Crafting Cyberpunk Dreams: NikNak Discusses “Ireti”

We spoke with Leeds-based DJ, producer, and turntablist NikNak following the release of her new album Ireti, which is available now on Matthew Herbert’s Accidental Records. NikNak has collaborated with big names like Grandmaster Flash, Princess Nokia, Akala, and Madlib. She has received support from Gilles Peterson, DJ Mag, Clash, Mixmag, The Wire, Resident Advisor, and Electronic Sound. Her debut album Bashi was critically acclaimed and established her as a standout in the experimental electronic music scene. NikNak has performed at legendary venues such as Berghain, Glastonbury, Fabric, We Out Here, and Outlook. Additionally, she is the first Black turntablist to win an Oram Award and was compared to Loraine James by Gilles Peterson in a recent interview on WWFM.

Combining turntablism, experimental synthesis, haunting vocals, and dynamic electronic elements, NikNak offers a cinematic experience crossing genres like jazz, jungle, experimental, and trip-hop. Embracing her identity as a nerd and diversity advocate, her new album explores Afrofuturism and the interaction between humanity and technology. Drawing inspiration from Blade Runner and Cyberpunk 2077, the album features a dystopian narrative about reclaiming humanity from machines, and includes collaborations with artists such as Agaama, Cassie Kinoshi, Chisara Agor, Grifton Forbes-Amos, and SlowPitchSound.

KALTBLUT: NikNak, your journey in music is quite eclectic. Can you share more about how you became involved with turntablism and how it has evolved in your music over the years?

Thank you! Turntablism came into my life in two different ways but at the same time. In one way was via working in a bar during my undergrad studies and seeing the Friday night dis scratch as they played hiphop and breaks. The other way was via academia and in particular, a lecture by Sophy Smith was really interesting and transformative. She introduced me to the DMCs, Shiva Feshareki and more ways the turntables have been repurposed in unique ways. In that particular point of my life too,  I was learning about Pierre Schafer, Christian Marclay and more too… Life was a big ol’ melting pot at that point

KALTBLUT: Your album “Ireti” explores themes of Afrofuturism and the human/technology interface. What were some of the key inspirations that you drew from?

Akira, The Matrix and Blade Runner series, Ghost In The Shell, Cyberpunk 2077, and the question of “why haven’t we had a cyberpunk, dystopian film or series on the same scale as Black Panther yet?” It feels like we’re heading in that direction if we’re not careful so…

KALTBLUT: On this topic, if you had the opportunity to score a film, what elements would you incorporate to ensure it carries your signature sound?

I think the turntables would be featured in there in some way, manipulating chords or creating more warped textures more in line with what’s happening in the film. Also though, it’d be fun to make music that hints at turntablism without it being front and centre. I’ve had the great honour of working on some theatre shows in the past as a composer and sound designer. There, I’ve been able to stretch my composer muscles more so having the opportunity to do that on a larger scale like film and TV would be amazing. The turntable element I guess would be my “signature” sound but it’s also fun to keep people guessing with what I can do and how my sound continues to evolve over time.

KALTBLUT: How did you choose which artists to collaborate with on the album, and what was your creative process like when blending such diverse talents and sounds?

I first met AGAAMA while doing a radioshow for the first We Out Here Festival at Worldwide FM and we kept intouch after the show. And with Cassie, I’d supported seed at Marsden Jazz Festival a few years ago and we discovered how much we have in common with each other, and kept in touch over the years too. Grifton and I are in TC & The Groove Family together and have always admired how he plays the trumpet, SlowPitchSound has been a mentor to me over the years during my time on the Sound Generator artist development program whilst I was developing Sankofa, and that’s where I also met Chisara… In 2023, early I think, or late 2022, I reached out to everyone explaining the premise of Ireti, explained the inspirations behind it and sent the tracks as they were at that point. Everyone was super excited and onboard, and I wanted to make sure that we all worked holistically. Some musicians wanted to be in the studio with me so we made arrangements to make that happen. For others, because of busy schedules, and being based in Canada in SlowPitchSound’s case, recording remotely was also an option so I just wanted overall to make sure to be respectful to how people best work and be accommodating for that. The fact that everyone on the album is a nerd in some way, shape or form, really lent itself to the inspirational things everyone did in their performances. I also said that everyone could choose the track they most wanted to jump on too.

