Fast approaching the end of August, Ibiza appears no different than usual. The sun is shining, the music is pumping and it’s cocktails galore around hotel pools. Not to forget its Monday afternoon, which means another night of underground euphoria awaits us at Circoloco.
About as DC10 as DC10 gets, Circoloco is underground clubbing in its purest form. No frills, no fuss and no nonsense, the popular Monday party comes overflowing with techno heavyweights no matter what the occasion. A magnet for young, clued-up lovers of electronic music, Circoloco has never been afraid to educate its loyal clubbing congregation either. Constantly pushing musical boundaries with fresh introductions, the latest comes in the form of UMFANG, an individual renowned for her dynamic take on loose, sparse techno.
Real name Emma Olson, UMFANG’s obsession with techno is one that runs real deep. Influenced by such inspiring figures as K-HAND and Paula Temple, her distinctive brand of techno isn’t like most. Unorthodox, eccentric and quite off-kilter, the Brooklyn-based tastemaker brings about a salient sound loosely woven together by second-long pauses.
Unconventional at the best of times, this is a trait that has served the Bronx native exceptionally well throughout her career so far. A self-confessed introvert constantly operating within the social sphere of dance music, Olson admits her journey has never been straight-forward. “It’s really difficult. I find myself having to assert a lot of space and I need a lot of time to myself. I have trouble engaging with people as much as other DJs do. I need more of a soft life experience, I’m not into doing tonnes of drugs and getting fucked up. I feel sometimes people can be offended by that, like a lack of engagement.”
Respectful but honest, she elaborates: “I’ve learnt that I always want to be polite to people, but I can’t necessarily take on a lot emotionally if somebody wants to talk to me. I find myself saying: “Hey, I’m just here to listen to the music, I can’t really talk right now.” Sometimes, people are really caught off-guard by that sort of comment but people just need to be a little more aware that different people have different relationships to clubbing and are coming for different reasons.”
Nonchalant throughout, frequent scatters of silence during our Skype call are defined by a relaxed feel as opposed to stiff reticence. She then emphasises: “For me, I want that quiet time where I can just listen and be by myself, and that’s the way I can feel most refreshed. Sometimes I don’t feel like going back to after-parties, I need to rest and take care of myself so I can process what happened that night. I have to be assertive and not pressure myself to do things I don’t want to.”
She then continues: “I have to ask my enthusiastic fans also to understand if I am pissed off or not friendly, to make it sustainable for me, I have to guard my space and try and rebuild my energy for the next night. It can be a lot to do after several nights in a row.”
However, UMFANG isn’t one to shy away from pushing the uncomfortable envelope. Striving to do this everyday, her performance for Circoloco is a shining example of what she is truly all about. Tiny in comparison to its competition in Ibiza, DC10 regularly packs as many rebellious club-heads as physically possible into the confinements of its two rooms. Once the Garden closes at midnight, the push-and-shove transition to get inside can prove overwhelming for many. Much to her delight however, UMFANG’s debut DC10 showing leaves her smiling from ear-to-ear.
“I was expecting more of an aggressive tourist crowd, and I was pleasantly surprised that there were so many young people that seemed to be having a great time. Nobody seemed too high, and nobody seemed really wasted. I didn’t see a lot of people being really invasive or gross, and I felt every time I saw somebody edge close to this, the security were immediately on it. It felt like an environment where people could really enjoy themselves.”
Such an environment is reflected within general attitudes across the island throughout Olson’s first ever visit. Locked in the midst of another relentless European tour, her brief time away from the decks sees her entertain a walk down the waterfront of Ibiza Town before some small-talk with Holly Madge, a drummer collaborating with Idris Elba, about solo touring life whilst eating at a vegan restaurant.
Highlight the importance of getting that all-important down-time whilst juggling a heavy touring schedule, UMFANG enthuses: “It’s essential. Any opportunity I get, I try to go on a walk somewhere, or go and connect with nature… like doing lots of swimming is key for me, I try to go swimming everywhere I can. Just that little tiny break means so much.”
She exclaims: “It can be so depressing if you land somewhere, play, sleep and leave. You should always at least try to take a 30 minute walk around where you are so you can experience something. It really helps me reset.”
Social media is another massive contributor to factor in when balancing life as a international DJ. Many now feel within the scene that an artist’s social media presence is as important as the music they create and in an age where gaining Instagram fame can now provide you with a legitimate essence of income, it appears hard to disagree.
