When she is not playing the cello, Diana Nucera focuses on her solo electronic project, djing, and finding ways to connect music with her day-to-day work life. She loves punk, techno, house, rock, cumbia, global bass and everything inbetween. She thrives off of blending and bending genres, never paying attention to the musical borders others have set. A passionate collaborator, she has worked with a wide range of musicians and is always looking for new opportunities to collaborate with others.
Interview published 12/14/15
Name: Diana Nucera AKA Mother Cyborg, D in the D
Location: Southwest Detroit. Hubbard Farms to be specific.
Day job: I do social justice work around technology at Allied Media Projects, so right now I’m helping neighborhoods organize to build wireless mesh networks. Basically, teaching neighbors how to be IT folks, so they can build what is essentially a community-owned communication infrastructure.
Which instrument(s) do you play? First and foremost, I use my voice. That’s how I learned to make music. The first instrument I ever played was the piano. And then I played the cello. And the computer. I’m really into mixing and editing.
Current band/project(s): I play cello and sing back-up in the band Jöjjön. We haven’t practiced or played in a long time, but we’re like family, so it will always be my band. My solo thing, Mother Cyborg, is the biggest thing I’m working on right now. I’ve been working on a couple of collaborations via the internet lately, one with Benbo from the UK. We found each-other on soundcloud, and have been sending tracks back-and-forth. It’s techno like, and has this kind of London Bass feel to it. That’s the thing that I’m most excited about right now.
In the past I’ve played cello for Invincible whenever they’re playing around town. Because of my day job I can’t go on tour with them anymore, but I used to play with them a lot. I play and write music sometimes with Tunde Olaniran, from Flint. I have also play cello and sing once in a while with Stevie Soul — he’s an amazing beatboxer. Whenever people want cello on their record I’ll jump in too. I made it on one of Waajeed’s records, Electric Street Orchestra Scorpio EP as well as a State Lottery 7 inch recently. I like working in the studio with different artist.
I’m still trying to build the Mother Cyborg identity. I think most people know her as a DJ. I have a monthly gig at the Temple, every first Saturday, Temple of Cyborg. I try to create a safe space for women, queer and trans folks, and people of color to rock out. My parties are open to everyone.. I just know as a queer women of color sometimes the dance floor can be a rough place. To me, the dance floor is a sacred space, a place of release and recharge. I care about people’s experience on the dance floor when I’m djing.
How would you describe Jöjjön’s music? Oh man, imagine coupling some old school Detroit rockers with a Hungarian and a techno girl (laughs).. people have described us as similar to everything from Blonde Redhead to Fugazi. I’d say it’s experimental folk rock. It’s cello, bass, guitar and drums, two singers harmonizing, and some call and response vocals.
Who are the other members of that band? Kinga Kemp, Andrew Kemp, and Chris McInnis
Where did the names of each of your projects come from? Andrew and Kinga Kemp own a house on Hubbard Street, and when I first moved to Detroit that was my home. Everyone who is in the band had lived in that house at one point, so we decided to have our first show at the house and invited people to name the band. We had a basket and asked people to put names in it. It was weird.. it was really funny. There were names like Pregnant Teenager, or Teenagers on Weed. We were sitting around the living the room talking and Andrew suggested Jöjjön, which means ‘come as it may’ in Hungarian. The word just looks amazing, and everyone in the band is an artist, so we were all drawn to it visually. It’s beautiful. We’re all spontaneous people, so it makes perfect sense.
