Alex Honey sits down for an exclusive guest mix and interview with Lisbon-based DJ, producer, poet, theorist, and rising star, Odete. They discuss her latest album, Amarração, her research-based artistic practice, and the problem with representation.
To listen to the audio version of this interview, skip to 28:32 on the Soundcloud player below.
We initially met at Creamcake’s 3rd <Interrupted = “Cyfem and Queer> symposium at Ohm. Soon you would be performing at Berlin Atonal festival—how was your set?
My idea of a set is super influenced by my experience of being there, so what I can tell you about it will be about how I connected, or not connected, with the festival, the environment, the context, and the people. I think it was important for me to do because I’m still super new with a live setting, so to do it in such a context where people are open and available to hear whatever comes, even if they hate it—I think it was good for me. Of course, it was in a club context because it was Tresor, so I felt pressure to make people dance, move their bodies, or go hard… but it was really important for me to be among other artists, even if it was uncomfortable or awkward, at a festival that kind of allowed me to do whatever, even if it sounded kind of pretentious. There were also lots of artists talking, networking, showing their work… and for me that’s an awkward context, because I’m not used to it. So I feel like my experience of the set was really torn between this feeling of freedom in being able to express whatever I wanted in a club context, which usually doesn’t happen because I feel lots of pressure, and also the awkwardness of being young and new to the context of a live set in the middle of so many artists who are super experienced. So it was this thing between freedom and excitement to do it and also, I don’t know how to say it… awkwardness [laughs].
It must be an interesting experience being invited into all of these new spaces… you’ve appeared on Red Bull Radio, Boiler Room, and also performed at Año Zero, “Lisbon’s slayer festival.” How have you found playing at these bigger venues? I’m guessing you’re still very much a part of the Lisbon underground.
Of course, that’s always my home! That’s where I feel connected to people, that’s where my friends are, so I don’t think I’ll ever disconnect or stay away from… I don’t like the expression “underground,” but I think we know what it means: this community of people who constantly experiment, resist, and do more DIY parties, events, or music. That’s where I feel most comfortable, and that’s where I feel most free, so I don’t think I’m getting away from it soon. But the experience of getting all this attention, and getting to play at big festivals, big clubs, big events, or having bigger crowds and a more established notion of importance… what that does to me is that it tires me more, because it has a level of social skills and networking which even though I think I have, it really tires me to have to go through all of it, instead of being just about the music. What I feel most of the time is that no-one is actually listening in those contexts, and that’s what I’m most saddened about. Even though I’m super grateful and blessed to be invited to so many important things that will have an impact on my career and my survival out of music, I do feel that people listen less, are less attentive, and less contemplative of the work I want to do. Maybe they’re super high and everyone just happens to be there because it’s Tresor, or it’s Berghain, or it’s whatever… but in smaller communities, smaller DIY events, I know that people are there to listen, even if they are super high—I know that they are there because they love music. They love to experiment with me, collaborate with me, and listen with me. So for me, I’m just in this phase where I still don’t know how to deal with these new contexts… I hope I will! [laughs] I really hope I will and that I don’t get exhausted, but it is exciting so I don’t want to be like “oh it’s awful”— it’s not awful, it’s just new, and different, and a bit tiring. I’ll get there.
Do you prefer the term “DIY” to “underground”? It is hard to know what to call it, I guess.
Yeah, exactly, I don’t know… I use DIY because it feels more… not authentic, but more related to what it is, because it’s people building their own parties, their own sets, their own contexts, you know? It’s not really funded or institutional, more than underground as if it were raving in a cave [laughs]. Most of the time it’s not in a cave, it’s not under the mainstream. For me, it feels more connected to the idea itself of what these people want, and what I want. It’s to build our own spaces, our own communities, our own music. Even if DIY has a super dense history, I guess it’s a fine word.
I guess “underground” sounds almost like a media term, when someone’s writing about it but not part of it.
So your latest release, Amarração, which translates to “binding,” was released in June on Rotten Fresh and Troublemaker Records. Is there anything that you’d like to say about the album or your relationship with those labels?
Those are two new labels, when I say new they have around one or two years maximum here in Lisbon, and they have the spirit of being for friends and for the community, and built around DIY spaces and DIY communities. They have specific crowds, for example Troublemaker Records is mostly geared towards POC and queer people, and Rotten Fresh has a very specific brand of musical experimentation. Of course, it’s mostly like, straight, white men [laughs], but they’re super young, and they both proposed to do a release. I didn’t want to do two releases, so I thought I’d be kind of uniting these two communities in a single release, I thought it would be a beautiful thing. Everyone knows everyone here in Lisbon, but sometimes the communities are super separated, and I as my EP also talks about binding people through spellwork and magic, I thought the release itself could be a binding moment of two labels and two different communities that like the same music and experimentation, or are trying their best here in Lisbon. I thought it could make sense, this union…
So, you’re a multidisciplinary artist as well as a poet, and I’ve-
What! Who said that??
