Full-throttle tunes from a breakthrough artist.
Nkisi is an artist who occupies a sonic world that is assuredly her own. Striking a sharp balance between unhinged '90s rave elements, haunting melodics and pan-African drum rhythms, her musical palette is the natural reflection of her identity. Now based in London, Nkisi was born in the Democratic Republic Of The Congo and raised in the city of Leuven, near Brussels, exposing her to Congolese music and Belgian hardcore and gabber. On RA.660, she sets '90s Belgian and Dutch hardcore, techno and gabber eye to eye with her own modern take on Congolese polyrhythms with a flair that only she can pull off. This disparate combination is typical of Nkisi's DJ sets, a style she honed playing at Endless, the London party known for its rejection of genre limitations, and now showcases on her monthly NTS radio show.
Her productions are spun from the same web of influences. Following releases on Doomcore Records, Rush Hour's sub-label MW and Warp's club-focussed offshoot Arcola, her debut album, 7 Directions, has just landed on Lee Gamble's UIQ. Her music is conceptually rich, informed by everything from Bantu cosmology to psychoacoustics. In this mix, several of the modern polyrhythmic tracks from her new album are interspersed with '90s rave tracks and even a Playstation game soundtrack, elegantly making the links between her own productions and its influences. A recording of a DJ set she played at a South London warehouse venue, Nkisi can be heard contorting tracks through mixer effects, giving RA.660 an unfiltered live energy that captures the excitement and intensity of Nkisi's DJing.
What have you been up to recently?
Doing shows and thinking about new sonic ideas while working on a new live set and new music. I recently finished a dissertation and MA degree in Psychosocial studies which has also informed and changed my ways of making music and working with sound. I was waiting patiently for 7 Directions to come out and I am very excited to play this record live this year… Also re-operating COLDWAR, a collaborative project with John T Gast—we did our first show in four years last November. We had a blast, can't wait to release the music.
How and where was the mix recorded?
I decided to do a live mix. I like to improvise on the spot, and this is mostly how I get inspiration and experiment with rhythm. I asked Mike from Ormside Projects to use his space to record the mix. Ormside is definitely my favourite spot in London atm—it is a music and arts project space based in SE15. The weekend before recording I played a three-hour set and on New Year's Eve I played an all-vinyl set. Both gigs were very inspiring (shout out to the ravers and DJs) and I was interested in bringing the moods of those sets together for this one. I also ended up bringing my digitakt and digital delay pedal to do some drums on the spot. I used it with the CDJ-2000NXS and Pioneer mixer and a pair of Technics record players in the booth. It was a strange feeling being in the booth again after that intense extended weekend, but it felt like some of the energy was still there.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
I think because of there not being any bodies around in the space (except Mike sorting stuff out while I was recording) it turned out differently than I thought. I had to play a set for myself. I have been thinking recently about how to translate the intensity of ritual in my sets, so this could be seen as an attempt to do that. It's also inspired by ancient archeo-acoustic sites for sonic rituals—I hope one day I will be able to understand sonic levitation... It turned out to be a high-energy journey; including rhythmic tracks I have been obsessed with mixed with some rhythmic experiments on the drum machine.
You've spoken about your interest in psychoacoustics—the science of how humans perceive various sounds and the physiological responses associated with sound. How do you feel about DJing as a medium in the context of psychoacoustics, and how people interact with the tracks you play?
I like to think that as musicians or sonic practitioners we work with energy, actually we move energy around. I am interested in movement and moving—the trance and how repetition and the relation between rhythm and melody can hold that trance. I am also very interested in what sound and music actually do to our bodies and psyche. Music as bodily endeavour and personal experience can disrupt representational illusions, as it allows the indescribable and unthinkable to exist.
How did you end up with UIQ?
I have a monthly NTS show and I already was playing some of the earliest versions of some tracks on the album on the radio. One day a mutual friend reached out to tell me that Lee had enjoyed the show and wanted to reach out. That's how we got in contact and started talking. I was very happy he was into releasing this music (initially I thought of the record being too weird...) and this project finally started to take shape and got a house. Also big up to Dave who translated those ideas very beautifully in the design of the cover. I am very grateful about the album being out and also I feel that 7 Directions fits perfectly with UIQ.
7 Directions is dedicated to Dr Kimbwandende Kia Bunseki Fu-Kiau. Can you explain how he influenced the album, and what he means to you generally?
I was very interested and intrigued by the ideas of a multi-directional sense of being. Thinking about all (forward, backwards, leftwards, rightwards, downwards, upwards, inwards) those directions separately (the ways we interact with our surroundings and our self), but also how they are entangled with each other was important in how the record took shape and made sense. Also in his writings on Kongo Cosmology, he explains about how in Kongo systems of thought, images and dreams travel through vibrations—we first hear before we see, our visual perception is a reaction to our sonic perception… I like the other perspectives this thinking might bring. I'd like to think of music being able to overpower dominant ocular-centric visual codes and codes of language.
What are you up to next?
Very excited to dive in deeper in some of my rhythmic research, which aims to replace truth by trance. Also working on a new performance with genius artist Paul Maheke and presenting a series of events at Café Oto in March, where I will be exploring rhythmic trance and dissonance.