The alter ego of Lisbon DJ and Producer Inês Coutinho, Violet is a multi-talented figure within the city’s underground electronic music scene.
Her music has appeared on the likes of One Eyed Jacks, Cómeme, Paraíso and Snuff Trax, while her own imprint – Naive – debuted with the jungle inspired, and highly acclaimed, “Togetherness” EP in 2017, followed by this month’s recently released BLEID collaboration, “Badness”.
A socially minded artist, Violet is also the co founder of Rádio Quântica, while curating shows and regular nights at Lisbon’s Lux Frágil. With her busiest year to date, including performances at Germany’s Nachtdigital, Portugal’s RPMM Festival and Sonar’s 25th anniversary, we spoke in depth with Violet on everything from art to activism.
“I think nightlife should be even more political”
Let’s start by talking about Lisbon. As a participator, but also an observer, what would you say are the city’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of being an electronic music hub?
Lisbon is such an easy city to live in. Rents have been going up recently but, within Europe, it’s a very accessible place. It is cheaper than London or Paris but also a very busy city culturally. There is also this great weather we have, which provides many unique opportunities for outdoor events and festivals, and not just in the summer.
When it comes to the actual people of the scene, it is very strong at the moment. We had a moment like this in the mid 90s where we had a big boom in our underground through acts like Underground Sound of Lisbon. This exploded internationally, particularly in New York, with support from Junior Vasquez and all the tribals guys. It was a crossover moment, where the underground was selling records and charting so as a kid, I was able to access it.
Then it quieted down in the early 2000s but in the past 5-10 years it has been resurgent. There are lots of crew doing interesting things and lots of labels as well. This is an undeniable strength because, as the scene strengthens, up and coming artists can see positive examples of people making a difference, which was contrary to the way it felt in the mid 2000s.
There is also a raised awareness of club politics so parties are getting more adapted to the times we live in politically, which is important. This is something I feel Portugal always lacks a bit. We are always a bit more laid back and conservative. It’s a culturally thing but it’s evolving.
If I were to think of the challenges in the city, I’d say the fact that we don’t have many medium sized venues for club nights. We don’t have a “Middle Class” for partying. For our clubs to be full they need to fill 2,000 people and up with not many options of smaller venues. I suppose this is related to the general economy of Portugal, where there isn’t too much money floating around, so many local DJs financials border on the ridiculous. It’s not uncommon for a club to book prominent DJs and pay 50 – 100 Euro. Still, the taste within the club scene remains impressive with lots going on, particularly in the Queer & Techno scenes.
Within your circle, who are some relevant names who may not yet have international recognition?
Damas, it’s the Portugese slang for “girls”. They host music nights every day and also have cinema nights. They are very culturally oriented and with a political edge. It’s an openly feminist venue.
Another example would be Lux Frágil. It’s been open for 18 or 20 years, so it’s a historic space by now. It’s very representative of the electronic scene, particularly the pioneers. Some of the best DJs in the city play there. The radio station that I work for, Rádio Quântica, runs a party at Lux Frágil every three months.
Rádio Quântica also has a monthly party at Lounge, which is a small, but cozy, lounge in the centre of Lisbon. Each month one of the shows on the radio curates the night and decides everything that will go on. It is amazing and extremely varied.
…and what about artists?
There are lots of them! It is very hard to pick a few, but I would start with EDND. She is from the South but very much part of the Lisbon scene. She is also part of duo called Roundhouse Kick. She has a great collection of synthesisers. Her pastime is fixing up old synthesizers. It is really beautiful, evocative House and out there Techno. She really makes those synths sing.
Also, there is Shcuro, and also as Jose Acid. These are two very different aliases. Schuro is more dark, noisy, industrial techno with really particular textures. As Jose Acid, well its more of an acid sound. He also runs two label, which are very good. One is Sombra and Paraíso. Sombra is more experimental but with Paraíso he looks to recapture that 90s period I was talking about. He invites those producers to do new stuff, as well as new producers inspired by the sound. So far they’ve released 3x V/A 12”. Checking this label is a really great start in learning about the local scene.
Regarding all your own activities within this scene, how do you use each in creating your overall musical identity? What kind of message do you put out with Rádio Quântica, for example? How does that compare to the message you put out during a DJ set?