KALTBLUT: In your track “This Pile Of Rubble is More Human,” you manipulate everyday sounds on turntables to convey themes of warfare and chaos. Can you describe the technical process behind this and any challenges you faced?

In this track, we go from the sounds of fireworks to them being manipulated into something more sinister. I remember improvising with the sounds of bonfire night I’d recorded at Yarmonics festival, and during the main production of this track specifically, I listened back to that section and wanted to manipulate  it further. I also wanted to play with the idea of there being a war that immediately brings the listener into the world of Ireti, so repurposing a moment from that performance felt like the best thing to do.

KALTBLUT: Your music often contains a rich layer of storytelling. How do you approach the construction of a track to ensure it not only sounds great but also effectively tells a part of the story?

It’s really not linear. Sometimes the scratches I’ve done are improvised during a live performance and if it needs more, then I’ll go into doing more preproduction with it until I feel like it’s done. Other times it starts off with another element – drums, field recordings etc … It’s a sense or type of “play” that I bring that keeps the process feeling very organic and not forced. 

KALTBLUT: You’ve been highlighted as a strong advocate for diversity within the music industry. How do you feel your identity and advocacy have shaped your musical output and interactions within the industry?

I’ve learnt not to shrink myself to appease others, and how to undo a lot of pressurised perspectives that were put upon me before. We tend to use quite a lot of restrictive language like should and have to when the creative is process is all about play and trying things out to see what happens. It took a while but I’ve been able to undo that now and just make what I want to make in the ways I feel most comfortable, and thus it’s served me well thus far with all the things I’ve been able to do. I will gladly take up space but at the same time, I will not be tokenised for it either. And often-times, when I’m performing, most of the room is made up of white people so I find myself questioning and seeing that there’s a mismatch of audience here. Why is it hard for me to see people that look like me coming to these gigs? It’s really shouldn’t be. Even on “Disruptive Frequencies”, being a part of a cohort of artists that all work within experimental music in our various different ways was a really wonderful moment, and it was comforting knowing that we are out there doing this too. I just hope that more progress is made in recognising the black and brown artists doing more experimental work. I’m proud to be a part of this but more work needs to be done, seen and experienced by more communities in order for people to really get a sense of what’s possible.

KALTBLUT: With “Ireti” out now and a tour on the horizon, what are you most excited about for this new phase of your career? What can fans expect from your upcoming performances?

I’m excited to see how I can continue uniting the different aspects of myself and my ideas as a producer and seeing what comes from that. This was the first time I’ve had people jump on my experimental ideas and what they’ve contributed is truly wonderful, and so to continue on this journey whilst working holistically is a very exciting prospect. Fans can expect me using the turntables live in a way they’ve probably not seen before – I’d say it’s a combination of a club DJ set and live improvised moments interwoven together. 

KALTBLUT: Looking forward, how do you see your sound and artistic approach evolving? Are there any new directions or technologies you are eager to explore?

More risks, bigger ideas, expanding what I can do spatially… I’d like to get into modular synthesis a bit too and see what worlds I can create there. I hope to work with orchestras and other classically trained musicians more as it really teaches me how that side of composing can enhance my process, especially as someone who can’t read music and goes primarily on feel and texture I’m very excited for what’s to come! 

KALTBLUT: Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring artists who look up to you and want to forge their own path in the music industry, especially in more niche genres?

We’re all just messing about with sounds at the end of the day, so don’t lose that sense of play (hey that rhymed!) … And there is no wrong way of making music. You don’t have to have the latest gear in order to call yourself a producer. Make what you want to make with what you have. Don’t feel pressured to get things you don’t need at this point – that can come later of course but there’s no rush. Keep playing – happy accidents rule.

Tour dates
DJ sets unless otherwise noted
* = Ireti live
May 31st – Birmingham, Centrala
June 6 – Newcastle, Cobalt Studios *
June 29 – Brighton, Fortune Of War
August 30 – Belgium, Meakusma Festival *
Sept 7 – Utrecht, Gaudemaus Festival


Ireti is out now