STAUB Resident Nur Jaber Talks DJ Sets, Her New Album And The Healing Power Of Music
After four years cutting her teeth in the Berlin electronic music underground, Nur Jaber—whose artist name is an abridgement of her given name, Nour—is finally coming into her own. And while it’s unfair to make the declarative statement that there is an aesthetic umbrella that many Berlin DJs fall under, it’s clear that Jaber does not fit into this grouping. Poised, demure and elegantly dressed, the Beirut-born, classically-trained artist is a clear amalgamation of her musical and cultural upbringing—and her most recent output is a testament to the fruitful marriage of these disparate roots.
A State Of Peace, her debut LP, was just released on the artist’s own label, OSF. Both the musical installation and her most recent live sets have seen the producer singing over her electronic work in homage to her dual interests in techno and classical opera. What came as a long-winded journey through the musical worlds of composition, house, and finally, Berghain-oriented four-to-the-floor sledgehammers, has landed her in a creative place that she deems to be a purer expression of her musical self.
“I wanted to write an album, and in my head, I wanted it to be a techno album,” she says while sipping a latté in the Berlin coffee shop Rostätte. “I sat for, like, seven months doing the whole thing. Two months before it was due, I looked at everything and I was like, ‘Fuck this shit. I’m removing everything. This is shit.’ So I erased it all.” The end result was truer to Jaber’s musical roots than her initial club-music aspirations. “I went to Berklee College of Music and I took a lot of composition in jazz and classical,” she explains. “I wanted to use all of these influences and channel a different part of myself.”
Jaber’s move to Berklee was catalyzed by a childhood soundtracked by her father’s classical music cassettes. She studied piano for ten years in tandem with her home education, but on the eve of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War, she made the decision to leave her home country for good. “It all went to shit for me after that, in regards to how I viewed Beirut and a part of humanity” she told Monument Magazine in an interview last year. “I just wanted to get out of there.”
Now in Berlin with her two feet firmly planted under her, Jaber is learning to rework her past demons into fodder for her artistic development. We had the pleasure of sitting with the up-and-coming renaissance woman to discuss her album, her DJ sets and how her past is circling back into her musical present.
How do you typically prepare for a set?
My aim is to play more closing sets. I did play three, one of them was in Strasbourg, and that was about five-and-a-half hours.
What makes closing easier or more difficult than playing at another time of night?
I think closing is easier because you really get to take the room on a journey, because you have so many hours. You can play seven or eight hours, and you just have more freedom to open up the folders that you don’t usually open. I find that the end of the night is a magical time. But the fact that closing sets can last long hours also makes them more difficult. When I did it for five hours in Strasbourg, I was like, “Woah, how do people do it at Berghain for ten?” So right now, I’m preparing for that—I’m playing five hours, six hours and more and more and more until I can get to ten.
My worst nightmare is when you play long-hour sets and you want to have a drink of water, and then three or four hours in, you really have to pee and you have to run to the bathroom all the way on the other side of the club! You can put on the “Alphawave” Plastikman remix since it’s about 15 minutes long. I’m actually going to make a “Bathroom Folder” so I can put all my long tracks in there!
Are there any tracks you keep in your record bag that you always play when you’re closing?
There’s a Thomas P. Heckmann track that I always play. And Dax J’s remix of Zanias. The remix for her track “Follow The Body”—it has this emotional, in-your-face power. I love it.
Some places just want you to bring the energy up and up, and you’re like, “Fuck! There are three more hours!” The only way was for me to play the tracks that really get me energized and that keep me flowing.
But every night I’m always playing new tracks. And because I play once a week, and sometimes two gigs a weekend, I start buying tracks from Monday. And with the more powerful ones, I’m like, “Oh this is exciting, I’m going to listen to it now at the club, and this is going to get me excited.” So playing out new tracks always gets me excited. I’m not recycling music so much when I play. And if I am going to play some of the same tracks, I always try to put them in a different journey.
You’re a resident at STAUB, which has the reputation of showcasing fairly heavy techno artists. Has that experience shaped the kinds of sets that you gravitate towards playing?
Being a resident there has really, really shaped me. Joining them was one of the really strong turning points in my artistic career. If you listen to the sets that I was playing before my first STAUB set, which was three years ago, it was really slow. I used to play house before. And then I shifted the year before I started with STAUB, and STAUB gave me the platform to say, “Yeah, I’m full-on.”
