Welcome to our STRAND Showcase Spotlight series, where if you haven’t pencilled in the date for our upcoming live music showcase yet, we show you why you should.
NXKXTA joins our scheduled Zoom call from a sofa somewhere in Düsseldorf, looking like she’s just stepped out of a magazine, even before I’ve interviewed her. With her ten-year background in the fashion world, and her recent features in a range of other publications — including the Big Issue and Numéro Magazine — this comes as no surprise at all.
What I do want to know, though, is how NXKXTA made the move from fashion to music in her career. “My work in fashion often intersected with the music industry,” she informs me. “I was always doing creative projects with bands, and all my ex-boyfriends worked in music. So I was always surrounded by it, but I just didn't think it was on the cards for me.
“I think I was really playing it safe, because I had so many insecurities. I was happy to just push other people and just be in the background myself. But at some point, I realised that that was actually not very healthy for me, and not what I actually wanted deep down. And so the seed was planted.”
NXKXTA hasn’t only dealt with overlapping industries in her career, either — she’s also based between two countries: England and Germany. I ask her what it’s been like to live, work and travel between London and Düsseldorf.
“From the age of 5 to 15, I grew up in Germany, and then when I was 15, I came over to England,” she tells me for context. “I feel very connected to London, since I’ve spent my entire adult life there, and it very much inspired everything I’m doing. But now I’m back in Germany, I’ve also been figuring out how the European music market works. It’s nice to be able to cover these different sides of the industry.
“London, as much as I love it, is just so pricey. Having to travel has given me more opportunities to work with different people. For example, I recently filmed a music video in Bali, which was just with a handful of friends and really spontaneous. It ended up working out really well.”
But crossing the pond (well, the North Sea) hasn’t always been smooth sailing, she admits. “It's definitely a learning curve. It's very isolating, especially if you’re a solo artist, since everything depends on you. If you don't do something, nobody's gonna do it. We have to figure it out somehow.”
Photo by Damian Noszkowicz
On the subject of filming, I’m reminded of a previous interview between NXKXTA and Spindle Magazine, where she’d mentioned admiring filmmaker David Lynch for his “thoroughgoing vision” compared to today’s “trend-driven approach” to making art. Given her almost 100-thousand Instagram followers, she’s no doubt an authority on the latter topic herself — so I ask her what she thinks about the current need to churn out social media content as a creative, particularly within the music industry. “For some people social media is an amazing opportunity. For others, it's just an extra level of stress. Right now, artists are just under so much pressure that it's not realistic to handle everything, and there's very little support.
“I honestly think we’ll see real repercussions from it. So far, it's been glamorised too much and regulated too little. Social media as a concept is good, but at the rate it's going right now, it’s a bit like the Wild West. The rules and algorithms could change tomorrow, and we’d just have to deal with that. It’s just not healthy, and it’s not sustainable.”
The other side of the industry which NXKXTA admirably takes a stand against is its exploitation of young people. A recent piece she penned for Come Play With Me Magazine denounced the “fetishisation of youth” in our society, and how people are quick to take advantage of the vulnerability which comes with it. As the team working on the STRAND X FEMMESTIVAL showcase are all in our early 20s (even if we do feel our bones creaking on the regular), I’m eager to hear her further thoughts on the topic. “Personally, I love working with younger people. It pisses me off that the industry is structured in a way that really doesn't protect people enough. As a young person, you're so dependent on the people you're working for; you often idolise them because you've seen them do great work. The problem is they completely use that.
“They make you work twice as much for as little pay as possible, if any. And then also quite often don't give credit to you, or celebrate you. People need to demand a change, and I think the generation below me actually has the guts to do that, so I'm hoping and praying that things will get better — because they really need to.”
The Come Play With Me piece isn’t the only piece NXKXTA has recently had published, though: readers of the Big Issue will have seen her powerful op-ed on the over-sexualisation of young women. I ask her about the inspiration behind the article, and what she hopes young women and femmes will take from her work, which has no doubt left a big impact on them already.
