Ela Minus' 18 Months Without Live Music

Ela Minus' 18 Months Without Live Music

Ela Minus dropped her debut album acts of rebellion during the very anti-dancefloor month of October 2020. Like many record releases during the pandemic, this one felt like a gesture of hope: the Colombian artist's cool, club-ready tracks like "they told us it was hard, but they were wrong," "close" and "megapunk" waited in the anxious ether, ready to be enjoyed communally when the time was right.

Almost a year later, Minus is finally preparing to hit the road. And although the longtime touring musician is excited to be back, she's feeling the same trepidations that we all are. "It's hard to believe it's going to happen," she tells PAPER. "I feel like I'm not going to feel it's real until I'm standing on a stage again."

Ahead of her first date at Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago on September 10, and following the recent Buscabulla remix of "close," we caught up with Minus to hear about her past year-and-a-half without live music, what she missed most about concerts and how she hopes audiences and musicians will respond to their return.

How long has it been since you played a live show?

I played a weird car show right before the pandemic. So like February 2020, March 2020, or something. And then I didn't play at all. For a year. It's interesting how fast we adapt to new things, right? Because this is a reality now. It's hard for me to even prepare for shows, because they don't seem real. Touring still feels a little bit abstract right now. It's hard to believe it's going to happen. I feel like I'm not going to feel it's real until I'm standing on a stage again. It seems like any moment now, everything could change, and they will be canceled again, or maybe everything will come back up and I'll get a thousand shows and never stop again. But I'm excited. I think I'll be really excited when I'm actually playing. I'm not that excited about everything else, like traveling and getting back to that lifestyle. I enjoy it once it's happening.

The pandemic put so many musicians in a really terrible financial and creative position. Were you adapting, like you said, or were you thinking, like, "I'm going to have to change my whole life."

In general, I'm a very optimistic person. It's really hard to get me to give up on anything. I think sometimes I'm way too optimistic, especially when I'm in a situation where others are going through something harsh. I feel like I'm always that friend or that family member that's keeping everybody up, you know, always seeing the bright side. Just trying to cheer everyone up and take everything as an opportunity to change. Whenever I see a problem or whenever I'm faced with something that's hard, I just instantly start thinking about solutions. And I think this was what it was throughout the pandemic.

I honestly only made a record because I had to — my true passion was playing live. And what I thought I was good at was shows and playing live. But I felt like I had to record to keep having a career. And so I did that and then all of a sudden, I felt like my work was completely different. Like my work was to make videos and do interviews and create all the visual things around the songs and focus actually on what an album means and creating the whole universe around it. And I've never done that before. And I would not have had the time to do it if I'd had shows, and I loved it. I completely immersed myself in that. So now I'm thinking, I can do this too. This is fun, you know? And that's great.

Forcing yourself to be creative during this time, it can be difficult.

I agree. You shouldn't force anything creative to begin with, but also, at least for me, I need to be calm and feel like I'm standing on solid ground. This is literally a crisis that we're going through. And so during a crisis, all our alarms are on, our bodies and our brains are thinking about literally surviving — and that's the most important thing. We literally — the most important thing we have to do is keep ourselves alive and everybody that we care for. It's the most important thing. We'll have time for creativity after, there's no rush.

It feels good to hear it out loud — this really is a crisis.

Like, is this necessary? We're still in a crisis. There's no need for it. For acting like everything's fine. That's even more stressful. It's twice the energy for everybody. Literally. It's so confusing. Knowing whether or not it's the right thing.

What do you miss the most about performing live and also seeing other artists performing live?

I mean, everything. If I had to just choose the first three things that come to my mind — I think just other people. Looking strangers in the eyes, while your mind is listening to amazing music. Experiencing this show that's happening right now, only. It's such a magical thing to share with strangers. That specific moment that I just described, I cannot wait to experience that again. It disconnects you completely from reality, when you're at a concert — I love that, it's my favorite thing about being alive. Even if you're a musician and you play shows every night on the tour, it's absolutely never the same.

Now that we kind of have this opportunity to reset, how do you think that we could change live music for the better?

Well, so many things. For starters, I think I would love for more live music to — it's hard to put into words, but you know, I think we were kind of getting accustomed to live music, [that was] DJ sets or bands playing with laptops, doing background tracks 90% of the time, which, you know, has a place. But I think just a little bit more consciousness about what live music is, and what a party is. I mean, I love both. None is better than the other. I just think there's — like I was saying — the live aspect of live music, which is this magical thing that it's only happening when the actual musicians are playing and it never repeats again.

I'm personally tired of looking at my screen...

Exactly. Yeah. Everybody has been staring at computers for two fucking years. It's like, come on guys, let's go to live shows and see bands, musicians playing instruments. So I think that would be amazing. And also a little bit more consciousness that it's a community thing that when you're on the show, you're not alone. And you know, if you see someone next to you, that for some reason is, you know, sick or whatever, you can help, you should help.

What song of yours are you looking forward to playing the most?

I think "megapunk" would be my first answer. And also "they told us it was hard, but they were wrong."

Is there something that you're looking forward to seeing another artist play live?

I also really like the Phoebe Bridgers album, which I really want to see. I would love to see Marie Davidson and her new band 'cause I love her. I really would also love to see The Strokes.

Final question. As festivals like Pitchfork come back, what would be your best survival tip for people who have forgotten how to let loose and, you know, be in a crowd?

Wow. That's a good question. I think that's a question I'm even asking myself, to be honest. I think probably, take it easy. Be kind to yourselves. 'Cause who knows what being back in a crowd is going to be like — what it's going to bring up in you, how you're going to feel. I would say, be patient, it's like a recovery in a way, so there's no rush and the world is only going to keep coming back. It's from one day to the next. If you feel like it's too much or whatever, just take it easy and be kind to yourself and, and be loving to yourself.

And remember that it's a recovery process, even if it sounds super cheesy, but it is. Honestly. I do think the world can only get better from now. Honestly. I mean, even if so, just remember that there's no rush to go through everything at once. Be patient, and nice, in general.

Photography: Juan-Ortiz-Arenas