Every time I had a set and a chance there, the more techno-oriented my sets got. I also got to meet a lot of people and promoters, and I got the opportunity to take people on a journey even more, because they’re there to really listen to you. When I got to STAUB, I was like, “Hell yeah. This is where I’m supposed to be.”
My last house gig was at Watergate in 2014, and then something shifted and I decided, “Ok, something has to change.” I was DJing Ritter Butzke, Renate, everywhere. And I wanted to quit. I was feeling like I didn’t belong. STAUB is like my home. This is where it all started.
Your first album just came out. Can you talk a little bit about your journey through music production and what this album means to you?
I wanted to write an album, and in my head, I wanted it to be a techno album. I sat for, like, seven months doing the whole thing. Two months before it was due, I looked at everything and I was like, “Fuck this shit. I’m removing everything. This is shit.” So I erased it all—and the deadline was in two months. I woke up at 6 AM on a Monday, and I was like, “Just get every inspiration you’ve had for percussion, piano and everything you kind of grew up with,” because I went to Berklee College of Music and I took a lot of musical composition in jazz and classical.
So this is how it shifted. I was more in a peaceful state. This is why I decided to call it State Of Peace. It was very different from Weapons Of Mass Destruction, which was more angry and political. I just felt like it’s time to channel a different part of me.
Albums are a freedom of expression. You can go in any direction you want. I think it can really be about who you are, like your inner and outer experiences, and it comes through in an album more than in an EP because you have this space and freedom. I’m also working on the second one now. I’m really excited. It’s more like live performances with different musicians who I’m working with. I’m also working with an opera singer.
With the album, I was trying to say, “Nour is here now. This is what’s been hidden behind past emotions, or whatever.” I just want to show more of who I am, which I think is all happening at the same time.
How were you able to bridge your distinct musical identities as a DJ and as an artist? What is it like to tour with this ambient concept album while being expected to play in a very different style?
I did get a little confused before I let this album out because the music is so different from the sets I play. I was like, “No one’s going to like it. What is this music? How am I supposed to get forward in my techno career as a DJ if I release that?” This was my first thought. But then I said, “I could be two people. One person, but two emotions.” In my DJ sets it’s always harsh, it’s always hard. I do add a lot of samples and live vocals now to make it more melodic.
Do you rehearse when and how you’re going to sing, or are your performances relatively improvized?
At the beginning, it’s always rehearsed and the samples are pre-recorded. I always practice. But then sometimes I’m playing a track and I’m like, “Oh, yeah. A little vocal part here would be nice.” So even a scream can be used as an effect. You can use your voice as an instrument or an effect, which I like. I recently started writing lyrics. My sister found a journal from Beirut that has some lyrics that I wrote when I was a kid, so I’m like, “Oh, give me that!” Every time I play there I like to do something new. Anything that I’m afraid of, I do. The first time I sang, it was there. I was like, “I’m afraid, but I’m gonna fucking do it.” Because once I do it, it’s going to work.
The live vocals that I do while I’m DJing, I only do when I’m feeling comfortable. I have a soundcheck before almost every gig, and if I feel it, then I say, “Ok, I’m doing it.” But most of the time, there’s something not right in the monitors, or the room isn’t right or the energy that I feel isn’t right.
Now, in my head, I’m planning on doing it again for my next Berghain gig, because I’ve been vocal training to get better. This has been a new thing. She’s a classically trained opera teacher who’s helping me open up my voice. What I really like a lot in these lessons with her is that when I went there, she looked at me and she said, “You’ve held down so much in your life—humans in general. People are always telling you to shut up or be quiet or get out of the way. And you just need to let it out.” And in that moment, I was like, “Wow. Even if my voice sucks, I just want to cross that boundary.” Because it really helps you open up.
What are your upcoming plans and what other projects do you have on the horizon for both production and DJing?
I’m doing music full-time. I hope it keeps getting better. I’m working on starting a new label, which will go in another direction than OSF, which is taking a lot of my time. I’m also starting my second album, and before the end of the year I’m preparing the last two releases on OSF: The album remix EP by Dax J, UVB, Claudio PRC and P.E.A.R.L, and an EP of my own. These are two really big projects.
I’m also writing a little book that my friend from Beirut is helping me write. She’s an editor. After the album was released, I’ve been going on a self-healing journey where I feel that it’s time to get over my past, and whatever happened as a child, and trying to come out through being creative.
To get a copy of A State Of Peace and hear the rest of Nur Jaber’s music, visit the OSF Bandcamp page here.