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Nicole Moudaber Likes Drums, Fast Cars, and Grace Jones

Read an in-depth chat with Ibiza's techno queen.

Nicole Moudaber preparing lunch for her guests at the Traktor Cookery School in Miami. Photo credit: Ian Witlen / Red Bull Content Pool

Nicole Moudaber has the aloof swagger of a jet-setting Continental techno queen who summers in Ibiza and parks an Aston-Martin in her garage in London. And… that's because she is. "It was a gift from my father—I didn't pay for it," she casually explains as we cozy up in the darkened basement lounge of the Red Bull Guest House at the Gale Hotel in Miami last week. She has a weakness for fast cars, she tells me, and a love for the open ocean—the thrills and the finer things in the life.


The day before, she DJ'd her own IN THE MOOD party at the Raleigh Hotel, where techno titans Danny Tenaglia and Carl Cox joined her by the pool. After two years performing at Ultra, Moudaber opted for a more intimate affair this year, throwing her own shindig during Miami Music Week instead. And on this sunny Saturday afternoon, the DJ hardware giants at Traktor had invited her to prepare lunch for a select group of fans and friends as part of their Traktor Cookery School series—serving fennel salad and grilled shrimp on the AstroTurf rooftop of the Gale. "It's very light, very summery," she told me, "so that you have energy at the end of the day," and she held back her head and laughed.

The end of Nicole's day is much later than most people's. Her career in "professional clubbing," as she puts it, has taken her around the world and back. Born in Nigeria and raised in Lebanon, she fell deeply in love with techno while living in New York City, bringing the untz back to Beirut with her when she returned. She then attended university in London, where she established her own long-running techno parties. After six years of throwing giant bangers for a living in Londontown, Nicole has officially shifted gears to focus on making music of her own—and Mr. Cox is her number-one champion.

THUMP: How did you find Carl Cox, and how did you end up working with him?
Nicole Moudaber: Well, actually he found me [laughs]. He picked up my records and he started playing them on his radio show. And from that point he invited me to play all his gigs in London and at Space Ibiza.


When did you first fall in love with techno music?
In New York, actually. I was at The Tunnel where Danny Tenaglia was playing and I heard the drums, and that was the turning point in my life. The drums reached me. I saw the vibe of the club, the energy, the sounds coming out of the speakers. It was like a revelation for me. And I've been a professional clubber ever since.

Was techno your first foray into dance music—or were you also into, like, acid house… or breakbeats?
I was a lot into US house, obviously. That's my main knowledge of the music. And then there's UK garage, and I was a trance head as well. I used to follow all the trance parties. You know—trance is kids' music. And when you're a kid you love trance. It's nice and euphoric and emotional—I used to love it. And then I started turning to the techno, the tribal, the slower, groovier vibes, and this is how I found my sound, which is a quite hypnotic, percussive, twisted kind of techno.

Are there any other cities that you really love?
I love New York and I love Montreal. These two cities are super important because of the clubs that I play at: in New York I play at Output, and normally I play from beginning to end, so that's about eight hours. And Stereo Montreal I do about ten hours when I play there and it's quite magical. When I do these long sets it's really magical and I just get into a zone, and I just get locked. And they get locked with me.


How do you balance your schedule working such late nights and early mornings? Are you a nocturnal person?
No, absolutely not. When I'm not working I'm up by 8:30AM-9, and it's a full day for me. I used to be a night person, but not any more.

So is it hard work? Is it tiring?
Not at all. Not for me, anyway. I have my vitamin shots all throughout the night. I don't drink alcohol so I'm not gonna get tired. Just shots of vitamin C. And water—lots of water.

You grew up in some interesting places.
I grew up in Africa and then moved to Lebanon for a few years, then went to London. I did my university years in London—graduated in Combined Social Sciences. I could have done a job at the House of Commons in the UK or the UN or some traditional job like that.

Is that like anthropology or sociology?
Yeah—Political Science, with a minor in Women's Studies. Obviously I was a straight-A student [laughs]. And I'm still actually very involved in those social sciences—I'm an activist at heart. I [often] chime in on human rights and I follow a lot of the international politics. But I also discovered the artist in me and I think that took over. It took me a while but eventually I decided to follow my heart—my passion, and this is who I am.

