Artist Feature: Violet

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“Techno can be quite a gray, cynical thing sometimes” says DJ and producer Inês Borges Coutinho, better known as Violet, as she reflects upon the early-morning, post-rave encounter with a bottle of Evian back in 2014, which would rise to her record label’s name some three years later. “My partner commented, ‘Have you noticed that Evian spelled backward is naive?’ Possibly because of our state at the time, it sparked all kinds of mental associations with rave culture.”

While most ideas that are hastily jotted down or saved to your notes app on a night out seem less brilliant the following morning – or perhaps an evening in this case – this was a rare exception. The name – and subsequent detournement of the bottled water brand’s logo – resonated with Violet, representing more than just a quirky pun, but the spirit her record label would aim to capture. “Especially at that time, it felt that a lot of the original naivety of the early rave scene was completely gone. Or that a lot of the hopes and dreams behind the rave movement needed to be brought back to the dancefloor.”

That same idyllic sentiment underpins much of Violet’s work, with a clear focus on community and collectivity. In 2015, she co-founded the radio platform Rádio Quântica, while Lisbon Pride in 2018 saw her respond to criticism of the event for an overwhelmingly cis-gendered line up by inviting various trans artists from the local “mina” collective to take over her set. “I have only lived in Lisbon a short time, but in that time it became clear to me who was moving and shaking things up in this city and that person was/is Violet,” artist Mykki Blanco told Dazed in 2018. “Violet represents to me the change I want to see in this world, which is powerful women running electronic music and beyond”.

To frame Violet as simply a techno producer would be an oversimplification. Since 2010 she has created a multi-faceted body of work, which initially skewed more towards hip hop, on projects like her 2012 album ∞ (Infinity) – a collaborative effort with Lisbon outfit A.M.O.R.. The same year Violet also started to release solo work, leading to a string of club-leaning EPs on labels such as One Eyed Jacks and Paraíso from Portugal, Berlin’s Love On The Rocks, and her own label, naive, which includes a sub-label titled naivety.

More recently, Violet unveiled Bed of Roses, her first full-length solo album, published by San Francisco-based imprint Dark Entries. The ten-track project reflects Violet’s own eclectic tendencies, fusing elements of dancehall, electro, R&B, and dubstep, as well as dreamy pop hues, while still managing to maintain a sense of cohesion throughout.

For Carhartt WIP Radio, Violet has prepared a show that showcases her own back catalog of music, with some future releases sprinkled throughout. As always, we also sat down with this month’s host to discuss musical influences – from The Neptunes to Bon Jovi – her career to date, and what it means to make music in the midst of a pandemic.

Violet (picture by João Viegas

You have been releasing music since 2009. What kick-started your passion?

Violet: My Mom and Dad love music and would play it really loudly around the house, from Beethoven and Händel to Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, Chick Corea, Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, and The Doors. I feel like these are all really emotional acts, and perhaps that influenced my love for melody and music that carries some sort of clear emotional meaning. I was obsessed with knowing all the lyrics and melodies by heart, and soon started to listen to my own picks – stuff that would play on the radio, basically – and I would record my favorite tracks to a tape. My preferences were very mixed as a kid: Fugees, Robin S, Bon Jovi (yes, really), and even Pixies. When my teenage years came, I fell in love with punk rock, ska, reggae, hip hop, northern soul, and R&B. Making music seemed like a distant dream but I started experimenting with rapping and making beats at 21, after a brief attempt at writing guitar songs at 20.

How does living in Lisbon shape your art?

Violet: Lisbon is, in a way, my muse – happy and sunny on the outside but multi-layered, complex, and even kind of sullen on closer inspection. Winter in Lisbon sort of depresses me, but there is some magic to it too. This duality provides a stimulus to compose music in a different way, where I tap into moodiness because it feels present all around me.

What’s the story behind your alias Violet?

Violet: I love the color purple, it suggests an escape from binarism to me. I have used it since my teen years as my MSN messenger (RIP) nickname and it just stuck.

Despite rap featuring prominently in your early work, your more recent releases, like your album for Dark Entries and EPs for Paraíso or Frendzone!, have seen you use your voice less. Why is that?

Violet: I actually do sing a bit on my album, but it's mostly layered vocals, except for “they don't want to know” and some spoken word in two other tracks. I love singing and rapping but I'm sadly just not that good at it. Maria Amor (from A.M.O.R.) is a wonderful singer so we are planning to make more music together where her vocals are more prominent. As for my solo thing, I'll keep trying ... I would love to write more songs.

In your latest productions, there are breaks and jungle particles present. What is it you like about the rattling power of breakbeats?

Violet: Breakbeats to me are one of the archetypal building blocks of dance music as we know it – they carry history and inject groove, enriching tracks in a way that, to me, feels reverent to the past while allowing you to be excited about the future. I've said this before, but as a DJ too, the act of playing breakbeats feels like a magic wand – people instantly get looser on the dancefloor, as if they’ve arrived home. As if moving to this beat is second nature to them. And I think that that's tied to the enormous role they’ve played in the history of soul, R&B, pop and dance music. They've become part of our cultural DNA, almost like an instinctive, immaterial world heritage.

How much and how deep did you find yourself while working on your Violet debut album “Bed OF Roses” for Dark Entries?

Violet: Quite a bit actually. I wrote part of it and finished it while in isolation, not because of Covid, but because last year I broke my leg and had to stay home and sit with my feelings and a different perspective on my existence. It made me dig deeper into what I like about music, and what music means to me, and how it can help me accept and evolve in who I am.

