As always, MEOKO likes to keep its finger firmly on the pulse, and that means featuring not only the artists that create the music we love, but the industry people who mould the party environments, in their varying degrees of perfection, in which to experience these artists. Anyone who has spent any time clubbing will know that there is a whole lot more to the party than booking the right DJ. Nikos Nikolaidis has a huge amount of experience, having effectively broken techno to Greece through the festival he ran there, held residencies in many venues, thrown the much loved Krush parties in various London warehouse locations and now putting on the visually rich Art of the Muse parties at Oval Space, heavily featuring the most sought after artists in the game right now, Tale of Us. All whilst DJing himself, of course! It hasn’t been without its difficulties – in this detailed interview Nikos goes over the many obstacles, periods of disillusionment, and eventually what keeps him in the music game despite it all.
Thanks so much for your time Nikos, you used to work on Reworks Festival in Greece is that right?
Yes, but I started out like anyone else – a small party promoter/DJ and that evolved into bigger parties. I had regular residencies in the two major cities in Greece and one day I decided to start a festival with the business partner I had at the time – at this point we are interrupted by Nikos’ rambunctious dog Coco, anxious to reclaim rightful ownership of some couch space Nikos was invading…
Sorry about that! So yeah that evolved into a festival where we invited different styles of music, a diverse and broad spectrum of the whole electronic culture, run by myself and two others. I used to promote/DJ the whole time simply because I could never see myself evolving into producing music – which is the necessity if you want to have a career nowadays, you have to have at least a couple of hit records. I think of myself more predominantly as a DJ, but then the promoter side took over, because that’s the only way you can control the quality of your events. If you are really needy and weird like myself you’re going to have to do it otherwise you wont be satisfied.
In what ways are you needy and weird?
I like the opposite to what most people like. I don’t like my DJ booth too cramped up with people and ice buckets and bottles of champagne and all that… I just want a good glass of whisky and some space, that’s all. It’s like Danny Tenaglia said, “I play music for the people in front of me, not the people behind.”
What was your experience like doing festivals?
It’s a very, very tough job. The problem with doing it in Greece was that there was never really an established scene, we had to build everything ourselves. The most popular music was always Greek music, and the only kind of electronic music Greek people were listening to was either very commercial American house or of course trance music. I never had anything to do with these styles of music, I come from techno, which was a bit of a forbidden word back then and we had to figure out a way to make it more appealing. Having had some experience with club promotion helped a lot because it made me more resilient and prepared for difficulties. I remember for the very first festival the suppliers were not on time, not a single one of them – I’m talking about everything! I had this engineer guy who built us a custom DJ booth for the main stage which was a 470 kilo monster that wouldn’t even feel the slightest vibration no matter how loud the sound system was. It was made of steel and marble and sand and gravel and the needles were rock solid – a 9 Richter earthquake wouldn’t have caused those needles to jump… but none of them were on time. When you put all your money on that, when you’re risking you’re entire game on something, having experience just makes you act a little cooler. But most importantly, it was the destination that was more important with that particular event, rather than what the stakes were for me.
Why was that?
Well it was a completely new thing for Greece at that time, there’s still no competition in that area. The music we were selling was completely different to the ordinary. I remember first line-up we had Luciano – when he was still a medium sized cool underground name – Agoria, Apparat, Archive was also there one year and M.A.N.D.Y. headlined the second year.
So that’s when things were at their best, but why did you leave Greece and the festival game?
Well like I said I’m needy and weird. The problem with doing stuff in Greece… and it would be my prognosis for America as well… is that EDM is a very popular term right now and more people every day turn to that entertainment. But they don’t quite understand why they’re doing it; they just follow it because it’s the latest trend. So what we created in Greece was essentially what built a trend. We didn’t intend to make it a trend but I guess we were inexperienced so we didn’t quite know how to control it. To me, it just turned a little closer to the commercial side and making money from events was never why I wanted to do something. It just felt like a job after a while.
