‘DIGGING HER SCENE’ WITH NATASHA DIGGS
For well over a decade Natasha Diggs has been digging deeper to provide the soundscape for parties across the globe. A record enthusiast and collector from her teenage years, Diggs has become a force to be reckoned with and one of the most sought-after DJs in the world, whether she’s playing all vinyl or Serato. With the acquisition of her first set of turntables at age 17, she has since gone on to play at some of the hottest parties and alongside some of the best DJs and artists in the business. Maz Phiri caught up with her.
So, were you born and raised in New York?
No, Arizona actually. But I’ve been here in New York for almost 20 years.
When did you start collecting records?
I started collecting as a teenager. I was really introverted, super shy, and collecting records kind of became my world. I was discovering music and making mix tapes. I just love the reward of finding a new record or one that you've been looking for forever; it is like, unearthing treasure.
So, when did you start DJ’ing?
I started doing house parties, early on in college. That is where I met one of my best friends. We were both at the goodwill (second hand) in the record section. And I saw her looking through the records and I wondered what she was looking at, because it was unusual at that moment in time to see, another girl looking through the record section in the goodwill. Especially, in Arizona, it's like; you're already digging in a void. There are not a lot of people, it's just different, it's not like being in New York. So, I asked her what she was looking for and she said, “You know, Soul, Funk, Disco” In which I replied, “Oh cool, well maybe we should exchange info”. She was the complete opposite to me, very extrovert, older then I. She was already going to the clubs. I would go to her house with my little box of 45s and we’d practice and stuff. She already knew all the people at the clubs and would sneak me in. So, she was in a great position to get us a night basically and that’s where we started. She was the out going social butterfly and I was super shy. If I hadn’t have met her I may still well be in my bedroom.
She was the marketing and PR guru of the collaboration?
The whole thing, the whole package, her name is Gizmo. She followed me to NYC a few years later after I moved to New York and she has a really cool vintage shop here on the street. She’s a notorious person in Bed Stuy. Everyone knows her; she’s a fashion icon. Her name is @gizmo_vintage_honey, you should look her up on Instagram, but yeah, she's amazing, so much fun. This is who was the catalyst to me starting to DJ out. When I started to DJ out, I had a lot of 45s, because I'd had good luck with that. So, I was playing these 45s and when you're really young, you're not thinking about what everyone else wants to hear. You don't even know because it's like, your first experience. So, me playing these 45s I think was just really refreshing to everyone. We weren't playing the same things as others. Literally, the pair of us just played the records that we liked. We were super vintage. We’d be at the thrift stores getting all our clothes from the 70s era. Looking at album covers for inspiration. We were like, the whole thing. We thought we were in a different era, we didn't even think!
It’s quite trailblazing if you think about it, you had your own look, your own sound. Can you remember the first record you played out?
Oh my God. I can't remember the exact first record, but I do, do this mix between ‘Soul Power’ by Fred Wesley and ‘Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself’ by Sly Stone. Which is also kind of serendipitous, as I think throughout my whole career, that's the one thing I've always stayed true too. I've been able to attract everything by just being myself, by playing the stuff I love.
So, when did you first discover House music?
I was a teenager in high school; I had this boyfriend at the time, who knew of this spot in downtown, which was like a little warehouse where he could get us in. This was back in Arizona and my first ever rave experience. When I think back I was definitely far too young to be in there, but that was my first time seeing DJs up close and in that kind of environment. It was called the ‘Red Monkey’ and it was a night ran by a DJ named Pete Salas. It was just really different to anything I’d ever experienced, a complete revelation. A dirty warehouse that was quite grimy, but with sporadic lighting and darkness. What really stood out for me was the liberation, the dancing and the not caring, you know, like, literally not giving a fuck! These were the places I was told not to go to or should not be in, but I felt so alive and free here.
What clubs did you go to when you got to New York?
When I first got to New York there was this club called Love it was a short lived spot, but the sound system in this place was amazing. That might actually have been the first time I really experienced an incredible sound system. I saw DJ Spinna there and it was like I was hearing music that I'd heard a million times before for the first time again. Body & Soul too, that was when I was was like whoah! Okay, this sound is super. There’s levels to this, you know. Wow, this shit is amazing. I mean, early on in my NYC days, I was so into my record digging world but also a teacher. I was teaching preschool.
What a teacher? So you were a badass DJ by night and teacher by day? Kind of like a superhero?
Yeah, I taught preschool for 10 years. I’m a Montessori trained teacher. So, that’s what got me from Nogales(Arizona) to New York. I was like, Okay, how am I going to move to New York City. I have to get out of here somehow. So, I had this. I used teaching as the way to get out and I started DJing on a night. Like you say it’s like a superhero story.
It helped you pay your way?
Yeah, it did. And, I loved working with the kids. That's kind of my essence too. I’ve always said that working with toddlers at seven in the morning is the same as dealing with drunk inebriated adults at 4am. So, it was a continuation, you know.
