Like all gigging DJs, Nicole Moudaber was blindsided by the pandemic in 2020.
Not only were her touring opportunities put on pause, but with the global virus taking its tragic toll, creative motivation was at an all-time low. For “The Queen of Techno,” playing or producing music wasn’t her top priority.
Nonetheless, as the lockdown moved on, DJs re-adjusted to the new normal. And DJs, being the hustlers they are, found new ways to remain noticed, if not fully active. Many took to Twitch and began live-streaming – some creating new profiles, some simply renewing their brands. Others, embracing the pause, hit the studio with a new ferocity. Re-engaging took different forms.
For the London-bound Moudaber, it was maintaining her wildly popular “In the MOOD” weekly radio program that kept her tethered to DJing during the lockdown. And crucially, it gave her an outlet for her evolving musical tastes, which had expanded beyond kick-drum-dominated techno. The show, which has now clocked in more than 400 episodes since its 2014 debut, started to include a musical stew that embraced, in Moudaber’s words, “vocal deep-house to drum-n-bass to Afro-house to trance.” Put another way, she was stepping out of the techno sandbox for a bit of diversity.
Another blessing for Moudaber’s outlook was a much-needed holiday on the island of Bali. Her energies replenished there in Southeast Asia, and especially so with a DJ gig that, she says, re-affirmed her commitment to music and the gathering of people. Ultimately, this was her purpose, she realized, and she was ready to embrace it fully.
Her epiphany in Bali recalls another eureka moment she experienced nearly 23 years ago. Before becoming an international DJ, the Nigerian-born/Lebanese-bred Moudaber was a promoter of DJ-led events in London and Beirut, but her long-range career plans weren’t yet solidified. It was during a 1999 visit to New York that she caught a set by Danny Tenaglia at The Tunnel… and she saw the light. “It really reached me on a deep level,” she recalls. “It was a turning point in my life. I was supposed to get a traditional job… and I completely turned to the other side… the artist was discovered in me.”
Since then, she’s released dozens of tracks and remixes. She’s founded her MOOD Recordings label and, of course, the In the MOOD radio program. She’s played at nearly every major international festival and some of the greatest nightclubs in the world. Her sets can be fiery, percussive affairs with tuned-in audiences that are deeply committed to her and her music – a rare thing.
And now, nearly two years since the pandemic began to rage, she’s back playing gigs wherever her fans are allowed to gather. On March 25, during Miami Music Week, she’ll host a special In the Mood event that will include a stout line-up – Louie Vega, Carl Craig, Paco Osuna. Additionally, she’ll be supporting a slew of recent releases that include her recent techno banger, “What Was,” and her tech-house remix of Anthony Piacquadio’s “Flooty.”
Here’s a recent discussion we had with the one-and-only Nicole Moudaber.
DJ LIFE MAG: We last caught up just as the lockdown was beginning in early 2020. At the time, you were cooped up in London, alarmed at the idea of gigs ceasing for all DJs; but you were also hopeful that the situation could create some opportunities and that the earth was hitting a big reset. So, two questions here: What did you learn from your lockdown experience – as it relates to both your professional and personal lives?
Nicole Moudaber: Where shall I begin? A forced, unexpected, out-of-the-blue experience. I was in a catatonic state when the world had suddenly stopped turning, the rug got pulled from under my feet, I froze for the first three months. I come from war, and I could smell it… the minute airports shut down, events and festivals halted, airlines grounded. I knew it was war, another kind of war, not the bomb shells we’re used to in Lebanon. This one had another image, and it was invisible.
DJ LIFE MAG: There was so much that was unknown initially…
Nicole Moudaber: I was glued to the news 24/7. I could see how the media was having a field day with it, escalating the drama, developing the scenario. I completely froze. People around me, from friends and peers, were having a ball. “Two weeks to flatten the curve” was so gullible to many. Some called me a “Debbie Downer,” but I smiled and kept my mouth shut. Here we are two years later, still in the same position, if not worse. People died, lost their homes and businesses, away from their loved ones, including myself. I was crippled.
DJ LIFE MAG: Yes, I remember you were a bit out of sorts at first…
Nicole Moudaber: I felt with the prisoners for the first time in my life. I understood the innocent ones who were thrown in jail, helpless. I finally grasped how they felt and how many of them found consolation with prayers and spirituality or writing a book, speaking to angels and the universe, channelling their energy to the higher forces – it’s very powerful. I learned how to change my perception about the whole situation and take advantage of the time I had, the time I never would’ve had, had I not stopped for a minute.
