It’s a gloomy, Northern, November weekend in Leeds when Laik Records host one of the scene’s brightest rising stars. It’s her UK debut in the best party city outside of London, hosting is Old Red Bus Station, an intimate, mostly DIY club that always attracts an unpretentious, party-ready crowd. After the clock hits 1 AM, French DJ and RA+RE resident Ethel spins and mixes a scintillating selection of bouncy house, ethereal techno, and even a sprinkle of UKG, anchored by the smile of a DJ who’s soaking up and savouring every single moment.
That was almost 18 months ago by the time Trommel gets the chance to talk with Ethel for our next instalment of Rising Stars. “I am doing quite good, to be honest!” She says with that same Old Red Bus smile “Berlin winters are tough, but I used my downtime to focus on personal projects and led a quiet, relaxed life.” Before adding, “The notion of ‘the future’ is quite blurry for me, I tried to live day-to-day.”
Naturally, a lot has changed in the past 18 months, with the Covid-19 pandemic unfolding just a few months after her set in Leeds. With no parties, no festivals, and the whole scene being placed on ice, it’s a shame for a DJ who was just beginning to break out into serious party circles with her deep-dug and classy selections that span just about every genre and sub-genre you could possibly think of.
A few months after her UK debut, Ethel touches down in England’s capital, alongside fellow RA+RE resident and long-time friend, Melody, for a She Made and RA+RE showcase at none other than clubbing institution, Fabric. The two have risen in tandem as part of the all-female, Parisian collective, RA+RE, with a friendship dating back long before then when the pair were just teenagers. “I started to DJ with Melody in local bars in Paris back in the days around 2010,” Ethel tells me, “Our very first important gig was for Die Nacht at Palais des congrès de Montreuil. We played the warm-up before Maayan Nidam in front of 2000 people. It was great and something of a seminal moment for us. After that, we decided that we wanted to do this more and more!”
Their relationship with collective and label RA+RE has been one of grave importance whilst Ethel’s profile has grown. After a stint in Canada, Ethel moved back to Paris and began playing out with Melody, after two years of being a well-kept Parisian secret, an invite came from the collective’s founders, Claire and Clara, to play alongside them for an all-night back-to-back. “There was magic that night that we all still remember today, after that gig we were invited to become residents.” One important aspect of the group is that it’s an all-female collective, and whilst male DJs are of course invited to Breakfast Clubs, the RA+RE residents are female and their RA+RE showcases play host to only female talent in what is a perennially male-dominated scene.
“RA+RE was never really about ‘Woman Power’ as such” Ethel says, “But it was just to give more space to women to play and produce music, back in the day, there weren’t so many female DJs. Of course, this is now changing rapidly, and it’s just amazing to see a lot of
talented women showing their craft.”, Ethel adds with a shrug “Maybe we played some part in that?”
RA+RE’s signature party, Breakfast Club, was originally alongside fellow Parisian promoters Playground and has also played a pivotal role in boosting the profile of RA+RE, their strong core of residents, and strengthened Paris’ underground scene overall. The core idea of the party, with all due respect, isn’t particularly ground-breaking. A Sunday afterparty that begins in the morning and rolls through in the evening, capturing both partygoers from the night before and ones who wake fresh on Sunday, with, crucially, world-class DJs, such as Francesco Del Garda, Nicolas Lutz, and Laurine + Cecilio regularly featuring.
With only the purest of intentions, the women at RA+RE have stumbled upon something of a magic formula. There’s naturally no heavy promotion involved, but videos of those infamous Breakfast Club parties have become some of the most viewed and replayed in the scene. With an invite becoming something of a badge of honour for DJs and invite to play records they may not otherwise be able to play due to an up-for-anything crowd. “The idea actually started as a coincidence!” Ethel tells Trommel, “Claire (who DJs as ABI), who started the party, wanted to host it at Cafe Barge, the first guest we wanted to invite was Onur Özer, but he wasn’t available in the evening so the two crews decided to do it all day Sunday.”
Ethel appears to agree with the magic formula attachment, “Today, we wouldn’t change the format, and this is the essence of Breakfast Club: A secret line-up, a beautiful sunny and lots of friends and smiles.”
One thing that stands out when seeing Ethel spin her collection of records is just how diverse the music is with mean, wiggling acid is blended alongside early Italian house and blitzing breaks. There is simply no way to capture the diversity of the sound, it’s just good music. “I’ve always played very different styles of electronic music, going back to when I first began DJing out. I don’t want to play one specific style of music, just music that I find interesting.” This eclecticism has strong roots before her exploration of electronic music, noting her mother and father were fellow music fanatics. She notes about listening to all different kinds of music in the car on childhood holidays, from reggae, trip-hop, rock, and disco with vivid memories of her parents attending concerts and still do to this day.
“I think…this has to do with creating an element of surprise,” She explains further about her all-encompassing musical palette, “to keep the crowd enjoying, but it’s also related to how I feel when I play. I don’t usually switch from genre to genre every record, maybe switch genres every 2 or 3 records at the very least, I want to tell a story when I play.” Tell a story Ethel does, there’s a certain endearing quality to the records she plays, not least because you get emotional basslines and glossy melodies, but there’s a comforting underdog quality to playing older, more obscure music that slipped through the cracks when it was released and now DJs, like Ethel, are giving these records new bursts of life.
