Picture the stereotypical electronic-dance-music night and there’ll be a DJ dude — it’s always a dude — up on the decks hyping the crowd up with bigger and louder beats, a cascading assault of builds, breaks and drops that sends the feverish crowd into sweaty ecstasy.
Nora en Pure — who plays Saturday at the two-day Something Wonderful EDM festival at Fort Worth’s Texas Motor Speedway — is here to say that picture is, if not wrong, just maddeningly incomplete.
First of all, the 26-year-old South African-born, Swiss-based DJ/producer — whose given name is Daniela Niederer and who grew up playing several instruments — is not a dude. Second, her rhapsodic sets — often a gloriously melodic rush of electronics burnished with piano, strings, guitar, percussion, and sounds of nature — are not just about how hard, how loud and how fast. They can be a surprisingly rhapsodic and tuneful throwback to the early days of disco, Philadelphia International soul, Chicago house music and New York garage, with hints of jazz and world music thrown in for good measure.
The music is summertime on wax, imbued with a bracing, sunny optimism (though sometimes splashed with a hint of melancholy) that’s reflected in such titles as “Let the Light In,” “Diving With Whales,” “Lake Arrowhead,” and “On the Beach.” And it’s part of a dance-music undercurrent — that includes such comparatively laid-back and often overlapping sub-genres as “deep house,” “future house,” “tropical house,” “downtempo” and “chill” — that’s distinct from mainstream EDM.
I recently conducted an e-mail interview with Nora about her music and career.
Some have criticized modern EDM for draining the soul out of house music. Do you agree with that and do you see yourself as trying to reverse that?
I think it’s really each to their own. No one has the exact same musical taste. But you can definitely see a massive shift away from the “modern EDM” sound. I think that speaks volumes. I have always loved music that touched me and that is often a melodic and softer sound than the loud EDM from the past years.
Deep house and tropical house, or more broadly melodic/soulful house, have gotten more popular in recent years. Why do you think that is?
People became fed up [with] the noise that a lot of EDM was becoming, and saw these other genres as a welcome break or change from the previously popular sounds.
Because your music is so melodic, do you find you have fans who may be older than the usual EDM fan or people who may not like dance music at all but like you?
I definitely have some older fans as well, but I don’t think that is due to the melodic part. Some of my music is a little more complex and there to feel rather than to party. And I think this speaks more to older people maybe.
Do you like the “tropical house” tag or is it a marketing straightjacket?
In case you were referring with that genre to my music, I allow myself to say that I consider my music much more than tropical. Tropical is often associated with light, uplifting, melodic sounds. As mentioned previously, I think many tracks of mine are more complex and go deeper than that, even into melancholic parts. It’s a raw, nature-infused sound.
You left South Africa at an early age. Did you visit South Africa much growing up and how did that environment influence your musical style?
Yes, we went back often whenever we could. I’m very fond of Africa’s diverse nature, its wildlife. ... In most tracks, I try to create a certain atmosphere or have a scene in mind. This can be anywhere in the world but I’m just often struck by nature’s beauty and I am sure that this background has made my sound what it is today.
You were a criminal psychology student. What made you think you could do this DJ thing?
I was studying to get a degree and released music on the side. At some stage, booking requests started to come in after some releases worked quite well. Once I had finished my studies, I thought I could give it a try and my friends really pushed me.
Did you ever think you made the wrong decision? How did your family feel about you becoming a DJ/producer?
At the beginning, I don’t think my family really understood it. They were happy though when they realized how it fulfilled me and that I could travel for shows, etc. If I thought it was a wrong decision, I wouldn’t be doing it now. Of course, there are times where it can be really tough when you are away often and on your own. But there are always up and down sides to everything.
The DJ world is still very much male-dominated. Was it hard to break into the scene as a woman?
I get asked this question a lot! I must say that I did not have a hard time. I have seen great support in my career so far.
Do you find people focus on your looks and that they never do that with male DJs?
I feel a DJ should be judged on their tracks and their sets, not on their appearance. Anyone who is there for the music, I believe, feels that, too. It’s the music that should speak.
When you play a big festival, does the audience — who might be there for a harder style of EDM — appreciate what you do?
I’ve had a few experiences where I have followed a harder EDM act, and then it’s a little difficult because the crowd is very much warmed up and naturally would want to hear a higher energy set. They do appreciate the music, but it’s got to be at the right time or setting I would say.
How did you come up with the name Nora en Pure?
I wanted something that stood out. Something unique and memorable. It was quite random, but the “pure” relates to my sound and feel.