If one thing is for certain, ELLES has an insatiable appetite for everything the dancefloor has to offer. With a penchant for reactive, emotionally-driven sets filled to the brim with references to the old world of rave and the new — she is most comfortable when exploring the outliers of club music, with influences ranging from early noughties pop, to UK garage, to experimental percussion to ambient — usually accompanied by a squelchy acid house banger thrown in for good measure.
Born in Cambridge to a single-parent family, ELLES, AKA Eleanor Pinfold, describes having a deep-rooted love of music from the very beginning: “I was always writing my little songs — I loved singing and dancing. I used to beg my mum to send me to theatre school and she was like ‘No hun’.” As she got older it was an exploration of pop, '90s indie, shoegaze, and R&B that really piqued her curiosity, understanding quickly that music was something she wanted to explore — but without the wherewithal to know how, or down what avenue. It all changed when she moved to London and discovered the capital’s queer club scene, roused by the depth and intrigue of dance music and the key role of the DJ over spaces.
It was the classics that first made their way into her record bag for sets — Chicago house, acid, Balearic — having much more interest in crafting a "sound" than perfecting a particular genre, a philosophy she's remained with to now. In 2014 ELLES met Naive boss and Rádio Quantica founder Violet, and through their evolving friendship, she began to release her first productions. First came a collaborative track with Violet, a remix of Mike Dunn’s ‘So Let It Be House' ' for International Women's Day 2016, while her first solo work came in the form of her 2019 EP 'emo_ecstasy_everything' via Naivety. Since then she's had a series of attention-grabbing releases on the likes of Naive, Naivety, Love On The Rocks, Super Drama and Dark Entries — including her 2020 EP 'Summers of Love'.
As the pandemic hit, ELLES came to a realization over the importance of her own club experiences — attaining that "going out" was a necessity for release, rejuvenation, and processing difficult life experiences. It's from this epiphany her debut album 'A Celebration Of The Euphoria Of Life' was born, a record that tells the story of a night out — detailing everything from meaningful chats in the toilets, to "candyflipping" to dancefloor romance. As the festival and club circuit returned to what we're accustomed, ELLES has seen her diary blow up, with sets at Body Movements, Tresor, Field Day, Adonis, and LuxFrágil.
We caught up with ELLES to talk about her 'magpie approach' to music, the beauty of pain in euphoria, and why Glastonbury is a life-changing experience.
You’ve just released your debut album, ‘A Celebration Of The Euphoria Of Life’ — can you tell us about the process of creating the record?
It started gestating around the same time I released ‘Summers of Love’ on Naive, and that was touching on a similar theme — a love letter to clubbing. But I wanted to unpack it more and go deeper, and make it more personal. Then lockdown happened and there was a whole new lens on the experience of clubbing and the threat of losing a lot of the spaces that we’ve taken for granted. I created it in my living room with minimal equipment, I was living on my own too and I think my overthinking and inner monologue really work their way into the narrative of the record.
Obviously, I also had a lot of time on my hands so I got cracking [laughs]. Well no, actually I did work pretty much full time during lockdown, it wasn’t Shakespeare writing King Lear with his feet up. But it was a long process, sometimes I just couldn’t do it because I wasn’t feeling great — then it would be sort of stopping and starting. I think that time period there was a lot of personal reflection for a lot of us, and really thinking about the value of a club or a night space, as a punter — I’ve had some really meaningful times in those spaces, I’ve been able to process things, like grief.
The record tells a story of a night out, where did you get the idea for that narrative arc?
I think so much of culture is intrinsically narrative-led, to be honest. I knew I wanted it to involve vocals and have “songs” rather than just club bangers, I wanted it to have a story quality to it. I kept thinking about the way we digest music now; we can basically cherry-pick whatever track we want from a record and I love that, but I wanted to make something you can listen to as a whole as well — the tracks stand together and have relationships with each other. I didn’t make it chronologically, I’d just made a couple of tunes to start off, but as I kept creating it kind of revealed itself and came together in an organic way.
Do you think going to the club is a form of therapy?
Yeah, lockdown really showed us that "going out" isn’t just about singular nights, but just the general act of going to the club and how being in those spaces allows you to express yourself or lose yourself. It’s the physical and emotional space. There’s something about collective experiences too. One of the first tracks I wrote for this record was during the weekend when Glastonbury was supposed to happen in 2020. Up until that point, we’d just been kidding ourselves saying like “maybe it’ll still go ahead!” — we knew it wasn’t happening. You had those classic Glastonbury highlights on TV, and I was thinking about the fact that Glastonbury is such a rare event, it’s difficult to experience something on that scale and it kind of changes you — you’re suddenly just able to share something with thousands of people.
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The record is very romantic and emotionally driven, was it intimidating to release a really personal record out into the world?
