A DJ, producer and actor from Lisburn, Northern Ireland, Kristian Nairn is renowned locally and internationally in the field of music and performance. Widely recognized for his portrayal of the lovable and loyal “Hodor” on HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones, Nairn has been DJing and producing for over a decade. He has held down a residency for eleven years at Kremlin, one of Ireland’s most popular and enduring venues. Nairn is looking to build on the success of is past singles, “Up/Beacon (feat. Leanne Robinson)” and “4Love (feat. Salt Ashes)” with his latest release titled “Bigger,” which just dropped August 11th via Radikal Records. Have a listen embedded below.
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Sean Ritchie: Let’s start it off touching on your hometown of Lisburn. What really stands out and is special about the city itself, as well as Northern Ireland as a whole? Where would you send a first-time visitor to get a real sense of the land?
Kristian Nairn: Lisburn used to be a town on the outskirts of Belfast, and in recent years it was made into a city of its own. I was born there in the Lagan Valley Hospital. I’ve lived there all my life, really. It’s in the Lagan Valley, which has the local River Lagan [that starts] in Belfast. The area is set on the banks of that river. It was a town that was heavily influenced by the industry, which was linen and flax. People came over from France and set up huge businesses around Lisburn. So, that’s where all the history is there. There’s quite a lot regarding that. I love being home, man. I love the Irish sense of humor. I love the climate. I’m not into hot weather and I don’t mind cold, but it’s such a moderate climate there. The people make me feel so much at home. I always love to go home.
© Giuseppe Milo
SR: It sounds like a wonderful place.
KN: It is! It’s very beautiful. One good thing about Game of Thrones is it’s really shined a spotlight on how beautiful it is. A lot of people thought it was filmed in New Zealand or South Africa, but no, it was NI. For such a small country, we have beautiful coastlines, mountains and lakes. We’ve got a tone of historical castles. There’s also Giant’s Causeway, which is a world heritage site.
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There’s a really cool place, it’s not NI, but it’s just south of the border. It’s called Newgrange, which is located in Drogheda. It’s a burial ground that was built way before Christ, and during the summer or winter equinox, the sun shines right down into the center of this burial chamber. I don’t know how they did that in those days. You can go right down into this tomb — really worth the visit. I would recommend that Giant’s causeway and Newgrange be the first two things that you see.
© Dave Gunn
SR: That sounds fantastic! My family is actually from Waterford. I’ve never been, but I’ve seen pictures and have an idea of the area’s beauty. Now, what was your first real exposure to music? How did you get inspired to create your own and eventually pursue it as part of your career?
KN: My mother. She forced me to play the piano when I was a child. She realized that it would be a really good foundation for other instruments. I enjoyed playing and I took to it very quickly. For some reason, I could always pick up other instruments very quickly after that. It was a really good foundation for a musical career. As I got better and better, and older and older, it became a way of life.
I couldn’t really imagine doing anything that wasn’t connected to music. I wasn’t sensible as a teenager. I didn’t really spread my interests to other things. People always say, “Don’t put your eggs in one basket.” But, I just knew I would be working in music or entertainment. There was no other way for me. So, I funneled all my energy into that. It’s seemed to have paid off in the end, although it wasn’t an immediate thing. I had to have patience. I’m definitely glad I hung in there.
SR: The things that mean something always take time. It’s great to see all that hard work pay off. I’m definitely a fan of your music. Touching on your latest release, the sizable track “Bigger” on Radikal Records, how excited are you for it to be out? What was your thought process behind it? I know it’s been out a short while, but how’s it been received so far?
KN: I really wanted to create a track that reflects my set at the moment. I loved the tracks I created a few years ago, but I haven’t really played them in my set. That didn’t feel right, so I created “Bigger”. It took a while. We fused together different types of music until we found a sound that was cohesive. I found a formula that I can now take, use and expand for other tracks, as well. I now have a formula that I can follow and it’s my own sound. That’s really important.
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It’s been received really well, actually. I’ve been surprised. It’s been incredible watching people react to it. I have two tracks of my own that I’m playing at the moment, and they’ve turned out to be two of the biggest tracks of the night. No one knows their actually mine either, which is a gratifying feeling. Watching people lose their [minds] and not knowing it’s mine is a good feeling. I can’t think of any better feeling actually. It’s such a contrast to sitting in a darkened studio for days on end, then all of a sudden you’re in a sweaty club.
SR: I can imagine the time and effort sitting behind the scenes when no one is watching. I bet that right there makes playing it in the clubs that much better. On a broader level, how does music and travel really compliment and go hand-in-hand with each other?
