Еla Minus: I don’t divide the personal from the political

Ela Minus is a new face on the electronic music scene, but very promising, given her fast-rising career. Born and raised in Columbia, Ela Minus resides in New York, where she creates music. A few weeks ago she released her debut album «Acts of Rebellion» on Domino Records.

Ela’s music brings to mind mellow synth pop, but her music always has her personal, recognizable touch, which can be described as feminine and tender. As well the backbone of Ela Minus songs are powerful and deep lyrics that are full of social and political statements that perfectly catches the current zeitgeist.

We had a chance to talk to Ella Minus about the vibe of her debut album, atmosphere in New York after elections, passion to analogue instruments, her current lifestyle and other interesting things.

Interview: Dmitry Tolkunov

Hi Ela! Thank you for finding time for this interview. You just released your debut album «Acts of Rebellion» a few weeks ago. The work is impressive as in terms of unique, recognizable sound and in terms of many social messages and statements that are hidden in your songs. Can you please tell a bit how was the work on this piece going for you?

First of all, thank you very much for the nice things you said about the album. It has been very interesting to watch how the album’s meaning changed over the last few weeks. Original meaning of the title of the album «Acts of Rebellion» was about the personal processes that were going inside during making it. Making it was an extremely personal process that helped me to know better myself. Acts of Rebellion meant to be personal acts, acts when I was asking myself about the constant things that I was doing all my life and trying to defy them. But I am happy that at the end the album turned out to be extremely relevant and perfect for this time.

Besides the fact that the original idea was to make a personal work, the album is full of lyrics that sound like concrete social and political statements. Is it a kind of an inevitable impact of the dramatical, current reality?

Actually, while I was doing this album, I realized that I don’t divide the personal from the political, I think it is the same thing. Every single aspect of people’s lives is affected by governments every day.

Think this approach has a lot to do with where I am from. I am from Colombia and people talk there about politics all the time, especially in my family where everybody except me are journalists. All these things made me a more political person than a lot of people that I know. So, when I say something very personal it still can be a contrast to society, government and everything that is going on socially. I guess I am a human being that is paying attention to what is going in the world.

Probably surroundings during recording the album, like pandemic, BLM movement and riots in New York, where you live now, where responsible for a lot of contrary feelings and messages that your songs are full of?

I finished the album around a year and a half ago, in February 2019. It took a while to get a label (Domino Records) that was interested in it, to get signed to and to release «Acts of Rebellion». But I can’t just believe how perfect it sounds for current circumstances, same time I wouldn’t even could even imagine, when I was doing the album, that all this things that we are seeing now can happen

What are your general views and feelings about all these dramatic events that are going around, especially about the things that are happening in your hometown New York—the pandemic situation, the recent presidential election?

Well, the pandemic and elections are two different things. About pandemic I can say that in every crisis that is dealing with such things like heath, and questions of life and death, all the priority choices come easier as everything turns black and white and the main thing we have to do is to take care of each other. Also in all crises the true colours of everything comes out, specially of such things like democracy, our system and capitalism that is designed more not to take care not about lives but about money. It all came out and even people that never thought about politics and that governments are affecting their everyday lives were put in situations where they lost their family members and finally understood what assholes governments are and how they don’t take care about people. As you know there were many pandemics in history and there will be more. And the most obvious thing about this pandemic is how badly the authorities dealt with it.

About the elections—I think that at least in New York it felt like a ray of hope came out when it was announced that Biden won. The city didn’t feel so excited about the future for a long time, and it is an amazing feeling that is still going. I keep saying that I understand that Biden is not the best choice; he is more like a symbol and we still have a lot to do, but humanity really needed a symbol of Trump losing.

But honestly, I don’t think we will be able to overcome democracy, change the system and make it better in the next five to ten years. Hope that we will do it at some point, but it will take time. So, as an artist I’m calling first for changes inside you and your mind.

In your song lyrics you use a lot of pronouns like «They», «We», opposing each other. In some ways it looks like a homage to the counterculture of the ‘60s, the bright example can be The Who song «We’re not gonna take it». Can you try to give a clear definition who are «we» and who are «they» in your perception?

«We» was a very conscious choice, I wanted to make all my songs very relatable, creating a sense of unity. For example, in the song Megapunk if I would sink «You won’t make me stop», instead of «They won’t make us stop» it would have different meanings. I use «we» because I want to invite people to feel the same way and love the same things as me. The same thing with «They». If you say «You», you point a finger on somebody specific, if you say «They» it is a more abstract expression.

Do you think that this long lockdown that the planet is passing through last year will change somehow the face of electronic music, which turned in the last few decades more to a hedonistic experience for people who want to get lost in dancing to the beats in nightclubs. During last year, because of the pandemic situation, there are almost no nightclubs and parties on the planet, and maybe thanks to this circumstances the electronic music will change it vibe to a much more suitable one for the current reality, with a kind of a sound that is closer to what you are doing – more atmospheric, melancholic and with some messages inside?

I think electronic music in its beginning was extremely political and was dealing with social issues. The birthplace of electronic music was cities marginalized cities like Detroit and Chicago, and it was the sound of black people and immigrants. So, the roots are political, and it turned to this hedonism that you are talking about only later.

I have no idea where it is going now. But not as a musician, but as fan and music listener I really hope that this changes that you are talking about will happen, if to be true I didn’t really liked what was happening with electronic music recently

The sound of your album is very warm, with a human touch that is brought by analogue instruments. Do you follow only this kind of vintage approach in your musical production or do you sometimes use software and computers?

I don’t use laptops. I grew up playing drums in punk bands and I went to musical school learning to play drums. So, originally, I was a drummer and then started to be interested in electronic music. Sitting in front of the computer didn’t make me want to make music, it was not inspiring at all for me. And I started to experiment with synthesizers, and they talked to me. I felt that I could play them like real musical instruments, like when I was playing drums.

So, using only analogue equipment was an artistic choice for me, I was really trying to find the things that would make me want to write music and that was the old analogue synthesizers and old analogue machines, they really speak to me. Through the years of making music I realized that it is much easier for me to express emotions in music with this kind of equipment. I also do a lot of live shows, and I think that playing these instruments live brings a human touch to the music, and everybody feels it.

One of defining characteristics of your music is that it is very feminine. Do you feel in some ways as a continuer of the traditions and approaches that were created by such significance in the history of electronic music women and synth pioneers like Suzzane Ciani and Della Derbyshire?

I really admire these people and I hope that at the end of my life it will be clearly seen that I was continuing their work. But I am only starting now and guess it would be too early to say that. But for sure they stand as an example for me and I am much influenced by what they are doing.

And I think that this feminine approach that you mentioned is not only connected with a technical approach and the instruments that I use, but also it is in the way I compose music and think about it and act in the musical industry.

Besides making music, which is probably the main passion in your life, will be interesting to know how are you filling your days and what kind of lifestyle you have at the moment?

I read a lot. I love reading. I guess it is my main hobby apart from making music. Before this year I didn’t have much space in my life for anything besides music. I was touring all the time and when I was back home, I dedicated almost all my time to composing. I used this year to have one of the main goals to have a much more balanced life. I was studying a lot this year about machines and engineering, these skills are needed for the job that I had before that was connected with building synthesizers and I really loved and want to go back to it a bit. I think it’s a great time for upgrading your skills and craft.

Do you miss touring with your shows?

I do not miss touring, but the shows and the feeling of connecting with the people. Now it doesn’t depend on me; it depends on the situation in the world. As soon as shows are back, I will be back on the road and will see you there one day soon.

I really hope that happens soon, and thank you for an interesting talk.

Thank you.

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