23.05.2019 | Words by: Ivar Laanen
Somewhere within the minds of every dancefloor lover exists an idyllic image of what it’s like to be a DJ. That image may differ from person to person, but surely it involves standing behind a pair of decks dropping track after track for a relentless, insatiable crowd. Mor Elian knows very well that only a select few will ever reach the point where they can consistently live up to that idyllic image, and she sees the frustration of DJs struggling to make it there. The Berlin-based producer, however, is absolutely unapologetic about this stark reality.
“Techno doesn’t owe any of us anything.”
Mor isn’t being rude. She’s simply telling the truth about the “dynamic music business” that she has been a part of since her days of raving in Israel as a teenager. The longer we speak together over a FaceTime call plagued by poor WIFI signals, the more Mor shares her honest reminiscences regarding the life of a DJ.
“What we do has parts that are very ego-driven. If your shows start going badly, it can be a really big hit to the ego. The thing is, most DJs have a run. It’s very rare that you can get a long-term life career out of this. Only very few, chosen DJs get the opportunity to go on at that level and tour forever. The scene fluctuates, styles go in and out. This is something you always have to keep in mind.”
At the moment, it seems Mor is in the midst of her run. Since releasing her first record
in 2015 on Prime Numbers, which is characterized by deep house kickdrums layered with bubbly acid, she’s since moved on to produce a number of quick-paced electro releases on labels such as Hypercolour
and Radio Matrix
that consistently feature a distinct interplay between crisp hi-hats and circular, hypnotic melodies. Mor says producing consumes 90% of her time, with the other 10% dedicated towards running her label with Fever AM
along with Rhyw, promoting the Los Angeles-based party Into The Woods, and of course, DJing.
“I don’t know how long I’ll be on this journey. But the journey will evolve as I go. I know one thing: nobody is going to take my equipment away—unless some sort of weird war starts where you can’t produce techno anymore because of the techno police.”
“STOP! You can’t play techno anymore, only pop music,” Mor shrieks in her best impersonation of what a techno police officer would sound like.
“But really you just need to make the most of your run and be grateful for the time you’re given. And you need to put your well-being before playing. I speak a lot to other DJ’s and you see that touring can be very heavy on your physical and mental well-being. You gotta do what feels right for your mental and physical health, that can mean taking less gigs or time off when you need it. Playing all the time isn’t sustainable--you can burn out really easily.”
Mor speaks from experience. It was only until recently that she started turning down gigs to take more time for herself. Over the years she’s also come to realize that partying and staying out late after gigs just doesn’t work for your brain when you have much to attend to, such as the events she curates in Los Angeles alongside Jimmy Maheras.
My interest piqued upon hearing about Mor's involvement in the Los Angeles scene. I myself had lived in the suburbs of Oakland, California for 19 years, and yet, never once had I heard someone say ‘techno’ in the same sentence as ‘Los Angeles.’ I guess I didn’t talk to the right people.
“The scene was really small and niche when I first arrived. It wasn’t till like 2011 or 2012 that a new wave of parties started arriving with young people and promoters getting interested in house and techno. Into The Woods will be four years old this year—and we’ve been able to bring a whole lot of different styles into LA compared to the usual, warmer sounding music that LA leans towards. Just last Saturday we had The Hacker and Legowelt play.”
Legowelt in California? Yup, I was completely oblivious to this when I lived there.
“We don’t have clubs operating after 2 AM and in general, the clubs in LA are not that great. SO even if we decide to throw a party till 2AM, the spaces are just not built for the kind of parties we’re trying to host. That means almost 100% of our parties are thrown in warehouses in a challenging situation where we have to give a password, send them a…
Mor hesitates for a couple moments.
“I mean, I don’t how much I should tell you since this is all being written down.”
“Well, anyway there’s a whole process behind it to make sure you’re the people who come are safe. Back in the days you would just have a phone number that you would call and you would get the address, and they would pass out flyers. But things change. Of course, we’ve had difficulties along the way where there might be a bust--and it can be really scary because they can just come in and fuck up your party, which makes everyone sad…or angry.”
“In a way, in LA we are living the true underground. Everything has to be done in warehouses, which turns out to be more unique, but only out of necessity. We’re properly working underground because we have to, but it’s also LA so there’s lots of resources, it’s an abundant city. It’s not like we’re in some small city in the UK in the 90s or something. No. There’s a network. It’s organized.”
But the authorities are aware of this, right?
“I don’t think they’re so aware of all this, to be honest. I get a lot of messages to our Facebook page and some of them are just like ‘Hi, what’s the address for tonight?’ And we just have to tell them to go through the whole process before they get an address. We’ve had a couple of times where someone you don’t know asks “Hello, can I have guestlist for the party?” No regular person just asks for a guestlist. It shows you ignorance if someone doesn’t know how this whole thing works.”
As Mor said this I thought about a discussion I had attended in Rotterdam a few days prior about the social and political role of techno music, a topic that provoked a hot-blooded debate amongst the crowd in similar fashion to the way religion gets endlessly debated. One gentle fellow in the room pointed out that, socially speaking, dance music seems paradoxical in that it’s supposed to be inclusive to everyone, and yet, it has a very exclusive, secrative nature with more clubs enacting stricter door policies and events sifting through people’s online profiles before allowing them to purchase tickets. Stricter door policies are justifiable in my opinion, but I was wondering whether the various steps that someone in Los Angeles needs to take to attend an event might inadvertently exclude Americans who want to attend a techno party but are not yet familiar with the process behind these warehouse parties.
“But these events are inclusive to absolutely everyone…besides cops! Well, maybe if you’re a cop that takes ecstasy and likes techno. I’m sure there’s a couple cops who do that, somewhere out there.”
“Really though we’ve been trying to expand, to pull from different parts of LA and turn the dance floor into an unsegregated place—because often the dancefloors in LA are mostly white. We want to pull people from different music scenes and show them what we’re up to, so a lot of times what we’ll do is book artists from other scenes too so that they’ll bring their crowds with them and get exposed to a headliner that they don’t yet know. Recently we had Theo Parrish play, and his music is so diverse that we had a lot of people outside the house and techno scene who could connect it.”
As she says this the connection of our FaceTime crumbles once more, and although I can still hear her, all I see is a frozen image of Mor—with the blue text on her white shirt suddenly become readable.
Does your shirt just say ‘ACID’ on the front? I ask.
“Aha, yes. I got it in South Korea at some weird T-shirt shop. My niece, who is about to be 15 years old, stole it from me recently. She keeps stealing my clothes, which is weird. But I’m flattered that she likes my style because she doesn’t touch her mothers’ clothes, so at least I know I’m cooler than her mother.”
“She doesn’t like techno or house like we did back in Israel. She’s all about hip-hop. All the kids are all about the hip-hop. It’s really disappointing.”
Photo by: Noa BellersteinMor Elian plays in our basement this Friday, alongside Objekt and Konduku. Tickets are still available here.