Local Music Through a Local Lens

Inside First Wave: Niko Hagen

Madtown Lowdown | Maura Curtis | April 11, 2016

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Photographer, local music aficionado, and recent First Wave Scholarship Winner: ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce UW junior, Nikolai “Niko” Hagen.

_NBH4187-2Through the lens of his Sony a7s, Niko captures the stories of local musicians, but has also snapped the attention of UW-Madison’s Office of Multicultural Arts Initiative (OMAI). As a recipient of OMAI’s First Wave Scholarship, Niko will receive a full-tuition scholarship for his passion and achievements in photography and videography. This program also offers classes meant exclusively for First Wavers and pairs them with advisors and faculty to guide them towards their highest creative potential. First Wave students can participate in Madison’s longest running open-mic, “Just Bust” that occurs on the first Friday of every month and a week long festival, “Line Breaks,” including performances, lectures, and discussions by First Wave students.

The OMAI is supported by its three pillars: academics, arts, and activism. The First Wave Scholarship winners are held to the highest standards in all of these areas. Their mission is “to provide innovative, culturally relevant hip-hop art programs to inspire engagement, learning, and activism for diverse communities.” The First Wave Learning Community is also the first university program in the country focused on urban arts, spoken word, and hip-hop culture.

OMAI’s website summarizes the learning community perfectly: “Bringing together young artists and leaders from across the United States and beyond,
the First Wave Learning Community offers students the opportunity to live, study and create together in a close-knit, dynamic campus community.”

The opportunities that First Wave provides to UW students are obviously bountiful, but Niko explained that he looks forward to the people this community will expose him to the most

“I think it will have a tremendous impact on me because of the various cultural differentiation within First Wave.”

_NBH1588Niko, a communication arts major on the radio, TV, and film track, initially applied to the scholarship because he was introduced to several students, through photography, that were already involved in First Wave. He submitted a portfolio consisting of his photos and a video, along with the required four short essay responses. Not surprisingly, OMAI was impressed with his work and offered him the prestigious scholarship. Niko’s relationship with his camera first developed about a year ago, when he began taking photos seriously, and has been contributing to Madison’s, and even the Midwest’s art-scene, ever since.

“Originally, I was scared of shooting people because I wasn’t sure about my skill set, but I like to capture what somebody does. I like to tell a story about somebody.”

Niko’s photography and videography is focused on the often underappreciated, but promising talent of local musicians. (Check out a music video he directed for Minneapolis area Hip-Hop artist, Lucien Parker’s song, “Why So Serious.”) In the future, he hopes to use his skills to continue to take photos, direct music videos, and even films if he has the opportunity.

“There are so many artists in the Midwest that inspire me. The people near me that are getting recognition and watching them work is really inspiring to me.”

Niko is currently touring with Madison musician Mic Kellogg (listen to his song, “Breakfast (Intro)” and go to his Soundcloud account-he’s cool), as his go-to-photog. This tour has brought Niko all around the Midwest and even as far as Memphis, Tennessee. His favorite experience so far was a recent weekend trip to Chicago, where he experienced a professional-level recording studio first hand.

His images and videos reflect this mission to capture local talent. His “clean (in most scenarios) and always truthful” aesthetic more than effectively tells the stories of his subjects. Check out some of his most recent photos and follow him on Instagram (@nikolaihagen) to see for yourselves!


Photos courtesy of Nikolai Hagen