Pandemics and Parties with DJ Volvox

Since 2006 Volvox has been a formidable driving force behind the contemporary techno scene that we know and love today, providing influence not only in Brooklyn, but across the world. Currently based in New York, she is renowned for her tough stripped back grooves and immaculate track selections that have led her to play sets at some of the most prestigious international venues around, including regular appearances at the likes of Berghain/Panorama Bar. With her undeniable passion for making people move, we catch up with Volvox and chat all things music whilst touching upon life in lockdown.

It’s the 48th week of the coronavirus pandemic, social distancing is tough, and normality seems but a far-fetched utopic fantasy. One thing I and punters desire is the return not only to normality but to nightclubs, the ability to dance, and return to our safe spaces. Across the Atlantic in New York, it’s 5 pm on a Friday in mid-February; arguably colder than Glasgow, where I am currently. I chat with DJ Volvox, aka Ariana Paoletti, about pandemics, parties, and music.

Since 2017 I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Volvox play three times. São Paulo-born, Buffalo-raised, Ariana’s style of DJing, can revive a crowd regardless of how long they’ve been out dancing for. It could be 6 am or 6 pm, one thing that I can personally guarantee is that people will be dancing. Volvox’s high-intensity acid-based sets are truly a unique phenomenon to behold, you could expect anything from Hardcore to EBM during her sets. Personally, I’d describe it as a euphoric flow of 303s and 808s. 

In the lead up to March 2020, Ariana had been busy touring and found herself in Istanbul forced onto an emergency flight back to the US, where she has remained for much of the pandemic. I decided to get a sense of Ariana’s earlier taste in music: she describes how she started off in 2006 as an industrial goth DJ playing at alternative goth clubs. She describes how her taste has evolved towards ‘Mental Acid’ and then goes on to explain how this is a cornerstone for what she loves: “machines on the edge, hardware, weird and unpolished.”

Heléna: What was the first record you bought? 

Ariana: Originally when I started playing, at Industrial goth nights, I wasn’t buying vinyl, everything was CDJ’s back in those clubs, y’know the really old rack mount ones which you had to insert CDs into the pop-out trays. I’m pretty sure one of the first records I bought was from Turbo Recordings based in Montreal, Tiga and Thomas Von Party’s label. It was by John and Jesper Dahlbäck, which formed the duo known as Dahlbäck and Dahlbäck. The release that I loved the most is called Sweden 1 Canada 0, it’s hockey-themed and came out in 2004. Forsberg Loves The Acid, for me at that point was the craziest acid I’d ever heard. It’s funny how mental acid has evolved for me but still is evident in what I play out. It’s grumpy acid, machines being idiosyncratic, bizarre. 

Heléna: What have you been buying recently? 

Ariana: A really interesting record which I got from Sound Metaphors in Berlin in March before the pandemic started is Still by Tommy Gillard. It’s on ARC(ANE) Records from 2002. There’s a remix on here by Max Duley, who ran ARC(ANE) records, as well that I love. It’s very atmospheric and loopy, typical of the early 2000s. Recently I’ve started collecting 2000s Techno because these rhythms, y’know, have become more popular, so I’ve been trying to find ways to respond to trends that are authentic to what I love. I’m a big fan of early DJ Hell and Gigolo Records. DJ Hell is the reason I became a DJ, I was a really big fan early on, it’s what pushed me on to do this. 

Heléna: So, is it mainly early 2000s Techno you’re buying on vinyl?

Ariana: I guess I have guidelines to what I will buy on vinyl. Electronic music and what’s playing in the clubs to me is constantly evolving. So, I try to keep my vinyl purchases to, like, classical music more historical stuff, which I personally love, like Industrial, New Beat, UK Hardcore, and Rave. It’s not always necessarily what I’m playing at the club, but it’s what I love and want to own forever. I buy digital mainly as ‘working music’, since techno is constantly evolving and moving forward, if I was constantly buying contemporary techno on vinyl I would have stacks of records that have passed their moment. I don’t really repeat tracks in my sets beyond a 6-month window and I just don’t have enough space in my NYC apartment!

