With an impressive track record as a serial collaborator, Nik Colk Void is finally striking out on her own. Exploring some weighty ideas, her debut solo album ‘Bucked Up Space’ will have you flexing the grey stuff

Nik Colk Void is at home in Norfolk, speaking to me from her kitchen. Not that I’d have guessed it. Directly behind her are white shelves filled with vinyl and when she flips her laptop around, I can see a mixing console and other gear on the countertop, alongside notebooks and paper. If anything is evidence of the centrality of an artist’s oeuvre to their life, it’s this.

“‘Where can I work?’ has always been my first thought whenever I’ve gone to find a place to live, rent or whatever,” she admits. “And it’s the same even though I now have a child.”

Making has always been at the heart of Void’s music – and, by extension, her life – in the sense that the doing determines the end result. Starting with a fixed idea and progressing towards its realisation has never been her way, which explains both her love of improvisation and her enthusiasm for collaboration, notably with Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti (as Carter Tutti Void), Peter Rehberg (as NPVR) and Klara Lewis.

These practices – the boldness needed to be in the moment and the openness to others’ ideas, untroubled by issues of authorial control – are signs of creative strength. Despite ticking both those boxes and her years spent playing in bands – first, twitchy art-punks KaitO, then disco-tech/industrial-house outfit Factory Floor – Void is only now releasing her debut solo album, ‘Bucked Up Space’.

It’s a set of rhythm-heavy tracks sitting at the intersection of minimal techno, four-to-the-floor rave and experimental noise, ranging from the super-lean and staccato (‘Big Breather’) to the irresistibly hectic (‘FlatTime’, a rubbery epic) and the heavily textured (‘Oversized’), recalling both Low’s latest LP, ‘Hey What’, and ‘Gas Lit’ by Divide And Dissolve. Of the title, Void says there’s always been “a kind of playful aspect” to her words, so audience analysis necessarily comes into play.

“When you work, you get so involved in what you’re doing that you don’t think about the connotations,” she reasons. “But ‘Bucked Up Space’ is about space literally being completely out of kilter. It’s talking about the solids of sound and how they’re placed together in those small areas of existence. And it’s about performing and how that space between me and the audience changes and morphs. So that was the interpretation I had of this fun title, but on the day of the announcement, I was like, ‘Oh my god, it’s completely wrong!’.”

She shrieks in mock horror.

“It sounds like a swear word – and I’m devoid of swearing.” 

The record’s title speaks to Void’s perception of sound as something physical that has mass – as she once said, “I see sound as a solid”. She mentions that she’s dyslexic and explains further.

“I think it filters through the way I look at most things, including writing. I have a really methodical approach to listing things – I’m not a great reader because I get distracted by the gaps between letters – and I see that as a continuation of trying to get the information to reach my brain. 

“So when I began to do music, it was almost as if I was more interested in what was happening around a sound – the reverberation or the feedback, for example. And the way that I could capture that in early stages was to literally record onto tape and slice it, like I would when I used to make films. When things were analogue, that was how they were put together, so with music, it was almost like that process was ingrained in how that sound translated into my brain.”

This thinking is reflected in Void’s other work, too. After completing her degree at Norwich School of Art and Design, in 2009 she moved to London to become a sculpture assistant to Young British Artists scenester Gary Hume on a project that involved using plaster to resemble polished ceramic forms, “like mannequin arms that support a balloon”. Void remembers her role as challenging. 

“After blowing up thousands of balloons, trying different make-ups of plaster, weights, you name it, I’d inhaled too many chemicals from the silicones and resins to make the moulds, so we agreed it was time to end the idea.” 

She put the money she earned to good use, interning at the then newly expanded Whitechapel Gallery. The link between her experience of sound as solid and the artwork she was drawn towards might seem tenuous, but Void agrees with it. 

“No, this is bang on. It took me a while to understand that in my art, my identity is within the process of making, so it’s almost an investigative approach. This is why I don’t use DAW or computers too much, and why I’ve stuck with analogue and modular and synths and things – it’s because I can’t see into the future how that sound is going to happen.”

She agrees that ‘Bucked Up Space’ is the result of the largely random course of its own creation. 

“I think that’s why it’s taken me a long time to actually put things down into an album. As I’ve been going along, I’ve made so many recordings that I’ve forgotten about, because they existed to me at the time of making and so have that immediacy. 

“Another way that sound influenced me was feeling its live power as an audience and how that moved me. The excitement and the shock of it gave me a real sense of being alive. But with improvisation as a performer it’s not just the sound, it’s also a whole mental aspect of you not knowing how it’s going to come out. It’s a way to push yourself forward and also to learn about yourself – how you cope with it, in a situation in front of an audience.”

That must be both exhilarating, because of the need to be completely in the moment, and utterly terrifying. 

“Yeah, it is terrifying,” laughs Void, though she adds that since she has no concept of the music being “right” in any particular way, it’s less scary than it might have been. 

“I can never see it actually going wrong, because it is what it is and your response to that is what you learn after improvising for a long time, with different performers and in collaborations,” she explains. 

