Artist of the Month: Nora En Pure
Artist of the Month: Nora En PureNovember 13, 2023
Nora En Pure strives to make timeless music.
In this pursuit, nature is her most loyal muse. The “Who You Are” producer’s connection with the ocean runs deep and is an energy she brings into her productions and DJ sets.
“I think the ocean is so symbolic of life and also of music in particular. It’s raw, it’s untamed, it’s wild, but it’s also soothing and calming. It’s so powerful and vast, it makes us realize how tiny we are and humbles us. I just love all those feelings mixed together. That is often where I see my music too. I try to take the listener through those different levels of emotion,” she describes.
“And all of that is the ocean for me as well. I have always had a very special feeling when I get to see the ocean—obviously living in Switzerland, we don’t have one, so it became even more special to me.”
Nora En Pure, born Daniela Di Lillo to Swiss and South African parents in Johannesburg in 1990, is securely in the upper echelons of in-demand, big-name DJs, but came to this path almost accidentally. In 2013, when she was in college studying forensic psychology and making music on the side, her track “Come With Me“—released on Swiss imprint Enormous Tunes, who she continues to regularly release with—got play from a wide range of DJs. She got booked off the song, so she decided to give a career in music a try, which has clearly gone pretty well so far.
Di Lillo’s latest release, Arbora/Illusions, is a dreamy two-tracker on Enormous Tunes. (The B-side, “Illusions,” which opens with a dramatic violin is a Beatport exclusive for the first two weeks of release.) “Arbora” is a response to “Forsaken Dream,” the wistful, melancholic B-side of August 2022’s Gratitude EP.
“I often try to encapsulate a certain feeling or mood with a track. ‘Forsaken Dream,’ was a little bit about that melancholy you feel when certain dreams or goals seem a bit far away and you kind of give up on them,” she explains.
“‘Arbora’ is [about] that feeling that sometimes, when everything aligns, you feel like you have enough power to pursue those goals or dreams that you maybe once thought were not possible. I think every now and then, we have it in our lives to go after something—I love that feeling. It’s something that should inspire and be hopeful and make you feel like you can make it.”
For Di Lillo, the closest analogy to experiencing that feeling in her life lately has been getting to link her music more directly with nature conservation efforts. Her label, Purified Records, recently formed a partnership with conservation-focused advocacy platform OnlyOne and Australian underwater photographer Daniel Nicholson. All releases on Purified will feature Nicholson’s stunning photography and 30 percent of their revenue will be donated to conservation projects.
“The two topics I’m most passionate about are nature/wildlife and music. So if I can use my platform now for my other passion, that is a full circle moment for me.”
She joined as an official ambassador for OnlyOne in April, and will further her awareness and advocacy work with them by tying their campaigns into her releases. The ocean and water are already very much a part of the brand and imagery (the Purified logo is a crystalized water droplet), and single art always being a body of water. Now, that imagery will be elevated by Nicholson’s vivid work, who she’s excited to collab with.
“We’ve always featured ocean art on our release artworks. I always felt it would be so cool to just take it a step further and use that platform to highlight things that should be talked about or that some people are not as much in touch with yet. When I speak about nature efforts, it resonates quite well with my audience because they are often the people that feel wanderlust and enjoy being outside and all that. But it also manages to maybe reach an audience that normally isn’t as much into the whole nature conservation scene,” she adds.
She appreciates that OnlyOne is transparent and their actions are easy to engage with, and they take a positive approach to activism, sharing good news about nature instead of solely focusing on images and statistics centered on destruction and environmental collapse. “It’s a super modern and straightforward platform that I really, really look up to. I’m very proud to be working with them.”
Beyond finding creative inspiration from nature, it’s her safe space. Even before she became a globe-trotting DJ, she’s found solace being in nature, seeking it out whenever she can.
“Nature is my absolute comfort zone and comfort space. You can put me anywhere in a forest or by the ocean or in a field and I’ll be very happy [chuckles], whereas the city is really not my comfort zone at all. Obviously, I’ve started to get to know certain cities better because I’m there quite often, but I definitely need the counterpart and I need my calm and silence out in nature,” the “Spring Embers” producer says.
“I also think for anyone, even for people that can’t connect to nature as much, if you’re stressed out, I would lay my hand in the fire that if you go out in nature, you will feel 100 percent better. That’s the origin of where we as humans came from and it’s where we connect on a much deeper level. We kind of lost that connection, I think, these days.”
A key part of her sonic identity is the organic sounds she fuses with her deep, smooth electronic beats. Yet you don’t often hear a wave crashing or whale or bird calling out on one of her tracks. Instead, she prefers to serve up subtler, intricately layered samples that offer an air of mystery—sounds you can’t necessarily place or individually pick out. She’s tried making her own field recordings, but they never sound crisp and clear enough for her liking. Instead, she opts for well-recorded organic sounds from sample packs.
She also finds deep inspiration from movie soundtracks. “That’s an insane art of making the viewer feel like he’s part of what is happening there,” she muses. “Most of that usually comes in my breaks where it’s quite atmospheric and sometimes cinematic as well. It all matters where I want to take listeners to in that particular track. So, if it’s in the rainforest, or by the ocean or something, I mostly just use organic samples, layering them in such a way that it’s quite a rich and warm feeling. And silky smooth.”
