Some time earlier in 2020, ELLES recorded a mix for Dummy Magazine, which she described as “a living room rave with a bit of staring out the window, dreaming about hugging your friends again.” Locked down in London, with Autumn on the horizon, and a queasy feeling of uncertainty still rules the dance music community, and surely every other beyond.

ELLES may be a relative newcomer on the London scene, but her sound and discography already makes an impression. This is a run that continues on her contribution to #PHANTASYMIX, undoubtedly one of our most inventive entries yet. Whilst ELLES’ releases thus far have have found an open-hearted queer futurism in the legacy of UK rave and especially UK garage (see ‘Put On Our Classics’ from the ‘summer_of_love’ EP on Naive for a perfect demonstration of this distillation), this mix sees ELLES maserfully reduce the pace to an outright meditative pace, then gradually release that same pent-up club energy like a whistling kettle. 

Featuring music from the likes of Loraine James, Actress, Arca and Charlotte Adigery, ELLES celebrates powerful songwriting and production from some of the most forward-thinking artists in contemporary electronic music, mixed with the emerging tension of a quality house and techno set. Tune in, drift off and think towards that brighter future.

Hi ELLES. Thanks for such a fascinating and unpredictable, but ultimately soothing mix. There’s a particular mood of anxiety, meditation and then catharsis felt here as the mix develops. Was that the intention? Tell us anything else we need to know...

Thanks! Well, I mean intentional to a degree, or rather it’s a reasonable reflection of how I was feeling at the time- not directly related to the recording of the mix ofc. It was recorded back when we were edging out of lockdown and I hadn’t been close to another living thing that wasn’t a plant for so many months. So yeh, anxious energy and looking for meditative things to soothe it. Was a pretty emotional time and these things have a way of revealing themselves in mixes or productions whether you intend it or not. You know like sometimes you never really know how you were truly feeling until afterwards when you take stock or see a picture of yourself and are like ‘woah hun’. Or until someone listens to your mix and says the anxiety is palpable lol.

In terms of content, it’s literally meditative in some cases, like the Charlotte Adigéry track, which is actually about 15 mins long in total - I love her voice and the stream of consciousness feel, it felt like a fitting intro. And in general, it’s just loads of artists I really love and admire, like Loraine James who is such a genius and actually the last gig I went to before lockdown, supporting Jessy Lanza. Jasmine Infiniti who is amazing and I play a lot on the radio etc. Evadney who is a friend and has the most beautiful voice. The Slits feat. Neneh Cherry who are amazing individually and together - I’ve fired through a lot of books this year and finally read Viv Albertine’s ‘Clothes Music Boys’, so they were front of mind.

We particularly liked the way certain tracks were recontextualised; Anz ‘Help Your Two Hips Move’ taken to half-speed, for example. Do you often sit with a record for a while before deciding to hear it in a different way, or are these moments simply a happy accident?

Ah yeah omg I’m such a fan of Anz. Everything she’s done is just so fire. At any speed! Ha I guess hearing something in a record – a sound or feeling and then just try it out at different speeds, see what happens. I do it quite a lot tbh. More instinctive or curious than planned per se. I used to play these long vinyl sets in this bar while people were eating their dinner and not really ‘listening’ so I’d play a disco record at wrong speed for my own curiosity, to spice things up and see if there was some sort of slo-mo dreamscape lurking within. Or like a secret message that you only get went you reduce the bpm significantly. The results were extremely varying and people seemed more into their dinners and convos anyway so it was fine. Or maybe just too polite to say anything? Although no-one is ever too polite to give the DJ their thoughts are they? So maybe I got away with it. Either way, here I am. And with digital there are even more options for this sort of behaviour so I’m generally just open to it.

Earlier this year, you gave away a whole slab of productions on a split tape with Violet from Naive, raising money for an excellent cause in the form of the Okra project. Was it exciting, intimidating or both to release such a relatively large volume of music in one fell swoop?

