“I miss doing house stuff,” says Inês Borges Coutinho, laughing, a little frustrated. She’s not talking about music – thankfully, there’s lots of that. She literally misses being able to walk around her house.
A bad fall after a gig in December 2018 left the Lisbon-based DJ, better known as Violet, with a severely broken left leg. After what had been a landmark year, she was forced to cancel all upcoming shows, including an aspirational closing slot at Berghain’s Panorama Bar on her birthday. Complications with the healing process have meant that even now, at the time of our call in March 2019, she’s still waiting to get back on her feet and behind the decks.
Violet’s 2018 saw her excel as a touring DJ, whose sets of tough house, rhythmic techno and radiant breakbeat became the talk of the underground. Not only that, her label, Naive, released some of most vital sounds of the year, including Eris Drew & Octo Octa’s essential ‘Devotion’ EP. All the while, the sex and drug positive mina parties in Lisbon she co-runs with a collective of likeminded peers, and her role as Rádio Quântica co-founder have seen her becoming an increasingly crucial figure in the local scene and beyond, fighting along with her friends and peers for creative inclusivity and a progressive, welcoming environment for women, POC and LGBTQ+ artists.
Understandably then, she’s itching to get back to full capacity. During her Wednesday afternoon call with DJ Mag she is planning her first gig in three month’s for the coming Saturday at Amsterdam’s De School. A doctor will tell her tomorrow if she will be fit to stand for the occasion. There’s an instantly noticeable and defiant optimism in Coutinho’s voice, though, which suggests that there’s little a doctor could say that would stifle her ability to find positivity and potential in the midst of any challenge.
“If I can't walk I'll have to play on a wheelchair,” she shrugs. “But I'm keeping positive. If I have to sit down I'll sit down.”
Coutinho has kept herself more than motivated in the months since her accident, and 2019 has already seen her releasing and promoting both her own fierce and spellbinding ‘New Visions’ EP on Lisbon’s Paraíso and Ilana Bryne’s expertly crafted debut EP on Naive, ‘Low Earth Orbit’. Violet’s insistence on finding silver linings even in the wake of exasperating immobility has also, she says, been immensely helpful from a production standpoint.
“I finished my album!” she says.“I had a bit more time to make music, so I really did do that. Plus I did a couple of collabs and a couple of remixes. I know I wouldn't have done so much if I had been touring because I get so tired.”
“There's that,” she adds. “And there's the picture of the screws inside my knee, which is kind of badass. I'm actually preparing a mood board for the album artwork so I might stick it in there!”
The album, which will come out later this year via the mighty Dark Entries, is comprised of tracks produced over the course of almost seven years and captures, as Coutinho explains, a pure representation of her musical identity, even if it “isn’t very danceable”.
“It's music that I hold really close to my heart,” she explains. “I always had an adolescent vision for what my album would be. Something really sweet and soothing... More of a listening experience I guess. The feeling that I wanted to capture was a sort of rawness with an emotional truth in it. And I wanted to keep the music kind of colourful, even if it’s pastel colours.”
Colourful, adolescent and truthful, the 10-track album is testament to Violet’s embracing of all the sounds that have defined her evolution from childhood, even the “uncool” ones. It’s even going to be called ‘Bed of Roses’, named after the Bon Jovi song she obsessed over as a child in the early ‘90s.
“It's kind of a shit song, but I loved it,” she laughs. “They came to Lisbon to play a concert in the stadium when I was nine. My mum didn't want to come with me but she worked really hard to find someone to go with me. I ended up going with the electrician that was fixing my house. I wore my sister's Guns n’ Roses t-shirt because it was the closest thing I had to cool clothes.”
“You can learn so much from these super young people that are just starting...These people who haven't submitted themselves to the filters you learn because you are ‘into dance music’"
As she describes the music that influenced her growing up, you start to hear the most subtle impacts of everything from Scooter (“I was actually listening to ‘Endless Summer’ the other day!”) to N.E.R.D. on tracks like ‘Silver Lining’, ‘Togetherness’ and ‘New Visions’, where fierce, gravelly beats, bass and breaks are woven together with delicate melodies and uplifting atmospherics.
Her dad’s taste in classical composers like Handel and Beethoven, along with the likes of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and James Taylor, wired her into “dreamy music with lots of melody,” she says. While “Mom added the more romantic stuff with a rough edge to it” like The Doors and Joan Baez.
“I’m realising that a lot of this music informed me in a textural and emotional way,” she explains. “That's kind of the stuff that informed my album in terms of what I wanted to put into it and how much of me I wanted to put into it. I wanted to discover myself and be myself fully rather than fit in with the standards of ‘good taste’.
