Between her journalism and DJing, Colleen Nika is certainly a creative force to reckoned with. Not only does she document what’s exciting and important within fashion, music, and culture as a whole, but she herself is interesting, multidimensional, and extremely insightful. Follow Colleen’s Twitter to keep up with her adventures (and whether or not she’s really going to make glitch music alone in Berlin anytime soon). Witness the brilliance below.
Cedar: You write for so many amazing publications and sites including Interview, Style.com, Popjustice, and Paper. Who else besides those do you write for and how do you manage to do it all?
Colleen: I’ve written for a dozen or so American and international cultural outposts at this point, including those you mentioned, as well as Vogue Italia, DANSK, V, and the NY Times. I guess, ultimately, I’d like to have a byline in every smart music, culture, and style publication that I’ve admired over the years. Why not? If you don’t try, you’ll never know.
In terms of how I maintain it, I’ll admit it’s a task. Freelancing is an entirely self-governed operation for everyone, and the way I do it–switching between genres and mediums–takes a certain level of discipline, which isn’t naturally my strong suit. I’m morbidly curious and hungry for challenges, so my focus shifts suddenly and often–I was like that in school, too. I’m very cyclical in my work processes and not particularly predictable, but somehow this can end up working in my favor. Right now, I’m in the midst of evolving my role as a writer; I probably will be focusing on in-depth, more ambitious features, and I’m working on a book idea. I will always write in some capacity, but I think 2011 is the year I’ll start to shift from observer to performer, so to speak. I have some projects in development that I want to keep under wraps for now. Who knows! I could abandon media entirely and go make glitch music alone in Berlin (there are days I strongly consider this, you know).
Cedar: Do you feel like there’s a strong intersection between fashion and music, since you write about both?
Colleen: Absolutely. I could go on about this forever. I’m actually developing a concept for a new website that creatively merges the disciplines of music and fashion. The concept is simple but quite unique: fashion as viewed through the lens of music, for once. No one is doing that, surprisingly, at least not very effectively. For me, music will always be paramount; it’s the gateway to everything I know. Fashion would mean a lot less to me without music, if that makes sense. All my so-called style idols or points of reference are probably musicians. And sometimes an amazing music programme completely outshines the clothes on the runway! Anyone who has seen an Alexander Wang show can surely attest to this, but I digress. That said, I also love fashion as its own art form and as an accessory to other art forms. At its best, it speaks to my left brain; I like to see it as a way of building visual puzzles and equations. Of course, a lot of clothing is reduced to pretty things to wear to parties, and, removed from a greater cultural context, that can be pretty damn boring. But again, music, along with other media, elevate it.
Cedar: What is your involvement with Popjustice?
Colleen: I am an all-purpose collaborator with Popjustice. I joke that I am ‘an ambassador for amazing pop tuneage’ here in NYC, which basically means that I’m trying to brainwash people people into listening to cooler music, I guess, haha. I’ve been a reader and enthusiast of Popjustice for practically a decade and always enjoyed [Popjustice editor and founder] Peter Robinson’s voice as a writer and ‘arbiter of taste’. I thought his brave views on the good, the bad, and the hilarious in pop music were sorely needed, considering few critics know how to discuss pop intelligently. Some time in 2009, I ventured to Peter that the Popjustice ethos would lend itself well to a live and club experience; he agreed, so I’ve been helping cultivate that. Popjustice, as a live project, was already litmus-tested in the UK, and we’re slowly rolling out the concept in NYC. We’ve done a few cool events already and we’re scheming up more for the spring and summer. Oh, and I have my own column debuting on Popjustice.com. Popjustice readers are very vocal, so I’m excited for the fan–and hate–mail!
Cedar:How long have you been DJing? What is your approach?
Colleen:I’ve been curating music since I was a teenager and DJing on a functional level for a few years as a hobby. The difference is that I’m taking it pretty seriously now, and I realize I want to take it as far as I can, which means starting from square one again and relearning the ropes. It’s essential for growth: you might be quite good at DJing as a nightlife entertainer but a total novice when it comes to the technical sophistication of the craft. I know some people who call themselves ‘DJs’ now don’t even beatmatch, and that irks me. I actually understand, practice, and perform mixing basics pretty well, but obviously, I am still nowhere close to the point where I’d consider myself a true contender ‘in that domain’. I am working hard at evolving my techniques every single day! I have really high standards because I’m a perfectionist and also really respect people like Sasha and Digweed or even Ellen Allien and know what they can do. Ideally, I’d love if someday I’ll be able to perform at that level. I think a DJ’s selection of tunes is always their greatest weapon, and that’s a highly personal, even emotional, practice that can’t really be taught. My years spent as an obsessive music geek have paid off in that regard. So, while I optimize my skills, at least I can play people some kick ass tunes. Then we’ll see where it leads from there…
Cedar:Do you specialize in or prefer to DJ particular places?
