Spooky-J on the Cross-Cultural Group Nihiloxica’s <i>Kaloli</i> Album
Nihiloxica is an intercontinental project between two U.K. electronic musicians and four members of a Ugandan percussion troupe. The four Ugandans come from the Kampala-based Nilotika Cultural Ensemble with traditional drums and dance rhythms, and their British collaborators contribute synths and live drums, making for a unique hybrid of folkloric rhythms and techno stylings, and one of the most intriguing releases to cross our desks this year. We asked drummer Spooky-J about the group’s origins and methods, and about their new album, Kaloli, out now on Crammed Discs.
MD: Do you have a name for this music?
Spooky-J: “Afro-punk-bass-techno” is a cool one, but to be honest we haven’t settled on it yet. We have always been referred to as something-techno—Bugandan techno, traditional techno, afro-techno, etc.—and yes, that is a big influence regarding the synth textures and four-on-the-floor kick drum, but we are influenced by so many genres, it’s hard to choose! So I guess it’s easier when someone else comes up with it.
MD: How did the band form?
Spooky-J: I went to Uganda in 2016 to do a residency with Nyege Nyege [a studio and the home of the Nyege Nyege Tapes label]. They introduced me to the Nilotika Cultural Ensemble, and from there I planned to come back and start a project alongside pq [Pete Jones, keyboards, electronics]. After a month of rehearsals in August 2017, we wrote our first EP, Nihiloxica, released on Nyege Nyege Tapes. There were nine of us when we recorded it, but as offers came in for touring, I decided to reduce to six members. From there we started to write more as a band and build up our chemistry.
MD: What is the division of labor between traditional drumming and electronics? Does only one performer handle electronics on stage?
Spooky-J: When we started, all the electronics came from pq, who plays the Korg Minilogue and Monologue. Over the last year I have started using a Nord Drum and Korg Volca kick alongside my kit. Everything else is acoustic. We had thoughts of using triggers on the percussion, but the setup is beautifully simple at the moment. But let’s see for the future.
MD: How does a Niholoxica track typically get built?
Spooky-J: It varies. Sometimes we start with a traditional groove and jam around with it until we have a structure. Other times one of us will come with our own rhythmic or synth idea prepared, and everyone learns it. For example, pq wrote the main idea for “Tewali Sukali” inspired from a Meshuggah riff. We always record our rehearsals, so when listening back we can pick out things from jams that sounded cool and work on them next time.
MD: I swear I hear an amadinda xylophone in a few tracks, but I’m not seeing it in the live setup.
Spooky-J: What you might have heard was our new friend the Nord Drum. It’s a really versatile FM synth and responds very naturally to dynamics, so you can create cool electroacoustic sounds. The setup for the album is exactly the same as live, that was the main ethos behind the band.
Photos by Vincent Ducard for Milgram Productions.
Check out the official video for Nihiloxica’s track “Black Kaveera” here.