Name: Cora Novoa
Occupation: DJ, producer, label owner
Current Release: Sun / Black Out is out on Turbo Records
Recommendations: I would recommend a novel that has hooked me this summer and is "Red Queen" by Juan Gomez-Jurado and an album, "Tadeo - Faces & Mirrors" released on Axis Records.
If you enjoyed this interview with Cora Novoa, check her various online platforms for more information, inspiration and music: Website, Soundcloud, Facebook, Instagram.
When did you start DJing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
It's funny but I started producing before I started DJing electronic music. Back then it was rare that techno clubs had CDs, so in order to start playing you had to get some Technics and a mixer, or have a close friend who had the whole set up.
In my case I had just arrived in Madrid and my first contact with club culture was the famous "Coppelia 101" in the “Plaza Mostenses”. There I drank and was educated musically: The Hacker, Dopplereffekt, Miss Kittin, Nitzer Ebb, Anthony Rother, Ellen Alien, Tiga ... we were in the middle of the "Electroclash" boom and there I was able to discover the great names of electro and techno of the time. It is something that has marked my entire musical career.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
It's something I wouldn't know how to explain to you. Nowadays it's hard for me to be aware of my own sound, and if I think about it a lot in the creative process. It can sabotage the creation of a track. That's why I prefer to sit down and let myself go.
For me it is very enriching to listen to productions of other styles or artists to inspire me. I like to challenge myself to learn new tricks, new production techniques and bring them to my "sound". Artists like Legowelt or Jori Hulkkonen have been key in my initial sound palette, but now I feel more kinship with artists like Tadeo, Daniel Avery or Erol Alkan.
What were some of the main challenges and goals when starting out as a DJ and how have they changed over time? What is it about DJing, compared to, say, producing your own music, that makes it interesting for you?
One of the initial challenges in my DJ career was to mix well and elegantly with vinyl. Vinyl doesn’t deceive, and if something is going out of mix you have to know how to correct it so that there are no rides and spoil the rest of the mix.
When the digital systems arrived and with them the standardisation of the CDs, it was a challenge to learn how to organise the large volume of music. Before, you could only take 1 or 2 record bags to play one night. Now, however, you can take digital "boxes" full of audio files. So I learned to be much more selective.
There was also a time when I was DJing with Ableton, I had a lot of fun. I made a hybrid between playing and producing, I played a lot of sequences, it was great.
What fascinates me about DJing is that the colour palette is much wider and more diverse, also the tracks have more freshness because you have not been working hours and hours on each of them in the studio, so your vision is much fresher. On the other hand, doing a live show gives you much more versatility when it comes to structuring the show, from the overarching story to the detail – all presented using your personal sound.
How would you define the job and describe the influence of the DJ? How are the experience and the music transformed through your work?
In the end, for me to play is to create a community, and it is a group ceremony of people coming together to enjoy the catharsis of music. I like symbolism very much and I think that club culture is one of the most important ceremonies in our modern society.
What was your first set-up as DJ like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My first set-up was 2 Technics SL-1200, a 3 channel Akiyama mixer and some low-end headphones. The engine of one of the turntables was failing and one of the channels of the mixer was connecting and disconnecting at will. It was fun this initial setp up, I remember I had 2 vinyls with which I learned to mix, one was Nitzer Ebb and another one was LCD Soundsystem remixes. I would keep mixing them until I managed to get all transitions right.
Currently my setup consists of 2 technics SL-1200mk2, Mixer Pioneer-DJm 950 and 2 CDJ 850. My main devices are the CDJs, which is where I go to work the session, although sometimes I like to add some vinyl to the set.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Technology in the way I create is essential. I work with modular synthesizers, rhythm boxes or software and dynamic plugins, which give me all the versatility to obtain new results, and unexpected sounds. The palette of sounds is infinite, especially if you use modular synthesizers.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do life and creativity feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Reconciling my life and creativity is one of the constant challenges of my day to day life. My goal is to have the mornings for office work, emails, interviews, social networks, ... and the afternoons only and exclusively for my work in the studio. But in reality, it is impossible, because I have to add doing all the things that you do at home: cleaning, supermarket, sports … and many times I have to settle for 2 days in the studio (morning and afternoon), so I try not to check the mail those 2 days and disconnect the phone to not be disturbed.
Let's say you have a gig coming up tonight. What does your approach look like – from selecting the material and preparing for, opening and then building a set?
First, I research the club, the type of party I'm going to play and my set time. Once that is done, I'll prepare a folder with the musical selection I want to play that night. I always try to come to the venue knowing which track I'm going to open with, since it's very important for people to get into the mood. It's a way to begin telling the story I want to tell. From there I start to build the set according to the mood of the people and my own mood.
Can you describe your state of mind during a DJ set? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I like to be focused on the set but at the same time have an eye on the track, see people's reactions, their movements and their energy. It helps me to translate the session with their reactions. But you always have to take into account that each country is a world, it's not the same to play in Argentina than in France, or to play in an open air during the day than in an indoor club at night.
What are some of the considerations that go into deciding which track to play next? What makes two tracks a good fit? How far do you tend to plan ahead during a set?
One of my favourite things in the world is when two songs come together and create a totally new track. Sometimes you have a track with a huge kick and an incredible percussion intensity, and you put it together with another track that provides a special synth sequence or a very dirty voice, and that's it, the magic has happened. That's why I like very much to leave always 2 tracks playing at the same time, allowing them to create that magic and then when I want to mix in another track I add another layer with a third CD. This configuration is the one I always play in a club
I try not to prepare everything in excess, but I do want to be very precise in the selection of tracks that I take to the club to not have to lose time searching and searching.
Would you say you see DJing as improvisation? As composition in the moment? Or as something entirely different from these terms?
For me the figure of the DJ is that of a storyteller, someone who builds a story with tracks from others in a very personal way and with his own palette of sounds. Many mixes are improvised but others are already classics of yours that you know are part of your sound.
How do playing music at home and presenting it in the club compare and relate? What can be achieved through them, respectively, and what do you personally draw from both?
For me, the contact with the people is essential, that synergy that we create with the public is unique. So when I play at home, it is something more intimate, when you play in a club it is something community-related.
How would you describe the relationship between your choices and goals as a DJ and the expectations, desires and feedback of the audience? How does this relationship manifest itself during a performance and how do you concretely tap into it?
The audience speaks to us constantly. You can tell if a person is attentive to what you do, is dancing and being carried away by the music. And it is something that I like to be attentive to in order to continue developing the music out there. It's very important to read the dance floor. As an audience member, I've always appreciated it if a DJ tended to these aspects.
Especially thanks to the storage facilities of digital media, DJ sets could potentially go on forever. Other than closing time, what marks the end of a DJ performance for you? What are the most satisfying conclusions to a set?
Time, mood and energy fatigue are the three factors that mark the end of a DJ set. But I think that playing for 3 hours marks a sufficient time to be able to develop a set in a fluid and logical way.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
One of the most wonderful things about being an artist is being able to use creativity as a channel for your own life, or for the stories of others. In the end, the simple act of creating something is an act of healing. After all, you're sharing your vision of things and of your own world with others.