Nukuluk aren’t your typical hip-hop collective. Over the last couple of years, the five-piece (Monika, vocals; Syd, vocals and guitar; Mateo, bass, Louis, drums; Olivia, synths) have been sharpening their idiosyncratic DIY chaos to increasing cult fanfare.
In 2021, they released their debut EP Disaster Pop, following it up last April with Superglue. Their creative process is “disjointed,” according to Monika. “Very free-form, shape-shifting and quite dramatic,” Syd chimes in – both are Zooming in from their respective homes in South London, soon to be joined by Mateo. Those descriptions, loose though they are, somehow fit the bill: Superglue is experimental and varied in style and texture, from the pared-back introspection of the trip-hoppy I Just Wanna Luv U, to the bristling rage of Covered in Gold.
So how did Nukuluk get into the symbiotic, experimental groove that’s become their trademark? “Me and Monika met at a party a few years ago,” says Syd. “I’d given up being in my third shit indie-grunge band and had started making more electronic stuff and hip-hop beats. He hadn’t rapped much before and wanted to give it a try. You were writing poetry, right?”
“Yeah, but without realising I was actually doing it,” Monika replies. “I was writing raps, but I didn’t know they were raps.” Now, his drawling, powerful delivery has become one of the collective’s most distinguishing features. Then Syd “kidnapped” Louis, who introduced the pair to Olivia, before Mateo left his own “shitty indie-grunge band” (Syd’s words, not ours) to complete the, er, musical pentagon that makes up Nukuluk.
“We basically all share mini-musical relationships,” Syd says. “We’re all into loads of different genres, which means there’s room for different genres to occur. We do a lot of skill-sharing, which has helped develop one another’s process. We’re nerds, basically.”
At the time of our interview, Nukuluk are gearing up for a headline show at Corsica Studios in South London – a hotly anticipated event the group have been putting lots of rehearsal time into. Ultimately, though, their goal isn’t necessarily to crowd-please.
“I wouldn’t want to prescribe anything, because I like music to grab what that I’m already feeling,” Syd continues. “I guess our stuff is all quite expressive – for anyone to be able to connect with that and see their own stories inside of it is the most satisfying part of songwriting.”
“I like that a lot,” Monika concurs. “I don’t really think about the audience that much at all. I think about myself and what I’m feeling, before trying to make sure that my words reflect that really well. That’s my job: to believe in what I’m saying. Everything else is up to the listener. They have to come and meet me – like that Black Eyed Peas song, Meet Me Halfway, you know?”
We think that makes sense, Monika, even if we might question that musical choice… Now, as we eagerly await new material (and live dates) from the avant-garde collective, keep scrolling to find out all about Nukuluks worst habits, favourite artists and most impressive dishes.
10% Where were you born, where did you grow up, and where are you now based?
Syd: I was born in West London, I grew up in London and moved South as soon as I was of age.
Monika: I was born in Paris. I moved to London around Elephant and Castle in 2013, when I was 17. Then I moved to Peckham about three years later.
Mateo: I was born in London, grew up in London. I’m still in London. Pretty boring!
Syd: Olivia’s from Plymouth and came to London when she was 18. Louis is from London.
20% What kind of emotions and experiences influence your work?
Mateo: It’s polymorphic and comes from all different directions, which is confusing at times. In terms of emotions – someone might start with something and take it one direction, but then somebody else in the group will bring an element to it that’s completely different. Particularly when it comes to the instrumentation and production, that’s very true. As songwriters, Monika and Luke have different reasons for wanting to script a song. Sometimes you just want to make people dance, other times you want to make them feel deeply about something.
Syd: There’s this song, I Just Wanna Luv U, on the new EP. Mateo wrote this kind of deconstructed R&B bassline. Before that was there, the song was really open and not very rich. It was all about emotional vulnerability. But as soon as that layer of harmony comes in, it complicates the feeling and gives it more character. It feels like such a different song to what it started as, in a really cool way. A lot of it is about emotional extremity. Moments of rage, alienation, devastation. I probably have an unhealthy reliance on catharsis with music a lot of the time.
30% What’s a bad habit you wish you could kick?
Monika: Doing stuff instead of resting. I can never just do nothing. I’ll always find something to do quite compulsively, which is really frustrating.
Syd: Letting beats remain unfinished for years.
40% If you’re cooking food to impress someone, what will you make?
Syd: Dauphinoise potatoes.
Monika: Probably a fish curry.
Mateo: I made a ratatouille at the beginning of the week and it slapped so hard. So I’d do that, go for the movie moment – their whole life flashing before their eyes…
50% You rule the world for a day. What went down?
Syd: I’d do the most annoying thing, like nationalise every single company and watch them all try and scramble back from that.
Monika: I’d like to take a big step towards justice with a capital “J”, but I would really struggle to find out how to do that. So I’d probably do nothing, for fear of fucking the world up even more.
Mateo: I wouldn’t let anyone buy anything for one day. I’d turn the internet off as well. No electricity.
Monika: Mateo turns off all life-support?
Mateo: Within fucking reason, bro!
Syd: I’d make more arts councils as well, so everyone stops fighting for the same “develop your praxis” bullshit.
60% Love, like, hate?
Monika: I love anchovies. I hate people who don’t follow up on their commitments. I like coffee.
Mateo: I love baths, I hate buying clothes and I like playing with samplers.
Syd: I hate waiting. I like my friends. And I love sunshine.
70% Number one holiday destination?
Mateo: I’m terrible at going on holiday. I’m bad at organising it, I’m bad at wanting it, I don’t know where to go. You’ve made me anxious. You’ve revealed a deep dark secret: I don’t know how to go on holiday. I’ve been following my friends that have organised holidays for me my whole life. Now that I’m older and that I have to do my own holidays, I’m incapable. So thank you.
Mateo: Mine’s the beach in the British countryside. I love going further afield, but there’s something so nice about jumping on a train for 45 minutes and being somewhere really sunny. With loads of fucking people, obviously. And a good picnic.
Syd: Tiny Greek islands with loads of leathery-skinned sea captains and no one doing anything apart from eating too much food.
80% What’s the most pointless fact you can share?
Monika: I recently read that animals know how to switch their winter fur to summer fur not based on the temperature, but the lengths of the days. That’s how they know seasons change, which is why they’re not too fucked up by global warming.
Mateo: That most people in the world don’t believe in evolution. And it’s illegal to teach it in a number of states in America.
Syd: Bi-weekly means both twice a week and every two weeks.
90% If you could travel back in time to see an iconic music act perform, who would it be?
Monika: I’d like to see D’Angelo. It feels illegal that he can be so good at making music and also so good looking. What is happening there? It’s disturbing.
Syd: This guy Liszt, a Hungarian piano composer who had freakishly big hands.
Mateo: I’d want to go and see the riot at The Rite of Spring.
100% What can artists do to save the world?
Syd: Be an artist and don’t save the world. Be open and collaborate with people, and be a good role model in that. Be authentic and you’ll encourage others to do the same.
Monika: It’s about making sure that the good values you have are embedded within your practice, whatever that is. There’s too much pressure to take big decisive action all the time. That doesn’t work and isn’t viable. It’s about small internal steps. Saving the world should feel good, not like you’re Jesus Christ. You can’t carry all the pain of the world on your shoulders, even though I’d really like to.
Mateo: I’m in line with that.