Bubblin' Up: Mor Elian

We sit down with the rising artist to discuss her history, musical direction, and what's next.
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Andrew Charles

Andrew Charles

When charting Mor Elian’s foray into electronic music and, more specifically, DJing, the age-old 10,000-hour rule—they say it takes at least 10,000 hours to become an expert in any field—rings truer than ever. Growing up in Tel Aviv’s flourishing club scene, with the guidance of two older sisters, Mor was introduced to forward-thinking, boundary-pushing artists—think Radiohead, Faithless, and Prodigy—at an early age and began digging and building her record collection. DJing entered the picture a few years later following a move to LA.

When speaking with Mor, it's obvious the personal exploration of creativity and the arts is a lifelong passion. An obvious aura emanates from her words and the thoughts behind her words when talking about music or jewelry design, her other artistic endeavor; she's personable, relatable, and willing to share openly—three traits that have no doubt helped her DJing excel.

For the first few years, driven by a deep passion for sharing her musical collection, every gig that came Elian’s way was met with fervor—small bar gigs, corporate events, birthdays, clubs, anything. Soon enough, bigger more prominent gigs flowed in, namely a supporting slot at a Dublab—LA’s premiere online radio station—event alongside Cut Chemist and Sun Araw. Impressed with her selection, Dublab offered her a weekly slot in which Elian would share selections from her world travels.

A DJ first and foremost, Elian took to production with the same stern outlook she had used to build her career to that point. The first production to see the light of day landed via XLR8R’s download section, a deep house cut that showed an artist with promise. In the years that followed, Elian honed her style and gravitated towards a loopier production style—cuts that would slot into her techno-focused DJ sets. Once this new direction was realized, her cuts landed on Prime Numbers and, most recently, Hypercolour, two EPs that have sealed her name as a new force in house and techno. Next up, Elian will drop a new EP on Finale Sessions and has just launched a new party series with Jimmy Maheras called Into The Woods.

We sat down with Elian a few days before she embarked on an Australian tour to discuss her story so far.

Tell me about your upbringing, what was your path into music?
I grew up with two older sisters, so I was introduced to a lot of music really early on. Tel Aviv in the late '90s and early '00s had a great dance music culture, it was and still is really big and has always been very mainstream to go to clubs. What you don’t really see here in LA, is that it's normal for most people to a club on the weekend. It’s more of a European thing, which makes sense being so close to Europe. So I was growing up at a really young age being exposed to bands like Radiohead, Prodigy, and Faithless, and things like European MTV and UK MTV, which were saturated with dance music. That was a big chunk of my influence, being exposed to mature music at a young age. At seventeen, I was already at drum & bass and techno raves in auto shops in Tel Aviv, because back then all the raves were pushed to the underground, with house styles in the big clubs. My sisters would take me out and knew the bouncers so I would get in.

This got me deeply and insanely into music. I started digging and collecting vinyl at seventeen, really digging big time. I was very much into progressive rock, krautrock, and ambient at the time—one of my first records was Tangerine Dream. I also had a group of friends who were a big influence on me, they were musicians—you feed from friend circles, it’s a social thing. I was also working at a skate shop near an important record store and would always ask the guys about new music. I would spend a crazy amount of money there.

Were you DJing yet?
No, I wasn’t DJing but I had started putting a few parties together in Tel Aviv. One in an old house before demolition for my 19th birthday, it was owned by rich parents of my friends. I was really into dub and reggae, hip hop and bass styles then too, it was very varied and open, everyone was open to everything. The same people would be going to hip hop shows, drum & bass, and techno, there was no rift between the sounds.

What was the reason to move to the US?
Well my sister lived here in LA and my dad lived in Miami, and I opted out of the army service—which is very hard in Israel. I just went for it, I moved to San Fran for the first few months and was going to raves and parties. Israel is a very different culture in some ways, so it took me at least two years to figure out who I was in the culture. It took some time to adjust.

