PUBLISHED IN ISSUE 14
INTERVIEW BY FRANKIE DECAIZA
PHOTOS BY CLAIRE MILBRATH
Emma Olson aka UMFANG and I met at Bossa Nova Civic Club in Bushwick just over a year ago and connected immediately. It was probably something to do with each other’s desire for weirdness and something more in life, and recognizing each other’s vulnerability as women and how powerful that can be. Shortly after meeting we established our collective and festival (and now booking agency) Discwoman, and it has since spiralled into an awesome movement celebrating female-identified electronic music artists. I have the pleasure of working aside, managing, and being best friends with UMFANG. Her debut album will be released this year on Videogame Music and 1080p Collection and since it’s already received rave reviews, I’m stoked to finally have a famous best friend. I chatted to her about techno, life paths, and self-help books.
Why do you think techno is awesome?
It’s everything. It’s just my favourite thing ever.
Do you have a message for people who say that techno is boring?
They just haven’t listened hard enough.
Let’s talk about Discwoman. Why do you think the techno community needs something like this?
Discwoman is a platform and agency supporting female-identified talent. In many tech fields women are in the minority and it takes some special effort and attention to make sure there are jobs and opportunities given to them. The more female talent is recognized and in the mainstream, the more we can move on culturally to see equal lineups including women, people of colour, trans people etc. There are many female leaders in techno and more coming out all the time but that cultural exposure is key: reminding people that there are women crushing it every day and there are women at the foundation of techno music.
Do people often think techno is music by and for white people?
Yeah, unfortunately. Europe latched on to it so quick that now the global identity of electronic music is white, and the true foundation has been kind of lost. When something is taken into a mainstream white culture, the roots are hidden.
How has your knowledge of this informed your community and your own music-making?
It is important to remember the history of techno music as a black (mostly middle class) movement, before the European popularization of the genre. I think this often gets lost on mainstream audiences. There is a push now to book artists that have been instrumental in the creation and development of techno, particularly from Detroit, and that helps make visible the history and foundation of this music. I want to make sure the music I’m making comes off as accessible and not genre-specific, which is a movement towards what I view as a future culture. Future culture as in building a new culture together with people that may not share your background or family history, creating a new common ground. I also like to be very honest about where I’m coming from and where I’m at in regards to my own knowledge of making music to remind people that you don’t have to buy Ableton or the newest controller. Wherever you are and whatever you have access to is what you’re working with and that should be your creative output. I think some people get intimated or aren’t capable of keeping up because of the resources they have. I don’t like that idea.
When we were in Detroit, we spent a lot of time with K-Hand who is one of your biggest musical inspirations. Can you talk about what that was like for you?
K-Hand is a big inspiration to me for a few reasons. I was a fan of her music for about a year before I knew she was a woman. This helped me break down my own prejudice about women making straightforward techno. I got to meet her in Detroit this May, she agreed to play our Discwoman event during Movement. She is a relatively private woman but she took us really seriously for our intention to give the money we earned back to the community in Detroit. She let me be her plus one to go see Juan Atkins and she made me feel so welcome. I idolize her for being totally sweet, an incredibly hard worker and a woman in the core of Detroit techno history. She runs her own label and makes music under many pseudonyms. she told me she used to come to New York every weekend for Paradise Garage. I think she’s just the coolest.
It’s been crazy to see your growth. Things have developed so fast. What kind of advice do you give to people who want to make things happen for themselves?
Having a role model like K-Hand is major because it’s someone that proves that the path is possible. It’s really hard for people to envision a path and have faith in it working out, but that’s kind of what you have to do. You have to say, “ok what do I want my life to be like? What changes do I need to make to get there?”
The artist’s path can feel unsafe sometimes. It’s obvious why it feels unsafe because it’s hard to see how to make money and it’s not a direct path in the way something like academia proclaims to be: if you achieve these goals you’ll get to this place. The artist path has more risks.
Totally. I was brought up thinking that being an artist was such a big risk that it wasn’t worth it. I was told that constantly. If you’re gonna go into art you should get a business degree. People are uneasy about other people who wanna take risks and try something. It just makes people uneasy and there is a lot of fear. When people would say “you can do anything if you put your mind to it,” I used think it was stupid, but now I’m like, that’s kind of true [laughs].
You said you have been inspired by a certain self-help book?
[laughs] It’s called Creative Visualization, it’s really helpful. It’s written by a woman [Shakti Gawain, 1978] and it’s about meditating and visualizing what you want your life to be like and affirming that it already is that way so that it becomes that way. It’s taking time to think about your ideal life and not letting any negative thought patterns get in the way.
What kind of reaction to your upcoming album would you consider ideal?
Um, booking me? Overseas? [Laughs] I would love to this to be a jumping off point for me to get a vinyl release. The only reason why I joke about this is be- cause the more bookings I get the more free I am to dedicate my time to making more music. That’s what I really want, that’s the goal. I don’t wanna get another job.
No we don’t want that.
We’re on the up and up!
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