Photo: Juan Ortiz Arenas (Ela Minus)
It goes without saying that 2020 wasn’t a particularly good year for up and coming producers hoping to leave their mark on a scene that had come to a grinding halt, but Ela Minus somehow managed to do exactly that. The New York-based Gabriela Jimeno released her debut solo EP in April this year and struck a nerve with her hardware-only hybrid of straightforward dance rhythms and pop sentiment. When half a year later her album Acts of Rebellion was released on Domino, it ironically seemed to come right in time – most parts of the world were facing a second wave of infections and thus more strict measures, both of which limited social contact for most people. The defiant yet uplifting sound of Ela Minus’s ten tracks may have provided solace and the occasional moments of joy and hope in otherwise bleak times for many of them. It’s no surprise then that Jimeno was voted “newcomer of the year” by the Groove readers. Her mix for the Groove podcast highlights yet another facet of the singer, songwriter and producer’s work. It’s an uplifting, colourful mix full of twists and turns.
Before you became a solo artist, you were sitting behind the drum kit of a hardcore punk band. What apart from its musical aspects drew you to the electronic music community later? You’ve said that you were never exposed to this culture in your native Colombia and while they share a certain DIY ethos, both are quite different.
Freedom. Electronic music means freedom to me. With electronic music I feel free on both sides: amongst the audience, and on a stage or in the booth. The anonymity of a dark club, the freedom that anonymity gives me, the freedom of being able to produce music completely alone, to be free to do whatever i want, to be free from the physical laws of acoustic space when using synthesizers, everything about electronic music and its culture simply speaks of freedom to me. I am extremely attracted to that. It’s what attracted me to punk when I was a teenager, then to jazz in my early 20s, and now to electronic music.
You have a very strict approach to music production, relying exclusively on hardware when composing your tracks. What are the benefits of this particular approach for you?
Well, I am able to make the kind of music that I actually like. I have never made anything on a laptop that I liked. So that is a huge benefit, I would say! (laughs) I also find it very helpful in my process to have limitations, be it in the form of deadlines, of the instruments I use, etc. Whatever the limitations are they, tend to help me get things done and get inspired. They have always served my creativity, so I’m often looking for fun self-imposed limitations so that I continue to push myself into new territories.
A main ingredient of your sound is of course your own voice and you also improvise a lot in that respect. What about the lyrics, though? Do you develop them out of spontaneous ideas or do you use pre-written material that you apply to the melodies that you came up with?
Both. When i’m improvising, the melodic lines usually come with one single word, or a phrase, something that captures the sentiment in words. But then there are times when I’ll write the instrumental and maybe figure out the form, and then close my eyes and improvise on a loop for hours, just singing. Sometimes the entire song and the lyrics will come out that way, other times it does not. And then is where I look through my notebook of ideas, I am constantly writing in notebooks, so there is always material for me to take from, but I think more, so I am writing every day, to get my ideas in order and sort of figure out the direction in which I want to go with everything I am creating, thinking always of creating a universe, describing it with words, putting it together word by word, you know? So I have a sort of a clear intention of what I want to make in my head and that is why, when I improvise, it usually comes out cohesive with what I’m thinking of creating. Intentions. Intentions are so important and they come out so naturally while improvising, when you have set them prior to playing, writing or producing. Also books. I’m always reading, so I think whatever i’m reading at the time ends up influencing the songwriting.
Thematically, your album Acts of Rebellion picks up on the notion that the personal is political, a main theme of the so-called New Left and the second wave of feminism in the 1960s. Somewhat paradoxically, the COVID-19 has magnified the existing inequalities in our world, but has also made it harder to organise on a political level in order to tackle them. What “acts of rebellion” would you say are necessary, or at least possible in such a situation?
I don’t think it is necessarily true that COVID-19 has made it harder to organise on a political level, as we’ve seen with important demonstrations of organised action like the Black Lives Matter movements around the world. I think it has had the opposite effect, actually. As you point out, it has magnified the existing inequalities, plus it has given people free time to – for once – actually pay attention to issues that have been going on for decades. It is an extremely powerful combination, exposure plus free time. Free time to reflect, to think, to change, to take action, or to decide not to, but at least to pay attention and question, question everything. Which in my opinion is the most important act of rebellion. Now, for what comes ahead, I think regaining control of our attention and what we choose to do with our time is the single most important and powerful act of rebellion.
You’ve recently followed up the album with a remix EP that saw TSHA and Sofia Kourtesis reworking “megapunk” after others like Machine Woman and Elkka had already done the same. Why do you put such an emphasis on that track in particular and how did you end up picking those two producers for the new remix EP?
The extra attention to “megapunk” didn’t come from me, it came from outside. People have resonated with it so much, and I just listened to them. I love both TSHA’s and Sofia’s work, so it was natural. I knew I wanted them to do remixes and it just worked out perfectly with that song.
You’ve said that your DJ sets are “entirely different side” of you and your work. How would you characterise your approach as a DJ, what’s important to you when playing in a club or recording a mix – and how exactly is that different from what you do as a musician?
Well, it just is completely different. Here I am performing, there, I’m not. On the one side I am performing my own songs, singing, with hardware only, paying a lot of attention to a lot of different things, mixing myself live, etc., while focusing on being as entertaining as I can as a performer to connect with the audience. And on the other side, with a DJ set, I’m playing other people’s tracks, and I’m simply … having fun! To be honest, sometimes I completely forget I am in a room with other people, I get lost in the music and have so much fun, it is so liberating for me, I love music so much and I spend a lot of time just listening to it and enjoying it, dancing to it, etc., so DJ sets are essentially what I do by myself at home but I get to share it with others. It’s cool to share another side of me, two sides of the same coin.
What was the idea behind your mix for our Groove podcast?
I rather let you listen!
Stream: Ela Minus – Groove Podcast 291
01. Elkka – Unreleased
(Lucrecia Martel Spoken Samples)
02. Sofia Kourtesis – La Perla
03. Tristan Arp – Plexi
04. Call Super And Parris – Design Of An Eye Sublime Feat. Fox
05. Tristan Arp – Oblique House
06. Avalon Emerson – Finally Some Common Ground
07. Ela Minus – Megapunk (Machine Woman Deconstructed Club Remix)
08. Two Shell – Run
09. Underspreche – Acid Gentle Moves
10. Elkka – Unreleased
11. Two Shell – Touchpad
12. Upsammy – Melt In My Heated Hands