“Even before I started playing records, I enjoyed digging and finding more obscure music, but I really don’t see this as a competition. Digging is a personal quest to find hidden treasures from a lot of styles and it should be something personal coming from inside of you.” She shrugs, “I also play what you could call ‘more commercial’, or ‘obvious tracks’, because the same track can be played by different people, but the result won’t always be the same.” She points to changing the BPM and how to actually mix the record as ways to separate a track from how other people play it. “For me, there is no pressure attached to this because I am just staying true to myself and see DJing as a fun activity that I enjoy doing.”
Full of character is a way you could describe her record bag, and there’s a certain quirkiness and oddness to older produced tracks. “Yes I suppose it’s true that I like to dig for ‘quirky’ or ‘weird’ tracks sometimes, or just a catchy tune with a nice bass line or vocal. I like the uniqueness of these tracks.” The Berliner explains “I don’t only like tracks with a whacky element to them though, you can create something beautiful with just a few simple elements and arrange them in an elegant way.”
What could loosely be defined as the ‘digging’ scene is nothing groundbreakingly new at this point, with DJs like Binh and Nicolas Lutz quickly moving close into a decade of playing all over the world as known DJs. With the challenge to create surprises at an even greater height, with audiences’ digging and finding music to more intense levels, even if they’re not DJs, the game of finding undervalued music has become increasingly difficult. “I think there is still so, so much more music to dig and great artists to dig. I think the world is far too big to say we have arrived at saturation, there will always be new gems to find. Not least because of the calibre of new music that’s being released.”
The Toulouse-born DJ raises a poignant point. Whilst the digging craze has sprung up new-found love for, older sounds, a new appreciation for them has led to a re-imagining of music that’s being produced and released in the current day. A lot of the best music being released currently stays away from strict musical definitions and expectations, with a lot of spontaneity that dates back to the ’90s when it wasn’t as easy to hear what everyone else was doing.
A case in point is Ethel’s debut EP, which was released on no other than RA+RE in mid-late 2020. You’d be forgiven for failing to be able to attach a decade or year to the three-track EP if you were to give it a blind listen. ‘Santanico Pandemonium’ is essentially three tracks rolled into one with a head-spinning switch up between all of them, ‘Moustic’ evades any and every tag of ‘house’, ‘techno’ or ‘tech-house, occupying a sort of playful purgatory between everything and ‘Colonial’ speaks for itself with one listen, with its electrifying bass that feels plucked straight from the 80s’ new wave scene.
“The first thing I learned is that I need to be in the mood to do music” The French producer explains “If I don’t feel it that day, I don’t try. Sometimes I don’t produce at home for weeks, other times I manage to be really productive. What I really enjoy is when I just sit down and let the creativity take me where it wants to go!”
Not content with DJing, producing, and being a resident for one of the freshest collectives and parties in music, Ethel also runs Sobremesa, a Sunday party in Berlin, alongside friends Debs and Carole, as well as Sugar Free. “The idea actually came from when I met Alejandra (Sugar Free) in Berlin. We lived really close and decided to go for some drinks in a bar in our neighbourhood, as she is Spanish and I have Spanish origins from mother, we started talking about this connection.”
“After a few drinks, we realised there were no proper day parties with a small capacity in Berlin. Sure, you have Berghain, but we wanted something more intimate. We decided to start our own party and add a Spanish twist to it. This is how it came to life!” She exclaims. Now on it’s sixth edition and has found a cushy, regular home at Fitzroy, with guests like Christian AB, Gwenan, Quest, KRN and of course, both Sugar Free and Ethel.
The name for the party translates to the period after lunch or dinner where you chat, drink, smoke, and have fun, “there is no translation for this word in other languages!” Ethel is keen to add, which explains the connection to a loose-feeling Sunday party. Loose-feeling and a general ‘go with the flow’ attitude resonates a lot throughout the circles that Ethel belongs to. Hoppetosse and Club der Visionaere, which have become a mecca of sorts for those who like their tunes obscure, are two of the easiest going clubs in Berlin and the musical circles that she’s associated with contain some of the artists that are the least concerned with self-promotion and self-advancement that you’ll find anywhere.
What’s next for one of the brightest stars in a blossoming scene with projects that seem to go strength-to-strength totally organically? “Well, I have a few releases coming this year as both Ethel or as E.N.E which I’m really excited about” she explains, “I also going to take the rest of the year off to finish other tracks and maybe prepare another EP, let’s see!”
There’s also the not-so-small matter of projects under RA+RE that aren’t just limited to parties, as well Sobremesa and Breakfast Club parties starting up again. “I am just really really excited to start playing out again. Not only to play out but just going back to parties and enjoying my friends playing their music.”
“In March 2020, both Sobremesa and Breakfast Club had two really amazing parties planned that couldn’t go ahead. I think we can easily start the magic from where we left off,” She says with that Old Red Bus Station smile, “I am hopeful for the future, you have to be! It’s going to be a great summer.”