Bay area artist discusses their work “creating diasporic fantasy spaces through sound, sculpture, garments, video and collaboration"
Photo courtesy of the artist
Esra Canoğulları, commonly known as 8ULENTINA, is a DJ, producer and interdisciplinary artist based out of California. Esra describes their practice as focused on “creating diasporic fantasy spaces through sound, sculpture, garments, video and collaboration.”
My introduction to them was through their track Buyumsun – an unforgettable DJ blend of Turkish singer Esmeray’s “Buyumsun” and footwork legend DJ Rashad’s “Fly Spray.” Since then, they’ve released an impressive collection of mixes (solo and some collaborations), experimental productions, and bootlegs. They also have started bringing their exploratory sonic intent into IRL club space, starting with their 2015 residency, Night Forms. Currently, 8ULENTINA is co-curating “genre-bending dance parties” with Foozool. The two DJ/producers’ latest party is CLUB CHAI, located in a charming Oakland warehouse.
Today, 8ULENTINA brings us “kemençe slamming,” a diasporic fantasy space of melodically cascading sinister strings and percussion that ranges from sparse club-ready stabs to a steady heartbeat.
I spoke with Esra about their current and upcoming projects, thoughts on identity, and intentional scene-building.
ZUBEYDA MUZEYYEN: Hey! What’s up?
ESRA CANOĞULLARI/8ULENTINA: Right now I’m at home, working on this interview, returning emails and getting things together for the next Club Chai.
Where are you from?
I was born in San Diego, California. I am currently based in Oakland, CA and have been living in Oakland for the past 7 years.
Are you working on anything right now or do you have anything coming out soon?
Right now I’m working on some tracks/sound pieces, mixes, and garments. Also I’ve been wrapping things up with a compilation that I curated for Tobago Tracks, “DISMISS U,” that will be coming out mid February, including DJ Haram, foozool, Maieli, MOHINI, Nargiz, Kibz Selcuk and myself.
Tell me about DISMISS U and your involvement curating the compilation.
Curating “DISMISS U” for Tobago Tracks was a completely new experience to me. They approached me about it after I made a mix for them and I had been in contact with Robert aka DJ Pitch about my tracks, our local scenes and the events and projects we are trying to get going. The majority of the conversations about “DISMISS U” happened online, which is also new to me since most of my collaborations happen IRL. I knew I wanted to put together a compilation of tracks by producers that address their diasporic relationship to sound and dismiss western standards and stereotypes – whether that’s through sampling or deconstructing western forms of composition. I’m really excited about the release and grateful for everyone’s work and contributions.
Describe the musical scene/environment that you’re in.
The Bay Area has a ton of underground music scenes and I kind of hover around all of them/exist in a small scene of DJs, experimental musicians and artists. There’s lots of punk shows, noise shows, metal shows, rap shows, monthly bar and club parties etc. Throwing events and DJing more has connected me to more artists in Oakland/Bay Area. Foozool and I are starting to develop a family vibe with Club Chai that feels really good. I’m so grateful to everyone who helps make it happen from scratch and to everyone who was hyped on it before the first one even happened.
Let’s talk about Club Chai – how is it going? Where do you want it going in the future?
CLUB CHAI – a monthly party in collaboration with foozool – is doing good! We have our next one coming up on Sunday February 14th with STUD1NT, FELA KUTCHii, Botaz, DJ Deville, foozool and me! Its been nice to move away from a bar and have the opportunity to be in control of more elements in the space. We get excited about the potentials of diasporic sound and space in darkness. I’m hoping we can incorporate more performance artists and live musicians in the future. I’d love to have more out of town guests and out of the country guests too.
What do you use to make music and DJ?
I learned how to DJ when I was 15 on some Stanton turntables, a basic 2 channel mixer and serato…I don’t use that set up regularly anymore though unless I’m trying to use some records or sample from them. I only had access to my computer for a really long time so I would make mixes on Virtual DJ. I still use Virtual DJ and some of my favorite edits I’ve made have been live on Virtual DJ. Then I got a Numark Mixtrack Pro DJ controller which I still use with Virtual DJ. In the past few months I’ve been using CDJ 2000s and a Numark DJM mixer thanks to my friend Soisy who has been lending them to me. I use a microkorg synth and zoom rhythmtrack drum machine and make tracks in Ableton. I’m still learning/forever learning though. All this shit costs money and isn’t accessible to everyone. I’m grateful to people who continue to let me borrow gear to practice and learn. I try to lend out the gear I have to friends who are interested because I wouldn’t have experimented as much without that support.
What do you see in your future as a producer?
Producing is still really new to me so I can’t determine the future right now. I started making “tracks” because of my interests in making art about my diasporic identity. Sound felt like the best medium to express my visceral feelings. Music production helps me have conversations within an archive that I can’t always visualize or put into words. I’m in the process of discovering my sound as a producer coming from DJing as my starting point. Hoping to put out an EP or something but no specific plans yet. I’m excited for the future, hoping to collaborate with more producers and vocalists and eventually put out an EP.
What do you hope to accomplish with your music?
I hope that with music and DJing I can continue to perform and organize events that open up space for diasporic identities and sounds in a club context. I’m hoping to meet more like-minded producers and artists and continue to a build team/family that’s dedicated to mutual respect for each other’s ideas and the differences in our struggles, identities and work.
What does music have to do with identity and identity politics?
Music and music production are inseparable from identity politics to me. Even if people don’t realize it their identity is always present in their work. I don’t really believe that people can be separate from their ideas or that any artwork or idea is “neutral.” What is considered neutral is usually determined by and for white western people. I think about my work as an extension of my body. Sometimes the “politics” in my work are projected onto it by the viewer or listener.
What is it like to be an artist who by default is thought of as a “political” because of your identity as middle eastern, queer, etc?
Being an artist that is by default political is frustrating because I’m never sure why people are interested in what I’m making. People love co-opting political narratives that seem trendy or interesting to them for social capital and literal capital. I’ve also experienced and seen lots of stealing of words and sounds from POC artists poorly translated into sterile club music with no concept and some generalized politics slapped onto the description. Also middle eastern and non western producers and DJs are becoming easier for people to find online which is great for us connecting with each other and potentially getting booked. Are we getting booked more, though, or am I just hearing more white DJs spinning middle eastern rhythms? Often our sounds are all generalized together from an orientalist perspective and people aren’t noticing the differences and nuances in the work.
Thanks so much for answering all these questions! Last one – anyone in particular who’s work you been getting into lately?
I’m really into Moro’s EP San Benito that just came out on NON and Nkisi’s tracks. Shout out to NON they are doing amazing work right now. Organ Tapes from Tobago Tracks is really inspiring to me as well, hoping collaborate with him in the future. Shout out to everyone on DISMISS U! So excited for this release!