Mother Cyborg has a couple of parallel stories. It’s hard to be a female DJ in Detroit, because it’s a very male dominated scene, like everywhere. I met this all women identified DJ collective that’s based in Washington DC through the Allied Media Conference (which I work on), and we became really good friends, so we started doing tours together. One year we were getting ready for one of our big Halloween parties here in Detroit, and I was trying to dress up as Lady Gaga. As I was getting ready I got all pissed off, and was like, I don’t want to be Lady Gaga – fuck that – I want to be who inspires Lady Gaga. Then I decided to do what I always do and stuck a bunch of computer parts on myself, and my friend Darby, DJ Bent, called me Mother Cyborg, and it stuck. Darby named me ;)
Also, it’s sad, but a lot of queer or gay youth will get kicked out of their homes, and so elder gays will have these homes that are kind of like shelters or chosen family homes. Each house has a name and functions with a family structure where everyone has a role. The Ruth Ellis center here carries this tradition. There’s also a music culture that exists within that system, which I grew up in with my San Francisco family. I was close to a few members of the House of Channel. They always called me ‘circuit mama’ because I was like their IT person. So the name also comes from voguing house culture, and always being this electronic person in peoples’ minds. I’m an organizer, always working on logistics, nurturing and teaching people, so I’m the mother of the House of Cyborg.
How long have each of those projects been going on? I’ve been DJing/mixing for 9 years now. Jöjjön started about 3 year ago. Mother Cyborg was born October 31st 2011.
Past band/project(s): As a cellist I can access a lot of different spaces. People always want cello on their projects. The way I play is very experimental, so I can come in and out of a lot of different genres. I’ve played with Invincible and Jessica Caremore. I’ve recorded at Submerge records, just doing some samples for them. I played with this band Yin, which sprung off of Lola Valley which featured Monica Blair. I guess I’ve always jumped around. I was in the hip-hop scene for the longest time. I love hip-hop, but I’m a House and Techno girl, I play in a rock band and I spin Global Bass music. One thing leads to another and it all just kinda bleeds together.
Where did you grow up? I was born in Chicago, and then grew up in a small town in Indiana called Frankfort. The country of Indiana is where I found music, because I was really fucking bored and very sad, I didn’t know who I was. I was in this small town of only 15,000 people, and from one of only five families of color. It was pretty racist. I’m a mixed kid, and I was very queer, but the DIY punk rock scene of the late 90’s totally saved me.
Do you remember your first experience with music as a child? My parents are catholic, so most of my earliest memories were in church, where they were always singing those songs out loud. My favorite memory is of the piano that my parents bought for my older sister. I must have been 7 years old, and I remember being so excited. I would sit there playing around pretending I was fucking Mozart. I must have just been banging on it, but my dad clapped for me afterwards, and I was like, I bet I can play this instrument. I ended up learning the piano for real a few years later when I decided I wanted to play Bohemian Rhapsody at my school talent show. That was too hard, but I did learn to play November Rain. I still know it.
What was your first favorite song? I don’t remember the first, but I loved Mariah Carey so hard when I was a little girl, and Vision of Love was just amazing to me. I would blast it in the morning and try to sing along with it pitch perfect. I swear that Mariah Carey taught me how to sing. I also loved Björk. I remember when Human Behavior came out it blew my mind. And I loved Kim Gordon so much, she was one of my favorites and was plastered all over my wall.
What was the first song you learned to play? I learned how to play some Christmas songs from this organ music we had. I used it to figure out what the different notes were so I could teach myself to play the songs I wanted to play.
When and why did you start playing cello? I was in third grade, so I must have been 9. My sister was in fifth grade and started playing cello in the school orchestra, she brought it home and I made her teach me how to play. She taught me how to play Twinkle Twinkle. Then when I got to fifth grade I started playing it too, and I haven’t put it down since. I got my first job when I was 13 making coney dogs in a trailer in a parking lot to make money to pay for private lessons.
Describe your first instruments. Our piano is this old upright that my parents bought from our neighbors who were moving away. It had a few keys that didn’t work, and we never got it tuned, so I never really learned a certain end of the piano because it sounded like shit. But it worked. I’ve had three cellos. I was a bad — not bad, just a resourceful — kid. I like got some preps to steal a cello for me when I was in high school. That was the first one that I held on to.
