Some people’s lives change in a heartbeat. For Nicole Moudaber, it was a drumbeat. “I was on holiday from university and went to the Tunnel Club in New York,” she says. “It was the turning point of my life. The drums reached me.”
At the time, Nicole was a student in London, a double-expatriate from her birthplace, Nigeria, and her family’s home, Lebanon. House music threw open a portal to yet another world: a space of love, freedom, unity, and celebration. Whenever she had a chance, Nicole immersed herself in London’s underground nights like Trade, DTMP and Strawberry Sunday. After graduation her family summoned her back to Lebanon, hoping the straight-A student with a passion for social sciences would settle into a respectable job like banking or the family business, manufacturing. Instead, Nicole teamed up with a friend to introduce house music to post-war Beruit.
For their first party they lit up a mosque and an adjoining cathedral and had a thousand Christians, Muslims and Jews dancing together. The parties were hugely successful and grew bigger and bolder, bringing elite DJs to Lebanon – including many of London’s underground stars, and a Ministry of Sound tour. Unfortunately, the flamboyance and freedom of these events went against the conservative grain and Nicole became the target of police harassment. She decided it was time to find her place of freedom.
Nicole relocated to her third home, London. There, she promoted a monthly night at Turnmills, home to her old stomping ground, Trade, and co-ran record label. Several years later, heeding the sound of a different drummer, she took a break from the industry and spent some time renovating a villa in Ibiza. But she never lost the beat: “I was there grouting and scrubbing tiles, listening to house and techno.”
When Nicole returned to London she went into the studio. “I had no expectations,” she says. “I was just making music I fucking loved.” Channelling the vibes of New York, Detroit, and London, she created deep, hypnotic, drum-fuelled tracks that evoked heroes like Danny Tenaglia and Carl Cox. It was the latter who called on the world to take note of a new talent fomenting in a London studio. Cox played Nicole’s tracks on his radio show; in a 2009 DJ Mag interview he hailed her as the “most underrated DJ”; in 2010 he invited her to play at Space, Ibiza. Since then, Nicole’s unique sound has graced clubs and events across the world, and even the legendary Radio 1 Essential Mix.
The accolades came as both a benediction and a challenge: “I always doubt myself,” she admits. “So to receive this acknowledgement is beyond rewarding, it shows I’m on the right track and gives me the drive to do better.”As a promoter, Nicole was a keen observer of how DJs played, and read the crowd: “It was stamped in my head, like a guidebook of how to become perfect.” Now, as a DJ, she’s opened that book and is writing her own chapter with epic sets of drum-driven techno. Like her idol, Tenaglia, she likes to start deep and build the vibe gradually. Not long ago she played a nine-hour set at Montreal’s Stereo Club. “They said they’d never seen such an atmosphere in 14 years,” she reports. “I was on cloud nine – that means more to me than money.”
This is at the heart of Nicole’s ethos: electronic music is about love, not money. “There is money coming into the scene from Wall Street, but the underground is also stronger than ever. There is a rebellion against the commercial stuff.” She is at the forefront of that rebellion, laying down a beat for her fans to follow. Her debut album, Believe (on Adam Beyer’s Drumcode imprint) garnered features in Rolling Stone and Billboard – a rare feat for a techno album – but her primary ambition is to share the “loving, amazing, ritualistic vibe” she first experienced at the Tunnel Club.
Whatever the future holds – Nicole’s ambitions include label tours for her MOOD Records imprint, hosting stages at festivals, running a radio show, maybe even doing a fashion line – one thing is certain: her career will always be driven by a desire to spread love and the sound of drums.