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In addition to having her own radio show on NTS and being an in-demand club DJ, Elena Colombi promotes parties in London and did the same in Milan years ago. But shooting for the top of a scene is not where Colombi puts her energy; she’s a passionate and outspoken DJ who avoids clichés and embraces musical unrest. We had a conversation about influences, challenges, cities and countries and the art of not getting too comfortable with yourself or your surroundings.
Interview by Rafael Severi (DJ Sensu)
Photos by Trent McMinn, shot in London
My sets do feature some Italian music, but it’s not from musicians you’d typically associate with Italy
What was your musical upbringing like in Italy?
[Laughs] I have a very interesting non-connection to the country I was born in, meaning that my family was completely unconventional. I haven’t had what you’d describe as a canonical Italian upbringing. My memories are more of travelling around the world with my parents and this was reflected in the music we were listening to and the people we would hang out with. My sets do feature some Italian music, but it’s not from musicians you’d typically associate with Italy. It’s just not home for me.
You seem to have a big Eighties influence in your sets.
I disagree. There’s definitely a certain sound I feel attracted to, but it’s not defined by a certain era.
And your move to England was for music?
Yes. After a very intense period in my life where I was promoting really good nights in Milan, I started feeling that the scene in Italy was too specific. Routine really kills me. I like that energy that comes with something fresh and I think I’m just going to try and chase it again. Me coming to London was literally with a one-way ticket and without connections. I found what I needed and now I’m reaching a similar moment where I feel I again need a challenge.
I follow my instincts. At the moment I’m picking cities I’ve never been to and spending 24 hours there before or after a gig. London has been a very important chapter in my life but it won’t be home for much longer.
I have this weird obsession with every single set being completely different from the previous one
I can imagine you also try and avoid routine when you DJ. How do you prepare your sets?
I have this weird obsession with every single set being completely different from the previous one. I literally spend days looking for music. It’s not something I have to do, it just comes very naturally. Sometimes there are tracks you might want to play a bit more often. There’s no rule. I do listen to a lot of new music and sometimes also make edits.
So there’s not one track you always take with you?
The general answer is no. Whenever I try to make a plan, also for my radio show, it very quickly dissolves. I think what you have to do is show up somewhere and see how you feel and just follow that.
And when you play a track that doesn’t work?
I’ve been very lucky so far in that respect, but then again it’s not necessarily a bad thing to play a track that empties the dancefloor. It rearranges things. For a slightly more complex song you might have to listen to it a couple of times before it becomes catchy.
Do you remember the first record that made you think you wanted to do something with music?
It wasn’t a record, it was a mix. I started clubbing when I was 21 and I discovered a DJ who did after-parties that I never managed to catch live. His name was DJ Parrux. Even today I’d like to get in touch with him and say thanks. A friend gave me a couple of his incredible mix CDs and that’s when I decided I was going to play as well. He played really fast and the mixing was also very quick.
What else besides music inspires you?
I would say people. Without human contact I would be absolutely dead. That reflects in everything I do.
Elena Colombi plays Asphalt, 18 Nov at Democrazy, Ghent. The event is free for members. Join here.