Nightlife is slowly reopening around the globe, and excitement pulses through the air as the bass pulsates through sound systems everywhere. Elena Colombi is one of the artists responsible for that bass: a boldly eclectic DJ, radio host and record label owner. She was set to perform at this year’s Dekmantel festival and, initially, we were set to speak to her ahead of this performance, but days before our interview the festival was forced to cancel: very à la 2021. Nevertheless, we still caught up with Elena, whose DIY spirit and passion for music explain how she’s advanced through the past, tumultuous year.
This spirit is innate to her: she started her DJ career as a promoter, playing at her own parties to save some money. Yet, she quickly became known for her forward-thinking music that isn’t defined by genre, but rather by emotion and energy. Launching her record label, Osàre! Editions, she continues to live up to her reputation. Together with Elena, we discussed running a label, falling into digital, musical “black holes” and how a line of modular bags fits into all of this.
I read that that you used to run parties, called Abattoir, which sparked your own DJ career as well. Could you tell me a bit more about that?
Yes, I was running Abattoir in London for five to six years I think. Those years were wild! I have a crazy amount of good memories from then. I started DJ’ing at my own nights to save money for the main act, because it was all personally funded. Things slowly evolved from there, from my first NTS radio shows to the busy touring schedule that followed. Something I didn’t realise until recently is that while running Abattoir, I facilitated and supported some of the people involved to come out as queer and non-binary. It came up in a late night chat during my most recent stay in London - it filled me with joy!
The music you play yourself is also quite comprehensive, although still coherent it’s not confined to a certain genre or tempo. So what drives your sets?
Whatever my current obsessions are! I feel like this has shifted a bit over the past year and a half when the weekly chances to test my latest discoveries in front of a crowd were on hold. But now things are starting to reopen, the engine is running again!
And where do you usually discover those tracks you like to play?
Everywhere! Although the starting point is often an experience or memory. Bandcamp is always a good source, together with some mailing lists from record shops and labels I follow and a fair amount of promos from friends and fellow DJs.
It also seems like human contact is quite important to your discovery of music.
Yes, I like to add as much real life contact as possible to virtual connections and sometimes they unfold in unexpected wonderful ways.
Two years ago, you also launched your record label: Osàre! Editions. How do you feel your experience with running parties and DJ’ing influenced the founding of your record label?
The label very much reflects what I like, without preconceptions or limitations in terms of geographic area, era, or genre. Through the label, I’m hoping to shed some light on some artists that might be otherwise overlooked, with a complete zero wannabe attitude.
Osàre is Italian for daring, is that correct? Could you tell me how the name came to be, and how it relates to the music the label is putting forward?
Yes, to do 100% what feels right is the motto of the label! So far I have released material covering quite different genres, but another important aspect for me was to turn on its head the idea of a record label, proposing different objects that implement the pleasures of music in different ways. For instance, I am now talking with an artist that makes bespoke flutes.
I was particularly hypnotised by your release of Suemori’s Maebashi, how did that release come to be?
I’m glad you mentioned this release! Hoshina Anniversary was one of the first artists in touch with me at the time Osàre launched. We had the chance to meet in person during my last trip to Tokyo when I played at Vent. He is an unstoppable, talented and multifaceted producer. Back then I already had a solid amount of material from him, and meeting in person only fortified my idea of the direction the release should have taken. He’s a real outsider and we bonded immediately. I knew I wanted something less club-oriented for this whilst maintaining some catchiness! I also really focussed on the LP listening experience, choosing each track’s positioning carefully, really paying attention to the energy and flow of every track. I hope the efforts translated well into the final result.
In which setting or context would you ideally like your music to be heard?
Many different ones, to be honest. Towards the end of 2019 I had some offers to curate line-ups and to be involved more conceptually into the planning of nights and festival stages, rather than simply turning up and playing - which I still really enjoy - but this direction feels like a natural evolution to me; not just shaping the sound of my two-or-so hours, but of the entire program. I like to be more involved in the whole process!
That resonates with how you started DJ’ing as well, organising parties.
Speaking of being involved in the whole process: Osàre’s latest release is a series of modular bags, designed in collaboration with fashion label Sensecommon. How do they fit into all this? Was there a music-related approach to their creation?
I see a pretty strong connection between raving and music! So yeah, the collaboration with Senscommon was a super-natural one. Laura and I met a few times at parties - we both like to dance for hours - and shared the frustration with the quality and production methods behind most merchandise, their disposable approach. So we took advantage of the extra time we had last year to fully dive into the research of both the best shape and materials to create a modular bag that was truly clubbing and life-proof: small, light but also capacious, resistant to water and easy to wear in multiple ways. I have little interest in creating a cheap T-shirt or tote bag with a logo-print, to be honest. So, I’m happy that the first wearable item to be released on Osàre was this.