Violet’s optimistic artistry and activism is making an Impact
The Lisbon artist's DIY efforts are making the world and dancefloor a better place
Inês Borges Coutinho is a polymath artist thriving on all fronts. She works between boundaries, threading her influence through projects meeting at the intersection of music, art and activism, tying them together with a ribbon of innovative aims and community-fuelled energy.
It’s natural for Coutinho, who produces and DJs as Violet, to direct her energies to a wide spread of areas - she’s never limited herself artistically. She discovered dance music in the mid-90s boom before even reaching her teenage years, listening to the famed mix CD series of her hometown Lisbon’s Alcântara-Mar club. By 13 she was attending underage nights at Bauhaus, where dance music was mixed up with hip hop and r’n’b, and soon she was casting her aural net through an ocean of sounds, developing a passion for punk rock, ska, reggae, pop and beyond. A penchant for myriad sounds feeds into her stylistically diverse MO, crafting music packed full of colour.
Another strand to her kaleidoscopic outlook is she strives to enact positive change against the sterility and hegemony found all over. This political vision intertwines itself with her compulsion towards creativity and love for making music, forging the bedrock of her approach. She finds herself drawn towards other artists in the realm of shared ideas, and invariably loves the music they create.
Making waves in the hip hop world as part of a women rap duo A.M.O.R, curating and producing the women-led covers of Underground Resistance classic ‘Transition’ (which led to Donatella Versace tapping her to soundtrack a catwalk show) and co-founding the 24/7-broadcasting Radio Quantica platform in Lisbon to promote worthy causes and spotlight marginalised artists in the city’s colourful scene are some of the bullet points on her long list of game-changing achievements.
As Violet she’s released a string of banging records, helmed inclusive parties across London and Lisbon and founded the rising label Naive, quickly establishing it as a buoyant outlet for pumping club tracks.
Violet’s Impact mix is a dynamic showcase of the way she plays in a club, brimming with dancefloor potency amid a deluge of old, new and unreleased heat. Opening on twitchy electro scuzz, Violet tees herself up for engaging tonal shifts and delivers as she moves through effervescent deep house, searing techno, headrush dubstep and more. Listen to the mix and read a Q+A with Violet below.
I read that your parents were involved in left wing politics and your grandfather was part of the 1974 revolution that toppled the Américo Tomás dictatorship. How influential was your family life and upbringing in instilling your socio-political interests?
Probably a lot to be honest, more than I realise. Now that I look back I piece the puzzle together, it makes sense that I have this awareness from early on. Both my parents are quite vocal about their ideas. My Mum is a history teacher and she's taught me a lot; through history it's easy to understand what your views relate to and side with politically. That was a good way of showing me what was important and what was the right way to do things, which really made sense with time.
It does come from what I was taught, but my own experience also taught me that this was really important, and it really does have an impact to have actual political action in the community you're in. My Grandfather - he's now passed away - but we used to have lots of conversations. Not just political but more philosophical, metaphysical stuff. It really shaped the way I see the world and the way I see that we are here. The world is kind of like a theatre play and we should make it count as an actor.
A lot of the ideas running through your work - from activism to genre-mashing - were established in one of your earlier formed musical projects, the DJ/rap duo A.M.O.R with your cousin Maria Amor which started in 2006. How has your experience with A.M.O.R informed your musical path?
Loads. We started as a duo and we were working with a DJ as a hip hop group, so that already instilled some sense of community in me, because I couldn't decide everything alone. We were doing something quite different for the hip hop scene over here, so we gathered attention quite early on with our work. It made me believe in and be empowered as a person who was making this music in a male-dominated scene. Believing that you can really make a difference, influence everyone around you and make people think about what they're doing.
I still have impostor syndrome but I think working with a girl that was so talented from the beginning made me believe that although it's not that usual for girls have a voice in this scene, it needs to be more usual.
On Twitter recently you expressed shock at the way Lisbon is changing, and the mina club night you co-helm and run as a a queer, feminist, sex and drug positive party wrote a lengthy post “mourning the current state of Lisbon’s nightlife”. What are the challenges facing the city?
As you might know, Lisbon has become a bit of a fashionable hotspot for young people, artists and tourism in general. There's lots of money coming in, which on one side has a good impact because old parts of the city are being revitalised and some really cool new projects are popping up. But also loads of rich people are buying into the centre of the city and lots of people are having to move further away from the centre or to smaller houses or houses that are not Airbnb-able. I must have had 10 friends who had to move last year. There's a real housing crisis. And there's an overcrowding of Lisbon that makes me not recognise it in some ways. Lots of these posh cafés that could be in Williamsburg or Shoreditch are popping up here which have nothing local about them. I'm not a big fan of maintaining tradition but it's becoming a bit overwhelming in terms of how the city has changed and how I don't recognise some of bits that I loved about it the most.
