Niko Maxen provides mix of 100% unreleased tracks

Niko Maxen is a UK-born artist who comfortably resides at the forefront of a select group of artists pushing a vibrant take on minimal house with intricate textures. His rhythm-focused sound has found its way into the record bags of many of the scene's foremost artists and is embodied by a substantial discography.

Recent years have witnessed him launching his own imprint, MAXEN, in addition to making appearances on Burnski's Aesthetic and various releases on the likes of Constant Sound, Arapu's Linai, Rowle, Roche Madame, Talman, and Pathway Traxx. Niko's music has been played by numerous influential figures in the underground scene and graced the dance floors of some of the most legendary clubs and festivals such as DC10 and Sunwaves.

In 2018, Niko relocated to Australia from his native Leeds. It didn't take long before he was captivating the dance floors of Australia's finest nights, including frequent headline performances at the internationally renowned SASH. Despite experiencing serious illness in 2019 and starting a new family, Niko has continued to demonstrate his dedication to his art, consistently providing his followers with music through his vinyl labels and his personal Bandcamp releases. We’re delighted to host Nico on our mix series, and put some questions to him recently too… 

You’re originally from Leeds so that seems like a good place to start question-wise. Can you tell us a bit about how you got your first start in electronic music?

My entry into electronic music actually started nearly 20 years ago when I was at university. I was really into hip hop back then. I was working for a promoter who ran student hip hop nights and one of the other guys who worked there had started making hip hop on fruity loops software. This was a time when laptops and personal computers were starting to become common and I was lucky enough to have my own laptop so I got a copy of fruity loops and started making these little hip hop loops. Over time I became more and more concerned with the instrumental hip hop rather than the lyrics. It wasn't until my first trip to Ibiza in the early 2000’s when I began hearing underground house music and that was it, i was hooked. I went home that summer and set about learning how to make that sound. It's been a somewhat obsessive pursuit since then. 

Leeds seems to consistently have one of the best music scenes in the country. Why do you think this is?

The north in general has always had such a strong music scene and not just house music but all forms of music. Many of my friends played in bands or Dj’d for years across Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield etc. There have been countless legendary nights and clubs across the north. I have always believed that creative pursuits like music and art are so heavily entwined with societal struggles. Often seen as a way to escape reality and express feelings embedded in a culture. The north of England has had those hardships and struggles and music has always followed hand in hand. I think Leeds is not producing some of the best talent in our scene or anywhere in the world. People in Leeds sure know how to have fun and are generally friendly people.Tthats why nights out in Leeds are hard to beat!

You’re a prolific producer, and have released on labels such as Constant Sound, Aesthetic and Rowle. What do you put your work ethic down to?

The saying goes that it's not work if you love what you are doing! I find making music therapeutic for me. Sometimes I liken it to solving a puzzle and I love the feeling of being in a creative state. 

In terms of your productions, where do you think you’re at with it all now? Are you generally pretty confident in your studio abilities? How long did it take you to get to that stage?

I wouldn't profess to know it all when it comes to producing, in fact I think I have a lot of limitations in my overall skill set but what I do have is a solid understanding of my sound and within that sound how to achieve the output I want. I’ve been making music in one form or another for probably 20 years, so now I am at a point where the tools I use are a physical extension of myself. I don't have to think about how to use them, it just happens. I try to make music as fast as i probably can and try to operate in a flow state as much as possible. As soon as that flow state slows down or stops I simply stop making it or even hit the delete button and start again. The single best piece of advice I can give is to not be too emotionally attached to what you are making at that moment. I think of it as creativity that resides within me and I just need to get it out as fast as possible. Not everything needs to be perfect or released. Instead just focus on getting music out of yourself. That is where beautiful ideas appear. 

Do you pinpoint areas for improvement production-wise? Or does that come organically with experience? 

Every once in a while I'll take a step back and try to learn a new skill. Like if i hear a sound in a track that i like i will go away and try to learn how to reproduce it. The one thing I always want to improve on is mix quality and I think that's a never ending process. 

In terms of DJ and production influences, who has really inspired your sound over the years? And what newcomers do you look to in a similar regard? 

