For Elkka, making music is so ingrained in her that she thinks it’s somewhere in her DNA. “I remember sitting in a car with my best mates, we were probably 11 or 12, and I was trying to explain the concept of – I know music is what I’m gonna do, but where is this coming from?” In the same way that people talk about a vocation to become a doctor, the Cardiff-born producer always knew she was going to be a musician: “I really can’t imagine doing anything else,” she says. “I think that has kept me going to this point. There were moments where I could’ve easily gone and chose a different path that would have been so much more comfortable and less traumatic, but that deep-down feeling of this is what I’m meant to be doing has kept me moving forward.”
The producer and vocalist is walking beneath ominous rain clouds when NME calls. “Do you mind if I walk and talk? I’ve been sitting down all day,” she says. We can relate. ‘Euphoric Melodies’, her upcoming EP out this week on Ninja Tune sub-label Technicolour [Sofia Kourtesis, Octo Octa], was made in her home studio in Tooting, London. Hanging in the room are a pair of orange curtains that used to belong to her grandma, who passed away a couple of years ago. And when the sun shines through them, lighting them up with a warming glow, Elkka thinks about her.
‘Burnt Orange’, the resulting track, is a glorious uplifting house number with clipped, bubbling synths and a whirling vocal breakdown; it’s an optimistic cut, the kind of track you fantasise about hugging your friends to on the night that clubs reopen. “Honestly, that means everything,” she says when NME mentions this. “I think what every artist wants is for your music to be a soundtrack to someone’s moment. I wrestled with that track for months and there were points when I wanted to give up on it. I think you know deep inside when something’s worth fighting for, though.”
Where previous EPs for Local Action [India Jordan] and the femme culture label she co-runs put vocal samples front and centre, ‘Euphoric Melodies’ uses them more subtly for texture and to evoke feeling. ‘Alexandra’, a track dedicated to Elkka’s girlfriend, builds gradually with meandering synths and UK garage-like vocal chops. The entire record glints with flashes of melody and pointillist rhythms, just like a DJ set that keeps you locked in. Closer ‘Morning Fuzz’ then plays out like a shutters-up end of the night anthem for when the sun peeks in.
When she started work on it, before the pandemic kicked in, Elkka had been interested in the idea of euphoria: “What moments when I’m writing something, or DJing, what does it do for me? Why do I get that feeling?” But all the things that had previously made her feel good, not only music, but touch, intimacy, family and friends, were taken away. She tears up when talking about her mum, whose name is proudly tattooed on her arm, lovingly describing her as a “pioneer” and a “hero”. The EP, then, became about missing the things we previously took for granted.
For years, Elkka forged a different path before making the boundary-pushing electronic music she does today, that stands up next to the likes of Four Tet, Kelly Lee Owens and Floating Points, who have all championed her work. She’d always wanted to be a pop star, idolising Britney when she was little (“free Britney!” she adds), and started out vocaling dance-pop tracks. But over the years the producers she worked with were almost entirely male, and she came to realise that she’d rather be doing their job. Her own production journey was a process of growing self-belief and of rejecting the internalised message that producing and DJing was for boys.
Whereas before she’d seen it as “a language that I didn’t understand,” she’s now keen to demystify music production. She’s keen to talk about how Rihanna’s 2008 hit ‘Umbrella’ is built around a drum loop from the GarageBand software, and that the synth riff on Usher’s ‘Love In This Club’ is a preset on that same program. “When I was starting to produce I remember hearing it from a loop pack! But it was so great because it was like ‘OK, there are no rules’. You think everything’s so beyond you and complicated, and of course some things really are, but I think that is a beautiful thing that a huge track came from a stock loop that’s sitting on everyone’s computer. That person chose it for that idea and made it huge. That shows that anyone can.”
“With raving, you’re connected in more ways than you realise. It gave me the confidence to be who I was and not repress it any more”
Likewise, her label femme culture was born out of this desire to champion gender equality and encourage others – particularly women, trans, non-binary and people from ethnic minority backgrounds – to enter the field. The label collaborated with the UN Women charity on a ‘HeForShe’ compilation series and continues to make noise about balanced line-ups. When we speak, the lineup for Wireless Festival has just been revealed and features just five women on a 49-act bill. “You have to be hopeful and you have to be optimistic – if you’re not, nothing’s got a chance of changing,” Elkka says, frustratedly. “But we’ve just got to keep on fighting for what should be a normal occurrence – everyone being represented fairly.”
Adequate representation to Elkka is vital, as a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community. The queer origins of house music in Chicago and New York resonated with her and the dancefloor played a huge part in her coming out and accepting her sexuality. “I was actually quite a uptight teenager and young adult, because I wasn’t very comfortable in my own skin, and probably repressing the fact that I was a queer woman,” she says. When she moved to London in her 20s, a housemate took her to her first proper rave with thousands of people. It was a pivotal moment. “I loved it,” she glows.
Discovering club culture coincided with her discovering who she was: “Because with raving, you’re connected in more ways than you realise. You’ve chosen to be there because you like the music, the kind of people there, the space… That gave me the confidence to be who I was, and not repress it any more.”
In October Elkka is taking her live show to Printworks in London, performing alongside Jon Hopkins and Modeselektor. Alongside her new EP, it’s another opportunity to pass on those euphoric, escapist moments that shaped her own musical journey and path to self-belief.
Elkka’s new EP ‘Euphoric Melodies’ is released May 21 via Technicolor
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