Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Exclusive Interview: Stepping Out From Behind The Decks - DJ Nikki Beatnik

                        "I would say my style is a bit Keith Richards meets SWV."

DJ Nikki Beatnik has forged her way to the top of her game - her game being one of the most renowned international female DJ's, fusing the worlds of fashion and music as her core signature, and asserting her name in a male dominated industry.
Just look at any Top DJ list and you'll find only a token female presence, mainly because female DJ's appear to be considered more on their looks, than a genuine knowledge of music or talent behind the decks.

So hurrah for the likes of Annie Mac, 
Éclair Fifi and Nikki, who have all broken out of the stereotype as pioneering forces on the music scene, proving it is possible to have both looks and talent.
Nikki's creative vision includes producing and developing emerging and established artists as the founder of record label Beatnik; hosting some of London's most iconic club nights; collaborating with a fashion label to design her own leather jacket, and she's also singer Kelis' official tour DJ to boot - and talking of footwear, she's a shoe-a-holic!

I spoke to the British DJ about the rise of girls spinning vinyl, hanging out with Madonna back in the day, and her 40,000 song music archive!

How did you earn your DJ stripes - where did it all start? 

I started DJ'ing at 15 or 16, bought some belt drive Technics decks and taught myself. I DJ'd all the way through Art College where I put on my own parties, this continued when I moved to London and I ran 3 weekly parties - one of which was '57', my hip hop party which everyone from Missy Elliot to NERD & Madonna came to hang at. I would get called to play at lots of artist parties from Mariah to Alicia Keys & Jay Z. 
I really side stepped from there into playing lots of fashion events and crazy big parties. That's a very condensed history, most of it was lots of club gigs carrying 60kg of records around every night!

How did the collaboration as Kelis' Tour DJ come about? 

I met Kelis at one of my parties back in 1998 I think, when her first record was coming out. We have been friends ever since and touring worldwide for the last 3 straight. It's been pretty much fun fun fun. I'm 100% serious business when it comes to planning artists shows for touring, I never want Kelis or anyone else I DJ for to go on stage and have to worry about my part. You have to be rock solid as a DJ to go on at festivals and big events with different set ups each time and do everything live. We never wanted to have a pre-recorded show. We change it up for each territory and it's a lot more authentic and fun for the crowds.

Female DJ's have been on the rise for a while but still have some way to go - what's your take on that?

For me, honestly the notion of female DJ's shouldn't even still be a novelty or being talked about in 2013. In the 20 years since I started, a lot has changed technology wise. There are more female DJ's but a large percentage have to trade on looks or do press shots in a bikini, I understand - it's tough out there. I get quoted as 'the best female dj' or 'hot female dj' all the time, which is a lovely compliment and I know its been a contributing factor in my success.... but I don't see Kenny Dope or Tiesto in their speedos trying to get gigs. 

There are not many female DJ's in the Top 100 either, which granted only speaks for a certain genre of music and probably has more to do with the fact female DJ's are not sat behind a desk producing as much music as the guys, but female DJ's in general don't earn in the same ranges. So yes, there are more female DJ's now, but not necessarily being taken seriously and always being pitted against each other, which doesn't happen with male DJ's in the same way. 

What about the trend in "celebrity" DJ's, like Daisy Lowe, Alexa Chung and Agyness Deyn
 - is it just about pressing the 'play' button? 

I'm trying to think of a celebrity DJ who actually DJ's, mixes, scratches and is technical - I'm struggling, unless they are DJ's who became celebrities. I've seen some shockers (laughs), no shade! It's just the whole world seems celebrity mad right now and I have zero interest in that. De La Soul said it a long time ago... 'Everybody Wants To Be A DJ'.

Image is obviously key to your profile - what's your signature style, and who are your favourite designers / brands? 

I never really thought of image as being key, but I'm an artist, I know what I like, I don't really enjoy being styled. I have quite a low key style in my eyes. How I dress every day is how I dress for shoots and events to be honest, I might just get my hair done and do full make up. I love a good jacket, I have maybe 60 or 70 and buy a good one every season. I just bought a red leather biker, which I adore. I also love tassles, gold, a good pair of jeans, a comfortable vintage T- shirt, my 60's cape swing dress and shoes! I have about 300 pairs. I would say my style is a bit Keith Richards meets SWV. 

How important do you think the relationship between fashion and music is? 

It's important and always has been, from the Kinks and the Beatles, Ray Charles and Little Richard through to Jimi and Bowie to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5 to Run DMC - how they dressed and their style said as much as their music did, or was an important contributory part. The look of the artist or band grew more important as time went by and you can see this now as nearly every single artist, signed or unsigned has a stylist. In 2013 you can build a fan base just on having a 'look' and the music can be secondary. 
On the flipside many artists have inspired designers throughout the decades through the underground music evolution. I love the Factory Records blueprint. They thought about every aspect of how they wanted their label to look from fashion to design and the music.

Tell us about your line of DJ Nikki T-Shirts, do you think you'll expand into other branded clothing / accessories in the future? 

I've done the T-Shirts as a collaboration with Lipcote for the past 3 years for me to give away at my gigs and festivals and my parties. I don't charge for them. This year's tee features a picture of me by photographer Eric Jorrin, as an illustration by Dora (UK-based female artist and graffiti painter) . 
I also collaborated on a leather jacket for AW12 with Hide label, and I'm looking at doing more design projects and other collaborations. I definitely have a jewellery range in me. My jewellery game is good!

What's on the horizon project-wise for you?

I'm in the studio every day with my brother Statis writing and making records and producing for other people (Statis is an artist, producer, and the other half of Beatnik). I'm in an advert for Tia Maria this Summer which is out on the telly box and they used 3 of our tracks on that, so watch out for them and go listen to our music. It's good!
I'm also in the middle of MD-ing for Kelis' new show and about to go into rehearsals for Lovebox, as well as DJ'ing all over the place for clubs & festivals. I also DJ at my parties in London and we have a radio show every Friday night on Reprezent which is us, in the mix with 90% all new music every week. If you dont have time to listen, you can get my mixes on the Beatnik website or on my mixcloud/djnikkibeatnik.

Who else would you like to work with? 

Omar, Dizzee, Iggy Pop, MNEK, Peaches, Grace Jones, Wiley, Slick Rick, DJ Vadim, Mark Ronson - there are a lot of people I find interesting and would love to work with. I love working with brand new artists too. I wanted to do a record with Smiley Culture so badly, but sadly that will never happen now. (the British reggae singer and DJ died in March this year).

If you could choose just one song from your entire music archive that best describes you, what would it be?

I can't decide that, I have about 40,000 songs! I never get sick of Colonel Abrahams 'Trapped' though. The synths and his voice are perfect and his outfits were amazing!

For more info on Nikki head to her official website, and you can also check out the video below - the
 official Beatnik Remix of Scandi songstress Marie Dahlstrom's "What's it Gonna Be". 


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