Emma Burgess-Olson moved to Kansas by way of the Bronx when she was six years old. During her time at college she discovered techno. Now back in New York City living and working in Brooklyn she can be found under the pseudonym Umfang. As co-founder of Discwoman she has been producing music, mixing records, and continuing the dialogue about feminism.
Her first true techno experience took place at a warehouse in Kansas City. It was in this moment that she became enamored with the genre and was swooned by the sound system. She says, “I remember it being really exciting, being in these old factory buildings with surprisingly beautiful bathrooms and wood floors and meeting all of these new freaky people. The defining moment was really entering the space and feeling a big sound system for the first time and experiencing the physical affect where I just needed to be immediately dancing.”
New York City’s enticing energy and pace keeps her zoned in. “I feel motivated and stimulated here and I get things done. People here inspire me so much,” Olson says. Along with Frankie Hutchinson and Christine Tran, the three work collectively as Discwoman – a platform and booking agent that promotes female, female-identified, and non-binary artists in the electronic scene. Through their events the collective strives to support and provide a place of safety for people of all races, gender and sexual identity. Bringing “discourse to the dance floor” they take a relaxed feminist approach by using Discwoman as a vessel for change in a subtle but effective way.
“We want to keep changing and adjusting as culture moves around us. We’ve never gone into it with a firm plan, we’ve just acted on what inspires us or what bothers us and tried to activate change in a way that can funnel resources toward people that we feel need more exposure and access. It is case by case who we work with and we want to stay open to not making any rules. The definition of woman has changed for all of us in the last two years.” -UMFANG
Since the first Discwoman party held in Bushwick at the Bossa Nova Civic Club, the platform started another New York-based party called Technofeminism, found at festivals like Sustain-Release and Movement in Detroit, as well as presenting artists at international events. The site’s roster identifies five artists but the group brings attention to flourishing DJs beyond NYC. Olson has helped lead a DJ workshop for women alongside Berlin’s Creamcake in the hopes of providing a place where women can feel comfortable learning the art of DJing.
According to Olson, this secluded setting for women is “not a necessity but I think it is more comfortable when people learn in an educational setting – it’s not as high pressure as a club night. Learning from a woman or non-binary person can be more welcoming since it is already intimidating to learn a technical skill. The less things making you uncomfortable the more you will be able to focus and ask questions. Not everyone is confident and that needs to be OK.”
Her creativity and determination has pushed her along and she has found herself not only contributing heavily to NYC’s scene but has performed at Berghain, played a 7-hour set at Pittsburgh’s Hot Mass, and a few Eastern European countries. In addition to all that NYC inspires, she finds creative sources in patterns, sound, people, textiles, synthesis, and constant change. The sound she puts out is tough, leaning more on the harder side of techno and she has a mission to evoke something inside of you.
“This is just who I am. I don’t think of it as a choice to play hard music. I relate to those sounds and I am lucky enough to have been supported in that. Now I can encourage others to release to these sounds and accept that they might identify with some evil and/or alien noises too. I think it’s really positive and healthy to release feeling and emotion with sound. I like to use different rhythm patterns to refocus the dance floor and sometimes utilize pauses or ambient breaks to stay engaged with the present moment. I really try to present what hits me emotionally or physically and hope it can do the same to captivate others.”
Catch Umfang at the next installation of Strange Allure in Buffalo, NY on Saturday, Oct. 15.