Nihiloxica: Spooky-j and pq

Based in Kampala, Spooky-j and pq work on a range of independent and collaborative projects, releasing and recording music as residents at Nyege’s Boutiq Studio. We caught up with the duo to hear about the incredibly exciting projects they're working on including Nihiloxica, their unique collaboration with the Nilotika Ensemble exploring traditional Ugandan culture and techno sensibilities whilst developing a musical language between the two cultures.

Why did you choose Leeds Conservatoire: what was your favourite thing about studying here?

Jacob: I chose Leeds Conservatoire on my dad’s recommendation as a place with a cool music scene. I grew up in China so didn't know the UK well. It was good advice - thanks dad! 

Pete: I also chose based on advice. My music teacher in Nottingham recommended the production course because it had a nice balance of music theory and practical stuff. He also thought I’d enjoy Leeds itself. He was spot on! My favourite part of studying at Leeds Conservatoire was having the freedom to work on our own projects whilst receiving guidance from tutors, that one to one time is really important.

What were the most useful lessons you learnt at Leeds Conservatoire that prepared you for your professional career?

Pete: I learnt a lot about being a producer, in a much broader sense. Microphone techniques and signal chains aside, we really got an education in how to conduct yourself professionally.

Tell us a bit about your aliases Spooky-J and pq? What are the main influences on your sound and what is your approach to writing your own music?

Jacob: Spooky-J was conceived alongside my good friend Tom King (another fellow student) when he started his label Blip Discs. I did a release for the label, and most of the stuff I was making at the time was pretty dark n spooky so it kind of fit, also ripping off Speedy J in the process. Influences are always changing... at the moment can’t stop listening to footwork.

Pete: pq comes from a band I did sound for called Capua Collective - which, funnily enough, consisted of entirely jazz and production students. A name arose that combined my name with eq, with which I was always twiddling, and it sounded catchy so it stuck. My sound varies from soft and beautiful to dark and heavy with very little in between; I’m attracted to extremes!

Tell us about your involvement with the Nyege Nyege Festival and interest in Ugandan music?

Jacob: I met the Nyege crew a few years ago when I went out with Blip Discs. We got some funding so travelled to the festival to play and do a residency at the studio in Kampala. I stayed in touch and planned the Nihiloxica project for the following year.

Pete: After hearing of Jacob’s trip in 2016 I thought he was a madman when he said he wanted to go out long term. He then asked me to come and… here we are now. We’ve been residents at Nyege’s Boutiq Studio and touring with Nihiloxica ever since. I dove in at the proverbial deep end of Ugandan music and have loved immersing myself in this rich culture.

Your work with Nihiloxica looks incredible: How did you establish your connection with the Nilotika Cultural Ensemble and what was it about the ensemble that made you want to work with them?

Jacob: During my first trip we were introduced to Nilotika by Nyege during our residency. The sessions were great but we ran out of time so promised to come back as I enjoyed working with them.

Pete: I met these guys right as we began rehearsing for our EP, and was quite nervous about bringing strange electronic sounds into Uganda, but the reception I received was nothing but warm, open mindedness. These guys definitely aren’t laid back on the drums though, when they get going their energy brings something up inside of you, it has to be witnessed to be believed! 

How do you merge your individual styles in Nihiloxica? What is the collaborative process like, blending the more electronic sounds with traditional Ugandan influences?

Jacob: Originally the first EP was done over the course of a month. We had rehearsals from 9-5 every weekday leading up to the festival, so Pete and I came with ideas and developed them with the band. Since then we use regional rhythms as a starting point and develop from there, which is a lot more fun. There are so many different ways it can go, for example we've turned a North Ugandan Ding Ding rhythm almost into a Metal tune!

Pete: For me it’s often hard to come up with a sound that doesn’t seem artificial and incongruous with the set of Buganda percussion that we have. Those drums have been made for thousands of years to sound together harmoniously, so it’s often a struggle to fit something musically or sonically around that. I’ve really had to develop a sense of respect for traditional rhythms and sounds in order to collaborate musically.

Where do you envisage this unique collaboration leading?

Jacob: It’s introduced us to an amazing international music community, especially while on tour. At the moment we play mainly in Europe; I hope we can travel to places both closer and further afield.

Pete: Our biggest strength is that we perform live. I see no reason why we can’t keep jamming as a band, writing new material and showing people around the world what we do. We want to explore different systems of working together experimenting with drum triggers and more melodic Ugandan instruments like the adungu… there are lots of options!

You’re in Kampala right now: what’s it like living and working in Uganda?

Jacob: Currently we are based at the Nyege studios, which is an awesome creative hub of local and international producers and musicians. Like any country there’s a very dominant commercial music scene, but it’s exciting to be a part of and to witness the growth of the underground scene - Kampala is a city that doesn't sleep (literally).

Pete: Even since we got here there has been a notable increase in the quality and quantity of electronic dance music in Kampala. This is coming from local producers, MC's and DJ’s, and it’s honestly really exciting!

What’s up next for you guys in terms of new projects? We hear you’re touring this summer?

Jacob: Currently we are working on a Soukous project alongside some amazing Congolese musicians. Also starting a label alongside Jack Beattie (Ekhe - also a former Leeds Conservatoire student) and Pete called “Spooky Shit”, releasing some of our own stuff. Then touring with Nihiloxica this summer! 

Pete: I’ve also got some stuff coming up with Ecko Bazz, an MC I collaborated with on a release through Nyege Nyege’s more club friendly sister label, Hakuna Kulala, and we’ll be travelling up to the north of Uganda this February to do a field recording project with local musicians there.

What advice would you give to students looking to collaborate with musicians in different genres and countries?

Jacob: Do it! Reach out to organisations and labels in different countries and ask to collaborate. What is important is to respect and understand the culture. Its little things that count: if you work with someone and leave, it’s important to stay in touch about the work. Even if it doesn't lead to anything it’s important to be clear to avoid confusion and upset. Sometimes it’s hard to stay in touch because of a language barrier, so the extra effort really counts!

Pete: I think, at least for live projects, the best thing I can say is that time really helps. Trying to play music with someone means learning a common language, and international collaborations that are rushed tend to be a collision of cultures and seem less than the sum of their parts. For me the most satisfying part of collaborating is working live and having a real-time discourse with another culture, I guess that makes me something of a jazzer!

To find out more about Nihiloxica, Spooky-j and pq check out there website here.

Click here to follow their news via twitter. 

Nihiloxica just released their second album - Listen here.

Learn more about our BA (Hons) Music (Production) and Music (Jazz) courses.

Find out more about what our successful graduates have been up to in our Alumni Profiles

Are you a Leeds Conservatoire graduate? Reconnect with us here

Photo credit: Vincent Ducard for Milgram Productions

Tweets currently unavailable.
Come back soon.
UoH-Logo.png (2) QAA logo Conservatoires UK logo Partner_1.png AEC logo Roland logo prs-keychange-logo_red-blue_pantone-c (fine to use).png Luminate_Education_Group_Logo (small).png