DJ LIFE MAG: The world definitely stopped, and especially for global DJs…
Nicole Moudaber: I had to face my own music – touring extensively is also another form of escaping. I realized how tired I was, how obsessive I can get over menial, mediocre, lame issues that mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. I’m a control freak by nature and I had a window of opportunity to steer away from all the lower expressions and to surrender without being scared of letting go. I learned that we are above this physical world experience and can detach and step away and view things from different viewpoints.
DJ LIFE MAG: On to the DJ/artist side, how did you manage to maintain your chops during the no-gig period? Did you get into streaming?
Nicole Moudaber: My weekly radio show was an integral part of my sanity. It kept me going. I’m not a huge fan of streaming, to be honest; although my lounge developed into a video suite by April 2020. My walls were covered in green screen, literally. I dislike that color. The tripods, the cameras everything was set up and ready to go, but I wasn’t.
DJ LIFE MAG: And I understand the lockdown period had another tragedy for you…
Nicole Moudaber: Yes, a terrible tragedy happened in Beirut summer of 2020 – a massive blast ravaged the city on a nuclear proportion. My friend Karen Young and I rallied the entire dance community and put together a fundraiser with Beatport to help and support the wounded city of Beirut. Everyone extended their helping hands to help us achieve awareness and consequently raised more than $80K in one day. Our dance community is very strong, built on love and solidarity. Together we will always thrive, no matter what comes in our way. It gave me strength and faith again. Of course, I did a lot of music – my mojo was coming back! I did collabs with Jamie Jones [“Pepper Shake”], Eats Everything [“Big Dipper”] and the iconic Alan T [“The Volume”].
DJ LIFE MAG: On the studio side, how did the downtime impact your creativity?
Nicole Moudaber: It wasn’t easy at first. My focus and creative juices were very scattered, but I managed to regroup and center myself, eventually. Anxiety was in my way. How can I make music and “dance” when people are suffering? The process took much longer for me to achieve a healthy outlook on life. Humans will adapt eventually; the key is not to resist. That’s the one thing I learned is to work on myself and just adapt, like a chameleon.
DJ LIFE MAG: When and where did you go back to gigging? And what did you find?
Nicole Moudaber: On February, 2021, I managed to escape Alcatraz – aka London – and I fled over to the Island of the Gods, Bali. I’ve been going over there every year since 2015, usually with a large entourage. But this time, I was by myself. My first show at Savaya Bali was so intense! I was surrounded by a sea of people, the heat, the energy hit me hard on the head like a hammer. And I understood the meaning of my life there and then. This is what I live for. This is what drives me and motivates me every single day. and I will cherish it forever. I will fight for it, hold onto to it until my last breath.
DJ LIFE MAG: Did you find any surprises?
Nicole Moudaber: The surprise was my “aha” moment. I appreciated the simple notion of being together. You see, we’re not made to be controlled, to limit our freedom both physically and mentally; therefore, my friends – keep the frequency high, as when it’s low, anyone can hop on and highjack you, take over your mental health and sanity. How do we keep it high? Stick together, be there for one another… as love is the highest frequency.
DJ LIFE MAG: Not every country has reacted to the pandemic similarly. As a global DJ, what’s been the most difficult part of that?
Nicole Moudaber: The U.S. has done pretty good and was one of the first countries, along with the U.K., to open before anyone else. But, the most difficult part for us touring artists is the uncertainty, not being able to plan our year like we used to, agents having to reschedule hundred of shows, clubs and festivals losing money and having to shut down permanently. This scenario is still ongoing in most of Europe, unfortunately. But we try to get on with it – otherwise, we will go nuts!
DJ LIFE MAG: How have your events in America been?
Nicole Moudaber: In The MOOD parties in L.A., New York and Orlando with EDC were next-level! Arc Festival in Chicago and my temple of love, Space Miami, were something else. I thoroughly enjoy the variety of music I’m playing these days – each show has a different meaning and color.
DJ LIFE MAG: Are you surprised that techno has taken off the way it has in America in recent years? It must be gratifying to see.
Nicole Moudaber: It was expected. I remember when I used to say it very loud in all my press interviews, eight years ago. I wear black because I’m mourning. [laughs] EDM is dead – we should rejoice. Time to put some color in my wardrobe since good music is back, finally – house and techno will always prevail.
DJ LIFE MAG: You’re now past 400-plus episodes of your In The MOOD Radio and the music has evolved. What’s the process of doing your episodes?
