DJ, designer and stylist, Ozlem Esen is busy redefining cool.
OZLEM – that’s an interesting name. Where are you from, and how did you grow up?
I was born in Sydney. My parents migrated from Turkey so I grew up between Sydney and Turkey, and obviously Ozlem is a Turkish name.
What were you like as a teenager – did you drive your mum wild?
Well my dad was a rebel when he was young, and left Turkey in quite a rebellious way, but when I was born he became quite strict and my mom became a kind of mediator between my dad and me. I was the kind of girl who snuck out of windows off to parties, never took no for an answer and all that … my poor mum did have to put up with quite a bit.
Did you have friends who were also of mixed heritage – what was it like growing up between Turkey and Sydney?
I grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney in a South American/Italian/Yugoslavian community which was a melting-pot and a very rich experience … different food, different music, different languages … I grew up exposed to so much, so many different ways of living, almost everyone there was “mixed”. Moving between Turkey and Sydney was odd because in Sydney my parents lived in the Bronx of Sydney, which was the only place that had a Turkish community, so it was a poor and a kind of rough suburb, whereas in Turkey it was the reverse – my grandparents had a privileged heritage in Ankara with private schools, drivers and all that, so I suppose that’s why I can get along with all walks of life.
What happened after school? Did you get a job in a bank?
I studied hospitality management at college and ended up at the Sydney Intercontinental on the VIP floor as a guest-relations manager; my job was to make sure that rock stars, actors and businessmen had every whim catered for. Eventually serving people got tiring and I figured out there was more that I wanted out of life.
You’re a stylist and a singer – tell us about those parts of your life.
Music has always been in my blood. I was lucky enough to have a lot of friends in the music industry which led to opportunities for me to DJ back in the vinyl days … with deejaying some friends were doing tours that took me places. I sang on a few albums which eventually lead to my first solo album. Now I’m on my second project with a new band and producers Don Albert and Justin Boyd from South Africa.
Where’s your singing career at right now?
We are currently in the studio working on the album. It’s the first time I have stopped everything to focus completely on the music, the album, and shows. It’s been a really exciting process as my producers are working with me all day every day – on songwriting and all the way to image-making. I have never worked in an environment where there has been such a creative flow. Everything seems to fuse together organically, and it’s a lot of fun. I have been very lucky in that the album has generated some interest from the right people already. We have shows booked in South Africa. I am excited to go to Africa.
We’re assuming that’s where you want to be in a couple of years’ time – at the top of your game as a performer …
To me, the most incredible thing about music is the reaction and energy I receive during shows. Every artist makes music in order to give energy, and receive energy back, when performing. If the top of my game means performing more and more worldwide, I’m up for that.
Give us your most recent line of rap.
Baby played, dirty riffs,
And I sang, rotten rhymes,
Was all ‘bout sex and cigarettes,
Boy we loved killing time …
As a stylist, what’s your take on fashion, and fashion people?
Considering I don’t meet anyone who isn’t a fashion designer or a stylist in Bali, including myself, I have a BAGFUL of takes, but I’ll give you this one: Bali is progressing to be a fashion Mecca. Anything you can dream up can be made in Bali. I remember years ago there were only a handful of designers, but now I feel like I am driving down Rodeo Drive when I’m in Seminyak. I don’t really know what the term “fashion people” means, but for me fashion means wearing whatever you want with confidence. In Sydney I feel like everybody came out of one big sale where there were only five things on offer. When I go out in Bali, there are so many different genres, styles and sub-cultures. I feel people stick to their guns and rock whatever they feel like wearing.
What will we be wearing next year?
Not much, as always.
Okay, some more down-to-earth stuff: what’s your most treasured possession?
An “evil eye” that my grandmother used to wear pinned to the left-hand side of her bra. I feel it keeps me protected … that and my great-grandfather’s gold gun.
What’s on your iPod these days?
SBTRKT; Little Dragon; Astronomy; State Trooper; some old Culture Club; Warren G; City and Colour; some A. Skillz mixes … too much!
When were you last happy?
This morning, opening up the blinds and seeing perfect waves in front of my house, the river on the side and realising this is actually my life!
When were you last sad?
When my uncle passed away, he was one cool guy.
What’s the most incredible thing you have ever seen?
It would have to be a toss-up between watching a ballet in Italy – which was set amongst ruins that perfectly framed an actual volcano erupting in the distance – or watching the sun go down over the Bosphorus from a rooftop in Istanbul.
And finally, happy birthday. What does getting older mean to you?
I don’t know the difference between getting older and just living life. To me, if anything, it means lapping up every minute of the day and trying to not worry about anything that is out of my control.