When the world slowly turns into one dark spot before your eyes, the question is what you do to make it better, says Colombian techno-pop producer Ela Minus. On her album acts of rebellion, a record full of electro-club punk, she asks her listeners to live consciously and to dance a lot, and pays tribute to the daily expressions of love. “Regaining your consciousness is the most rebellious thing you can do right now.”
Written by: Loulou Kuster
Photos: Teddy Fitzhugh & Juan Ortiz-Arenas
Rebellion is at the heart of Gabriela Jimeno aka Ela Minus. When the world turns right, Jimeno goes left. She started her musical career as a drummer in a successful hardcore band in the punk scene of Bogota, not entirely what her parents had in mind for their daughter. They preferred to see her as a pianist or perhaps, if it was really necessary, a singer. “As a child I really wanted to play drums. Not because I necessarily wanted to be a drummer, but because no girl did it. All around me my parents and teachers shouted: 'But drumming is not for girls! Go play the piano.” That triggered me to throw myself into drumming in a very obsessive way. And in the end I even built my career out of it. That fierce contrarianism is something that is deeply rooted in me.”
It is therefore not surprising that her debut album, released last year, was given the title acts of rebellion. With minimalistic, dark synths and Jimeno's whispering voice on almost every track, but with the power of hope and resistance as the common theme throughout the album. The dance floor nostalgia and technology criticism in 'tony' goes hand in hand with the call for resistance in 'they told us it was hard, but they were wrong' and 'megapunk'. Not that you immediately have to drop everything and take to the streets to come to that resistance, according to Minus, the rebellion is in the small things. “Sure, it's important to take to the streets when we're up against something, but I like to really live in the moment and pay attention to the everyday things. The world is breaking down because of people who don't live in the moment, who don't focus on what they're making and therefore make mistakes they don't need to make. We live in an attention economy, so to me, regaining your consciousness and your focus is a small act of resistance. For example, by not immediately reaching for my phone and scrolling for an hour when I wake up. Instead, I'm going to spend an hour dreaming and messing around by the window. That is a little act of rebellion in my eyes.”
Jimeno's criticism of the way we deal with technology is derived from the words of American media critic and documentary filmmaker Douglas Rushkoff. He was there in Silicon Valley when the internet was born in the early 1990s and seemed to be the first step towards a new, utopian world where everyone could freely share information and knowledge with just a few clicks. He wrote Cyberia about it, a portrait of online culture. Things didn't go the way Rushkoff had hoped. In 2019, he released a new book: Team Human, which Jimeno devoured cover to cover as she wrote her album. In Team Human Rushkoff argues that sharing knowledge and improving people's lives is no longer at the top of the priority list, but that the internet is at the service of the shareholder, who wants to create a capitalist landscape. The internet is part of a toxic corporate culture in which machines are seen as more efficient and reliable than humans. “I love when people change. When they first believe in something, but then realize that maybe it wasn't quite as they hoped and then dare to step away from it. Rushkoff hoped the internet would improve the world, but in fact he saw it ruin the world. He thought, 'Fuck this! This isn't the bunch of punk kids that started it all, the kids who built a utopia outside of capitalism. This internet is becoming capitalist.' He goes on to argue not that the internet is a bad thing and that we should stop using it, but rather that we should learn to use it better. For example, that we should teach children to code, so that later everyone knows how it works and we are less easily manipulated. I also tried to incorporate that idea into my album. Yes, the world is dark and things are bad in many places, but we can handle this. There is always hope and there are always solutions, no matter how bad we are.”
“At Berklee, where I studied jazz, everyone was so afraid of technology. Many people had some sort of judgment that a computerized instrument would never be the same as a "real" instrument. Of course it is not the same, it is also a completely different instrument. I find it inspiring to make my synths, with their machine sound, more human. I'm always thinking about how I can make the machine more human, how I can make the machine and I make something new together.” How does she handle that then? “I try to find out what makes me human. For example, a person makes endless mistakes, so I recorded this album live and left all my errors on it.”
Before Jimeno was admitted to Berklee's jazz academy in Boston, she traveled with her band all over Colombia putting on shows wherever they could find: from living rooms of complete strangers they had approached via MySpace to gymnasiums at secondary schools. “It was a very special time growing up in that punk scene. There were so many good bands and we were all really good friends. It's super important to have a scene that you grow up in. You are part of something great in which you can grow. The DIY spirit in my scene has meant a lot to me as an artist. It doesn't matter how little money or space you have or how bad you are at something, if you really want to achieve something, there are a hundred thousand possibilities to ensure that you get where you want to be. As long as you go for it one hundred percent. The fact that I play everything live on my synths and not use a computer on stage is one hundred percent from that time.”
During her studies, Jimeno slowly lost her will to become a musician herself: she was building synthesizers as a job and played as a drummer in a band of her classmates. “I was so out of place, this couldn't be my future. But in the meantime, I did go out a lot and slowly made my way into the Boston techno scene. Because I had gained a lot of knowledge about synthesizers during my job, I also started teaching myself to play them. What was the worst that could happen? I didn't have that much to lose. I was increasingly asked to come and play at festivals and that's how I eventually found the love for music back. The stage, no matter how small or large, is my home. It's the place where I feel most comfortable. Synthesizers and club culture give me a certain freedom, an energy that makes me feel like I can take on the world. And that's great, so I hope I can keep doing it forever."
acts of rebellion is out now on Domino Recordings.
Editor's note: this article was originally published in Dutch. Some quotes may have been altered in the translation.