Soela – shooting straight from the heart

Portrait pictures of Soela

We speak with one of Berlin’s rising talents at the deep end – Soela

A multi-talented Electronic music artist and DJ, Elina Shorokhova aka Soela is one such artist who is forever seeking to create and shape music that doesn’t fit so easily into a particular mold. She likes to focus more on placing sincerity of expression and substance over style at the core of her work, embracing warmth and soulfulness as her happy medium.

Having grown up and spent most of her youth in an unassuming small town in southern Russia. These days, she calls Berlin her home. Since moving to the German capital, she’s mostly kept herself to herself and built a presence at the fringes of the city’s deeper edged music community – impressing friends and fans alike with tightly curated live performances and DJ sets.

Her eloquent touch when it comes to crafting and shaping floating grooves is second to none: steeped in glorious ambiance that also straddles a certain melancholy. There’s little mistaking the sensibilities of her sound, effortlessly combining elements of House, Dub Techno, Experimental Electronica, Bass and Trip Hop to much pleasing effect.

After Soela put out her first release in 2016, her music has gone on to find a natural home amongst the output of Dial, Kompakt, Shall Not Fade, Lost Palms, Red Ember Records and Sushitech. As well as fruitful on-going collaborations with fellow artists Christopher Ledger, Steve O’Sullivan alongside her good friend Module One. She continues to enjoy the creative challenges of the path less travelled, rather than pander to the latest trends or regurgitate instant fads.

We were delighted when she agreed to have a chat with us and answer some questions:

Last year seems to have been quite a busy and productive, yet equally strange in many respects… how did everything end up for you?

I would say it was a year that changed my life completely. I had to go through very tough yet versatile sensations that I’ve never felt before. I feel betrayed by my country. I lost quite some friends because we had different points of view and we couldn’t stop arguing fervently.

Where in Southern Russia are you from then?

I’m from Novocherkassk. it’s a small town not so far from Ukraine. I guess, the place I was born was one of the reasons why the war was such a painful thing for me.

Music is quite prevalent in your family if I understand correctly….

I wouldn’t say my family is very musical but both my mother and older sister were students at a music school, and so was I. My sister doesn’t play piano anymore. I guess, she’s just not that into it 🙂 
But I still find some relief and comfort in it.

How did you get into piano and singing then?

I’ve been playing piano since I was a child. I didn’t love it that much because it was hard for me to practice a lot, and as we all know. You can’t achieve something without hard work if we’re talking about skills and playing instruments. I also was playing pieces I didn’t really like: I always wanted to play something melancholic all the time. One of my favorite composers is Rachmaninov, I find his pieces deeply touching and fascinating. I wanted to play this kind of music.

It was the same with vocal training. I was definitely a lazy kid and could have achieved more but I’m still happy to have the skills that I got.

What was shaping your musical tastes back then?

I remember what I was listening to when I was 15-16 because it was music I was looking for without plenty of influences of fashion or sub-cultures. I loved old Kompakt, for example: John Tejada’s “Two 0 One” is definitely one of my all-time favorites that even influenced my album, which I released in 2020. I can drop some more names like The Timewriter, Terry Lee Brown Jr, Blu Mar Ten, Blue Foundation, Portishead, Morcheeba and Losoul.

What was the catalyst for you to start playing out in clubs when you were 19?

I just had a friend who was playing as a DJ. Luckily, he also had nice teaching skills and owned a pioneer controller at home. I was coming to his place with a flash drive and playing music for hours. It was so interesting! And still is.

And how did it influence you?

I was playing trance before it was mainstream! I was really into this genre and decided to play only music I really like, because I wanted to play for genuine pleasure. My taste changed but I still play what I love. I think that’s a nice attitude.

At what point did you discover and move over to the more underground side of things?

Several years after I actually started to play. Self-education is such a nice thing but it can dramatically change some parts of your life. After I started reading about different electronic music and listening to many genres to figure out what I love more, and what didn’t work for me, my taste changed but I’m happy with it. I found my way, I know what I want and need music-wise.

Which artists made a big impression on you at the time?

