Born in Frankfurt, Markus learned several musical instruments from his grandfather, a conductor – incl. piano, guitar, drums, percussions and, most prominently, accordion. In 1983, Nikolai gave up this instrument and found his first EBM/industrial band Whetzon Churchill. The group performed regularly in Frankfurt area, and played a concert at a small venue No Name, where a legendary weekly Techno Club party was held. Nikolai also started DJ'ing in 1986-87.
In 1992, Thomas Franzmann (mostly known as Zip) joined one of Markus' bands Bigod 20 (which also included Front 242 vocalist Jean-Luc De Meyer), and their collaboration ends up being of the most resourceful and symbiotic for the artist. In the mid-nineties, along with graphic artist Chris Rehberger, the trio founded audio-visual project Pile, an experiment in melding music, graphic design, philosophy, film and architecture. In 1997, they released Modern album on Sony/Epic and 2 years later the group toured in Europe as part of Daimler Chrysler futuristic art exhibition Lab 0.1. Later that year, Markus and Zip launched their own label, Perlon.
Markus also contributes to countless other projects, including Florida (14) with Thomas Brinkmann, Darren (8) with Chris Rehberger, Pico Rocco with Max Loderbauer from Sun Electric. He also started the band Morane with acoustic musician Theo Krieger and Annika Müller de Vries. From 1998 through 2000, Markus hosted the Peak Club on Sundays in Frankfurt.
Apart from his musical activities, Nikolai is also an optometrist, owner of MarkusNikolaiOptic stores and his own design company MarkusNikolaiEyewear.