Aspen’s Berkel Beats keeps it low-key and local
The Aspen Times
If you go ...
What: Berkel Beats
Where: Belly Up
Cost: No cover until 11 p.m.
It’s happened several times. Managers ask Nate Berkel to leave Aspen — to get on the road and travel the world, perform at a different club every night. But each time, Berkel declines.
“The production people and the artists are amazing, but the fans and everybody else can really take you over,” Berkel, known for his stage name Berkel Beats, said Tuesday. “Just way too many hot girls and way too many drugs that you have to avoid, especially if you have a girl that you want to be with forever.”
Maybe if he were 22, he’d take to the road, push his brand and make a career of it. But at 32, it’s a hobby. As he says, he likes to keep it “local and low-key.” While fellow Aspen DJs Naka G and DJ Ronnie go full-force, touring and sometimes playing seven days a week, Berkel plays two or three times a month.
“It could easily be a job, but the excitement of getting on stage twice a month, compared to four times a week, it’s the way I like to go,” he said.
Playing less also means your tracks stay fresh; when he plays Belly Up Aspen tonight, the crowd can expect to hear about 75 percent new material. Berkel’s looking forward to it, as Belly Up is his favorite venue in the valley — for its acoustics, light show and responsive staff. He no longer plays venues where people can approach him, requesting Britney Spears songs. And he doesn’t play clubs where promoters ask him to play top 40.
“Why don’t you just turn on the stereo if you want to hear top 40?” he said.
Berkel arrived in Aspen 10 years ago. Growing up in South Bend, Indiana, he learned to ski on 240 feet of vertical at Swiss Valley in Michigan. After graduating from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, he headed west for a winter in Mammoth Lakes, California, but he never made it. Instead, he stopped in Aspen for the X Games and decided to stay, landing a job at the Ritz-Carlton and a room at the Pokolodi Lodge in Snowmass. The space he lived in was called “the dungeon,” and rent was around $300 a month.
But after a few years, Snowmass was getting too small, so Berkel left for Denver, only to return a year later.
“Every time you come back here — it doesn’t matter if you go to Hawaii, it doesn’t matter where you go — you come back, and you’re excited to be home,” he said.
Berkel got into electronic music in high school with ACID Pro software for PCs. It wasn’t until he was 27 that he was introduced to Ableton Live, which is time-coded software suited for Macintosh. He still has every Mac he’s ever owned, each one kept alive in case he needs a long-lost sample for a track he’s working on today.
“You totally forget about samples you spent countless hours on, and you find it and you’re like, ‘Yes, I can definitely bring this back,’” he said.
Berkel landed his first paying gig at Club Chelsea, which is now Finbarr’s Irish Pub. That was around 2009, and the space had a 100-foot bar, lights, lasers and a cigar-bar side lounge. From there he linked up with John Hunt, a manager at Grimey Gatsby, who began booking his shows. Hunt was the one who got Berkel onto the Belly Up stage for the first time.
Paper Diamond got snowed out, and Hunt “called Belly Up and said, ‘Why don’t you still have the show, and we get Berkel in there and see what happens?’” Berkel said, admitting that he wouldn’t have made the call himself. “And it worked out well.”
Berkel estimates he’s performed at Belly Up about 35 times since — 10 times as a headliner.
“I was actually pretty nervous the first five shows at Belly Up,” he said. “Now it’s just extremely fun and enjoyable instead of nerve-racking.”
Another date he’s looking forward to is June 14, when he plays Snowmass Mammoth Fest, which most likely will be the largest crowd he’s ever performed for.
With Hunt out of the area, Berkel’s been representing himself for about three years, and although he only performs two or three shows a month, he’s meddling with beats every night. Most of the work gets done after his girlfriend, Kayla Morgan, goes to sleep.
“The way I’ve been doing it recently is I’ll use my big iMac, and then on my laptop, I’ll have a completely different song and go back and forth so you don’t get so repetitive in your head that you start going crazy,” he said. “You can just go nuts listening to one high hat for two hours trying to find the right clap or snap. It’s really hard to stick with a song for longer than two, three hours.”
He attributes his musical interest to his parents. His mother is a singer, and his father is a drummer who played in Icy Hot in the ’70s and ’80s and Silver City in the ’80s and ’90s. He was preparing for a performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in the 1960s when he was drafted into the Vietnam War.
Berkel’s mother is a Bob Marley fan, and when he was growing up, she would take the family to Broadway shows in Chicago: “Cats” and “The Nutcracker.” But all of his beats come from his dad, whom Berkel shares his tracks with.
“I’ll send him stuff that I know he’s going to like,” he said. “If it’s a Beatles remix, I’m going to be like, ‘Check this out,’ but if it’s crazy, I don’t want to hurt his ears. I definitely play some songs that he’d be like, ‘What? This isn’t music.’”
A Radio Boardshop employee and Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club instructor, Berkel has earned seven victories in the Aspen/Snowmass Bud Light Big Air series. This season, after skiing the last four days possible — with Aspen Skiing Co.’s two bonus weekends — he found that he had 99 days on the mountain.
“I was like, ‘Did I really not go that day?’” he said. “I thought for sure I would have a hundred. I don’t know what happened.”
Berkel said an ideal day in Snowmass starts with a good breakfast, a few hours at the skate park, disc golf with friends and, later, buckets, which is an enlarged version of beer pong with paint cans. But the ideal day starts with his view from Snowmass to Independence Pass.
“It’s very key to find a place that has a view you can look at every day,” he said. “It’s unreal. It changes everything.”
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