When did you first play with a band/perform live? I played solo cello a lot when I lived in San Francisco. I didn’t necessarily play with a band, but I played with these dancers a lot. We’d do things in a feedback loop of improv, feeding off of what each other were doing. I think Jöjjön was my first real band.
What was the first song you ever wrote called/about? When I was a kid, I would write these really intense sad songs on the piano. I remember all of them. I could play a whole set of songs I wrote between the ages of 13-17. None of them had names, they were just melodies in my head.
What instrument(s) do you currently own/play? My carbon fiber cello, from Louis and Clark in Massachusetts. I also have a purple Danelectro guitar.
What gear do you own? How/why did you choose it? I have a whole bachelorette cave of gear. I’m pretty digital when it comes to making stuff, so I’ve got this old school Yamaha 16 channel mixer that MGUN hooked me up with. I have an S4 traktor, which is a four-channel controller for when I DJ. I have a traktor machine, which is like an MPC, but it’s digital, so it’s a beat-maker, a sampler, and a sequencer. I have three midi keyboards. I have this thing called a HC Helicon, which is a vocal modulator and a looper, so you sing into it and you can put all of these custom effects on it, then loop it and harmonize with yourself. It’s really cool. On my computer I use Reason, Garageband, Pro Tools, Logic, and Audacity.
What are your current influences? There’s bands that I listen to and admire, but really what gets me going is my friends. The Anthology of Booty collective in DC influenced me to keep DJing. My friend Pre-Columbian who’s in Philadelphia is doing some amazing shit with creating space for radicals and queer people in Philly. I’ve learned a lot from that crew in the sense of exploring my Latina culture. Finding those connections is huge for me.
What is your favorite thing/type of music to play? I love playing stuff that’s really loud and intense with my cello. The cello can really make people feel vulnerable, and I love exploring that. It can make people cry – it’s really intense. When I DJ, I love playing electronic music that make or really hard hitting dance music that makes you want to go wild, lately I’ve been rocking this mash up of Cumbia, global bass, baltimore club, and trap. I guess I like it rough, but fun. I love the push and pull of hard and soft that tropical south american and african guitars make with hard hitting drums and bass creates. I take a lot of responsibility when I DJ, I consider my dance floor, how people move, what emotions the music might evoke.
How do you balance your music with other obligations? I feel lucky, because I’ve made my job at Allied Media Projects, and I work with my best friends. They get it. Music is a huge part of my life and I need to nourish it. For instance, I’ll take on gigs like booking shows for the Allied Media Conference that allow me to explore my music. In 2014 organized the soundtrack for the Conference which allowed me to weave music into my work life. I’m also not afraid to say yes whenever someone offers me the opportunity to jam or to collaborate. At the end of the day, I wish I had more time to actually make music. I nourish it in all of these other ways, but they don’t come down to creating. I’ve managed to carve 2 months in 2015 to work on a Mother Cyborg album. I’m hoping this becomes a life habit, to carve time out for creation. I am much more happy in the long run when I do. Money can be such a pain in the ass tho.
What was the first record you bought with your own money? Michael Jackson, Off the Wall, Accompanied by Whitney Houston, I Wanna Dance with Somebody … when they first dropped even.
What was the first concert you ever went to? My first ever concert was The Menudos, Ricky Martin’s latin boy band. I loved the Menudos so hard as a kid, I had their 8-track! My first general admission concert was Marilyn Manson opening up for Nine Inch Nails. That was fun.
Who is your all-time favorite musician/band(s)? Sonic Youth will forever be in my heart. They opened my mind. I also love, love Underground Resistance for doing the same with electronic music, and Matmos for showing me that weirdness is an accent… something to work with, a tool.
Who is your favorite Detroit musician/band(s)? Man! There’s so many good bands in Detroit, it’s crazy! My friend Wajeed just started this band called Tiny Hearts. He’s from Detroit and the rest of the band is from LA. I really like Cheerleader. Lola Valley. I think Tyvek is Awesome. I love Secret Twins. Ritual Howls is great. Isles of ESP. Collapse. Little Animal. Breezee One. Goat Toaker. Bonny Doon.