Business was doing great – better than anybody else. There was a time when I was also running an agency where I was representing very popular international names in the Greek market exclusively. People like Miss Kitten, Tiefschwarz and Tiga… But it just came to a point where creatively it wasn’t really going anywhere. The problem with Greece is it’s a small country, and the opportunities you have there are very limited. So if you really want to break through you have to leave Greece. I felt bored – massively bored after a while, that’s why I took a long break. When I first moved [to London] I said that’s it – I don’t want to get involved with this music or these kind of events.
But we know that didn’t stick…what did you do once you eventually decided to get back into the game?
First I had a residency at T Bar and then I ran into Bruno and Remi. We ran over a couple of ideas and one thing led to another and we came up with Krush. Krush was a casual house party in a warehouse yet with an elaborate deco and a distinct musical theme.
What sort of areas were you casual about it?
The environment, really, how we decorated the place. It started out as a very theatrical party; the idea was to convert a warehouse to look like a house party and every corner would be like a different room of the house. It was very special, but difficult to set up, and if you haven’t got the money in London, you can’t keep it up. These things costs tons of money if you want to do them properly and the venues are absolutely horrible, so you have to reconstruct many things. There are many difficulties in London: the councils, the owners, everyone is pushing in the opposite direction. It feels like you have one hand pulling one way and 100 hands pulling in the opposite direction, so eventually it’s going to split you.
Was it exhausting moving venues and having to deal with the council issues every time?
I think dealing with the authorities was the most draining part of my life so far. The brains that I’ve wasted thinking of how we should deal with these people is just phenomenal. You can quote me on that, I don’t care, but I think these people lack the ability to think straight, either that or they’re so clever they treat me like I’m stupid.
What’s an example of an instance where you felt like you were hitting your head against a brick wall?
We got a license for a warehouse party in Hackney Wick, everything looks fine, then four days before the party the license is revoked. They were supp
osed to send the firebrigade to inspect the premises something like four weeks before the party, but they never came. Then we get this notice that says the fire brigade has now inspected your premises and you cannot run the party because there are not enough fire escapes bla bla bla. So I’m just thinking like a rational human being… and there are restaurants in Soho, or China Town in particular, which are the size of a shoebox. They have staircases which are about 70cm wide, all crooked, if you come down too fast you’re going to slip and break your hip. That venue is ok for fire escapes, but not a warehouse which has two main exits? In a year and a half we lost our license at the last minute four times! But the problem is way deeper than just these people; the corporate market in London controls everything. Those who have money have the power. They’ve been pushing up the prices of the warehouses deliberately so all the people who run such warehouses think it’s a quick game, let’s make money out of it.
Warehouse parties are so popular at the moment, do you think the scene is sustainable taking into account the difficulties from greedy owners and authorities?
It definitely won’t last. The strongest brands will survive because they’ve got the power, but even they are struggling. First of all there are not enough venues for the amount of parties happening in London. Secondly, the premises you get for such parties
are crap anyways; I’m talking about buildings that are made from plaster and decorative bricks and they give you all these bullshit lectures about fire protection! I mean this place is a house of cards – it can collapse any minute with a puff of wind. At the same time because of the EDM craze the prices of the DJs are going up. And it’s only normal, they see the opportunity so they’ll grab it, everybody wants to make a living. But that doesn’t make it easier for anyone. Even big promoters are struggling. They have to do bigger parties, and fewer, to cope with the expenses involved.
Do you think these smaller promoters will disappear, or is there a solution to help them survive?
Only time will show that up. What I can say is that if you want to survive you have to be extremely careful, no matter what you do in life. You have to make very specific choices, always weigh all your options and never decide in the blind. The rules of corporate market go like this: the smallest have to be eliminated, the strongest must become even stronger, and so the m
argin between the two broadens. London is a corporate market and everybody plays the game that way. I don’t think in the current financial environm
ent smaller promoters are standing a good chance of surviving, but I hope they will survive – because that’s the only thing that keeps the scene going – that’s what makes it so diverse. If London becomes more monochrome it wont be any different than Greece. The fact that many big names play music in London doesn’t mean anything. The party is not just about who DJs, it’s about the whole package.
So now you’re working with Oval Space?
