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Meet Angelica Ottavia, the versatile Minneapolis DJ who fits in just about everywhere

Angelica Ottavia

Angelica Ottavia Bethany Birnie

It’s the middle of January, and at Muddy Waters, hope springs eternal.

“The Vikings in the Super Bowl? It could actually happen,” says Minneapolis DJ Angelica Ottavia. “Everybody’s really angry about it—stores closing—and I totally get that. But I’ve always been able to be sucked into an occasional football game, and then I started just watching it. My boyfriend’s never been into football, ever, and he’s started to watch it. It’s over the top. But I like things like that.”

If it’s hard to imagine Ottavia ever DJing a Super Bowl party—at least, one not of her own—it’s hard to bet against her doing something like it. Over the past few years she’s became one of the most visible and adaptable DJs on the local circuit. A regular at the monthly Dark Energy party at the Kitty Cat Klub, Ottavia has become a notably diverse DJ, equally adept at specialty sets of techno, Goth, industrial, house, and experimental music as an opener or closer, and just as good at commingling those styles.

And at Deeper, which takes place the last Thursday of every month at the Loring Bar’s Red Room, Ottavia plays more aggressively outré, oftentimes beat-less records. (That makes a certain amount of logistical sense as well—the Red Room’s carpet isn’t exactly conducive to dancing.)

Ottavia, who turns 30 in April, is a Los Angeles native who moved to Minneapolis in 2006 for school. “I grew up in Redondo Beach and Palos Verdes,” she says. “I wanted to be in a city, and I also went to a small, private high school, and I wanted to be at the biggest public school I could find. My mom grew up in Minnesota, so I have some family here. I visited, and was just like, ‘This is what I want.’ I’d grown up listening to punk—Green Day and Blink-182 were the first things I downloaded on my own—and had a lot of friends who played in bands. And then I came here and it was just nothing like what was going on in L.A. Minneapolis definitely has a punk scene, but it’s more of a classic punk scene.”

At the U, where she majored in physiology, Ottavia played Variety Hour slots on Radio K and co-hosted a short-lived show there playing “psychedelic, experimental, old industrial music, and a lot of Krautrock.” She also bought her first decent guitar and amplifier. “Now I live in an apartment and have no place to play my really fucking loud tube amp,” she says, with a little frustration.

“I fell into it,” she says of her more recent music career. “I’d never thought of becoming a DJ. I got into techno before I knew there was a scene in Minneapolis for it, or knew anyone else [who] was listening to it. I got into techno at the very end of 2011. I was introduced to Sandwell District and I’d never heard anything that sounded anything like that—minimal and maximal at the same time. That stuff had a huge, huge impact on me. Before that, I thought of minimal techno or, like, Vengaboys, and no in-between. I think that’s how a lot of people still think about it.”

Then, in 2014, a friend was moving out of her house. “It was in the process of being foreclosed on,” says Ottavia. “She had a PA, and planned this big house party. I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll pull together a DJ set for your party. Who cares?’ I picked out a bunch of music, I practiced, I had a MIDI controller and a laptop, and I brought over basically my boom-box speaker setup—a bunch of tea lights, so I had some mood lighting going. I played in this big bedroom. I wasn’t expecting much out of it or anything to come of it, and people came up to me after that like, ‘Where the fuck did you come from?’”

Her first booking was at Too Much Love at the First Avenue Record Room. “I really wasn’t ready for that,” she says. “It freaked me out. I’m kind of hard on myself. I didn’t feel great about it. But they were super encouraging, and I got asked back. I didn’t have anybody to learn from, and I had to teach myself—I really didn’t know what I was doing. What I was into at that time, what I was playing, was really heavy. When I started, I was just playing techno. I quickly started mixing industrial in: I never didn’t play really dark.”

She’s not kidding about being self-critical. When I contacted Ottavia about doing this interview, I asked if she had a Mixcloud or SoundCloud page up. “I don’t, because I’m an over-the-top perfectionist,” she replied. Now, she says, “I have a SoundCloud page that has some mixes up all set to private.” She’s also got a set in the works for Kajunga, the Minneapolis house label with a locally focused DJ podcast series. She also noted, “I really play a lot of different types of music, and a lot of different types of shows. The lines would be blurred.” (But she is proud to say that she never played Clubhouse Jäger.)

Those blurred lines don’t seem to matter much locally, and not just with Ottavia. In 2017, Minneapolis-St. Paul was home to a wide and deep array of superb DJ parties, in large clubs and clandestine locations alike. It’s still a homey scene—a lot of the people making these moves have been around for decades—but it feels invigorated, both for DJs and live electronics, even as the parties, more than any individuals, tend to be the stars. But Ottavia’s presence is particularly notable, partly because she can and does play damn near everywhere, partly because she’s played a few flat-out brilliant sets, such as a flawless two-hour headlining techno slot at Black Mass last November.

Another Ottavia gem took place on New Year’s Eve of 2016, in the basement of a since-finished Phillips party house. “I had a blast,” she recalls. “That was what I was in the mood to play that night. I went all across the board, and it wound up working out really well. That night it was really a bit of everything: I know I played a Sandwell track, which I don’t usually do at Dark Energy things. I played a Skinny Puppy track with a totally different BPM—and a lot of random, sort of discoey dance-music stuff. I played Yazoo’s ‘Situation.’ I was so pumped—like, ‘Yes!’ That was the last time I played it—maybe I should bust that one out again.”

Here’s a readymade metaphor for where the year took both local dance music and Ottavia in particular: New Year’s Eve went from a basement to a mansion—Dearing Mansion in St. Paul, where Dark Energy put on a catered multi-floor bacchanal that went till daybreak. “We didn’t start down there till two,” she says. “I played for about 45 minutes, an hour. It was really fun. It was mostly tracks I hadn’t played yet.” Into the New Year, and into the new.