Colleen:I am in the midst of discussing one or two very promising residencies in NYC. So far, I’ve mainly DJed special events–art parties, fashion parties, as well as serving as the master DJ at several well-attended pop concerts, which entails a level of performance that a typical party environment doesn’t. I enjoy that element a lot–being set up next to the band onstage. It’s the most powerful seat in the room, you know?
My last gig was DJing Popshop in NYC, a monthly pop concert. The crowd was sold-out and the vibes were tremendous. I’m DJing a magazine launch later this month.
Cedar:What do you play?
Colleen:When I DJ for Popjustice, I stick pretty closely to a carefully curated set of high-caliber pop tracks—no bullshit pop, we call it. When I DJ solo gigs, my sets are widely varied, though it’s safe to say I generally favor synthetic, highly produced, colder sounds. My tastes are eclectic and a bit off-the-grid: right now, I like to play EBM and the poppier side of old industrial, Italo, early French and Belgian synthpop, minimal techno and house, and sometimes dubstep for good measure. But I will also play Britpop, new wave, trip-hop, or whatever suits the mood I’m trying cultivate. I’m very open; if it feels amazing to me, I will play it. I just try to keep my sets unexpected without alienating anyone—there’s no point in being solipsistic about it. I’m pretty good at coaxing a pop context out of a lot of unusual sources. I have an ear for that type of thing and love juxtaposing bubblegum and sonic dissonance. That may become my ‘specialty’: spining sci-fi pop, twisting pop into something less familiar. Maybe by playing a James Holden remix of Britney Spears or by playing Kylie and NIN back to back and revealing how the songs reflect one another. But I don’t create dancefloor mischief for the sake of being random; it has to create synchronicity or it’s useless. I want crowds dancing to Rihanna, Pet Shop Boys, and Front 242 in tandem! Once people are in a certain mode, they invite the unexpected–and that’s my moment to snag them.
Cedar:Who are some of your favorite “young creatives” right now?
Colleen:There’s a lot of young and hungry teenagers in the fashion blogosphere making me feel old and lazy right now. They don’t really inspire me as much as concern me. But in terms of someone young and interesting who is pushing things forward, I think there’s no one cooler than James Blake, full stop. He turned a difficult and remote music form, dubstep, into an emotional experience. It’s revolutionary, and probably the most exciting development in electronica since Richard D. James emerged. And he’s like 22! In a more traditional pop sense, I think Lykke Li is a very intelligent, intense, and driven pop musician; I had the pleasure of interviewing her in 2009. We need more girls like her on the scene. A lot of my personal friends in NYC, London, and beyond are musicians, writers, artists and the like; I’m magnetized towards other creatives. We fuel each other, I reckon. Off the top of my head: I admire Nic Endo, Veronica Vasicka, Hannah Marshall, and Ilirjana Alushaj as friends, artists, and independent women. Anyone putting their necks out there for the sake of their creativity has my respect and support.
Cedar:What is something people should know about you, journalism, DJing, creativity, or being professionally creative?
Colleen:I think you need to know what you really want before you can even start to deliver it. A lot of people listlessly drift into the idea of adopting a creative profession without really considering why or if they should be doing it. Figuring that stuff out is actually an arduous process–I’m still going through it. I personally didn’t take a standard route into this business; I didn’t chase down illustrious internships or have a grand plan. My one fancy internship wasn’t in writing, it was a for a designer and didn’t directly contribute to what I do now (though was invaluable in other ways). If you’re going to endure the difficulties that come with trying to make your passion your profession, you better really, really love it. Way back, I literally just spent all my free hours as an antisocial nerd, writing about what I cared about–music, fashion, cultural flotsam—just for the sake of it. It wasn’t strategic, it was just a way to talk to people, but I started to attract an audience, even in school. I never chased anyone down: my first notable publication was Interview Magazine in 2008, and they found me, which sounds almost annoyingly serendipitous, but it’s true. But at least I knew they wanted me for the right reason: my work spoke for itself. That was important to me. With everything I do—writing, Djing, whatever–my success has to feel honest and earned or it’s hollow. My advice is to never compromise your ideals for short-term solutions. Life will be harder that way, but far more rewarding.