Introducing: Nikki Nair
Introducing: Nikki NairApril 26, 2022
We get to know Beatport Next artist Nikki Nair, whose high-octane breakbeat and electro cuts have made him a standout.
“A party shouldn’t only be for people who are music nerds. It should be for everyone. I don’t want to make someone feel uncool when they come to my party,” Nikki Nair says as he drums his fingers on his half-empty cup of iced coffee.
We’re on the rooftop of the Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles. The smell of chlorine hangs thick in the air as people wander by, and the sun is starting to set. Having just flown in from Atlanta, where he lives, Nikki is prepping for his show tonight with Addison Groove, DJ Noir, AK SPORTS, Anna Morgan, and more for a stacked Evar Records showcase.
Since his first release back in 2018, Nikki Nair quickly found a devoted audience with his high-energy take on breaks, electro, and leftfield bass music. With releases on cutting-edge imprints like Gobstopper Records, Scuffed Recordings, Breaks’ N’ Pieces, Banoffee Pies, and tried-and-true labels like Lobster Theremin, Mad Decent, and Dirtybird, Nikki Nair’s fierce style is making its mark.
Growing up in Knoxville, Nikki’s passion for music started with his drum kit. “I started taking drumming lessons at eight years old and played pretty consistently up through college. I was pretty serious about it,” he says. Although he used to play in bands (mostly jazz, ska, and progressive rock) and got a few college scholarships for his drumming, he admits that “band music” wasn’t fulfilling; especially after discovering drum & bass, as he became fixated on artists like Dieselboy, Sub Focus, and more.
Nikki started dabbling with electronic music production at age 13 with a cracked version of Cool Edit Pro before eventually graduating to Fruity Loops and more advanced DAWs.
By 2014, he fell in with a small, local producer collective and party called TEKNOX, with artists Alex Falk, Dialectic Sines, and Saint Thomas Ledoux. Transfixed by Nikki’s productions, the group insisted that he learn how to DJ.
TEKNOX also became one of the Southeast’s most pivotal underground parties. Held in a two-story Victorian home called The Birdhouse, the party championed edgy strains of electro, breakbeat, and techno, and the local crew steadily built a like-minded community that put Knoxville’s underground scene on the map.
“The Birdhouse was like this anarchist-communist, DIY event and community space with a little radio station,” Nikki says, chuckling at the irony of his OG venue’s name and his newfound affiliation with Dirtybird. “The events were free, and we’d bring beer and just have fun. The whole thing was pretty punk.”
Word began to spread, and in 2018 Nikki was picked up by Scuffed Recordings with his rollicking tune “D B G” on the label’s first Scuffed Presents compilation. He followed up with Exit Strategy in 2019, his first solo release on the label.
Nikki got his first taste of what was to come when Four Tet included Nikki’s Scuffed Recordings cut “Mariah” on Spotify. “I was just like, ‘What? This is happening?'” recalls Nikki with a smile. “That was a big deal for me and very exciting.”
2019 turned into a breakthrough year, as his Singular Values EP on Tram Planet and Morphism EP on Mr. Mitch’s Gobstopper Records received widespread attention for the freakbeat rhythms, jarring left turns and shattering basslines found within.
Around the onset of the pandemic in 2020, Nikki decided to migrate away from his hometown and set up shop in Atlanta. “I love how diverse the city is, and that diversity also translates into the diversity of the music scene,” Nikki says. “Even in very populated cities I’ve played, you go to a dance music party, and it’s mostly white people. Atlanta isn’t like that. It literally has the most diverse dance music parties I’ve been to anywhere. And I love that!”
Nikki’s reach, however, isn’t exclusive to US dance floors. He’s performed in Mexico, Canada, Portugal, and around the UK, but it was in London where he befriended one of his closest musical cohorts, Chloé Robinson. “She’s someone who has really helped me develop my sound a lot,” Nikki says. This is evident in the release of Scuzzy, a two-tracker on Robinson’s Pretty Weird Records imprint that perfectly encapsulates Nikki’s breakbeat genius and penchant for unruly electro.
