Elissa Suckdog has an intense affection towards dance music – though she’s not quite sure the source of this mystical attraction. Through her craving to write about the sounds that entranced her, she followed a path towards music journalism and was soon smitten by the dance-ier side of the electronic music spectrum, developing a fevered love for sounds coming out of the UK in particular.
Photo Credit: Mai Nestor
Following this nameless urge has led her from the United States to her current base in Berlin, where she continues to write and host the Texture Mix Series on Cashmere Radio alongside throwing parties with her friends at Griessmuehle as part of WAYS and holding down a residency with REEF – and now she also produces. Her new music, like her DJ style, is energetic and playful; years of submerging herself within club culture and transitioning into a self-proclaimed “music nerd” proving her capability of providing the vibe.
Despite her hectic schedule that sees her juggling these ventures, Elissa made some time to chat with us ahead of her set at 9000 Dreams on the 22nd of November. This time around, Trouble Vision and Avalon Emerson combine forces once again to curate an all-star lineup including Aurora Halal, JASSS, Roi Perez, LSDXOXO and Hunter Lombard. In our conversation, Elissa opens up about her formative music experiences, the magic hours of the afterparty and her juicy dancefloor edits.
I find it really interesting hearing about people’s first experiences with club culture and dance music. I’m curious to know how your relationship with it started and what about it made you want to take part?
I came to club culture via getting into dance music. I grew up wanting to be a music writer, so I started interning at music magazines during college. My first editor took me under her wing, and when she left she bequeathed to me all the promo CDs on her desk. The ones that stood out changed the way I thought about electronic music, particularly the Hessle Audio ‘116 & Rising’ compilation and Scuba’s DJ-Kicks.
As a kid I raced bicycles and I used to run obsessively, so high-energy and hypnotic music appealed to me. But I’m not sure to what extent my interest in the music drives me into club culture or vice versa. Sometimes it feels like I took a detour off the highway of my life and drove too far to just turn around and go back, so I decided to keep going and see where this one ends up. It’ll probably take years of therapy to unravel what it is about me or club culture that draws me in.
You have quite a playful and lively approach to DJing. It also leans towards more bass-centric, 2step and breakbeat styles. What drew you to such UK-specific genres and is there something about that sound you prefer playing over a standard 4/4 beat?
UKG has always been a cornerstone of my taste in dance music, but I don’t consider myself a “garage deejay.” When I started learning to DJ and collect records, I did see 2step as a way to spice up a 4/4 flow, but it always felt like something to work into a larger vision. I tend to play more 4/4 stuff than syncopated stuff in any given set, so consider yourselves warned.
I first discovered garage early on in my becoming-a-dance-music-nerd development via a compilation of wall-to-wall classics called Blackmarket Presents 2 Step: The Best Of Underground Garage. I loved the snare and clap sounds, the cute, bloopy organs and obviously the basslines. Some part of me that was excited because it wasn’t really a thing in America and so it felt more special—and while fewer of my friends were digging into 2step at the time, the illusion that it was “more underground” or “my thing” wore off as I’ve grown up. But I still love snares and M1s.
You’re a resident of the REEF parties at Griessmuehle in Berlin. How did you come to be involved with REEF and what’s it like playing there?
I became involved with REEF as a consequence of being close friends with Darwin. It’s always been a part of her vision to have her party be a family thing, to support her friends and roll deep with her crew. She was one of the first people I met when I first visited Berlin when I was 21, and I think anyone who’s met her probably knows what I’m talking about when I say she made a strong first impression. I wanted her to be my older sister or something. When I got back to the flat after meeting her, I told my friends, “I just met the coolest person ever. I want to become friends with her by the time we leave.”
As for what it’s like to play there, that of course always depends on the night, and in general it’s changed over time. A few years ago, UK styles were a harder sell out here. Now it feels like we get more people who come to hear the kind of music REEF is about, so I no longer try so hard to contort what I want to do into what I think people can handle. Our whole extended friend group comes through for REEF, so those are the times when we all hang out together. That adds some anticipation and anxiety to the experience of playing there on top of the pressure I feel to impress my fellow residents.
You play a lot of afterhour sets with REEF. Do you prefer the energy of closing out a party over the other time slots?
