Nicole Moudaber on the EDM Ritual: "Dancing Is the Oldest Form of Expression"
Nicole Moudaber is a veritable cultural force, a fearless revolutionary.
She was organizing the very first electronic dance music parties that the Lebanese capital of Beirut saw in the years following its horrific civil war. It was a dangerous time for anyone, let alone a woman pushing a Western music scene emblematic of hedonism and personal freedom.
Of course, these days Moudaber calls the dance music capital of London home. And dubbed the Queen of Techno, she reigns over dance floors across the globe.
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Nicole Moudaber's new debut artist album Believe just dropped on Adam Beyer's iconic Drumcode imprint. And lucky for us, she will also be stopping by Mansion on Thursday as part of her North American album release tour. So we caught up with the Queen of Techno herself ahead of this week's gig to talk about her early days in the Beirut scene, the spiritual power of dance music, and her new album.
Crossfade: How did you first get drawn to electronic dance music and specifically techno? What was the moment that really turned you on to that style of music?
Nicole Moudaber: New York at Tunnel and Twilo. I had an "a-ha moment" and I've been hooked since -- I've been chasing that feeling I had since my first night. I produce for it and play for it. House, techno, and anything in between is where home is for me. I'm known for my techno, but I produce deeper stuff too. I'm not boxed in one style -- my album reflects that. I do have a better hold on techno, though. I understand it very well.
What was the electronic dance music scene like in mid-'90s Beirut, following the civil war, when you were first throwing parties? Do you think that the war and social turmoil drove people's disposition for good times and the escapism of dance music?
It was challenging yet liberating when I first threw a party in Beirut. I had all the support from the city. They needed to promote tourism again. And people like us, offering new ideas, were quickly embraced. One magical thing happened that night: we danced together all night, from all walks of life and backgrounds. Muslim, Christian, Druze, and Jews in one parking lot in the ruined city.
You famously threw your first Beirut parties next to the site of a bombed-out mosque and cathedral. One can't help but picture this scene of post-apocalyptic techno revelry. And in a way, it almost seems symbolic of the way electronic dance music has become a post-religious spiritual communal experience for people. As a DJ playing for thousands of people at a time, do you see that sort of transcendental effect of the music on people?
All the time. In intimate venues and festivals alike, the core of this ritual is constant. The party I threw in Beirut was chosen specifically around the mosque and the cathedral, both damaged and in ruins. We symbolically put our energies back into them. We lit them and blasted a 50,000-watt sound system, open air and under the stars. We had over a thousand people that night -- quite euphoric actually. I experience this in every show and every city. Besides, dancing is the oldest form of expression -- very spiritual and powerful.
What prompted you to move to London? And how has your time there shaped you as an artist? What have been some of the most influential aspects of the culture and music scene there for you?
A major incident happened to me while promoting parties in Beirut. I got summoned to leave a deposition one morning about a party I did. A mixed crowd showed up that night, around Halloween. Obviously, everyone got dressed outrageously, which wasn't a favorable moment for many radicals who witnessed it -- they came undercover with press. That event really put a bad taste in my mouth. We had different visions about cultural ideas, and I decided it wasn't a place for me anymore because of all the political turmoil involved at the time.
I had a label running already in London with a partner of mine, it was a great time to leave and focus on that. Consequently, I got hooked up with a club, Turnmills in London, and had a deal for five years -- monthly parties in this legendary institution. London always felt like home. I finished my university years there and have a strong affinity for the city. The best moments of my life were in that club. My creative abilities were allowed to run free, in the sense that I was programming the whole night musically and breaking a lot of DJs along the way too. I remember when I gave Paco Osuna his first gig in London on my night.
You've had a fruitful relationship with dance music legend Carl Cox. How did you first hook up with him? What did he impart to your as an artist and industry professional?
He picked me up and showed me to the world. It began when he discovered my music -- he played and supported me on his weekly global radio show. After that, I began regular appearances at his weekly nights at Space in Ibiza. I released EPs on his label Intec. One remix I did for him was of his track "Chemistry" that won me an IDMA in Miami 2012 for Best Minimal/Techno track. The fact he noticed me early on in my career definitely impacted the quick rise that followed. He's also a friend, he's always there when I need him. I can pick up the phone whenever I'm in distress, he's always there to listen, guide, and advise me. He's a true gem.
Above all electronic dance music genres and scenes, techno remains very male-dominated. There's this enduring stereotype of techno fans being all cerebral, cliquey dudes. Why do you think that is? Did you personally find it challenging to gain acceptance as a woman in that scene, and especially in a chauvinistic Arab culture?
Not anymore, I don't think. I see a lot of girls on my floor, all over the world. The kids are more open-minded and are there to learn. It's a bit techy, industrial to some, and very intelligent to many. Techno is a state of mind, it is a genre that can be listened to without drugs. As for the chauvinistic Arabs, I've castrated them a long time ago.
What can you tell us about your new debut long player Believe? What was the concept behind the album and what was the creative process like during production? Did you approach it as just collection of tracks? Or is there a narrative theme underlining it?
Believe is very personal, like any artist album. I had my highs and lows while in the making of it. Every title in there is a certain period in my life. The lows were having to deal with my father's illness and consequently the loss. There's anger, love, melancholy, and aggressive feelings reflected on the album. 2012 was very tumultuous for me. My career was heating up and I had to deal with loss at the same time -- it wasn't an easy ride. The outcome turned out to be very creative and artistic.
How did you first hook up with Adam Beyer and the Drumcode label? How did you guys end up collaborating together on the single "Take Hold" from the album?
We've been in touch for some time. I love his vibe and his take on techno. We were discussing a collaboration for a while and only got around it during the album's process. Having this venture on my album is amazing to say the least. There are plans to do more together during the summer, and we're playing a lot together worldwide now. He's a real purist and very inspiring. I love working with him.
So what else can fans expect from you in 2013?
I'm organizing a Drumcode beach party this summer in Ibiza, at the end of August, as well as many shows around the island. My label MOOD is gearing up for some great releases so far. I have Stacey Pullen, Anja Schneider, Guti, and Gary Beck to name a few onboard. Also plans to collaborate with Carl Cox on MOOD. Exciting times.
Nicole Moudaber. Presented by Kontrol. Thursday, May 9. Mansion, 1235 Washington Ave. Miami Beach. The party starts at 11 p.m. and tickets cost $15 plus fees via wantickets.com. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-695-8411 or visit mansionmiami.com.
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