Few artists have made as much of an underground impact in 2021 as Nikki Nair, and deservedly so. Now based in Atlanta, Nair has tapped into the legacy of Midwestern rave in the United States of America and applied a fresh spin, somehow connecting the dots and dancefloors of his Tennessee upbringing and the bass-pleasures of the UK. Wildly prolific and technically brilliant, Nair has released transatlantically on labels such as Scuffed and Banoffee Pies, landing unexpectedly on Dirtybird with a four-track EP ‘More Is Different’, that included ‘Socket’, perhaps the weirdest dance floor banger of a similarly weird 2021.
Already wildly prolific, Phantasy are pleased to host Nair’s follow-up to a number of ‘Production Only’ mixes with a taste of the records he’s been digging this year, following recents gigs at the likes of Bossa Nova Civic Club and Nowadays, with a UK tour topped off by an appearance at Fabric. Chatting briefly via email to John Loveless, Nair talks about finding his sound from guilty pleasures, EDM echoes and Tatty Scones on tour.
You’ve turned in not one, but two ‘All Production’ mixes recently, focused entirely on your own, excellent solo work. With this, we get to hear a little more of what you’re listening to. Just how much time do you spend producing, versus listening to new music?
I think I spend way more time producing than listening to new music— I always feel like I’m behind with finding new music! Usually I spend the days leading up to DJ sets frantically searching for new music, but otherwise I’m mainly thinking about my own productions.
Your releases so far are notable for their ability and intent to capture the essence of different styles, be that dubstep, breaks, electro or anything else. Do you consciously make the effort to ‘learn’ a different style, and if so, how much of that is built from pure experimentation and how much from tutorials, etc.
I love listening to different styles of music. I think as I listen to them I learn them or at least am always trying to imagine how they are made. When I’m in the studio I usually end up making a style by accident. Sometimes it’s like a joke I’m making for myself that turns serious, or sometimes it’s just that I’ve saturated my ears with a new genre and it’s all I can think to make.
I don’t think I’ve ever been able to watch more than like 30 seconds of a youtube tutorial video before closing it and deciding to make a track. But I do have friends who show me techniques, and I sometimes read through internet forums and stuff for specific techniques.
You’re from Knoxville, Tennessee, a city with a very well-established musical heritage, but not so much related to electronic music or club culture. You now live in Atlanta, where the musical landscape is at least somewhat more in your wheelhouse. What were your early experiences or impressions of electronic music?
Growing up in Knoxville, there wasn't a big dance music scene that I knew about at the time, so a lot of the electronic music I heard was from the internet. I got really into drum and bass but didn’t know anyone else who liked it that much. I think a lot of people liked kind of artsy rock oriented music a lot there, but mainly only liked electronic music if Pitchfork said it was good first. I think the kind of dance music I truly loved growing up— aggressive drum and bass— was definitely not Pitchfork material, and therefore also quite uncool, so it was largely a guilty pleasure for me.
More recently, you’ve been playing across the UK, embarking on a tour covering a diverse range of towns and venues, from Aberdeen to Fabric. Given your style - heavy and heavily eclectic - I am not surprised you’ve so readily found an audience here. How has the tour across UK ‘clubland’ been for you in the absolute depths of winter? What have been the musical and maybe even culinary highlights?
It was very fun! Every event I’ve gone to I’ve met people who know so much about dance music and love it just as much as me, and it’s amazing. Actually Aberdeen was both a musical and culinary highlight… The vibe at that party was just perfect for some reason, and also the promoter hooked us up with a proper Scottish breakfast which included tatty scones, butteries, blood pudding, square sausages, bacon, and beans. It was a heavy breakfast, but one I won’t forget.
It’s been nearly a decade since the peak of EDM in the United States. As a citizen heavily involved in dance music, and as someone releasing on labels such as Dirtybird that were, at least for a time somewhat analogous to the evolution of that moment, what do you think the legacy of the EDM sound is to American audiences and club culture?
As much as it’s cool to hate EDM as an underground dance music DJ, I think it’s also reasonable to acknowledge that for a lot of Americans it was the first time electronic music actually felt bigger and more important than rock and roll. EDM to me represented a permanent legitimising of DJ culture in the states where it wasn’t before. Of course it was whitewashed and had all the soul and guts sucked out of it— that’s the only way anything has ever become huge in this country— but it still opened a lot of doors for dance music in the US, many of which have yet to be entered.
John Loveless, December 2021.