Heléna: I know the pandemic has impacted lots of people differently, how has it impacted you creatively and as well in terms of digging and finding music? Have you had more time to find new music?

Ariana: So, at first, I guess I had a lot of momentum pushing me forward when the pandemic hit, as I was on tour literally as it happened. I was just like I guess I’ll do collecting 100% of the time, I was at my computer non-stop, buying and buying, but then I hit a wall. Now I feel like I’m at the point in my music journey where I’m filling in more historical gaps in my music knowledge, hitting up Discogs and checking through each and every release from interesting labels.  But yeah, I’ve had a lot more time to collect and have spent a lot more time finding new music. I think the time I’ve spent finding new music as well will be reflected in sets when we’re all back at it. I guess it’ll be like, “look here’s all the best music I collected in a year!”.

Heléna: How do you imagine things to look and sound after the pandemic ends, in terms of underground music do you expect things to change?

Ariana: This is interesting as a lot of people had ideas of how the pandemic was going to change things for music etc., is everyone gonna go ambient? Like, that didn’t happen. All the party queens I know kept on partying at home, listening to the same super-fast Techno. I think expectations of the pandemic stopping the party were grossly over suggested. I think there will be a lot of energy going back into the clubs, like tracks that should have had their moment last year will. For example, MRD – Superwoman feat. Sticky Icky, if there was a summer, I think would have been one of the tracks of summer.

Heléna: Do you think the pandemic will have changed what you will play in clubs after it ends?

Ariana: For me personally, I’ve had time to get specific and think about what exactly my sound is. To prepare and present something that is truly me: unique. So yeah, to a degree I guess my answer is no. Although the pandemic changed things, I don’t think it put a dent in the evolution of techno, for example, Héctor Oaks is still doing what Héctor Oaks does. Music didn’t stop, releases kept coming. I’ve just had more time to think exactly about what I want to play to best represent my sound. 

Heléna: As well as the pandemic it has been a tumultuous year in terms of US politics, do you think President Trump’s presidency ending has brought a sense of hope and optimism for the underground community?

Ariana: If he had stayed, I would have had real concerns about any clubs opening. At least now a semi-competent politician is in charge. Well, at least in my community, no one’s like “oh my god wow Joe Biden,” we are just like “okay not Trump” as that would have literally been the end of things if he stayed. I suppose it’s a general hope, or a lack of total hopelessness now, we feel as if we dodged a bullet. There’s still a lot of work to be done in America. We have a pandemic and an economic crisis. We also need to remember that the Black community in America was instrumental in getting Biden elected, and we need to thank them for the amazing grassroots organizing that was done to save us from Trump. I think it’s important that we continue to highlight American artists from the community that are deserving and working hard, in LA, Chicago, New York, Detroit. I’m just glad to see that we all will continue to get to do what we love doing. 

Heléna: What parties are you most looking forward to playing at once things open?

Ariana: Here in New York, I’m a resident of UNTER, which is our queer techno night. I am number one looking forward to that, it’s a pillar of our community and it’s mainly how I see my friends. I didn’t realise that I relied so much on nights to be able to see all my friends at once. It left a really big hole in the way that I manage my social life. I’m really looking forward to Berghain, it’s such a special thing that happens nowhere else. People getting together dancing I’m just so excited for that.

Heléna: In terms of personal projects can we be expecting any follow ups from your feature on Berghain 09 with Ostgut Ton?

Ariana: I finally have a new track coming out on the next compilation by Murder Records out of Tbilisi. They’re working on their third release which I will be a part of, think dark wave and Techno vibes. I think it’s a really great follow up from my Ostgut Ton release.

Heléna: What about Jack Dept., any future plans?

Ariana: Jack Dept. was founded in 2016 when acid house and lo-fi were really popular which ultimately defined the Jack Dept. sound, and things have kinda moved on since then. So, I have been trying to figure out what the future of Jack Dept. is, considering it focuses on North American artists. It’ll evolve into something else, me and John Barera are currently exploring so many different areas so once we are back to work, things will un-pause and Jack Dept. will definitely be back.

Stay tuned to hear about DJ Volvox’s upcoming releases and exclusive Guest Wax in the coming months.

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