Nicole Moudaber: A weekly radio show is a big commitment and time-consuming, especially with a hectic touring schedule. I normally record all my shows when I’m on the road. However, during lockdown for a year and a half, I had to put a show together from scratch. So, I went out of the box, dabbled with various styles from vocal deep-house to drum-n-bass to Afro-house to trance – I loved it.
DJ LIFE MAG: And the response?
Nicole Moudaber: My listeners enjoyed it a lot. It kept them going during these hard times. I was inundated with their beautiful messages every day. It was my way of telling them, “I got you…. I’m here to keep you company.” And the irony was I was completely alone.
DJ LIFE MAG: Sounds like it helped you as much as it helped your audience…
Nicole Moudaber: The show helped me a lot on a personal level to power through – I had something to look forward to. There were days where I could listen to music for 18 hours and others I couldn’t fathom anything with a kick drum. Funk and disco did the trick for me. That was my way to re-set the chip in my brain.
DJ LIFE MAG: You have a genuine relationship with your audience and, over the years, you’d been very active on social media. Do you view that as still a vital component of connecting with your audience?
Nicole Moudaber: I changed my perception about life. Mother Nature was calling for me to connect with her and I did exactly that when I was in Bali for two months. This period was an integral part of my life, as I view the world with a different lens right now. Social media isn’t as important to me as it was in previous years. It is a very useful tool to raise awareness about events and releases, but I prefer direct-messaging with my fans, followers and friends.
DJ LIFE MAG: What changed for you? Did any of the “social-media toxicity” creep into your realm?
Nicole Moudaber: During lockdown, staying at home, having more time on my hands, shone a bright light on certain people we didn’t know even existed, at least from my perspective. They weren’t on my radar as such. I was stunned by the level of ignorance, prejudice, hate, racism and sexism out there. Question is: Are there that many, or are they just loud?
DJ LIFE MAG: Sounds like it disillusioned you…
Nicole Moudaber: People must understand the notion “we are all the same,” and we are being used by social media to create constant and ongoing divide, as it designed to do just that. There are two different timelines in our lives we see on a daily basis – the good and the evil, to put it simply. Which side will you take?
DJ LIFE MAG: Carl Cox has meant a lot to your life and career. You’re playing at Avant Gardner in Brooklyn soon with him at a very special two-night event. What should fans expect?
Nicole Moudaber: We haven’t played a B2B together since Space Ibiza shut down in 2016 – and this event is a rescheduled show from 2020. This will be legendary – to me, a B2B is a musical hug.
DJ LIFE MAG: Why does Carl Cox still stand tall all these years later?
Nicole Moudaber: Thirty years of experience, a vast knowledge of music, humble and tender, loving caring person – you can’t go wrong with these traits. What blows my mind is the artist behind Carl Cox. This guy can play salsa, drum-n-bass, funk and soul, house and techno, flawlessly. Learn is all I can say.
DJ LIFE MAG: The evolution of your DJ-booth set-up: What are you using to DJ now?
Nicole Moudaber: I updated my set up during “the pause.” I used to play on the [PLAYdifferently] MODEL 1 mixer for many years with a bomb soundcard – Antelope Audio Orion32+. I have now switched to the Pioneer DJM-V10 mixer, which has two built-in soundcards, a compressor and loads of effects to play with… plus, I don’t have to travel with loads of gear anymore. The DJM-V10 is as powerful with six channels. This allows me to venture out, create and remix records on-the-fly.
DJ LIFE MAG: What else?
Nicole Moudaber: I use four decks on [Native Instruments] Traktor, one channel for Ableton Live and another channel for volume effects. I have [an Ableton] Push 2 controller for Ableton Live to launch samples and loops, [an Allen & Heath] XONE:K2 controller for volume samples and effects, and two Native Instruments X1 controllers for my four decks in Traktor. The possibilities are endless with this set-up. It’s like driving a super-car and we all know damn-well how much I love super-hyper-cars! I’m working with Pete Tong’s DJ Academy; hopefully, I will showcase my set-up and the way I play to those who are interested in taking up a DJ career in the future.
DJ LIFE MAG: Let’s get into your studio process. What’s the main set-up?