Well, a good afters is always better than the main party, whether you’re a DJ or a punter. A good afters is also harder to come by—you gotta earn the afters vibes. You have to make it to the morning and break through to the other side. Most of my favorite and most impactful dancefloor experiences happened in the morning or during the day, after I’ve had time to settle into the party spirit.
So yeah, I do prefer playing a closing or an afters, including at REEF. During the main party everyone’s all over the club, going in the different rooms, going outside. But when the garden opens, everyone hangs out there together, so it’s more social and everyone’s more engaged in the same set. And since everyone’s already cooked, they’re looser. That makes closing or playing an afters in general more fun to do—when they’re good.
You throw parties alongside Enchanted Rhythms and Dan Beaven called ways. Can you tell us more about the night?
It’s a naughty lil Thursday in the Silo at Griessmuehle. WAYS stands for “what are you saying,” which is something we say to ask each other what’s up. It’s also what we call ourselves when the three of us DJ together.
You play at Griessmuehle quite frequently and have chosen to throw the ways parties there. It’s obviously quite a significant venue in Berlin but what is it about the space that you love, that keeps drawing you back?
We jumped at the opportunity to host a Thursday night there. Darwin had planned to do some off-REEF weeknights in 2019 but eventually handed it over to us, so we whipped up a little proposal and Griessmuehle allowed us to take on the dates that were originally allotted to her. Griessmuehle’s sick because it’s easy to pass time there. It’s so big and the parties shift around to different areas. You can crawl around in the garden, sit by the river, go back in the club, find a weird chill-out area there…
You’ve just self-released two edits on Bandcamp. Is this the first time you’ve shared your own production online and can you tell us more about the release and your background with producing?
It is the first time I’ve posted music publicly. I posted two edits I made since I started an actual effort to learn to produce a few years ago: one’s an edit of Lil Peep’s “Girls” and the other is a bootleg that uses the vocal from “1950” by King Princess. I made the “Girls” one in August 2018. The King Princess one is more recent. My idea was to make a rude 2stepper my boys would want to play, but to make it embarrassingly girly for them by adding a femme zoomer pop vocal. They always roast me for playing sassy OTT pop edits—even if the instrumental is unqualified dope.
After all the obsessive effort I’ve put into making music since I started learning to do it, I felt confident enough in those tracks to let other people hear and have and play them. I started producing after years of being into house and techno as a writer, DJ and punter, so I had a very clear vision of what I wanted to achieve when I started. I was pretty reluctant to dive into learning DAWs for a long while because I felt overwhelmed by how much I didn’t know and how much there is to learn, but after some relentless supportive cajoling from Avalon I took the plunge. I don’t feel like I’ve fully realized my vision yet, but I didn’t want to get stuck in a mindset where I’m toiling away on stuff I’ll never let others hear. These are just fun bootlegs for parties. I don’t want to be too precious about them.
Is producing and releasing music something you’re looking to turn more of your attention towards in the near future? And what else have you got planned music-wise for next year?
I don’t have any plans. I’d be down to release something when I feel I’ve made something I’m really proud of. Until then I’m just putting in the work and enjoying the process. Once I feel like I’ve achieved a level with which I’m satisfied, I’d probably like to turn less of my attention to it so that I can spend more time on other projects I want to complete in my life. But first I gotta see this through and pay the toll.
Has your DJ style or taste changed at all over the past year and what energy are you looking to bring to Corsica?
I have a solid vision and throughline in my taste, but I get into tunnels of buying specific sub-styles that it fit in. This year I probably bought more proggy stuff, and I boned up on downtempo grooves because I was working on realizing my vibe for opening sets. I did the opening and closing at the 9000 Dreams in April, and if I open again I’ll probably play less deep, textured minimal and breakbeat stuff. At the beginning of the year I felt like I couldn’t go too hard at the beginning of the night and had to be extremely careful about pushing the energy in order to ease people into the mood. As the months passed I got bored of my plan of attack for openers, developed another one, got bored of that one too and then finally loosened up and tried being less conservative about it. The energy I’ll bring to Corsica depends on the vibe in the club, init. But I reckon it’ll be a big one, so I won’t have to ease in so gingerly. If I’m opening again, I’ll start at 125 this time, how bout that.