An introduction to Ela
The interview commences at around 3pm; a bright early afternoon. Ela experienced technical difficulties, so we leave the cameras off and speak via audio only. Her icon is a bright pink stripe dashed across a black square, a recurring image across her visual content. She is soft-spoken and courteous. Ela prefers not to use descriptive terms to describe her music, instead she opts for “bright music for dark times or tiny techno” to refer to her sound. She explains, “when I started, I was using a lot of small sounds. It was very minimal…I was really trying not to fall into the overproduced electronic scene”. Later, expanding with, “I couldn’t hear the human behind the music [scene]. I could only hear the production. I could hear scales and really impressive stuff but no feelings or soul”. As a result, she makes the music she wants to hear, exemplifying the joy she hopes to elicit from her listeners with an image,
“I had an image of a couple like grandparents dancing. I thought they would dance tiny. They barely move but they’re enjoying themselves so much. So, I thought, tiny techno, that’s the music I want to make”.
What really stands out about Ela is her devotion to her instruments. “I was a drummer before me doing this”, she recalls, before progressing on to studying jazz and synthesiser design at Berklee College of music. “I started playing in hardcore punk rock bands when I was a teenager, so I think I have a DIY approach to doing everything that comes from those years”. Today all of her music is produced strictly on hardware. “I knew that I needed rules to be creative. I work better that way, if I have strict limits. So, I decided I was only going to use these four things that I have around my house and see what I could make with that”. On this unconventional production process, she explains, “I realised that even with time if I tried to produce on laptops, they just don’t speak to me. I don’t get inspired by them, they’re amazing machines obviously but for me music comes from touching things and being tactile”. Considering herself a live performer above all else, her records were “born on the stage”. A fitting description as she initially improvises her songs at shows then refines them later in the studio, using “exactly the same machines to perform live that I use to record and produce”, she says.
“Everything in this record started as a live thing… I wrote it for that. I wanted to make a record that I was going to play in clubs live so I am incredibly happy that its going so well with the recorded version but by no means do I think that this is the best that I can do because I think I learned to record and make records just so I could play live”
‘Acts of rebellion’
Rebelling against the norm is a recurrent idea throughout our conversation, reflecting its presence in Ela’s work. Her debut album, ‘Acts of rebellion’ was released this October via Domino. An “extremely personal” title, she says, that “acquired this entirely new level with this [current state of the world] context”. It is a 10 track journey (with 2 additional edits on its B-side) through an electronic soundscape of gritty, glitchy and ambient sounds. Each song is ambitious, delivering empowering messages over infectious dance beats. Ela recalls a book she read while creating the project, ‘Diary’ by Chuck Palahniuk,
“there’s a couple, a woman who was an artist. She falls in love with someone in college and they move in together and she becomes a housewife, essentially, and never does art again. Through the years she feels frustrated and starts doing these little things, like creating her name on plates and doodling little things on her kids’ lunch… I thought it was so beautiful because in my mind it was a little act of rebellion against not being an artist and being forgotten… I just became obsessed with it, the concept of acts of rebellion”
Ela’s debut is rebellious on several layers. It subverts the norms of the electronic music scene by injecting the musicality she felt was missing while also promoting pushing back against the constraints of the structures we exist in as people. She speaks of “the little things you do in your daily life that you want to do, that are somehow against whatever form or power or structure… I think if we do that…then we’re happier and better members of our community”. Continuing this idea of the significance of small acts, she speaks on her latest single, ‘El cielo no es de nadie’. “The lyrics and the sentiment of the song is a call to act in small meaningful ways instead of huge empty ones…to appreciate these things more”, she explains.
As an artist, Ela rebels against the idea that you can only do one thing at once, writing, producing and performing all of the album alone (bar the feature on the last track). She explains, “I kind of felt pressure from the world to fit in a box…making [the record], a big part of it was a process for me to accept that I can be all the things in one”
Overall, Ela comes across as thoughtful and self-assured. She is incredibly intentional with her music and what she wants people to experience through it. When questioned on how she would advise other budding musicians to reach this point, she replies,
“basic science, there’s no one that is like you… when I accepted that, everything started going well. When I stopped trying to be the best producer, when I stopped trying to sound bigger and impress people, I just let all of that go and just started working on myself and knowing myself… everything changed, people noticed”.