I love Oval better than anywhere else. It’s the only place in London that can offer you the whole package. It looks like a warehouse which makes it feel like an independent party, but at the same time it has the amenities and the luxuries of a proper club. It’s clean, it’s well organized and has a decent sound system which is improving by the day. The people who run it are spectacular, you have with them a plug and play situation so no moving things around. I do my bits here and there but it’s not like setting up an entire warehouse like we used to do with Krush.
At oval I’m doing Art of the Muse, which is an irregular tempo party, there’s not going to be a certain frequency of them. The whole concept with Oval is that I don’t do more than three or four parties a year. When I was doing Krush, because it’s a monthly or bi-monthly thing, it just became a routine after a while. When there are large breaks between the parties it’s a lot more exciting for me to be involved and get creative about it. You know that thing when your heart is beating fast and you have to get out of your house because it’s your party? That you don’t get when it’s a job.
Tell me a bit more about Art of the Muse and what that’s all about…
First of all it’s an ancient Greek term which refers to the arts and specifically music. The reason I chose that name is a) I’m Greek, so it had to be part of my heritage and b) because it also incapsulates the message that it’s not just about music alone, it’s about the arts in general. Art of the Muse is an optical and acoustical experience – there’s a visual aspect to it. I really love the German visual team, Pfadfinderei, with whom I worked with at the festival in Greece some years ago. They really influenced me with their work in the early Berlin boom, they were behind the whole artwork of Bpitch control, then they evolved into doing the world tours with Modeselektor, Moderat and Paul Kalkbrenner….amazing work. I remember I went this party in Berlin where they created this cold splash impact all across the room where you felt like you were in this carnival where people throw colour bombs or something – the only difference is it wasn’t staining your clothes or your face. It was spectacular, very beautiful work. We got great feedback last time for Pfadfinderei’s work on last party’s visuals which means people were impressed. It’s something new, something that hasn’t been shown in London. We will tweak in the process, for the things that don’t work but I think it worked perfectly the first time so might as well keep working with these excellent people. For example also Tale of us, who I think are the people who are going to define the current generation of music.
Their rise as been so fast…
In only three years they came from total obscurity to what they are today. Having worked closely with them, they do have many things to say and they’re very intelligent people. It makes my work easier when I work with people who have a certain goal in their heads and they know where they’re headed with their art. It’s been a very long time since I’ve heard a good techno set – when I say that I mean the old Dave Clark or Richie Hawtin when he used play 130 bpm.
t a lot of that hard and fast stuff now at all…
No, but Tale of Us,
when I heard them a fe
summers ago in Barcelona, they were literally killing it, they were playing techno like I hadn’t heard techno in a very long time, which got my attention really. It’s nothing to do with their productions, I mean their productions are excellent, but it’s their DJ sets which got my attention.
That’s interesting because most people have discovered them from their productions, which is not completely representative of the way they play…
Yeah I think that’s why Tale of Us are exciting, because I find it hard to describe them with words. You have to see them to understand. Nowadays if you don’t know a product or a DJ or something just google it and suddenly you have all the information. There isn’t very much on Tale of Us except the odd random comment they put on their social media. You wont find many recordings of their sets either, you wont find many interviews on their personal life. It’s like Kevin Spacey says – he doesn’t like to be part of stardom because “the less you know about me, the more easily I can convince you of the character I am playing in my movies.” That’s kind of what Tale of Us are doing now – and that’s how it should be. I don’t care what champagne or vodka or sake “x” DJ drinks… but that’s what it’s come to now, that’s part of the deal. We can’t change it, we might as well play along, but that doesn’t mean that I have to be part of the same celebrity based booking system …
People are intelligent enough to have their own opinions, they shouldn’t be following trends, they should be following their gut. People say “this is how you play this game” and they do lectures about it, but that’s not true. When you buy a motorbike, for example, you read the manual to understand how the individual functions of the engine work, so you don’t damage your engine. But then you drive it in your own way; you build your own style. That’s how parties should be. London has great potential but it’s way too controlled at the moment.
Ticket to the next Art of the Muse event featuring Tale of Us and Joy Orbison are unfortunately sold out, but MEOKO is offering our readers the chance to win two free tickets! Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject ‘Art of the Muse’ and tell us why you love Tale of Us or Joy Orbison.