Nakadia

She is the conductor, the crowd her orchestra.

Client: Forbes feat. Nakadia
Website: facebook.com
Date: June 1, 2017
Services: Profile
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"If there’s one thing she’s learned over the years, it’s patience, so Nakadia, one of the world’s top techno DJs, waits."
"If there’s one thing she’s learned over the years, it’s patience, so Nakadia, one of the world’s top techno DJs, waits."

The mood is tame as she takes over the turntables on this paradisiacal island night. The crowd is content lounging on the salt-stained ocean rocks, the smooth techno ahead mixing with the calm lapping of waves below. The stars, brighter than usual tonight, form a single, worldly chandelier overhead. She wears a loose white tee, faded jean shorts, jet-black Nikes and an oversized beaded necklace. It’s well past one in the morning, but the subdued vibe is no reason for concern. If there’s one thing she’s learned over the years, it’s patience, so Nakadia, one of the world’s most sought-after techno DJs, waits.

Nakadia grew up the youngest of five children in Khon Buri, a sprawling rural patch of eastern Thailand. Her parents farmed cassava, the local streets were more akin to the Gobi than a functioning roadway, and her daily chores included fetching water from the nearby lake before and after school. When she was left alone for a month as a young girl, her family gave her 300 baht ($9) to survive on. At fifteen, Nakadia left home and moved to the city of Khorat. She lived in a dingy apartment with five other girls, leaving school behind in search of something more meaningful.

Infinitely curious, she began working in factories, first making computer cables, then decorative plastic dishes, then hard disk drives. After two and a half years, when factory life became too monotonous, she changed gears to working at a sunglasses kiosk, an arcade and a photo booth in the local shopping mall. Regardless of the work, her nights always ended in one place: the nightclub. It was on one of those club nights that Nakadia heard techno music—a genre completely foreign to Thailand in those years—for the first time. She didn’t like it, leaving after fifteen minutes. “Where are the vocals?” she wondered.

"Unlike many artists, who have experienced a big break or an instant hit, Nakadia hasn’t had either; instead, she’s built her fan base with a million tiny steps, one after another, in rapid and deliberate succession."
"Unlike many artists, who have experienced a big break or an instant hit, Nakadia hasn’t had either; instead, she’s built her fan base with a million tiny steps, one after another, in rapid and deliberate succession."

Around the same time, Nakadia made a new friend, Seb, on ICQ, MSN Messenger’s wicked stepmother. Given her newest job at an internet café, Nakadia chatted with Seb all day, every day, using an online Thai-English dictionary to hone her vocabulary. She told Seb about her daily routine—work during the day, go dancing at night—and he posed an intriguing question: If you’re spending so much time in nightclubs, why not become a DJ?

Seb’s query wasn’t coming out of left field; he was already managing several DJs in his native Germany, and he knew the industry as well as anyone. So when Nakadia visited Germany for the first time in early 2002, he immersed her in the scene immediately. They went with Marusha, a female DJ friend of Seb’s, to one of her jam-packed shows, and Nakadia knew right away that she had found her calling. “That’s what I want to be!” she exclaimed at the end of the night. The next day, Seb took her to a record shop, and the two of them began working on her newfangled passion twelve hours a day from the back room of a local university. A few months later, with Seb as her manager and sangfroid in spades, Nakadia played her first gig. The audience numbered 2,500.

Fifteen years have passed since her debut performance, and Nakadia has been touring virtually non-stop. It’s not uncommon for her to play three gigs in a 24-hour period, often in separate cities. She’ll play Friday night in Valencia, Spain and Saturday night in Bogota, Colombia. She boarded over 300 flights last year, which works out to six per week. Her schedule is relentless, but it fits her dromedarian personality perfectly. Unlike many artists, who have experienced a big break or an instant hit, Nakadia hasn’t had either; instead, she’s built her fan base upon a million tiny steps, one after another, in rapid and deliberate succession. In fact, some of her most ardent fans are her industry contemporaries. “Other DJs come to me and say, ‘She’s technically brilliant,’” Seb explains. “They tell me, ‘Nobody plays like her.’” Nakadia explains her style a different way. “I tell a story with the music. You have to play the set in a way that touches people.” Many DJs lock themselves in the studio, making music in a vacuum and hoping the world will appreciate it later. Nakadia is the opposite—her inspiration comes from the energy of her fans. When she performs, she breathes life into the audience, an insatiable verve that, once it begins, cannot stop until she deems it’s time.

"She is the conductor, the crowd her orchestra." Nakadia
"She is the conductor, the crowd her orchestra."

Back on the island, within ten minutes of assuming control, Nakadia plays a track that makes the crowd go, “Ooohh.” The rise in energy is tangible. An impromptu pilgrimage from rocks to dance floor emerges. Shouts, yelps and tropical animal noises—namely birdcalls and baboon howls—emerge from everywhere and nowhere. The room beyond her fades away as she commands the space like the captain of a ship hurtling through the thundering night. A forelock falls low in front of her face; she’s hidden, but she cannot hide.

Only one person truly knew that this young girl from Khon Buri, whose family of seven subsisted on $1 per day, would end up where she is today: Nakadia herself. She felt it when she left home at fifteen in search of something more. She felt it when she visited Germany for the first time with the dream of a better life. She feels it today, reverberating through every beat she plays for her hundreds of thousands of fans.

Yet even when she made those most pivotal decisions, Nakadia didn’t quite know where she was going or why she was going there. She could only be certain of how she would get there: the same way she’s made it anywhere in her life. Putting one foot in front of the other, one small step at a time.

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