From a tightly knit population of 2,500 in the Rio Grande Valley, the value of community has always guided how Ella Ella, Leslie Lozano, navigates life.
Woven into her Mexican American upbringing - Cumbia, Tejano, and Salsa music, along with some Houston rap and southern hip-hop, became Ella's earliest musical influences. She recalls her memorable 7th birthday gift: Amor Prohibido by Selena and The Writings on the Wall by Destiny’s Child CDs. These picks remain highly influential for Ella and her work, maintaining frequent appearances on her personal rotation.
Austin, Texas is now the home of this DJ powerhouse. When watching her spin, one would find it difficult to imagine a time when she wasn’t letting the music move through her in the form of DJing. Our founder, Monique, says watching her sets gives her the nostalgic feeling of being “posted up at the carne asada” with the fam. She’s fun, bubbly, and knows how to work the crowd.
Ella told us that her path wasn’t linear and there wasn’t one golden “aha” moment, but rather that the realization of what she wanted to do came to her more gradually.
“I was working in event production and community organizing for years and had always wanted to pursue DJing,” she said. “I decided to take a step down from working on the ground for an organization I co-founded and moved into a board of director position. This allowed me to invest more time into projects and passions I hadn’t before.”
One of these projects and passions was DJing. Ella pushed forward and landed her first gig as a DJ in the fall of 2017.
“I wish I could say my first gig was when I had this moment, but I was such trash and never wanted to show my face again.” she recounted while laughing in reminiscence.
Recognizing that everyone’s skill has to start somewhere she continued teaching herself using free software like GarageBand in college and later Abelton and the free trial Serato DJ software. She would also make an effort to go to as many sets as possible to learn through watching.
“I would check out homies sets on the weekends and just watch every move they did and take mental notes.”
Through mental notes combined with the purchase of her first DDJ-SB2 Pioneer controller, Ella was starting to see the practice pay off.
“I think a big moment for me was when I played two sets in one night for Collective Blue and Brown State of Mind in August of 2018. I was in the car with two friends hustling to get from one gig to the next and was like yea….I could do this forever.”
While Ella acknowledges that a certain amount of homework and self discipline is necessary in order to beat the learning curve, she also made a point to recognize the benefit of on the job learning.
“Even after a few years of DJing, a lot of my best lessons have been learned on the fly at gigs,” she noted.
A common thread throughout Ella’s life, undoubtedly touching every angle of her work is her yearning to build community everywhere she goes. From running into her at local Austin parties and venues to her involvement with Mirror54, it’s obvious that she has created an inclusive bonfire that warms others with it's flames.
Upon getting her first residency at Scoot Inn, she built a dance party called Mirror54 that has since been paused due to COVID-19.
“It was the first time I had full creative freedom and control and I wanted to make sure it was a space for Black, Brown, and Queer folks. I love building little worlds and had so much fun collaborating with other DJs and artists throughout this residency.”
When asked to shoutout some of her favorite femme and non-binary DJs and artists, she she mentioned DJ Kay Cali as someone who “has and will always be that girl.”
As her appreciation for those around her couldn’t have become more apparent, Ella also named Y2K and P1nkstar’s duo called POPSICLE, DJ Mahealani, Wosavey, DJ Eye Q, and DJ La Moon. “I can go on and on!” she exclaimed.
One would be blind-sighted to brush over the gender gap in the world of DJing, especially in the Austin DJ scene. Ella stressed the importance of the ongoing push for visibility and representation of women and non-binary DJs. While the balance still has progress to make, she’s taken it upon herself to create places where underrepresented communities can feel at home.
“I feel my long history in event planning has helped me stand out. I know how to throw a good party and I know my market. I play for Black and Brown women and if anyone else enjoys it, well great, but I play for my people and I don’t budge.”
We continued our conversation by asking Ella how she decides what’s worth fighting for. “I’m a very passionate person so when I care about something I REALLY care.
"There are times where I get lowballed but when that happens it's just very clear to me that that brand, event, or person doesn’t respect artists in the way I feel we should be respected, so it's very easy for me to walk away.”
She then walked us through how she conveys her worth to potential customers if they don’t understand why she charges the rates she does.
“In moments where I do want that gig whether it be a brand I really align with or a cause I believe in, I will sometimes break down why my price is my price. It's more than just playing a 4 hour set and sometimes folks may not always see or understand that.”
She added that as a result of her openness and transparency, other DJs have returned the favor which has served as a great way to make sure nobody is getting the short end of the stick.
In order to both feed her desire to help her community and make a living she uses DJ Cassandra’s advice: to give herself around three gigs per month to charge a discounted rate if and only if she really wants to work with the brand or organization that can’t afford her standard rate.
Beyond that rule, Ella doesn’t budge saying that...
“...when it comes to fighting for the rates I deserve, I am just very confident in my skills and I know what I bring to the table and refuse to settle for anything less.”
Moving forward, this go-getter has grand plans to make magic happen and to rebound stronger than ever coming out of the pandemic.
"I’m so excited to be DJing for people and watching friends perform this year." she said. I was robbed of performing at SXSW and ACL last year so I'm excited to jump on those festivals this year."
As the end of our time chatting came to a close, Ella opened up about self judgement and her experience navigating self confidence.
“What's helped me over time is being very intentional about sitting and reflecting on the small wins because we often overlook those, but the little wins are the ones that lead up to these really big career changing moves,” she shared with us.
She acknowledged that in recent years she’s gotten better at leaning on the support around her. This includes being more open to her support system and seeking a listening ear when needed.
“I’m getting better at being transparent around my feelings or anxieties over certain issues and will ask my friends if they have a moment for me to just talk about it. Once all those thoughts are out in the open they seem so much smaller and more manageable than when they stay in my head.”
Mitigating self-limiting barriers will always be an important work in progress.
In conclusion, "Ella style"... there’s no better way to wrap up than with some community-centered wise words. When skill meets community, you have found the sweet spot to power you forward in the music scene and beyond.
“I always tell folks that aside from putting in the hours and building up your skills, it's crucial to invest in your community. So many of my favorite gigs were put on by friends and fellow artists. Austin is such a special place and very collaborative and supportive once you’re tapped in.”
Above all, “invest in yourself and invest in the people around you.”