Lusine, Portishead, Deadbeat, Sven Weisemann, Francis Harris, Lawrence, Smallpeople, John Tejada, Anton Kubikov, The Timewriter, Ryan Eliott, Deepchord, The Cinematic Orchestra, Larry Heard, Sebastian Mullaert, John Roberts, Moritz Von Oswald… I can name them for hours, really. Let’s stop here for now:)

Was there much of an underground party scene where you’re from or did you have to travel?

There were pretty much no underground parties in my region and in Russia in general. That definitely was a problem, there were no places where you could develop a career and improve as a DJ/musician. And, of course, you couldn’t cover living expenses out of making music.

When did you decide to start and try making your own music?

I always felt like I could do that but had absolutely no idea how to record music, how to connect devices etc. That stopped me. Again, I’m a lazy one. But I was lucky enough to meet my favourite person = Vic (Module One) – and we lived together for 7 years already. He was the one who showed me how to record music in Ableton, and how to use the interface, and recommended some books and videos about mixing and producing. He gave me a great start and after such a foundation, I, of course, was able to produce my own things.

I recorded my first track in 2015, I guess? Or 2016. I don’t remember exactly.

How long did it take you to hit on the sort of style of music you wanted to make?

Oh, that’s a question! It’s always different. If we talk in general, I definitely needed to spend some years to achieve at least something. Even though I knew some things, I could play melodies and chords, but it was not enough. It takes time. I would say, I needed at least 3 years to produce something that feels like music for me.

You clearly have an affinity for warm-sounding melody. Would you say this is a reflection of yourself or more a feeling you are trying to evoke?

That’s what I would like to evoke. My music isn’t a mirror of what’s going on in my life. I would even say that if I feel really bad and depressed – my music becomes even more light, warm, and subtle. Just because I want to feel like this myself.

When did you move to Berlin and how have you found living and working in Techno town?

I moved here in 2018. About techno town… I don’t feel that. I’m not the sort of person who’s waiting outside of Berghain for hours hoping to get in. I rarely go to clubs and I live a very basic life like everyone else. I love the vibe of freedom in the city, especially in the summertime when everyone is out and having some time of their life. It’s not a techno town for me, it’s just a city I love to live in. My home. Forever or not.

What’s been the biggest challenge for you?

Bureaucracy. Finding new friends and connections. Speaking a language you didn’t practice while living in your home country. Lack of money.

And has the pandemic changed things?

I don’t know. I can tell what the war changed, but I can’t tell about the pandemic as it feels like it was in another life…

It must be very hard seeing everything going on back home right now. What’s your perspective on it?

My perspective is that this war is unnecessary, harmful, and felonious. I would love to say some “nice” things about the president and his government, but I have a family in Russia and don’t want to put them in the danger. Thank the Lord, thought crime doesn’t officially exist yet.

We most certainly live in different times – what’s your perspective on being a female artist in today’s world of social media hype?

I don’t define myself as a female artist and it was always like this. When I’m playing or making music I have no gender, no sex. There’s only one thing that I don’t like, and probably, my opinion it is not popular. I do not feel fine when I know that I’ve got a gig or a release, because a club or a label wanted to basically make a line-up equal. Trying to make the line-ups or labels more equal isn’t a bad thing from my perspective but… I don’t want to just be a part of this. I’m trying hard to improve my skills, I’m digging the music and recording my own tracks. Being a tool to achieve something, even if it’s something great, doesn’t feel pleasant to me.

What advice do you have for new producers / DJs trying to find their feet?

Do something because you love yourself, not because you hate yourself. Self-educate. Try to know some new things and practice as much as you feel like. Don’t force yourself to do things you don’t want. Be honest. If you didn’t understand something – ask again. And always, always read the contracts before you sign!

Last but not least – what projects are working on right now and what have you got coming out next?

I’m making tones of different remixes and I love it! Some time ago I couldn’t imagine myself in constant collaboration with different musicians but now it feels great to create in this mode. I do a lot of different mixes and podcasts too, that’s one of my favourite things to do lately. Hopefully, you’ll hear a lot of nice and versatile things from me this year.