DJing has taken Nakadia from a tiny Thai village to the global clubbing scene. Hannah Lewis tells her story
International DJ Nakadia spends her days flying from country to country, manning the decks at big party after big party. May alone saw her in Thailand, Malaysia, Holland and Italy, and she’s booked to play at Dubai superclub Sanctuary on June 3. But it wasn’t always like this, not by a long shot. ‘I grew up in the poor Isaan province of Thailand,’ she explains. ‘My parents are farmers and we had to live on less than US$3 [Dhs11] a day. We didn’t have much, but I had a very happy childhood; I remember playing music on a tape recorder to our neighbours in the village.’
Even after she moved to a nearby city to work in factories, Nakadia’s musical experience remained limited (‘Britney Spears or Backstreet Boys was the most underground music for me in those days’), but it instilled in her the desire to learn more. ‘All my life I wanted to try everything,’ she says, a maxim that saw her accepting an international modelling contract after a chance meeting in an internet café.
The job took her to Europe, where she had a life-changing experience. ‘A friend in Germany took me to a club where a female DJ was playing electronic music. I forgot about all my modelling plans that night and only wanted to become a DJ. I spent all the money I’d made on DJ equipment and records and took it all back home to Thailand to practise.’
Over the next year she attempted to teach herself to DJ, but found she couldn’t connect to the trance music she had brought home with her. ‘[It] was not what I liked, but I had no idea what I was looking for,’ she explains. It wasn’t until 2007, after years of experimentation, that it happened. ‘I found my sound when [German DJ] Timo Maas handed me hundreds of [techno and house] records. Finally I’d found the music I loved, and from that moment I was on my way.’
But the journey to success was not a smooth one. Nakadia found herself overlooked because of her gender or nationality, or booked as ‘the Thai girl with the sexy outfit’ and made to play tracks she didn’t like. Serious job offers were not forthcoming. ‘The cool clubs of this world want to book artists, not sexy girl DJs,’ she explains. ‘They also don’t believe that a DJ from Thailand can bring a better sound than others.’ Nakadia resolved never to play anything she hadn’t chosen herself and eventually the music started to open doors for her.
Despite having played at some of the world’s biggest clubs, her happiest moment is a little one: while playing the small stage at a festival in Holland, Nakadia attracted so many listeners that the technical crew had to set up extra speakers to get the music to the whole crowd. Unsurprisingly, this year she is booked in for six festivals in Holland alone, as well as her appearance in Dubai. It looks set to be her summer.
Nakadia describes four countries where she has recently played.
Malaysia ‘A few years ago Malaysia looked like Thailand; now it’s more modern that Europe. How have they made the country so perfect in such a short amount of time? It’s my favourite place in South-East Asia.’
Thailand ‘Thailand is at the start of a civil war. Bombs and snipers are daily realities. Terrorists have taken over Bangkok. It’s too sad. I played in the country’s top club, but it wasn’t very busy. Who wants to party when people are dying just around the corner?’
Italy ‘I love Italy so much: Italian people know how to enjoy life, and Rome is one of my favourite cities. I can find clothes in my size, which can be difficult in Europe. My gig there last week was really a highlight.’
Germany ‘Berlin is the home of electronic music, the meeting point for the best DJs in the world and my second home. The sound of today comes straight out of the city. Listen to ‘Sky and Sand’ by Paul Kalkbrenner: that song is 100 per cent pure Berlin. It’s one of the greatest tracks of the past few years.’