Music

‘We Have the F*cking Soul’: Ela Minus’ Big Hopes for Latin American Talent

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“I cannot believe this is the year that this record is coming out,” Ela Minus (born Gabriela Jimeno) tells Remezcla in a recent phone interview. “I’m absolutely in awe because it’s so rare in electronic music to have to take a stand on anything, and to be honest, I was very self-conscious about the theme of the album. The fact that I made a record with such a strong statement, it really took me a while to accept it,” she says of the strong messages of rebellion, isolation, and raising one’s voice.“I decided to go with it because I am really committed to being honest.“

You can’t accuse Jimeno of hiding her thoughts from anybody; her work in the electronic music field as Ela Minus has been characterized by her honesty and amazing execution. These qualities go back to her teen years when she was involved in the Bogotá punk scene as a member of the band Ratón Pérez. As a drummer, she later enrolled in Berklee College of Music to hone her drum skills only to realize that she wanted something different out of music.

Finding solace at raves and parties, the 30-year old musician decided to try her hand at making minimal techno-pop to express her thoughts and emotions. 2017 saw the arrival of Adapt, her first EP, followed by the release of OK-SO a year later. She then spent her time touring and collaborating with artists such as Mitú and Helado Negro.

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Although spontaneity and constant documentation have been part of her M.O. from day one, her decision to make a full length was well-thought-out and slow to finish. It was worth the wait. Acts of Rebellion might be one of the best electronic albums of the year—a work of art that reflects the tumultuous times we’re living in with themes of isolation in songs like “dominique,” a call to resistance on “they told us it was hard, but they were wrong” and “megapunk,” and the intersection of nostalgia and non-conformity on “tony.” Every song is delivered through minimalist electronic arrangements, hushed vocals and slightly dark atmospherics, giving it an introspective vibe. Yet, Acts of Rebellion is far from a downer; it’s also a catchy and fun collection of songs from start to finish—a party for this doomed year.

Everyone has something to raise their voice about.

Although the heavy subject matters of the album—shouts against oppression, isolation, and finding shelter in the community—are ever-present, it might come as a surprise to many listeners that Acts of Rebellion was not made in recent months.

“Everyone has something to raise their voice about,” she tells Remezcla. “I wrote [the album] in 2018. We weren’t in the moment we are in right now but I think everything that we’re seeing has been growing and getting more extreme because all of these things have been f*cked up for decades and this is just a tipping point.”

“This is the way that I deal with the world, not only through music but through rebellion,” the young composer says. Unconsciously, the songs Ela was writing slowly revealed the “defiant spirit” she has possessed since she can remember, a quality that has helped her make some of the most important decisions in her life. This revelation makes Acts of Rebellion her most personal work to date.

“My entire life has been marked by little acts of rebellion. I only wanted to play drums as a little girl because I never saw anybody else that looked like me play drums. I think I got to know myself in a way that I’ve never seen before. When you accept something even if you’re not proud of it and you understand that you’ve done so many things—good and bad—just because of that trait of your personality, you’re able to grow from it.”

My entire life has been marked by little acts of rebellion.

Making the personal political, Acts of Rebellion was not just a journey for Ela but a reflection of how she perceives the world today. “I actually thought about naming [the album] ‘Resist,’ which would have been even more appropriate for the [current] moment but I decided to go with ‘acts’ because I think there’s something very valuable about [it], like doing something very small, like calling your mom every day. We just have to act and wake up and do things, not be so passive all the time.”

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Most of the philosophical aspects of Ela Minus—do it yourself, question everything, rely on others, act—can be traced back to punk, a genre that contrasts musically with Ela’s electronic grooves and near-whispered vocals. Yet punk forms a direct influence for her.

“When I was growing up, I remember listening to bands [like Fugazi and Bad Brains] and feeling like a friend was giving me their hand and being like ‘come on, let’s have fun while we think about stuff.’ That’s honestly what I feel like [when I play] shows. I remember [early on] someone in the audience looking straight into my eyes and smiling while they were dancing. And I felt like we were sharing a moment together, a moment of just being joyful. That’s exactly what I want, to invite people to be positive and to have fun in order to accept the f*cked up things. It’s full of joy and has a hint of melancholy. It’s not just a one [dimensional] thing.”

Do it yourself, question everything, rely on others, act.

Ela Minus is in the midst of a sort of crossover. Acts of Rebellion is being released through British label Domino and her music has reached ears beyond her original fanbase. She finds herself pondering about her position within Latinx electronic music and as a Colombian in exile. She finds kinship with Latin America and Colombia in particular but laments that culturally, musicians tend to abandon their craft. Of her acquaintances back home, she says most have quit music altogether, citing the lack of opportunities to make a living in this field. On the other hand, she finds it ironic that most of her colleagues in New York are in the same predicament, yet still make the time for their musical work. As a consequence, she’s making it her mission to demystify what it means to be a musician in order to inspire more people to keep their creative outlets active.

Amazing music is coming out of Latin America because I think we have the talent and we have the f*cking soul.

“I’m really looking forward to being an old lady and seeing how much amazing music is coming out of Latin America because I think we have the talent and we have the f*cking soul. I’m thinking about a little girl growing up in Bogota that’s gonna want to make electronic music and they are going to finally have a f*cking role model to make them feel like they can do it too.”

True to her words, Ela Minus is writing her story as a creative exercise and inviting all of us along for the ride, speaking of our tumultuous times and giving us a blueprint to resist injustices. “In general, my favorite bands and my favorite albums of those bands were never their debuts; I always liked the fifth or the seventh album. The musicians that I actually admired and listened to the most had really fucking long careers and I realized that finding yourself as a musician takes time and practice and a lot of experimentation and a lot of bad songs, you know? The more you do it, the better you get at it. I’m in no rush.”