Known better by her nom de guerre Umfang, Emma Burges-Olson is a producer and DJ as well as one of the founding members of Discwoman, a New York-based collective that started as a festival and nowadays is a fully fledged booking agency with transgressive appeal. Although they only started seven years ago in 2014, they already represent over 300 international female, non-binary and LGBTQ+ DJs and producers. TISSUE first met Umfang on the occasion of her 2019 gig at the Telekom Electronic Beats Festival in Bucharest, Roumania, where Tim Bruening took her portrait after a stroll through the city. Later Isabelle Edi of Possy caught up with Umfang at Hamburg’s infamous Golden Pudel Club.
INTERVIEW: ISABELLE EDI
PHOTOGRAPHY: TIM BRUENING
Discwoman turns five this year [editor’s note: back in 2019]. What have been your experiences working in a collective?
Working in a collective means having access to each other’s strengths, which can be a real advantage to everyone. The most challenging aspect is compromising your own vision at times, and also the constant communication it takes to make it all work.
“Safety for everyone is highly unlikely.”
We have been there too — the discussions and the urge to unify for a shared vision. Do you think it’s necessary to establish safe spaces — both in private and in public — in order for alternative ideas to gain traction?
I don’t like the term ‘safe space’ used in the context of public spaces. Safety for everyone is highly unlikely. I think it’s best to make contacts available for help when inevitably something uncomfortable happens.
Where is your safe space?
Do you have rituals?
I have a loose routine and workflow cycles.
How are those cycles structured? Are your workflows different when you work in a group?
The most important part of my schedule while I’m in New York is going to my studio on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Sometimes I go more often, but this is essential for me to feel like I can stay caught up on scheduling and emails and also have time to myself to work on my music uninterrupted. When I am working on a group project, I need to make sure I am available for the other people and that we have designated places to communicate and give prompt feedback.
“Like many industries djing and music production is a job mostly taken on by men and I prefer to focus on people who are not prioritised by dominant society.”
Do you only work with women?
I do not only work with women but I prioritise working with women and people that don’t identify as men. Like many industries djing and music production is a job mostly taken on by men and I prefer to focus on people who are not prioritised by dominant society.
What changed in your life since you started djing?
I’m allowed to be myself almost all the time which is invaluable.
Is it a privilege or do you think everybody could be this free? And do you think the key is to follow some inner voice rather than economical goals?
What I mean is that I don’t have to adjust much of who I am to please anyone else. I am fortunate that the thing I want to do has been received well by the public and I am allowed to choose my schedule and what I commit to. I am allowed to book who I want for my parties and I can play music that I like. I can buy records I like and be paid to play them. It’s a massive privilege to work mostly for myself doing what I want and have people interact with the music I make. I can’t relate to music-making for purely economic goals, that is completely against what I am about. It’s just nice when it works out to be both.
“The most challenging aspect is compromising your own vision at times, and also the constant communication it takes to make it all work.”
I once heard you saying that you hate basslines?
I don’t hate basslines, but I think basslines are often corny, and I’m not into acid techno, which often includes melodic elements. I like pretty minimal percussive techno. That doesn’t have anything to do with basslines in house music. I wouldn’t dare remove those or wish them away.
How has your understanding of music developed throughout the years?
I’m always learning and I really enjoy observing how trends move geographically and how that is influenced by politics and culture and creates new genres.
Are there one to three songs or albums or performers you’d like to name? As influences, milestones or artist that accompanied you through life?
That’s always shifting for me. I tend to really study something and become obsessed and then leave it for a few years. I’m slow to process things and I really take time to analyse them.
What’s your personal utopia?
I don’t believe in utopia.
“… but I think basslines are often corny.”
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