How Nature Soundtracks Efa O’Neill’s Creative Process

Photography: George Voronov

Summer is Efa O’Neill’s busy period. As one of Ireland’s most talented selectors who regularly touches all corners of the island, she speaks to District about the local hikes that re-energise her during festival season as she becomes Cupra’s latest tribe member. On top of that, she’s shared three playlists that soundtrack her prep, gigs and subsequent periods of rest.


Bombarded With Information

At any given moment, it’s easy to feel like you have ten tabs open in your head. Social media and the demands of everyday life can weigh heavy on our nervous systems. That’s why Efa O’Neill likes to get out in nature.

“We’re constantly being bombarded with information and noise and it can suck the life out of you.  Getting out in nature allows me to slow down, put things in perspective, declutter my mind and get all that good energy from being outdoors back in my system”, she explains.

As a DJ that’s regularly floating between Ireland and the UK for shows, it’s not hard to understand how she can feel exhausted. Living in Dublin and performing in other cities, whilst also often travelling home to Tralee would take it out of even the most seasoned traveller.

“I mostly go out for hikes with my friends, we’re all into dance music and clubbing but after we’ve had a hectic weekend we love to go away and recharge our batteries. 

We recently drove to County Down for the weekend and spent some time hiking Slieve Donard in the Mourne mountains. The weather was awful, rain one minute, snow the next, and it was really tough in parts but there’s something really special about supporting each other and getting through the hard parts together. There’s a real sense of achievement when you’ve finished a big hike. There’s definitely a special bond that grows between you and the people you hike with.”

Efa’s ‘Charge’ playlist highlights some of the tracks she’s played in clubs recently and ones she keeps coming back to.

When Efa started her iconic Out Of Space party in Cork, she was inspired by the origins of house music in places like The Loft in New York and The Warehouse in Chicago. Those iconic venues had impact that went beyond the confines of the room, encouraging a sense of openness and community. It’s why they’ve had such an enduring legacy.

“They were safe spaces to come together without racism, homophobia, classism and sexism. And it’s everyone’s duty (from promoters to DJs and producers) to learn about the history of the scene, why it was started and to continue to push and protect its values”.

It’s this rich history that has inspired Efa’s mission as an artist and DJ. This same attention to lineage and history permeates other parts of her life and it’s had the unintended but valuable effect of grounding her during busy periods.

“Some of my favourite hiking spots are those that are also linked to Irish folklore and mythology”, she says.

“One in Kerry is Caherconree Mountain which is close to my family home. It’s a tough climb but there is an ancient Iron age fort at the top which was said to be home to Cú Roí mac Dáire, a legendary sorcerer. When you’re up the top, with epic views of the mountains meeting the sea, I like to imagine who would have lived here and what life was like thousands of years ago. It kind of puts things in perspective and makes you feel really small in the grand scheme of things”, she says.

“Now that I’m in Dublin, a favourite hike of mine is the Spinc trail at Glendalough in Wicklow. You can jump in the car and be there in no time from the city. The views are amazing and there’s lots of wild deer in the area who come right up to you on the trail sometimes, it’s crazy.”


A Meandering Journey

The move to Dublin came after a meandering journey with music. One that saw her raised on trad music and taking piano lessons as a child before she graduated to listening to 2000s RnB and hip hop in her own time. Though she was initially dissuaded away from a career in music, Efa eventually found her way back when she attended university in Cork.

“I wanted to go to music college, but my mum was just like, ‘No, you kind of need to get like a more dependable career’. She didn’t think there was any kind of any good in doing music. I went off to college and luckily there was a really strong DJ society at UCC. They’d run deadly DJ events, like battle of the DJs and get really good international acts over. I was always too afraid to join the DJ society, though, because at the time, women weren’t that prevalent in the music scene and the DJ scene. I kind of always regretted that. But luckily when I got a bit older, I started hanging around people who are really into dance music and DJing in Tralee… Then I got my own decks.”

Given her story, it’s no surprise Efa’s taste is so eclectic. It means she’s soundtracking her journeys to shows, the gigs themselves and post-show self care routine with a diverse selection spanning hip hop, electronic, jungle, indie and more.

Efa’s ‘In Motion’ playlist showcases what she has in her rotation whilst she’s on the road.

Beyond her own gigs, Efa is in The Outside, an electronic duo with David Kitt and an appreciation of nature has also been a centrepiece of their recording experience as a pair. As a new Cupra Tribe member, now with a car of her own, Efa and David routinely leave the city to rehearse in a studio in Ballinskellig and during the journey the scenic backdrops and her carefully curated playlists are equally essential to getting in the right frame of mind to create.

“Yeah, I love singing along to tracks in the car. Driving with emotive tracks when you’re looking out the window, you kind of feel like you’re in a movie and you have this main character energy. It’s a lot more personal when it’s just you in the car.”

“It’s deadly [The car]. It’s automatic and it’s really helpful because, you know, I would be going back and forth to Kerry a lot… It’s like five hour drive. So it’s really helpful to have a nice car to smooth the journey”.