“That was part of my learning process up to the point where I felt, ‘I can formulate this into a record now that I’ve figured out who I am within this world of improvisation’.”

It seems Peter Rehberg reckoned Void had reached that point in 2016. The Editions Mego boss, who died suddenly last year, asked her then if she would make a solo LP for the label, but she felt that the timing wasn’t right. 

“I’ve always had the idea of doing a solo record,” she explains. “But I am not one of those artists who like to work on my own. The excitement of music for me is that I have real relationships with my collaborators. The whole journey is what I feel is the overall part of making music and art, so I wasn’t quite ready to do something on my own. I’d been a huge fan of Peter with KTL [Rehberg’s project with Stephen O’Malley of Sunn O)))] so I said, ‘Shall we do a record together?’.”

However, Void’s hesitancy in launching a solo career wasn’t due solely to wanting more partnership experience under her belt. Factory Floor and Carter Tutti Void were very different projects but what they had in common was the need for her to fit within a three-person structure, “to sort of please and have some dialogue with the people I was working with”.

“But with Peter, it was a whole new world that I wanted to explore before I could go off and do my own records,” she continues. “We had a very good friendship and he was definitely a Throbbing Gristle and Einstürzende Neubauten fan, but he linked that with extreme experimental things like Thomas Brinkmann and brought those two spheres together. 

“I saw that was how I was, as well. I have this, I wouldn’t say commercial aesthetic, but more a part of me that wanted to make music that didn’t alienate my audience. So some of the stuff is structured and the other side of it is experimental.” 

Bucked Up Space’ is a major step for the shapeshifting Void, whose fascination with sound kicked in at an early age when she lived with her father. “He used to make these systems where he would have old speakers that he would connect together,” she remembers. “And he would then listen at full blast to things like The Beatles or Billy Joel.” 

Void took guitar lessons for four years from the age of eight, but more influential in her teens were the bands her older brother and sister listened to “super loud”, like The Jesus And Mary Chain. These experiences led Void to buy her first guitar – a hollow-body Epiphone – “to follow The Jesus And Mary Chain’s chord progressions”. 

“Then I got into Sonic Youth and more of the American music, like Sebadoh,” she explains. “The noisy guitar sound was really exciting to me, as opposed to what was going on in the UK, which was more Britpop. It also had a kind of free element to it. There were times when I’d think, ‘Why didn’t I exist in the 1980s new wave scene in New York?!’.”

In terms of UK music, Wire played a role in galvanising Void early on, both sonically and visually. She found harmony difficult so would try to find ways around it and in that respect, Robert Gotobed’s drumming – with its repetitive, loop-like rhythms lending space to the other instruments – was a revelation.

“Maybe this was my first understanding of occupying space and how it can function within a group,” she considers. “I liked how Colin Newman looked onstage – like he’d just left the office. I know this happened a few decades before I started out but I felt I had to go backwards to understand how to go forwards. This opened up to me how underplaying your personality gives focus to the work itself.”

Of course, there are several mountains’ worth of material which have indirectly had an impact on Void and when asked which three records she’s most in awe of, she claims, quite reasonably, that she “can’t do it in three”. However, Glenn Branca’s ‘The Ascension’, ‘A’ by Pan Sonic and ‘Endless Summer’ by Fennesz are up there. 

“‘The Ascension’ drowns in the power of the guitar and when I first heard it, I felt the sense of frustration against tradition,” says Void of why she rates it. “It’s aggressive in nature, but retains the beauty in its order. It’s timeless, and its melting of genres makes it out of the box. It totally shook up my idea of guitar playing and made me aware I could ‘own it’ at a time when I was about to give it up.” 

As for ‘A’, it’s Pan Sonic’s refusal of the hierarchical ordering of sounds that most appeals. 

“Every sound has an important role within the spatial positioning,” she explains. “‘A’ gives off a unity vibe with raw content and somehow translates as a very different record when played at high and low volumes in different situations – it’s so versatile.” 

‘Endless Summer’, meanwhile, strikes a “perfect balance” that’s typical of Fennesz’s work.

“Electronics and computer music merged with acoustic and electric guitar deliver a language unique to Christian Fennesz,” says Void. “It’s one of those records whose content is so poignant you can’t get it out of your head but you can’t exactly hum it, either. It’s emotional and I never tire of listening to it.”

If the past is illuminating and the present a prime mover in Nik Colk Void’s methodology, then the future is her driver. With the release of her solo debut album, she’s already engaged with several new projects, including an album with Klara Lewis. It’s been in process for four years, but is now in its final stages and will be released on Editions Mego as per Rehberg’s original schedule. There’s also an album with Alexander Tucker, as Brood X Cycles, which is due in the summer, and more recording with Factory Floor is on the cards. 

Away from music, after five years on a waiting list, Void recently secured a studio space near her home and has painted it, ready to start work on her art again. 

“I really like the idea of taking ‘Bucked Up Space’ to the visual level,” she enthuses. “And I’m quite excited about coming back to my sculpture-making roots.”

By any measure, that’s the itinerary of one extremely industrious artist. 

“Well, you know – it’s what I do,” laughs Void.

‘Bucked Up Space’ is out on Editions Mego 

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