Ela Minus Seeks Revolution Through Community on acts of rebellion
On the Brooklyn-via-Colombia synth auteur’s timely debut, she calls for unity as a conduit to resistanceMusic Reviews Ela Minus
As 2018 ended and 2019 began, Ela Minus was putting the finishing touches on what would become the most prescient song of 2020. “We’re afraid we’ll run out of time / To stand up for our rights / You won’t make us stop,” the Brooklyn-via-Bogotá synth savant murmurs invitingly on “megapunk,” which finds a brooding-then-explosive middle ground between New Order and Aphex Twin. Before the song’s final chorus, she becomes even more direct: “You’re choosing to lead us apart, but against all odds,” she warns, “you still won’t make us stop.”
As the apex of an album coming out 11 days before the 2020 presidential election, “megapunk” couldn’t be more timely. It’s an uncompromising reminder that if the current president and his cronies attempt the coup they’re all but promising, we need to rise up even if we face threats of violence and jail. It’s also, as the second single and most thrashing entry on an album named acts of rebellion, somewhat of a thesis statement. On her debut LP, Ela Minus explores the role of community in subverting both fascist governments and oppressive everyday expectations. It’s a prophetic, vital message, and it’s wrapped in some of the best electronic and pop music of the year.
While the album is just arriving now, Ela has slowly seeded its message since April. That month’s “they told us it was hard, but they were wrong.” gets the message across in name alone, and its soft-focus rave beats that eventually explode à la Crystal Castles and Robert Smith’s “Not in Love” provide that much-needed motivation to keep going. The song gradually becomes, to directly quote Ela’s longtime slogan, “bright music for dark times,” even if acts of rebellion relegates the calming duskiness of her 2017 Adapt. EP to her past.
Also shining bright against the darkness of now: acts of rebellion’s instrumental tracks, especially the ecstatic flurry of “N19 5NF.” The glitchy decay of “let them have the internet” is just as gorgeous, and the track is named after a quote from anti-Silicon Valley expert Douglas Rushkoff, whose quest to pull people away from the corporate-controlled corners of the web and back to everyday life embodies the same communal spirit as Ela’s ruminations.
Like Rushkoff, Ela consistently champions reclaiming the minutiae of daily interactions as forms of liberation. The Spanish-language track “el cielo no es de nadie” is a gloomy, cerebral vision of techno atop which Ela flips the common Spanish phrase “I’ll give you the sky” into the lyric “el cielo no es de nadie para dar,” which translates to “the sky is nobody’s to give.” It’s her way of saying that the love we must cultivate to foment change starts from putting people on equal ground—forming a community. Like “megapunk,” it’s a beautiful sentiment delivered in the trojan horse of, to adapt Ela’s own catchphrase, dark music for darker times.
Both “megapunk” and “el cielo no es de nadie” might not thump so forcefully if not for Ela’s first musical experiences. She got her start in the Colombian hardcore scene, where she became known as a formidable drummer during her teenage years. On acts of rebellion, she maintains her punk, community-oriented ethos whether she strikes strongly, replaces guitars with synths or creates more introspective works. (Notably, there are no computers in her music, just hardware synths, and she makes synths for Critter and Guitari, the brand behind the pocket piano after which an acts of rebellion instrumental is named.) Even though she’s alone now, she urgently seeks others throughout the album, such as on the murkily bubbling, quarantine-prophesying “dominique.” “I haven’t seen anyone in a couple of days,” she says, and that’s devastating for her: “I am afraid I forgot how to talk / to anyone else that’s not myself.”
On only one acts of rebellion track does she bring in another person. On “close,” she and Helado Negro — another Brooklyn electronic musician with South American roots — sing “I’ll take it all down again / And then make it up / Make us pretend / That we’ll see this again.” These lyrics may at first appear to narrate a classic romantic tale, but upon another glance, this statement is also an act of not just rebellion but community, a distant but hopeful vision for collaboratively destroying the old world and rebuilding it anew together. This is what Ela means when she says “you won’t make us stop” on “megapunk”: There’s no rest until we build a community whose demands are met. acts of rebellion is her rallying cry for the cause.
Sometimes, Max Freedman sits and writes about music, and sometimes he just sits. Follow him on Twitter for almost no original content and plenty of retweets about organizing in Philly.