Dance

20 Questions With Nicole Moudaber: The Techno Legend on the Causes Most Important To Her

Nicole Moudaber
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Nicole Moudaber

Even while off the road during the pandemic, Nicole Moudaber has a lot going on.

Currently running her empire from Bali, on Friday (Mar. 5) the techno legend released a two-track EP, The Volume, a sinewy, seductive affair featuring vocals from Miami underground icon Alan T and out via her own Mood Records. Moudaber's International Women's Day show --  featuring her favorite music by female artists including Sevdaliza, Rosalia, TSHA,  Logic1000, Lauren Flax, ANZ and Peaches -- is live now ahead of the holiday. This weekend, Moudaber will also perform as part of dance legend Danny Tenaglia's 60th anniversary livestream event, which also features David Guetta, Seth Troxler, Blond:ish, Sasha and more.

In the midst of orchestrating these events, Moudaber took some time to talk with Billboard about her origins in Africa, the female-centric cause closest to her heart and the enduring excellence of her friend and mentor Carl Cox.

1. Where are you in the world right now, and what's the setting like?

I’m currently in Bali, and the setting is magical. I wish that I could show you where I’m at right now – I’m in the middle of the rice fields surrounded by green and an amazing tropical pool. There’s a mini Komodo dragon roaming around the garden that I say hi to every morning when I’m having my coffee.

2. What is the first album or piece of music you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?

Well, I think it was Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense by Fela Kuti. I was in Nigeria – where I was born, in Ibadan – listening to Afrobeat, lots of rhythmic music. Fela Kuti is a legend and a God in West Africa. That’s all we used to listen to; a lot of funk and soul. Fela Kuti made an impression on me because he was very political and against the system. It’s funny looking back because I think that he made a stamp on who I am now as I always go against authority. That’s who I am -- only dead fish go with the flow!

3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid, and what do they think of what you do for a living now?

I come from a traditional background. My family’s business was in Nigeria and still is. My father, who passed away, was there for 68 years and built his manufacturing and construction business, which is the total opposite of what I do. I studied combined social sciences in London, which also would’ve been a traditional career path, but I did a 180 when I discovered the artist in me on a dancefloor in New York. They weren’t happy with the career choice I made at a later stage in my life. They weren’t happy with me at all!

4. What was the first song you ever made?

The first track I ever made was a remix of “I Got Cash” by Brooklyn Funk Essentials.

5. If you had to recommend one album for someone looking to get into electronic music, what would you give them?

I think the album that most affected me was Fact by Carl Cox on React Records. That techno album is timeless. At a time where everything was trance, that one was slightly different because it had a certain groove. It was tough, it was sexy, with a bit of trance thrown in between. It wasn’t too euphoric, like the Euro trance that was popular at the time. Fact is the one.

6. What’s the first non-music gear item that you bought for yourself when you started making money as an artist?

A private jet, the PJ. And obviously, clothes. I now have a stylist and lots of clothes, lots of trainers, and all that.

7. What's the most special set you've ever played, and what made it so?

I don’t have a specific special set, but I would have to go with my nights at Output New York and Stereo Montreal. I played long sets in those gigs, with a minimum of 8-10 hours and up to 14 hours in one go. That was a revelation for me because it made me go on a journey myself. Seeing the crowd go on this journey with me and how they responded and felt the story I told on those nights made it super special.

8. What’s one song you wish you had produced?

I don’t think there’s a song I wish I had produced, to be honest!

9. What's the first electronic music show that really blew your mind?

It was in the early 2000s in Creamfields, The Chemical Brothers. That was awesome.

10. What’s distinctive about the place you grew up, and how did it shape you?

I grew up in Africa and, I don’t know, maybe I was an African queen in a past life. I have an affinity for Africa, and it certainly shaped me musically. I’m a jungle girl. I look like a jungle and I feel that in my element when I’m in the jungle, like right now, in Bali. I’m in touch with nature and Mother Earth. As I grow older, I find myself getting more and more in touch with spirituality and a higher consciousness. I think it’s approaching full circle.

11. Why is techno the greatest electronic genre of all?

I disagree. I don’t think techno is the greatest genre of all, but rather, one of the greatest. House, which started in the States, was before techno. I think all genres are amazing, so I don’t like to highlight one specific genre. Techno is trending now, but it might not be trending next year. Trends tend to come and go so quickly. Yes, techno is currently popular but who knows what’s going to be popular next year. Good music is good music, regardless of the genre.

12. Who's been your most important career mentor, and why?

Carl Cox, obviously. He put the spotlight on me, and I will forever be grateful to him. He was the one to play my records on his radio show. We played Space Ibiza together for seven consecutive years. We won an award with my remix of “Chemistry,” a drum and bass vocal record turned into a techno smash, which was No. 1 on the charts for three consecutive months – it didn’t move! We won an IDMA award for that one. That was a turning point in my career. Carl Cox. Oh yes, oh yes.