 Photo: Bennet Perez

Photo: Bennet Perez

Was LA, or moving over to the US in general, the catalyst for getting into DJing or producing?
Yeah, it was I guess. So I would go back to Tel Aviv on holidays and started playing bar gigs while there, but back then I was more selecting. I was only DJing when I would go to Israel because I knew so many bar owners back there. I was really plugged into the scene so I knew who to go to. I was playing a lot of new wave and italo disco, world music and stuff like that. Then I started playing in LA around 2009 when my friend Ana Calderon was doing a world music / eclectic music night. I begged her to give me a shot and told her I really wanted to get started in LA. At the party, I was DJing and the energy was amazing and I got addicted. The more I progressed, the more I got into it. The next year I went to Berlin and it snowballed from there. My childhood was filled with electronic music, so it all came back to me. When I went to Berlin I was already seeking something and I heard that some Berliners were in LA and I started going to raves and getting the electronic bug again. I couldn't really find anything in LA except for Mr C’s night, which was the only regular party back then. Although, there were bands that started infusing dance music elements with traditional instruments, like Rainbow Arabia, so I started kinda gravitating towards that. Bands like We Are The World, Ryan Heffington’s band, or Hecuba, all these underground LA bands that were playing techno with instruments. It was hard back then, I was hungry for raves and for techno but there wasn’t much out there—maybe that was partly my fault and I just didn’t know where to look. Now it’s a completely different story, it’s almost saturated.

Berlin and the minimal boom was big for me, I went there and collected a lot of music but I had nowhere to play it in LA. By this time I was playing a lot of gigs in LA, two or three a week, some bar gigs where you would play for three people, for 10 people, it didn't matter—I was just hungry for any opportunity. Any fucking gig I was offered I took it, for years, all for the love of DJing. I come from a background of paying my dues, it wasn’t like a put an EP out and got a heap of gigs off the back of the EP, which is something you see a lot.

So you would consider yourself a DJ first then?
Yes, definitely a DJ first. Like I said, I was playing anywhere and everywhere for the love of it and to learn. And this was years before I ever started to produce or anything like that. The good thing about it is that I feel like I paid my dues, I did it the hard way—well, I still am—which gives me some strength in driving forward. Learning the hard way and having to make very diverse crowds dance, people of all walks of life, you had to make them dance. It is important to go out there and do you and play what you want but you can never disconnect from what is happening in the room—and that can happen with people that haven’t had to start from the bottom. You really learn to tune into what the vibe is and what the people react to. You learn to take what you're doing—and you don’t have to compromise your art—but mold your taste to work with the room. I’m there to entertain, I’m not there to be a god, you know? You need to learn your audience and navigate your path through it. That’s my set of beliefs, and that doesn’t mean it is right, it’s just what I feel. It’s all about balance, having your identity but tuning into the crowd as well.

So when did your residency at Dublab enter the picture?
I was asking a lot for gigs back then. When you’re starting you have to ask a lot, and I asked Mark (Frosty) from Dublab for an opportunity to play. They were having an event with Cut Chemist and Sun Araw and I ended up playing that gig and impressed them. My mixing wasn’t great but my selection was, and I was euphoric. After that, a couple months later, I heard that there were some openings there and I took a leap and asked if I could have a show and because of that gig, he gave me a show (first Thursday of the month at 2 pm). My Dublab show is about records from my travels from interesting young producers I met while playing around the world. Most of the guys I play for are all super interesting producers and diggers with a lot of passion and I like to support that. People from Portugal, and France, and Switzerland—I really want to give them a stage because I think they are amazing selectors, producers, and artists. So it’s guests from all over the world and some of my mixes, it’s a diverse show. The radio station has a great reputation, it was really pioneering and paved the way for a lot of online stations. It really tells the musical story of LA and represents the sound really well.

When did you start producing?
I took a course here in LA for production at a college and I learned some of the basics from that. It wasn’t on Ableton but they are all pretty similar in a way. I slowly built my first tracks with a lot of help and advice and as time went by I just learned to do it more myself, like learning anything really. I’ve always analyzed tracks from an early age, and you think that’s how it will be when you start but it’s not. It has been a beautiful journey.

So you moved to Berlin?
Yeah, part of the reason why I moved to Berlin is because I needed to stay away from everyone and everything. I know so many people in LA, so it's easy to get caught up. I work my ass off and make sure I put in the time in the studio.

I'm still in LA a lot and have my 'Into The Woods' parties there monthly, but some of them I have to miss, unfortunately. In Berlin, I’m in the studio every day and that’s all I do basically. I have a jewelry line too, but I’ve taken a pay cut with that, stepped back, put someone else on, and now am completely focused with my music. I’ve even stepped back from family stuff and friends and am just locking in.

