Violet on naive, mina and the Lisbon scene

The First Lady of Lisbon’s blossoming electronic scene, Violet is using her platform to push back against dance music’s ever-increasing homogeneity

Feature by Michael Lawson | 11 Sep 2019
  • Violet

“I don’t think it should be held up as one of the main ways to sustain the underground. We should be using it in our own terms and not becoming dependent on it,” argues Inês Coutinho, better known as Lisbon-based DJ and producer Violet. It’s a balmy midsummer's evening and the conversation has turned to corporate sponsorship in electronic music. Coutinho is largely unconvinced by the phenomenon. “It’s not black and white; there are some instances of companies doing really positive things, but we shouldn’t rely on corporations to fund our art.”

An artist at the forefront of the city’s cultural resurgence, she has spent the last few years cultivating an alternative to creativity-compromising brand partnerships. “I believe that grassroots community building should be at the forefront of what we do,” she insists – an approach she has adopted across the three platforms she co-runs out of the Portuguese capital. There’s naive, a record label showcasing music from across the electronic spectrum; mina, a queer and trans-focused club night; and Rádio Quântica, an independent, freeform station that rivals the best in Europe.

Coutinho had previously left Lisbon for London in 2013, frustrated at the staleness setting into the city’s music scene and the gatekeepers’ refusal to pass the baton on to the younger generation. “I couldn’t even really play local gigs at this time which was obviously frustrating,” she laments. “I tried. Like, I went to bars and asked them to listen to my mixes, but I really wanted to mix it up and be imaginative and there didn’t really seem to be a place for that at the time.”

Returning in 2016 with a renewed energy and fresh ideas on how to shake things up, Coutinho found that the profit-driven, homogenised scene she had left behind was gradually being replaced by something more exciting. When the opportunity then arose for her and her partner – fellow DJ and producer Photonz – to occupy a state-funded studio, she knew it was one she had to take with open arms. Relying on a combination of state funding and capital raised from parties and touring, the platforms sought to bring underrepresented groups – “queer people, people of colour and women mostly” – to the forefront.

“We’re constantly asking ourselves, ‘what voices are we trying to elevate?’ For instance, we try and create a door policy at the mina parties where we prioritise the entrance of queer people and women who can then go and express themselves without having the party saturated with the same old techno bros who could go to any old club in Lisbon and not have the slightest problem,” she explains.

“It’s not a matter of not liking them, it’s a matter of not prioritising them because they can go anywhere. I feel like there was a new generation that were super ready for this and they just needed a group of people with a bit more experience to do the damn thing. We hit the ground running in that respect.”

Even in her DJ sets, Coutinho is keen to communicate the far-reaching sounds of her hometown scene. Her recent addition to the Dekmantel Selectors podcast series, for instance, featured kuduro from the city’s Afro-Portuguese community, synth workouts from Photonz, and heavier, acid-tinged techno from Fungo affiliate Citizen:Kane over the course of a one hour mix. “It’s nothing to do with nationalism or anything like that,” she laughs, “but I love promoting Portuguese music as the scene is definitely still on the fringes. There are so many artists who, if they’d been born in London or New York or Berlin, would have a lot more opportunities, so I’m trying to promote them in the name of the decolonisation of dance music.”

Aside from running three boundary-pushing creative platforms and becoming one of the most sought-after DJs on the underground circuit, Coutinho has somehow found the time to write and record her debut album Bed of Roses. Using a Bon Jovi track as the title of your first album isn’t exactly common practice in dance music circles, but she justifies it as the perfect illustration of life’s implicit duality. “There‘s the smooth sailing (roses) and the rough patches (thorns),” she explains. “I used to love that Bon Jovi ballad as a nine-year-old before going on to deem it uncool, but nowadays I think that reabsorbing all my music influences, even such early ones, is an interesting way of accepting the entirety of myself.”

Out on Dark Entries – "a label that represents a lot of what I want to see in the world" – this month, the ten-track release trades in the club-ready cuts that characterise her previous EPs for honest introspection and emotive retro synths. While she agrees that the album is best-suited to home listening, the prospect of presenting it in live format at this year’s Berlin Atonal is one that excites Coutinho. Elsewhere, a performance in London alongside 2019 breakout stars Eris Drew and Octo Octa and an all-new Rádio Quântica festival – focused on the “avant-garde electronic scene through a queer and community perspective” – are next on the agenda for one of the hardest working artists in the underground. Nevertheless, Coutinho displays a refreshing sense of levelheadedness as the conversation shifts to what the future holds.

“I’m taking things as they come and drawing inspiration mostly from other people. I’ll definitely keep working on these little families that I helped create, but I’m always very open to change. With so many projects on my hands right now, the biggest challenge is maintaining my activities as a musician, which definitely mean the most to me,” she explains. “I don’t really have a masterplan. I think the beauty of life is winging it a little – not in the sense that you don’t care, more in a way that you’re adapting to whatever comes and making the best of it.”

Bed of Roses is released on 20 Sep via Dark Entries