I always love meeting people, especially creative ones in real life that I’ve only interacted with via social media but can tell right away that their energy is pure and that they pour out their love into whatever creative field they lay. A few weeks back I had the pleasure of finally meeting Toronto’s DJ Nico who has deep history within the scene as a DJ and music lover and has built an amazing foundation that combines music and design to be an all in one, in house production that captures the essence of who she is perfectly. During the conversation I got to learn a lot about the Toronto scene and how diverse it really is especially with it being such an international city as well as recommendations for some of the best places to eat from someone that knows. Strap in as I go in-depth with DJ Nico to get the scoop about this “girl about town”.
Can you introduce yourself to our readers and give them a brief background of who you are?
I’m Teresinha da Conceicao Barcelos Da Costa aka DJ Nico. I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada – first generation settler whose family is from the Azores, Portugal. We made the move to this country in 1972. I was born in 1974 and English was my second language. I still speak and write Portuguese fluently. I was the first in my family to pursue post-secondary education – completed a Bachelor of Arts in English (literature) with no student loans, worked hard paying my own way through school. I’ve loved music as far back as I can remember. The usual 50s rock and roll and growing up the youngest to a brother into the alternative music of the 80s which was mostly British artists. I followed my big brother’s lead, making cassette tapes from the radio – buying records, then cassettes, then CDs, back to records. I’ve quietly been the nerd doing my own thing, not really following the trends or hip crowd – getting involved in all circles of friends, scenes, styles, creative outlets. From bands to collecting, dancing, bars, vintage fashion, sports, shops – whatever seems fun and interesting and inspiring. I loved knowing things and sharing information, so people naturally come to me for what to check out.
When did you start DJ’ing and were you already buying records and into music before that?
I started going to record shows when I was 15-16 years old. The one I was first aware of was in the west end of the city that would happen I believe twice a year in a legion hall. I would go to record shops and see flyers for the record collector shows. At the time I was working at McDonald’s and buying records. The Smiths, The Cure, U2. I was a huge U2 fan. Every LP, concert bootleg on record. CDs were becoming popular so I started to buy them too. My first DJ gig was spinning at a “café” that really was a front for pot sellers. Ladies of the night were turning tricks in the laneway behind this place. I played records with friends of mine. One turntable, belt driven. And the streetcars would go past and skip the records. I was about 19 or 20.
You’ve been in the scene for quite some time now and have really made a name for yourself. When you first started out, did you begin with throwing your own night or were you guest DJ’ing at other established nights to build your name?
I was doing one offs when friends would invite me. One gig would build on to another. I was very much a fan of going to other people’s gigs and we’d nerd out talking about music. That would usually lead to being asked to spin without that intention. The friendships were first and foremost, the music and DJing came after. I was a part of the community and it was a natural progression.
You host a party called With it that has been going on for a long time now which I recently had the pleasure of playing a few weeks back while in town. It’s an amazing and fun night with a lot of people dancing and enjoying the room. You really seemed to have groomed your audience to be open to a variety of music outside of what’s typically being played at most soul nights. Do you find it easy to have such diversity in genres and is your audience always open to what you’re playing?
Luckily the bar I’ve been running With It at has a reputation of hosting great parties. All very different but quality DJs and strong concepts. And also, time builds trust. The bar I believe has been around 12+ years and I’m celebrating 10 years next summer. I think if you take into consideration what people like and push the boundaries in a respectful, creative way, you will win them over. I handpick friends to guest DJ who I know can work a room. My selects are usually more popular tracks or things I know people find familiar to balance out more deep or rare cuts that guests tend to play. It’s worked out well. I’ve had people who are heavily in to spinning reggae, funk, garage, northern along with soul music and it’s gone over with the crowd. Folks want to have a good time, not to be schooled in a condescending way. The balance is to give them what they didn’t know they wanted to hear and dance to – when to hit them with the stuff you love and keep the energy going. While keeping it simple and not overthink it. What comes naturally and organically. That takes experience, time, knowing the scene, the crowds, the room. My theme is mod 60s which to me is so wide open – from soul to jazz to RnB to RnR, garage, funk, northern, reggae. They are all rooted in black culture which I respect and love.
Do you play any other nights in Toronto or other cities in Canada?
I get asked to do one offs for friend’s parties here in Toronto. I try to not DJ too often so that my monthly is a bit more of a treat. If friends know they can see you another time they don’t make as much an effort. And it gets kind of boring and repetitive. I want to enjoy gigs and not feel like it’s a job or chore. I’m picky with what I choose to do as it’s not about making money or popularity. I get asked to spin with friends in Hamilton, Ottawa, Peterborough, and am actually getting prepared to spin in Montreal in late November. It’s been a few years since I have visited and DJ’d that city. I’m waiting to be invited to spin in western Canada if anyone wants to have me out there!
What’s the scene like in Toronto as far as Soul / Funk nights? Is it a healthy one and do you see it growing with new people coming out?
