Music industry suffered 'massive loss' says Leeds DJ Nik Nak gearing up for first weekend of gigs
Leeds-based musician Nik Nak is preparing for her first gig since restrictions were eased. She speaks to Abbey Maclure about how the pandemic has shaped the city's music scene.
The Leeds music scene has been left fighting for survival after 17 months of no gigs, no club nights and little income.
As a DJ, turntablist, composer, producer, sound engineer and radio presenter, musician Nik Nak knows more than most the rippling effect the pandemic has had on the music industry.
Nik Nak - real name Nicole Raymond - is nervous ahead of her first gig back at Old Red Bus Station tonight, particularly as she suffers with health conditions.
But she is hoping the music industry's newfound freedom will help it get back on its feet after suffering a "massive loss".
“The pandemic has definitely changed the industry,” Nicole, 30, told the Yorkshire Evening Post.
“There’s more calls for support for musicians and the teams of people who help put shows together.
“I’m a vulnerable person so I’m going to do my bit by wearing my mask and having hand sanitiser on me. I can’t afford to get ill.
“There are nerves as everything reopens, but I’m hoping people can see how vital the industry is - not just in terms of gigs and DJing, but people doing sound for a film, stage rigging and lighting or mixing engineers.
“Because of the pandemic, and coupled with Brexit, the industry has suffered a massive loss. This isn’t about one artist, the industry brings more than £6billion into the economy.”
Following tonight's gig, Nicole will perform at Wharf Chambers for Leeds Pride on August 1 and at Assembly House on August 7 with TC and the Groove Family - a 10-piece collective of Leeds artists.
She praised the innovation of venues during the pandemic and the growing awareness of mental health, accessibility for people with disabilities and the integration of new technologies that allow events to be live-streamed for those who can't attend.
Nicole added: “There is more talk, and hopefully more action, to make things more equal for people - whether as a potential punter going to an event, or a musician who needs an inclusion rider.
“There’s a collective responsibility to make sure everything goes as safely as possible. Some people are abiding by it which is great, while there are some people who would like to forget about it.
"But the more those conversations are had, the more progress and support the industry will have.”
Nicole is deeply connected to the Leeds music scene which took her under its wing when she moved to the city from London in 2016.
Her career highlights include supporting Barbadian-American DJ and rapper Grandmaster Flash, being mentored by turntablist Shiva Feshareki and becoming the first black turntablist to win an Oram Award during the pandemic.
“I remember the first time I came to Leeds to see a gig, I got off the train and immediately felt warm," Nicole said.
"It wasn’t a particularly hot day, but I felt there was a good vibe about the place. When I then moved to Leeds, 20 days later I had my very first gig at [Woodhouse Moor festival] Unity Day - it was incredible.
“The scene is amazing and vibrant, there are really cool venues and promoters and there’s a lot of support."
Nicole is featured on a new compilation by Leeds label Come Play With Me, which works to fundraise for local artists and support women, artists of colour and LGBTQ+ musicians.
She describes her track Whispers as 'ambient turntablism' and it's a taste of a catalogue of new music that's to come.
Nicole added: “Speaking as a black woman, there tends to be a lot of pressure to be a certain type of musician, or to work certain genres if you’re black. And I don’t!
“I’m very versatile and I’m able to do a lot of different things. The ‘urban’ monacher can be detrimental when artists are just trying to express themselves through music.
“So being on this compilation, I wanted to bring the more electronic, beat-maker kind of stuff that isn’t within those stereotypical genres.
“I was blown away by listening to everyone’s submissions. It’s very encouraging, and we need more opportunities like this to showcase the breadth of talent - not just in Leeds, but across Yorkshire and outside of London.”
Nicole is a public speaker and tutors at universities in Yorkshire, passing her knowledge of music to the next generation of artists.
“A lot of people haven’t seen someone like me, doing what I do," she said.
“There are issues with female representation, LGBTQ+ representation and issues with colourism, especially outside of London.
“So I’m in a position to show - look, I’m here. I’ve been doing this for a long time. You can have success outside of London.
“It’s important for students to understand that your career can take all kinds of paths and it’s up to you to decide what will work for you.
“I’m doing it right now, so I have that real-world experience to help their understanding of and development in the industry - whatever route they take.”
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