Hailing from Leeds but now living in Australia, Niko Maxen has distinguished himself for the huge amount of sick productions released over the past 3 years, which rapidly brought him into the top of many stores charts, becoming one of the most requested (and played) names on the house & techno scene. In addition to having founded two labels – Pathway Traxx and the most recent one MAXEN – Niko has also released his music on Constant Sound, Hoarder, Aesthetic, Rowle and Signatune to name a few.
His relentless dedication in the studio led us to include him into our 20 artists to watch in 2020 list, and we’re super happy to share along with this interview a fresh new mix which features only music by Niko himself. Enjoy!
Hey Niko! First of all, congratulation for becoming a father! How’s life with a new-born son? Do you think it will change your DJ / producer career?
Honestly, it’s hard work! I’m pretty much tired all the time now but the sleepless nights are well worth it when I see him developing day by day! He’s the most amazing bundle of joy and we are extremely happy about how much he healthy is. As for producing, I think it will definitely take a back seat for a while. I’ve not been in the studio for a good few months now but the break is welcomed.
It seems that you also like to explore other genres. Tell us more about your “Dusty Hip Hop” project.
Well, it never meant to be anything for people to hear. When I first started making music many many years ago I was into making samples choppy hip hop. I used to spend my Saturday mornings buying random records from charity shops, mostly buying based on what the cover looked like, then I’d go home with a stack of random records and try to make hip hop beats by sampling them. I was mad into that for years and loved it. Last year I had a bit of time off and an abundance of studio time. I had already finished about 50 house/minimal track so I turned back to my roots and got stuck into a stack of my old records. I made 6 tracks in 2 days. It wasn’t until this year when I listened back to them and thought fuck it, people might wanna hear this side to me. Turns out people liked it. I’ll probably do some more when I next get time.
What about your “Maxen” label? Are you going to release more stuff on it?
Yep, 100%! This label is designed to be my primary outlet for my best stuff. 02 has gone to press and had already picked up support from Viceversa, Cesar Merveille, Arapu, Vlad Arapasu, Okain, Rich NxT, Burnski, Vern, Alexis Cabrera, Janeret, Giuliano Lomonte and others…
You have been relentless in the studio during the last couple of years: what’s the track that you are the most satisfied and happy with?
Ouufff that’s a really hard one! Probably a track I have coming out soon called Twist. There was a pretty cool video going round of Arapu playing it. For me, it has all my favourite elements and sits well together. I’m also pretty happy with AAAA on MAXEN01. It’s pretty hard to judge your own music subjectively, instead, I’m overly concerned with the technical correctness of my music, like, how tight is the mix, how does it progress, does it have all the right elements.
Bandcamp has been gaining lots of momentum recently and as a concept I really warm to it. Giving the artist complete control and the platform to do whatever they want is exactly what the industry needs. I’m all about taking control of your output which is why I run my own labels. Bandcamp gives me another string to my bow. They are both massively different in styles. Galaxy is more of a dreamy vibe while rewind definitely has a UKG/breaks thing going on. I love all these styles of house and I make music across all these styles. It’s a challenge trying to manage what I actually release and what style I want to be known for. Bandcamp gave me the option to quickly and easily drop these albums out in differing styles without having to conform to a style of any label.
Tell us more about your studio and your production process. How do you go from initial idea to a finished project?
My studio is at home, which has always been a good thing as I can dive in whenever I’m feeling inspired, however that’s not the case now as it’s in the room next to my son’s nursery. The production process is something I have really worked hard on and now I have a very set one. It’s that solid process that has allowed me to make music at a very high output rate. I always start with drums, Percussions, bass, then I work in the music elements. I think it’s super important to work fast and not get hung up on ideas. I try something and if it’s not working within a few minutes I’ll delete that channel and keep pushing on with the next thing. I don’t spend any more than 10min on any one idea. I work with Ableton and I do all the creative stuff in session mode. I try to build up a loop to the point it has all the elements of the track. The key for me is then getting that into the arrangement view. Most of the time I will play the parts live through my APC 40 and hit record. I’d say 80% of my tracks are pretty much live jams that I have recorded. I’ll then go back in and make tweaks.
Do you have any favourite bits of hardware?
In the last couple of years, I’ve cycled through so much gear. Buying it, playing with it then coming to the conclusion I didn’t like it. I’ve lost count of how many drum machines I’ve bought and sold. The only drum machine I’ve really settled on has been the Korg-ER1. From a synth perspective, I love my microkorg and I recently bought a Blofeld Waldorf which is amazing value for money!
Who are your favourite artists and labels in the business at the moment? Are there any labels you’re looking to get signed by?
Seriously there are so many amazing artists coming through right now, I could write a list as long as my arm. I’ll give a shout out to a few people I’ve been working with on my labels, Viceversa, Nolga, Swoy, Vern, LOy, Kepler. Haha, I’m not gonna say who I wanna get signed to but I will say that this year is looking really good as I’ve signed to a few of the labels I’ve been working towards for a long time. There are one or two labels left that I really wanna release music on so I’ll be hitting them up in due course when I’ve got the right goods. On top of that, I want to focus on making MAXEN a standout label.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Bullshit baffles brains! My dad has always told me this. It basically means you can talk your way out of or into anything.
Now’s your turn to give one bit of advice to any ‘wannabe’ DJ or producer out there. What would it be?
Take your time! What you think is fire today you will almost certainly not like it in a years time. Also, this isn’t something for “wannabe’s” only. Passion and creativity need to be your driving force. If you’re doing it for any other reason, go take up something else!
Words by Francesco Quieti & Dom Fletcher