There is a distinction between vinyl only nights here. The soul and funk scenes are healthy but have a different focus. I’m entrenched in 60s soul and play records. The city is filled with incredibly talented DJs who are digital based and beat match and mix soul, funk, house, jazz, latin, afrobeat, boogie, disco and cross more decades of music. Those DJs and scenes attract a different crowd. What I do focuses on vintage culture along with the music. Less club scene, more subculture. Toronto has had a very healthy club scene since the 70s. It peaked in the 90s in to the 00s. That is when I was in university and started to explore that side of Toronto. There were tons of spaces and places to dance. But I was attracted to more obscure niche events. Moving in circle of friends who were in bands and collected records. When Toronto Soul Club started 7 years ago, between the 8 members we were running I believe 6-7 soul related parties. The city had options to hear soul music weekly at least, all vinyl. Since then some of those parties have not continued and in the process of coming back as one offs. With It somehow stuck around. Maybe because of how wide open it is and changes and shifts to stay relevant. I’m seeing more people start new parties and hopefully continue to build up the strong scene we’ve had and the potential for more quality events, creative offerings. The younger crowds have made a difference, their openness to different genres, I call it the iPod shuffle generation. They like variety and have had access to so much more music than past generations. It’s pretty cool. Just not when they make requests that are off the mark of your theme!
What are you listening to when at home?
I get lazy. I do like silence to balance all the music I play either in the club or the radio show I host and the bands and DJ friends I support. Often, I just turn on a radio station that plays 70s-90s music when I don’t want to think or care too much, fill the silence while I get ready in the morning. Otherwise I’m listening to new record purchases to see how they may fit in my sets at With It or feature on my monthly radio show.
Your day job is in the graphic design field, do you listen to music when you’re creating and does it help inspire your creativity?
I used to be able to listen to music while I work. I don’t know if it’s my age but it’s a lot harder. Depends on the project I am working on, how much focus I need. I mostly catch up on podcasts and mixes of shows that friends host or create. Something I don’t need to be too involved with, no live chats, I do love interviews and learning about scenes and artists in different cities and decades.
I really love the details that go into your party flyers which really captures the essence of what your nights are all about. How do you go about choosing what imagery you used to give the people a glimpse of what to expect?
I usually have an image in mind before I promote the next month’s party. I constantly scour the internet, social media for cool photos. I like to feature women identifying artists, bold photography, beautiful faces, fashionable, recognizable figures, inspirational, reflecting the decade of music played. Almost always it is of black artists, favourite girl groups or singers, black and white photos that lend themselves well to wide proportions for posting online. My current theme has been sepia tones in colours that are very 60s. I very much love emotive photography and showing black beauty and joy is important to me as a creative and wanting to support and celebrate a culture that gives me so much inspiration.
What are 5 records that are always in your box when playing out?
Booker T and the MGs – Green onions
Smith – Baby it’s you (I play this version for my friend who runs the bar door)
Martha and the Vandellas – (Love is like a) Heat wave
The Flirtations – Nothing but a heartache
Edwin Starr – Twenty-five miles
If DJ’ing could take you anywhere, what cities would you love to play in?
London, Memphis, San Francisco, Barcelona, Osaka, anywhere in Italy!
You also have a radio show on totallywiredradio.com called Girl About Town. How long have you been doing the show and what are the differences of playing for on air broadcasts versus live in the club?
I was invited to host my own show early this year and debuted Girl About Town in April 2022. Both radio and club DJing you are taking people on a trip. With broadcasting, you are telling more of a story with your themes and explaining your choices while the other you are doing it all with just sound but adding vibe and energy and creating atmosphere. You can do the same with radio but are less concerned with moving people physically in the same shared space. And they don’t have to see you! Plus, you can move in and out of tempos and genres more easily. Both are creative but in different ways. I like being more thoughtful doing radio and weaving my themes together versus the visceral and physical experience of club DJing.
As DJ’s we’re always out and about and love to eat and drink. What’s your go to restaurants to eat at and what are you sipping on when DJ’ing?
I’m a creature of habit so tend to go back to the same places and favourites. Also have some food allergies so I try to be safe with what I know. Ginger is a pan Asian restaurant I like to take away from, the Queen Street location. A favourite curry spot is Little India also on Queen Street. Terroni for Italian – again on Queen West. My poison while DJing is a classic – G&T! Gin and tonics are light and refreshing all year round. If I’m feeling nostalgic, rum and coke. Not a beer or wine drinker AT ALL.
What do you have coming up next and on the agenda to close out the year?
Oh my goodness – it’s a busy Fall/Winter. Going to Detroit for a weekender of soul artists from the 60s performing. I’m bringing a box of 45s as a few people have been asked to spin over those days. I’ve got my residency at The Piston which is first Saturdays each month. I’ve been invited to spin in Montreal at Bar la shop at the end of November. DJing a local record label 25th anniversary in December – details TBA. And have been invited back to Mallorca, Spain for Totally Wired Radio’s Modcast holiday in July 2023.
Any last words?
I’ve said so much! Just to thank you for all your support and what you do for collector culture whether it be music or film, tv. It’s super cool to preserve and celebrate these artifacts and the deep meaning it has to those who’ve grown up with them and the stories they tell about the time and place they were created whether popular or obscure. You ARE the King of Nostalgia!