“I think if my message to young women and femmes was to be distilled to one word, it would definitely be empowerment. By that I also mean taking back your power from everything that’s been weighing you down. The biggest lesson for me was that, instead of pretending all the things I went through weren’t affecting me, I’d just lay them all out on the table. I wanted to take my power back and use the darkness, the pain, the frustration, as a way to encourage other people to and to connect with others. My goal is to eliminate the whole idea of competition among women, and instead push the collaborative aspect of things. We need to get together as women and stand up against all the bullshit.
"My music is just a constant fight for equality, really. It’s a fight for empowerment and a safe way to be a woman, no matter what that represents. All of us should be able to exist safely in the world.”
Photo by Damian Noszkowicz
The released singles from NXKXTA’s upcoming debut album, ‘7’, all harness these difficult experiences and transform them into a source of empowerment. Gorgeously cinematic visuals and slick instrumentals provide the backdrop for her charged lyrics, packed with Easter eggs, references and multilingual plays-on-words.
“I would call the album a taster of what I have to offer as an artist,” she explains. “Every song is a different facet of myself. All of them involve quite intense topics, but they're presented in very different ways. For example, there’s ‘VERBAL VENOM’, which is quite mellow, dark and mysterious; it's very cinematic and has a lot of sound effects. Then there’s ‘EPHEBOPHILE’, which is very raw and intense. It’s about spreading the knowledge you have about what someone’s done to you, so they won't have that power over other people either. And then you've got ‘THE LIKES OF YOU’, which is the sweetest and softest song, and it has an intimacy to it.
"As for the last two unreleased songs: one of them is about consent, and the other one is about eating disorders. I saved them for last on purpose, because I wanted to have time to put them out there in the way that they need to be presented. I shot two beautiful music videos for them, with actors involved, which were the biggest productions I've done to date. I’ve been approaching the album like a short, informative film, which can connect with the audience and make them feel less alone. We're usually too embarrassed to actually push these topics out there and talk about them, so that’s what I’m trying to do.”
I’m looking forward to hearing her perform her new material live at our showcase, I tell her. Is there anything else we should expect from a NXKXTA live performance, I add? “With my performances, I always wanted to be the freak show, so that everybody else can just be themselves, and think ‘no matter how freaky I get, Nikita's freaky already, so it’s okay’.” She laughs. “I want my performances to be a safe space, and a liberating experience.”
She elaborates: “I remember when I was younger, I used to always go out and dance with friends. I’ve loved dancing since I was a kid, and even when I was underage I started going into nightclubs. I wasn't even drinking, I just wanted to dance. I always felt, though, that you were so objectified as a woman when you were dancing. You’d be constantly treated like it makes you cheap, and undermines your status. At the same time, it’s acceptable for performances like burlesque: when it’s on a stage and when Dita [Von Teese] is doing it. Meanwhile, people criticise strippers, for example, who are technically doing the same thing, just in a slightly different way.
“I always wondered about where we draw the line of what we consider acceptable or unacceptable, and I think in that area, women, non-binary people and femmes always lose out. We're always put into a box, and have to appeal to the male gaze. So what I wanted to explore with my performances was what it meant to be sexy on my own terms. I asked myself, if I was to envision the most confident, exciting and wild version of myself as a persona, what would she be like? What would she do? How would she act on stage? And that's really what it is. It’s an exploration of being seductive but also cheeky, but also having fun with it. And it’s a bit ‘out there’ in a way that as women we’re constantly forced not to be. The stage offers that sense of liberation for me, and my goal is to create that experience for people watching as well. So they feel they can ‘let their freak out’. I want them to have a good time and feel safe within that framework.”
With that kind of promise for what’s to come, we can’t wait to have her close our STRAND X FEMMESTIVAL showcase on 25th January — but how does NXKXTA herself feel about it? “I’m really excited,” she says, smiling. “It's such a beautiful concept, and I think in general, universities need more events which create spaces for women and non-binary people to express themselves and connect with each other. We need those safe spaces that are curated for us, by us, so I really value events like this.”
Don’t miss the chance to let your freak out with NXKXTA at our free STRAND X FEMMESTIVAL showcase at the Star of Kings on 25th January.
This live music showcase is part of KCLSU’s Arts and Culture Festival 2024, taking place from 20th January - 2nd February.