Interview: DJ Nikki Beatnik [Interview]

DJ Nikki Beatnik is often quoted by others as being ‘The best female DJ In the UK’. Not new to the game, she has been turning heads and spinning music for a long long time and has definitely earned her stripes. She is a woman who a lot of other female DJ’s can look up to, who has helped pave the way for them with her femme fatale status.  Shireen heads to meet her at an event she has curated in Punk, the launch of Relentless Energy Drink’s Apple & Kiwi flavour, where we talk West End parties, being a female DJ, producing and getting to play at the best events in the world.  

How did you get into DJing, as it’s not really a hobby a lot of females take up?

It wasn’t when I did it (laughs). I went to music school from when I was like 6, and I was classically trained. I then really started getting into hip hop and dance music when I was about 11 or 12. By the time I was 14/15 I was already going clubbing, which was very naughty. One of my friends was selling decks and I was about 15/16, and I just saved the money and brought old second hand Technics. I got quite good at it, and after about 6 months I brought Technics 1210 which was industry standard in those days. Then I started playing out doing house parties and parties at college, then I started running my own club nights, and then basically I had about 3 clubs nights in the West End. They were all dominating the circuit at that time.

You started off as a hip hop DJ, how did you get yourself noticed on the circuit?

I had a night at this club called 57 Jermyn Street, and I used to promote it with my best friend, and because of the music and the way we did it everyone used to come. Madonna used to come, Missy Elliot, Eminem, Kelis. Everyone who was anyone in hip hop used to come. We did parties for Guru, Run DMC, Jam Master Jay, all them dudes used to pass through. I then kind of became known as the girl hip hop DJ. From there things spiraled, at one point I was running three clubs nights a week, and they were all rammed. Then it changed in the West End, because they started paying celebrities to come down, we never did that, we never even gave away one free drink ever. People would just come because the music was good, and it was very fashionable.

What do you think about this change in the West End?

That happened around 2003/2004. Competition started getting stiffer, and the people that we used to get for free because we had good relationships with them and the record company, other people would offer them £4,000. Then everyone else started doing it and it became a spiral. I heard crazy fees being talked about just to get someone to walk through, which just means they just have to stay 45 minutes. What happened was it started to deteriorate the nights, because they didn’t care about the music anymore, they didn’t care about the rest of the crowd. It changed the whole landscape of clubbing, especially in the West End. At that point I kind of moved into more eclectic music, mixing 80’s and 90’s and electronic music and drum n bass. I started doing a lot of fashion gigs like, Elle Style Awards and GQ Awards and Cosmo Awards. My career went down a different route, and I just kept it moving. I moved to east London, I moved everything, all my parties towards east because it was more how West End used to be ten years ago.

You are quoted by some as ‘The best female DJ in the UK’ but what female DJ’s would you put in your top 5 and why?

There’s a lot of girl DJ’s, my friend DJ Rashida, who was also on tour with me and Kelis for a long time. She DJ’d for Prince, she’s got a really eclectic style, and she’s a really subtle DJ. DJ Caper is really good. Spinderella the original, she used to DJ for Salt n Pepa back in the day, she’s got skill, she’s wicked. There are a lot of people on the house circuit that I really like. Back in the day I don’t know if anyone would have heard of her, but Princess Julia was amazing. She was similar to me, she did a lot of her own parties, she was so talented and a big inspiration for a generation of DJ’s coming up. There’s Emily who’s DJing here tonight, she plays really eclectic sets, she runs Supa Dupa Fly & Rock The Belles, she’s sort of doing what I did in a way, running her own nights and being an entrepreneur which I really respect. Melody Kane, she’s another one who is making her mark.

You’ve been called the female Mark Ronson, how does this make you feel?

These are the nice comments I guess. Mark Ronson and me were DJing the same things at the same times more or less. He had a club in New York, where all the same artists used to go to when they used to come to my club in London. Everyone would be like “Oh your like Mark Ronson, do you know Mark?” I was like who is this guy, and then he just went through the roof, next level and just started producing records. I really like him, I like his music, and I think he’s a wicked producer.

You’re not just a renowned DJ but a producer too. Is it as hard being a female DJ as it is to be well known in the producer world?

I don’t know about that yet because I haven’t had a No.1, so I guess when I have that, I’ll be like OK yeah. The more successful you get in each field, the easier it gets in some ways, but the harder and more complicated it also gets. It gets more competitive, and there’s more politics and stuff. This statistic always blows my mind but women own 1% of the world’s wealth. I think music and DJing and producing is something where you have to be quite solitary and spend hours on your own, which isn’t necessarily something that attractive for girls. I used to have to cart around 60kg of records every night, and that was hard physically. If you want to have kids, how are you going to do that if your touring all the time, and in nightclubs? It’s a different lifestyle for a girl, that’s why I think its more male dominated.

What tracks have you produced that you are really proud of?

I’ve been working for the last year and a half towards doing an EP and an album. I’ve been working with Terri Walker, XO Man, lots of British artists and some American that are all bubbling under and are really talented and are about to blow. It’s important for me to work with people that don’t need auto tune, that can really sing and really perform. Every tune that I’ve made so far, I’m proud of in some way or another. I’ve been making bits for Kelis’ live show and doing her intros.

Do you think to become a well-known DJ, having a certain image and style helps as well?

I think anyone in music now, style has almost taken from content, which is sad because it should be talent and content above style. I think definitely having a strong sense of identity and image and being interested in fashion helps.

Can you tell us about the event were here for today which you have curated the launch of the Relentless Energy Apple & Kiwi flavour?

Relentless Energy Drink asked me to curate the event; I basically put together DJ’s that I like. I felt it was quite important to get girls; we’ve got one guy DJ. I wanted to bring the other girls in; I get a chance to do so many good things. I’ve got artists performing tracks that I’ve produced, so it’s like a Beatnik sound system basically for Relentless. I’ve got Paige Richardson who we’ve done a track with, with a guy called Thundercat from LA, he’s the No.1 bass player in the world. Natalie May who did ‘Sexy Sexy’, we’ve done a track with her. A girl from Denmark too called Marie, we did a summer house remix of her tune and she’s performing that.

Do you work on many events like this, and do you hope to do more in the future?

If I get asked. It’s nice, it’s really fun. It’s using my skills to do something interesting, and working with bands that I really like. Relentless is good if you’re a DJ because it keeps you up (laughs). That’s what you see everyone drinking DJ’s and MC’s. If you’ve got 3 gigs in one night it’s a good look.

Nikki Beatnik curated the exclusive launch of Relentless Energy Drink’s ‘Apple & Kiwi’ flavour, www.relentlessenergy.com

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