If the Renaissance philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli and Bethlehem Mulat aka the Berlin-based DJ and producer Venetta have one thing in common, it’s the aversion to apathy. Machiavelli once wrote in his political treatise 'The Prince', “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both” and in a similar vein, Mulat wants her music to evoke a visceral reaction. Of course, she’d rather have listeners love her, but as she puts it, "I feel like I'd rather people hate it than just feel lukewarm."
"Sometimes, when you're exposed to music, it evokes some sort of intensity or plays around tension, you're literally forced to
get out of your head."
Mulat's sets—played at the likes of Panorama Bar, Boiler Room, and A Club Called Rhonda—invite audiences to move beyond their comfort zone, something she's actively pursued herself since she was a child. Born and raised in the working-class suburbs of Vancouver, Mulat's tastes traversed from listening to Ethiopian jazz artists like Aster Aweke and Mulatu Astatke, handed down from her refugee parents, to thrashing around at 15 years old at hardcore raves and local DIY metal and rap shows, thrill-seeking for the extreme. The bleached eyebrows, lip ring and oversized Lil Kim t-shirt she’s wearing during our call appear to be an extension of those bygone days. "Sometimes, when you're exposed to music, it evokes some sort of intensity or plays around tension, you're literally forced to get out of your head," she says.
Mulat's practice is an exercise in breaking out of rumination cycles and reconnecting with the present moment—in other words, a type of therapy. This makes sense given her advocacy work alongside music: founding the Vancouver Black Therapy Fund at the peak of Black Lives Matter in June 2020 and continuing to run yearly application intake rounds since, though she left the city in 2021. Her dedication to mental health and music are interwoven. Electronic music, she says, was invented by its Black and brown forebears as a form of emotional catharsis when they had little resources or tools to do so.
Her mix for Aeyde encapsulates some of this, too. "With the state of
the world, we're all seeking some sort of solace," she tells me.
"I'm personally a lot more appreciative of meditative mixes at the moment. With this, I'm just trying to give people a break, something to listen to when you just want to shut everything else out and feel good."
"With the state of the world, we're all
seeking some sort of solace. I'm personally a lot more appreciative of meditative mixes at the moment. With this, I'm just trying to give people a break, something to listen to when you just want to shut everything else out and feel good."
Let’s start with your music background.
I was always drawn to music. My mom always sang to us and every time, as kids, when people came over our family would always sing together. And, of course, I'm a pop culture baby, watching MTV and listening to Britney Spears and all these pop icons. Then when I got into my teen years, I was more into theater, so I was very into performance art and doing soundscapes and sound art. I was always into time-based media, but I never thought of myself as a DJ. I was always doing my own sound pieces and visualizing things when I listened to a song—it was interesting how listening to music made me fantasize and have visions.
Could you tell me more about these sound visualizations?
I think it's connected to a higher realm. I feel like I have a vision and I can't explain it. I always had that since I can remember. I’ve always had this connection to not only myself, but to something higher that now, I call a God, but before I called it a higher self. I think I always had a vision of creating a space where people can just open their hearts and really let go. Creating sound for me was always to want to bring people to their deeper self and to let them feel. It's not always spiritual and high vibrational or whatever people say—it's also a lot about going deep and feeling yourself again.
What was the most powerful or the most recent vision with sound that you’ve had?
One of my last visions was for this performance piece for Volksbühne. It's going to be in October [Editor’s note: Whitney Wei spoke to Nas Tea earlier in 2023 before this event took place] and we had a rehearsal and the first thing I saw was just for people with long hair, dancing in a circle, holding hands, and with mirroring choreography. The surroundings are very dark. I also had visions of what I wanted to feel, and the feeling is always mystical and mysterious and this vibe of: “I feel a little uncomfortable, but it's good.”
“The hypnotic repetitions and layers in this track sound especially eerie and become meditative, triggering contemplation and transporting me to a place where memories are intimately intertwined.”
–Venetta on ‘Fire & Light’ by Actress