If one were to go to the Middle East where would be the best place to hear techno?
Lebanon, for sure. There isn't one single DJ that doesn't play Beirut. And in fact I have to say that I have paved the way. I threw the first party in Lebanon ever if not the Middle East; I got Ministry of Sound to tour there; I got all the DJs from London and America to play there. They were clueless about the scene. I even provided the radio stations with Ministry of Sound radio shows, back then, to promote the music. And it was hard work—it was like teaching a whole population about what's going on. They're more into rock and pop and R&B… and heavy metal! And now there isn't one single DJ in the world that didn't play the city, so I'm pretty proud of this achievement.


What do you say about the concept that Las Vegas in the new Ibiza?
I've been hearing this, and I don't know what to think of it. I played Vegas two years ago; I'm gonna do it again this year, and I'm gonna check it out and see. But I don't think you can compare Ibiza to anywhere else in the world. Ibiza is very special; Ibiza has history—it's been around for years and years, before the clubbing era even began. Ibiza has charm and culture, and it's not a built city on the desert, so we cannot compare it.

Well Ibiza's changed a lot since the days of the hippies, right? Have you watched it change drastically?
Obviously. Well, I mean, the hippies and the rich actors and producers like Roman Polanski and Ursula Andress—they went there in the 70s and they are still there. They've got houses everywhere. It has changed, yes, because the UK promoters took over the whole club scene and they've increased the economy of Ibiza, if not Spain in general, because Ibiza in the summer probably generates more money than the whole of Spain. So I think we did good there.

Have you played Burning Man before?
Not yet! I got offered to have my own stage this year at Burning Man, but it was a bit too soon and I need to prepare for it, so maybe next year. But to be honest, I've been to the original Burning Man—but it's not called Burning Man obviously—in Ibiza.They used to throw parties in the woods, and nobody knew about them at all. You have to have local friends to tell you about it. You go in the woods and it's all about that culture—the bartering culture, everything for free, the love, the spirituality, loud music. I've seen shamans; I've seen weird creatures that I've never seen [elsewhere] in Ibiza; and you would never see them in your commercial clubs.


You're playing Coachella for the first time this year. What's your take on the American festival scene?
It's quite mega, and to be honest, it can only be good for the artists and the promoters. I would like to see more credible music going on… which is [starting to] happen. I would like the kids to open their eyes to different kinds of music than what they're exposed to here in the US. We're gonna teach them. We're gonna show them a whole different spectrum of real music—not Christmas carol melodies [laughs]. Three simple notes—Christmas carol melodies is what I call it.

What do you think about the term "EDM?" Is it useful to describe a certain kind of music?
Absolutely not. It's rubbish. We're not in a band. It's obvious that we play electronic music. I don't know why you have to call it EDM. EDM, really, is just pop dance. I mean, J. Lo and Gaga are doing it, so it can't be anything else.

Do you like Lady Gaga?
I like her. But she's not a novelty. Madonna did it way before her, and way before Madonna, Grace Jones did it. So she's not a novelty, but obviously to the kids she is. But as a revolutionary, iconic figure of the world, you can't list Gaga. You have to list Madonna and Grace Jones because they were the first.

What does your label, MOOD Records, have in store for the future?
I have my collaboration with Carl Cox coming out mid-April on my label. I also have releases coming from Guti, Gary Beck, Rodriguez Junior, Tom Peters from Berlin, The Junkies, Whyte Noyz—all these guys are on board right now. There's a new outfit called Kazbah Zoo from Switzerland, and this guy Demian Muller—he's half Swiss, half Chilean.

As far as my releases, I've got an EP coming out on Intec, I've got an EP coming out on Drumcode. I'm working with Skin from Skunk Anansi, a rock band. Skin did an EP with me that's coming out Drumcode as well—end of summer, but we're gonna do more projects together, possibly an album. The music on the label is house and techno. It doesn't have to be one specific genre because, you know, there's time to play the music at certain hours and I like to play across the board really—I don't want to get locked into one sound because I play everything. And that's what I'd like to show on the label.

Max Pearl wants to drive to Ibiza in Nicole's Aston Martin. Swag. @maxpearl