For NikNak, it’s all the same: if it makes a sound, it can meet the turntable. Moving in and out of fields on the decks, Nicole Raymond has performed as a DJ, improviser and sound artist, incorporating field recordings and musique concrete into her eclectic mixes and sets. DJing under NikNak and producing as SinSam, she has versatile approaches to music and composition, hightailing her way through aliases as if making good on her love of comic books and their characters. Giving things different names here and there is important: her output shifts so dramatically that it’d be confusing not to. Her recent mixes have included a conversational soundscape exploring her relationship with her mother and a radio show made up of ‘tunes in the 140 realm’. Concepts go high and low – sometimes it’s deep, sometimes not that deep at all, Raymond fully aware of music’s endless potential to make us think and feel however we need.
Trailing through Raymond’s online output is a totally disorienting experience, like flitting between train of thought and finished product. She pops up to post sketches of tunes to come back to later on her Soundcloud, such as fledgling trip hop track Pro-Crass, and throws out a slew of live recordings from recent shows she’s played around her local Leeds. The mileage very much varies; having taken the opportunity to play in different scenes, for nights after completely different vibes, the shifts become seismic. Her performance at Leeds International Festival reflects the show’s headline act, Melanie Ó Dubhshláine, echoing her experimental psychedelics with a set of field recordings Raymond made in Turkey – here ‘manipulated live on turntables’. It’s an immersive listening experience akin to turning a working man’s club into an aquarium, and online it sits next to another set Raymond delivered at Wharf Chambers – full of Dilla, downtempo jazz and rhythmic scratching.
If there’s a connection to be made between Raymond’s DJ sets and her more experimental music, it’s found in improvisation. Turntablism can be a tool of context, a way of rerouting experiences, whether through the sequencing of tunes or the manipulation of unfiltered sound recordings. Describing her process, Raymond expresses an interest in ‘translating her experiences into immersive and improvised performances’, allowing some element of her story to be told through intuition. As NikNak, Raymond makes maddeningly eclectic selections; she rolls from hip hop instrumentals through to the industrial bangers of Skinny Puppy on recent mix Transitions, threading together disparate energies. In Turkish Delight, Raymond’s collection of field recordings – once site specific, all from her trip to Turkey – glitch and repeat on the turntables, taking on new tensions, and a different geographical presence.
Listening to pieces like Kitchen Talk and Turkish Delight, it’s clear Raymond is making experimental music far away from our expectations of what it should be. It mingles with other genres; it tells stories that can be personal, emotional, grounded in the real world. On Kitchen Talk, elements of electro-acoustic music coalesce with scratch and rewind, meeting club hallmarks halfway. Whirring ambient sounds merge straight-up with an everyday conversation about cooking, occasionally spun back as if it were being played at a night out. On her radio shows, Raymond will happily combine her own ‘self-recorded soundscapes’ with the neo-classical of Nils Frahm, the iconic night-time dubstep sweeps of Burial and the melodic tenor playing of John Coltrane. Nothing is too many degrees of separation away from relating to something else; Raymond affects her own story on those that have influenced it.
To conclude: who the hell knows what Raymond’s performance at hcmf// is going to sound like? So far, the sure thing is turntables, a staple of any performance, and the best way to tell a NikNak story. Using more self-made soundscapes, it’s likely that the Huddersfield Immersive Sound System is going to experience a Raymond style story: told, and retold, on the decks.