… [laughs] I’ve heard your music described as research and as using vulnerability as a political tool. So the quote was “a sensorial theory for a weary girlhood.”
Yeah, I wrote that [laughs].
Would you like to expand on any of those ideas that guide your artistic practice, even though I’m guessing they’re constantly changing?
They are constantly changing, but I still maintain those expressions that I wrote such as “sensorial theory for a weary girlhood”—I know this sounds super pretentious, but for me it’s what kind of explains it. My musical work began when I started transitioning, and it was always about this idea of achieving something that is already kind of weary… I was trying to search for an idea. For example, I was researching about femininity and girlhood, and this was always like I was entering an archive that I had never entered, and I was super excited, but it was super dusty, with lots of old books, and lots of old shit… and that’s what it kind of felt like when I started doing music—I started entering these notions of who I was, who I wanted, that seemed kind of not belonging to me. I know this sounds super weird [laughs], but that’s what guided my artistic practice: this research of who I am, what belongs to me, how do I exist in this society, or how do I exist inside late capitalism, what it’s like to be a girl, a trans girl, what does it mean, what do I perform, what do I archive…? All these notions of identity, not exactly of a constructed identity, but something that is more as if the world was a huge document, or a huge archive.
So I think it’s my obsession with history which guides my artistic practice, is what I could say about it. And when I say sensorial practice for a weary girlhood, it’s because for me music is a sensorial thing, first of all, so I explore moods and sensations, and how can I express what goes on with me to the other person, and so it’s a practice of sensation. And when I say “weary girlhood” it’s mostly because I understand my girlhood or my femininity as a historical thing. I research paintings, I research history, even the history of music, or the history of fashion… to understand what girlhood or femininity is, in literature and whatever. And that kind of influenced my musical practice, when I discovered like, some poems or stuff which could be music, or ballroom understandings of music, or when I discovered punk rock—all of these things belong to my understanding of queerness or femininity… I don’t know if I’m making any sense… but that’s what kind of guided me in the beginning, this historical approach to music making, but a queer and femme approach to it. To go into the history of lots of things, and transform my research of history into music. For example, that’s what led to my first EP on Naivety. It was sample-based, and all the samples were coming from my historical research of what would be queer music, whatever this means.
You’re also a member of the Lisbon-based experimental LGBTQ collective Circa A.D., who also mention sensitivity as a weapon on their Soundcloud. Would you like to speak a little bit about your involvement with the group and how it got started?
So, Circa was created in the middle of a group of friends. We were tired of the Lisbon scene which didn’t offer much possibilities in terms of events or music. We were stuck in these techno, tech house, house, disco environments… and we were getting super tired because Lisbon is so small. As soon as you don’t get different approaches to music or club culture you get suffocated, because you don’t have anything different, so you just suffocate on what there is. So we wanted to join forces and create a platform which, first of all, would be more independent from Lisbon, because in Lisbon it’s super hard to do parties, and to have a venue it’s almost impossible. You have to plan it a year in advance, you have to have money, and it’s super hard. For example, collectives like mina don’t do parties in Lisbon anymore because there are no venues that are available for this kind of event. So we started creating mixes, compilations, and we started to create an idea of community that would expand beyond the geography of Portugal. Contacting other collectives from other countries like Tormenta from Brazil, we created this web of support internationally that would actually help us not only improve our music, but also sustain our careers within the LGBTQ community around the globe, and not be dependent on what Lisbon has to offer us.
So it’s kind of like a global, digital, queer collective…
Have you thrown any parties yet?
Yeah, we threw two parties at like this super DIY trashy place in Lisbon, but we stopped throwing parties there because we had a political confrontation with the manager, so now we’re throwing a party in collaboration with a feminist label from Lisbon called La Bereda, and we are throwing a party also in October, finally, after one year of not throwing parties, so let’s hope and see how it goes.
I wanted to ask about the title of a mix from 2017: “Narrative is as legitimate as hyper-technical transition.” Am I right in thinking that you wanted to challenge the focus or privileging in mainstream discourse of the surgical, scientific aspect of transitioning over the personal, emotional, narratological aspect?
