“There’s so much shit happening in the world and we all need to act on it” states Ela Minus. Speaking to NME the weekend that she was supposed to be playing at Coachella, the producer and vocalist – real name Gabriela Jimeno – is refreshingly proactive and upbeat about lockdown life.
Describing what she makes as “bright music for dark times” (a phrase that she had written on her synthesiser case when Donald Trump was elected President) the Bogotá-born Brooklyn-based artist is managing to find happiness during self-isolation by reading, going for solo walks and recording music – but mostly because she has her beloved synths for company.
“I’m fascinated by machines,” she says. “I see them as personifications of human desires, emotions and the power of our imagination”. It makes sense, then, that as a self-imposed rule, no sound in her work is generated inside a computer.
Instead Ela – whose name stems from the idea that ‘Minus is more’ – melds machines with her own voice to create the sort of hard yet hypnotic techno-plus-vocals experimentalism, one that will rope in fans of Canadian hero, Marie Davidson.
Ela’s haunting debut single for Domino Records [Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand], ‘they told us it was hard, but they were wrong’ is an isolation anthem to work up a sweat quicker than a Joe Wicks PE Lesson. An urgent call to arms spurred on by her whisper-like vocal, this underground club anthem in-waiting carries a DIY punk spirit that’s borne from life on the road. Its intensifying beat and staccato synthesizer collide majestically, while thought-provoking lyricism adds further intrigue: “if you have to go to the bottom of a hole to find what’s wrong just let it go, everyone told us it’s hard, but they were wrong, when you love, you love it all and nothing seems impossible”.
Ela joined her older brother’s hardcore band when she was just 12 and after a stint at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music, she started frequenting techno parties. She was immediately struck by the “minimalism and aggressiveness” of what she was hearing, informing the spritely single ‘Ceremony’ and 2018’s pummelling releases ‘OK… and ‘So,’.
Majoring in jazz drum set and music synthesis, Ela’s passion for synthesizers was further ignited when a friend gave her a Pocket Piano synth as a present. After writing to manufacturer Critter & Guitari thanking them for making “such a wonderful synth”, she was offered the job of synthesiser assembler.
Making the move to Brooklyn, Ela worked there for almost two years while drumming in another band and starting to make her own music. “I was very frustrated with the band so one weekend I decided to make an EP,” she remembers, having taken a week off to head to a cabin with just four synths.
After posting ‘Jamaica’, the first song she ever made, online – “it holds a special place in my heart because it opened this entire world to me” – she was invited to play a festival back home in Colombia. “I had no idea how to do that, but why not?” she laughs. “I thought what’s the worst that could happen? Everyone will laugh at me?”
She’s since toured with Machinedrum and spent a year drumming for Canadian electronic band Austra, but at the end of 2018 decided it was time to take a break so she could make her debut album. Written and recorded in five months, she describes her upcoming debut as an optimistic and uplifting collection of songs about the personal as political – a celebration of the tiny acts of rebellion in our everyday lives. It’s “a call to fight… all the things that I think are fucked in the world.” On a personal level that includes “assholes, misogyny, global warming”.
Musically, Ela says the album is also a rebellion against the overly produced laptop-driven electronic scene. “It’s easy to hide behind productions made on laptops these days,” she considers. Contrastingly, Ela makes her ‘computerless music’ through improvisation – whether that’s recording using hardware synths or when she’s on stage performing and singing. “It’s important to really put myself on what I’m making because the reality is that most of the music we’re listening to now is coming from Ableton Live.”
Ela’s stage set up actively sets her apart from those in the techno/electro scene, satisfied to simply stand behind a screen. Instead you’ll find her bouncing across the stage, staring directly into the eyes of those in the crowd – equal parts menacing and playful – and commandeering the dancefloor. She wastes no time in turning small spaces into intimate clubs, utilising politically-motivated lyrics with club-ready sounds for an intense stage presence.
“Coming from a band background, I’ve always played live,” Ela says of her energetic shows. “The first show I did, it just came naturally for me to put the synths to the side and to dance because I realised that, for the first time in my life, I didn’t have an instrument between me and the audience. I panicked for a second but then I felt the most comfortable I had ever felt on stage.” Without that barrier, Ela felt as though she could truly connect with an audience.
This Autumn she’ll have the chance to gain thousands more fans when she opens for musical heroes Caribou in the US. “I can’t even tell you how excited I am,” she gushes, having had her mind blown seeing them support Radiohead. “These shows mean so much to me because they’re the reason I resonate with electronic music so deeply; they made me believe I could do it.” Though Ela never believed she could make a career out of being a solo artist, now is her time to truly shake up the dancefloor.
Ela Minus’ new single ‘they told us it was hard but they were wrong’ is out now. Her debut album is out later this year on Domino