“The whole ‘credibility' thing in dance music is very annoying,” she adds, “I never tried to fit in... But maybe I did omit some stuff that I liked. But now I think it's a great time to change that because people are more open-minded about being a varied artist in dance music.”
The communities that Coutinho embeds herself in are, as you’d expect, as open-minded as they come. From her mina and Rádio Quântica families in Lisbon to a global network of musical peers met online, Violet’s musical evolution is enhanced utterly through exchanges of ideas, tracks, political discussions and activism. At home, surrounded by producers, artists and DJs who are just starting to find their feet, she is quick to emphasise that, while her position as a role model and teacher is tangible and important, she gains just as much from their spirit and determination as they do from her.
“You can learn so much from these super young people that are just starting,” she explains. “These people who haven't submitted themselves to the filters you learn because you are ‘into dance music’. They don't have that in their heads so their output is so pure and their ideas are so unfiltered. It really inspires me. It keeps me on my toes.”
She’s quick to flag up just some of the young artists who inspire her, like local talents Bleid, Odete and Fabaitos as well as Naive alumni Almaty and Overland. She points also to marum, BLEID, VIEGAS and ketia, residents of mina, the queer party she co-founded alongside her partner Marco Rodrigues AKA Photonz (along with VIEGAS and marum) upon returning to Lisbon in 2016 after a three year stint in London.
The event series, along with the ever-expanding activist station Rádio Quântica, has quickly become bastion for Portugal’s young, queer underground, where the fight for representation and equality for women, LGBTQ+ people and POC is very much ongoing as progressive ideals are met with engrained stubbornness from the old-guard. In a city that has gradually become known as a hub for young creatives and businesses alike, however, it is these marginalised and less well-off artists and promoters that have felt the brunt of gentrification.
“People talk about Lisbon as if it's a breeding ground for creativity and stuff but that's only for ‘the creatives’, you know, the rich creatives,” Violet explains. “The people who are creative as a job behind a brand or in advertising.”
Lisbon’s transformation has forced mina to relocate numerous times in the past year or two, the first blow coming when their initial home in a former strip club was turned into a swanky gin bar. These days, mina parties have been taking place in an industrial area just outside the city near the airport and, while ideal in some respects, its distance from the centre means regulars have to budget for transport. Not perfect, she admits, but in Lisbon it’s always a trade-off.
But, as is made clear straight away, Coutinho is not the sort of person to allow adversity to stand in her way. It’s not in her blood. With a vocally left-wing teacher mother and a father who was active in Portugal’s communist party, Violet learned the power of activism from and early age, and was inspired to never stop fighting for the rights of the marginalised and unrepresented
“I feel like the naivety my mum had in believing that you can actually push ideals that you truly believe in through your work had a definite influence on me,” she explains. “It was naive because I guess time told us that some of her students were just right-wing and had more conservative ideas and you cannot always change that. But sometimes you can! And that’s great.”
“If you don't talk about things then they really don't change,” she adds. “Sometimes the conversations seem old and we're all tired of hearing the words ‘gentrification’ and ‘intersectional feminism’ but we just have to keep saying them and doing stuff. I feel like we’ve succeeded in uniting people who are like minded who want to protect each other and who want to push these ideas and make Lisbon safer and collaborative place.”
And so Violet, mina and Rádio Quântica’s work continues in earnest, with members of each family currently working alongside local associations who are trying to prevent evictions and fight gentrification. 100% of profits from a recent Luar Domatrix release on Naive sub-label naivity, for instance, went to ´Moinhos da Juventude´, a project run in aid of Cova da Moura, a widely neglected area on the outskirts of Lisbon where most inhabitants come Cape Verde, Angola and Mozambique.
With Rádio Quântica’s family expanding more and more to feature shows from people outside of Lisbon, and with exciting EPs on Naive inbound from Overland, Almaty, Photonz and herself, Violet is showing no signs of slowing the trajectory she’s been on. With a residency locked down for Lisbon’s leading club Lux Fragil for later this year, she’s, of course, determined to take as many of the friends she admires on that journey with her.
A week after our phone call, we wanted to ask Violet how De School went, and whether or not she had to play sitting down. She did. Unsurprisingly though, she saw the silver lining straight away, and says she’s never felt more love or heard more screaming for a set she’s played in her life. Since then, she’s gotten back on her feet and, more unsurprising still, is busier, driven and optimistic than ever before.
Listen to Violet's Recognise mix below