She’s recently released her ‘Espírito EP’ and is boss of the excellent naive label, co-promoter of the mina parties, and an all-round underground hero. This month’s feature interview we’re very happy to talk with Inês Coutinho, better known as Violet. 

Inês ‘Violet’ Coutinho is a walking talking embodiment of the ethos of underground dance music culture. She runs her naive and naivety labels, putting out quality authentic underground music, often from lesser-known names. She’s a very handy DJ, a committed community activist, she co-runs celebrated online radio station Radio Quântica and also promotes mina, a queer / trans-focused party. With naive, mina and Quântica, Violet has created an infrastructure in her native Lisbon that can provide a platform for women, PoC and queer people, whilst celebrating the very best elements of dance music and DJ culture.

Growing up in Lisbon has had a definite effect on Violet’s sound and approach, and she cites Portuguese hip hop as a big influence alongside UK and US dance music, and “a big punk rock/hardcore/ska phase” in her teens. Portugal only ceased being a dictatorship in 1974 which she says “stalled the whole maturating of what culture and music could be for 50 years… we were just out of a dictatorship when house music and hip hop were being invented elsewhere so I feel that for a while we had a delay and we’re still catching up. But we also came up with our own thing too… and I credit Lisbon for showing me stuff that wasn’t from here but that the DJs were really good at representing like dubstep, drum & bass, UK garage, I got in touch with that music via Portuguese DJs.”

Violet also points towards the demographic make-up of her home city as another factor that’s been “vital in the Lisbon scene, the whole community of PoC, people from Asia and Africa that live here and influence the sound a lot, labels like Principe that repurposed the [Afro-Portuguese sound of] Kuduro for dance floors, and other genres, I think that’s a big part of our like of broken rhythms and which definitely informed my influences.”

Over Zoom we chatted with Violet about naive’s ethos and how this is reflected – or not – in the wider ‘scene’.

Attack: Tell us about naive, does the label have a governing ethos or philosophy? 

Violet: I don’t talk about it a lot but if someone made me say it, there’s something there that’s built itself though time, which is just doing something based on what’s happening in real life: the people I surround myself with, the friends that I love, the people I trust. So maybe it’s about love and community – and it’s definitely also about limitless imagination and letting people say their truth because I trust them. Most of the artists I release are really not that well known so that’s also part of the ethos, not picking out a huge artist that I love and seeing if they can release on the label – that’s not something that I do. 

I think that elevating dance music to a respectable and fundable art form is a big priority

That ethos of love and community, is that how dance music is? Or should be?

It’s both! [laughs] It is in many instances, in others, it should be but it’s not. I feel that dance music is like anything under the current political atmosphere and the fact that we live under capitalism. Obviously, a part of dance music turned into something that may have a bit of truth in it but also has a lot of untruths – commercialisation and you know, the idea of climbing a ladder of credibility and money – and I’m not super interested in that at all. That’s just how it works in capitalism but there’s always pockets of amazingness and community that are willing to work together and actually interested in community work and mutual aid and not just in playing the best slot in the best club or having the best record on RA or whatever. And that is very much present and in existence and I’m so happy to know about all these different crews around the world that do something that I really believe in, that I could stand behind. 

It’s like there’s two worlds of dance music…

Yes, there’s an underground and a super-commercialised thing that’s almost like a caricature of dance music. I sometimes wish there was more of a middle ground where the underground had a bit of space to breathe. And money to spend on food and stuff! but again, this isn’t just in music, this is something I see in society in every country in the world. 

It really pisses me off when people say you should keep politics and music separate. I feel like if we are reverent to what music is about let alone dance music, then we will always have an eye on making things fairer for everyone because that’s what created dance music in the first place: the creation of dance music was marginalised communities trying to come up with something that they felt comfortable with, to be able to dance together in a place where they feel comfortable together. So to me, they’re inseparable and I hate it when people say they’re not. 

There is a multiplicity of things that gravitate around dance music, from performance to drag queen shows to dance, there’s all these amazing art forms that need to be elevated and respected

Do you feel that perhaps younger clubbers aren’t as aware of the roots of contemporary club culture in US Black, Latino and LGBTQ communities? 

Yeh I think so but also nowadays it’s not that hard to get information – but I feel maybe it’s not top of people’s list of priorities because everyone’s just trying to make a living and have some fun. But if you’re interested in it you quickly find that dance music is political and if it were not for political needs or personal needs that are inherently political then it wouldn’t have existed in the first place.  

So it doesn’t take much research to run into that information and yeh, I feel like it’s really funny when you know people that are more conservative within dance music, that want to keep some of the initial practices and principles – don’t show track IDs, always play vinyl blah blah blah – but if they’re so reverent to the roots of dance music in those subjects, whey aren’t they also reverent to the philosophy and the social need that sparked dance music in the first place? That’s such an obvious incoherence that it just amazes me. 

There’s been a lot of talk about the pandemic being a chance for some kind of reset within dance music. Do you see any signs of this? 

I see pockets of signs of this for sure but I see a lot of business as usual as well. Again, there’s a lot of interest in maintaining the status quo – people that do have the privilege, maybe more than half of them just want to maintain their privilege and don’t want to let go of anything so that will remain a problem and I think again that’s not a problem that’s exclusive to dance music. But, on the other hand, there are always those crews that are more intimately connected to e sense of community a sense of change, that are really trying to do something different and I see pockets of that happening. I have friends in Miami and Florida in dance music that do mutual aid projects and workshops. Here in Lisbon with Quântica and mina we also tried to get government funding to share between the artists that were in need the most and we booked these artists for digital festivals so we could bump up some of their profiles

So if this is a chance for a bit of a reset, what key issues would you like addressed in dance music? 

There are so many problems but there’s also so much hope. I think institutionally, one of the biggest things that is really important right now is for institutions realise that dance music is art and something that can inspire and elevate life just as much as going to Tate Modern or to a classical concert. So I think that elevating dance music to a respectable and fundable art form is a big priority.

I’m sick of all the resources going to the same traditional corners of music – that I really respect – but I think overall there should do a different focus on dance music as something that is politically committed, bringing people together, bringing awareness to people, showing them amazing art and performances because you know there is a multiplicity of things that gravitate around dance music, from performance to drag queen shows to dance, breakdance, there’s all these amazing art forms that need to be elevated and respected. 

The scene needs an inclusivity that’s real, not tokenism, an inclusivity that gives power to people; then you feel great about it instead of feeling something has been taken away from you. There is, I promise, a lot of solace in giving out privileges that you shouldn’t have by default, if we want a more equal society. 

So tell us about your plans for naive for the rest of the year. 

The next release on naive is by an Egyptian artist called Hassan Abou Alam who I’ve previously released on the digital label naivety. it’s all originals, no remixes, it’s banging, I love it and it speaks to me in that kind of Portuguese way- it’s kind of like bare-bones but really has a lot of ideas. And then I have an album from ELLES who did an EP on Naive last year that people really loved and she came up with this conceptual album that is full of amazingly creative and colourful songs that are like a peek into her soul – and her soul is really amazing. Then I have a couple of collaborations where I do split releases with other labels, one is with Trouble Maker records which is PoC focused Lisbon label run by really young people in their twenties, they do all sorts of music, dance, experimental, hip hop, R’n’B, so we’re doing a split record with some of their and our artists, including BLEID, Black Cadmium and myself. So these are the next ones and there’s much more to come! 

The naive back catalogue is available on Bandcamp.

Violet’s ‘Espírito’ EP with Eris Drew remix is out now.

28th June, 2021

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