a post-Zest Fest chat with dj ellie

a post-Zest Fest chat with dj ellie

There's nothing I love more than an exciting internet-based musical journey. Imagine me jumping from hyperlink to hyperlink, discovering a wild new musical zone and bugging out entirely...

...this is what happened the other day when I visited albumoftheyear.org for the first time, which is a thing I did after Matty Monroe told me they liked it for music discovery. I clicked "new releases" and a title immediately stood out to me: The FL Studio Incident (Live at Zest Fest 6​-​2​-​24), by DJ Ellie. I was intrigued, and not just because the album art font was Comic Sans (my first font love)...who was DJ Ellie? And what was Zest Fest?? So I started by pressing play...

The FL Studio Incident (Live at Zest Fest 6-2-24), by dj ellie
1 track album

..."The FL Studio Incident" mix is almost 14 minutes of blown-out and deconstructed dance pop bliss...Soulja Boy's "Kiss Me Thru the Phone" bounces into MARINA's "How to Be a Heartbreaker" coated in a pleasant foam of distortion...then the breakbeats start and we're really off to the races...at one point a pitch-shifted echo of "Scream" by Usher calls up from underneath a fast and trance-y beat like a haunted Victorian doll. Man, it's sick.

After listening to the mix, I knew I needed to hit up DJ Ellie and get the full Zest Fest download. I ended up learning a lot about a particular internet music zone, including the ins and outs of urlfests, and listen...as a standard-issue millennial, it was a true pleasure to talk to someone younger who has grown up in a radically different music era and scene but cares deeply about music and is good at making it. And I got a bunch of great music recs too! Ok let's get into it...

First, I would love to hear a bit about your musical background—when did you start DJing? Do you do anything else in the musical realm, like produce music?

I’m honestly not a DJ at all. Not in a way of being like “ooh look at me I’m a PRODUCER” I just like…genuinely don’t know how to DJ (the “DJ Mix” format is just a cool concept honestly, I am certainly not a skilled DJ, though I would love to learn someday). Honestly, I just stumbled into the name “DJ Ellie” because my friends just called me it until it basically just became my name.

But yeah, I’m far more of a producer than I am a DJ. Started producing electronic music in early 2021 (like many electronic artists of my time, I started immediately after hearing Nurture for the first time), but I’ve been branching out recently to other kinds of music. Recently I’ve been really trying to get better on guitar (probably should’ve done so before investing in so many pedals), so be prepared for another entry in the “electronic-to-shoegaze” pipeline that’s been oh-so-common recently (absolutely not an insult, that pipeline has produced some of the best music of the decade so far). DJ Ellie honestly was never meant to be the “main gig,” and it probably isn’t long for this world, but I wanna make it special while my heart is in the place for it.

What was/is Zest Fest?

Hell if I know! 

Seriously though, it’s a urlfest that was co-run by one of my best friends, AmyReal, so they let me and some other friends join in and make sets for it! It was cool to have people from all kinds of online music circles join together in one urlfest, since it was honestly just a bit of a free-for-all. It, at the very least for me, put a lot of artists I didn’t know about previously on my radar (seriously, if you’re reading this, go listen to lua trilogy’s set. life changing shit). For those who have never experienced a urlfest, I would definitely try and seek one out, because it’s a REALLY cool experience to experience some absolutely insane internet music premiering along with roughly 50 other people just as mesmerized as you are.

Because I've never actually attended a urlfest (which is something I probably now need to do) — how does it actually work? Is it streamed through Discord (or similar) and people chat on the side? Apologies for probably sounding ancient, it's a zone I am unfamiliar with!

Pretty much so! A lot of the time it’s streamed on Discord with everybody in the chat, sometimes it’s streamed on Twitch! This time it was streamed on AmyReal’s YouTube channel, and most of the live discussion came from either the discord server we made for the fest or from the YouTube chat. It was mostly just on YouTube (I assume) because of Discord’s audio latency issues, but it also gave the fest a pretty big audience. I had friends in real life tune in for my set (and others), something they couldn’t have done if it was walled off on Discord. This could go off into a whole tangent about the whole “walled-off internet” thing that’s come about with the decline of forums, but I digress. I wasn’t there for that anyway.

