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Photo by Hunter Hansen

NIKU: The black sheep of pop rock

By Sheroog Kubur, September 30 2022

Living in Calgary means you become painfully acquainted with the Western-ness that permeates through it — from a week dedicated to honouring the history of rodeos to our stadium in the shape of a horse’s saddle. For local pop rockers NIKU, the country twang of their hometown isn’t a nuisance but an opportunity to distinguish themselves in the music scene. 

Frontman Hunter Hansen admits the band’s inspiration comes from various 90s and 00s grunge rock bands, mixing in pop elements to create a pop rock sound. However, this sound is disturbed with the introduction of western elements — like guitarist Erik Jurgen’s playing that is reminiscent of an acoustic guitar, Connor Muth’s drums sounding like high-energy blues or Hansen’s vocals sounding more like a cowboy-hat wearing buckaroo than the traditional strident voice of pop rock bands. 

“We were able to grasp all those things and bring it together — we have some stuff with a bit of a twang to it but it’s still fast paced guitars and has the rocky grungy vibe to it,” said Hansen about the band’s sound. “The simplicity of our song structure and the playfulness of music, the honesty of the lyrics — it’s honest pop rock music.” 

These elements make the band so uniquely Calgarian — no other group in any other city could have possibly brought these two worlds together, yet, at the same time no Calgary-based band has done it before. The band is different, but in a way that makes you want to hear more.

NIKU is a fairly young band, making their first appearance in 2019. The band was born from another, initially starting as a garage-band project for Hansen. As more familiar faces joined the band, the group was able to find its colour and get the ball rolling. Hansen isn’t the only songwriter of the group but admits to taking the reins in some aspects of the creative process — writing songs and bringing them to the others to help bring them to life. 

“I wear my heart on my sleeve a little bit — I talk a lot about personal experience, whether it’s heartache or anger,” Hansen said about the songwriting process. 

Hansen and bassist Jordie Potekal both write music for the band and collaborate frequently on the songs. Aside from this connection, both have agreed that the corporate life of Calgary doesn’t suit them very well and use their music as an outlet to express their feelings of being outcasts. 

“Growing up in Calgary and being someone who didn’t really keep up with the corporate rush in this city — I was always a bit of a black sheep in my surroundings and growing up,” Hansen said about the inspiration behind the songs. 

For those who aren’t in tune with the local music scene and looking to find a gateway, NIKU is the perfect place to start. They relish in the folk roots that exist throughout the city while carving their own pathway. If you’re interested in pop rock or are curious about the range of music Calgary has to offer, NIKU is the way to go. 

“Calgary has a lot of great bands and it’s a goal to bring people who are outside of that music community in and create an appreciation for local music,” said Hansen about what he wants listeners to take away from their music. 

This peculiar mix will be on full display in NIKU’s self-titled debut album releasing Sept. 23. Despite the tragedy that struck in 2020 that made live music and promotion impossible in their early days, they persevered to the point where they are able to not only release the album, but also a headlining show at the Palomino Steakhouse on the same night. If you miss that show, they can be found opening for The Beaches on Oct 28, playing at Dickens Pub on Nov. 11 and the Ship & Anchor Pub on Nov. 23. 

Sheroog’s Recommendation: “Waking Up” to understand exactly what it means to be pop rock with a country twang.

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