Yes, you’re right, but I wanted to connect that which you’re saying in terms of transgender transitioning with mixing or DJing, and “transitions” inside of a mix or a DJ set. I was trying to understand narrative as the focal point of a DJ set or a mix, and to privilege that instead of hyper-technical transitions from song to song, so making narrative stronger than technique. That was my focus, but always still talking about transgender and transitioning because that was my focus, or what I was researching.
I’m going to go back to my past to try and build a narrative about my relationship to representation, so you can understand where I stand now, politically speaking. Representation was always something that was important to me, or was a question since I started doing arts, writing, drawing, or whatever… In the beginning, when I started doing performance work, for example, abstraction was my main focus because I felt figurativity was trapping me. At a certain point, I was so suffocated by figurativity and categorisation, and was also dealing with who I was and questions about my body, my gender expression, sexuality, whatever… And so abstraction was this kind of escape from figurativity and representation where I could be free and deal with myself more freely, and more deeply. But then, as things progressed and I came out as a trans woman, representation gained a new meaning for me. I was so obsessed with abstraction, and so immersed in it, that when I came out, it all kind of fell down, and I felt the need to go back to figurativity, representation, and categorisation in order to reclaim a space for myself, because abstraction was taking me away from that space. Before then, I didn’t feel the need to reclaim such a circumscribed space, or to draw a space with limits for myself. But when I came out, I really felt that I needed to understand, and to understand I felt I needed to have names, have categories, have history. As I told you before, I was obsessed with history, and for me history has to do with representation, categorisation, where people fit, how society organises, who is who, hierarchies, etcetera…
But at one point, how can I explain this… as I got deeper into my transition and my artistic work as a trans person, I started understanding the dynamics of fetishisation, or “inclusion”—they were fake as fuck. People were including me not because of my work but because of my identity category. So I started losing contact with people, contact with reality. I wanted to talk about my work and my practice, but no-one was there to actually listen and care for things that were not about me or my identity, because I was always included and always wanted for what I represented… and so “representation” has always, as I understood it, connected with who should be represented, who is trendy, who society wants to represent. And it’s an illusion because lots of people fall outside of it. People want trans people now, but maybe in ten years they will want something else, you know… it’s like fashion trends, or whatever works. It’s not actual political action, because if we wanted something to change then we wouldn’t want to be inside the same system which always threatened us and always made us feel that we didn’t belong. I don’t want to belong in a system of representation and codification that always excluded me, because the roots of the problem are super deep. I’m not pretending that I am inside the system so everything will be fine. I want the destruction of the system, I want the destruction of patriarchy, capitalism, and all forms of human oppression. I don’t want to be a part of any of it, because I am not.
There is a version of history that sustains all things, and that version does not include lots of people, and it’s not in 2019 or 2020 that having a seat at the assembly will make me or trans people be included, because that’s not how things are organised. And it’s also a strategy of late capitalism to survive, and I don’t want it to survive! I don’t want it to survive, I don’t want to become engulfed in what late capitalism has become, I don’t want it… and I don’t think anyone wants it. We want a different world. And to have a different world we should have a new system of organising things, and humans, and communities, and geographies. So, that’s my problem with representation as it is for me: I feel it is a strategy of patriarchy and late capitalism to survive, by engulfing what is outside its limits so that it can maintain itself.
Lastly, I just wanted to ask if you had any long term plans for your music or life in general.
No! [laughs] I am a ’90s kid, I don’t have long term plans. I am like a millennial… I don’t do that kind of stuff. I don’t have the money, I don’t have the job… it’s just a different reality, I don’t make long term plans. I cannot even imagine myself in ten years, so how can I make a long term plan? I’m super unstable every time, life is super precarious here in Portugal, I don’t know… I wish I was rich! [laughs] that’s what all people say. But I really don’t know. I say this—I wish I was rich, but at the same time I wish the world collapsed and all humans died [laughs].
I mean, it seems like you might be reaching a position for your music to translate into capital… I don’t know if you’ve been getting paid for these big gigs that you’ve been doing.
I wish! [laughs] I am still not 👏 receiving 👏 the 👏 money 👏 I deserve… kidding. No, I am not earning a lot, though. I am able to survive because Libson is cheap compared to other European countries, that’s why I think I’m able to pay rent and eat with music only. But I had a full time job until May, so there’s always the possibility of going back to a full-time or a part-time job, because actually people don’t pay very well in the music industry, you know… Sometimes it all seems it works around clout, like they pay you according to what can you bring to the party in terms of people, interest… And so, I don’t know… I hope it changes. I do dream of a club culture where everyone is paid equal, or at least money evolves according to career or something. You know like, the older you get, the more you get, because the more expenses you also get, because you’re getting older [laughs]. I don’t know…
Words: Alex Honey
Featured Image: João Viegas