NIMMO: “Queer people will never stop finding ways to create alternative spaces”

The London dance duo on their next chapter, new single 'Company' and the importance of Pride outside of the capital

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Over the past decade NIMMO have endured the volatile journey of the music industry – major signings, line-up changes, label pressure and self-releasing their debut just before a global pandemic – with endearing tenacity. At its core NIMMO has always been Sarah Nimmo and Reva Gauntlet, whose lifelong friendship and creative partnership has kept their project protean and alive.

Though often found DJing in London’s top parties these days, the arrival of ‘Company’ back in June announced the return of NIMMO with a second album to follow. Later this month they bring this new set to Glasgow, Hove and Manchester as part of the Music Venue Trust’s Revive Live tour. We check in with Sarah and Reva as they begin on their new chapter.

In spite of any hindrances, you always seem to come out the other side. Talk me through the last couple of years of NIMMO.

Sarah: We were on tour when Covid hit and then for six months it was like, “what are we going to do?”. But then it was a massive bout of extreme creativity and we ended up writing part of what our new record was. We put our new single out, met our new manager and in a way it wasn’t a bad time for us. Weirdly, we had so much tunnel vision. When you’re as passionate about doing something as we are and you don’t have anything else going on…

Reva: It was like this weird honeymoon, wasn’t it? It was just the two of us, we created a bubble, which was the perfect bubble, the kind of bubble artists try and get in the quote-unquote normal world. The music that we wrote for the new album was definitely in that weird time. We just sat in the studio, there was no one else and I think a lot of good came from that. But yeah we did worry if we would ever have a job again, and if we would ever be able to fill out sweaty rooms again. There was definitely a point where we’d written the album and wondered if we’d ever be able to go out and jump around on stage to play it.

Sarah: But yeah, we came out with all this material, with a new manager and a new song and we’re literally just putting together the first steps of our plan.

NIMMO at Space 289 in Dalston

When I saw you in Dalston back in February, it felt like a relaunch, is that fair to say? Why was it important to play all new material?

Sarah: First of all, a lot has changed in all this time. It’s just me and Reva who perform it live now, and it was for a little bit before, but we’ve got a proper vision for how we reshape and present our live shows. So we were testing a few things, then. We’d got a whole new setup of equipment for that show, and we completely changed the way we play, so it was kind of a big test, an experiment, and it went so well.

Reva: And we’ve changed so much in those two years. It didn’t feel like how it did for our 2019 album show, you know? It more like, “hi, this is who we are, this is what we’ve got out of this and how we’re emerging from the other side”. It was a little bit of a selling point for the new stuff. It felt really to good to get up there as the two of us.

I could tell how important that show was to you both, it must feel really rewarding to see that close connection with your fans again after that time. You’ve always had quite a closeness with them, right? Did you keep in touch with them?

Sarah: Duff Kelly! He commissioned this artist to paint a portrait of us, it was huge and he brought it over to Reva’s house in his van to show us. It does keep you going.

Reva: Yeah. Obviously at the beginning there were all those online shows, which we thought would be so temporary. A couple of weeks, a couple of months. We were jumping on all those things, charity bits, Pride online. Then it got to a point where it was a bit worrying! [laughs]. Trying to keep up with the contacts and keeping people updated that stuff was happening and stuff was going on behind the scenes. Being an artist now is about constant content, keeping people in engaged, and so in Covid you can get wrapped up in that.

Let’s talk about ‘Company’. It’s absolutely huge. I bet you knew that was going to be an important song on your campaign right?

Reva: Funnily enough, we didn’t! It was actually an album track, but we had started working with Charles Jeffrey, the designer, as a creative director for the album campaign. Then obviously things changed up and down as Covid hit again. But he had a fashion show coming out, and he already had all the songs from the album, but he selected that song and asked if he could use it for his Spring/Summer ’23 collection.

So actually ‘Company’ was a bit of a random one. He chose it to be in the fashion show and then we sort of lead with it. Ultimately it felt quite right after the last few years of silence, because it’s quite direct and got quite a punch. It’s a classic dance track and it was the perfect month for it, so actually we thought it was better to come back with something that’s more in your face than something we probably would have previously gone for.

You’ve always been a kind of hybrid between dance and live elements. Is there still that crossover or has your sound leant closer to the former do you think?

Sarah: Yeah, that crossover is a hundred percent there, and on the record as well.

Reva: Probably less so when it’s just the two of us, just because of the way that we make the music. There are still guitars, synths and pianos played live but I think now there’s not five people it’s a bit more simplified.

Sarah: Yeah, but there’s still a lot of playing. It still comes from a place of writing the parts and recording them in. There’s still that same process, but maybe instead of a guitar it’s a synthesizer now. From the beginning we wanted to limit ourselves.