What kinds of music do you like listening to? Any particular songs that you have been enjoying lately?

Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of new stuff, along with catching up on some stuff I hadn’t gotten to yet from years past. Especially compared to last year, this year’s been VERY good for personal listening. I’ve had the new Charli XCX on repeat, for one. Haven’t really dived into her discography that much yet, but this new one’s making me REALLY want to. Same with the new 2hollis album. “light” off that is the kind of song that makes me get right on my PC and make something.

And on the complete opposite side of the spectrum, I’ve gotten REALLY into Nana Grizol the past week, especially their debut. Pretty much every the peak of twee.

Love It Love It, by Nana Grizol
11 track album

And also need to do the obligatory Chappell Roan shoutout. Saw her last month, it was incredible. 

And here’s a speed round of some 2024 stuff I love/want to put people on to:

Friko’s WWB, WWGFH - Insanely good debut, VERY excited to see what they do

twikipedia’s for the rest of your life - VERY inspiring, love me some good power pop

Iglooghost’s Tidal Memory Exo - Nobody’s doing it quite like him right now

samlrc’s A Lonely Sinner - Beautiful post-rock, another very exciting artist

fallingwithscissors’ TD&BOAA - Best EP of the year and I don’t know if it can be topped

I saw your location on Bandcamp is Rochester—what's the music scene and general vibe like in Rochester?

I actually am not as acquainted with my local music scene as I wish I was. That is mostly because I’m actually like half an hour outside the actual city, but “in a random suburb in the middle of a forest” doesn’t have the same ring to it in a Bandcamp bio. Honestly, that suburban sleepiness has been influencing my recent, “more serious” music (not that I don’t take DJ Ellie music seriously, just…yknow what I mean, right?), but that’s for another time.

In terms of local musicians who I’m into, there’s obviously Joywave who is always representing Rochester, but I also want to shout out Bugcatcher, who makes some pretty solid indie folk stuff, for people into Alex G and stuff like that.

Go!, by Bugcatcher
8 track album

I’ve liked a lot of the Carpool and Georgie stuff I’ve heard as well, though I still need to really dive deep into their work. Not much other than that, honestly. I’ve gotten hints that there’s a very solid music scene (especially with places like Eastman and Ithaca around here), but I just haven’t been able to experience it for myself that much yet. I’m still a minor, and my parents are not music people at all, so there’s been very little for me to grasp on to. I am excited to get acquainted with the local scenes when I can, though, because I know for a fact they exist (Buffalo’s been putting out some of the best hip-hop for YEARS now). Maybe when they finally let me in the Bug Jar…TLDR Go Bills Fuck You

Where do you generally get your music recs from? 

I mean…as much as I like to clown albumoftheyear and rateyourmusic for their communities, they’re both fantastic places for finding music (and I mean…promoting it too, honestly). I’ve found some all-time favorites just by browsing those (ex: Microphones in 2020, Construçao). It’s nice to have databases of music that could appeal to your tastes, and RYM specifically has a chart functionality is really good for finding unique albums.

Besides that, my friends often give me pretty good recommendations. Whenever I need an album, Amy always has one that’s pretty good. We kind of have the same music taste just because we’ve recommended each other so much stuff.

Even further than that, I’ll just find albums I love from random Reddit comments (ex: WU LYF), or from finding it randomly in a $5 CD bundle at my local record store (ex: “Menergy” by The White Octave). I guess the lesson I’ve learned is to use your resources to find some great music. Who the hell thinks to buy a $5 CD bin just to find some good music? Me! I love buying random CDs at record stores or garage sales and finding what’s in them. Found so many rabbit holes through them (the whole Saddle Creek 2000s scene, the Olivia Records albums from the 70s/80s, great stuff).

Also been getting into reading music publications/blogs more (I would love to get into music journalism as a job, but it’ll most likely end up as a side thing for various reasons), and they often have some fantastic recommendations. TLDR once again: go listen to some great new music, you deserve it!

Thank you DJ Ellie! Embedding the DJ Ellie x AmyReal SCAMMERS VS. GAMBLERS project to check out: more hella crushed, hyperdigital, maximal energy electronic music for your ears.

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