DJ Kristian Nairn is an imposing figure. At seven feet tall, he could command the stage with his sheer stature alone, but this tatted up, burly Northern Irishman isn't interested in commanding anything. He just wants the crowd to feel as swept away by the music as he so clearly is in his booth, swaying and towering over his console.
"There's no point in being there if people aren't enjoying themselves," Nairn told MTV News before his outdoor set at Waterfront Park in San Diego, California, last month.
Though most people probably know him as Hodor on the HBO epic Game of Thrones — including the crowd of twentysomethings in costumes chanting "hold the door!" in the park — Nairn has been DJ'ing for over two decades. He's a prolific musician, having studied both music and acting in college. "I've always known Kristian as the go-to guy for music advice," Game of Thrones star Isaac Hempstead Wright told MTV News. "He's not just a gimmicky DJ who's in a show. He's actually a very talented musician."
Nairn's passion for music started early. He began piano lessons at age 3. His mother was determined to turn her son into a piano prodigy. "I'm really grateful that she did," Nairn said. "It was a great foundation for everything else."
After piano came guitar. (And a keen interest in Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals.) For Nairn, the guitar was his first great love. It was the instrument that ultimately convinced him to pursue a career in music.
"I was quite a shy teenager, and I would express myself through my music," he said. "I'd spend hours and hours in my bedroom learning how to play the guitar. That's how I spent my teenage years. It was a profound way of communicating for me."
Nairn's fascination with music, especially its construction, is how the once-shy Irish teenager eventually found himself DJ'ing at Ireland's "biggest gay night club" as a young adult. "It's all the same feeling for me," he said when asked why he gave up a career as a touring guitarist for a DJ booth. At Kremlin, a progressive gay club in Belfast, he honed his DJ skills as drag performer DJ Revlonn.
It's there that Nairn found his sound. He describes it as "forward-thinking" house music. "I like my pianos," he said. "I like my big basslines and tribal drums. I'll always be a house-head."
Even his grueling shoot schedule for Game of Thrones couldn't keep him away from DJ'ing. During the earlier seasons, he'd often arrive at the Belfast set of the fantasy drama having just left the night club scene a few hours before. "It was really rough, but I had to do it," he said. "I couldn't give up being a DJ. It's part of me. When I don't do it for a week or two weeks, I start to feel a bit weird."
So, no, Nairn's not what some might call a celebrity DJ. For him, it's not a hobby or an easy paycheck. It never has been. He lives and breaths the music, and it shows when you watch him at work — twisting knobs and checking levels while lost in the euphoric trance of the pulsating beat. This is Nairn in his purest form, his soul tethered to the music.
"I pride myself on feeling free all the time," he said. "I go on a little journey in my head when I'm on stage. I'm not one of the DJs who poses for the camera. I'm in a trance. The music takes me to a magical kingdom in my head."
At 41 years old, Nairn might be a little older than your average DJ, but he's not slowing down any time soon. In fact, he's just getting started. He's currently traveling across the U.S. with his Rave of Thrones set — it's hard to believe that Nairn once balked at the idea of auditioning for Thrones — and he just dropped the music video for his new original house track "Bigger" via Radikal Records. It's a loud and upfront single, a perfect compliment to Nairn's career.
"If something's written on my tombstone," he said, "it will be that I wasn't scared to take chances."