Interview: "I'm keen to grow in India", says Santa’s li’l helper, Italian DJ Olly Esse
Olly Esse, the Italian DJ/Producer from Milano, based in Mumbai for a few years now, is among the hottest international acts in the country. She speaks with Indulge about the challenges faced by women DJs, and making it big in India.
How is the scene improving, and becoming more accepting, for women DJs? Is it a good time to be a woman DJ in India?
Olly Esse: I have more followers here in India than in Italy. People are more open-minded now for the music genres and want to experiment with something new, and also a lot of new female DJs are coming out there and performing, so it's good to see that finally, the scene is more about gender equality. I am happy to see that a woman can be a DJ and do a perfectly good job at it. Go Girls!
Tell us a little about some of the personal challenges that you had to overcome in your own journey as a DJ. How do you see the future for DJing opening up in the country, and overseas?
Olly Esse: Like with all good things, it takes time to be a bigger name in this industry. The fact is that earlier people were sceptical and they were all against me, they thought I am not good enough, I don't have technical skills, or I’m just another pretty face. Lots of male DJ s in my country envied and posted negative comments about me on social media. It hurt me that people who didn't even see my performance could say mean things.
I accepted that in the industry there will be always a little discrimination, but I always tried to do my best, and here I am. I understood that in the end, only the people who come to see you decide if you are a good DJ or not. I would love to see even more possibility for underground DJs and their music in India, and I hope clubs will be more profiled or dedicate different days to different genres.
How have festivals like Sunburn helped in promoting up-and-coming DJs? How important are such platforms for the growth of not just the DJ community, but also of the entire lifestyle?
Olly Esse: Festivals are as important as social media, and right now, I can say a huge thank you to all the festival brands that included me in their line-up, because I think they showcased my skills to lots of people who made me become who I am now.
But it is also important to understand that you have only one chance to showcase who you are, and it is always up to crowd to decide what and who they like. After two years of playing for big festivals, I can say that my life changed in a good way. I do have more gigs, that’s true, I feel more confident in what I’m doing, and I feel blessed to have this kind of opportunity.
Is there a word of advice, or pointers that you'd like to offer, for organisers of music festivals - perhaps for better artist management, or improved crowd control? How would you like to see things improving?
Olly Esse: I think that the mentality of certain people has to change, I had big problems last time when I was speaking with one of the head artist managers for a gig. A big name doesn't mean you can disrespect an artist. I really think that setup of some festivals was amazing, but sometimes, there are big problems with electricity, for example. So the music shuts down, and when you have a power shortage in front of thousands of people, it is hard to manage it. For the rest, I’ve never had big problems. Let’s say that overall, the experience has been good. I respect everyone’s work, and I’m sure that in future, everything will be just perfect.
Do you often find yourself faced with concerns about culture, and morality? How do you deal with untoward reactions - do you ignore them, or would you rather encourage positive, meaningful discussion?
Olly Esse: There will be always someone on social media who will be a hater. I just block them or I’m very sarcastic about what they might say or comment, I understand that they must be very lonely and unhappy because they are seeking attention. As per real life, I was surprised that till now, people accepted me for who I am, my passion and my effort. I must admit, I was scared in the first place, but I also feel that if I came in India with a smile on my face and kindness in my heart, people appreciated it and they liked me. Whenever I came on stage, I always tried to say something inspiring and people reacted positively. That means that no matter where you are from, if you spread positivity, people will give it back. In any case, I always respect the city I am in or I’m traveling through, and I would never permit myself to dress in an inappropriate way.
Is it true, in 2018, that there are more opportunities for rising DJs in the circuit outside of India? Do you believe that you'd gain more success by hitting the international scene, over the Indian circles?
Olly Esse: I’ve performed, till now, in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia, but I’m more keen to focus on my new home – India. I understand that a lot of DJs will have the possibility to go abroad and perform in other countries. I am keen on staying in India for now and make brand OLLY ESSE bigger here, as I see lots of opportunities of grow. Right now, I would not go back to Europe, because the clubs there are in a crisis, and they are closing. Big international names still stay there, but they will not pay for performances and all the expenses of travel and stay will be at the DJs cost, so I don't think it is worth it.
Tell us about your idols. Who do you look up to, for inspiration? How did they help motivate you, in your chosen path as a DJ?
Olly Esse: I still remember the first time I saw ATB, he's my guru and inspiration, after 10 years, I'm still his biggest fan ever. I hope to share to share a console with him once. He has that something that makes people forget about everything, and you just feel happy and dance. I admire people who are super professional in their work, they are huge stars, but they are also very down to earth. Like Armin or Hardwell.
A DJ is the one who makes you happy, and spreads joy. I usually like to think about myself as Santa’s li’l helper, because for me, every time I perform, I am trying to create something special, unforgettable, and I think about my followers as my big family. I am trying to do my best to make everyone happy.
How important is it to you, to include Indian, especially Bollywood tunes, in your live sets - particularly for Indian crowds? Is the large part of the audiences here really more interested in remixes, than original electronic music?
Olly Esse: I will surprise you, I have never played a Bollywood song in my entire life. Luckily, even the hardcore Bollywood crowds accept my music. I create my bootlegs and mix it all with a capellas, because people don't like to hear the same music every day, so I'm trying to do something different and unique, something I can call mine, and I obviously perform only live. People are happy to hear something new with a drop of pop music - this is my style.
What are you personal goals, as a DJ, for the new year? Do you have any EPs or albums expected? How much of your focus is likely to be on live gigs, and tours, over studio recordings and album releases?
Olly Esse: I’m working on my goals 24/7. Being a DJ and a producer means that you have to be always involved with everything that happens, with all the news in the industry. But as DJing is work, it’s always been 50-50. For now, I’m focusing on bootlegs, but in a while, I will create something new, with Indian instruments as a base. I’m leaving all of you in suspense. Obviously, I am searching for a good label to publish whatever I have made till now. It’s a long story, but I hope I will find what I’m searching for. Main goals in 2018 for me are to have a good time while I'm playing, be less stressed in the studio, continue with my podcasts (Intimate with Olly), and to spread joy and positivity.
A word of advice for aspiring DJs? How would you play mentor to some of the new names emerging in the circuit?
Olly Esse: Mainly have patience, learn things the old school way. Don't be scared of vinyl or CDs cause they are the base of being Disc Jockey. Don't think that every big name that you see now will be big in 10 years - fame is like air, it's there, but you can't keep it. Always be updated about all the music, history is very important. Know what you are aiming for - lots of people, given an occasion, just couldn’t do well, because they were not prepared properly. You should be great no matter what, anytime, anywhere. Give to whatever you do a 100% every time. Don't forget that a DJ is more involved in show business now more than ever, but don't aim for fake popularity, aim to be the best in your skills and your productions. Last but not least - I am keeping my fingers crossed for you!