Reva: Which makes it more like dance music, the fact that there’s four or five parts, rather than when there’s five people and it tends to get quite superfluous quite quickly.

I’ve seen NIMMO in various iterations but you’ve both always been at the heart. What have been some of the key lessons in keeping your working and personal connection healthy and creative?

Sarah: You know what, they’re so bound together. We do have to protect our friendship a lot, but we get so much enjoyment out of making music together. When we’re fully in the flow of it creatively we’re having so much fun and that’s when our relationship is so relaxed that it just coincides rather than being something you have to separate. I think when times are hard, and when you’re running a business, you always have to have that level of respect for each other. And patience, for yourself as well. But to be honest we’ve been doing it for such a long time now that it’s a learnt behaviour rather than a mindset. We’ve just learnt to do it well together.

Reva: And ultimately, though it sounds a bit corny, its our passion for it. There’s not that choice, you know? We know what we want to do and as you say, we’ve always been at the core of it, so we just continue. There’s a lot we’ve had to learn over that time in Covid. We had just parted ways the rest of the bandmembers, which meant that every bass line of drum part on this album was written by just the two of us. There was definitely a lot of learning but I definitely felt a weight off our shoulders by just having each other to answer to.

Sarah: Right, rather than telling somebody else about the idea you envisaged and then always knowing in the back of your mind that you’ve diluted every idea a little bit. And that’s not a diss to the person we were were playing with at the time, it’s just literally the way it goes. With this record especially we had such a vision for it, and now if you had an idea you could just play that.

Reva: I’ve only got you to answer to, and you to me. We ended up producing the entire album the two of us as well, which feels great, because before we always had hang-ups. You let it go a little bit, but no one lets it go.

Your profiles as DJs have risen pretty significantly in the last few years too. How important is it to you, has it helped with your own music at all?

Reva: It definitely helps.

Sarah: It’s been the biggest influence on mine and Reva’s musical life. Being a part of that world, not just going to clubs but now we’re so involved in it. We have clubs that are run by our friends and our community. DJing has just become way more important to artists. It’s a little bit harder, a bit harder than the stuff we make in terms of writing songs, but they’re not our songs at the end of the day. So it’s really freeing, you can push boundaries in other ways. I still think the NIMMO energy of what you would find in a live show is similar to what you’ll see in our DJ sets.

Reva: It’s nice to keep your brain refreshed as well you know? Every artist needs that palate cleanser, so having that on the side I think has been another focus. Sometimes we’re like, we’ve just been DJing for so long without writing a new track, so we’ll sit back down with a guitar together. So doing that together gets you more excited to write a song on Monday or whatever.

You’re playing a few Pride events this summer, as you have done in the past. You’ve both always seemed so comfortable and proud in your own skin and identity. I might be wrong of course, but in that light is it important for you both to stay engaged with that community?

Sarah: Definitely! There was a point when I think we were too much on the industry circuit and we weren’t doing enough of it. Now we do a lot, and we come away from it so enriched to play shows that have that level of intention behind them.

Reva: We’ve got a bit of a responsibility, you know? Especially to those in regional communities. It’s very easy to exist in the bubble of London, right? But it’s overlooked sometimes that there’s people in pockets of Manchester or Birmingham and other cities that do struggle more than the average Londoner. So it feels really important to go there and be some sort of representation. We were both born and raised in London and lived our queer experiences here, and we’ve been extremely lucky. It feels really special that we’re there and a part of it for them.

Yeah, I supposed I’d not thought of it in terms of London and the rest of the UK. That must add more significance to visiting these places like Manchester and Glasgow on the Revive Live tour.

Reva: When we do play them, we realise seeing our queer crowds that they’re quite different to London queer people, and I think that is just because they haven’t been so spoilt or just so accepted. People have been overlooked, and I think they turn to music in that instance for some representation or leading way. So there’s an added responsibility.

Back to London, you DJ’d Printworks recently which has since announced that it’s closing down to turn into offices. Are you still hopeful for London’s alternative spaces?

Reva: Definitely, there actually seems to be more popping up at the moment, new club nights like Milk. I think queer people need it so much that they’ll never stop finding ways to create those spaces.

Sarah: Our friends who ran The Cause and places like that, we already know their next movements and their mindsets towards it, and that community is the true alternative club scene; if one closes they’ll create the next one.

Reva: It’s kind of what we’ve done as people for survival, you know? So we’re definitely hopeful.

NIMMO play The Hug And Pint Glasgow on 31 August, The Brunswick Hove on 2 September and Manchester’s Night and Day Cafe on 4 September. Tickets for all shows are available here.