One man's trash is another man's…RIOT LAB? That's the philosophy that has pushed forth the visionary artwork that NKRIOT (a.k.a. Kristopher Escajeda) has created. The 28-year-old L.A. native found himself recycling old music machinery he found in the streets and creating all the gear he performs with onstage. The always-evolving RIOT LAB consists of a synthesizer, keyboard, stereo loop, effects and vocal processor.
And then there's the mask. But this isn't an ode to Daft Punk or Marshmello; this hand-made face mask is yet another piece to the NKRIOT performance. It is a working electronic instrument that synchronizes with the RIOT LAB and allows him to process his on vocals in real-time.
Combined, the sounds introduce the audience to NKRIOT's signature “GOJI” sound. Described by NKRIOT as a style that is the antioxidant berry of the everyday EDM movement, the genre combines aspects of 80s synthwave with dark techno and electronic beats with rock elements brought forth with his chromed-out guitar.
The electronic pioneer's debut album “RIOT” includes the single “Reality Pages” which found its way to social media giant LinkedIn, and allowed NKRIOT to become a brand ambassador for the company. His second album, Virtual Climax Recordings (V.C.R.), was released earlier this year and contains the single “Shogun 8.0”. Named after the 1980's film, the track deals with the emotional investment between father and son.
NKRIOT has been working hard to redefine the sounds of the electronic music scene, showcasing his efforts in his one-of-a-kind live shows. However, introducing a new sound to a well established, tried-and-true system of DJs playing backtracks on CDJs can have its pushbacks. It is those difficulties and more that I discussed with NKRIOT at the lobby of the NoMad Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles.
Q: To our readers who may not be familiar with you, how would you describe NKRIOT?
A: I'm the underdog stepping above the cesspool that we're in. I've created a platform for myself to have endless creativity and I wanna change the sound of every track every time I perform it. You could be headbanging one minute and the next thing you know, my music changes and it gets you to shuffle on the dancefloor.
Q: Your equipment is what sets you apart from anyone else out there. Describe your RIOTLAB for me.
A: Well, first, the RIOTLAB is where my keyboard and synth sit. I've also created this mask that allows me to work with the music I'm performing live and process my own vocals in real-time. That allows me to perform everything live with no Ableton, no computers. I can render out drums and bass and run it out through my equipment.
Q: What is going through people's minds when they see you perform for the first time?
A: What the hell is going on? Who is this dude and what is this?
Q: And how do you answer that?
A: With my music and my performance. I jump off stage and I go to them. My energy is really compelled to those who are confused. They always say stuff like, “I hate EDM but listening to you makes me a fan and now I wanna go listen to more.”
Q: Why do you think they say that?
Because they got their money's worth. I kept them entertained and I gave them something they've never seen before. It makes the money they spent on parking, cover charge, drinks, and food worth it.
Q: Do you get any pushback from venues or artists because of your style of performance?
A: Yes, especially in the EDM and club scene. In the beginning, I thought if I played everything live, people would understand. But it's actually more like, so are you a DJ or are you a performer? Do we book you in a rock venue or at a club?
Q: How do you respond to that?
A: Well, I'm going against the grain to create my own road and I'm not gonna change who I am to get booked at a venue. My shows will always have live elements involved, so if someone says I gotta use a thumb drive and CDJs, I'll find ways to make it different.
Q: You're challenging promoters and venues by not just using their CDJs. How long does that last? Would it still be an NKRIOT show without the equipment?
A: Look, right now I'm in the process of learning the DJ equipment. I'm not transitioning, but I do realize that I need to try other things. My equipment is getting heavy and messing up my back so it does need to get easier to carry or sneak into a spot. I'll make a micro amplifier box that plugs into channel 2 and I'll find a way to wireless Bluetooth it. I'll do it.
You're talking to someone that's doing something against the grain so I'm not closed minded in that sense. When does it get to the point where I spin, I will always have a live element to it— I promise you that.
Q: So is this is a rebellion against EDM and the way current shows are being produced?
A: No, it is not a rebellion. It's basically a call out to all our producer veterans, the producers that influenced the EDM world. I want to take the hard 10 years of sound design that they worked on that can be done easily on Ableton Live now and I want to pay respect to that. It's not a rebellion, it's really not. You can't rebel against something that influenced you.
Q: Would it be safe to say you're a one-man band?
A: Maybe. I mean one-man band sounds like a restaurant artist playing cheesy Casio drum beats next to your table. I just wanted to replace my bandmates with hardware. I was in a band before I started this project and let's just say my equipment doesn't have girlfriend problems. My gear doesn't talk back to me and my keyboard doesn't come to rehearsal hungover.
Q: When did you feel validated as an artist?
A: I've been getting merits—like you, or other magazines, venues allowing me to play, companies like LinkedIn playing my tracks. But the validation will really come from within myself.
The greatest validation I've ever had was when I played at Amoeba Records. A couple brought this little girl to the show and she was carrying a keyboard with her. She looked at her parents and said, “Look! I'm playing like NKRIOT.” I helped start a movement with that one individual.
Q: Who or what influences you?
A: The people. The EDM community. We are needed in this world to keep them from depression and sadness from everyday life. They need us.
Q: And why is that so important to you?
A: Because I went through a dark time where I wasn't creating music and the only thing that got me through it was 90s house music. You know that groovy music, that Robin S. type of sound—You've got to show me love—That kept me going. Music saved my life.
Q: You grew up here in L.A., a place where many people want to come to make it big. How was that experience for you?
A: It was rough, man. especially in the area I grew up in. In the 90's Boyle Heights was gang territory. There were a lot of drive-by shootings, it was very hostile and not really a place that was known for people to have a future. But I was able to slip through the cracks and get out of it. I was able to survive that.
Q: How were you able to find success in an area known for gang activity?
A: It's funny that you say that. You know everyone says that L.A. is the capital of entertainment. It is. But it is not the capital of creativity. There's so much creativity where I'm from but its hard for the creative ones to make it out, let alone make it into entertainment.
Q: Do you embrace your tough upbringing? Does that keep you grounded?
A: Absolutely. I was brought up by my grandparents and they have been able to keep the family unit together during turbulent times. My grandpa told me that out of all of the kids in the family, I was the only one that had the hunger and that I was gonna make it happen.
I'm still driving my '98 Tacoma pickup truck, you know what I mean? You have to know where your roots and your foundation are at. Oh, and always give back.
Q: What would you like the outcome of NKRIOT to be?
A: I wanna bring the RIOT, man. I want to dominate the world with my sound. I want to be respected and be considered one of the most innovative and pioneering artists that have come out this generation.