It impacts the dance music scene a lot, because a lot of the clubs are also jumping on this bandwagon of "oh wow, we can make loads of money" and getting fancier and more expensive. The areas that used to be a bit more run down where people didn't live are now super populated so there's loads of noise complaints. It's still a really bureaucratic city for the locals, so to get a license to do a party is not only very expensive but very hard and takes a lot of time. There's a lot of negative forces diminishing the power of the underground in a way. At this moment we [mina] are venueless because of that, which is a shame because it's a super successful party. And I don't say this lightly, because believe me, I run many parties and many of them are empty and not successful. Now that we're doing something that is really resonating with the city it breaks my heart that such a meaningful community thing doesn't even have a venue. But we're working on it.
It's a sign of what Lisbon is becoming, and I guess if policies aren't introduced to control this then I don't know where this is going, because it's a real bubble. That's why I think political activism is important, because this is another instance where actual policies are needed.
Last September you launched the label Naive. The SoundCloud description reads: “I want to die an optimist”. What are the defining aims and ideas behind that project?
I've always wanted to have my own label where I decide everything. I was never part of big platforms so I had this love and trust for DIY labels and I wanted to have my own. It came up in quite a practical way. I had this idea in my mind about the label and the name, and I had this EP ['Togetherness'] that I really loved and sent to a couple of labels that I felt could really love this music, but they didn't want to put it out at the time. I was like, well, I want to put out this music, how many demos can I send? I'll just start my own label and put it out myself. I expected nothing of it but it went really well and the record sold out.
Now I'm really excited because the third one [Almaty ‘Gennaro] doesn't have me as an artist for the first time, so it's really cool to promote it because I can go all out and say it's amazing as I'm not talking about myself! It's also awesome to nurture your community and artists. For example this artist that I'm putting out, Almaty, there was a time when I was doing free workshops for women or femme-identifying people and she was one of the people I was teaching Ableton to. And then all of a sudden she sent me her first finished track and it was amazing and I signed it, so it was kind of a full circle.
It's going to go on with music friends that I've made along the way. Again it's a very community-minded project and has to do with those values I was talking about earlier. A sort of naivety, not just philosophically but also in the sound. Having pure sounds that are also interesting sonically, and trying to be innovative which is something that also is very naive. When you don't know what the establishment likes you just innovate and don't even know your innovating, so it's kind of effortless. That's what I'm also aiming for sonically.
Eris Drew was very complimentary about the debut release ‘Togetherness’ in a video interview.
That was amazing, I was so happy. It's a two-sided thing: her passion for that track and my passion for her DJing are mirrored. As much as she loves the track, I love her. Not just as a person but as a DJ, so it meant loads. When someone that I really admire loves something that I do I just means so much more. I feel like that track is almost more hers than mine by now, which is a great feeling.
What's really good as well is that the fourth release on Naive is the first music that Eris is ever putting out. That release will be a split with Octo Octa and Eris Drew, and it's her first productions that will be released which I'm very happy about. Vibe wise they really make sense on the label and it's really cool to start creating this little family and working together.
For all the negative influences present in the music world and further afield, there is a healthy community of like-minded individuals and collectives that are fighting for change and are supportive of each other. How much do you appreciate being a part of a community like this?
It really keeps me going. Like any scene, the dance music scene isn't perfect and has many problems that I really struggle with and get me very down. So having this global community of people that talk to each other, support each other and are working towards the same goal means the world to me. It make feel like I'm not alone which is something that I do feel like when I'm lost in Lisbon and start thinking about the opinions and gatekeeping mentality of white boys that go to record stores. But knowing that there's people having all these different ideas and running these parties and labels, and even tweeting about it and venting, means a lot to me. It makes me trust in a brighter future and feel less lonely.
What are you aiming to do achieve with your DJ sets? How do you want the crowd to feel?
Definitely connected in some way; a sense of togetherness. And also an idea of stimulus, be it mental, physical or sensorial. I try and switch it up quite a bit and have unexpected moments, but also stimulate an emotional part that people can find within themselves. My favourite experiences as a raver are when I start losing myself in my thoughts. I love that idea of self while you're raving and working on stuff you have inside that you need to work out. A mix of of stimulus, emotion, a sense of community is what I aim for.
Patrick Hinton is Mixmag's Digital Staff Writer, follow him on Twitter
Cuthead - Big Time
Protect-U - Top Hat
Lady Blacktronika - Pursuit Of Trackiness
Almaty - Gennaro (Photonz Remix)
Basic Soul Unit - Interfear
Carl Finlow - Hashtag (Radioactive Man Remix)
Bintus - Point Counter Point
Overland - Anxiety
Nightwave - Acid Mouse
Peverelist - Dance Til The Police Come
DJ Deep - Stressed
Hodge - Swing for the Fences
Claro Intelecto - Tone
Minimum Syndicat - Battle Tone
Altered Natives - Black Hermione
Crossover Network - Dancefloor Deviation
BLEID - Bass Werk
MMM - Dex
Dubrovsky - Oranges and Lemons
Radioactive Man - Night Bus to Nowhere
Violet - Spectral