At first, I think it's always a bit daunting and being emotionally vulnerable in your music, but then releasing something like this means afterwards I can let it go. When you’ve done it and it's out in the world, it’s fine, it belongs to everyone else now. It took me a while to discover what I wanted to create musically, I was making more ambient records and then as I started to create stuff that just had more of “me” in it, It built my confidence. It’s been a good practice for me I think, at the end of the day you just have to write it and let it go. People will always have their own interpretations, that’s the nice thing about music. ‘Anthem’ for example, when I was writing it I was thinking about one thing but then I’d speak to people and they’d have taken something else away and it was completely removed from my idea from the track. It’s cool.
Do you think we need more emotionally driven music in the club? Or do you think most dance music is inherently emotional?
Yeah I mean, the roots of dance music: disco, Chicago house, Detroit — it came from communities that were experiencing marginalisation and difficult times, difficult lives. The euphoria in dance music always has those little inflections of pain and that’s what makes it so beautiful — that duality has always been there. For me personally, that’s what attracted me to it, I’ve always been a bit of an emo so it was always going to slither out somehow [laughs]. Also, mind-altering drugs, if that's your thing, obviously deepen the emotional connection to the music even more.
You’re close friends with Naive boss Violet, has she been a source of inspiration for you?
Yeah, we actually first connected on Twitter [laughs]. Then I think we realised we were kindred spirits in our approach to music. One of the many things that I love and admire about her is that she’s always existed as part of a big music community. In Lisbon she’s running club nights, labels, radio — she’s a real soldier of the scene. Whereas when I got into dance music I had a 9-to-5 and I always felt like I existed on the outskirts, and I find the way someone like Violet who lives and breathes their local scene is super inspiring. She was always so encouraging of me, I wasn't particularly confident in the past — as I mentioned before — but Violet was always rooting for me. When I timidly sent her my first EP, she was like “this is amazing, I want to put it on my label,” and since then it's gone from there. When it came to 'A Celebration of Euphoria and Life', I said to her “it's a bit different, but would you want to put it out on Naive?” she didn't miss a bit, she was into it straight away. She has an amazing ear and I admire her approach to her own production too. I really value her support.
Can you tell me about some of your earliest musical experiences?
When I was growing up I absolutely loved pop music, then I was a bit of an indie kid as a teenager — trying to get into gigs when I was 14. It had varying success [laughs]. My brother was really into drum 'n' bass and he was going to raves when he was quite young, I thought it was really cool.
So there's a big love of music straight away, when did it change into wanting to DJ? and an interest in dance music?
I got into DJing because I knew a bunch of people who were doing it. I always wanted to do something in music but I didn't really know how, there was no one in my family who did that. When I saw my mates DJing it just seemed like a route to what I wanted to do. I used to co-run a blog that was all about the birth of acid house and Chicago house and the queer scene — that was my big foundation for learning about dance music really. It was how I got into records. When I started out I had no money, so I'd buy records from charity shops — I'd pick up little gigs in bars and stuff. But it was all guys in that scene and it was this one-upmanship culture, forcing themselves to stay in the confines of a genre.
How much of an impact has living in London had on your sound?
I think the ideas around nightlife as a sense of freedom and meeting your people — that's something that came from London and has changed things for me. It's very inspiring being around so many different types of people all the time, interesting opportunities are around everywhere — there's so much going on, it changes your outlook on everything. I think for me when I moved here from Cambridge It really appealed to my magpie outlook on music, it's perfect, there's always a shiny new thing or something you've never heard before. It's not perfect, but it shouldn't be taken for granted.
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You use your Rinse FM show to highlight music from femme/non-binary acts. Can you tell us some artists you're super excited about right now? and why you work to platform these groups?
I think the industry is still really geared towards white cis men, I mean only 13% of festival headliners are women this year... in 2022. We've seen the infographics and goodwill through lockdown, everyone talking about how it's "our opportunity to change the industry," but everything has just snapped back to where it was. It's important to highlight artists from different marginalized groups, but also it's about showcasing incredible talent regardless — and this music is incredible. Gag Reflex who was playing with us in the Naive showcase in Berlin, Jasmine Infiniti is incredible, FAFF they are amazing — there are so many. It's a really exciting time for artists and there are a lot of new faces coming through and new music coming through. Lockdown was terrible for so many reasons, but that stillness has really allowed people to do their thing. We move I guess.
Do you enjoy the radio show format? Does it give you the chance to explore different ideas and experiment?
Yeah! I love it. I love doing radio, I love that it always pushes you to discover new music and new artists — it gives you a framework for that constant flow of sharing new stuff. I always really loved radio, when I was little I used to record stuff off the radio and then record my own voiceovers [laughs]. A few weeks ago, I did an interview and mix for Tom Ravenscroft's The Ravers Hour show on BBC Radio 6, which was a huge joy and honour and of course I loved practising my radio voice too!”
What's coming up next for you?
I'm planning a live version of the album right now, I've done a lot of live stuff before but it's been quite like limited to a laptop and controller — but I think due to the nature of the album, there's a lot of vocals and stuff, I'm working on something that makes it more performance-based. I'm also working on a bunch of remixes, I've started thinking about the next album as well — starting to look at how that would look.
ELLES' album 'A Celebration Of The Euphoria Of Life' is out now via Naive, you can buy it here.
Megan Townsend is Mixmag's Deputy Editor, follow her on Twitter
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