No blue pill or red pill can replicate the mind-bending matrix of NGHTMRE's DRMVRSE.
NGHTMRE released his long-awaited debut studio album on September 9th after eight years of cranking out hits such as "REDLIGHT" and "GUD VIBRATIONS." The album is just one bright star in the deep expanse of DRMVRSE.
The cinematic project is a methodical piece of fiction with music, animation and narrative components—and that's just scratching the planet's surface. DRMVRSE tells the story of a fictional NeuroTech company that discovers a sonic frequency called "Unsound," leading users through gateways to other physical planes of existence.
A DMT-dose of portal-jumping and epic battles are the status quo inside NGHTMRE's playground.
"It sends you into this crazy, universe-type dream state and it's controllable," NGHTMRE tells EDM.com. "That sort of becomes almost like a controlled substance... It's set in the future where someone is waking up [hooked] to a machine and they're like, 'Okay, we're about to send you on the craziest trip of your life right now...'"
"The Unsound are these frequencies that maybe couldn't have been heard or felt or experienced before," NGHTMRE continues. "It sends you into the depths."
DRMVRSE is only NGHTMRE's first studio album but he crafted it meticulously in hopes of presenting his magnum opus.
"It was naturally having the ambition to want to create a cool piece of art that was a whole thing, rather than just little pieces of inspiration here and there," NGHTMRE says. "Something a little bit more cohesive that would last the test of time and would give me more of a setting and a platform to have all these little stories and tales and videos and songs to exist in a universe for DRMVRSE."
Penning his new album, NGHTMRE took inspiration from the Hero's Journey, also known as the monomyth, an archetypal story pattern involving a hero. There are three acts: departure, initiation and return. The hero goes on an adventure, emerges victorious in a crisis and returns home changed or transformed.
"Joseph Campbell was a theologist and spent all this time studying all these different religions, figuring out what the common theme was. It ended up being this hero's story," NGHTMRE explains. "I wrote the music before we started creating the actual storyline for it. I wrote according to the steps of that Hero's Journey. I often felt I really identified with the story when we were going through Icon [Collective music school] talking about our own lives and how it applied to everything and seeing yourself on a journey and fighting these fears and accomplishing these tasks to get to wherever your bliss is, whatever your goal was. I felt it was a story that a lot of people could relate to."
The universe-building of DRMVRSE will extend far beyond the dark corners of the album.
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"We tried to try to tie all the music into this story and create a show as well," NGHTMRE says. "Part of the desire to create this album was for the show as well. Elevating the show from just a DJ set to like, 'This is a show. This is an experience' and it's not just like, 'I'm going to go hang out and rage,' which, you know, it is also that. It's fun, it's a party, it's a cool experience, but it's something that's a little more elevated."
"I want it to be a visually immersive experience," he continues. "I think a lot of the shows that we go to are a lot of overstimulation: a million things going on at once. There are 99 lasers and 99 of this and that. We're trying to really program a lot of moments where it's only lasers or only lights or a cool moment of only visuals. Each moment in the show is a lot more thought-out and planned. There are timecoded elements and things like that where we are syncing videos that we've made and putting a little more time into those elements."
So why did it take NGHTMRE eight years to release his first studio album? After all, the DJ has been collaborating with the likes of SLANDER, Dillon Francis, Zeds Dead and The Chainsmokers almost from the jump. The arrival of DRMVRSE concludes a long, high-speed and sometimes strenuous race through the electronic music scene.
"It kind of just felt like a natural progression for me. I moved out to L.A. to be a producer and to make music. I went from this zero-to-100 of bedroom-producer-to-getting tunes played out and immediately going on tour," NGHTMRE recalls. "It got really busy, really fast. I've always had a tendency to make all different kinds of stuff. I like all different kinds of genres of EDM and different kinds of bass music. I've taken things year-by-year and it always kind of made sense to put out singles or EPs."
"Once I got those years of touring under my belt and spent more time understanding exactly what I felt like the NGHTMRE sound was, it just felt like a natural time for me to stop [the cycle of touring and quick releases]. I was feeling pretty tired and burnt out from touring and being on the road all the time in 2019," he adds. "My plan was to take this time off to write an album. Obviously, when COVID happened it became a natural break and I was like, 'Well, I'm just going to start cranking away at it.' It was really nice to get back in the studio and write music when I don't have a list of things that I have to accomplish in the studio. There were so few days where I could just go in and be like, 'What do I want to do today? I'll do this.' It was always like, 'Okay, I'm home for three days next week. I need these two days in the studio and I need to get this mix done.' It took a little bit of the fun out of it for a while."
DRMVRSE was NGHTMRE's escape from a fever dream of touring and endless releases. It was a fruitful cycle, but one that drained him. What started as a three-month break ultimately lasted 15 months.
The album is the bounty of a patient, well-nurtured seed.
"It was significantly more therapeutic than I was expecting it to be," NGHTMRE said. "I think in my mind I was like, 'Man, I need three months off, six months off to chill and work on an album.' A year and three months, I was like, 'Damn, I still need some time off.' It was really nice getting to spend time hiking outside and enjoying the free time and doing things outside of music that I needed for so long. It was extremely therapeutic to get back in the studio and just hang out."
Listen to DRMVRSE below and stream the album here.