Turkish-born DJ and producer Elif has deftly propelled her career in just four short years, from that of a travelling music blogger to a producer of an impressive discography for the likes of Gardens of Bayblon, Anjunadeep, and A Tribe Called Kotori. Her latest release, Letting Go, is out now on Berlin label Stil Vor Talent, and can be downloaded/streamed here.
The Istanbul native, now based in Barcelona, has appeared at some of the world’s most illustrious clubs and festivals – including Echoes from Agartha in Cappadocia, Türkiye; Berlin’s Kater Blau, Sisyphos and Ritter Butzke; Garbicz in Poland; Monastery festival in Mexico; and Damian Lazarus’ ‘Get Lost’ party in Miami and ‘Wild is Love’ at Hï Ibiza.
In the midst of her whirlwind escapades, she took some time out to shoot the breeze with 909originals’ Emer O’Connor.
Hi Elf, thanks for talking to us. Hot on the heels of your critically-acclaimed remix of Husa & Zeyada’s A Little Fun a few weeks ago, you now have a three-track EP, Letting Go, out on Stil vor Talent, and also seem to be touring non-stop. When do you get time to take a breath?
I do what I love with passion and it gives me lots of motivation and strength. I usually rest and do nothing on Mondays or whenever I feel like.
You began creating tracks and compilations for Oliver Koletzki’s Stil vor Talent in 2020. How did your working relationship blossom in the midst of a pandemic – you were in lockdown in your hometown of Istanbul, and he in Kreuzberg, West Berlin?
We actually met the summer before the pandemic for the first time, during off Sonar, in Barcelona. I was opening and he was closing The Flying Circus party. The following fall, he signed me to the Stil vor Talent booking agency, but before we could do any shows together, the world went into lockdown.
I used this time to put in hours in the studio – as well as all the live streams of course – and finished my first EP. He signed it for Stil vor Talent’s sister label, A Tribe Called Kotori. This big-hearted giant has been supporting me – this tiny Turkish woman – since the day he met me, and I am grateful for everything I have learned from him.
You previously released the track Juno on Stil vor Talent, which of course shares its name with the legendary Roland synthesiser, the Juno 60. When did you first get the chance to work with this piece of equipment?
The first time I put my hands on one of these beauties was in early 2021, at my friend’s studio in Miami. It was just as the west side of the Atlantic started to open up slowly, and I was around to play some of the very first shows after the pandemic.
Europe was still slow to open up, and also I couldn’t travel as a Turkish citizen. Türkiye was in lockdown, too, so I was just staying in open areas of the world, like Miami and Tulum. So of course I had to make music at friends’ studios.
When I met the Juno I was awed by the colour of the sound – as someone who usually uses VST’s, having my hands on a super, good-looking piece of equipment was super fun and joyful way to create music. The idea of the track that I wanted to submit for the Stil vor Talent compilation came immediately and it was just a flow state exploring the device.
I recorded many different parts of the track with the Juno, finished the main idea the same day, recorded some spoken words just for fun and decided to use them in the track as well. As with all of my tracks there were some happy mistakes, and that’s how my version of Juno was born.
Your new EP consists of two collaborations and one solo track, my favourite of those is Somber – although it sounds anything but, it’s got such a sassy, Berlin-esque feel to it! You made this tune with your production partner Gespona, aka Gonzalo Espona, who is also based in Barcelona. Can you describe how you met and about the production process of all your collaborations to date?
Gonzalo has been sending me music for many years. He sent some of his early productions for feedback and asked me if I would play them.
From his early productions to what he puts out today I witnessed this incredibly talented producer hone his skills in the studio and find his own unique sound. After playing his music at almost every gig, I met him in person last year in Tulum.
We had a very spontaneous B2B at an after party and had great chemistry in the booth. We have a similar vision and taste for music so we decided to join forces for some tracks and B2B DJ sets, and we are going to work on some more projects together very soon, so stay tuned.
You have a degree in architecture, which must mean you’re quite technically-minded? How have you found learning to use the audio workstation Abelton, and what other tools are in your production belt?
That’s super true. For me, learning Ableton was very easy, because I was used to using software like AutoCAD, SketchUp and Photoshop, with lots of shortcuts. As a digital audio workstation (DAW), I only use Ableton. But production skills go beyond being able to use the DAW – it’s the language you use. You need to speak the language, yes, but just knowing the language is not enough to write novels or poems…
Although you are fairly new to the role of DJ and producer, you’ve worked in the music industry for many years. Was there a crucial moment when you decided to leap from the ‘listener/consumer safe zone’ of music blogging, and utilise your passion as a performer and music maker?
There was not one but a few crucial points that led to this decision of becoming an artist myself. Looking back, I am grateful I listened to my gut.