I think the biggest influence for me came from the early creators of the Romanian minimal sound. Once I locked on to that sound it felt like I was at home. The most beautiful thing about that sound for me is the patience required. Patience in general is something that society really struggles with, myself included. So I focus on making music that helps to bring patience to the listener. I don't often make ragging dancefloor bombs, its just not who i am. I much prefer music that washes over me and captures my attention with minor changes and intricate fluctuations. DJ’s like Raresh, Villalobos, Zip, Cap, Ion Ludwig are masters of this style. 

You also moved to Sydney a while ago. Can you tell us a bit about what motivated the move? How have you been finding it?

Well we moved to Australia in 2018, first landing in Melbourne. The move came off the back of a four-week holiday to Australia where we decided it was the perfect place for the next chapter of our lives. We enjoyed the first two years in Melbourne but then unfortunately Covid came and changed a lot for us. Once we came out the other side of covid we decided to relocate to sydney to be closer to our other friends here in Australia. We haven't looked back and feel super content here now. 

In terms of getting involved with the local music scene, how did that work when you moved to Sydney? Was that always part of the plan?

Strangely, I have always had a good following from people in Sydney, even before I moved to Australia. So when I moved up here it wasn't long before promoter requests were coming through. I now have good relationships with a few brands and play at the frequency that suits me. 

Obviously the likes of Sash is known worldwide, but there’s often a lot of talk about Sydney’s scene being quite ‘restrictive’, and definitely different to Melbourne’s in that regard. What are your thoughts on that? Do you find it’s more a day-time thing? And maybe that suits you a bit more these days too?!

Yeah this is a very well known issue for Sydneysiders and something we are slowly seeing change but its definitely noticeable how much more restrictive it is up here. That said, Sydney benefits from a lot better weather so there are a lot more day time events up here which really suits me as I think my sound is a lot better suited to day time vibes. 

Is music a full-time thing for you or what else takes up your time? 

No, music is not a full time thing for me. I see it as a passion hobby. I actually have a well established career in IT sales and have done that for my entire adult life. 

A while ago your life was turned upside down when you’d to get a kidney transplant. We’re delighted to hear you’re now on the mend. Without dwelling on this time too much, has it given you a new lease of life in a way? And has it changed your approach to life and music at all? 

Yes, in late 2019 I was diagnosed with kidney failure and required dialysis. In early 2021 I was fortunate enough to receive a kidney transplant. Since then my life has been amazing and I definitely have had a new lease of life. Aside from feeling physically better it has given me a new perspective on life. I now understand how lucky we are in every moment. I walk with gratitude in every step and in all situations. It has also helped me to realise it's so important to be kind to everyone and treat everyone with respect because we just don't know what they are going through. 

You’ve done a mix for our mix series and we’re really delighted to have you on. Can you talk us through the mix a bit? What was the vibe you were going for with that one? 

Sure. This mix was pretty intentional to be honest. I was going through one of my intense music production waves where I found myself making a lot of music and I mean a lot! When I get to these states I can make up to four tracks a day and it can go one for weeks. In this wave I must have made over 30 tracks. Half way through this wave I decided that I wanted to create an extended mix using all the tunes in this wave. That mindset shift then helped me design phases of the mix and made the music to suit. I wanted to express where I feel I am at with my sound today but also flex a little the range that sits within that sound. Ranging from trippy minimal to more rolling house sounds. I am super happy with how it came out and the variety on offer. 

What’s next for you - on a musical and personal level - that’s really exciting you right now? 

I have taken a step back from releasing music during 2021-2022 but I now feel I am ready to start putting more stuff out there. I will continue working with my favourite labels like constant sound with Burnski and then I will leverage my own labels for my output. I intend to release the next series of MAXEN vinyl releases MAXEN04 hopefully dropping late 2023. I have also just started a new series on my bandcamp called “The Groove Archives” where I will regularly drop releases featuring forgotten tracks I produced from years gone by. It serves as a nice outlet to release music that otherwise would be collecting virtual dust on my hard drive. The first 3 have already been released. 

Keep up with Nico Maxen on Soundcloud, Instagram and Bandcamp