I was going to ask that, how you managed your music life and the jewelry design side of things.
Well with the jewelry, I have help and I have a system so it can work itself out. I might get up and give it one or two hours and then it can run itself. When I’m here (LA), I design a lot and get all the samples ready and then when I’m in Berlin I just let it run. Obviously if I didn’t have the music it would be much bigger but I just have all this energy that I can give and need to give it to music.

Do you get the same feeling and release from the jewelry side of things that you do from music?
Not exactly. I love having another thing that is a little more hands on and is a little more aesthetic and design focused. I come from a family of designers and I feel like I have to fullfil that, I need to create matter, real things, to feel fulfilled. Music and frequency is matter but I needed something else. When one part of my brain gets tired I can go to the other and get energized and then can go back to the other again. They feed each other and need each other, they both give me motivation and energy. If there was only one thing, then I wouldn’t have the same drive.

 Bennet Perez

Bennet Perez

I think that’s actually a common thing with creative people.
Yeah, it keeps it diverse and I need that. It’s just my personal way, it wouldn’t be right for everyone but that’s what works for me. I learned that I need multiple things to be successful. It allows me freedom to not compromise on my music, to not have to take gigs I don’t want. I’m really grateful I have both in my life.

How did you meet Trus’me?
I met Trus'me through a mutual friend of ours in England. Actually, you know what? I listened to his XLR8R podcast and I was tripping on it. I just took a screen shot and posted it on my instagram, and my friend tagged him in it and he saw it and we started chatting. He came to LA and my (now ex) boyfriend and I met with him and we spent a couple nights together and created a friendship. Next time he came to LA, he was playing Avalon and I knew the booker and I ended up opening for him with Plastic Love.

Along the way, I was sending him all my forays into producing, trying to figure it all out and what not. He would tell me what was shit, what was great, do more of this, do less of that. He became a sort of mentor, one that really helped me figure it all out. I sent him a bunch of tracks to see who I should send them too and he said they were great and told me he would send them to a few of his contacts. Then he replied and said you know what, I’m gonna keep these and release them on Prime Numbers. I was blown away to say the least. I didn’t understand what was going on, to be honest. I was in shock at first, it’s the type of label that I want to be a part of, a label that attracts people searching for music and digging.

So your first release was actually on XLR8R, though yeah?
Yes! So Shawn Reynaldo knew me through friends and I wrote him for feedback for ICEE HOT. He said that it was great and offered to do a download on XLR8R. It ended up getting a really good response, it made to the top 20 in the year-end roundup of downloads.

There’s a big change in sound from that to the Prime Numbers release, was that an intentional move?
I think production wise they are close to the same level, but what happened was that after going to Europe, I became more attracted to other sounds and it became more natural to make something else. In Europe, I felt the energy in the tracks that were played and I wanted less breakdowns and more acid in my tracks. So I worked to try to get that sound.

So you you think the change in production was due to you wanting to make tracks that would fit into your sets?
Yeah, looking at the records that I was picking up and looking at the percussion patterns and all that. I knew what sound I was attracted to, and it was trying to get to that. It’s all part of evolving and just figuring out what you want.

Do you feel like you’re at the point now that you can produce the music that is in your head?
No! But I feel like you have to go with the flow and you might find unexpected surprises. It’s all a process, working out your journey. And not to sound cheesy, but it’s like a metaphor for life, finding out what fits with you

 Photo: Bennet Perez

Photo: Bennet Perez

How did Hypercolour happen?
Well they heard my Prime Numbers EP and asked me to send some tracks. “Drum Vortex” was actually suppose to be on someone's DJ Kicks but the DJ Kicks got canceled, so they took that and another original and we both pitched remixers—they pitched one and I pitched one—and we couldn’t choose, so we ran with both. The release did well and it for sure opened some doors for me. The work never ends though, you put your EP out and it’s all about what’s next.

Well, on that note, what is next? Do you have set goals you are aiming towards?
Yeah, I think that’s natural, but I used to be more attached to my goals. I’m maturing and learning that a lot of it is an illusion of achieving certain landmarks to feel like you’ve accomplished something. Goals are good because they push you, they give you determination, focus and ambition—but you can become distracted by it and it can cause anxiety. So, while I do have goals, I’ve learnt that everyone has their own paths and every path is beautiful, you have to just realize that a lot of “success” is defined by media and by each individual person. Everyone is different, paths and goals are so subjective. Social media also is a huge factor and can cause a lot of tension and stress and make you feel like you’re not where you should be—but it's not real.

Cover photo: Andrew Charles