Since 2019, you’ve catapulted yourself away from indie music and onto the electronic scene at sonic speed – your bio contains a seriously impressive list of international performances. Was it your networking while blogging that organically led you to make the right connections? Or, how did you get the gigs that many aspiring local DJs, may not ever get the chance to play?
If I’m honest, I never catapulted myself from indie music. I still love it and mix a lot of indie in my sets as well. Of course the networking and knowing the scene helped me a lot at the beginning.
But it wasn’t just the networking aspect of blogging that helped me. I think I also have a good understanding of storytelling and community-building in terms of using social media and that’s a good way to reach fans before you hit the big stages.
Do you ever encounter any hostility from jealous people, given that you have managed to find international success so rapidly?
Not to my face.
I’ve listened to several of your live mix sets, and you have quite an eclectic taste in music, reminiscent of Solomun – back when he wasn’t so commercial – and Mira and Dixon. Perhaps you’ll be coming to a fork in the crossroads soon of having to choose whether to go mainstream and be accessible and popular, or continue to strive to create something more unique? Which appeals to your more?
Ah those are amazing people to be compared to. and a compliment for me as they are some of my biggest inspirations and some of the most talented DJs in the world.
I have to enjoy the music I play. Of course, this is how I make money, but popularity and/or money is not my priority. It’s not that I try to be unique, either. I just play the music I enjoy, and this happens to be more underground today.
Maybe the music I enjoy will become mainstream tomorrow – I highly doubt it, but you never know. I don’t plan to play mainstream music for more popularity and money.
Many artists prefer to remain apolitical, but you bravely once said, ‘I can only enjoy success If I really earned it. This way I have a real and inspiring story to tell. I want to use my platform for our planet, for a better society, for freedom, for equality’. With that in mind, are there any areas of injustice or concern for you at present that you’d like to shed some light on?
It’s impossible to be Turkish and apolitical. There’s so much injustice happening in my country.
The world was shocked at the recent devastation caused by the Earthquake in Türkiye and Syria, I know many people in Ireland extend their greatest sympathies to your people. Did it affect you personally in any way, and do you have any fears about the future because of it?
Thank you. Every Turk I know is affected by this in one way or another. We are angry and we feel very helpless. The earthquake threat was actually one of the many reasons I wanted to move out of Türkiye – the experts have been saying for many years that there will be a big earthquake in Istanbul, and knowing my country, I did not feel safe.
I was safe at my home in Barcelona. My mom was close to the earthquake zone, a neighbouring city called Mersin. She felt the tremors intensely, but luckily the buildings are intact in her city. Their hospitals are full of injured and many affected by the disaster who are fleeing the hit zones are now in Mersin – my mom says people are crying in every corner. It’s truly heartbreaking.
I saw her when I visited Istanbul this week, and saw that she is still traumatised and panics every time someone walks with strong steps and the floor shakes. I am grateful she’s safe, but she’s very sensitive to every bit of movement. The same goes to some extent for my friends in Istanbul. Even though these earthquakes were not felt in Istanbul, everyone living there knows very well this will happen in Istanbul too and our buildings and organisations are not ready.
The death toll is devastating. Tens of thousands of people died because of corruption and neglect. More are homeless in the middle of the winter. Türkiye is a country in a seismically active zone. We had big earthquakes in the past.
Any other country who values its peoples’ lives would have learned from mistakes, taken precautions, fortified buildings, penalised contractors who built with cheap materials for extra profit, organised fast help networks etc. More could have been done. But in Türkiye, 24 years after the big Earthquake in 1999 nothing changed. We have even paid ‘Earthquake taxes’ since ’99, but no one knows where this money went.
During the darkest depths of the Lockdown, you wrote a series of melodic tracks for a Tribe Called Kotori, including Moonspell – named whilst experiencing moonrises over the Bosphorus Strait – and Bamboo Forest, alongside Sanoi. Do you consider times of deep despair as a opportunity to create something in adversity?
I do not consider times of deep despair as an opportunity to create something in adversity – also neither the pandemic nor the lockdown was a time of despair for me, personally. No one I knew got seriously sick.
I travelled a lot before I was a DJ, too, so for me it was a time that I could finally stop and be in the same place without traveling for a while, without feeling like you are missing out on things, because everyone had to stop at the same time.
I decided to learn production and with all the travelling I had done, I was never able to really spend time on it. Lockdown was the perfect time for me to get more fluent in production – plus I also started livestreaming, so I could play music too and build a fanbase all around the world, without traveling.
For me, lockdown was a blessing. I learned how to cook, I slept, I rested. I was lucky because I wasn’t depending on money from gigs, and I was healthy. This was my personal experience. I’m not saying it was nothing; I know many people suffered immensely.
Elif, many thanks for taking the time to chat to 909originals, and all the very best with your future productions and performances .
My pleasure. Thanks for the amazing questions.
Words by Emer O’Connor. Elif’s Letting Go EP is available now on Stil Vor Talent.