Öona Dahl has long been someone whose adult life has been guided by the force of electronic music. A native of upstate New York, she took her tentative production steps as a child and began playing clubs, raves and warehouses at the age of 17. Moving to Florida in the early 00s for university, she threw herself head-first into the local underground scene, and soon became a fixture at revered parties across the Tampa, Miami and Orlando areas. Indeed, it was in Florida where she met DJ Monk (Rabbit In The Moon) and later on DJ Three from Hallucienda , who has played a prominent role in her story to date.
By 2012, Öona’s music was getting into the hands of DJ’s and making waves on dancefloors which would lead to her Let The Light In EP being released on Lee Burridge’s label All Day I Dream. Indeed, she’s barely stopped for breath since, and has since released on Watergate Records, Hallucienda and more. A regular at the likes of Burning Man, Öona is someone who’s well positioned to chat about the contemporary electronic music scene Stateside. She also provided a live mix for us (where she played alongside Carl Cox, Move D and Maher Daniel in Miami) so we decided to check in recently to learn more…
Hey Öona, thanks a bunch for chatting to us today. How are things and where are you answering these questions from?
Hi, I am feeling good. Been home these last few weeks off from touring to be in the studio and spending time with my family.
As the year isn’t too old, we wanted to ask if you’ve made any goals or resolutions for the year ahead, and if so, how have they been going?
For 2023, I’m keeping it pretty simple compared to 2022 where I focused a lot of my energy on art installations and new endeavours. This year I’m narrowing in on my original music productions again and having a consistent release schedule.
I read that you “see music as colour”. Can you go into what that means exactly? And how does it affect your processes?
For as long as I can remember I am able to see colours in my mind when music plays, which is a form of synesthesia. Some styles of music can be certain colours, for example there are tracks that resonate cool blue tones while others are warm like reds and yellows. Electronic music is the most colourful where I am able to see a rainbow in one track especially if there is an acid line. My music tends to be on the melodic side where I paint an array of colours with the emotional and key frequencies of the song.
Going back a bit, let’s start with your early forays into electronic music. Who did you look up to and who influenced you back then? And at what stage did your hobby become your occupation?
Some influences in my early days were artists like Bjork, Rabbit in the Moon and DJ Rap to name a few. I started performing out at age 17 in clubs but I always had a job while pursuing DJing. It wasn’t until 2015 where I was able to consider music a full-time career.
Was making the leap to a full-time role something that you had to seriously consider then? What was holding you back all the time?
In 2013, I left my position running a medical marijuana dispensary in Colorado and sold everything to move to Berlin. At that time I had already been signed to some labels based in Berlin so I was moving there to pursue music production and DJing. It was definitely a leap of faith, but I was willing to rough it out until something happened —- it was that important to me to just take the plunge. Devoting 100% of me into my art is what eventually afforded me more time to dedicate to my work.
As an artist, are you someone who’s supremely confident or do you have moments of self-doubt? And how does your approach to life help you deal with different mental states?
Both come in waves, it really depends on how I’m feeling in that moment. I think any artist wants their work to be accepted and appreciated. Staying true to my most authentic self is what keeps me going.
As someone who’s doubtless on the road a lot, what are the biggest learnings you’ve made from adopting this new lifestyle?
Living life as an artist comes with its risks. You don’t have a guaranteed paycheck at the end of the month. There’s always this fear if you are going to make it through. There are highs and lows with the touring life, especially when you have a family at home and you have to be away for long periods of time. It’s hard to get over the hump of setting boundaries, but once you do things like keeping a healthy diet on the road, hydrating and choosing your poisons for special occasions are the key. I feel I’m able to balance a healthier physical and mental state than when I first started travelling.
Do you always find time to accommodate music on your return? Does making music ever feel like a ‘grind’ and something you have to do?
Writing music is a way for me to exert my feelings out sonically. It’s like a journal where I am able to tell stories of experiences I have had recently that I can record in time without words. I definitely think it’s important to consistently make music and have releases out when you have something to express to the world. Giving myself a break in between touring is a hard reset and recharge that is vital for me physically and mentally.
There is a lot of pressure on modern DJs to consistently produce new ‘content’. What are your thoughts on it?
There is so much music being released every day that it can make me feel this way. If “content” is music then that is a huge cringe. If you are talking about algorithms on socials I think less is more even though social platforms wouldn’t agree!
You’ve clearly put a lot of thought into your social profiles. Is this something you love doing or more something you feel you need to do these days?
I like to pretend my socials are an online art gallery for all of my creations so I try to make it fun in this way.
I noticed you’ve been playing a few b2b DJ sets with DJ Three recently. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I first met DJ Three in 2006 when he would play gigs in Florida and we’d often end up playing together at afterparties. In recent years we started doing them at clubs and festivals as official B2B’s. While we each have our own distinct DJ styles, we both share very eclectic musical tastes and playing together brings out different vibes from us this way.
You’re also closely aligned now with Burning Man. Can you tell us a bit about your association with it and how it first came about?
I first started to attend the Burn in 2011 after many years of hearing about this unique experience in the desert. I equally love music, art and social experiments so I decided to dedicate myself to going every year. I’ve done things like volunteer work for the fire conclave to setting up immersive art and of course DJ performances. I aspire to live by their “ten principles” and enjoy spreading this ideology.
I’ve never been, but from the outside a lot of people are saying it’s a lot different than it used to be, and that ‘tech bros’ with too much money are dominating the festival. Is this something you’ve noticed?
In time things change especially once more and more people catch on to something special. With this, I do not think it affects anyone who is going for their first time or changes the experience for those who have been before. It is still something I feel everyone should experience once in their life. If you truly want to attend the Burn and you serve a purpose for the playa, you will make it there.
On a similar tip, how do you find US audiences compared to European ones? Do you have a preference for playing for one over the other?
A lot of places in Europe phones are not allowed in the clubs so this makes for a different kind of experience. I would say a decade ago things were very different from US to EU but now since the underground sound that I tend to lean towards has become more popular through out the world, I notice it creates a similar vibration on the dance floor.
Can you tell us a bit about the mix that you did for us? How and where was it recorded and what was the vibe you were going for with it?
This mix is a live recording from my set in Miami at Factory Town for “Carl Cox Invites” on Dec 30 2022. It was a big deal for me to play this night as I was on the bill with some DJ’s I love like Move D, Maher Daniel and of course, the King. I like to switch up the vibe for every set I play and this one I was inspired by Miami night and other artists gracing their presence. The promoters Link Miami Rebels are rooted in the Underground and are an influence of why it reached the surface in the states. In respect to everyone involved and my love for minimal, breaks, house, techno, disco and beyond I wanted to curate something special.
What’s next for you – musically and personally – that you’re really excited about?
Currently I would say I’m most excited to be sending out all the original music productions I have been accumulating the last 6 months. My next release is as Slumber with my friend and musical partner Amber Cox that will be out February 10th on Hallucienda. Personally, I’m enjoying this time being a new mother to my baby girl and watching her grow. Having this new life to foster gives me the energy and drive to work harder than I’ve ever worked before. It also gives me a deeper sense of purpose that I couldn’t have imagined prior.
Finally – before you leave – we wanted to ask: are you any relation to either Roald Dahl or Sophie Dahl and if not, what are your thoughts on both?!
People do actually ask me this often! Sadly, no relation but I’m a fan of both of their writings, especially Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory” and “James and The Giant Peach”. I plan to write a book of my own one day that is centred around my NDE in 2017 where I had a premonition on DMT of myself dying on a hospital bed three weeks before I had a Pulmonary Embolism and almost lost my life.
Keep up with Öona Dahl via her Linktree page here