Realising the importance of maintaining this difficult balance, the Technofeminism resident says: “It’s more about your work habits, like trying to separate it a bit by not taking your emails to bed, not checking Instagram constantly and trying to have a private Instagram and a private Twitter.” She then adds: “There’s this sort of pop-star side to even the DJ culture now where people get invested in other people’s personal lives and they become storylines.”
“It is something I feel really cautious and sceptical about in our culture. It can become a bit creepy too, but it also encourages people. Once you see somebody taking a selfie in their studio people react like: “Oh my God, that’s your studio… it’s so cool to see that and now I feel inspired. It can be a tricky balance, but just being able to communicate that you need a break is really important.”
Whilst many can perceive social media as a dark cloud overshadowing today’s society, it’s presence can also be equally rewarding. From connecting people around the world to raising awareness on such issues as mental health and the environment, social media has been super-beneficial in this regard. The same applies to the evolvement of DISCWOMAN – a booking agency founded by UMFANG and her close friends, Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson and Christine McCharen-Tran – and tackling the subject of gender inequality in dance music.
Touching on how the collective has evolved since its inception, Olson exclaims: “It has transformed into this global thing and I feel it has helped start a lot of global conversations about scenes that are male-dominated and has really started to highlight the women within those scenes. It has become more of a business and an agency, we have a stronger voice to represent our roster.”
Detailing the group’s continuously growing presence on social media, she explains: “Part of it is like a marketing trick, we’ve pushed really hard to have our content around every day so people see it all of the time, but this is a lot of work. I think we were really able to encourage each other to push out that message of amplifying women.”
Inspired and resolute, UMFANG says: “Any time you see an example of something that you didn’t think you could be, you start thinking to yourself, oh maybe I could be that one day. It’s like a role models thing. If you see a woman doing a job that was traditionally perceived as a man’s job, then you feel like you could see yourself in that position easier.”
Expanding on the increasing numbers of women involved in dance music, she says: “I think the more examples we have of women getting those high profile DJ gigs, then young women realise such a dream is actually attainable and it isn’t something just men can have. It doesn’t seem as unlikely anymore.”
Originally starting as a two-day festival over at Bossa Nova Civic Club in September of 2014, Discwoman’s assertive existence has progressed massively and has publicised dialogues about gender inequality within club culture. The platform, collective and booking agency now boasts an impressive 14-woman roster featuring such talents as Shyboi, Ciel, Mobilegirl, DJ Haram and many more amplifying women wherever they go.
Whilst there is still a long way to go before equality is achieved within dance music on the global scene, Discwoman are unquestionably amongst the leaders of this conversation. Since starting out five years ago, they have curated events in over 15 different cities, working with over 250 different DJs and producers. UMFANG was impressed by Discwoman’s overall influence on European attitudes and remained hugely positive on the subject going forward. “I’m still stunned at the fact we even have fanbases over here, especially in the UK. There are a ton of young people in the UK who are big Discwoman fans.”
Highlighting the benefits of the impact they’d made on the European scale, Olson exclaimed: “Many promoters were unaware before that so many talented women played techno music. A lot of people who may have had predominantly male bookings in the past now have an opportunity to start shifting that because they can see how it can work.”
“Young women promoters may also be excited to book us because they are into techno and see more access to different women and bigger platforms for women, and they can encourage others within the scene.”
Comparing her recent tour of Europe to her experiences back at her home base of Brooklyn, New York, UMFANG acknowledges many similarities between the two territories. “Aside from the more regimented, stiffer crowds you sometimes get in Germany, most places are quite receptive of really wild, strange sounds. New York is similar to the UK in the sense that it is open to the chaos. The people really need that release and that are always down for the craziness.”
As her face lights up with excitement, her close connection with such carefree audiences is plain to see. “I think I can relate to the places more where people are consuming it in the sense of their life isn’t the easiest, and so you need that release and are more open to the intensity of it, its not just a relaxation thing to do, its a more important part of your life.”
And whilst an introvert armour sometimes shields her engagement with others, the actual reality is UMFANG is loving life behind the decks more so now than ever before.
UMFANG will be touring Asia during the second half of November before returning to Europe in December. You can see a full list of her upcoming dates here.
Photo Credit By: Tyler Jones