KN: It pays off! I sometimes view travel in a philosophical way. I think travel has really expanded my horizons. I think it’s really important. Sometimes, I get really restless when I travel and music really keeps me sane. It helps me realize the emotions I’m feeling when traveling. I have go-to tracks that will make me feel better if I’m in a certain type of place. If I’m in Iceland viewing some beautiful scenery, I’ll have a soundtrack for that. I have different soundtracks for all different locations.
SR: I’m the same way when I visit certain locations. Now, into your personal travels a bit. When you do have some downtime and are looking to get away, are you more of a beach guy or are you looking more for adventure in a city?
KN: I’m definitely a mountains getaway guy. I do like the beach. Sometimes I crave a beach holiday, but I don’t tend to take them [often]. I did a gig in Iceland a couple of months ago just to go there again, and the minute I left I wanted to go back. It’s just the most beautiful place with fantastic scenery. The people are incredibly friendly. I just felt at home there. It felt like a very cleansing place. I crave going back there. That’s going to be my next holiday, I think. It won’t be an adventure type of holiday, but one where I’ll be able to get my thoughts together.
© Kamil Porembiński
SR: With the schedule that you have you really need some debriefing time. One of our core objectives at SCP is to bring people together while traveling. Not only to influence people to see and appreciate our beautiful world, but to help minimize cross-cultural divides. That has a lot of parallels with music itself. You’re constantly bringing people from all walks of life together in one location. Talk about how special it is to have the power of gathering people together under one roof.
KN: Yes, decompression is essential. What you just asked is incredibly important. I had kind of thought the club scene had lost that recently. I was just seeing the same people coming out all the time, and people not exploring different types of music. But, since I’ve started Rave of Thrones, one of the things I love most about it was that people who liked the show, who wouldn’t necessarily be dance-music fans, were coming out. They would dress up as their favorite character. I think dance music makes people let their barriers down. It’s so gratifying to see so many people from all walks of life together. At the end of the night they are all sweaty from dancing together. They don’t care about anything else. After these shows I’ll receive tweets and messages from fans saying, “I’m not a dance music fan, but you’ve changed my mind about it.” That makes me feel really good.
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SR: That’s so great to hear. That ties into my next question. I wanted to touch on “Game of Thrones” for a quick second. Looking past the show increasing your fame directly, has it helped your music career in other ways? Maybe collaboration opportunities with some of the other musically-inclined actors from the show?
KN: I haven’t really gone down that path. There are musicians on the show. There are quite a few talented people in that respect actually. I haven’t even thought of it to be honest. Apart from Rave of Thrones, which is obviously a huge tie in, I wanted to keep it separate. I can’t imagine having Daenerys [Targaryen] on lead vocals. It’s kind of an alien notion. She’s a talented singer though, I believe.
SR: I hear you there, maybe one day. When you are relaxing during your downtime, are you listening to dance music or do you prefer to switch it up? If so, to what?
KN: That’s the weird thing. When I’m not DJing I don’t listen to dance music. But, when I’m off on holiday for two weeks or so, that’s when I’ll start to listen to music again. I just need to have a break from it. I listen to all sorts of stuff, but mostly electronic. I like very atmospheric/keyboardy sort of techno. It wouldn’t necessarily be house music. In fact, it definitely won’t be house music. I like sort of satellite or space music. I can’t really quantify it.
SR: I always love to ask well-traveled people if they have a list of places they haven’t been to, but want to see. Do you have a few on your list that you still want to hit?
KN: It’s getting smaller. Tokyo was one of my last ones, but I got there [two weeks ago]. I would like to go to Brazil — haven’t been there yet. That’s a big one. I’d also like to go to Argentina. I haven’t done much in South America. I’ve been there, but I haven’t don’t much. I’d like to go to Antarctica. Although it’s not a tourist destination, I’d like to go there. I would like to see Greenland, as well. I like very unspoiled places.
© Andre Castilho
SR: Lastly, you have a lineup of shows that currently stretches to mid-October. What are you looking forward to for those specifically? Anything else on the horizon you’d like to highlight?
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KN: I’m looking forward to them all. I have a gig coming up in Ibiza that I’m super excited about. It’s my first one in Ibiza. I’ve never been there before, and I’ve always said, “The first time I go I’ll be playing.” It’s come true! That’s a big bucket-list thing for me. It’s just going to be insanity for the next couple of months, but I’m super grateful. I really am. It’s nice to be so busy.
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For more on Kristian Nairn visit his website: