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The music man behind much of the signature tones that have come to define The Foreign Exchange (+FE) sound continues his alchemist trick of making instrumental electronic music feel organic for laypeople who swear they don’t care for electronic music. Following a tradition initially established in jazz by artists like Miles Davis and in soul by Stevie Wonder’s experimentations in Songs in the Key of Life (peaking in the woefully underrated In A Square Circle), manipulating electronic music to distill the innate robotic coldness of its confines to cultivate something emotional and resonating is a hard row. Most lean into the coldness, creating music that stretches from the industrial and dystopian to the nihilistic and metallic.

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It seems like only yesterday Phonte Coleman was just a North Carolina rapper/singer, one-third of the up-and-coming hip-hop trio Little Brother. Back then, Coleman was also exchanging music files with an Internet help desk employee and aspiring producer in the Netherlands (Matthijs “Nicolay” Rook), hoping the two could make music together.

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With their fifth studio album, Tales From the Land of Milk and Honey, The Foreign Exchange has perfected its sophisticated take on R&B, incorporating not only a range of sticky sweet melodies, but also a smattering of nuanced romantic themes like domesticity and compromise. But whatever you do, don't call it ''grown man music.''

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Nicolay Shows Off His Jazzy Side on North American Tour, Talks New Foreign Exchange Album (via Exclaim.ca)

by +FE on July 5, 2012 at 9:18 AM · Comments
As noted hip-hop/soul producer Nicolay kicks off a 13-stop North American tour with exploratory jazz trio the Hot at Nights this week, the Grammy-nominated Dutch performer tells Exclaim! that he's in a good place right now.

The tour, which makes its lone Canadian stop in Toronto on Thursday (July 5), is something that's been a long time coming, the Foreign Exchange member notes. The show will see Nicolay and the Hot at Nights perform jazzy interpretations and arrangements of his instrumental compositions from his City Lights Vol. 2: Shibuya project.

"Toronto has always been great. When we were doing the tour and I knew we were going up north, I really wanted to include Toronto in the plans," the North Carolina-based Nicolay says. "I feel like Toronto is a very open-minded city and people are definitely ready for something that is a little bit off the beaten path."

The live tour will see Nicolay playing synth and keyboards, along with the the Hot at Nights trio (Chris Boerner on eight-string guitar, Matt Douglas on sax/woodwinds, and Nick Baglio on drums).

"These guys are doing something that, while different, [contains] a lot of overlap in the best possible way," Nicolay says. "The idea for the Shibuya EP was borne of the idea to finally play with some jazz guys and get my ass kicked because they're all incredible virtuosos. It was a great way to better myself and get my own chops up. That's what this all represents."

Practically dripping with underground hip-hop/R&B/electronica cred, the soft-spoken Nicolay has quietly amassed a remarkable body of work -- from an acclaimed collaboration with North Carolina rapper/singer Phonte Coleman (the Foreign Exchange), to his solo jazz and electronica projects on his indie label +FE Music, which he runs in partnership with Coleman.

"You have to define success in this industry. Success in our case is being completely independent and depending on what we do as a team," he says. "We really can do whatever we want. We're very unfortunate that we've built up a loyal fan base that really supports us."

Nicolay notes that more solo projects from both Phonte and himself are on the way shortly, along with a planned new artist showcase project on the Foreign Exchange label. Nicolay also reveals that the so-far-untitled follow-up to the Foreign Exchange's Grammy-nominated Authenticity should be out sometime in 2013, stating that it will be a lot different from that previous 2010 outing.

"It will definitely be a departure from our last record," he explains. "Authenticity was almost like a concept album from the sound of it and the subject matter. The content was very much connected to the emotions that we were into at the time. It was a less optimistic record, to put it lightly. The new album will have a lot more colour, a lot more complexity and bundles all of the influences that we've taken in over the years.

"I'm not going to put a date on it because we want to leave no stone unturned. We're taking our time but we'll definitely have it out within the next year."

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