For the radio, I do a few shows and also help run the station. Photonz and I curate the shows together and take tips from our friends and from other artists. We really try and push the idea of giving the new generation a voice while also providing a platform for local pioneers. It’s a community effort with a good representation of gender, race, and sexuality. We have lots of Queer folks and women doing their thing and we’ve been really lucky to see these people blossom over the last few years. For me, it makes me optimistic; it makes me inspired. This has a huge impact in my music.
It sounds like you enjoy being busy…
[laughs] I do, yeah! I can’t help it. Sometimes I rant about being busy and the next day I am still running around. The label [Naive] is kind of my thing as I can do anything I want there. I always have club ethics in mind as an aesthetic. It’s an artistic safe space for me. It doesn’t feel like work at all while the radio sometimes does.
How do you add touring in this mix? Do you give your booking agents any touring parameters?
It is quite tiring but I trust my agent to take the requests she thinks are worth it, and its been spot on. I’ve been lucky enough to play parties that I related to on many levels. I do travel more than I ever have in my life. It may come to a point where I will need to manage it in a way to protect my artistic output but, for now, I am riding the wave. After a decade of of cutting my teeth locally, it is nice to finally play for more people.
It sounds like there is a significant social and political interest in all the activities you are involved in, which is something I am always curious to explore. So far here, you’ve spoken about “Club Ethics”, community involvement, as well as equal representation. What are your thoughts toward the responsibility creative scenes have to engage within a wider political dialogue? Do you feel it is a responsibility?
I feel like we go to the club to look within. We have an experience within our inner world that is surrounded by people who make up a community. It is a representation of how wider society works. It’s like a petri dish of ideas and practices that can work both in and out of the club.
If anything, I think nightlife should be even more political. It is very necessary to organize thoughts and put them into action. If you don’t, nothing ever changes and as a member of society you can’t quit your job as an agent of change. I think music is a way to engage with this in a fun way. Those people who say we shouldn’t talk about certain things, or act on certain things, are doing so from a position of privilege. They don’t do it in a mean way, they just do it in a way of having always enjoyed systemic privilege. A straight, white male is just born that way so he may not even be aware of such issues. As a white person, I try and do a privilege check daily.
Have you always had these kind of interests, even before your creative life? Or, did the two coincide?
My social interests came first. My mother is a history teacher and both parents have been involved in left wing politics for a long time. My grandfather was part of the revolution where we finally got rid of the dictatorship in 1974, so I’ve always been exposed to action. I’ve donated to Amnesty International and been involved with projects like that for a long time also. Over the past 5-10 years, as I’ve learned more about gender and identity politics, it did coincide with my music career given all the different people one inevitably meets in this world. It is something that keeps evolving, but the best way to learn are to do so in a hands on way.
Do you find hope in the activist climate within electronic music?
I think things are slowly transitioning from what they were but there is still a long way to go. I still see many prominent festivals with straight, cisgender lineups, for example. I don’t think that the issues have really penetrated the wider social DNA. It’s a real work in progress so we can’t afford to stop talking about these things.
To wrap up this conversation on political and social responsibility, can you expand on this idea of “Club Ethics,” which you mentioned previously. How do you define them?
For clubs, I believe it boils down the programming; equal representation of a diverse demographic range. This is the strongest way.
Another example, is a party called Mina (full disclosure, I do help run it) that was started by a queer collective named Rabbithole and Rádio Quântica. The night boils down to a few practical factors in maintaining club ethics we are all comfortable with . It starts at the door, where we have two members of the Queer community, which sets the tone to drop your gender norms at the door. They explore it as a Queer, Feminist, Sex & Drug positive event. There is a dark room for sex and one for drugs inside, so a message of respect is also conveyed immediately. By setting the tone at the door we can scare away the bigots.
Inside the party, it’s a very respectful atmosphere. We make sure no one is invading personal space or touching without permission.
With the lineups, its important to have a gender balance. We don’t have to worry about balance in terms of sexuality because it is all openly Queer, so they will always run the party.
How often to they run?
They go on monthly, and have been for a year. It has become a very successful event in the city!
So, are you satisfied with the inclusivity of the wider Lisbon scene?
Not yet, but it’s getting there. People are talking more about these issues and waking up the the fact that this is how it goes. This is where society is going to either adapt or you’ll go extinct.
Finally, and on a much lighter note, what are you particularly looking forward to in the coming months?
I’m excited for the next release on Naive, which is a collaboration between me and BLEID, a local Producer who makes amazing music. Then, I’m excited for touring and the summer, especially playing Optimo’s stage at Nachtdigital.
“Badness EP” is NOW AVAILABLE on Naive BUY
Photo Credit: João Viegas