Guest Mix: The abrasive, sublime breakbeats of Nikki Nair

Written by Travis Holcombe

Nikki Nair is here to get frenetic. Photo by Alec Robertson.

Nikki Nair is one of the most exciting producers in dance music right now, releasing a slew of left-of-center, bass-heavy, breakbeat-driven techno since 2018 — or, put simply, Nair’s music BUMPS. The Atlanta-based Nair’s productions are in part the evolutionary offspring of the Florida breaks sound, made famous by DJ Icey, who in the ‘90s spread the gospel of rave culture throughout the southeast like a cross between the pied piper and Johnny Appleseed.

Nair found his initial footing in dance music growing up in Knoxville, Tenn., immersing himself in the DIY scene and underground parties, much to the chagrin of his Indian immigrant parents, who sought a straight-and-narrow path for their son towards becoming a doctor or lawyer. But the teenage Nair couldn’t stay away, and a chance encounter with techno great Mike Banks, plus exposure to Dieselboy, a pioneering American drum & bass producer, particularly piqued his interest in pursuing music early on as a DJ.

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“[Dieselboy] would play in places where that was the only dance music people knew,” says Nair, whose mild-mannered and analytical demeanor stands in contrast with his alternatingly abrasive and sublime musical style. “I had friends that were into Dieselboy, and then outside of Dieselboy they only listened to jam bands.”

(As someone who grew up in Atlanta and is older than Nair, I can attest to the inexplicable power Dieselboy had over crowds who were otherwise not really into dance music in the South, let alone drum & bass. It’s never made complete sense, but it’s a thing.)

Photo by Alec Robertson. 

Nair also played in rock bands growing up, leading to a fascination with recording and producing that evolved into more experimental forays into electronic music inspired by Aphex Twin. Nair largely writes off his early attempts at electronic music production, but their groundwork shines through in the muscular realization of his future aspirations.

Since 2018, Nair has steadily dropped new music every couple of months, earning critical acclaim, building his reputation as an artist to watch, and racking up live bookings around the world. In February, Nair launched the label n goes to infinity, where he plans to release a track every month, and, in contrast to his outputs on premier imprints like Dirtybird and Scuffed, will lean on it as an outlet to be “more creatively free, instead of trying to make a functional dance record.”

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While impressing dance music fans and other DJs around the world has come fairly naturally to Nair, impressing another very specific audience — his parents — has not. 

“They’re very critical people and it takes a lot to impress them,” says Nair of their skepticism towards his musical hustle. “I can be in DJ Mag or Mixmag and it doesn’t matter because I haven’t been on CNN. … If I could afford to buy a house, they would be impressed. It’s a tangible thing.”

Given his current momentum, they just might come around. In April, Nair released the frenetic, future-forward “The World Is Always Ending” EP with LA vocalist, DJ, and producer Nala on Dirtybird’s experimental White Label series.  Plans to hunker down for a full-length record are also in the works. 

“I feel like I need to make an album,” he says. “I don’t listen to albums very well, unless they’re so compelling that I can’t stop listening to it from beginning to end. So I feel like [my album] needs to be coherent and compelling. Otherwise, I should just keep making songs.”

More: Explore FREAKS ONLY Guest Mix archives

Dim the lights, crank the subwoofer, and put ears on Nikki Nair’s exclusive FREAKS ONLY guest mix. Check out his tour dates below. 

Sonic Bloom Festival 2022 @ 9:30pm
Rye, CO

Ternion SoundAnna MorganAleph
Minneapolis, MN

Greasy Rock Campout 2022 @ 7:00pm
Ternion SoundBlack Carl!
Sneedville, TN

Bass Coast 2022 @ 7:00pm
Merritt, British Columbia, Canada

Shambhala Music Festival 2022 @ 7:00pm
Ternion Sound
Jersey, British Columbia, Canada

Dirtybird Campout 2022 @ 7:00pm
Waterford, CA