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Aeyde Radio—Mix 01
In Conversation with Bethlehem Mulat
aka Venetta
“The Need for Intensity”
Words: Whitney Wei
Date: 09.06.2023
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. In his political treatise ‘The Prince, Machiavelli once wrote, “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.”

Image: NTI

“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 zones, 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, even 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.”

Whitney Wei: Where does your DJ name Venetta come from?

Venetta: It's the name of my 12-year-old alter ego slash evil twin.

Whitney Wei: How did your musical upbringing inform your current practice?

Venetta: I grew up in a household with a really strong music history. My parents were always listening to Ethiopian jazz when I was younger, so that's something that is always present in the music that I make and play. There are specific harmonies and tonalities [I am drawn to] because of growing up on heavier music with folk and traditional themes. Being exposed to that made me have a really rich appreciation for complex music in general.

Whitney Wei: How did you end up in Berlin?

Venetta: I actually never romanticized Berlin at all. It was a place for me that was never appealing because the first thing I would hear was how the food was bad. So I was like, why would I live here? Coming from Vancouver, why would I do that? I obviously knew that the music scene was popping. I was in New York at the time and then [because of visa reasons] I had to move somewhere within a month. I had to figure out either between Berlin or London, which would be the easiest as a musician. My friends from Berlin said it would be the most feasible place to be, so I really just went off on a whim and encouragement from peers. I’m really glad I did it because I actually do love living here. It’s been really good for me, in a lot of ways, I think, personally, creatively, like just not having to struggle as much as I was before. I’m really happy that I moved here with no expectations.

Whitney Wei: Could you tell us about your non-profit, the Vancouver Black Therapy and Advocacy Foundation?

Venetta: I am still running the foundation remotely here from Berlin. We actually just opened up our intake round two days ago. So today, we've been able to provide 100 Black folks with over 700 free therapy sessions since its inception in June 2020. A lot of people in Vancouver were feeling generous after the tragedy of George Floyd. Originally I wanted to do a call out on social media to fund 10 free therapy sessions for 10 people. And I wanted it to be low-key where people could just message me and I would just give them the funds and then my friends in the community told me, "Why don't you just use a crowdfunding platform and make this happen?" It felt intimidating but I did it. I remember being up all night writing the copy and everything, and [by 2PM the next day] we had already raised $30,000, or something like that. By the next day, we had $60,000 and by the end of the summer, it was over $200,000. I quickly incorporated it into a nonprofit and put together a team, contracted Black therapists, and did the open call for applications. For me, the main priority has been that it's always prioritizing LGBT, trans, queer refugees, immigrants, and low-income folks. Now, it's been three years, and each year, we've had an intake round. We usually open up in the spring, and we'll have, for this year, 25 folks and five families. I usually get at least a couple hundred applications. I did this because I wanted to create a sustainable pathway for healing for the community and do something long-lasting.

Whitney Wei: What is your own relationship with music as a pathway for healing?

Venetta: First of all, it’s cathartic to hear music that you’ve never heard before, that makes you feel something. I also love to play around with tension a lot in my practice and also with my DJ sets. I feel like that is healing too because it gets you out of your comfort zone. It’s like that push and pull that I love—I really love the drama of music. At the club, there’s something that keeps you on the edge. I feel that intensity and that experience, in and of itself, is something that gets me out of my head and helps me reconnect to other parts of myself that I might not be connected to.

“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

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