This year, she was tapped by Atlantic Records to remix Donna Lewis’ classic ’90s pop hit, “I Love You Always Forever.” On paper, it’s somewhat surprising—Nora En Pure isn’t known for pop edits (although she delivered a driving, melodic club remix of Tove Lo’s “Cool Girl” two years ago), and the original is mellow 104 BPM bop. But “I Love You Always Forever (Nora’s Version)” is a perfect marriage of Nora En Pure chill with the original, emotive vocals. A driving bassline helps bring the song to the dancefloor at 122 BPM. At the time of this writing, it’s her most popular track on Beatport.
“We were approached by the label, as they were celebrating 75 years of Atlantic with remixes of some of their biggest records. It’s a huge honor, and a challenge as well, to touch a classic like that. I tried to keep it sweet, as I thought that fits best to Donna Lewis’ voice, and it reminds me of my childhood, as it probably does for many people,” she shares.
While she is drawn to chiller tunes, she makes sure to also produce club-oriented tracks to use in her sets. But given that dance music has trended harder and faster ever since lockdown restrictions began easing up in 2021, Di Lillo admits she has a more difficult time closing after “someone who’s been banging it out with 140 BPM.” Depending on the environment, she’ll go a little faster or deeper, but it’s important to her to stay true to her sound and her audience. She loves seeing the huge age range of fans at her shows, which demonstrates to her that her music still speaks to those who are beyond their peak-rave years.
She appreciates that the pandemic gave her a space to do chilled-out livestreams, and understands that people have wanted to rage once parties happened IRL again. She’s open to giving them a bit more energy, but in the end, it’s been her steadfast dedication to her deep, uplifting, melodic sound that’s allowed her to steadily grow a dedicated fanbase over the years. She didn’t get her start by riding a trend and she’s surely not going to make a drastic pivot to so now. (Although, as she pointed out, one of her recent clubbier tracks, “Prophets of Hope,” fits in with the popular Afterlife sound.)
One of her biggest pieces of advice that she gives to Purified artists? “Don’t change your music too much to current trends. Always believe in your initial vision and stick to that. Make the trends yourself. There’s too many out there already following [trends] and it’s just not as creative.”
And when it comes to what music she chooses to release on Purified Records, it really comes down to if she loves the track. (She calls this selfish, but honestly it makes sense in having a cohesive, curated Purified sound.) She listens to every demo she’s sent, and if it’s one she thinks could work, she’ll leave it open in her browser to listen back to it multiple times. If it’s something that could work in her DJ set, she’ll try it out and see how it fits, how it makes her feel, and how it sounds on a big sound system.
When choosing more chilled tracks, they also have to touch her. “[I choose] whatever really touches me, whatever sticks with me. And of course, check that the artist is on the same page and that the intention is there for honest music and they’re not just jumping on a trend of melodic house and techno or something like that. I like it when they try things that surprise me,” Di Lillo says.
“At the beginning [of Purified], I was more trying to think more openly; what could [work] in the markets? After a while, I realized it’s just best if I feel it most. If I’m passionate about it, that will be what translates the most. If it’s tracks that I can play myself or really love myself to listen to at home, I can promote them better. That is what resonates best with the people that follow me as well.”
Of course, she has go-to artists and tracks for DJ and Purified Radio sets that fit her sonic vibe. One of those tracks she currently can’t get enough of is Joris Voorn’s remix of Eelke Kleijn‘s “Transmission.” “I have been playing [it] in so many sets for more than a year now. I still absolutely love the energy this track brings, an absolute rave anthem.”
It’s been quite an uphill ride in the decade since she first created a buzz around her music with “Come With Me,” going from playing half-empty clubs at the beginning to headlining some of the biggest fests and clubs in the world. But for Di Lillo, despite the success over the years, she has never had that “I made it” moment.
“To be honest, I’m a doubter and a questioner and my harshest critic. So, I always look to improve. I don’t think I’ve ever had this feeling like, ‘Yes, I made it.’ Which is actually really sad because sometimes I know we did well, I guess. But you’re always chasing the next thing, right? Even if you worked quite long towards a quite important event and then it’s happening and even goes well, then the next thing is already on the horizon and you have other things that you think could be improved,” she reveals.
Her biggest goal for 2024 is to have a better work-life balance. Even for how much her brand and music feel adjacent to a wellness retreat in paradise and with the time she makes sure to get in nature, she too has been caught in the touring DJ hamster wheel the last ten years. She wants more time in the studio to think outside of the box and to collab in person with vocalists (which she usually does remotely), and to relax at home with her phone off. She knows more balance will keep her excited to keep pushing forward with her music.
“If you just constantly play show after show after show, you play a lot of your own music, so you’re not as excited about it anymore. I definitely want to keep that excitement… Traveling is sometimes so much and so quick after another that you can’t really process it. It’s too nice of a life to just have it fly by the whole time,” she concludes.