Musician Olga Bell Shares Her Williamsburg, NYC Haunts | The_ONES
Kicking it in Williamsburg with a Trailblazer of NYC’s Electronic Music Scene
“I first visited Williamsburg around 2006,” recalls Olga Bell of the Brooklyn neighborhood where she has lived since 2008. “I wish I could have seen it maybe ten years earlier,” she adds, reiterating the transformation of the once-scrappy neighborhood into the iconic nexus of art, music, and fashion that it is today. But living amid rapid change seems befitting for Bell, who is no stranger to the “rhythm of constant evolution.” Born in Moscow and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, Bell is a classically trained pianist who now turns out experimental electronic dance music around the globe. She came up performing at open-mic nights before heading up a band and making her rounds in the Brooklyn music scene, then touring as a keyboardist and vocalist for major indie bands like Chairlift and Dirty Projectors, all the while composing and putting out original sounds—which include her acclaimed album, Krai (a mesmerizing homage to her native Russia) and, most recently, Tempo (a body-moving nod to club culture and ’90s dance tunes).
Below, we teamed up with photographer Julia Parris for a glimpse into Bell’s corner of Williamsburg, starting with a stroll across the Williamsburg Bridge while talking about her early struggles in electronic music, go-to running shoes, and favorite spots in the neighborhood.
“I used to aspire to look like someone who knows how to breakdance, or someone who gets everything in their closet from Japan, but now I mostly just wear my husband’s sweaters, old Levis, and Quiet Life tees.”
- Olga Bell
How would you sum up your journey from classical pianist to electronic musician so far?
Olga Bell: “Fraught and fun, in equal measure.”
Did it feel liberating to experiment outside of the classical realm?
OB: “Eventually, yes, but at first it felt like a huge mistake. I went from feeling fluent, technically adept at a particular medium and its nuances [the piano] to starting from zero with the computer. It’s healthy to do a mental refresh every so often though, and even after twelve years I feel I’ve only just scratched the surface of synthesis and programming.”
How does a new piece usually begin for you?
OB: “I almost always start with harmonic material, on a keyboard.”
You’ve lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for a while now. Do you remember your first impression of it?
OB: “I first visited Williamsburg around 2006. I didn’t really feel any special excitement about the area or its inhabitants until I went to a show at Glasslands [now closed], and another at 285 Kent, and then another at Death By Audio and Monkeytown. That’s when it really felt like something electrifying and essential was happening in this particular five-block radius.”
The neighborhood’s music scene has obviously exploded. Do you feel living in Williamsburg has helped shape your music in some way?
OB: “I would say New York City and all the attendant struggles of living in it powerfully influences everyone who moves here to make art.”
What’s the best part about living here?
OB: “Summer weekends when you hear the Dominican guys who’ve been in this neighborhood longer than anyone else playing claves on the street corner.”
We hear you run across the Williamsburg Bridge almost everyday...
OB: “It feels like a reset, especially if it’s super early or late and there aren’t a ton of cars or noise on the bridge—it’s rare, but a peaceful moment on a NYC bridge is transcendent.”
What kind of shoes do you wear?
OB: “I go in my very well-loved Mizuno Wave Riders.”
Tell us about a memorable moment you’ve had on the bridge.
OB: “I once saw a submarine floating in pieces up the river! I think it was being transported to a museum.”
How would you describe your personal style?
OB: “I used to aspire to look like someone who knows how to breakdance, or someone who gets everything in their closet from Japan, but now I mostly just wear my husband’s sweaters, old Levis, and Quiet Life tees. Plus Carhartt.”
Nothing like old Levis! What about sneakers? Any other go-tos?
OB: “I recently switched to velcro Stan Smiths and I’m never going back to laces ever again! Toddler shoes foreverrrr!”
Take us through a day in your life.
OB: “I’m a bit of a shut-in! I work in my home studio all day every day. Sometimes I venture out for a run or a sandwich at Saltie or some pastry at Marlow and Sons.”
What’s your home studio like and how do you like to work?
OB: “It’s as close to a white box as I can get. I work really well with minimal clutter so, for better or worse, I don’t have a lot of gear and only hoard things in the digital realm.”
“I went from feeling fluent, technically adept at a particular medium and its nuances [the piano] to starting from zero with the computer… even after twelve years I feel I’ve only just scratched the surface of synthesis and programming.”
- Olga Bell
Olga’s Recs for a Good Time in Williamsburg
After stepping off the bridge with Bell, we asked her to show us some of her favorite spots to take in the best her neighborhood has to offer.
You can get the best views in Williamsburg Anywhere with water access!
I get caffeinated at Sweatshop and always get a cortado.
I always love a glass of wine at The Four Horsemen (especially a bubbly).
My cocktail of choice is a Penicillin at The Exley.
Suzume plays the best music
I always take friends to Samurai Mama and get their gyoza. I could eat nothing but their gyoza with its translucent batter-skin for the rest of my life and that would be just fine.
You can do the best people watching from any Williamsburg rooftop.
For dinner, the tortilla soup at Mesa Coyoacan is always on point.
Breakfast for me means buckwheat kasha at home.
The best show I saw in Williamsburg was Dirty Projectors at Glasslands in 2007.
I love shopping for anything at Marlow and Daughters.
I can never have too much daikon kimchi from Dokebi.
When she’s not headed out for a jog, the musician is all about classic sneaks that are old-school cool.
More of the good stuff—a celebration of the people who inspire us and the classic kicks in their closets.
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