What is your favorite local venue to play? DJing, I like the Temple Bar. The Old Miami is like my backyard, it feels so natural. The coolest venue was the Science Center. I played in the 4D theater with Invincible for Art X in 2012. That was fucking cool. My favorite venue that I haven’t played yet is Trinosophes, I really want to play there, its so beautiful and the sound travels well throughout that big space.
Have you ever toured? If so, what was that like/did you enjoy it? I’ve toured with Invincible here and there. I love touring. I love waking up and knowing that my job is being a musician. I love traveling and meeting random people.
What is your favorite non-local venue? We DJ’d my friend’s house in DC, it was the most epic house party. The Girard Street house. It was a fundraiser for a radio station. I’m into intimate spaces like that. Also playing the Apollo Cafe with Invincible was pretty epic. I’ll never forget, before our performance at the Apollo Cafe, walking onto the Apollo theatre stage thinking, “ha! made it bitches,” then sang a Whitney Houston song at the top of my lungs because she had just passed that night. I was escorted back to the dressing room after the first line of I Will Always Love You.
What was the best show you’ve played? With Jöjjön, the best show we ever played was with Goat Toker at the Painted Lady. It was a fundraiser for Jesse Waters. With Invincible, it was definitely at the Science Center. I mean, it was in a 4D theater – peoples’ seats were bouncing to the beat. There was mist, and smells! The best show I ever had DJing was this queer party we threw during the US Social Forum in 2010 and we got four DJ collectives together, so there were 13 DJs on the bill. We had 700 people at the Old Miami. It got shut down early because it got too crazy. It was incredible and one of my favorite memories.
What was the worst show? It was the last Cupcake gig, at the Old Miami on New Years Eve for 2013. I stopped organizing parties after that. People on coke can be so awful.
What has been your biggest challenge? A mix of self-confidence and inspiration. I think every artist struggles with those. I really wish I was playing more with other people. I love to collaborate. I also worry that people don’t really take me seriously. For whatever reason that is, whether it be my experimental sound, or that I’m a woman producer, or I’m a cellist, I’m a recording artist. Getting through the sexist moments in the DJ booth really takes a toll on me. It is so odd because sexism in djing is so natural, so ingrained into culture, often people don’t know that they are being an asshole. This anger often feeds my set making me extra on point, but there have been times when the boys club shut me out completely and wouldn’t let me play. I hate that moment when I have to decide if I rather let sexism and racism pass or come off as a bitch. I wish I had more options.
What advice would you give to other women who want to play music? Your thoughts and feelings are real. Even if they’re bad, they’re real and there’s truth to them, and that’s what you have to work with. And that’s a gift. Be thankful for your emotions and your feelings. Don’t second-guess yourself. And find other women to talk to. When you’re not alone, when you have someone to talk to, you can do so much more. And don’t give up!
What are your immediate (1-3 year) goals for your music? I want to have a solo album done sometime in the next year. I want to continue with my monthly, and become known for a particular type of dance party that people are excited to go to.
Are you interested in working on new projects with new people? Yeah, absolutely. I would love to play in a band that is committed to growing and performing, and can work collectively, and is down to experiment. Maybe that’s too much to ask for (laughs). I would love a band that has a strong relationship and is able to jam and write songs every week. It’s like learning math, you can feel your brain expanding. Learning how to sing and play cello at the same time is a mind fuck that I love because it’s a challenge. It’s just different from when I’m in my studio. I would love to face those challenges with others.
If you were to interview one female musician in Detroit, who would it be? Stacey Hotwaxx Hale. Or DJ Minx. Minx started Women on Wax in the late 80s or early 90s. I actually did interview her once, so maybe that doesn’t count. I would want to interview Dina from Secret Twins. I would also want to interview Monica Blair. In general I would love to have access to more women of color’s musical stories.