Yes the Sticky Tapes project was a cute one! Always lovely to do anything with my bff 4eva Violet and we both wanted to support Okra Project with it. Was umming and ahhing about what to do for it. Wanted to do something unique that you couldn’t get anywhere else as an additional incentive to buy and try raise as much as we could for the important work they do. I had these tracks which I’d bounced to Soundcloud but whose originals got wiped in a freak hard drive episode a couple years ago, so it felt nice to give them a home. There was also a cover of Robin S’s Show Me Love with the Skype ringtone I made in in a particularly quiet lockdown moment, so that went in too. All the tapes sold out, so we were super stoked it worked out. Think the Sticky Tapes crew have more of these in the pipeline with other excellent people and causes so worth keeping an eye out.

I know you’ve recently taken care of some socially distanced, sitdown DJing in North London. Do you think crowds and DJs are evolving to the idea of ‘club culture’ shifting into something more low-key than the classic rave format, at least for the time being? Did you see an opportunity to connect with the crowd in a new way?

I think the thing with the sit-down party, is that it should only ever be temporary. I’m always grateful for (COVID safe) opportunities to play, such a rarity in these times and it feels amazing to be in a booth that isn’t my living room! And although it was fun, the vibe is definitely not the same as a club. ‘Club culture’ whatever that looks like for folk will and should always evolve, as is life. And while we’re restricted people will do what they can within the perimeters, just to do something and try maintain some sort of momentum. Beyond that, of course there is always room for all sorts of ways to enjoy music – sitting down, standing up, even dancing. However you wanna do that is fine, but definitely all the promoters and DJs I know feel pretty clear the sit-down events are a stop-gap, they would be worrying as a long term solution – not least because we need at least the option to dance dammit! But also as a model, they price a lot of people out, there is zero spontaneity, there is no element of discovery, you can’t just turn up on your own and see what happens. Whatever the future looks like there has to be balance as there was before all of this: places that are chill if that’s your thing, and less chill at the other end, and options available for different incomes.

I guess the danger is people getting complacent even when restrictions are lifted. If they continue as the only option while our beloved live music venues, clubs and LGBTQ+ spaces struggle to survive and continue to disappear, will people just shrug and accept? Hopefully not. Hopefully we’ll always carve out the spaces we need in some shape or form, even when they are not given. So there’s that. Life finds a way. Lie down in the road for homogeneity, too quiet music and no dancing at our peril. And if there was any significant connection with the crowd from our very distanced positions it was a shared unspoken knowledge of this. I hope.

Finally, what next for you personally, and how do you see the landscape of clubbing in London looking in 2021? Do you think there has been any positive to the ‘break’ from physical club culture? A refocus on roots, equality, activism and community, perhaps?

In terms of what’s next for me personally, I’m working on lots of music - it’s been slow, I literally could not face it for huge chunks of lockdown but am slowly coming back to life. Hatching out of my chrysalis armed with future bangers. Get that album done, bag that Mercury Prize next year. That kind of thing. And while the clubs remain empty, there’s always my Rinse show once a month which is such a joy to do.

On a clubbing note, well I hope we have clubs back next year but honestly who knows? Seems wild to dream. What I do hope though is that during this fallow period, the industry (and everyone) uses the time to reassess practises, explore new artists, think more creatively about line-ups and about who opportunities are given to time and time again and who less so. We are seeing some of this now but it needs to be sustained – not just paying lip service now and then in a year, booking the same pale, male & stale line-ups as before.

Change is always possible. There is always hope. Activism, equity and community are important always. This year has demonstrated that in so many ways. Now the job is applying these ideas to all parts of our lives – work, school, our buying decisions, everything. Every part of society needs an overhaul and music/clubbing are just small parts of that. So it’s great that this has been a time of reflection for lots of people, but that needs to become action too and we are all part of rolling up our sleeves and doing that work ongoing.

John Loveless, September 2020.

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