vinyl soon.”