Amsterdam, one of electronic music’s most bustling hubs has plenty of gems, iconic and hidden – special cafes, an infamous, world-renowned red light district, a vibrant art scene and handful of underground clubs with some of the techno world’s most celebrated sound systems. And immersed within it and one of its best-kept secrets, is South Netherlands-born, Belgium-raised and Amsterdam based Nicky Elisabeth, who after joining Cologne’s Kompakt label, earning a residency at De Marktkantine and winning Bumble’s first ‘Making Moves in Music’ title, can’t keep out of the spotlight for too long. After a busy end to 2019 and the announcement of her joining DGTL’s 2020 roster, and shortly before a few highly anticipated gigs with techno heavyweights such as Stephan Bodzin and Kolsch, Nicky catches her breath, and takes a moment to chat with Torture the Artist and casts an hour of carefully selected and beautifully sown tracks – a glimpse of pure, passion driven talent that has already made a mark in a local scene, but has only just began.
Torture the Artist: Hello Nicky, tell us about your day. Where are you sitting at the moment and what else do you have in your agenda?
Nicky Elisabeth: I’m in my house, more specifically in the studio. Working on a certain interview and podcast today. <winks>
Torture the Artist: We’re just curious, what was the last track played on your SoundCloud?
Nicky Elisabeth: The b2b set of Pional & Fort Romeau, at Lost Village.
Torture the Artist: We just welcomed a new year; how did you start off 2020? Were you able to take a break for the holidays? What was/is your first gig of the year and how aptly does it set the tone for the year to come?
Nicky Elisabeth: My first gig of the year was already on the 4th of January, but to me it felt more like the last gig of 2019. After that one, I had some very welcoming weeks off in which I also got to do some proper digging, sort out music and work in the studio; it felt like an early spring clean. To get all your things in order for the next months and prepare for what is to come is always a great way to start the year.
The weed is great, but we have so much more to offer!
Torture the Artist: You’re currently based in Amsterdam, tell us about your city. What are your favorite hangout spots and venues? Can you suggest any local delicacies for us to try?
Nicky Elisabeth: Amsterdam is a lovely place and has far more to offer than the red-light district and coffee shops it’s so known for. Of course, the weed is great, but we have so much more to offer! <laughs> Amsterdam has everything a city needs but feels like a village at the same time. I frequently run into acquaintances, pretty ‘gezellig’ as we would say. Also, when I come home from a gig I get to ride my bike home through the charming luminated streets. The coziness of Amsterdam is something that keeps me smiling on cold and rainy winter days (which we have a lot of). Foodwise, Dignita’s is this cute brunch place in a garden right in city center. Try their chickpea fritters. <winks> Other must tries are poffertjes (sort of mini pancakes loaded with powdered sugar) and stroopwafels. Lastly, we also have something called ‘hagelslag’ which is basically chocolate sprinkles to put on bread with some butter, usually eaten for breakfast. Yup.
Torture the Artist: Amsterdam, home of electronic music’s ADE has a vibrant electronic music scene. As a local artist how is Amsterdam’s scene like all year long? Does ADE personify the musical ecosystem in the Dutch city? Which aspects of Amsterdam’s music community do you love most?
Nicky Elisabeth: Almost every weekend of the year fantastic artists come to play in Amsterdam, and then we’re not even talking about the festival season. Nevertheless, ADE is definitely more intense; the city evolves around music during those days. Every possible venue changes into an event location and all the artists you can possibly think of venture to the city during those five days. The city is also filled with industry people who come to network and forge new contacts. Because of this everyone is very open to meeting others which creates a unique atmosphere that you can only find during ADE.
Torture the Artist: Where did you grow up? How did your hometown influence you as an artist? What was the music scene like?
Nicky Elisabeth: The town I grew up in is a town called Brasschaat, a small village near Antwerp, Belgium. My hometown didn’t really influence my music, that was mostly the Amsterdam nightlife scene.
Torture the Artist: Who were among your greatest musical inspirations? Who did you grow up listening to? How did you come to realize your interest in and passion for music?
Nicky Elisabeth: It took me some years to realize what I truly wanted to do. It actually struck me during my time in film school. I was surrounded by all these people who were so dedicated to their craft, it just made me realize, ‘this is not where I should be’. Not long afterwards I dropped out of school and started pursuing a career in music. The artists that mostly influenced my music have to be the ones from the Maeve crew. Mano, Baikal & The Drifter are very talented producers & DJ’s who don’t stick to musical trends, something I can really appreciate.
Torture the Artist: Rising into a scene full of talent, what were among the obstacles that held you back, if any?
Nicky Elisabeth: The number one thing that held me back was doubting myself. Being afraid of not having enough talent was a big one for me. In the end it’s not really talent that makes the difference, it’s whether you have the willpower and strength to push through and endure the difficult moments. Working in music is about running a marathon, not a sprint. As soon as you realize that, have enough patience with yourself and keep working hard, you’ll get there eventually, one way or the other.
I might have worked in wildlife preservation for (sea) animals.
Torture the Artist: If you weren’t ‘turning knobs for a living’, what else do you imagine yourself doing? Do you have a plan B career?
