Colours of the Culture
On a late summer night, Bullitt Bar is mobbed with bodies rigidly avoiding contact. The air is heavy. At the end of the bar, a DJ fidgets. Then Niko Is bounds out and throws an arm around a guy who’s just joined him onstage. Niko Is lifts his arm and it’s like we’re all strung to his fingers. We collectively pull toward him. With an easy stage presence and this mad-charming bounce, he opens into his first song while laser lights attempt to compete with his natural electricity. The room responds, dancing freely with fluid gratitude. The rapper jokes and thanks his imaginary band from his new position in the crowd. Everyone laughs with him. It’s joyful in that room, pungent with the kind of camaraderie that makes a lonely onlooker press his nose up to the glass. That’s how an atmosphere transitions when Niko Is combusts a scene with his pop-up shows. A Niko Is show isn’t typically on the books. There are no books – just whatever storyline he wants to feed Orlando on any given night.
“I get autonomy,” Niko Is says of performing in offbeat locales like Reilly’s Pub and Bullitt Bar. “I get to do whatever the fuck I want. I don’t have to answer to nobody. I could throw a show the night before and have a random band, play with people that I’ve never played with. And I love that. It’s real freeing to just do whatever the fuck you want and not have to follow a script. A lot of these other venues, they don’t really care about community. I don’t blame them! Community doesn’t pay the bills. But it does, eventually. You see places that have been about community, like a Will’s Pub, maybe even Tanqueray’s. They embrace the local artists and they’re all about it. It’s not just, let’s make money.”