Nicole Moudaber: I’m a lover of the more organic and characterful analog sound, so I use a lot more outboard than plug-ins – things like a Eurorack modular system, Jomox Alpha Base, Akai MPC2000, Prophet-6, among others. I also love the more hands-on and tactile approach that you get with those instruments. Having said that, I do use plug-ins as well. I especially like the Native Instruments stuff – Reaktor and Battery, to mention a few – but mostly only for sounds that I can’t necessarily achieve on the analog stuff. I use Ableton Live, Arturia and good headphones and the best laptop possible, because I’m a nomad. I use engineers in different studios to finish up the work, obviously. The only gear I can’t do without is taste and good ears.
DJ LIFE MAG: Do you do studio work on a schedule with a process? Or does the muse have to strike you?
Nicole Moudaber: The muse is unpredictable! Sometimes she disappears and other times she’s ever-so present. I try to switch off completely when I have a creative block… watch a film, talk to friends, take a walk, or get baked and commit carbacide. There’s no need to force it, as it’s pointless.
DJ LIFE MAG: Artistically, you’ve grown quite a bit in recent years. You still have some really tough, percussive techno tracks, like “What Was/What Is,” but you’ve also worked in some breaks, like “Break It,” and some sexy tech-house of late, like “I’m a Gangsta” and your remix of “The Vibe.” Where is your artistic heart leaning these days?
Nicole Moudaber: It’s constant evolution. I’m not a fan of stagnation – I get bored very quickly! The music I’ve produced in the past cannot be repeated. I find it a tad boring to do so – but that’s my personal opinion. I have various projects with many collaborations on the boil. My dream is to work with bands and established artists, whether it’s pop-dance or Afro-beat and anything in between. I found myself recently humming catchy melodies in my shower, laughing my head off wondering, “Where on earth did this come from?” My ears are probably stamped from my childhood listening to funk, soul, disco and Afro-beat.
DJ LIFE MAG: Whether you’re spinning or not, I know you’ve spent lots of time in Ibiza – what’s the state of the island? Will you be there this summer?
Nicole Moudaber: Ibiza already missed out on two seasons since 2020! However, restaurants and private villa rentals did very well, on the other hand. I will be over a lot this summer, provided everything is running smoothly without restrictions. Clubs suffered tremendously all over the world, but football stadiums were packed – so go figure and make sense of it all.
DJ LIFE MAG: You’re very particular about clubs and sound systems. Can you give me three clubs you love to play because of their environments or sound systems?
Nicole Moudaber: Space in Miami, Stereo in Montreal and Output in Brooklyn – R.I.P.
DJ LIFE MAG: Who are some DJ/producers that we should watch out for?
Nicole Moudaber: The Italian Stallion from Italy, Malandra Jr., and the super talented Sly Faux from Australia – both are on the MOOD label
DJ LIFE MAG: What advice would you give to aspiring DJ/producers today?
Nicole Moudaber: Trust your ears and do not copy anyone. We are all very unique in our own way – use it, as this is the only key element to success. Listen to all kinds of music, enrich yourself with knowledge and open your mind to new avenues – then, make it your own.
DJ LIFE MAG: With the success of your DJing, music, label, radio and more, you seem to have realized your dream. Do you ever sit back and take it all in? What else do you want to accomplish?
Nicole Moudaber: The key is never to settle, got to keep moving and growing. The more I do, the better I get, and I’m only just starting here. A great film company based in L.A. approached me to do a documentary about my life. I was stunned when I found out who they were! Genuinely interested in my story… I was taken aback by this request, overwhelmed with emotions. I had tears in my eyes and, in this instance, I sat back and took it all in. One tends to forget all the accomplishments for a minute. The producers said to me: “You remind us of Lara Croft!”
DJ LIFE MAG: You began as a promoter who threw parties – in Lebanon, notably – that weren’t always so well received by authorities. But, from the beginning for you, there was a deep belief that music brought people of all backgrounds together for the better – a higher calling, in a way. You seem to have maintained that belief. How is music, and your music, still bringing people together? Do you see that music is still powerful?
Nicole Moudaber: More than ever. “The Pause” taught us one important thing… never take anything for granted anymore. We can all agree we were lost without gatherings, small or large. We are humans and we need the human touch. We need hugs, laughter, and unity. I’m working with Skin on a track called “Without Your Love.” She wrote this song during lockdown. We were vibing on Zoom from London to New York, spent many late nights working on this project and it speaks about people being together and how important it is to our psyche – “Without your love, there’d be no people dancing here.” Music has no boundaries nor limitations. It gives us emotions, nostalgia, and happiness. We make new friends every day and create memories when we dance together. When I played my first comeback show after lockdown, I could see and feel the energy surrounding us. It’s transcendental. I can’t think of a more powerful tool than music.
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