Diggers Directory: Norsicaa

Norsicaa cites her record collection as an extension of her personality, and we couldn’t agree more. Vibrant, infectious and good for the soul are just a few shared characteristics that come to mind when talking about the London-based DJ and radio host.

Whether its through her regular residency on Soho Radio or behind the decks at various establishments in the city and beyond, you can expect to hear a glorious cocktail of sounds and styles that touch all corners of the globe, while tipping the hat to both the past and the present.

This extends to her day job too. For several years she’s been steering London-based imprint Soundway in her role as label manager, driving their catalogue into new and exciting realms that continue to look back to the forgotten, whilst nurturing fresh, undiscovered artists from across the world. Her work in this position was the impetus behind starting her second radio residency on Peckham’s Foundation FM, which sees her speaking to other womxn who work behind the scenes in the music industry.

Alongside an interview about a life spent saturated in music, she themes her Diggers Directory mix around the ’00s, a special time in her life that was filled with new clubbing experiences, and celebrates the sounds that dominated the landscape in her home of Australia at the time; Afro-Latin, tribal and soulful house.

DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their family’s record collection. Was this the case for you? Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?

I grew up in Adelaide (Australia) in a very musical household – my mum used to be a piano teacher and my dad is concert pianist, composer and director at the Elder Conservatorium of Music. My two cousins in Adelaide are both full-time musicians/DJs specialising in hip hop, funk, DnB and jungle. Even when I was too young to understand, they were talking about records to me all the time which I absorbed like a sponge.

I was surrounded by and playing music every day. Our house was full of vinyl, dozens of rare musical instruments, and two grand pianos sitting end to end – not to mention my dad’s studio at the university which was filled with all kinds of electronic instruments and sequencing software which I would muck around with after school.

When I was young, my dad’s main interests were contemporary minimalism as well as Dadaism: i.e. surreal, anarchical, avant-garde music. This was very challenging to listen to as a kid (I recall burying my head under a pillow many times!) but I know it made me more open-minded in the long term. Philip Glass, Erik Satie, The Velvet Underground, and the later Beatles albums were on regular rotation in our house. When he brought home a copy of Aphex Twin “Windowlicker” in ’99, I remember thinking it was a very strange-looking woman on the cover.

People buy records for a multiple of reasons. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?

I guess I’m used to music having a physical presence: be it in the form of a record or as an instrument/voice. I feel more connected to it for some reason when it’s in physical form; it feels like a living thing with a soul. Even if I can’t play the instrument, I just want to have it near me.

That said, vinyl was and still is very expensive in Australia. It’s such a geographically isolated country, you just don’t get the influx of physical music like you do in more connected parts of the world. It’s rare to find old or niche records, or people with extensive vinyl collections, unless they have been able to travel or can afford to import them. My dad treasures his records like gold, so I grew up with the mindset that to buy one was a big deal that should be carefully considered.

As a result, I only really go for vinyl records that stir emotion in me, rather than collecting for collecting’s sake. My record collection is designed to mirror whatever mindset I want to channel at the time, as well as recalling people, places, and important times of my life. The music I collect and play out is an extension of my personality.

Where do you store your records and how do you file them?

Shelves at home, with a haphazard i.e. non-existent filing system. For all the intense organisation I do in my daily job, I like to let the collection run wild like my imagination. Of course, it’s not ideal when it comes to finding a record just as I’m about to play a gig…

What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?

I like stores with owners or staff who are approachable and can make good recommendations of music I am yet to discover. In London I’d recommend Sounds of the Universe, Stranger Than Paradise, Atlantis Records and Phonica, as well as Dizonord and Superfly in Paris, and Plug Seven in Melbourne. There are incredible record stores in Japan where you can find mint condition rare records but be prepared to pay a pretty penny.

Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be elusive over the years?

There’s this Brazilian 90s hip-hop record by Luna & DJ Cri that includes a cover of “Guarde Minha Voz” incorporating the trumpet riff of Cheryl Lynn’s “Got To Be Real” that just makes me ecstatically happy every time I hear it. 90s hip hop and street soul is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine, but I’m yet to justify the cost of this record and shipping from Brazil.

Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?

Digging is definitely a meditative affair for me so I usually prefer to be alone – but I love sharing and nerding out over music with friends at our houses. For me, there are few better bonding experiences than someone saying “check this out”, knowing you’ll be open to it, and then all of you just bug out together at how amazing it is.

Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting experience. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after?

A record store should feel like a welcoming second home that you just want to get cosy in. Music is for everyone to enjoy, not to be made daunting or inaccessible by gatekeepers. Working at Sounds of the Universe for a few years made me realise how important it is to help people connect to the music, especially when I saw nervous young women and men looking overwhelmed.

As for tips, go in with an idea of at least one record you know you’re interested in, then start digging around in that genre for new records that you can listen to in-store. Try to push yourself to listen to some random stuff too – the beauty of a record store is there is no streaming algorithm pushing the same music onto you again and again. Also ask staff for recommendations.

How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?

I absolutely love a good album cover and it can enhance a release, but it doesn’t necessarily equate to good music. I usually check the credits on the back for the record label, contributing musicians, composers etc which gives me a better idea of whether it might be worth trying out.

Also in the last few years I’ve been lucky to learn how to cut dubs on a dubplate lathe. So if I can’t source the record but have access to high quality WAVs, I can cut some dubs for an all vinyl set (including some in this mix). They have no artwork or even labels, just a sticker I’ve put on them – and they’re some of my favourite tracks! So it’s even more reason not to judge by the cover.

Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?

This mix celebrates the ‘00s – a time in my life I remember fondly. The DJs were all still playing vinyl, I had just turned clubbing age, and I was dancing like a maniac until close every Friday and Saturday.

It was a time in Australia when Afro-Latin house was at its peak, UK funky was crossing over with tribal/soulful, and Chicago house and South African house were entering the bigger clubs. Masters At Work and DJ Gregory were churning out tune after tune, Moodymann had just released Mahogany Brown, the Martin Solveig remix of Malian singer Salif Keita’s “Madan” was everywhere, and a track from Black Orpheus ‘s Brazilian soundtrack was refashioned into Junior Jack’s dancefloor hit “E Samba”.

What I also loved about that time was because it was all vinyl then, it meant that you had to play 12” singles that were 5-10 minutes long otherwise your record bags would be too heavy. It required a longer attention span from the crowd – but you came to enjoy recognising the early rhythms or chords of a song, the anticipation of the build-up, then getting lost in the chorus and revelling in it. In this mix I pay tribute to that long-form mindset, as well as the genres that dominated the underground Australian clubbing scene in the ‘00s.

Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?

I open with SunPalace “Rude Movements (Kenny Dope Dancefloor Powder Remix)” which while only just released on BBE this year (along with an incredible Moodymann remix), has a vintage Afro-Latin drum break which instantly transported me back to the time I just described and set off my inspiration for this mix. The original was a favourite of David Mancuso at his New York Loft Party, which I always wish I had been around to experience.

Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?

Millos Kaiser for championing 90s/00s electronica that is simply good to listen to and may have gone under the radar at the time – whether the vinyl is selling for cheap or expensive. I like that he is challenging the exclusivity of the ‘holy grail’ record collector club and making vinyl feel more accessible.

Frank Merritt for his expansive collection and knowledge of reggae, dub and rocksteady. That music is the perfect antidote for difficult times.

Are there any young collectors emerging who we should keep a close eye on?

I really dig what Zakia plays, it’s really diverse and she has a keen ear. When we did Boiler Room together she did a vinyl set which included a few tracks I was also planning to play after her – talk about spanner in the works! But I was really pumped about it too because it meant it was going to flow well between our sets.

Anything on the horizon you’re excited about?

Some artists have been getting really creative in lockdown, including ones on Soundway. I’m really excited to hear what will come out – I feel like an abundance of restorative healing and celebration of life is on its way.

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