Following his Number One Slugger EP on Banoffee Pies and two follow-up records with Scuffed Recordings and Trans Planet, Nikki received an email entirely out of the blue from non-other than Dirtybird founder Claude VonStroke. Nala, one of the label’s most up-and-coming acts, had dropped Nikki’s SE Breaks remix of Glances’ “Bulwark,” and VonStroke was instantly hooked. Before long, Nikki Nair’s debut Dirtybird EP, Power Tool, hit the airwaves. A four-track package that harkens back to the “old school days” of Dirtybird’s sound, the label touted the record as a “foreshadowing” of its “future direction,” saying “it’s not all going to be about tech house anymore.”
“I like the idea of releasing my music on labels that I’m not ‘supposed to’ release on,” Nikki says, making air quotes. “When I first signed with Dirtybird, I honestly had a bit of anxiety, thinking, ‘What are my techno friends going to say?’ But I also thought, ‘It’s going to be sick to see how this turns out.'”
Those initial concerns turned out to be unfounded. And Dirtybird’s newfound direction, along with its fresh White Label series, has only bolstered its dance floor reputation. “There is a big rift between the ‘real underground’ and the ‘semi-commercial underground’ sound in the US,” Nikki says. “I don’t like the idea that it should all be separated. I’d really like to see that change. All of these genre cliques are getting old.”
Perhaps because of his naturally inclusive disposition, Nikki tries to be as courageous as possible with his musical output. Case in point, n goes to infinity — Nair’s freshly minted label that aims to promote tracks that other imprints deem too wild. “Some of my favorite tracks that I made would often get rejected because they were too over the top,” explains Nikki. “These tracks all had a uniting theme in my head, so I started the label to mirror that.”
Nearly five months into 2022, Nikki has fired off new releases on Lobster Theremin, Dirtybird, Fantastic Voyage, Breaks ‘N’ Pieces, Pretty Weird, and Mad Decent — a torrential onslaught of bass and breaks with precise attention to space that is utterly bold in nature.
His latest release is a Dirtybird EP with Nala — the artist who first helped bring Nikki into the label’s fold — titled The World Is Always Ending. While the b-side, “Escape,” is more akin to Nikki’s typically ferocious dance floor approach, the title track unveils a new side to both artists’ musicality. A dynamic tune with elements of rock and rave that put one in mind of The Chemical Brothers, “The World Is Always Ending” is cool to its core.
“Nikki has a unique approach to sound design that really sets him apart from other artists, and best of all — he is kindhearted and a joy to be around,” Nala tells Beatport.
A few weeks later, I met with Nikki as he played alongside Sherelle in East LA for a joint Dublab and ESP Institute showcase.
Taking over at 2:00 AM after Sherelle annihilated the packed room, Nikki rocked the crowd with tracks like Bianca Oblivion’s “Selecta,” Samurai Breaks’ “FreeQ,” and a barrage of vigorous techno and club tracks that befuddled any Shazam attempts. It was a rip-roaring treat to behold, and the crowd responded in kind.
“These LA shows have been some of the best parties I’ve played all year,” says Nikki. “I feel like I’m really learning how to become a better DJ and figuring out how different types of crowds and rooms work. When you play in different cities, it makes you stretch yourself, and I like the challenge. I love seeing how weird and bold I can get. I feel this urge to take risks and play tracks that shouldn’t fit and might even clear the floor, but there is something there that keeps telling me ‘I need to try it.’ It’s addicting.”
Taking risks, breaking down barriers, and trying new things — these concepts are at the core of Nikki’s success. And with each step forward, Nikki reminds us why he’s on track to become one of tomorrow’s biggest stars.
Cameron Holbrook is Beatportal’s North American Editor. Find him on Twitter or Instagram.