13. Your In The Mood brand is famous in the dance world. What gets you "in the mood" to play a show?

Tough question. I don’t know what gets me in the mood, it depends. My mood swings from day to day. The mood of a show depends on my state of mind at the time. Usually before a show, I try to stay silent for 20 minutes to “get in the zone”.

14. And then how do you wind down after?

I usually feel very high after a show, so it takes me an hour or two to wind down. Nothing beats a spliff coupled with a spiritual podcast on the way back to my hotel room, because the buzz is so strong after playing.

15. You partnered with Eleven to raise awareness and money around Female Genital Mutilation. Why is this cause important to you?

Anything related to women is important to me. It speaks to me. When I was in university, I had a minor in Women’s Studies and took a class where we learned about this horrific practice that occurs in certain parts of the world. It horrified me when I was younger, of course, but not as much as it did recently. Four years ago, I encountered that subject again when I was passively watching CNN. I was in the kitchen and I heard a child screaming so I ran to check out what was playing, and it was a documentary about FGM. I stood in front of the TV in my room and found myself screaming along with that girl. I felt her pain. It just threw me off. I was shocked and speechless and felt the need to raise my voice because these girls don’t have a voice. There are 200 million girls in North and West Africa that undergo this cultural practice, and it’s appalling. I wanted to shine a light on this subject and help the girls however I could.

It’s unfortunately an ongoing situation. In many Western parts of the world – the U.S., the UK, etc. – it’s against the law to practice this, yet families still do it under the radar, and it needs to stop. It’s insane. It’s like cutting off a finger – why would anyone want to do this to a woman? These communities compare it to circumcision but it’s not the same at all. Men still feel sexual pleasure even if they’re circumcised, but when you remove that part from a female’s body, they can’t feel anything. It makes my blood boil.

16. What's been the hardest part of being off the road during this time? The best part?

The hardest part is pulling the rug out from under your feet, feeling the oxygen being taken away from you. I was in such a catatonic state during the first three months of the lockdown; it almost felt like I was going through a withdrawal. I knew that this was going to carry on for a while when everything started to crumble in March. I even remember telling my tour manager that it was no joke. Everybody thought that it was going to blow over in a couple of weeks, so they were partying and doing booze and drugs and having a laugh. I was depressed early on, because I knew that it wasn’t a simple matter. Then, when reality finally hit everybody three months later, I came out of my depression and they fell into a depression.

However, like everything else, people eventually get conditioned and get used to living a certain way. I think the best part of it – a year later - is that I’m living at a slower pace now. I didn’t realize it before, but my life was so fast paced during the past eight years. It took me a year to recalibrate and get into a slower pace. I’m sleeping better, I’m making more music, and I’m watching all the series that I missed… that’s the good part! I’m looking up rather than down at my phone. I got in touch with my spirituality on a deeper level, which is a good thing. I could go on forever.

17. What's the best business decision you've made during your career?

To trust my ears, my heart, and my intuition. They never fail. That is the best decision: not to compromise, not to follow trends, and to stick to my guns. How many DJs are playing the same sound over and over again? Predictable techno with repetitive bass stabs and acid lines. We’ve had enough of that already! We had it in the '80s and '90s, during rave times, and now we’re flooded with the same bass line, the same acid line. Can you be a little more creative here? Get some groove going on. Shake that ass. Flick that hair. Be sexy. From the waist down rather than headbanging and putting your hands up in the air. Enough already!

18. What's one thing you'd like your fans to know about you?

Where do I start? That I love them very much. That I wouldn’t be here without them. That I feel their passion. I think my fanbase is as passionate and spiritual as me. They’re very loyal and have been with me for eight years now and counting. My radio show has 15 million listeners a week on 97 FM stations around the world, and the list is growing. My fanbase is as real as me. I feel it, I see it, and I think they know everything about me! I am a warrior; I don’t take shit from anyone; I stand my ground; I fight for the weak and for what’s right. I’ve got so much love in my heart.

Being someone like me is very difficult because I have very high standards and it’s tough to meet them sometimes. I’m very demanding because I’m a perfectionist. However, I have a lot of love to give, and I give it to my fans. They’re my babies!

19. One piece of advice you'd give to aspiring producers?

Don’t copy anyone. Follow your heart and your ears. You don’t have to blindly follow what everyone else is doing like sheep. If everybody is doing acid techno and you don’t like acid techno, don’t force yourself to do it just because it’s what’s trending right now. Follow your heart. Follow the chakra. You’ll prevail. We’re all unique in our ways so develop what makes you unique. Don’t listen to the noise outside of your realm.

20. One piece of advice you'd give to your younger self?

Girl… everything is going to be okay. When you’re young, your hormones are popping. You listen to and care about what everyone around you says and you get concerned. You get caught up in all of the BS. I would say to myself: “Everything is going to fall into place. Just do your thing. Everything is going to be okay. Trust in the universe.”