Did you think of “Bed Of Roses” as an album with a story arc? Sometimes there’s an assumption that due to streaming platforms like Spotify and on-track shopping options at Bandcamp, the concept of an album is dead.

Violet: To me, it does tell a story, albeit a very personal story that I decided to share hoping people would come up with their own version of how it can reflect and heal them too.

How does the process of making an album differ from the process of making an EP?

Violet: Firstly, the album format lends itself to other possibilities that come from its extended duration, obviously. Narrative arches can be more developed and complex and it invites the artist to create in a more cinematic way almost, where you can create various sonic spaces and moments that lead to a wider and more immersive experience. In my case, it was especially true since some of the pieces on my album "Bed of Roses" for Dark Entries were previously developed for a theatre play and made to accompany various stage environments and speech. But in the end, it's still you, the same artist from the EPs, the same kind of sensibilities, etc – just exploring a different medium.

What is your take on melodies? And how do you avoid clichés?

Violet: I'm constantly in love with melody. I’m inspired by highly musical producers like The Neptunes or Aphex Twin. I don't really avoid cliché cause I’m not that afraid of them. If it comes to me and it sounds familiar, I often see that as a good thing. Like I’m tapping into a collective thing. As a composer, I prefer to look at myself as an antenna, as that makes me feel more connected to the music and the pioneers, as well as my beloved contemporary peers who really inspire me too.

What does “pop” mean to you and how is it reflected in your work?

Violet: Pop has been central in shaping my music taste. One of my favorite things is singing along to really popular music, especially from my golden era – the 1990s and 2000s. I feel like pop music, and pop culture in general, provide incredible snapshots of the time they emerged from, and are often ground-breaking and imaginative, bringing underground movements that have been bubbling up for years to a mainstream level, where more people have access to them. Sean Paul, Rihanna, Brandy, Destiny's Child, even The Beach Boys and The Beatles, these are all acts I’m a huge fan of, and that have certainly informed my music writing.

What exciting stuff do you have in the pipeline?

Violet: A bunch of beautiful naive releases and a special, chilled daytime naive showcase outdoors in Lisbon in September. Plus new projects with Radio Quântica, the radio station I help run, and also a lot of new music – some of it features in this mix.

What’s the story behind the name of your record label, naive?

Violet: When I was still living in London with my partner Marco (Photonz), around 2014 or so, we were walking back home from raving all night one time and we saw this Evian water bottle label on the ground near London Bridge. Marco commented, “Have you noticed that Evian spelled backward is naive?” Possibly because of our state at the time, it sparked all kinds of mental associations with rave culture that spoke very deeply to us at the time. The industry surrounding techno can be quite a gray, cynical thing sometimes and, especially at that time, it felt that a lot of the original naivety of the early rave scene was completely gone. Or that a lot of the hopes and dreams behind the rave movement needed to be brought back to the dancefloor, as a place and opportunity for dissolution, experimentation, sharing, community-building, etc. We brought this idea of having a night called Naive to a club programmer, already using a similar version of the logo and a long email about early rave, unity, bringing back emotion to the dancefloors, and whatnot. It was rejected and the idea laid dormant for a bit. Then I had the idea of creating the label around that visual element and a politicized identity, and Lobster was keen to distribute it. That's how Togetherness EP came about and from there it all snowballed very naturally.

What’s next on your labels?

Violet: On naive I have music from this amazing Dutch duo Black Cadmium, who have this crazy artistic range, going from straight-up jungle, techno, and acid tracks to mellower, dubbier broken beats à la Smith & Mighty. My mate Shcuro from Lisbon is also releasing an EP with remixes by two naive regulars and I'm also dropping an EP, with a remix by the loveliest Eris Drew. Our sublabel naivety will continue to release more experimental things on Bandcamp as well. There are a few things in the works, so stay tuned.

Can you describe the contemporary Portuguese music scene a bit and tell us what makes it special?

Violet: It's exciting and always growing, with queer and POC artists making some of the most interesting things in my opinion. I recommend Troublemaker Records, Assafrão, Odete, BLEID, Cigarra & Tita Maravilha, DJ Danykas, Stasya, Shcuro, and Maria Amor.

What was the last great live show you saw and what made it special?

Violet: Erykah Badu. Need I say more?

If you could describe your musical taste in one sentence, what would you say?

Violet: Emotions having a party.

What records from your past have shaped you?

Violet:

Lauryn Hill: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Ruffhouse Records 1998)

Clipse: Hell Hath No Fury (Star Trak Entertainment 2006)

N*E*R*DIn Search Of… (Virgin 2001)

Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Words 85-92 (Apollo 1992)

Who are you listening to these days?

Violet: Ariel Zetina, Crystallmess, Aryu JassikaPhilou Lozolo.

What is your favorite music video of all time?

Violet: Maybe Frontin’ by Jay-Z and Pharrell.

And a track/Ep/album that's been unfairly slept on the past month.

Violet: Phoebe: Living on Valued Energy.

Do other art forms influence your work?

Violet: They do. I love reading and writing, especially. I recently started a weekly writing club with a few pals and that’s been great to stay in touch with my own relationship with ideas, words, and the poetry of life.

Who’s your favorite person to follow on Instagram?

Violet: Munroe Bergdorf. She provides a lot of insightful, kind-hearted perspectives on gender and race. Also, she is incredibly beautiful and has some sick looks.

Finish this sentence: ‘The world would be a better place if only…?

Violet: We walked in each other’s shoes more often.

If you could spend a night partying with any of your icons, who would it be?

Violet: So many! I love people and picking the brains of other artists. I’m going to say Cosey Fanni Tutti, I feel like she could be a dope party pal and I’d learn a lot from her telling me her stories.

Violet discography