In the world of DJs, as with any other occupation, there are different ways of rising to the top. Some choose to piggyback on the success of their peers, hoping to grab the glare of the spotlight amidst the ever-growing heap of decksmiths. But then there are those whose success is derived from their determination and perseverance, those who pave their paths with inspiration rather than imitation - those like Philadelphia’s Nigel Richards.
Richards is more than a globetrotting DJ talent with a few mix CDs and a slew of headlining slots under his belt. He’s a bona fide entrepreneur, a man whose devotion to DJ culture has spawned one of America’s most respected record stores (the nine-year-old 611 Records), a string of labels catering to the many rhythms of the underground, and a career that has amassed a host of protégés and admirers.
Richards has grown light-years beyond his humble beginnings in 1988 as an AM radio DJ at the University of Rochester. Back then, Richards livened up the dead air on Tuesday mornings between 3-6AM by mixing cutting-edge music with mischievous on-air shenanigans (which often included phoning random students and offering dates with members of the university’s swim team). He amassed a core of faithful listeners, and was soon promoted to the FM airwaves, serving as Program Director and Dance Music Director of the station for the remainder of his college career. The knowledge Richards gained during his stint at the station, combined with an enlightening trip to Europe upon graduation in 1992 -- where he experienced the full power and potential of what dance culture had to offer -- proved more inspiring than anything he’d learned in his economics classes.
After graduation, Richards moved back to Philadelphia, determined to instill the passion of rave culture into the local scene. Under the name Horizon Group (with partner DJ Boy Blake), Richards began throwing parties around town, bringing in top notch talents to the City of Brotherly Love. At Brave New World in 1993, his first rave event in Philly, the headlining DJs showed up two and a half hours late, forcing the 23-year-old Richards to spin his first peak-time set. The crowd barely noticed the absence of the marquee talents, and Richards was certified as not only an ambitious promoter, but a crowd-approved turntable talent in his own right.
But Richards’ biggest achievement came on August 5, 1993, the day he opened the 611 Records store. Dissatisfied with the selection of quality dance music available in the area through corporate chain stores, Richards first began selling vinyl to ambitious DJs out of his apartment. Realizing the potential for his business venture, Richards enlisted close friends such as Josh Wink to help him found the store as a way to help the growing number of local dance aficionados find the perfect beat. With its impressive assortment of techno, house, trance, jungle and all other sub-genres of underground dance music, 611 emerged as one of the East Coast’s most revered DJ stores. In 1996, Richards also opened 612 - a store dedicated to the clothing line spawned by Richards (available in France, Japan, LA, Chicago, NY and other US cities).
In 1994, Richards expanded his vision and founded the 611 record label, launched with the “Philadelphia Acid Experiments,” a series of 7-inch and 10-inch vinyl releases that gave Richards recognition for his production prowess as well as his DJ talents. That reputation was cemented with the well-received “611 Funkyshit Series” (named after the “Mr. Funky Shit” surfer-dude alias Richards used early in his career). In August 2001, Nigel partnered with System Recordings for 611 Records’ CD releases. In addition to several of his own mix compilations, including 2000’s popular Nigel Richards DJ Mix, 611 Records boasts the Six Eleven DJ Mix Series, which features CDs from international drum ‘n’ bass icon Dieselboy, Chicago house legend Derrick Carter, and Brooklyn techno stalwart, Frankie Bones.
A few years after the label’s inception, Richards also founded two 611 sub-imprints: the house-oriented Society Hill Recordings (which has included releases from successful producers such as the Rurals, Pete Moss and Derrick Carter) and 611 DnB (which has highlighted local Philadelphia jungle talent).
Yet, despite the success Richards has amassed as a DJ, producer, and CEO of the 611 empire, the 32-year-old has yet to rest on his laurels. His star, and his talent and ambition, continues to rise - a fact made apparent by one listen to Futurematic, his latest CD on 611/System. Futurematic is an engaging mix of modern techno-pop and house sounds that includes tracks from Josh Wink, Demon and Vitalix, as well as several of Nigel's own exclusive tracks (under his own name, as well as the tongue-in-cheek “Sausage Kings of Chicago” and “Fletch” monikers). This is an album that highlights Richards’ dual talents as a DJ and producer, and proves that he’s still in tune with the most exciting, forward-thinking sounds emerging in the underground dance scene.
Though Nigel’s talent and determination have made him one of US dance culture’s most important figures, Richards still approaches each of his ventures with the same enthusiasm and vitality that he held at the beginning of his career. His legacy may already be long and celebrated, but all signs indicate that Richards’ best is yet to come.