Nicky Elisabeth: Good question, my partner and I spoke about this not too long ago. As it is right now, I would always work in the music scene; maybe I’d work as a programmer or run events or a club. In another lifetime I might have been an actress or any other performing art. On a completely different angle, I might have worked in wildlife preservation for (sea) animals. Ever since I was a child I’ve been drawn to the sea; I actually got my Padi (diving license) at the age of 8. Swimming with whales is still a bucket list thing for me!
Their excitement left me completely speechless.
Torture the Artist: Playing in venues for several years now, can you share a particular experience that really touched you as much as you moved your audience?
Nicky Elisabeth: I will never forget the first time at Watergate. For months I’d been looking forward to that gig and a couple of days beforehand I got sick. With all the courage I could find, I went to Berlin. Later that evening when I was preparing my set in the hotel all these messages popped up asking what time I was playing. All excited I got to the club and the room filled up within half an hour of opening. There was one point during the set where people got so hyped, they started screaming and cheering; their excitement left me completely speechless.
Torture the Artist: Any favorite venue so far? Which city do you dream of playing in?
Nicky Elisabeth: De Marktkantine, hands down. Also, this lovely new venue called Oosterbar, super tiny, with a killer sound system. City wise, I look forward to playing all around the world. Experiencing different cultures is something I very much enjoy and also helps me to widen my view of life. The fact that I get to explore the world through music is even more exciting.
Torture the Artist: As most of your promising career has focused on DJing so far, have you spent some time in the realm of production? Have you been sneaking into the studios in between sets? Is an EP or album currently in your dashboard?
Nicky Elisabeth: At this point it’s not even sneaking anymore; I basically live in that place. The past year, I’ve spent most of my time in the studio and an EP is definitely in the pipeline. So: coming soooon.
Torture the Artist: Will we notice a direct correlation between your DJing style and production approach? Or should we expect a different angle of your artistic style?
Nicky Elisabeth: The music I’ve been producing is definitely in line with my sets. It actually helps me fill the gaps of the music I’ve been trying to find lately.
Using our big friend Shazam most of the times I manage to find the ID.
Torture the Artist: You carefully select all the music that go into your set, and curate them in a flow that not only makes sense but proves very effective. Can you share some secrets on your digging method?
Nicky Elisabeth: First of all, thank you. Secondly, I’d gladly! What always helped me was listening to sets of artists I love. Then using our big friend Shazam most of the times I manage to find the ID. Next I check the track on different sites such as Spotify, Beatport & Soundcloud to see what recommendations come up. This way I usually end up finding another couple of tracks that like.
Torture the Artist: Closing track vs. opening track? Progression or full circle?
Nicky Elisabeth: For me it’s not really about a closing vs opening track. I love both, and as a DJ need both.
This has led to a couple of nightmares.
Torture the Artist: Playing in packed clubs, knee deep in the underground, does it ever feel surreal to you? Do you ever battle stage fright? How do you prepare yourself for a big set?
Nicky Elisabeth: It does feel surreal at times. Last week I wrote down all the upcoming dates for this year and I was so surprised. Until then, it didn’t sink in yet. Most of the times I feel calm and don’t have to deal with stage fright, but… there is one gig coming up next month at De Marktkantine where I’m quite nervous for. This club is the place where it all started for me and I’ll be closing after Stephan Bodzin, which means it will be packed. This has led to a couple of nightmares already, since I want my set to be perfect … <laughs>
For nights like these I will prepare a playlist with tracks that would suit the night. I’ll make sure that the set is prepared big times, so if the nerves strike me, I always have something to fall back to, but also enough room to play around.
Torture the Artist: We noticed your name in the DGTL lineup, that’s quite impressive. How did you find out and what was your reaction?
Nicky Elisabeth: This pretty much sums it up:
André: April 12
This is so great!!!
I thought they already booked everything?
André: They booked everything except your slot
Nicky: Yay, I’m so happy
Torture the Artist: You also recently joined the well-respected Kompakt agency, certainly a big move in the right direction. How did you manage to find a home in the Cologne based label/agency? How has falling under Kompakt’s roster impacted you so far, and how much does it affect the year to come?
Nicky Elisabeth: I bribed them. <laughs> Just kidding of course. It was one of these right place right time moments I must say. It was during DGTL when I randomly ended up speaking to the person next to me, Bruno; The first thing I said was that if I’d been a boy, that would have also been my name, naturally we instantly hit it off. Another minor factor that could’ve played a role, was that I was playing IPSO later that year, which is an event of Kölsch, one the artists he works with. Which led to me not being a complete stranger. So, I ended up not being a complete stranger to him, but an artist he’d already heard music of. Working together with Kompakt has changed everything. Both the bookers I work closely with, André and Bruno have played a big role in my musical and personal development. They’re very involved and we’ve also become close friends. All of us have been working very hard and the last month it’s really been paying off. It’s as if us working together, was the convincing all the promoters needed to start working with me.
Torture the Artist: You earned Bumble’s first ‘Making Moves in Music’ title in 2019, for many reasons. On a personal level, which of your accomplishments are you most proud of?
Nicky Elisabeth: After quite some blood sweat and tears, I can finally say I managed to live up to a lifelong dream. This year my first EP will be released and that’s something I’m quite proud of.
Interview by Marie J Floro