With so many DJs and producers coming out of New York, who would you say is your biggest influence or favourite? You can probably class some of them as friends now too, I would assume?
I'm so blessed in this realm to call so many people who I look up to, as friends now. People like for instance, Danny Krivit, he brings me records. He'll deliver records to my house, whenever he has anything new out, or he’ll ask to meet me wherever I am in the city. He's like my record delivery service. I’m like, “your Danny Krivit! This is insane”. Every time he does it, I’m like what is going on. Then people like DJ Spinna, from my time in Arizona; these are the people who I looked up to. Kenny Dope & Louie Vega too, It still amazes me that I've played with these people and that I have a rapport with them. My teenage bedroom was covered in records. It really, has come to life. like legit, so many of the people, I mean, for instance, I work with Q-Tip, right? We used to DJ together at his weekly NYC party #OFFLINE produced by Giant Step. I mean l used to listen to all the tribe records. I've met a lot of my favourite hip-hop people; I was the official DJ for Lauryn Hill’s Small Axe Acoustic Set Tour and was called upon as well for the Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibit opening at Brooklyn Museum. Even, the classic legends like Gil Scott Heron, I met him before he passed. But I do think that's just being a product of being in New York, I think, when you're in the New York music world you end up running into everybody or, but it is just crazy, Roy Ayers has played ‘Soul in the Horn’. My whole record collection, from when I was a kid, if you had told me that the whole thing was going to come to life, and all of a sudden, these people are going to be part of my phone book, my Rolodex and just part of my world. I don't know if I could or would have believed it. But yeah, it all happened so organically and beautifully, and for that I'm just I'm really grateful.
You're known for your signature 45 sets, what inspired that? Or was it because you were just buying 45s?
I was a teenager and looking for 45s. I’d go to all the thrift stores, flea markets and the swap meets. I was even on the auction circuit. I mean I was IN IT! I had some really good luck finding 45s. Really amazing records for cheap and when I started seeing that I was like wow, I couldn't pass them up because 45s always get piled up high in a store, like no one wants to look at them. It's a lot of work to look through a lot of them you kind of have to know the names because there's no covers to go off, Not like with album covers, where you can look at it and you're like “oh that's gonna be hot” or that you know the font is like this and like that. Oh she's looking fly that's gonna be hot, you can kind of tell. Looking for 45s though is a little more intense work but I had some good luck. So, I was just always looking through 45s and for me it was easier to carry them to my gigs. You know records are so heavy and I would have these like cute little 45 boxes that matched my outfit.
I was still girly girl with it.
I love your style and your outfits. When you're into your clothes and your music. It's the whole thing isn’t it?
It's the whole package. I mean, look at Prince for instance, he was about the music but it was also about the production, the clothes, the performance, the stage, the set, and his band. Everybody had to look the part everybody had to know the moves; it was a full package deal. I think a lot of us are more multi dimensional artists. I'm a DJ, but I also consider myself many other things, I'm an artist, I like to make things look beautiful. I also like to make things sound beautiful. I love to dance too there’s many aspects, you know, and why not? Like, why not incorporate them all? If you can.
When and where did the idea for ‘Soul in the Horn’ come about? And how did you and D Prosper meet?
I guess we met initially when I was maybe doing offline with Q-tip. He was still living in LA but when he came back, he started, checking me out when I was DJing. I wanted to have my own kind of residency. The next logical step for me was to have my own thing, because at that time, I was doing Mobile Mondays, which was a 45 party, but it wasn't my own thing. So, I wanted to have something that was mine and that I could break out and be progressive about. ‘Soul in the horn’ was born from a playlist that he had made, some time ago, and it was all about music with horns in it. Across genres, across continents and I just thought it was such a beautiful concept. He wanted to do this kind of party, because, the guests would have to think about what music has horns in it, they’d need to think about the musicality factor of it. So it was a bit of a challenge, but we wanted the guests to dig a little deeper. I’ve always been attracted to the sound of the horn as it unifies, it's universal in all kinds of music. When you hear those horns, whether it's the horn stabs from, a funk track or a James Brown record, you know, or on some Fela Kuti or whatever. It's like something has hit your heart in a special way, right? to another level. We didn't know if this was going to be like a one party thing or whatever. But here we are seven years later. A global movement, which started life as a playlist.
And finally who are your dance music heroes or heroines?
Definitely Louie Vega, I just love, I mean Masters at Work in general their career is so prolific and so frickin deep and so good. It’s insane. Recently they did the whole re-release of the catalogue on Traxsource and stuff and I had to do a chart for Louie and I just found it near on impossible. How is it possible to have so many bangers and they’re still putting out the most consistently great tracks. I also love Josh Milan. Josh played ‘Soul in the Horn’ recently with the wonderful Dawn Taliman, which was just amazing. They’re both spiritual; they’re kind and some of the most humble and beautiful people.